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* * * *

The next morning, the staff gathered in the ward room for their morning meeting. Laria was the last to arrive. She crossed to her seat and stared out at the others.

"You're usually one of the first here, something up?" Katie asked concerned.

"Something's up alright," Laria said readying a PADD to take notes.

"Trouble in paradise…or should I say in the captain's quarters?" Scharr asked as his antenna straightened with curiosity.

"Not that it's really any of your business, Sir," Laria said, "but yes, it is something with the captain. He received a subspace transmission last night. It made him furious but he refused to tell me what it was about. It's not like him."

The rest of the senior staff looked at each other with concern. The past year had taught them that the unexpected could come at any time.

The doors suddenly parted and Tigranian stormed in.

"The Captain!" Annabeth said bringing them all to their feet.

"Commander Geist!" he shouted staring at Annabeth angrily. "You can stay on your feet. The rest of you sit the hell down!" It was completely out of character for the captain to be so angry. It set everyone on edge as they took their seats. Annabeth immediately snapped to attention like a first year cadet at the Academy.

Laria looked over to Tigranian and caught his eye. She winked but he didn't break character. He walked right behind Annabeth and leaned close to her ear.

"Did you really think I wouldn't find out, Commander?" he said holding up a PADD just out of her field of vision. "Did you really think I was that stupid?"

"I am afraid I don't know what you're talking about, Sir," Annabeth said not taking her eyes off the bulkhead directly in front of her.

"Are you sure you don't want to reconsider that statement?" Tigranian said walking over to his place at the head of the table and slamming his PADD down. The rest of the table jumped.

"I cannot reconsider what I don't know, Sir," Annabeth said. Tigranian noticed she was balling her fists at her side. "And if you want to question my integrity, perhaps we should do it in private…Sir," she said holding back anger.

"It's not me who is questioning your integrity, Commander." Tigranian picked up the PADD again. "No, this goes all the way to the very top. No one, not even me, will be able to talk Starfleet Command out of what they want to do to you."

Annabeth couldn't keep her military bearing anymore. She turned her head and glared at Tigranian.

"Just what the hell are you talking about!?" she screamed at him.

"Fine," Tigranian said accessing the PADD. "If you want to know so badly…" He started reading the words in front of him.

"After review of official after action reports of the U.S.S. Pershing under temporary command of Commander Annabeth M. Geist in action against the Romulan Terrorist Kival at Rulathi System on Stardate 53271.8," Tigranian slowly starting making his way towards Annabeth. "I have approved the award of the Christopher Pike Medal of Valor to Commander Geist. Her actions reflect great credit upon her, Starfleet Command, and the United Federation of Planets. Signed: Min Zife, President of the Federation." Tigranian's dour expression immediately transformed into a huge smile. "Congratulations, Annabeth," he said extending out a hand.

Annabeth's face turned from anger, to shock, and then finally to understanding.

"I could kill you right now, Sir," she said bursting out into joy. She grabbed his hand and then they hugged. Laria immediately started clapping. The rest of the staff joined in once the shock of Tigranian's ruse wore off.

"Did you know about this?" Alex said to Laria. The Bajoran just shrugged. Alex then immediately ran around the table and grabbed Annabeth. "I'm so proud of you!" she said before planting a kiss on her wife's lips.

"Admiral Murphy is on his way to a conference on Cardassia Prime," Tigranian said taking his seat. "He'll stop by on the way to award the medal in three days."

"However," Laria said interjecting. "To celebrate, the captain and I would like to have you all over to our quarters tomorrow night for dinner."

"What do you mean 'your' quarters?" Katie said turning toward Tigranian. This time it was the captain's turn to shrug. The rest of the table snickered.

"Well, if it's alright with our hosts," Annabeth said turning to Scharr, "I would love for T'les to be there as well."

"Of course," Laria replied.

"I'll be sure to extend the invitation to her today," Scharr said leaning back in his chair. "However, I warn you, she is even more difficult to please than me when it comes to choices in cuisine."

"We like a challenge," Laria said grinning.

"Alright, everyone," Tigranian said bringing up the daily briefing up on the holoscreen behind him. "We've had our fun, but we still have a mission to accomplish here. Let's get to it."

* * * *

"This dish is really quite good," Scharr said as his antennae straightened with surprise. "And normally I hate Earth food." The rest of the group held back their laughter. What is it called again?"

"Lasagna," Tigranian said from the head of the table.

"Looks like we met the challenge," Laria said taking a sip of red wine next to Tigranian.

"It seems like you did, Laria," Scharr replied. "My compliments to your cooking."

"Oh, I didn't make it," Laria said shaking her head. Everyone turned to look at the captain with surprise.

"What? Just because I'm a starship captain means you think I can't cook?"

"You're definitely a man of many talents, Sir," Alex said raising her glass. "To the chef!"

"Oh no, this night is not about me," Tigranian said raising his glass for a counter-toast. "To Annabeth!"

"I'll drink to that!" Katie replied.

"Seconded," Phil said joining in.

"TO ANNABETH!" Everyone said taking a drink.

"I do hope that your vegetarian version came out alright, T'les," Laria said turning to her Vulcan crewmate. Daniel thought he might have overcooked the eggplant.

"It is more than agreeable, Captain," T'les said taking another forkful from her plate.

"High praise from a Vulcan, Sir," Annabeth said from the other end of the table.

"It certainly is," Tigranian said pushing back from the table. He went over to a sideboard and produced another bottle of wine. As soon as he pulled the cork he went around and re-filled everyone's glasses.

"A few more of these and the night crew might have to pull a double shift tomorrow, Sir," Katie said.

"I'll be sure to write us all up for being drunk on duty tomorrow," Tigranian joked before taking his seat again.

"Oh, the night is young," Scharr said confidently. "I was re-priming dilithium chambers hung-over when Laria was still learning how to tie her shoes."

"So, approximately five Earth years ago?" T'les said raising an eye-brow. The entire table burst out laughing.

"T'les," Alex said amazed. "Did you actually make a joke?"

"I have been studying humor among humanoid species in an attempt to facilitate socialization with the rest of the crew. I believe that comical barbs are most effective when they are the expense of another, usually the youngest and most inexperienced. By your physical reactions, it seems that hypothesis is correct."

"Definitely," Phil said still chuckling.

"It wasn't that funny," Laria muttered as she blushed.

"I'm afraid it was, L," Tigranian said with a smile as he supportively rubbed her back.

"Maybe…" Laria said as a grin crossed her face.

"So, Captain," Scharr said continuing. "In an effort to distract from Lieutenant Amira's wounded pride, I haven't heard you tell the story of how you earned the Christopher Pike Medal."

"Oh no," Tigranian said waving his hands in front of him. "Like I said, this is Annabeth's night. You don't want to hear any boring stories from my past."

"Actually," Annabeth said cocking her head to one side. "I kinda wanna hear that myself."

"I actually haven't your side of Ronara Prime either," Laria said a little surprised.

"Then it's settled, Sir!" Phil added. "Spill it."

"It is a long story," Tigranian said shaking his head.

"And we have a second bottle of wine to kill," Katie said. "C'mon, Sir. Tell us."

Tigranian sighed.

"Alright, if you all insist," he said taking another sip of wine.

"We do," Alex said leaning her head on Annabeth's shoulder. Her wife put an arm around her.

"It all started four years ago when Chancellor Gowron withdrew from the Khitomer Accords. Starfleet Command recalled me to the Federation and I had to leave the Sk'oh. As some of you know, my first posting was to Starfleet Intelligence on Earth as a senior analyst on the Klingon Empire…"

"I did hear from some old Academy classmates that you left that job under some pretty poor circumstances," Annabeth said cutting in.

"Glad to know my reputation precedes me," Tigranian said sarcastically. "Actually, that's a bit of understatement. In fact, if it wasn't for a soon to be Admrial I met at Starfleet Headquarters named Peter Murphy, I probably wouldn't have left wearing the rank I had, but that's a story for another time.

Anyways, he called in a few favors and got me a job as the tactical officer on an old Excelsior class refit named the U.S.S. Halcyon…"

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