Still exhausted from the last few hours, Le'orath Jinn smiled up into the worried eyes of her husband, and then down to the newborn babe suckling at her breast. Her son had finally settled into a milky half-sleep but he was still drowsily pushing at her, tiny fingers opening and closing against her skin. "Yes, he's perfect, just like his father."
For a moment, Qui-Gon had the audacity to look inordinately pleased at her calm declaration. Leaning back, his mouth quirking amusement as he gazed down at her and his new son, he seemed to be struggling with his emotions, such raw joy and intensity in his face. This was a great moment in his life, she knew, and one he had never expected to have. It was almost as if he didn't know what to do.
But a heartbeat later, he must have realized that she was teasing him, as she did whenever he grew too solemn for his own good.
It was something that had developed between them over the years - the subtle jokes and heartfelt concerns that reminded him, reminded both of them that love is more than just sunlight and happy moments, that it is a sharing of a life filled with good times and bad and to be embraced in all its complexity. Compromise and acceptance that their viewpoints might not always agree had only made them stronger in their love.
And he knew it. Suppressing a wicked grin, he deliberately put on that solemn, concerned husbandly face that she loved so much, all seriousness and diplomatic reserve. But he made no attempt to hide the impish gleam in his eyes. "That isn't what you told me a few hours ago, Le'. Then, you swore never to let me near you again, that you were going home without me. That if I touched you one more time, you'd tear my arms off and shove them down my throat."
She chuckled softly, trying not to wake the child. "That's what all women say in the throes of childbirth. I thought the Healer had explained it all to you in the birthing room."
Turning slightly, he brushed his hand against her cheek, a soft caress. "I didn't believe her at the time. Besides, I was worried about you. You were in such pain."
He stared into her eyes, his anxiety clear beneath the smiles. Childbirth was harrowing and could be dangerous at times but she had accepted the risks just as he had accepted her need for a child. That he did not speak of his own need for family was just like him, so contained and quiet but with a passionate heart underneath that stoic exterior.
Trying to reassure him, she leaned into his touch and, then with a sultry smile, she caught at his hand. Twisting it slightly, she leaned down and kissed his palm. His sharp hiss spoke of desire and relief that he still had her heart even after the agony of bearing his son.
Foolish gundark. He could be so vulnerable at times, especially when those he loved were in pain. How could he not see that he was everything to her, even when she was yelling at him?
"It's normal to be in pain, Qui-Gon. That's part of the price I was willing to pay to have our son. I expected to be a bit... brusque with you during delivery."
Letting go of his hand, she feathered her fingers across the baby's downy head. His hair was longer than she had expected and red. And he was theirs, with her fiery hair and his father's eyes. A gift of joy and family.
"You were wonderful." From the delight on his beloved face, she could see that he was not teasing her. He meant every word.
Shaking her head at his willingness to ignore reality, she pointed out, "I was a mess, screaming my head off and threatening my husband." Catching at his tunic, she pulled him close and breathed a kiss into his mouth. "Whom I love very much."
But the bundle in her arms began to squirm at the closeness and she reluctantly let her husband go. Another nuzzle at her breast and the baby began to suckle in earnest, pulling at her. She could feel the milk begin to descend once again and while it was getting messy and not a little uncomfortable, she was too filled with luminous emotion to care.
Smiling down at the child and then back at Qui-Gon, she murmured, "He is perfect, though."
He returned the smile a bit stiffly, all the joy leaching out as he drew a stoic, neutral mask across his face. She should have known something would go wrong. He stood there, looking down at her, hesitating a second as if afraid of her reaction.
When she stared back at him in growing alarm, he said carefully, "Le'orath, I know we talked about a name..."
He should have known better. He should have known that this was supposed to be flawless and wonderful as they shared the first hours of their son's life. But her fool of a husband had to decide at just that moment to bring up a sore point between them. Damn his eyes.
Any normal Naboo male would have been more reticent to reopen an argument that had gone on far too long and had only driven a wedge between them. He knew how she felt and yet he kept after her, pushing to change her mind. Gundark stubborn was Qui-Gon; she had to admit that at least.
She may have been exhausted from those long hours of childbirth, those moments full of pain and fury and messy things that she'd rather not think about right now. She was sore and every muscle in her body was aching for sleep but she was also full of love and the brilliance of a son. She had wanted to share that joy.
But, instead of basking in the light of their new family, her husband was being a blasted idiot.
It was sometimes astonishing to her how obtuse men could be and especially former-Jedi type men. Especially one Qui-Gon Jinn. Didn't he understand that she was not about to give into this? They had gone over it time and time again and she would not have it, not going to agree to it. Never. Not on this issue. Absolutely not.
"We are not naming him Obi-Wan and that's final. I don't care how much you miss that.... that person." She was all but spitting with annoyance. She was sure her frown would have killed a lesser man.
"Le'orath..." He sounded apologetic but also with just a hint of durasteel. She knew that he could be just as stubborn as she and he had had a longer time to perfect his stoic, immovable-rock persona and he'd been trained as well.
Before he could rally his argument further, she interrupted him with a dagger-sharp voice that cut the air. "Qui-Gon Jinn, you stop right now."
Her eyes were jade and stony with fury. "We have had this argument before. I know that he was very important to you and you want to honor him but he doesn't deserve your devotion."
Beneath her breast, the baby began to wiggle in protest, almost as if he could feel her anger. As she rocked him slowly, trying to calm him down, she said flatly, "He hasn't contacted you in six years. You've sent message after message and never a word back. That is not someone who deserves your loyalty or my child's name."
"It could be that he's not getting them. The Temple might have intercepted..."
But she ignored his protests. She would not back down in this. "You are being a fool."
His frown could have matched hers, line for line, but she was beyond any argument. "Face reality, Qui-Gon. He doesn't want to be associated with you. I know it's hard to accept but he should have been able to find a way to communicate with you after all these years."
He stood up, folding his arms across his chest in a hard, unyielding stance. Or was it to keep from agreeing with her, to keep from acknowledging that she was right and that Kenobi was not worthy of his continued devotion? Glaring down at her, he said stubbornly, "Obi-Wan was the name of my brightest and best pupil, the son of my heart. And a friend I miss very much. How can I not?"
She was frowning so hard that the back of her neck was beginning to spasm but she ignored it, lifting her shoulders a bit to try and loosen the muscles.
"Qui-Gon, I won't look into the face of my little boy and call him by a name that I've learned to despise over the years. He's caused you nothing but pain and I won't compound the situation with Kenobi's name."
The baby began to cry, sharp little wails of protest. He was wiggling again, too, his fingers scraping at flesh already raw with sweat and leaking milk. With a low curse, she turned away from Qui-Gon and began to croon to the child, all the while trying to find something to change him. He was very wet.
When Qui-Gon thrust a new cloth at her, clumsily trying to help with the baby, she yanked it out of his grasp. She never looked in his direction as she hurriedly tried to soothe her son. Their son.
She needed to calm down. She knew that he would give in eventually and it was cruel of her to bring up all the pain of his former apprentice's refusal to return his messages but right now, she was tired, she was starting to fall asleep and she was in pain. Not a good combination.
The boy did need a name, however, but Qui-Gon's stubborn insistence on that particular name had forestalled any other discussion.
As she finished up with the baby's soiled clothing, and her lovely son drifted off to sleep again, from behind her, she heard her husband trying to find his center, breathing out his anger, breathing in calm serenity.
Twisting around, she saw that Qui-Gon had gone to the window and was staring out into the Naboo night. He was still upset. She could tell by the way he leaned against the transparasteel and refused to look at her. Apparently, he needed more than a few deep breaths to let go of his anger; he stood there for some time, just breathing in and out.
Finally, with one last deep sigh, he turned back to her, his eyes almost bruised with pain. But surprisingly, instead of more heated words, he only said softly, "If you won't accept Obi-Wan, how about Ben?"
She blinked at that. His capitulation was unexpected. She had thought that there would have been hours of argument first before he gave in. It was too easy.
Looking at him with some suspicion, she said tartly, "Why Ben? Why not Tov or Elano or a hundred of the other names that are fashionable right now?"
Shrugging, he twisted away and looked back out into the darkness. In a neutral, colorless voice, he reminded her, "You said not Obi-Wan."
For a long moment, she was silent, mulling over what he had said and wondering what he really meant. Qui-Gon could be aggravating at times but he was also passionate in his convictions and not easily swayed. After years of diplomacy and more years of being married to a sometimes overly-stubborn woman, he had learned to be careful in his language when fighting for what he wanted.
She knew that if he could find a way to name their son Obi-Wan and do so without hurting her, he would. But to give in so easily was not like him. And he wanted to name their son for that... that old apprentice of his very much. Her suspicion crystallized to certainty.
"I see." And she did see. Furious, she spat out, "Was Ben his birth name?"
Only hesitating for a moment, he stared into her eyes, determination lining his face. "Yes and I won't apologize for it. Ben is a perfectly acceptable name. There are several males in your own family that are named Ben. I thought it would be an appropriate compromise." He stood there, his arms folded hard against his chest, an immovable rock.
It was not the first time Le'orath had seen why he had been well known as a diplomat when he was at the Temple. He was sneaky and very strong-willed and yet he hadn't lied. At least, he hadn't lied in an absolute sense but from her point of view, Qui-Gon had tried to manipulate her and she wasn't happy about it.
"Is it that important to you, that you name our son after that rsshak slime?"
She was frowning at him again, the pain of pulled muscles and stress slithering up her back. And the hurt of being forced into something she did not want to do by a husband that she loved with all her heart only made her more incensed.
He did not move from his retreat at the window. But as he looked at her, his eyes were filled with the heaviness of longing for something that might be beyond his reach. He searched her face and saw the fury plainly written there and he seemed to sink inward suddenly. All unspoken pain, he said quietly, "Yes."
"Even over my protests." Her eyes narrowed and she could feel the frown cutting into her skin. It seemed to be permanently etched there. It hurt, too.
"Yes." His half-whisper of hunger and despair caught at her heart. She hated this.
Le'orath looked down at her sleeping boy, his red hair and the pink-tinge of newborn skin so beautiful in the light. He was breathing adorable little sighs and, in a painful way, he reminded her of Qui-Gon - his snores, the way he took over most of their bed with his long legs and arms all akimbo in sleep.
Remembering the first time they had made love and the arguments and misunderstandings that had almost split them apart, she remembered, too, his vulnerability and the odd ways he looked at things. The Jedi had done more than train him to be a fierce and cunning warrior. They had trained him in ways she still could not reconcile with the life they were leading now.
She loved him yes, more than there were words to express, but sometimes she didn't understand him at all.
But when she looked at him again, she did not think about the anger of their arguments or the days and nights when they had discussed this with heated words and silences.
She only felt once more the pain in his voice when he finally realized that he would never see his beloved apprentice again. She only remembered her own helplessness at trying to help ease that pain and failing. She only saw the husband that she adored, the man who was now the father of her child, the man who still loved her despite her own petty concerns.
She was hurting him beyond measure. She was the one that could not move beyond this.
She knew he would always have a place in his heart for those he had left behind, especially his apprentice. And no matter how she felt about it, it was unworthy of her to deny him some comfort for his loss.
She would have to let go and allow him to find joy again in his memories.
"Qui-Gon," she said softly, "Ben is acceptable. But we are naming him after my great-uncle Ben Antilles."
Twisting around, he stared at her in astonishment, his mouth starting to quirk up into a greedy grin as he took in her surrender. The air seemed to sing with his delight. "Of course.... great-uncle Antilles." His whole body was straighter now, tall and beautiful and hers. Blue eyes dancing in pure emotion but, as always, he merely said calmly, "I am sure your family will be pleased."
Already it appeared that he was relaxing enough to tease her. She felt an enormous rush of relief. So she had made the right decision after all. "You are trying my patience, husband." She waggled a finger at him in mock anger. "Don't make me regret this."
He spread his arms wide, as if trying to look innocent as he took in the news. Then, clasping his hands together, he wiped his face clean of amusement and promised, "As you wish, my lady." But beneath that solemn voice, she could still hear the laughter and joy that colored his words.
"And that meek reply isn't going to work either," she said tartly as he closed the gap between them. "I don't know why I put up with you. You are often more trouble than ten other husbands combined."
At that, he did grin, his wide eyes filled with amusement. "You've had ten husbands?"
She could not help but return his smile, it was so infectious. "No, but I've heard." And then she turned serious again. "Qui-Gon, listen to me. I mean this. I will accept the name because you want it so much. But, as far as I'm concerned, he's named for one of the Bens in my family, no one else. Are we clear on this?"
Nodding, he reached for her hand, and turning it over, kissed the pulse point on her wrist. The warmth of his mouth against her skin sent a frisson of desire down into her belly, reminding her of just how they got into this in the first place. She had thought that having a child would have changed her need of him; many of the women she spoke to told her of lessening desire for a few months after birth. But she only wanted him more.
As he stood up, still holding onto her hand in his own, looking deeply into her eyes, he only said, "Thank you." But it was enough.
With that, whatever energy that had sustained her through the hours of childbirth and their argument leached away. Yawning suddenly, she leaned back, her head pushing into the pillow. The day had finally caught up with her. She was very tired.
Looking down to see their son sleeping softly at her side, she blinked wearily, "Now, I need..." Another yawn as she tried hard to stay awake, "to rest."
"I'll take him back to his crèche crib and let you sleep. It has been a long day." He leaned down and kissed her forehead, just as she tried to suppress another yawn.
But she wasn't ready to let him leave just yet. She sent him a drowsy smile. "We will be going home tomorrow."
His blue eyes steady on hers, he reached down with his hands, smoothing her hair, whisking away an errant tendril of fiery red that had escaped her braid and then cupping her face, kissed her gently.
With all the seriousness of a vow, he whispered, "You are my heart, you know. Thank you for the gift. I will honor it and you."
She just nodded, her eyes drifting shut despite her best efforts and as she glided into sleep, she heard Qui-Gon say softly, "Hello, Ben."