Alexander went away, his little head heavy. The little boy wanted to talk about normal things -- what they were doing in school, what they would have for dinner that evening.
Deanna lowered herself into the chair by Worf’s bedside that his son had left empty. Worf stared at the ceiling with an intensity meant to shut out any competing attentions, and Deanna had to take hold of her own sorrow and anger to address him calmly. “I know it’s difficult, but he needs to feel that you are still his parent.”
“He will understand when he is older.” He turned his head a fraction, barely a gesture. “You will tell him. If the surgery is not successful, you will raise him.”
“Worf.” The request begged a thousand questions, but he was of no mind for them. She limited herself to one. “What about his mother? Wouldn’t she have to agree?”
“She is unreachable. Therefore, it my decision.” His eyes flicked across hers once. “That is, if you accept.”
Deanna had faced other decisions in life that felt equally weighty in consequence to herself, and in which she felt equally unable to weigh herself in the calculus. They were easy to make, if not always simple to live with. “Of course,” she said, reaching for his hand and taking it, despite his flinching grasp. “I promise.”
She had wondered for years how it would go. Whether Alexander would be summoned to the Klingon homeworld, or K’Ehleyr would appear on the corner of the Enterprise viewscreen in another sleek torpedo tube. That had been Alexander’s favorite story when he was younger, his mother traveling through space with only a thin shell of protection to meet the ship on its journey.
It was not so dramatic, though, when it finally happened. Deanna received a subspace message one day, with Klingon language metanotation, that K’Ehleyr wanted to meet her at the Enterprise’s next stop at a starbase. The corridors of the orbiting station had a more civic feeling than those Enterprise: planters of trailing vines and signs for visitors to find where they were going.
There was a teahouse on one of the observation levels, low-ceilinged and dim, where K’Ehleyr had suggested in her message that they meet. The hostess led Deanna to the back, where the taller woman unfolded herself almost up to the ceiling to greet her. “If I had known I couldn’t stand up in here, I would have picked another place,” she said as she gave Deanna a quick hug, but there was a slyness in her smile, and Deanna remembered quickly why she had liked her when they first met.
She couldn’t imagine how many light years ago that was. Sometimes that seemed like the only correct way to measure how far they were from the beginning.
“Are you here to take Alexander away with you?” she asked, after the hostess had taken her order.
“What?” K’Ehleyr looked genuinely surprised. “You don’t beat around the bush.”
“It’s a natural question.” In spite of Deanna’s empathic senses, it felt like so many poker games where she hoped the person across the table would lay their cards down first.
“I wanted to arrange to see him. I never got much farther than that.” K’Ehleyr had an uncanny way of looking a person straight in the eye when she was telling an uncomfortable truth, and still managing to be not quite on point. “I never meant to be away for so long.”
Deanna felt a tide of compassion that mingled with her mixed feelings. “He’s your son. Of course you can see him.”
“I don’t even know him.”
“That’s not true. And the things you don’t know, you can learn.”
“Tell me about him.”
It was like asking someone to describe their own right hand. He was always there with her these last few years, so much that she rarely had a chance to step back and think about him with perspective. “He’s very smart, very serious. He’s not the most natural student, but he works harder than anyone else and excels at his studies. He’s very athletic and competitive, of course, although there is no one to teach him the Klingon ways. At some point I think he will want to have that opportunity.”
“What about friends? How does a Klingon boy find friends on a ship like the Enterprise?”
“He doesn’t have many, but the ones he has are very good friends to him, and he to them. His entire class went on a low-gravity camping trip on a moon in the Denares sector recently, and he still hasn’t stopped talking about it. He enjoys a mudbath. That part is my mother’s doing,” she said with a small smile. Lwaxana had been quick to claim a grandchild as her own.
“I see.” The tea came and was set between them with ceremony -- lids lifted, leaves drained, liquids decanted. Deanna let the steam catch on her face, and inhaled. When she opened her eyes, the other woman’s gaze flicked away, and she could tell she was not in the same moment. “I can’t take him on full time with my career,” she said bluntly. “Years that don't belong to me. One week here, another week there, months in transit in conditions not fit for a kolar beast. It’s not practical.”
Deanna breathed deeply. “Have you considered doing something else? They can’t expect you to--”
K’Ehleyr shook her head. “No, I can’t give it up. We’ve been living at a kind of critical juncture for years, and I can’t see that changing anytime soon. And leaving all of those Klingon men to their own devices would be a recipe for disaster. There is no one else who can do what I can do there.”
“You’re irreplaceable to Alexander as well.”
“I think you’ve done an excellent job of demonstrating that that isn’t true. He hasn't seen me in years.”
"He thinks of you. He imagines you're out there holding up the Klingon Empire with your own shoulders, like the hero in a saga."
K'Ehleyr picked up her tea cup and sipped from the rim. "What about you, and your career?"
"The Enterprise... is my home." The possibility of transfer hung over every Starfleet officer, but she had stopped considering it a likelihood years ago. It was not rational to expect to stay with the same crew for such a long stretch of her career, but she was already in the middle of it. Somehow Alexander had never gotten in the way of any of her decisions or her duties. She had always had ambitions and goals, but her life was like water, too, finding its own course that she couldn't predict. Damming it up so it would look more like what she had imagined would only smother some of what sustained her. She had friends to help her, lots of other support. The hardest part had been Alexander's loss of his father and his mother's absence, no small burdens, but somehow--
“There are other options, you know, if you don’t want to keep him with you.”
Deanna nodded. She did know that. “Worf ruled out his own parents on Earth. That was never his wish.”
"Worf." There was a world of experiences in the way she said his name -- the past life that Deanna suspected hardly was, the grief for it that she hadn't had to grapple with every day, its fruits. "If only he were here to decide what we should do." She shook her head, not entirely shaking off her archness. "We could send him to my parents, but they’re dead. There are schools on Qo'noS -- more like academies for training young warriors -- that would take him now that he is older.”
Deanna could too easily picture Alexander in his breastplate and battle gear, so far away. It gave her feelings she wasn't ready to put a name to, the picture and the distance. “You know he dismisses many of the trappings of Klingon culture. It’s a part of him, he can’t avoid it forever, but to send him back there now without context… He hasn’t been raised around it. As a psychologist I can’t recommend it.”
“I have to figure some kind of solution. I can’t expect to leave my son with you until he is grown.”
“Perhaps not,” Deanna said carefully, “but perhaps you don’t have to figure it out this moment. Maybe things could stay as they are a little longer. Alexander has his activities aboard the Enterprise… His friends, his schoolwork.”
“Perhaps so. Truly, I am loathe to pull him from a place where he is doing well and send him to those medieval idiots. He will have to confront his Klingon heritage at some point. He’s more Klingon than I am, and I’ve never been able to make sense of it.”
“He's always said that you thought Klingons had a lot of dumb ideas.” Deanna reached across the table and covered her hand, and when K’Ehleyr pressed her own palm against hers, she knew they had reached an understanding. "Maybe it will be something that you do together."
When Deanna was done with her cup, the other woman invited her to swirl it three times and turn it over the saucer, so the last dregs of liquid and the leaves fell out. "My mother was a sort of holdover mystic. You'd have to be, to live with a Klingon man. I thought she was a silly woman, always insisting on reading my fortune whenever we sat down to have tea together. She only saw good things for me, never any of the troubles I knew I'd find, one way or another."
Deanna looked down into the saucer in K'Ehleyr's hands, the way the drops of tea caught on the little clumps of leaves as she drained it off, flowing this way and that to the edge. "Mine had my future forecast when I was a young girl. It was sort of a coming of age ritual on my planet, before a child's telepathic abilities develop. What the seer has seen, the child isn't told, but my mother was pale as a ghost for a week. And never quieter."
"And she never told you what was foretold for you?"
"No, she's probably still recovering." Deanna put a fingertip on the rim of the saucer, tilting it back toward her. That might be a nest, or a piece of seaweed. "What do you see?"
The both peered at the wet leaf bits, strewn across the porcelain. "There's an art to it. I'm not sure I have it. Some of my mother's favorite things to see were birds, and ocean waves, and the shock waves a starship makes when it jumps to warp."
"Sounds like I'm taking a long trip."
"Aren't we all." K'Ehleyr set the saucer down, and looked at her intently. “Promise me, that when Alexander comes to Qo'noS, you will bring him, and be my guest.”
“Of course.” Deanna Troi was true to her word.