At the Oasis: Not For the Eyes of Youngling
Rating: PG

Iella

In the previous story Jacen's name was a little "muddied" by the antics of his two female assistants much to the amusement of Han, Anakin and their guests. Tahiri, as you may remember from the earlier tale — Paddy and the Capon — was pregnant with the couple's second child, Tryst. In this story, Unkie Jacen returns from the wop-wops hoping for a little R&R on Tatooine, and Tryst makes his appearance in typical Solo dramatic fashion ...


It was nearly time. I could feel it — I could read those little telltale signs and changes that are often impossible to describe, although maybe those of you who have carried a child for nine months might know what I mean. And even then I suppose, to each of us the signs would be different. Such an individual experience is pregnancy after all.

In my case it was, among other things, a growing obsession with cleaning, which proved to be something of a source of frustration, not to mention embarrassment, due to the fact we were at the time staying in Mos Ensen's official state residence. I don't think the floor orderly was too happy at finding me down on my knees in the refresher scrubbing around the tiles with a toothbrush, which happened to be the only convenient cleaning tool I could lay my hands on. No, it wasn't my toothbrush, in case you're worried about the potential damage to my oral hygiene — it was Anakin's. And yes, of course I remembered to buy him a new one ... I think.

Fortunately any complaints she might have made about the strange behaviour of the Tusken delegate would probably have been taken lightly, because it was blatantly obvious to everyone that my gargantuan size was in no way indicative of Hutt ancestry. Far from it. In fact I have to say that I enjoyed a certain amount of cosseting, and even the regional commissar made the point every now and again of making sure I was comfortable. I wasn't, but that had nothing to do with their arrangements. It was because of this precious, but growing-heavier-and-lower-every-minute bundle called Tryst — Anakin's and my second child and first son.

Our daughter Paddy, named after Anakin's Jedi grandmother Padme, had watched the growth of my belly with curious interest, and had already developed a sisterly bond with her younger brother thanks to her Force abilities. People who didn't know us too well probably found her tendency to talk to my abdominal regions a little odd, especially before my baby bump had really started to show. But fortunately Paddy is an expert in the field of public relations, which in this case meant announcing loudly and enthusiastically to anyone within earshot that "Mummy got a baby in her tummy."

In Tryst's case his preparations for his entrance into the big wide world of Tatooine were marked by signals of his growing frustration at the lack of space in his cosy little downstairs apartment — frustration he managed to vent on my bladder, or any other organ that lay conveniently within range of his little feet. Frustration I could sense in the Force exuding from him as he attempted yet again to perform his morning somersault routine, only to run up against the fact that he was kind of stuck permanently upside down. I knew it wouldn't be long before he decided he'd had enough of constraint, but even I had no idea how soon that was going to be. If I had, it's quite likely I would chosen one of the elders to represent our tribe at the Convocation and stayed at home.

But that would have made a very boring birth story don't you think? And we Solos, as you've probably realised by now, don't really do boring. And so I had made the trip to Mos Ensen, along with Anakin and Paddy, with the intention of attending the Convocation and fitting in a little last minute shopping before we returned to await Tryst's arrival.

The final morning was exceptionally busy as we delegates had to race through the final issues on the agenda. The earlier discussion on border issues had consumed more time than planned, although I was pleased that the extra time had been allowed, as it was an issue that affected my tribe and the problems we were having in the outer reaches of the Dune Sea with water prospectors. Water is such a precious resource here, so you can imagine the issue was debated hotly. But for once reason prevailed, and our indigenous rights were upheld. And so I was able to look forward to the final day as a chance to catch up on the current goings on in our vast southern province and to learn about some of the concerns of the other groups that call this area their home.

Knowledge is power, especially when you bear the mantle of leadership. And ever since my father died and passed the role of tribal leader to me, I have tried to honour his memory by serving my people to the best of my ability. Having trained as a Jedi has helped enormously, for although I may never become a Jedi Master, as I know Anakin will one day, I see my role as achieving a similar result via a different path.

But on that final morning, Jedi training and grandiose aspirations for the future were far from my mind. I was a mother who knew she was soon to give birth, and I wanted to go home. Home to our cave house where the Jundland thorntrees would be aflame in their tangerine finery, and where I could deliver my beautiful boy in peace. Home to our oasis.

Even the thought of it was calming, and I'm sure my final hour at the Convocation was spent with a contented smile on my face. Which was just as well in view of what was waiting for me when I returned to our rooms, although to be fair the potential for disaster was not immediately obvious to me. In fact, at first everything seemed quite normal from Paddy's enthusiastic "Mummy!" as soon as I walked through the door to Anakin's warm kiss and cuddle, and query as to how I felt. It wasn't until he was handing me a cup of dewberry juice that I caught that faint edginess he gets in his eyes when he's not quite sure how I'm going to react to whatever it is he's about to come out with.

As usual it was Paddy who got in first.

"Daddy let me say hello to Unkie Cowwan," she announced proudly. "On his commylink."

Well, could you say "comlink" when you were only two and a half? And anyway — commylink sounds much more descriptive don't you think?

I swallowed my mouthful of juice, placed the cup carefully on the table — and caught Anakin's eye. Oh yes, he was edgy all right, although being the brave guy that he was he didn't avoid my gaze. He just turned a little pink, and threw me a rueful grin.

"Anakin," I said, "please tell me you didn't agree to letting Corran pack you off to some crims' patch in the back of beyond to sort out yet another unsolvable case!"

He hesitated slightly, and the grin took on a slightly relieved look. "I didn't. And I definitely have no intention of going off-planet," he said earnestly.

Too earnestly.

Did you notice the slight disconnect between those two statements? I certainly did — that's a classic Anakin evasion tactic. Although I expect if you asked him to give it a name, he'd call it survival.

I sighed. "Sometimes I think you are learning rather too well from the people you deal with every day."

"What do you mean?" To give him his due, he did look genuinely confused.

"Duplicity. Not telling the truth but not telling a lie."

"Lies is naughty," Paddy informed us sagely, eager to let us know she understood at least a fraction of what was being said.

"Yes they are, sweetie," I agreed. "I'm glad that message has got through to at least one member of the family."

Her big blue eyes opened wide. "Unkie Jacen not tell lies, Mummy," she said with what almost amounted to vehemence.

I have to admit I was floored — as much by the random introduction of Jacen into the equation as by Paddy's exclusion of her father from the elite group of those-who-tell-no-lies. Maybe it's true what they say about a wise child knowing its own father. Or maybe in her little child-like mind she assumed that her beloved parents were both naturally above such villainy. I frowned up at Anakin.

"Okay, two questions — where does Corran want to send you, and what does Jacen have to do with it?"

I don't know he managed to do it, but Anakin looked simultaneously relieved and hurt. Fortunately a kick his son had just delivered to what had been until then an unbruised section of my lower stomach gave me the strength to resist the urge to feel sorry for him. I contented myself with a glare that let him know his relief at being given the opportunity to come clean might be short-lived.

So he grabbed the chance to explain, the words belching out in spurts and starts like water from an artesian bore.

"It's a local case, and Jacen has nothing to do with it as such. It's just that he arrived out of the blue just after you left this morning, and he ... uh ... well, he said he could take you and Paddy shopping and then he'd take you home, which is where he was heading anyway."

I rolled my eyes. "Jacen — shopping? Jacen wouldn't know what a shop was if he fell over it. And what's going on in his head turning up for a visit when I'm about to give birth?" A thought suddenly occurred to me. "You did tell him we were expecting a baby didn't you, Anakin?"

His eyes widened. I wonder if he knows how incredibly cute and innocent he looks when he gets that gornt-stuck-in-a-searchlight look? I hope not as that means he's using it to his advantage.

"I'm sure I sent him a message. But you know Jacen. He's been out in the wilds of some unnameable planet ever since that debacle on Roon, and he's probably been avoiding his message box."

I sighed. The last part at least was probably true. Poor Jacen had become something of a cult hero after his live holo-documentary search for the Abominable Roon Mudman turned into a mud-wrestling extravaganza between Jacen and his two female assistants. We'd all been plagued by gossip show hosts for updates on his romantic life, a situation Han had enjoyed to the utmost by feeding them increasingly unlikely tales about Jacen's secret dalliances with just about every unattached non-male leader in the galaxy. And when you take into account the range of possibilities that non-male includes, well ... I think you get the picture!

"I really wanted this to be a family thing," I said wistfully, "just you, me and Paddy." I could see him catching my unspoken message: Mainly for Paddy, because she is going to find it hard to have to share the spotlight.

"I know," he murmured, taking me in his arms again. "I'm sorry, kitten, but this is a guy we've been trying to corner for a few years. I'd be letting good folks down if I didn't make every effort to nail him. And I won't be far away — just in Mos Eisley."

I sighed again. He's so hard to disagree with when he cuddles me. It's just not fair.

But he was right. Duty has to come first, and Anakin is the best detective Corran has. If they wanted this criminal caught, then Anakin would be the one to do it.

"I really don't think I could survive shopping with Jacen without going insane and shooting him," I whispered in case Paddy heard and reported her findings to her much loved unkie. "I just want to get home."

"You're not going to clean the house again, are you?" he asked, genuinely concerned. "Especially my workshop?"

Yeah — I admit I had got a little carried away a few days before we left for the Convocation. Poor Anakin was still trying to find all the hydro-screws from his back-up water pump that he had left on the floor, and that I had tidied away logically in order of size in his parts cabinet.

But oh my, that floor did look clean!

"I promise."

No, really, I had every intention of resisting the urge.

"So where's Jacen?" I asked, still basking in the warmth of Anakin's embrace.

"He went out to get Paddy some blue milk, but he should be-"

"I'm back!"

"Unkie Jacen!" Paddy clapped her hands and ran to him, neatly uplifting the carton of blue milk from his outstretched arms. "Yummy milk," she announced, unaware of his slightly crestfallen look. Did he not realise that two-and-half-year-olds can be a little too self-focused?

I gave him a hug — part welcome, part consolation. "Good to see you, Jace." I stepped back a little and studied his face. "You're looking very well."

It was half true. He looked healthy and tanned, but there was something beseeching in his expression that brought out the maternal in me — which made it hard to be annoyed at his inconvenient timing.

"So are you," he was speaking, like Paddy, to my belly. "I hadn't realised you were, uh," he appeared to fumble mentally for the correct term, "with child until Anakin told me."

I could see Anakin's lips twitching. But I guess when you spend most of your time with animals you kind of lose contact with the human side of the equation.

"Mummy got a baby in her tummy," Paddy corrected him. "He my brother and I gonna play wid him."

"Ah," Jacen nodded. "That will be fun."

I caught his eye so I could gauge his reaction, knowing full well the possibility that although Anakin had obviously explained that I was pregnant, he probably wouldn't have explained how pregnant. And I doubt Jacen was accustomed to dealing with women whose tummy size sometimes made them a bit volatile in the mood department. "Are you sure you're okay with taking Paddy and me home?"

"More than happy to," he replied.

"Er, I think what Tahiri's trying to ask, bro', is how you're going to deal with her when she tells you you're travelling too fast, too slow, too reckless and that whoever gave you a licence must have been both blind and stupid."

"Oh." He considered that for a moment. "Quite honestly, as long as she doesn't order me to drive near any mud holes, I'll take whatever she can throw at me."

Oh boy, it was obvious the mud-wrestling fiasco had taken a greater toll than we all thought. Anakin and I shared pitying looks.

"Not allowed to fow things in the speedah," Paddy remonstrated. "It naughty."

"I won't, I promise," Jacen said seriously. No wonder Paddy liked him; he treated her funny little utterings with such respect. Gormless he may be, but I think he would make a wonderful father. If only he could just find himself a suitable wife.

Tryst chose that moment to bounce down hard on my sciatic nerve, a trick he'd learned over the last few days that sent electric pain down the backs of my thighs. I quickly sat down, which made him move up a little. The battle of wills had already begun. Anakin threw me a worried look, but I waved it off with a smile. The last thing I wanted now was him feeling any more guilty than he already felt. I was too tired to deal with it. I just wanted to go home.

"I'll get Paddy ready," I said to Anakin, "if you can pack all our stuff."

"As ordered," he said with a relieved grin and headed towards our bedroom.

Jacen went to grab his bag and then hesitated. "I'm sorry about my poor choice of timing," he said. "I just needed to be with family ... you know."

I gave him my best carefree smile while Tryst hammered away again at my lower pelvis. How could a tiny baby be so strong! "I understand completely, Jace. And honestly, it's no problem — in fact it's worked out quite well really."

"Are you okay?" He must have caught my slight gasp.

"I'm fine. Just got a typical Solo in here."

******

"Are you okay?" Jacen asked for the umpteenth time, studying me with a worried look.

"I'm fine," I lied.

Yes, I know lies is naughty, but sometimes they are a necessary evil, especially when you're not sure how the announcement that your waters have just broken might go down with your travelling companion. It was just fortunate that I had thought to place a blanket on the seat before we left to make it more comfortable, as it was now working as a sponge. And Paddy, thank goodness, had fallen asleep.

"It's amazing isn't it? Birth I mean?" he said, his voice full of wonder.

"You've obviously never experienced it," I replied darkly, mentally calculating our current rate of progress with the distance left to go. I figured we were just over halfway, which meant I could be confident I could endure the uncomfortable sogginess without becoming too snappy. Which was just as well as Jacen was obviously in a conversational mood.

"I suppose it does sound sappy," he said. "But from a xenobiological point of view — it is amazing the way the female adapts to the process."

Oh great — now I was going to be compared to one of his specimens. Hopefully one of the more graceful ones!

"The giant Agamarian slimehopper for instance can quadruple in size ... "

Well, it was a slim hope I guess. Glub, glub.

I assume that's the kind of noise a slimehopper makes?

He droned on filling me in on the myriad and sometimes just plain odd behaviour of pregnant females throughout the galaxy leaving me to focus inwards on my particular example. Tryst was curiously quiet, and he had stopped bouncing around. I thought back to Paddy's birth and tried to remember the sequence of labour, knowing full well that there was no reason for Tryst to replicate his sister's behaviour. It was at that point I think that it began to dawn on me that he might be already on his way. With Paddy I had had a good slow labour and there had been at least five hours between the time my waters broke and she appeared. But this was a whole new smashball game. This was Anakin's son!

Oh, spit.

But I knew I had to remain calm, and hopefully that calm would relay down to my boy. I used the Force to convey peaceful thoughts of fixing engines with Daddy, of lovely calming slow motion katas under Daddy's watchful eye, of dreaming beautiful dreams while sleeping in Daddy's arms.

I came to with a start to hear Jacen ask, "Are you going to have the baby at home?"

"Oh yes. There are no medical centres around here and I wouldn't want to have my baby in there anyway. Our tribe has two excellent midwives."

Jacen nodded, seemingly impressed. "That's good. That's the way it should be — nice and natural."

"Well, of course, it's the Tusken way. And it's easier for Paddy, too. That way she can be part of it. We've planned some little jobs for her to do so she'll feel like she's helping. And if she wants to watch Tryst being born she can."

"Oh!"

"What's wrong?" I gazed around thinking he'd hit something, although I hadn't felt a collision.

Jacen looked at me anxiously. "Do you think that's a good idea? Birth really isn't for the eyes of younglings."

If I'd had the energy to laugh, I would have. "Jacen! You've just spent about an hour regaling me with the wonders of natural birth. I would think you of all people would agree that birth should involve the entire family."

"I don't know, Tahiri. Some mothers do odd things in birth, and it can be a messy business. The black-clawed Devaronian forest wulf for instance —"

"I am not a wulf, black-clawed or other! And we're not going to make Paddy watch if she prefers not to. We just want her to feel part of it. And ... oooooh!"

"Yeow!" the poor man gasped as I gripped his arm and let out a long, probably agonised, groan. "Are you okay? Sorry dumb question. Obviously you're not okay so I'm just going to slow down and —"

I gripped him harder. "No you're not," I threatened. "You're going to speed this thing up to maximum and you're going to get me home as quickly as you can."

"Okay," he stammered. He'd gone pale. I'm not sure if it was fear of me or fear of the speed potential of the souped up engine in the speeder, but he eased his foot down on the thrusters and we shot forwards over the parched terrain. We'd been tracing the eastern edge of the Jundland cliffs and it wouldn't be long before we came to the canyon entrance that led to the last stage of the trip.

We were about an hour and a half from home! Would Tryst be able to hold on that long?

"Aah!"

Oh no! I really, really, really wanted to push.

"Are you okay?" Jacen's voice quavered a little.

"Jacen. If you ask me that again, I will kill you. I will kill you slowly. I will draw your death out until ... ooooh!" I did the only thing I could. I began panting. And I decided if Jacen tried to compare my panting technique to any more wulfs, Devaronian or otherwise, I really would kill him with my bare hands, snarling while I did so.

Luckily for him, he was too busy negotiating the first section of canyon. It was as we were swerving precariously around a bluff that two things happened: Paddy woke up and I realised I could no longer resist the need to push. Like it or not, I was about to deliver my boy in a speeder in the Jundland canyons.

"Jacen!" I shouted. "We're going to have to stop."

The speeder decelerated in a boiling cloud of dust, which cleared slowly to reveal Jacen's sand-smeared face with its brown eyes bulging in consternation.

"You're going to pop?" he queried in part confusion, part horror.

I did see the funny side of his mishearing; I just find laughing and puffing a difficult combination.

"In a manner of speaking," I said when the contraction slowed. "I'm afraid Tryst refuses to wait, so I'm afraid you're going to have to give me some help."

A gamut of expressions flickered over his face, beginning and ending with fear, but to give him his due all he said was, "Oh!" And then I saw his eyes go to Paddy, and he drew himself up tall and forced a calm smile on to his face.

"Paddy, would you like to come and sit in the driver's seat?"

"Jacen, I think —" I had to stop for another panting session, although that one ended with a surreptitious push. I couldn't help it. The urge was too strong. "Just make sure you deactivate the ignition — that's Anakin's daughter you're placing at the controls remember!" I could just see her taking off at top speed just as I had Tryst halfway out. Don't laugh — it could happen.

"One thing, Jacen. At least you're no stranger to birth. Just pretend I'm one of the animals at your xenobiological garden." I succumbed to another bout of puffing and blowing that ended with a huge groan. "Sorry," I said seeing his slightly panicked expression. "I find making noise helps."

"Tahiri, tell me what you need me to do. I mean, how do you want to do this?"

"Actually, I don't. I don't want to do this at all. I've changed my mind. Let's just carry on while I point out the scenic wonders." Yes, I know it was very sarcastic of me, but really — I was in no state for question and answer sessions. "I don't really care." The contractions took hold of me again and I suddenly remembered how incredibly uncomfortable it is to try and give birth while sitting.

"Actually I do care," I amended. "Get me out and get me something to kneel on."

He dithered.

"Quickly!" I'm not sure if the fact I was sort of growling made my words hard to hear, but whatever, it threw Jacen into a state of extreme confusion.

"We need to boil up some water!" he intoned, somewhat uselessly as there was nobody around with convenient water pot or fire. And what is this silly obsession with boiling water anyway?

"I'm not having a cup of caf," I informed him, perhaps a little rudely. "I'm having a ... ooooooeeeeooo."

"Mummy having a baby," announced Paddy jubilantly.

"Paddy! Get me the blanket off the seat." I figured that of the two of them Paddy was probably, at that moment, the one most able to follow directions.

I was correct. She also made quite a good job of spreading it out around me while I managed to find a position that effectively took the pressure off my back. In other words, I got down on all fours.

"Mummy all wight?" she asked toddling over to me and crouching so she could peer into my eyes.

"I'm okay, sweetie," I managed to say before being overtaken by another escape attempt from her brother.

"Mummy hot," she murmured, and began stroking my forehead the way she had obviously noticed I stroked hers when she needed soothing.

"Er, Paddy," Jacen ventured over, apparently recovered from his water fixation, or maybe the sight of me down like a nerf made him feel more at home. "I think maybe you should get back in the speeder. This really isn't something younglings should see."

"Mummy sore," she said. It wasn't said sullenly or disobediently — it was a simple statement of fact.

I tried to joke, "Understatement of the year," but it didn't sound at all like that when it came out. I stretched out to her in the Force though with a thankful smile.

There's an old Tusken saying: Tether not the calf, for it must run free,. I think the wording needs adjusting to "it will run free whether you like it or not, and no matter how hard you try and slow down or stop it," but that would be a very unwieldy saying, and also very hard to remember. It would, however, have described far more accurately the situation I was in at that moment. It was quite obvious that Tryst was calling the shots, and all I could do was respond. My world became focused solely on him, interrupted only vaguely by distant voices — an excited voice, an uncertain voice, a very excited voice, a strained and slightly wavering voice, an extremely excited voice ... and a strange noise that sounded like a meaty thump.

But I had no inclination to try and figure out what it was because ...

"Hallo Tytht," I heard Paddy say a split second before I touched my beautiful, beautiful, boy for the first time. I settled back on my haunches carefully so as not to tug on the cord that still connected us, and held him ... just held him. There are no words that can capture that feeling of holding your newborn baby.

In fact there was a curious dearth of words from anyone, the only sound being Tryst as he wailed his displeasure at the dry, sandy world he had forced his way into. In Paddy's case, it was because she was too busy grinning at her new brother and reaching out to touch, very gently, his little downy head. It did strike me as odd that Jacen was so silent ... until I turned.

"Unkie Jacen tiyed," Paddy said following my gaze. "He fawl 'sleep."

I sighed. Eyes of younglings — one; eyes of oldlings — zero. I was just devising a suitable way to wake him up when the ground began to tremble ... and a wave of emotion hit me like a wave. And it dawned on me that somewhere at the very back of my conscious mind, I'd known all along that Anakin would know what was happening and would find us.

"Daddy," said Paddy unperturbed, as if he appeared regularly dropping from the sky like an urusai with a death wish. I whispered to little Tryst as my wide-eyed, worried-but-trying-to-look-staunch husband hurdled out the cockpit of the old ship he had begged, borrowed or stolen, and raced towards us. And stopped in awe and wonder, with a smile the size of the Maw on his face.

"Wow!" he gasped, and then closed the distance between us with a leap worthy of a Galactic Games medal.

It was at that point that Jacen came to with a groan.

"I — oh!" he sat up rubbing his head.

"Anakin," I murmured, "I think the afterbirth is on its way."

You may find this odd, but Tuskens keep this amazing organ and bury it in one of the sacred tribal places — it's their statement of their roots and enduring survival in this vast land. We had adapted the ritual a little, and buried Paddy's under a special flowering shrub in our garden. We had another plant ready for Tryst's; for they, too, were children of Tatooine.

"Anakin!" Jacen sounded as if he thought he might be dreaming. "Where did ... um, what are you do — ... aaaaaaah."

"Unkie Jacen really tiyed, Mummy," Paddy observed. "He fawl 'sleep again!"

"Paddy," said Anakin gently. "Could you get Mummy's bag out of the speeder for me?"

"I'm assuming you have your usual collection of useful plastine bags and things," he murmured hopefully as she toddled off. "What's with Jace?"

I cradled Tryst against my breast, studying him as he studied me back with that wise-old-man gaze that newborns seem to possess. "I think Unkie Jacen might be better at shopping than birth," I told him confidentially. "But you'll love him anyway, won't you?"

I could have sworn he smiled.

"If Daddy doesn't shoot him for incompetency that is," added Anakin as he finished closing the fastener on my bag. He knelt beside me cuddling Paddy against him, and together we held our new baby and welcomed him into our world.

******

Somehow we all made it home although I only have a vague memory of the trip, except being very grateful that the old Headhunter Anakin had managed to sweet-talk an associate into lending him had had the cockpit extended to accommodate a co-pilot's seat. Anakin had kept in com-contact with Jacen and Paddy in the speeder, and by the time they arrived home both Tryst and myself had been checked, okayed, washed, pampered and snuggled into bed by the midwives.

We must have made exemplary viewing for the eyes of both younglings and oldlings because Jacen managed to remain both vertical and conscious, and even worked up the courage to hold his nephew for a while. Although I couldn't help noticing Anakin hovering noticeably within arm's reach — just in case. But this time the only one to "fall asleep" on us was Paddy.

"We're getting good at this," Anakin grinned later as I snuggled down beside him, enjoying for the first time in months the luxury of being able to stretch out unimpeded.

"Just don't let it go to your head, Solo," I warned. "Unless, of course, you're willing to have the next one."

He chuckled quietly and lifted Tryst away from where he had been cuddling him against his shoulder, holding him up so his little head nestled against his father's palms. Tryst burped contentedly ... and my heart melted.

Yeah — I'm weak. But at least I know my weakness. Which must be a strength, must it not?

I stroked his tiny hands, marvelling again at his little pink fingers with their perfect nails. Everything in miniature and sculpted with such balance.

"He definitely looks like you," I murmured.

"That's a relief," replied Anakin. "No more jokes from Dad about the travelling medicine man on his fast bantha."

"Not unless you have a twin he doesn't know about."

Anakin's eyes lit up. "Now there's a good comeback," he said happily. "I'll have to remember that." He turned to me with a mischievous grin that quickly softened. "Want me to put him in his cradle?"

He'd made up the cradle earlier and moved it beside the bed. We always liked our babies close at hand so we could hear them during the night.

I shook my head. "Not yet."

"Good," said Anakin softly. "I can't keep my eyes off him."

"Me either."

Tryst was already asleep when we wrapped him in his blanket. Ever watched a sleeping baby? Try it sometime. It will change your life.

******

Jacen stayed with us for about three weeks, growing in Paddy's affection daily as he took her out on mini-expeditions to collect some of the local animal life, and then helped her build temporary homes for their finds.

He might have stayed longer if not for an incident that happened one evening when I was sitting on my comfortable chair feeding Tryst and watching, with Anakin and Paddy, the end of the holo-news. Suddenly the image of Jacen appeared, seemingly in some kind of close body contact with yet another important female, this time from the Outer Rim.

"Hey, Jace!" Anakin called — ever the provocateur. "You're on the viewer again!"

Jacen peered through the door. "Secret engagement, my foot!" he said in frustrated repetition of the announcer's words. "I was simply performing the normal greeting protocol for anyone in an audience with the Grand Kamata of the Hebigebidiz. How else was I going to get permission to study the rare yellow mahuta-eating lizard? They don't let just anyone into their reserve you know?"

"Hey, bro' I completely understand your —" Anakin stopped, riveted by the fact the image had morphed into a scene at a familiar mud hole with Jacen apparently frolicking in mud-covered glory with his Tenel Ka and Danni, his two assistants. Of course we all knew he was trying to stop the two women from going at each other, but unfortunately that fact had never been a popular interpretation by the media or the general public. It was just as the holo-cam began to zoom in on one of the faces that Jacen grabbed the controller.

"Now that," he said primly, glancing over at Paddy, "is definitely not for the eyes of younglings."

I didn't like to tell him that she had seen the original version — and I threw Anakin a warning glance, just in case he let the whisperkit out of the bag.

But we hadn't factored in Paddy and her childish honesty.

"Unkie Jacen, you pay in the mud widda ladies," she said. "You lucky devil."

"I have nothing to do with her saying that!" Anakin held his hands up in an attempt to reinforce his innocence. "It's Dad's fault. He's corrupted her."

Jacen nodded sadly obviously only too aware of his father's inclination for mischief. "I know," he said. "It would be too much for him to resist. But I can see this is going to follow me around for a while."

He left the next day to return to the relative safety of the wilds of the animal kingdom, although we did manage to have a matter-of-fact chat about the fact that he needed to sort out his love life, or he would be plagued forever by wild speculation. Being a celebrity had its disadvantages.

He agreed.

And eventually he did — but that's another story.

And you know something? Story-telling is quite a tiring business — which, as you may have guessed, is my way of saying that it is now time for me to finish, and to go snuggle my lovely son in his cradle and then listen to the end of the book that Anakin will be reading to Paddy. Has it occurred to you just how much our lives are surrounded and entwined by stories — some good, some bad, and some ...

... well some are very special night-time stories that like to remain private, like ours — Anakin's and mine. That's a story shared between two people very much in love who live in a house in the cliffs on a planet called Tatooine.

And that's a story that is most definitely not for the ears or eyes of younglings.


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