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Republic of Cardassia/Bajoran Republic Border

Stardate: 54454.1

Laria's console chirped.

"Sir," she said from behind Tigranian. Three Klingon vessels decloaking, IKS HoS and two B'rel class escorts. Bearing 048 Mark 014. Range 50,000 kilometers."

Tigranian rose out of his chair.

"Katie, standard VIP welcoming protocol. Phil, bring us alongside maintain one half impulse."

"Aye Sir," they replied in unison.

Torlek's attack cruiser flanked by two birds of prey on its nacelles glided towards them on the main viewscreen.

"Governor Torlek is hailing," Katie said from Tactical.

"Onscreen," Tigranian commanded.

Torlek's imposing face appeared in front of the Pershing's bridge.

"Governor Torlek, on behalf of the United Federation Planets, welcome to the Republic of Cardassia," Tigranian said with a smirk.

"You know exactly why I'm here," Torlek replied with a laugh. "And it has nothing to do with the United Federation of Planets."

"Still," Tigranian replied. "I have to go by the book when I'm on the clock."

"You are always so human when you're wearing that ridiculous uniform, Brother," Torlek said. "I actually thought we had broken you of that bad habit."

"reHtay' ghottuqDaj je," Tigranian said. Katie and Phil glanced over at Laria shrugged her shoulders indicating she didn't understand him either.

"I will try to not take that as insult, Brother," Torlek said stroking his beard.

"It was not meant as one," Tigranian replied. "Merely an acknowledgement of advice you gave me a long time ago."

"Glad to see that it finally got through that smooth skull of yours," Torlek chuckled. "We will perform the ceremony at mid-day tomorrow in the shrine on board the HoS."

"And you and the Lady Elessa will dine tonight with my officers in my quarters."

"I am honored by your invitation, my Brother. We are looking forward to meeting the newest addition to our house. I can offer the child his first taste of blood wine."

Katie and Laria exchanged nervous glances again.

"My Brother," Tigranian said. "Max is only a month old. That might be a little strong for him."

"Humanpu…" Torlek muttered with a shake of his head. "Fine, have it your way, Brother. Only warnog then."

****

Annabeth balanced Max in one arm and a glass of ginger ale in the other. She watched Laria put the finishing touches on the dining room table with help from Phil and Alex as Scharr, T'les, and Katie made small-talk in the living room. She wandered over while keeping a careful eye on the Klingon blades hanging on the wall a few meters away. Despite her wariness at having her baby around such deadly weapons, she reminded herself that very shortly, he would have one of his own. The idea still surprised her.

"So, how are you enjoying leave?" Katie asked Annabeth while taking a sip of her wine.

"Well, it's really rewarding taking care of this little guy…" she said with a bit of hesitation.

"Ma'am," Scharr said as his antenna straightened. "It's us, you can be honest."

"I'm bored out of mind!" Annabeth said with a wave of relief that soon hinted at guilt. "I mean, I love him more than anything," she said giving Max a bounce, "but I never thought I would miss being on the bridge so much."

"Don't worry," Scharr said. "That is completely normal and is nothing you have to feel ashamed of."

"I am sure the feeling will grow less intense once you return to Earth," T'les said calmly. "Once the stimulus of the Pershing is removed, logic dictates that you will become more focused on your child and not think of your career."

Scharr and Katie both turned to look at the Vulcan.

"Is something wrong?" T'les asked.

"No," Katie said taking another sip of wine. "It's just now I realize how humans must sound to you when we say something stupid."

Annabeth looked down at Max and then at the carpet.

"Ok," Laria said looking at the table. "The roast is resting, the mapa bread is staying warm in the oven with the potato casserole, and the salads are ready to go with the dressing. I think we're ready. Thanks for the help guys."

"You did all the hard work," Phil said. "Laria this looks incredible."

"Thank you," she replied gratefully.

"It really does, L," Alex said. "But are you sure that Torlek and Elessa can stomach non-Klingon food? I thought they hated anything that was cooked."

"Klingons are a lot more flexible than most people think," Laria said, "but if worse comes to worse, Daniel keeps a barrel of gagh in stasis. When we have the cake, Torlek and Elessa can have worms for desert if they're still hungry."

"Delightful," Phil said rolling his eyes.

The front doors parted and Tigranian walked in with his Klingon relatives. Torlek had changed into his informal tunic while Elessa wore a purple and black dress trimmed in bronze embroidery. Her hair was in a long, red braid down her back.

"Can I get you something to drink?" Tigranian asked.

"Blood wine," Torlek said. "Do you have any of the 2357 left?"

"I've been saving a bottle for you," Tigranian replied. "My lady?"

"Nothing for me yet," she said as her eyes caught sight of Max in Annabeth's arms. "There he is…" Elessa said as her fierce fangs were revealed beneath her smiling cheeks. She charged straight for Annabeth as Tigranian went to a sideboard for the drinks. "nuqneH, SuvwI'mach," she said with a sweetness that clashed with her imposing figure.

"He's beautiful, isn't he?" Laria said walking up with Alex and the others in tow.

"They are so wonderful at this age," Elessa said staring down at the baby's head of dark hair.

"Soon, he will be causing more trouble than you can believe," Torlek said with a chuckle.

"I don't know," Tigranian said walking up with two tankards of bloodwine. He handed one to his brother. "He comes from pretty good genes."

"I'm sure you were a terror to your mother," Elessa said looking up to him. "All boys are, but we love them just the same," she said softly looking back down at Max. "May I hold him?"

Annabeth glanced nervously at Laria, but the Bajoran confidently nodded back. Reluctantly, Annabeth passed Max into Elessa's waiting arms. The Klingon received the baby with an amazingly experienced, gentle touch. Alex was amazed.

"AbomBhay mish?" Elessa said bouncing Max up and down in her massive arms. AbomBhay mish?" The baby waved his arms and then relaxed into the crook of her elbow. Everyone swore they saw the hint of a smile emerge from behind his pacifier. "Hija'," Elessa said sweetly. "qaghu QaQ."

"Great," Alex thought to herself. "Another language my baby is learning that I don't know." She looked over to Elessa. "So, you have son?"

"Two of them," Elessa replied still rocking a contented Max in her arms. "The older is a cadet at the Elite Command Academy and the younger is in his last year of secondary school on Qo'nos. He will join the Defense Forces next autumn."

"The children of Klingon lords often do not have much choice in their careers," Torlek said sarcastically. Tigranian laughed.

"What about the other children in a lord's house?" Annabeth asked before she could stop herself. Tigranian looked over to her nervously.

"Relax, Daughter of Geist," Torlek said with a chuckle. "The House of Torlek has enough representatives in the KDF," he said looking down at Max. "However, when the time comes, I can always order another set of armor in human size if he so desires."

Torlek raised his finger and began his own HeH DuP with Max.

"Waq…Kor…do…goH…Ya. Gung…Gung…Gung." Once again, the infant barely acknowledged the movements.

"Does that actually work?" Laria asked, "Or is it like those "Classical Music for Babies" recordings?"

"Oh, it will work," Elessa said. "It just takes time."

"Well," Tigranian said to the group, "let's sit down to dinner."

"I'll take him," Alex said walking up to Elessa. "That way you can enjoy your dinner."

The Klingon lady extended Max towards his mother, but he immediately started fussing as Alex started reached for him.

"Oh, ghu ghobe'," Elessa said trying to calm him down. Alex looked shocked that her son didn't want to leave Elessa's arms. "It's the klongat fur on the sleeves," the lady said searching for a less offensive explanation. "All babies love it." She tried passing Max to Alex again. When his mother picked him up, he started crying.

"Do you want me to take him?" Annabeth asked.

"No," Alex said rocking her son. "I've got him."

As the others moved towards the dining table, Alex walked across the living room trying to calm her son down.

"What's wrong, Baby?" she asked softly. "Mama is here. It's mama." She walked out of earshot from everyone else and whispered in his ear. "Pretty soon, it's gonna be just the two of us. You need to get used to me. No more crying…no more crying."

****

After an uneventful, but rather boisterous dinner, Annabeth laid Max down into his crib back in their quarters.

"Schläfst gut," Annabeth whispered as she placed a soft kiss on Max's forehead. "It's going to be a big day tomorrow."

She turned out the lights in the living room and then joined Alex back in their bedroom. Her wife was already in pajamas but stared nervously at the wall.

"Alright, what's wrong?" Annabeth said sitting down and pulling off her shoes. Alex took a deep breath.

"Are you sure we're doing the right thing?" she asked.

"It's a little late to back out now," Annabeth said undressing and reaching for her nightgown. "Torlek and Elessa traveled almost two hundred lightyears."

"No, not about that," Alex said shaking her head. "About taking Max back to Earth. It's just everyone here seems to have connected with him. This ship has become his home."

"Babe," Annabeth said taking a seat next to her and rubbing her back, "we don't have a choice. He can't stay aboard the Pershing. It's policy plus it's too dangerous."

"But for him not see one of his mothers for months at a time. Dammit, Beth! It's just so cruel!" she leaned her head on Annabeth's shoulder.

"I know," Annabeth whispered. "I know."

"Isn't there anything we can tell Starfleet to change their minds?"

"No," Annabeth replied, "and even if there was, I wouldn't want to. I love our son and I want to make sure he's safe on Earth. I've made my decision, and that's final. Besides, the Pershing will only be away from Earth for another five weeks. Then, we'll have a chance to be together again."

Alex looked up and shook her head.

"I don't think you realize how long five weeks can be when you're talking about our son."

"Alex," Annabeth said rising to her feet. "Please don't make this any harder than it already is."

"I'm sorry," she replied. "I guess I was just a little freaked out tonight. The way Max responded to Elessa, it was a little unnerving."

"What do you mean?" Annabeth asked.

"He didn't want to leave her arms, Beth," Alex replied, "even when I tried to pick him up. Sometimes, I wonder if he really sees me as his mother."

"He does," Annabeth said heading to the bathroom to brush her teeth.

"How do you know?" Alex called after her.

"Cause I'm his mother too, and I know my son."


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