At the Oasis: The Other Woman Rating: PG
Iella

* * * * *

I don't usually like this time of day in the desert. The slanting light hits at such a low angle it acts like a damper, muting all colours and turning them all into shades of grey. The air is thick with the smell of overcooked vegetation -- hell's kitchen as Anakin calls it -- and you can feel the grains of sand rasping in your throat and coating your eyelids.

Today, however, the same scene is taking on a whole new aspect. The omnipresent greyness is no longer depressing, but comforting -- a welcome sign of the encroaching Tatooine night with its blanket of stars. The late afternoon sunlight is hitting at just the right angle to amplify our shadows and make us feel like giants capable of reaching the village in a few strides, and the smell of the desert is the promise of dinner waiting at the hearth. What has happened to change my view, you wonder? The fact that we're nearly home, and we're early -- by a whole day in fact!

A whole day! I can hardly believe it. That must be some sort of record, because usually anything involving two or more different Tusken tribes takes twice as long as it should. Not this time, thank goodness. For once, everyone agreed to my proposal to set up a cooperative that will find and manage the Jundland artesian water supplies. I didn't think they'd be able to pick any holes in the plan -- but I was surprised at how quickly everyone accepted it. I must give Anakin an extra long kiss and cuddle, because it was actually his idea and it was his research that found the most likely places for the underground streams. Of course, we had to enlist Lando Calrissian's mining droids to drill the first shaft into the armoured shield of Tatooine's crust, but Lando owed Anakin a favour, so the cost to us was minimal. Having a husband with contacts is an extra bonus.

I know how hard it sometimes is for him, living here. He finds a lot of the Tusken ways perplexing, and I know the slow pace of life frustrates him -- it does me, too -- but he's learned to put up with it, most of the time anyway. I have managed to talk the other Jundland tribes into trying out several of his ideas. And I think they're learning that change can be a good thing, as long as it's introduced in a way that still allows us to maintain the essence of our traditions. The day I manage to talk them into using speeders instead of banthas is getting closer. Eventually they'll crumble, you'll see, even if it is just to keep me quiet.

The suns are bobbing on the horizon now, and the shadows have become like long fingers reaching across the sand to our village. I can't wait to feel the cool stone of our cave under my toes, to throw off these heavy robes and be able to breathe air that caresses rather than scorches my lungs. Tatooine is a harsh mistress, but she's manageable. She's also relatively uncomplicated. She may lack the luxuries and life style of more developed worlds, but that means she's also free of their social injustices and political intrigue. Even Anakin admits that he's come to see her as a retreat, as a place to escape from the hubbub and hassle of the more populated centres where he's often called away to work. When we first realised we loved each other we understood it would be difficult for us to be together all the time, but as it's turned out, our periods of separation are fewer than we thought. Lately they've become even more infrequent.

I can see the contours of our home clearly now -- the circular windows Anakin cut in the rock to let in light, the chutes and pipes that keep the fresh, clean air from above the cliffs circulating throughout our living space. I can even make out the clusters of dew berries on the vine that festoons the covered arch leading to the main entrance. It'll be so good to be with Anakin again. He had only been back a day when I had to leave on this trip, so we'd barely had time to catch up. The closer we get, the more eager I am to feel his arms around me again. Just because I'm accustomed to his absences doesn't mean I miss him less. If anything my need for him is greater now than it was four years ago when we married.

Orka, my bantha, lowers himself wearily to the warm sand so I can climb down. I rub the bristly fur between his horns, and slip him a few of his "treats" -- magnesium pellets that will help restore his salt balance -- and then I hand him over to Horan, my guard. Only one sun remains now, drawing out a slow farewell above the line between sand and sky. I feel its warmth on my back fleetingly as I open the door to our home.

Inside it's cool -- refreshingly cool. I pull off my desert robes and stretch some of the tiredness away, noting the gentle hum of the convection pump. Should I call out to Anakin and let him know I'm home? The place is so quiet, it seems like sacrilege to disturb it, and I wonder for a moment if he may be out. After all, he wouldn't be expecting me until tomorrow.

Suddenly I hear a faint rustle and something that sounds like a sigh, so I leave my robes in the atrium and slip through the beaded curtain into our main living area. I stop. The room is empty, but full of the signs of recent habitation. Two cups sit casually on the small table, one still half full of amber liquid; a trail of clothes leads to the door at the far side, carelessly strewn amidst the evidence of playful activity. I hear the sound of movements again from that far door, and I creep towards it. Anakin's ability at fixing and maintaining things works against him this time -- the door opens silently.

It is as I suspected. He's with her -- the other woman, the one who I fear is the real reason for his reluctance to stay away for long. I gaze across at her soft brown curls and the angelic appearance that belies her true nature. There she lies where I should be, snuggled inside the crook of Anakin's arm smiling her contentment at knowing she has his love.

His eyes flicker open as he senses my presence, and I see surprise and guilt floundering in their blue depths.

"Tahiri!" He goes to sit up, but suddenly remembers who's sharing his bed. "I, um, didn't expect you home today." I can tell by the way his voice fades on the last few words that he knows how lame he sounds.

I nod slowly, aware that my eyes have narrowed. "So I see. It looks as if it's just as well as I did. At least I now know what you get up to when I'm away."

He manages to extract his arm from under his bedmate's petite form and slip out from under the sheet. "We don't do this all the time." He gazes up at me, his blue eyes protesting his innocence. "It's just ... well, she wears me out."

I study his tousled hair, his two-day-old stubble and the berry stains on his shirt. I smile. "You've only just discovered this fact?"

He rubs his eyes, and throws me one of his lop-sided grins. "Like mother, like daughter."

The next minute is filled with him pulling me down on to his lap and giving me the welcome I'd been looking forward to.

"I'm sorry the place is such a mess. Paddy's just so much fun at the moment, and I don't want to miss out on it."

I can feel the tension of the trip home leaching out of my muscles as I lean into his warm body. "I know. She's growing up so fast. Even when you see her every day you notice the changes -- the things she can do today that she couldn't do yesterday, the new words she can say."

I feel the rumble as he clears his throat. "Er, yeah. Um, I think I'd better tell you that Booster dropped by yesterday, and so now she knows a few phrases that you may not be too happy about."

"That man's an anarchist," I murmur. At the moment, Booster could be teaching her drinking songs for all I care.

"He bought her some birthday presents from Corran and Mirax, and from Wedge and Iella as well. Picture vids and toys," he adds hastily as I peer up at him quizzically.

"That's okay then." I sink back against him again. I find the long trips across the desert tire me more now. I shall definitely have to keep promoting Anakin's idea for speeders. "You can sure tell the people with children from those without by the presents they send."

Anakin snorts. "Yeah."

I can tell he's remembering his sister's and brother's contributions at Paddy's first birthday -- one radio controlled X Wing with voice-activated mini-droid and a pair of Geonosian rock lizards, purported to be both males. They weren't. I never realised reptiles could be quite so prolific, but there again neither did Jacen. Obviously the sunbleached Tatooine environment had an interesting effect on their breeding habits -- a point we should perhaps mention to any xenobiologists worried about their preservation.

"Mind you," I say. "I guess Jaina's present might come in handy one day."

"I dunno," Anakin mumbles. I feel him shift slightly as he turns to watch our sleeping daughter. "Paddy's a real little girly-girl. I've tried to get her interested in my old toy starfighter collection, but she always seems to manage to manipulate the game back to having all the pilots sitting down in the decorated mess and having a tea party. I have a feeling the mechanical bent is going to skip a generation."

I untuck my head from under his chin, and link my hands behind his head, basking in the warmth of his smile. "If I can prove you wrong on that, will you cook us some dinner?"

He studies me for a moment, and I feel the gentle brush of curious enquiry. I smile back, and take one of his hands and place it just below my stomach. For a moment he stares at me blankly, and then his eyes widen. Surprise, wonder, pride, delight -- the same sequence I saw nearly three years ago when I told him Padmé was on the way. And just as then, my love for him grows even greater. Sometimes I think it's so huge, it fills the galaxy. I suppose, for me, it does.

He tries to put his reaction into words, but sensibly gives up and embraces me instead and strokes my hair. "Wow," he manages to contribute eventually.

I nod. "So you see -- Jaina's gift won't be wasted. And I can't see your son making your toy pilots endure tea parties."

"I don't think they mind the parties too much. It's the dressing up that gets them. Rogues don't look good in hats."

"So, do I get dinner?"

"Tahiri Solo ... you get whatever you want."

"Maybe dinner can wait a while then."

He chuckles. "Wicked wench. It's that sort of behaviour that got us into this situation in the first place."

"What shall we call him?" I ask later as we lie together on our balcony ledge watching the evening comings and goings of the village.

"I have no idea, but I'm sure once we see him we'll know." His lips brush my hair as he speaks.

"You were named after your grandfather. Maybe we could do the same," I suggest playfully.

"No, no!" Anakin waves his arms in strident opposition to the idea. "One Han Solo is enough for the galaxy. Anyway -- my side's been adequately represented in the naming business. What about your parents? How does Tryst sound?"

"Tryst Solo." I try the name out and imagine a little blonde or brown-haired boy running towards me. I nod.

"Not bad, huh? Do I get another reward for that?"

"Don't push your luck, Solo."

We both laugh, too lazy to do anything other than enjoy being in one another's arms. The desert stretches into the distance until it meets the stars. Desert and stars -- roots and aspirations. I snuggle against Anakin and together we start to get to know the flicker of new life we've brought into being. His roots, like his sister's, are secure, founded in love and nurtured with hope. He'll be adventurous, but hardy and realistic, like any son of Tatooine. I wonder what he'll inherit from his parents? I guess we'll have to wait and see.


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