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Baby Baby

By Caro Roberts and Starsong Lightwing

"PUSH!!" Querida yelled at the desperate woman on the delivery table. She screamed back in no uncertain terms, laced with profanities, that she certainly WAS pushing!!

"Well then push harder!" Querida yelled back.

"AAAAUUUGHHHH!!!"

Querida tried to use her forearm to wipe her hair out of her eyes, it didn't work. Her hands were bloody, sweat trickling down her forehead and into her eyes. "Tarrin..."

"I've got it." He appeared next to her and brushed her hair back, wiping the sweat away for her.

"Thank you," she returned shortly, still focused on her patient. "It's coming, it's coming...push! PUSH!"

"AAAIEEE!!!"

"It's coming... I... I think we've got the head coming!"

"Oh... oh... OOOOOH!!!"

"PUSH!"

Finally, after what seemed like the eternity, the baby was out. Querida snipped the umbilical cord in her business-like way, handing the baby to Tarrin to be cleaned and dried while she stripped off her blood-soaked gloves and washed her hands. She turned back to her patient, trying to make her comfortable.

"Querida."

Something in Tarrin's voice warned her that there was a problem. Querida stopped and turned backed to him. "Tarrin?"

"Look at this."

She took the baby he held out to her and she gathered it up. Her heart stopped as he pointed out the problems. "Extra finger on each hand," he murmured, not letting the mother hear. "Looks like her bones aren't as strong as they should be. Beak's snub and misshapen. Her feathers don't seem to be as thick as they could be, either." He sighed. "And that's only what we can see just by looking at her."

"Oh, Tarrin..." Querida felt tears rising in her eyes but she quickly blinked them away. Time enough for that later. She looked down at the baby she was still cradling and her heart twisted. I'll never have a baby... No. No time to dwell. Not right now. Later, later she could mourn again. Now she had to focus. She turned back to the mother, Mirandy, who was looking at them curiously.

"What were you two whispering about?"

"Well..." Querida swallowed hard. Tarrin came up behind her and rested a comforting hand on her shoulder. She spared him a quick smile. "There have been certain...complications...that we didn't see coming."

Her eyes turned hard. "What?"

"Well...your baby is..." Beautiful, is what she is. Now if only you have the good sense to see that. Querida offered it to her. Mirandy took one look, screeched in repugnance, and pulled away.

"Oh, gods, get it away from me, get it away, that horrid little FREAK!!"

Querida's jaw dropped open. "You-- you can't mean that!"

"Damn right I do! I didn't want this baby, but I can't-- I refuseto acknowledge that freak of nature as mine!"

Querida's first instinct was to go for Mirandy's throat. Her second, more reasonable, thought was to try to turn this to her advantage. "I don't know how you can't want this perfect baby," she replied evenly, "but if you don't want her, I do."

"I don't know why you would --oh, but wait, you're the freak who can't have kids, aren't you?" She laughed harshly. "One freak deserves another, I guess."

For two cents, Querida would have thrown something at the woman. Tarrin's arm around her waist tightened, but whether to comfort her or to restrain himself she couldn't tell. She took a deep breath to control herself. "Then there's no reason why you shouldn't want to let me have her," she managed through her teeth.

"It's my baby, I'll do what I want with it. It's mine by Law. It's not worth anything, I might as well just get rid of it."

" 'It' is a 'she'," Querida informed her evenly, though she was seething inwardly. She knew her only hope of keeping the baby lay in being civil, and that was all that kept her from doing something drastic.

"I'll think about it," was Mirandy's response. The baby, who was still crying, let out an extra loud scream. "Damn, shut that brat up will you?!"

"Get her a bottle," Tarrin murmured to her. "I'll take care of things here."

Querida gave him a grateful look and left, cradling the baby in her arms.

*****

Once the baby was safely fed and taken care of, Querida carried her back to her quarters. She couldn't go back to the infirmary and face Mirandy. Not yet. She sat down on her bed and started rocking the baby, cooing softly to it. "You need a name," she decided. "I can't just go around calling you 'it' or 'she' or 'the baby.' Even if you aren't mine..." She sighed and rubbed the baby's cheek with her finger. "You're so beautiful...."

She heard the door open but didn't look up, unable to take her eyes off the bundle she was holding. "Her name is Elle," she murmured. "It means 'beautiful.'"

"Kerry..." Tarrin sighed and crossed the room to her. "We can't keep her."

She looked up, shocked. "W-why not?! She doesn't want her!"

"We can't keep her unless she says we can, and...I don't hold out great hope for that."

"Tarrin, this baby needs us."

"We can't just up and keep her, Kerry. That's kidnapping." He stopped immediately--"kidnapping" wasn't the best word to say in front of his wife at the best of times, but especially not now, when her emotions were running high...

"I wasn't under the impression that thieves cared about kidnapping," she responded softly. He sighed and sat down next to her on the bed.

"Kerry..."

"I'm sorry. I just..."

"I know." He put an arm around her waist and she snuggled against his side, careful not to wake the sleeping baby. "But try not to get your hopes up, Kerry. Maybe we'll be able to persuade her to give us the baby. But if not...I don't want you to be disappointed again."

She kissed him gently. "Thank you for your concern. I'll try not to get too attached." Too late .

"You named her, Kerry. I think that counts as 'too attached.'"

"We can't just keep calling her 'it' or 'the baby'!" she replied defensively.

"It really wasn't our place to--" He was suddenly on the receiving end of kiss that made him rather forget his train of thought.

*****

Querida paused and studied the door, trying to figure out how to approach the problem, then knocked with her foot. Milantha opened it and Querida went in, carrying her bundle carefully. Estelle raised an eyebrow, and when the bundle cooed Milantha raised both. Querida hushed the baby gently and sat down, offering them both a tentative smile. "Hi."

Estelle waved aside pleasantries. "Whose is that?"

"Aheh...Mine."

Estelle stared. Milantha blinked as well, but came out of her shock first. "Where'd you get it?"

Querida sighed. "First of all, 'it' is a 'she.'" Her expression darkened. "Some whore gave birth to this lovely little creation and decided she didn't want it just because--" She cut off.

"Just because what, Kerry?" Estelle asked gently.

Querida sighed and held the baby's hand up so that they could see it. "Just because she has an extra finger, and her beak is a little snub--she was born a little prematurely, of course she's weak! And that...that...Saurian bitch called her a freak..." Her voice shook and she cradled the baby closer. "I told her I'd keep the baby for her, but she--she says that I can't do it--it's hers by law--she says she should just get rid of it--" She looked up. "That's not in the law, is it Lantha?"

Milantha snorted. "It's a child, not a thing. It might have been in the Law a long time ago, but there's no way it would've stayed like that."

Querida held her hand out to the baby and let it play with her fingers. "So--so she can't take it away from me?"

Estelle snorted and laid a hand on her saber. "I'd like to see her try it."

Milantha shrugged. "She can't kill it. If she doesn't want to keep her, she'll have to find a foster. Unfortunately, it's up to her who."

Querida looked horrified. "I won't let her take this baby away, I'll--I'll--"She looked down at 'her' baby. "Nothing. I'm not even a member. There isn't anything I can do, is there?"

Milantha shook her head. "Not if the woman's feeling ungracious."

Estelle laid a hand on her saber again. "Maybe we can...persuade...her to see reason."

Milantha gave her a warning look. "No, Estelle, we can't."

Estelle sighed. "Maybe we--I--could challenge her to a duel...?"

Milantha shook her head again. "Not over her baby. It's a child, not a thing. It can't be won that way."

Querida cuddled the baby, looking stubborn. "I won't give her up."

"We're jumping the gun, here. Since she has to either give it to someone or keep it herself, at least wait to see if she'll be reasonable. She has to give it to someone willing to take it, after all. How much competition can you possibly have?"

I don't want to think about that... "I suppose..." She forced herself to smile. "Well, she won't be in any shape TO decide for awhile. It was a hard delivery. And I'm going to take care of this baby until then." She rubbed the baby's cheek with her finger. "I'll have her for a little while, at least."

Milantha said nothing, although she looked a little worried. Querida glanced over at her and smiled. "Don't worry, Lantha. I'm not going to do anything stupid."

Milantha forced a smile. "Of course not."

"I'll leave that to Rio."

"That's not funny, Kerry."

She looked sheepish. "Sorry."

Estelle put a hand on Querida's shoulder. "I'm sure she was kidding." She gave her a sharp look. "You were kidding, weren't you, Kerry?"

Milantha continued to frown. "I'm not sure anyone understands exactly what all is involved here."

Estelle glanced over at her. "Let's say we don't, Lantha. Elaborate."

Milantha sighed. "Kerry, I just want you to be careful. I don't want you to get too attached to the baby, because you can't just decide that you're going to keep her regardless of what the mother says. Because you can't. You can't fend off the whole Brotherhood, and you can't run off with her. It'd be dangerous and stupid for both of you. I don't want to see you hurt."

Too late for that... Querida looked down at the baby she'd already started to think of as her own. "I'll be careful," she murmured rather guiltily,then kissed the baby's forehead and started rocking her to sleep. "I wish I could nurse her..." she murmured, forgetting herself, then looked up sharply. "I--I mean--"

Estelle folded her arms and raised an eyebrow at her. "Have you even beenlistening to us?"

Querida looked away. Milantha's expression went hard. "I think you'd better let someone else take care of her for now."

Querida jumped up and backed away, holding the baby closer. "No! I-I mean--at least let me have her for a little while..."

Milantha shook her head. "I don't think that's a good idea."

"It would be for the best, Kerry," Estelle soothed. "After all, if you do get her, then what's the harm in waiting for a few days? And if..." Her voice dropped. "If you don't , then...then it'll be easier for you."

Querida started to protest but the baby woke up and started crying. She turned away and started rocking and hushing her. "There, there, it's okay..."

This doesn't look good at all, Estelle thought grimly. "Querida..." Kerry gave her a slightly defensive look before going back to the baby.

Milantha looked grim. "Querida--I will pull rank on you if I have to."

Querida started edging toward the door nervously. "I thought you'd be happy for me..."

Estelle reached out a hand to her. "We will be, Kerry, but the baby's not yours yet. "

Milantha had adopted the expressionless mask playfully referred to as her 'work face.' "I'm your friend, Kerry, but my duty comes first. I think you'd better leave her with me until this issue is settled."

Querida reached behind her with one hand, feeling for the door handle. "No."

"And where are you planning to go, Kerry?"

"I don't know, but I can't stay here and listen to this anymore."

Milantha inwardly winced, momentarily hating her job. "You can go, Kerry, but the baby stays."

"Please, Kerry," Estelle put in, "be reasonable --"

"I'm through being reasonable!" Querida snapped. She jerked the door openand left, slamming it behind her.

*****

Milantha knocked on the door to the Avias's quarters, hating that she had to do this. "Querida, let me in."

No answer.

"Kerry, open this door or I'm coming through it."

Still silence.

"Kerry," Estelle called through, "you're only making this worse on yourself!"

Milantha set her jaw and lit her saber, but Estelle stopped her and pulled out a lock pick. "There's no point in making this even bigger than it already is, Lantha," she muttered, kneeling to pick the lock.

Milantha sighed. I guess I got a little carried away. "Right. Sorry."

Estelle gave her a sympathetic look, but whatever she was about to say was cut off as the lock clicked. "There." She stood, not looking forward to this.

Milantha went in first, her face blank, and Estelle followed. Querida was sitting on her bed, murmuring to the baby and trying to get her to sleep. She refused to look up.

"Kerry," Milantha began firmly, "the Law treats what you're doing now as kidnapping. You've lost your objectivity. Let me have the baby."

A lot thieves care about kidnapping. "No."

Estelle felt sick. "Kerry, please...We'll have to take her from you if you won't give her up willingly."

"This is not helping your situation, Kerry," Milantha added. "If you want to keep her, I'm asking you to let her go for now. Give her to me and I won't bring this up with Leila. If I have to take her from you by force, it's not going to look good."

Querida looked down at the baby, uncertain now. "Please...I..."

"Kerry," Estelle reminded her gently, resting a hand on her shoulder, "if you don't give her up now, you'll lose her for good."

I can't stand the thought of that... She kissed the baby and, after a moment's struggle with herself, held her out to Milantha. She gathered the baby up gently.

"I hope you'll understand sometime, Kerry."

Querida was too busy trying not to cry to answer. Milantha gave Estelle aguilty look and left, hoping Querida wouldn't hate her for this. Estelle followed her out, knowing better than to try to reason with Querida when she was in this state.

Left alone, Querida buried her face in a pillow and sobbed.

*****

Querida let herself into the infirmary, closing the door behind her softlybefore turning to face the woman lying on the bed. Mirandy propped herself up on the pillows and watched her sullenly. Querida sighed and took a seat across from here. She's not going to make this easy on me, is she? "We have to talk."

"About what?"

Querida dug her nails into her palms but forced herself to keep going. "About E--your daughter."

"That freak ain't mine."

"You said that she was by Law. You don't want her. I do. You have two choices--you can either keep her and raise her yourself, or you can give her to someone who wants her. I don't know of anyone else who would be willing to care for her, do you?"

"I can do whatever I want with her. Maybe I'll just get rid of her."

"How?"

"I dunno...I don't really care, either. Drown her or something."

Times like this I swear I wish I had a saber! Querida bit her lower beak so hard it bled and had to wait several minutes before she couldanswer her. "You can't do that. It's in the Law. She's a child, not a thing. You can't just throw her away."

"Yeah. Maybe."

"So let me have her."

Mirandy eyed her for a moment, weighing her options. She had many bad qualities, but stupidity wasn't one of them. Mirandy always knew how to come out on top. "All right. Fine. Take her. Do whatever you want with her."

Querida broke into an all-out grin, whipping a piece of paper and a pen outand presenting them to her with a flourish. "Sign here, please."

"What's this?"

"It's the transfer of the baby to Tarrin and myself, according the Law. I talked to Iliana about it and she helped me draw it up. Now sign, please. Just to make it official." And to keep you from coming back ten years from now and taking her away from me.

Mirandy snorted, but signed anyway. "There. Now will you stop bugging me about that freak?"

"Yes, of course." Querida beamed as she looked over the paper. "You're free to leave the infirmary any time, you know."

"Good." Mirandy stood and began gathering her things. "Why'd you keep me so long, anyway?"

"I wanted to make sure we had a chance to 'discuss' the issue of your--my daughter."

Mirandy was about to yell something to the effect of, "YOU KEPT ME HEREON PURPOSE ?!", when she noticed the good doctor eying a line of syringes in a rather menacing fashion. She left without a murmur.

Querida grinned again and set off to collect her baby back from Milantha.

*****

Milantha heard the brief knock on her door, but she didn't even have time to look up before the door opened and Querida marched in, looking determined. Milantha raised an eyebrow. "Kerry."

"I've come for my baby," Querida announced without preamble. Milantha didn't move, just stood and looked at her, silent. Querida presented her with the paper. "It's legal. I got the mother to sign this, formally transferring the baby to me. Now may I have her back?"

Milantha looked the paper over carefully, and then set it on the desk witha rather relieved smile. "Follow me." She opened the door to the nursery, leaving it open to she could still hear her own children and step in if they started to massacre each other. Boys will be boys...

Querida crossed the room in two strides, scooping her daughter out of Lawler's crib and cuddling her tightly. Elle yawned and blinked at her sleepily, then cuddled up against her. Querida positively melted, sitting down in a nearby chair before her legs became too weak to support her. My baby. My. Baby. She's finally mine. Once she could tear her eyes away from the bundle in her arms, she glanced up at Milantha. "Thank you for...taking care ofher for me. You're right, I had lost my objectivity. It was so hard not to..."

Milantha smiled, looking at the pictures of her own family scattered all over the room. "I know. Believe me, Kerry, I know. I'd kill anyone who tried to take my children, and--" She looked back at Kerry. "I just wanted this done right, so that no one ever would be able to take her."

"I know you did what you had to. I'm sorry I...behaved so unreasonably."

Milantha shrugged. "I think you were a great deal more reasonable than I would have been, even now." She smiled slightly.

"I'm not sure I dare refute that." She cradled the baby again. "Her name is Elle, did I tell you that? It means 'beautiful.' I think she's beautiful..." Her smile turned sad. "Even if the mother doesn't."

Milantha gave Querida her opinion of the mother's intelligence and probably lineage. Somehow she even managed to do it without saying anything that wouldhave corrupted the ears of her children.

Which, of course, only proves how many opportunities she's had topractice, Querida thought wryly, grinning. "Probably all very true. I suppose, in some odd and perverse way, that I should be grateful to her. After all, if she hadn't been...what she was...I wouldn't have my own child now." Her grin widened a little more. "Serves her right, I suppose.She had all the trials of pregnancy and I got the benefits!"

Milantha chuckled wryly, remembering well her own ordeals, then paused, frowning.

"What? What's wrong?"

"Kerry...I think you should be careful for a while, you and Tarrin both. And especially Elle. I don't think any of you are exactly Mirandy's favorite people right about now. And...well...you never know."

Querida looked surprised. "You think she'd actually be foolish enough to try something?"

Milantha shrugged. "I don't know, Kerry, I don't know her, really. Just a word of a caution. And besides," she added with a slight twinkle in her eyes, "you know what they say about a woman scorned."

"Yes," Querida agreed dryly, "but you also know what they say about a doctor irritated. We can make our point rather painfully." She winked. "Besides, the delivery was hard on her. She's going to have to be seeing quite a bit of me these next few weeks while we make sure there are no further complications. And I think she's smart enough to realize I can make that a lot harder on her than it has to be."

"You can be positively devious, you know that?"

"I've been told once or twice, yes, but I choose not to believe it."

"Probably not. I can't imagine Tarrin's taste running toward devious." She winked and Querida flushed.

"Now who's devious?"

"Oh, I never denied it."

"Because there wouldn't have been a point."

"Exactly."

Elle stirred slightly and Querida looked down. "It looks like someone needs to finish her nap," she whispered. "I'd best be going."

"All right. And Kerry?"

Querida paused at the door and looked back. "Yes?"

"I hope you're not going to miss sleep too much."

Querida paused, then grinned and winked before letting herself out.

 

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