Boba Fett was dying.
He could feel his life force ebb, feel it replaced by the cold numbness of the grave. He had fought with his all, but it was not enough. Still he resisted, held in a strange kind of limbo. He did not want to die.
He did not fear death. Earlier, when first out of the Sarlacc, dazed with the madness and the agony brought on by pain and the twin suns of Tatooine, he had thought perhaps he did fear death. That had shamed him.
As he suffered the interventions of the medical droids, as he existed both in and out of his body, he had time to think. He did not fear death. It was loss of life that he feared, the parts of life he had yet to live, the parts of his life he for which he had to atone. Strange, how when all that was physical seemed so nebulous and confused and out of reach, all those thoughts and memories he had banished to the dark recesses of his mind were now so clear. He did not wish to die, though he knew he had little choice in the decision at this point. He wanted to live. He wanted to sort out the situation surrounding the amnesiac female Neelah, he needed to get to the bottom of what he knew was a conspiracy of deadly and massive proportions, and he wanted to go home. If only one last time. To say goodbye.
But life was not fair, nor was death. He who had fought so long and hard, the only living being to escape the fate of eternal erosion within the gullet of the Sarlacc, he who was the most feared bounty hunter in the galaxy, knew that better than anyone. Nothing was fair, nothing was guaranteed, there were no free rides. And everyone, no matter their status or lack there of, eventually died. He was not an exception, no matter how strong he willed it, no matter how much he desired it to be otherwise right now.
Still, he resisted. Something deep inside kept him going. A voice, like a whisper from a half forgotten dream, speaking softly to him. Three words. Wait for me.
Boba Fettâs eyelids opened slowly, bringing great pain that he felt and did not feel. He let them close. The droids were hovering in a corner. They would powerdown, first one then the other. The female, Neelah, she had long since left the room to find sleep. Dengar was soon to follow. Night would fall. The great desert would cool. He would die. But not yet. For now he would wait.
"He's not looking too good." A rough voice echoed loudly in his ears. Dengar.
"We believe he will not survive the night. We have done what we can." One of the droids, which one he could not tell.
"He's one tough barve. If anyone can fight death and win, it'd be Boba Fett." Dengar again. "We're locked tight. Shouldn't have any trouble. You need to leave for any reason, you come get me."
"We will power down for a rest." Same droid speaking. "We can do no more for your friend."
Dengar laughed, a harsh sound similar to a bark. "He ain't my friend. Partner, maybe, but friend? Boba Fett hasn't a friend in the entire known galaxy, and that's just the way he likes it. Friend? Imagine that." Heavy footfalls signaled Dengar's departure.
He listened, detached. It didn't bother him, those words. Dengar was correct. Of all the things Boba Fett did have, he could not, nor did he care to, number a friend amongst them.
External lights dimmed, the glare was greatly reduced. Noise receded. He felt his body temperature cool, dropping one more degree. With it came further separation of spirit. He now drifted above himself, at last able to see first hand the beating his body had withstood. He grimaced, if a spirit could be said to grimace. It was no wonder he was dying. He was a mess. The odds of his survival were not good. He would be dead by first light for sure.
Wait for me.
He heard the words again, only now they were not a whisper. They were spoken in gentle command.
He recognized the voice. It came from a dream. A fantasy. His mind was slipping. Reality, the one he had so carefully constructed and laboriously enforced, was such that the owner of the voice he heard would never speak those words. Leave me be. Go away. Go to hell. Bastard. Those were the kinds of words that fit the reality, delivered with icy disdain rather than soft whisper, or gentle command. Not wait for me. Never wait for me.
Yes. First the body goes. Then the mind. It was to be expected.
A noise caught his attention, pulling him from his brood. His hearing in life had been beyond compare. That was holding true so far, even as death approached. Barely audible, the noise was like a viper's hiss. He ventured to the edge of the pallet, to where he could see out the door. He did not stray too far lest the tenuous hold on life be snapped by distance between spirit and form.
From a vent in the room where the female and Dengar slept he saw faint tendrils of smoke. They curled into the airflow of the room and vanished. Not a good sign. He should do something. But what? He was of no use. Nor was he inclined to attempt intervention. For some reason, he had no sense of danger, none of the anticipatory warnings that usually flared up in such situations.
Eventually the release of smoke desisted. Dengar started to snore. Loudly. The female remained asleep. He waited, interested to see what next progressed. He did not wait long.
The entry door opened. A tall figure crossed the threshold, it's identity hidden beneath a dusty brown robe of coarse spun cloth. It produced a blaster and fired two rapid stun bursts, first at Dengar and then at the female. The droids stirred. The being advanced, swiftly trading the blaster for a Merr-Sonn DEMP. Two electromagnetic blasts later, the droids were silenced, and then deactivated.
Boba Fett watched all with great interest, certain he was hallucinating. Even covered in the swaths of desert colored garb, he could identify the being. As well as he knew himself, he knew the sentient, and he knew there was no way they would ever break their word, throw away everything they held dear, leave their homeworld, and trek to the far side of the galaxy for him. It was all a fabrication of his mind, gone round the bend never to return.
The being drew down the cowl of it's robe and came to his makeshift bedside. It unwrapped scarves, removed protective gloves and eyegear, and revealed what he expected. And had not expected. Eristriel.
"I can't see you, but I know you are not with your body right now," she said to the air. "The longer you engage in such foolishness, the more you hasten your demise. Do us both a favor and return."
"I'm dreaming you, Eristriel. You're not here. You can't be here. You stand to loose too much, and you despise me. So I won't return to my body. Not on the whim of a phantom."
She swore a vile oath. "Even in the throes of death you are obstinate to the last. You are not dreaming. Besides, if you see me in your sleep, it is a no doubt a nightmare and not a dream." She cleared a side table, removed her pack, and began placing contents from it's interior on the table surface. "You listened to me, you waited. Was it just to have one final argument? If that's the case, return to your body, we can still have that argument. I may even be able to prevent your death while we fight. That's two for the price of one. A good offer. If you survive, I can promise as many arguments as you desire."
He did not want to fight. He had many desires, but not a one for argument. He did desire life, though, so phantom or not, he did as she bade. He shut his eyes and let his body pull back the spirit. When he opened his eyes again, it was with all the sensations of pain, to see her face above his. Her full lips were set in a grim line, her silvery gray eyes betraying genuine concern. Ah, his loss, it was truly an hallucination. A mirage. A trick of the eye and mind. He knew for certain this woman did not care if he lived, and most likely preferred he were dead. "Have you come to see me die? To gloat? You have won."
When you are healthier, I will make you pay for those remarks." She went back to arranging her supplies, until the pack was empty. Then she shrugged off the heavy outer garment, rolled up the sleeves of her close fitting black tunic, and went to work.
While he watched, unable to intervene, she made a rapid overall assessment of his vital stats and condition. The grim set of her lips deepened into a frown as she reviewed the array of tubes and fluids connected to him. Not liking what she found, she quickly and methodically disconnected everything save the main hydration line.
"Who programmed these medical droids? This garbage is the last thing you need right now!" She threw away the pile of scavenged medical supplies that had been used on him. From her own supplies, she selected an assortment of vials and syringes. "I'm amazed you lived this long with what they've been doing to you."
She mixed contents from two vials and added them to the main hydration supply, turning it a brilliant yellow. Then she injected fluid from a prefilled syringe, and the color deepened to rich orange. "You loose any more electrolytes, and you'll seize, possibly arrest. This'll perk you up a bit."
"Why?" he croaked. His lips ached, dry and cracked from the burns of the planet's suns.
"Because you need electrolytes to live, among other things. Too much or too little, and bad things happen. Very bad things. The kinds of things it takes a miracle to reverse." Eristriel opened up a grey container. Steam rose from within. She pulled out a small, full packet of a deep burgundy liquid. "You've been mixing in bad company, Bo. This will help take the edge off. It's homegrown, so you don't need to worry about where it's been."
Blood. Hers. Same type, he remembered. A match. Two of a kind. She didn't understand his earlier question. "Why are you here? Not safe. There's a war on. You should be home. With our son."
She froze in mid-action. Turned. Looked at him. "Our son? Don't you mean your son?"
Good. He'd gotten her attention. "No. I don't."
She opened the clamp and the blood ran red into clean tubing. She cleared the air from the line, swiped clean an access port, and jacked it in. He felt the chill as it flowed into his body, but compared to the chill of the grave, it was infinitely warmer and very welcome. It had been many years since she'd addressed him with the shortened name, many since she'd called him by any of his names. When was the last time they even exchanged words?
"I know you can't stand having me around, so I'm here for one night only. You won't need me after that, providing all goes as planned, and your still as tough as I remember." She touched the side of his face with a cool, soft hand. "Rest for now. Don't talk so much."
He felt his eyes close. He sensed her stray from him, heard her moving around the room. Time passed. The cold was fading. His life force held its place. He felt different. Better. The pain did not numb him into nothingness. It was there, but it was dull. His fevered skin felt good where her hand had been. He realized then he did not hallucinate, nor dream. She was real. Though it made absolutely no sense to him, she had come. And death had fled.
Her actions contradicted her words, he thought. He knew she hated him, above all beings. She had once said as much, and he believed her. Eristriel never lied. So why had she come? What had changed?
There was no malice in her words, none of the usual frigid reserve. There was kindness when she spoke to him now, a familiar affection that he'd not heard in many years. She thought he couldn't stand having her around. What had he told her to make her think that? Torture. Yes. That was it. He'd referred to being in her company as torture. She had drawn her own conclusion, misinterpreting his words. Always words. How he hated words.
She returned with more gear. Some of it sterile. A bin of something warm, and fragrant. Vaguely floral. What he could see of the room was much more ordered. Her movements as she worked were economical, confident, efficient. Once she had been a soldier, a mercenary, sometimes a hunter. He'd put a stop to that, redirecting her towards her original path. He'd often questioned himself about that move, the surrounding circumstance, and the price paid. Eventually, he resigned himself to the fact that the past could never change, so why bother with second guesses and regret. Something had changed, though. What? Why was she here?
"How is the pain, on a scale of one to ten with ten the worst, and one, gone?" The concern filled her eyes, like heavy gray clouds just before a soaking rain.
"One," he lied.
She sighed, folded her arms across her chest. "Let's try the truth this time."
"Two. Maybe three. Much better."
"Against my professional judgment, I'm offering you a choice. I need to clean off that crap those screw-ups have rubbed all over you. I'm going to replace it with something that will work much better, and quicker, and provide local anesthesia at the same time. All you'll need is one good application." She took a deep breath, and continued. "If you can still feel, the cleaning part is going to hurt. About as bad as the Sarlacc, maybe worse. The topical gel will take the pain away once it's applied. I'll go slow.
I gave you a reversal agent earlier for the funky drugs those droids were pumping into you, and switched to a medcombo more suitable and safe for your condition. I can increase it enough to put you out, or, you can do it the hard way and stay awake."
"You know me," he said simply.
"I knew you. I don't know you." She smiled sadly. "The hard way it is. You can scream if you want. The droids are in reprogramming mode, and those two up front won't wake for the better part of the next day, unless given major chemical assistance."
"I won't scream, Eristriel." He hoped. "But you may. I am not a pretty sight."
"You never were. You are a warrior, and your body bears the honor mark of every confrontation from which you emerged alive." She drew back the sheet from its cradle, exposing him to the air. "A man who has lived well and fought hard should not be pretty."
He watched for any sign that her feelings did not match her words, but she displayed no fear, disgust or horror. She looked thoughtful, right now, and beautiful. Even with her night black hair scraped back from her face and tied in such a severe knot, even in desert rags, in this hole in the earth. Beautiful.
"Who would you like me to kill for this? The smuggler? His Jedi friend? The rebel senator from Alderaan?" She started at the lower most part of his body, talking to distract him from the agony that came with her ministrations. "Say the word and it will be done."
"Kill no one." He gritted his teeth, but he did not shut his eyes. He kept watching her, trying to commit every detail to memory. His body was on fire, burning hotter than anything imaginable, yet she touched only a small part of him. He ate the pain, as he had in the Sarlacc, but it pushed to come out. She finished, and reached for the container of warm fluid. Blessedly, there was relief. He released the breath he'd been holding throughout the ordeal.
"Breath through it," she coaxed. "Deep. In through, the nose, then slow, out through your mouth. That's right. Pace it. In. Now out. Focus on the breath."
And so it went. Little by little she reclaimed his body, restoring comfort, providing healing and attention. Talking to him, patiently plying her skills upon his ravaged shell, bringing him back to himself. His own system defenses, notoriously strong, began to rally. Somewhere, in the deepest part of the Tatooine night, the tide of death changed. His life force began to flow.
"You've got a phenomenal metabolism, and the reversal agent helped, but I want your system completely free of the bizarre synth-narcotics those two medical droids utilized. Now that the worst is behind us, I'm cutting off my mix too, just to give your system some help in detoxing." She hung a second unit of blood, further reduced the main intravenous line's rate, and disconnected all else, including the anesthetic agent she'd brought. "You were damn near to overdose on the droid's poison. No wonder you thought me a dream."
"You are very competent, Eristriel. I feel stronger. More clear." Clear enough to recognize the care behind her every action. Lucid enough to evaluate the meaning behind her coming. Wise enough to recognize something that had been before him all along, something he missed. Shrewed enough to seize the opportunity he knew would not come again. Ruthless enough to play the odds and exploit every advantage to get what he desired.
"Your eyes look normal again. A good sign." She lowered the lights, shut off those overhead, and knelt beside him. She had a flush to her creamy skin. "You are as tough as I remember, Boba Fett. You will survive this, as you have survived so much else in life."
So, she was back to formality. That bothered him. "There is more to life than survival."
"Indeed." She reached for him, felt his forehead with the back of her hand. "The fever is gone."
There was power in touch. Power enough to bring a being to their knees. He had known that power, used it, as he had felt it, had it used on him. So long ago, maybe another lifetime. She smoothed back his hair, stroked his blistered cheek. More healing. He could feel the transference of her energy, the true mark of her skills. He did not stop her. It was soothing, and he decided to let her have her way. He spent too many years stopping her from things. Time to just sit back and not interfere. And yet there were questions. After a while, his energy levels increasing, he found himself unable to stay silent.
"Where is our son?"
He startled her. He had meant to do just that. Fascinating, the power of words. They could undo lives and empires more effectively and more irrevocably than the worst of weapons or wars.
"Your son is with my brothers, for the harvest festival. He is safe. With all the celebrating, he won't even notice I'm gone."
Boba Fett highly doubted that her absence would go unnoted, but as he did not desire argument, he did not voice his belief. "Who came with you?"
"I came alone."
Alone? There was nothing Eristriel hated more than piloting space craft. He could scarce believe she traveled alone, simply to reach him, the being she swore she loathed. It bothered him more than he cared to admit that she took such risk. And it confused him that she should break their contracted arrangement, knowing full well the consequences. "The space lanes are very dangerous these days. This planet a hellhole."
"The space lanes have always been dangerous, and just about every outerrim world is a hellhole." She stopped touching him. Her tone was slightly defensive. "I may not have been off world for a while, but I can still take care of myself."
That was true. Always had been true. She did not need him, or anyone, to take care of anything for her. Still, he tried.
Her hands rested in her lap. Though it took great concentration and effort, he reached for her. She did not shy. Telling, that non-action. In it he thought he found understanding. But how to be sure without forcing a confrontation? The night's activities wore on her. Though she sought to hide it, he could sense with ease the amount of strain she felt.
Utilize every advantage, exploit every weakness.
There was no way to gain his end without confrontation, he decided. Her shell was no less hard than the Mandaloran armor he wore. It would have to break. He would have to make that break. "You have most seriously violated the terms of our contract, Eristriel."
"Yes I have." She looked down at her hands, then turned her face from him. "I am aware of the consequences, and prepared to deal with them."
Was she? This he could not believe. Yet her presence was proof. Another sign. "You forfeit all rights to our son. All rights to participate in his upbringing. All rights to even so much as see him, until he reaches his majority. You give up our home, all the lands. Everything. It all comes to me. Those were the terms. Are you certain you understand?"
"I know the terms of all our contracts quite well. You need not repeat them to me." The flush to her skin grew deeper. Fatigue was now evident in her features. "I am prepared for judgment."
A dark thought surfaced in his mind. "You have met someone. That is why you seek to break contract." He released it without his usual examination, and instantly, he regretted the action.
She pulled away from him completely. "No. The only violation I committed was leaving the system without clearing it through you first."
"I do not understand. Because of your actions, you will loose everything."
She faced him now, her eyes bright with tears. "I don't expect you to understand. You never have, there is no reason for you to suddenly grow enlightened this late in the game. It doesn't matter. I have my reasons, and they are my own. You have won. Be happy with your victory, and leave it at that."
More words. He hated words. He was a man of action. Only now, he could barely move. And what action could he take under the circumstances? He had never seen this woman shed a single tear, and all he could do was lay there and watch as one after another slipped free.
She stood hastily, turning away from him. He fell silent and she busied herself with gathering and restoring her supplies. He counted what tears he could see as she moved around. One, two, three, ten, twelve, they all ran together like a silent river. Enough. Too much.
Boba Fett placed his palms flat against the surface of the pallet. He summoned strength, of which he had little, and channeled it into his arms, pushing his battered body into a sitting position. The room began to spin. He felt bile rise in his throat, and forced it back. "Eris, come here," he said, using a name for her he had not spoken in ages.
"What are you doing? Are you mad? Lie back down!" She dropped a parcel to the dirty floor and rushed to the pallet. "You are beyond impossible!"
With the last of his strength, he grabbed her and pulled her down next to him. The spinning room had slowed, and his equilibrium reasserted itself. "You said you'd stay the night. It is still dark. Too dangerous for you to leave. You will stay until first light. Then you may go."
He wiped her tears with his fingers. The healing gel wore thin and the pain of touch and salt from tears was excruciating. Wounds on the outside were obvious. From looking, you knew how to treat. Ailments of the body were just the same. But what of wounds to spirit? Ailments of the soul? He did not know how to fix them, only make them. "Tell me what I can do, Eris."
"Lie down. Heal. Take care of what ever business it is you are currently on." She took a steadying breath. "Then come home and take care of your son."
"And what of you? What will you do?" He felt a strange pressure in his chest, and wondered if this might not be the arrest she'd spoken of earlier.
She forced the tears to stop, but her breath grew more ragged. "I will stay here until daybreak. Then I will return home to say goodbye to your our son. After that, I will go. I will no longer be your problem, so don't concern yourself with me. There will be more facing you of greater importance."
One death, traded for another. One chance, slipping away. He could see the life already leaving her eyes. He could see emptiness stretching before him. He had set the stage for this, with every word wrought in the contract, signed and paid for in blood. He had used it to get what he desired and to wreak vengeance, so why was the final win so hollow?
He should be pleased, but he felt anger and frustration, not satisfaction. Certainly he felt no pleasure. No single being could provoke him like Eris, only, this time, she was not being provocative: just compliant. Honoring the terms he'd set. She had saved him from the grips of his death, aware that all she stood to gain was her own. Knowingly, she broke contract with a man who had no mercy. Her choice had been made, the lot cast, all chance abandoned for one decisive action in full understanding of the devastating consequences that would most certainly follow.
Finally, he knew for sure, she did not entirely hate or despise him. It had never mattered to him what any being had thought of him. But she was not just any being. And now it was his turn. It was up to him to take a chance, to cast his lot with the uncertainties of life and reap what came, or to render his judgment and deal out a form of living death he'd designed specifically for her.
Boba Fett had thought the darkest part of the Tatooine night was past. Now he knew the true blackness of endless night was upon him. He felt it surround him. He felt it touch his soul.
In that instant, he made his choice. He had seized the sudden opportunity, utilized advantage, played the game this far. Time to go all the way.
He took the one chance and cast his lot. No more death. Life. "We are going to have the argument you mentioned earlier."
"Please, I'm too tired to fight with you. Can't it wait?"
"No, this can not wait, Eris." His ache was spreading, his body desperately seeking respite, but he could not do this without looking her eye to eye. "You may not abandon our son. He cares a great deal for you, and were you to leave suddenly, it would be a terrible blow to him. I do not want him to suffer."
"I don't want to abandon him, but you have left me no choice." A shudder worked it's way through her. "He is almost of the age to travel with you. To learn your craft. At least half the year or more, he'll be with you. So what if it is all the year. It makes little difference if I'm gone at that point."
It makes all the difference. "Why did you come here? You did not have to come. You could have let me die, and you'd have not only been freed of all the binding rhetoric, but heir to a vast fortune." Knowing what needed to be done to send her over the edge, he deliberately kept his voice neutral, emotionless. It was a skill he had honed to perfection. "You did a very foolish thing. It is completely unlike you."
"I save your life, and you call me a fool?" Storm clouds gathered in the gray eyes. He witnessed the briefest flash of anger.
Just the reaction he sought. Strip away the layers of the icy facade, reach the fire and truth beneath. He pushed forward, a renewed sense of energy and purpose driving him, even while his rational self told him to stay clear of the dangerous ground to which he charged. He thought he knew, but he needed confirmation. He had to hear for himself. He had to be sure. He had gambled, betting to win. "You will not walk away from our son, nor will you abdicate the responsibility you bear for our home and lands. I will not permit it. Is that why you came? So you could gain freedom from what has become burdensome? It is a coward's way to find release."
"You wouldn't understand why I came. You're incapable of understanding." She rubbed her eyes with her hands, covered her face. "Please lie down. Rest. Heal. Forget I was here. I'll return home. Raise your son. Follow contract. What ever you want. Just lie back down, before you do more harm."
Oblivious to the pain that wracked his battered body, Boba Fett took hold of her hands again. He moved them from her face. The wall of ice was shattered. He saw raw hurt, saw anger, he saw worry, and so much else. So very unlike his cool Eristriel, the woman who let nothing and no one rattle her. She was at the breaking point, and he had brought her there. He gentled his voice. "I am capable of many things. Try me."
She studied him for the longest moment before speaking. It was the longest moment of his life.
"I came for you. I violated the terms of the contract for you. I have risked everything. For you, Boba Fett. For no other." Her eyes never wavered as she spoke, for she spoke from her heart. "I love you."
He felt the band around his chest break free. He drew in breath. "I know."
"Then why push me to admit it?"
Truth deserved truth. "It has been a long time since I heard those three words. Many more words have followed, from me, and from you. I thought all those words that followed had undone the first three by now."
"Those first three are forever. Nothing can undo them, no matter how much I may have wished at times something would. I thought they never mattered to you. Has that changed?"
"I don't know," he answered honestly. "I am a man of action, not words. I have always provided for you and our son. You have never lacked for anything."
"You are a good father, and an excellent provider," she admitted. "We are not married. You owe me nothing. I am simply the mother of your son, no more and no less. I don't expect anything from you. I never have."
More truth. He remembered well how Eris had not expected anything of him. She had not demanded. She knew what she desired of him he could not give. And then he'd betrayed her, killing any chance of discovering what it was he could and could not give.
"I wanted you for a wife." His breath came easy, but the words, they were tough. "You rejected my offer. That was the reason for all the contracting, the negotiations. If I couldn't have you one way, I would get you another. I don't care that you violated the travel clause. It is one infraction, done for good reason. I do not want you to leave our son."
"I was an obligation, a mistake you had to fix."
"I am a man who takes care of what is his. There is no shame in that. You say I couldn't understand. I think in this instance, it is you who couldn't understand."
"You're right. You are an honorable man. There is no shame in taking care of your responsibilities," she conceded. "You are being very generous in not enforcing the terms of our contract."
He sensed the coolness, the walls and defenses coming to bear. He was no good at these words. But he was good at truth. Truth had worked so far. So truth he would use. "I'm being selfish, Eris. If you leave, you leave not only our son, but you leave me. As you say, it is too late in the game. I am settled in my ways. I do not want you to leave. In fact, I consider you mine, and as I take care of what is mine, it is only fair to warn you I have no intention of letting you leave."
Her expression shifted, displaying absolute shock and total surprise. Confusion swam in her silvery eyes. There was also hope.
Action, he thought. No more words. He closed the final distance between them, and with infinite control and precision, gave her the lightest of kisses. There was power in touch. This he knew, and knew well how to use it when necessary. He needed her to understand, to heed his word, to stay. He did not want the worry of her potential disappearance while he completed his business.
He broke the contact, pleased to see he could still affect her after all the time spent apart.
"This has been quite a night," she whispered. "What else are you going to do? You'd think after all these years I'd know, but I'm fast realizing there is much I don't know. What now?"
"I am going to lie down, as you suggest." He returned to his reclining position on his own power, knowing it would be several hours before he could move easily again. It did not matter. The energy he had spent, he had spent well. "I am going to rest and heal. I am going to complete this piece of business. Then I am coming home. I plan to stay a while. I will need time to recuperate. I would like for us to revisit the contracts."
She nodded in agreement. "I would like to have you home for a while. I would also like--" She stopped herself. "Never mind, we'll talk about it when you return. Now is not the time."
"We will talk about it now." He looked up to her, held her eyes. "Tell me now, what would you like?"
"I was very young when we created this mess. I have had much time to think, and grow. To realize all my mistakes. To regret things I've said, things I've done." She tucked her legs beneath her, moving closer to him. There was warmth at last in her eyes. Her voice, hesitant at first, grew strong as she spoke. "Many times over the years I have wished for another chance, only I could never find the words to tell you. Each time I saw you, there was more and more distance between us. Finally, I resigned myself to the fact that the past can't be changed. I tried not to regret. I tried to move on. You did. I figured I could do the same, only I found I can't. It's worse than death."
She paused. Searching, he could tell, for the right words, speaking her truths which were his truths. A match. Two of a kind.
"When I felt what had happened to you, all I wished for was to see you, just one last time. If only to say goodbye. I have seen you, and you tell me it won't be the last time and I know this to be true, because I can feel it in my heart. You are alive, the distance gone. So I'm going to ask, because I sense the opportunity may never again arise. I would like you to give me the chance to start over."
"A hard thing to ask, Eris. An easy thing to give." She was brave enough to start, he would finish. "But you must grant me the same in return or the deal is off."
Her reply was instant, and gratifying for him to hear.
Motion from beyond the door distracted her. She turned her profile to him, holding herself still as she listened and tried to identify the source.
Looking at her Boba Fett felt a curious ache, not painful at all. The twinge of desire he recognized, but there was something else.
"It's the bounty hunter." She laughed lightly. "He's louder than a herd of Bantha."
"I don't think Dengar's going to wake," he responded, suddenly glad for the change in topic. "You put him down for the count."
"Don't worry. I'll administer a stimulant to your business associates before I go. They'll both wake eventually, and never be the wiser. At the worst, they might think they dreamed or heard you talking to yourself. Normal, under the circumstances. We've only spoken in Scythan, so even if they remember anything, I doubt they'll understand . You may want to play dumb, though, just incase."
"And the droids?"
"The droids have been reprogrammed with more realistic medical treatment guidelines, so they shouldn't cause you any more damage. Be watchful with them," she cautioned, reaching for the last of the healing gel. "I believe there's pervasive corruption in their internal systems that I can't counteract. The memory drives will register nothing more than a powerdown when they review the time period. They'll believe they administered all the treatments that I performed tonight. No one but you will know I have come, and gone. I have preserved the secrecy clause, at least."
"I want you both safe. That is why I keep you on your homeworld with our son. I have many enemies who would gladly hurt you in my stead. You can believe what you like, but that is the truth." He didn't fight her as she smoothed more gel over his hands, targeting the spots that had worn thin from contact. Already, skin had regenerated on parts of his body. He felt a pang in his gut. Hunger. Another sign of rapid healing. His chest no longer pained him so. He felt fatigue pulling at him. He wanted to resist. He wanted more time.
"Sleep, Bo. I'll wake you before I leave. No solid food for a few days, then take it light at first. Double your fluid intake, or your kidneys will fail with all the strain of healing. I'm leaving sublingual supplements, take one a day for as long as you double your fluids. You know the drill. You don't need a lecture from me." She turned down the last of the lights, bringing the restfulness of the dark. Then she sat, leaned her back against the wall, and settled in for the duration of the night. "I'll be here until first light."
Boba Fett closed his eyes. He did not need the instruction in first aide, true. There was, however, something else he needed. "Eris, do not say 'your son' anymore. He is our son."
In the darkness she found him, bestowing a tender caress on his ravaged skin. "He has always been our son."
Many more words came to mind, but he held them back until he could better sort them out. Words had brought them to a very sorry point, words had gained back ground thought lost to a war of long ago. He had chanced enough for one night. He would keep silent, savor his victory. He had once risked what he was not prepared to lose. The years had given him wisdom enough not to make the same mistake twice. He fell to sleep, without a narcotic aide, listening to the sound of her breathing and feeling the life force within grow strong once more.
Hours passed. He heard a whisper in his ear. "I'm leaving." He felt the feathering of a soft kiss, tasted her heat.
"Send me word when you reach Scytha," he ordered, "so I will know you are safe."
Boba Fett thought for a second, then rattled off a long string of alphanumeric designators. She repeated them back for confirmation, and committed them to memory.
He touched her one last time. "Thank you, Eris. I owe you."
"I love you. There is no debt where there is love," she said. "Never forget it, never doubt it. No matter what comes, that will never change."
He knew she didn't expect a response from him. He did not expect to supply response. But it came, from some nether reach of himself, and he did not try to stop it. A thought never voiced, only expressed in action and deed. Three words given to one woman who had waited twelve years to hear them, from the man able at last to trust her enough to set them free.
She paused in the doorway, and looked back to him. A wry smile touched her lips, and her creamy skin flushed with heat. "I know."
He watched until she disappeared from his view, then Boba Fett closed his eyes. He felt alive. He felt strong. He had fought and bested death yet again, and had won two lives back in the process: his own and Eristriel's. Along with the bounty of life, he had won something most precious and unexpected: a chance to start over. Of all his desires, this had been his greatest, the one he considered most hopeless and fantastic, the one that haunted him every single day of those twelve long years.
He was a prudent man, calculating, and wise. He had risked, and he had won. A chance to start over had immeasurable value, and he would not forget that at the darkest point of last night it was by choosing life and letting go of death, that he earned this singular reward.
“Epilogue: Death and Life”
Set in one night during the timeline of "The Mandaloran Armor."
Boba Fett was dying.
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