Last one of this series. Hope you all enjoy!
Disclaimer: is this really necessary anymore? I don't own it.
Track ten: Layla (Unplugged)
It took all her resolve to keep from biting her lip all night. She didn't want her husband to suspect something was wrong—and it wasn't, technically—but she worried about how he would take the news.
Tigress tried not to look uncomfortable in the dress—it wasn't working too well. She hated dresses, had only ever owned one, and was amazed it still fit, given what the doctor had told her. But, she wanted to make an impression tonight…and hopefully a good one.
And so there he was, sitting across from her in the dimly lit restaurant, back in a little corner where no one would even notice them. They were both quietly glad for that, especially after Tai Lung had dragged a large houseplant in front of their table to further shield them from prying eyes. It wasn't that they were antisocial, they just didn't see the point to unnecessary PDA...or the stares from the villagers.
The snow leopard decided to ignore them for tonight. This night was far too important to him to let petty feelings get in the way. "You look beautiful," he said, implying it was a gross understatement. "Somehow, you look even more beautiful than usual…"
"You look good too," she smiled genuinely. And he did. Cleaned up, in clean clothes—and wearing an actual tailored shirt—he looked very nice. Quite nice. Much better than he had a month ago, after that horrible battle that almost prematurely ended their marriage.
Either it was the low light, the romantic meal they shared, or the band playing from across the room, but something about this evening told her that something was changing—had changed.
He took her hands in his, she didn't pull away.
"You're going to laugh."
"Would you consider…maybe…?" he looked hopeful, almost like a teenage boy asking to go steady than an adult male asking a life-changing question.
She knew what he meant, and she began chuckling, saying with a wink, "What do you think I've been 'considering' this whole time?"
"Yes, Tai Lung, I think we've established…"
"You didn't let me finish. There's something I've been meaning to ask you…"
"Alright," she smiled, rolling her eyes as she grasped his hand.
He took a deep breath, rubbing his thumbs over the backs of her hands, and sheepishly looked into her eyes. "D'you think…I mean, I can understand if you didn't, surely, it's probably too soon, after all, but…"
"Yes?" she asked, gently urging him to get to the point.
"Would you…maybe in a year, or so, if you want…"
"Would you like to have a baby?"
Without meaning to, she sputtered. It was a good thing she wasn't drinking or eating at that moment, or she might have choked. His reaction to her reaction was a frown, "I didn't think you'd find that so undesirable…"
"Its not that, honey. You know I'd love to have your child...children. It's just…I know you and I weren't ready when we got married…"
"Three years ago today," he added. "I know."
She continued, "And I know you were worried that…you know…"
The snow leopard nodded in understanding. He was worried that he'd be a terrible father. The only father figure he had was Shifu, and the red panda's child-rearing style had…well, not worked out as well as either party had hoped. Tigress initially felt she wasn't yet mature enough to be a mother, but over the past couple months, the more she thought about it, and the more she saw how happy expectant mothers and new mothers looked with their offspring…the more motherhood appealed to her.
But her husband was still adverse to the idea. Aside from still being in the mindset of a twenty-year old—though he had matured considerably in the past three years—it was the fear of not being a good father that kept him from truly wanting a child of his own. But every family needed heirs, which was even more pressure than the snow leopard needed. Three years of marriage, and already talk around the village had escalated, and rumors flew around as to why the felines were not yet parents. More than one of those rumors hit his ego…and hard.
"Why the sudden change of heart?" she asked.
Tai Lung sighed and gripped her hands. "When I was in Kaifeng last month—remember, that hostage situation?—we passed through a village those bandits had overrun, and I saw all these children there, having their fathers ripped away from them…they were miserable. I don't know why but…something clicked. I…I don't feel comfortable telling you about the battle…"
She knew. That's all he needed to say. She had done things in battle she wasn't proud of either. The fact he suffered in silence bothered her to a high degree. At least he had Po and Shifu to talk to now, and it was their support, she was sure, that had saved her husband's life.
"It wasn't until after we defeated those bandits," he continued, "that I saw those families reunited, fathers coming back to their wives and children…and I wanted that. Granted, I'm thrilled by the welcoming you gave me when I got home," he smiled.
She smirked triumphantly. Even a month ago, she had not been feeling well enough to go fight; Tai Lung had gone in her stead, and to thank him, she had planned that welcome since the day he left.
"But as much as the concept of fatherhood terrifies me—I mean, how quickly could I screw up a kid?—but those men we rescued, those hostages, they looked so…I can't explain it, they looked like walking corpses right after we freed them. But as soon as their children ran to them, it was like watching them come back to life. I've never seen anything like it. They all looked so happy…and I wanted that. I still want that. But I don't want it if you're not ready for it. I'm just…well, it's an enthusiastic suggestion."
Tigress smiled, recalling that night in the training hall when he had healed her broken heart. He had said the same thing: its not an order, more like a hearty suggestion. She bit her lip again; he waited patiently for her to say something.
"Tai Lung, honey," she started to say. "Well…I've been thinking, that maybe…no, I know…I want a baby, too."
He smiled, gently squeezing her hand. "Alright, kitten…"
"Um, actually," she blushed. "I'm not your kitten anymore."
He furrowed his brows in confusion, "Tigress, love, in case you forgot, we're still married."
"I know," she smiled suggestively. "But I'm not your kitten anymore."
He wasn't getting it. Time to be direct:
"You know how I've been feeling nauseous lately, and getting sick a lot, and we thought it was a stomach bug?" she asked.
"And how I fainted during training last week?"
"And how I've been a little moodier lately and had late-night cravings for foods that were out of season?"
"You did keep your appointment with the doctor today, didn't you?" he asked worriedly. He'd finally begged her to see a doctor about her symptoms or—so help him—he'd drag her there, "kicking and screaming if need be". He could be extraordinarily protective of her, which sometimes annoyed her, despite knowing that he did it only because he loved her.
"Yes I did…and the doctor confirmed it today." She bit her lip again, nervously awaiting his reaction, but smiling hopefully, her eyes shining. "We're having a baby."
He didn't say anything, just stared at her. Finally he blinked and asked breathlessly, "Really?"
She nodded, "Really."
In that next moment, barely a heartbeat after she confirmed it, the other patrons of the restaurant nearly had a few heart attacks among them when Tai Lung jumped up, knocking over the potted plant, and whooped loudly, "YES! HAHA, YES!"
Tigress was finally grinning, "So…you're happy?"
"Happy? Am I happy?! You're damn right I am, woman! I'm going to be a father! YES!" he shouted, catching her up in a tight, exuberant hug as the other patrons smiled and applauded the pair's good fortune.
"Not good for the baby, not good for the baby…" she warned when he tightened the hug.
He released her immediately, "Sorry."
"Way to go, Masters," a nearby patron said.
"Congratulations!" shouted another.
And quite suddenly, Tigress made good use of the nearby potted fern as a receptacle for that day's lunch. He winced and looked at his wife sympathetically as she coughed. He rubbed her back, "So, erm…Happy Anniversary, love?"
Tigress forced a smile despite the nausea, "Happy Anniversary, sweetie."
Months later, Po, Shifu, Crane, Monkey and Mantis watched the snow leopard pacing the hallway, muttering under his breath and wringing his hands (one of them heavily bandaged), eyes unfocused and wild. Po hadn't seen him so disheveled since right before he used the Wuxi finger hold on the poor guy. Granted, Tigress had been in labor for more than eight hours, and the likely reason why Tai Lung looked so pale were the nasty threats she threw at him in order to "get back at him".
Initially, this labor hadn't started out so bad. Tai Lung was the one who panicked when Tigress announced the baby was coming. She had tried to calm him, saying, "its okay, Tai, honey. Let's just call the midwife so we can enjoy this beautiful moment…"
An hour later, the same tiger was screaming, "THIS IS NOT A BEAUTIFUL MOMENT!" followed by innumerable threats to her husband's more tangible masculine traits. To his credit, the snow leopard stayed by her side for the first few hours of labor, holding her hand through the contractions, which in hindsight wasn't a smart idea. One particularly nasty contraction made her crush his hand hard enough to crack some bones. This prompted Tai Lung to believe discretion was the better part of valor, and left the rest of the procedure to Viper and the midwife as he nursed his now-broken hand.
Fast forward about four hours to the current scene of the very nervous snow leopard pacing, making the other males dizzy. Shifu finally had to sigh and say, "That floor's already been replaced twice in the past five years—please don't wear it through."
"You try having a wife going through labor!" the snow cat fired back. "See how long you last before you're a wreck like I am!" Shifu had to silently concur. Were it a different era, Tai Lung may very well have been a chain-smoking wreck as he paced the maternity ward, or downing shot after shot of whiskey to take the edge off. Perhaps raiding the pantry for that alcohol wasn't such a bad idea, now that the red panda thought about it…
"Hey, take it easy," Crane said. "Tigress is a tough girl; she'll get through this okay."
They all secretly kept their mouths shut; women dying in childbirth was a possibility, as was losing the child. Of course, they weren't going to tell him that…despite the fact he probably already knew. Hence the pacing.
"She's been in there too long," he finally muttered.
"She's fine," Monkey said. "Remember the midwife saying that it can sometimes take hours? You'll be a baba before you know it."
"What am I doing?" he second-guessed. "I'm putting her in danger and for what, a selfish wish to have a child? What if I screw the kid up worse than I'm screwed up? What if there's a defect? What if it dies?! What if…"
Po got up and acutely slapped him. After the snow leopard calmed down, the panda looked sheepish, "Sorry, you were getting kinda hysterical there."
The snow leopard rubbed his smarting cheek. "No, I needed that. Thanks."
The door finally cracked open and Viper stuck her head out. She was smiling. "I'm looking for the new daddy," she beamed.
Tai Lung took a deep breath and ran his hands down his face. Gathering up his nerve, he walked to the room, "Alright, I'm ready. Is she…?"
Viper grinned, "Mother and babies are just fine."
"Oh thank—" He stopped, his jaw dropped, staring in bewilderment at the serpent. "Wait…babies? As in…plural?"
Viper just smiled and opened the door further, slithering out; the midwife came out and patted the new father's hand as she passed, "We'll give you some time with your new family."
Tai Lung rushed into the room, stopping just short of the bed where his wife lay…with two squirming bundles in her arms.
Tigress looked like hell, and very tired, but so blissfully happy. When she looked up at him and smiled tiredly, he slowly walked the rest of the way, reverently silent as he approached and shakily sank down into a chair next to the bed.
"Tai, why are you so pale? Are you forgetting which one of us just had twins?" Tigress joked. He cracked a smile, gazing down at the little strangers. The one resting in the crook of Tigress' right arm fussed a little, screwing up its face and starting to cry.
"Your son," she smiled. "And he's probably hungry. Your daughter came out first. Could you hold her while I feed him?"
"What? Oh, sure…" He wasn't disappointed to have a daughter, like other fathers might have been. To be frank, his reluctance was simple to explain: he had never held a baby before. They were so little, so fragile, what if he hurt them? But he took the baby girl into his arms anyway, the child barely as long as his forearm. She fussed a little until he held her a little closer, and she quieted down, grateful for the warmth.
Then she opened her eyes.
When father and daughter locked eyes for the first time…Tai Lung knew it was over. The little girl had her mother's eyes, and looked just like her, right down to the creamsicle-colored fur and faint chocolate stripes. His son, by comparison, looked just like him…probably had his eyes too, he guessed. But it was his daughter, whose little arm had forced its way out of the bunting and reached out to him, the girl making little noises translated as "hold me, love me". That wouldn't be a problem. Tai Lung's heart had been stolen by a new girl.
Tigress smiled as her daughter's tiny hand tried to wrap itself around her daddy's finger. Their son nursed away at her breast, breathing noisily through his nose, golden eyes drooping as his hunger was satiated. She caressed the downy silver grey spotted fur on top of his head; there was a new man in her life, but somehow, she didn't think her husband would mind.
"What will we name them?" her husband asked. "I know we talked about it…"
"Well, I thought we decided on a name for our son."
"I don't know…Courage, Strength…none of them seem to fit now."
"Well don't look at me, he's your son. That was our deal—you name the son, I name the daughter."
He looked down at his daughter who, though she would not learn to smile for a few weeks, was showing her smile through her shining eyes. That smile…those eyes shining with the love she already had for her baba…he wouldn't trade it for an emperor's ransom, it was far too precious to him. Precious… "Mind if we trade?"
Tigress laughed softly, pulling her son away from her breast to burp him. "What did you have in mind?"
His answer was immediate: "Jun." Beautiful Jade. The most precious gem in the empire, more valued than diamonds, treasured above gold; that was how he saw his little girl.
Tigress' smiled widened, touched by the unhindered love she saw her husband showing their daughter. The little girl in turn seemed to like that name very much, cuddling closer to her baba. Tai Lung caressed her cheek, earning him a soft cooing. "Your turn," he nodded.
Tigress thought about it, looking down at her son who gazed back up at her with wide, curious golden eyes, taking in his mother's face and this strange new world he'd been born into. In those eyes, so much like her husband's, she saw the spark of adventure, and the need to explore. This one was so much like his father, it was uncanny. Though he was barely ten minutes old, Tigress could already foretell the warrior that baby would be.
"Zhan Shi," she said.
"Zhan Shi," he nodded, wholeheartedly agreeing after he got a closer look; it may have been a self-fulfilling prophecy, but if Tai Lung could survive twenty years of Shifu's tutelage, and twenty years in Chorh-Gom, he could handle twenty years raising a kid named "Fighter"…right? Right?
Before long, a crowd had formed outside the door, eager for a glimpse of the new lives in the Jade Palace. Tigress smiled at her husband. "I think the kids need to meet the rest of the family, don't you?"
He nodded and called Shifu over, the red panda slowly and quietly walking into the room. Tigress beamed, "Baba, we'd like you to meet your grandchildren…"
Not bad for a conclusion, right? Hope you enjoyed.