Title: The Chancellor's Bride
Author: Vicki L. Reid
Email: dekrrini AT aim.com
Summary: What if Worf had not relinquished his role as Chancellor of the Klingon Empire?
Acknowledgements: Anna, who gave me the idea in the first place, Celeste, who remains my beta reader extraordinaire, and the rest of the Gardenites who love Worf and Troi as much as I do. Okay, Anna, now you can put away the sharp, pointy objects.
Disclaimers: Paraborg--er--Paramount owns all things Star Trek. I'm only borrowing a few of the characters for a time, and I promise to put them back when I'm done.

 

"I won't do it, Mother," a woman said, voice cold as the vacuum of space. "I cannot believe you would even ask me."

Her fingers stroked the back of her neck, toying absently with the closely shorn hair. She struggled to keep the smile from her face at her mother's pained expression. Few things bothered Lwaxana Troi more than a break with tradition. Unless, of course, she was the one breaking tradition.

"Why, Deanna?" she asked.

"Why won't I marry the Chancellor of the Klingon Empire?" she asked, eyes widening with a display of innocence. "I would think that would be obvious."

Shaking her head impatiently, Lwaxana said, "Your hair, Deanna. Why did you cut it so short? No Daughter of the Fifth House . . ."

"Wears their hair as short as a man's," Deanna interrupted. She shrugged her shoulders, bringing yet another grimace to her mother's face. "I needed a change, and cutting my hair was easier than requesting a transfer off the Enterprise."

Lwaxana frowned at her daughter for several long interminable seconds. "If working with Will Riker is such a problem now, why won't you consider . . ."

"A marriage of inconvenience with the Klingon Chancellor?" Deanna interrupted again, grinning openly at her mother's frustration. No one interrupted Lwaxana Troi. "The very concept is so medieval, Mother. No female on Betazed has been forced to marry against her will in centuries. I don't intend to be the first."

For several seconds, Lwaxana seemed to struggle to retain a firm grip on her own growing anger. Finally she managed to say, "Betazed needs this marriage, Deanna."

"Why?" Deanna asked in disbelief. "What can Betazed possibly need from the Klingon Empire?"

"Protection."

Now it was Deanna's turn to frown. "Protection? From whom?" She paused for a moment as she tried to understand her mother's word. "Are the Klingons forcing their 'protection' on Betazed for some reason?"

Lwaxana shook her head emphatically. "No. Betazed approached them."

More confused than ever, Deanna asked again, "Why? Betazed is part of the Federation and Starfleet . . ."

"Failed us," Lwaxana interrupted this time.

"Mother, . . ." Deanna began.

"No," Lwaxana said. After staring at her daughter with her jaw tightly clenched, Lwaxana Troi moved deliberately across the living room to stand before the large window. At one time, the window looked out upon one of the largest and loveliest gardens on all of Betazed. Now, it looked out onto the devastation left behind by the Cardassian Occupation. Trees and shrubs had been uprooted and burned, leaving black ugly patches on the once verdant lawn. Flowers had been systematically destroyed. Nothing of beauty was left. "You weren't here, Deanna. Starfleet wasn't here for us when the Cardassian shock troops arrived."

Deanna moved to stand beside her mother, and stared out of the window. "I understand your bitterness toward Starfleet, Mother. I really do. But the Klingons? Isn't that just trading one tyrant for another?"

"They are the ones who suggested the Marriage of Alliance."

Feeling rather like a parrot who can say only one word, Deanna asked, "Why?"

For the first time since they began this conversation, Lwaxana Troi smiled. "To keep them honest. Their words, not mine."

"Keep them honest?" Deanna was completely bewildered by the entire situation. None of this made any sense, and seemed totally out of character for the Klingon Empire. She shook her head slightly, clearing her mind. "What do the Klingons get out of this? They provide protection to Betazed for what? A tithe? Fifty percent of the wealth of Betazed? What?"

"A closer alliance with the Federation," Lwaxana answered. When Deanna opened her lips to respond, the older woman raised her hand, saying, "The Klingons aren't quite ready to join the Federation of Planets, but they do recognize the need for closer ties to the Federation--and Starfleet."

Although she feared she knew the answer already, Deanna gritted her teeth and asked, "Why me?"

Lwaxana turned from the window and touched Deanna's cheek. Her eyes were filled with concern and even a touch of sympathy. "You're the only unattached Betazoid female of marriageable age who has had a relationship with a Klingon."

~*~

Standing at the apex of Klingon society--both figuratively and literally, the Chancellor looked out of one of the narrow apertures and gazed down on the populace below. Even though it was well past midnight, a surprisingly large number of people strode with great purpose through the dark streets. Moonlight glinted on polished steel as he slowly turned this qut'luch dagger over and over in his hands, wishing he was down amongst his fellow Klingons. His dagger was now a symbol of power rather than a simple weapon. He shook his head in disbelief at the fate which had befallen him. For some strange reason, most Klingons wanted him as their leader, seeing him as the perfect liaison between the Klingon Empire and the Federation.

He sighed deeply. Although Qo'noS had been left unscathed by the war with the Dominion, their military force had been badly depleted. And Starfleet had suffered just as badly. By combining the two biggest powers in this sector of the galaxy, peace could be restored and protection could be provided to the planets. Protection against the marauders who were sure to follow in the wake of the Dominion. His people expected him to lead them into a new prosperity through an even stronger alliance with the Federation.

"But I do not want to be Chancellor," he growled, clutching the dagger firmly in his fist.

"Few others would admit that," a voice behind him said.

Spinning on his heel, Worf dropped into a defensive crouch, holding the dagger before him.

"At least you are somewhat prepared," Martok said with a smile. "But we must work on your listening skills it would seem."

Worf stood upright and frowned at his general. "What do you want, Martok?"

Striding forcefully across the room, Martok stopped in front of Worf and clasped him on the shoulder. "Congratulations, Chancellor, on your upcoming mating."

"My what?" Worf exclaimed. "I am not seeking a mate."

"That is good," Martok said, "because the High Council has already chosen one for you."

Worf grew more confused. With growing irritation, he asked, "What are you talking about? I want no wife. Not now, perhaps not ever."

Martok shrugged. "That is unfortunate, my son, for the High Council has already proffered your proposal. It would not be honorable to renege now."

Realizing he had been neatly boxed into a corner, Worf let his irritation show on his face. "Who is this female they have chosen?"

"I do not know," Martok replied. At Worf's frown, he laughed. "In one month exactly, a Betazoid female of marriageable age will present herself before the High Council and the Marriage of Alliance will be performed."

Worf's frown intensified. "I do not understand the need for the Marriage of Alliance. We have already promised to provide the planetary defense of Betazed. Do they not trust us?"

"The High Council does not trust the dissidents to leave Betazed alone. The Marriage of Alliance will make it dishonorable to harm Betazed in any way."

Shaking his head, Worf stated firmly, "I will not do it. I will not marry a woman I do not know. Let someone else on the High Council be the unwilling mate."

"It must be you," Martok told him. "Anyone of lower stature would be an insult to the Betazoids. And you have already made the offer. You cannot renege."

"I can," Worf said, "and I will." He paused, staring into Martok's amused face. "I just must think of the best way to do it without offending anyone."

Martok's laugh reverberated through the room. "Mark my words, Chancellor. You will be wed in one month."

Worf glared at his general with open hostility, fearing that Martok would be proven right. But the only Betazoid female he wanted as his mate was already mated to another. And to wed another Betazoid would be a constant reminder of what he had lost so long ago. He sighed. Perhaps he deserved to be miserable, but this unknown female did not. *I must find a way out of this marriage,* he thought to himself. *For her sake even more than mine.*

~*~

A faint smile touched his lips as he slowly and very carefully turned the page he was reading. Although the tome was priceless, Captain Picard vastly preferred reading the works of William Shakespeare in a book rather than using a PADD.

"Captain Picard," came his first officer's disembodied voice, "you have a Priority One message from the Chancellor of the Klingon Empire."

Picard frowned. "The Chancellor, you said?"

"Yes, sir."

With a sigh of regret, Picard rose from the couch and moved toward his desk. Placing the book on his desk, he seated himself in front of his viewscreen. "Route it to my ready room, Number One."

A few seconds later, the insignia of the United Federation of Planets was replaced by a very familiar visage.

Although momentarily stunned, Picard managed to ask, "Worf?"

"Captain Picard, it is good to see you again."

"Chancellor Worf?"

A rather rueful expression crossed the Klingon's face. "Unfortunately."

A slight frown drew Picard's eyebrows together. "I had heard of your battle with Gowron, but I believed you had relinquished the Chancellorship to General Martok."

"I tried," Worf replied, shrugging his shoulders. "But Martok and the High Council would not let me resign." He visibly sighed. "They believe I am more useful to them as Chancellor rather than a Starfleet ambassador."

Smiling at his former chief of security, Picard said, "They may be right, Mr. Worf. You know more about the ways of the Federation than any other Klingon. And right now the Klingon Empire and Starfleet need a much closer alliance than ever before."

"So the High Council believes."

"Has the announcement been made? The last I heard from Starfleet Command the Klingon Empire was on the verge of another civil war in trying to choose Gowron's successor."

Worf shrugged again. "There are a few dissenters, but most of the populace believe as the High Council does." Smiling a tad ferociously he added, "After the war with the Dominion, even the Klingons find themselves weary of fighting. For the moment."

Picard chuckled, knowing that the Klingon propensity for warfare would soon return in full force. Nothing and no one could curb their deeply rooted desire for conflict for very long. "So the rumors of a Klingon civil war were untrue?"

Nodding his head, Worf answered, "Yes. The only true rebel against the Son of Mogh being chosen as the new Chancellor is myself. I do not want to be Chancellor." He paused and frowned intently. "Especially now."

Intrigued by Worf's last statement, Picard asked, "What has happened now?"

"The High Council has chosen a bride for me. I do not wish to be married."

Confused by his words, Picard frowned in turn. "I thought you already were married, Mr. Worf. Do Klingons endorse polygamy?"

"My mate is dead," Worf stated between tightly clenched teeth. "Murdered by Gul Dukat almost a year ago."

"I'm sorry, Worf," Picard said, compassion filling his voice. "So many good officers died during the war that I just could not keep up with the casualty lists. Forgive me."

Shaking his head, Worf consoled the captain. "You could not know, sir. Jadzia's name was not on any casualty list for she did not die in the line of duty. As I said, she was murdered by Gul Dukat."

"And your new bride?"

"This is why I need your help, Captain," Worf said. "I do not want to endanger another female by wedding her. My jinx against matrimonial happiness is strong, and I fear she would die."

Picard was silent for a moment, remembering Worf's first mate who was murdered while on board the Enterprise-D. Although the Chancellor had a point, Picard did not believe in jinxes. "I don't think she would be in danger because of you, Worf. Your position in power might endanger her, but not you personally."

"She would still be in danger," Worf said. "I must find a way to avoid this marriage without angering the High Council and the government of Betazed."

"Don't forget Starfleet Command," Picard said with a smile.

Worf frowned intently. "Starfleet Command? Why should they care whether I wed or not?"

"Starfleet needs this alliance between Qo'noS and Betazed. Our forces are spread too thin as it is after the Dominion War. If the Klingon Empire can provide the necessary planetary defense of Betazed, it will free several ships and hundreds of Starfleet personnel for use in other areas."

Visibly sighing, Worf said, "And I suppose that you would agree with the High Council that only a Marriage of Alliance will protect Betazed from their would-be saviors?"

Picard nodded solemnly. "I understand enough of Klingons and Klingon society to know that only the Marriage of Alliance will bind them to the treaty with Betazed. You know that, too, Mr. Worf." He paused for a moment to let his words sink in. "I'm greatly afraid it is your duty to both Qo'noS and Starfleet to marry this unknown Betazoid female."

Glaring at his former captain with narrowed eyes, Worf muttered, "I am beginning to despise the term 'duty'."

~*~

Settled once again on his sofa with a cup of Earl Grey tea on the table beside him, Captain Picard perused the book, chuckling from time to time at the antics of Puck in "A Midsummer Night's Dream." He sighed as his first officer's voice interrupted his reading. "You have an incoming message from Betazed, Captain."

"Commander Troi?"

"Yes, sir."

Picard smiled as he moved toward his desk. "I hope she's coming home."

"So do I." The smile Riker wore was apparent in his voice. "Shall I route it to your ready room?"

"Yes, Number One." Picard's broad smile faded from sight as he glimpsed Deanna Troi's haggard face. "Counselor, are you all right? Has something happened on Betazed? Is your family well?"

Deanna smiled tremulously, but her eyes remained haunted. "My mother and brother are fine, Captain. And the Reconstruction is going well."

When her voice trailed away, Picard's eyebrows drew together with concern for his ship's counselor. "What about you? How are you?"

"Physically I'm fine," she replied hesitantly. "Mentally is another thing entirely."

Again Picard urged her to talk to him. "What is wrong, Counselor? Please tell me."

Deanna's jaw clenched and unclenched several times. "Aside from the Council of Houses losing their minds and asking me to do the unthinkable, I'm just fine, Captain."

Taking a sip of his tea, Picard asked, "What has the Council done now?"

"You know of the alliance with the Klingon Empire?" At Picard's nod, she continued, "Had you heard of the proposed marriage between the Chancellor and a Betazoid female?"

Again Picard nodded. "A necessity if the alliance is to work."

She stared at Picard for several seconds. As he took another sip of his tea, she asked, "And did you know that I have been chosen as the Chancellor's bride?"

Tea spewed from Picard's lips, spotting his viewscreen and narrowly missing his priceless tome. "What?"

Smiling without humor, she repeated, "I have been chosen to be the Chancellor's bride."

"You have?" Picard asked, considering all the ramifications of her words. "Why did the Council choose you?"

"Because of my relationship with Worf."

Picard coughed vigorously, glad he had not taken another drink of tea. Unable to collect his thoughts as quickly as he would have liked, Picard parroted, "Your relationship with Worf? What bearing does that have on the marriage?"

"I'm the only Betazoid female of marriageable age who has had any sort of relationship with a Klingon. The Council seems to think that's important."

Fighting to hide his smile, Picard answered, "I can see the logic of their choice." He sighed. "I will miss having you on the Enterprise, Counselor."

Deanna frowned. "Miss me on the Enterprise, Captain? What makes you think I'll accept this medieval alliance?"

Now it was Picard's turn to frown. "Starfleet Command cannot order you to accept this marriage, Commander," he said seriously. "But we need this alliance between Qo'noS and Betazed. Without it, I'm not sure we can protect Betazed. Our forces are too decimated to protect all the worlds of the Federation."

"You cannot be serious, sir," Deanna exclaimed. "Any number of women could marry the Chancellor. It does not have to be me."

Picard smiled at her encouragingly. "But you have the best chance of making the alliance work." Echoing his earlier words, he said, "I'm afraid it's your duty to Betazed and Starfleet to honor this Marriage of Alliance."

Not surprisingly, Deanna's words sounded very familiar to the captain. "I'm beginning to hate the word 'duty'," she said with a grimace on her normally serene face.

~*~

On two vastly different worlds two people struggled with the same problem--an unwanted and intolerable marriage. For several days, each had sought a solution which could free them from the unthinkable. But to no avail.

High atop the Great Hall, Worf felt the weight of three worlds upon his shoulders. Each one, Qo'noS, Betazed, and Starfleet, seemed to strive to bend him to its will. Although not technically a world, Starfleet exerted almost as much pressure on his soul as Qo'noS and Betazed combined.

"Duty. Pagh!" he muttered, standing at one of the narrow apertures. Worf stared into the night sky, wishing to be among the stars still serving aboard the Enterprise, where life had seemed much simpler. And where there would no need for a Betazoid female to sacrifice herself upon the altar of Klingon honor.

In the room where she had spent her nights as a child, Deanna Troi stared out into the early dawn. As the sun broke over the horizon, it stained everything a deep, glorious red, reminding her of the many sacrifices her people had already made for Betazed. Many had died trying to free their planet from the Cardassian oppressors. How could she refuse to do her part? Was an arranged marriage really too much to ask of her?

"Duty. Bah!" she exclaimed, wanting desperately to be back aboard the Enterprise where nothing more was expected of her than that she fulfill her role as ship's counselor to the best of her ability. And where the only Klingon was one with whom she was very familiar.

Almost in unison, they began pacing the length of their respective rooms. Worf walked with a slight limp; the result of too many hours in a holosuite fighting untold hordes of alien invaders. Although Deanna's pace was firm, her steps were somewhat slow and sluggish. Hours of mok'bara training had done little to settle her mind. Or give her the answer she so desperately sought.

"If only . . ." each began. But neither completed the thought, knowing it was an impossible dream.

"Worf is married."

"Deanna is mated."

And then something totally unexpected happened. Something completely inexplicable. Although separated by light years, each saw the same other-worldly phenomena.

"Hello, Worf."

"Counselor."

Both stared in stunned silence. "K'Ehleyr?" Deanna finally managed to whisper.

"In the flesh." The apparition grinned. "Or rather in spirit to be more precise."

"Why are you here?" Worf asked, scowling fiercely.

"To talk some sense into you," she said. "Stop fighting the inevitable, Worf. You know you'll do your duty. You always do."

Deanna searched the face of her friend, finding it difficult to believe her eyes. Tilting her head to one side, she said, "But to marry a man I don't love for the sake of a political alliance seems so medieval."

K'Ehleyr shrugged. "Perhaps it is. But it is the only way to bind Qo'noS and Betazed honorably. Without the Marriage of Alliance the Klingons will become tyrants instead of saviors."

"Honor," Worf said, a snarl in his voice. "I have had my fill of honor. And duty."

Fingers as cold as ice trailed down Worf's cheek, sending a shiver down his spine. "Not yet, Worf. You still have one more duty to perform."

"I won't marry the Chancellor," Deanna stated, her voice quivering uncertainly.

K'Ehleyr smiled. "You will, Deanna. It's your duty to Betazed. And Starfleet."

"I will not wed this unfortunate female," Worf said.

Grinning at him, K'Ehleyr said, "You will, Worf. It's your duty to Qo'noS. And Starfleet."

Looking at her quizzically, Deanna said, "I thought you of all people would understand why I cannot marry the Chancellor."

"You are the most unconventional Klingon I have ever known," Worf stated. "Why are you demanding that I follow tradition?"

"In this place and time, I am the voice of reason," K'Ehleyr said. "You know what you must do. Stop fighting the inevitable."

As quickly as she appeared, K'Ehleyr was gone. In almost perfect sync, Worf and Deanna strode to their respective viewscreens. After accessing the proper channel, each said, "Priority One message to Captain Jean Luc Picard aboard the Enterprise."

~*~

A female with long, auburn hair tiptoed into a darkened room. Bending over the small crib, she gently touched the baby fine hair of her sleeping offspring.

"Where have you been?" her husband asked.

With a start, she straightened up abruptly and spun around to face him. Thinking fast, she said, "I just took a quick look into the Alpha Quadrant. I wanted to see how Jean Luc was fairing."

Crossing his arms in front of his chest, he raised one eyebrow in her direction. "No, you weren't visiting the Enterprise."

She glared at him. "You don't trust me!" she exclaimed. "After all we've been through together. All the millennia we've spent together. And you don't trust me. I am crushed, Q. Absolutely crushed."

Q realized he had somehow lost this battle of wits, although how it happened he wasn't quite sure. With a sigh, he said, "Of course, I trust you, Q. But where were you? You know we have promised the Continuum not to interfere with humans again."

"Does a Klingon count?"

"You didn't!" Q exclaimed.

Q grinned at her husband. "I most certainly did." She paused. "I wonder if we'll be invited to the wedding?"

~*~

Captain Picard entered his first officer's quarters where the weekly poker game was already in progress. Although he was usually unable to attend every week, he made it a point to join his senior staff at least once a month. As he glanced around the room, a slight smile crossed his lips. Data had once again assumed the role of a gambler complete with green visor and armbands.

"Captain," Will Riker said with a grin. "Glad you could make it tonight."

"Sorry to be late, Number One, but I found myself unable to put down my latest Dix Hill novel."

"Mysteries again, Jean Luc?" Beverly Crusher asked, a grin touching her lips. "When are we going to visit the world of Dixon Hill again?"

Seating himself on the empty chair beside her, he answered, "Whenever you like, Beverly."

"Would tomorrow be too soon?"

"Tomorrow it is," Picard promised.

Riker grinned at the two of them. "Are you sure you want to risk it, Beverly? You remember what happened the last time you went to San Francisco."

Rolling her eyes at the first officer, she said, "That's enough out of you, Will Riker."

"Let's get back to playing cards," Data said with some acerbity.

The other officers exchanged amused glances. "Maybe we should do something about his emotion chip," Geordi suggested with a wry smile.

"Just deal the cards," Data said firmly.

Laughter filled the room, and continued for several hands. Tossing down his losing hand for the fifth time, Riker said, "I sure miss Worf on nights like this."

"Really?" Picard asked. "And why is that?"

"He was so easy to bait," Riker replied.

Geordi disagreed with a shake of his head. "Maybe he was at first, but after the first couple of years, he became the total iceman. Nothing could shake him."

Will shrugged. "You're right." He grinned broadly. "But it was sure fun to try."

"I rather expected Worf to return to the Enterprise after his tour of duty ended on Deep Space Nine," Data said, shuffling the cards for another hand.

"That would have been very unpleasant for Deanna," Beverly said, frowning intently.

Data frowned in turn. "I never considered that. Having to see Worf with his wife would have been difficult for her."

A faint smile touched Picard's lips as he considered the secret he carried. No one at the table seemed aware of the fact of the murder of Worf's second wife.

He brightened. "But it was a moot point after all, since Jadzia Dax died some time ago."

"What?" Everyone exclaimed almost in unison.

As Picard frowned at Data, the android continued, "She was killed almost a year ago, during some sort of confrontation with Gul Dukat." He glanced around the table. "Didn't I tell you when I found out?"

"No," Riker said with some acerbity. "You didn't say a word."

A look of concern filled Beverly's face. "What Worf must think of us. Not one of us sent a word of condolence."

"And we're supposed to be like family," Geordi added, with a shake of his head.

"I wonder if we should say something now?" Riker mused aloud.

"No!" Picard exclaimed a little too quickly. As the others looked at him in bewilderment, Picard said, "I will proffer our condolences to him. And explain our tardiness."

Riker shrugged. "Works for me." He frowned a bit. "I wonder if Deanna knows?"

Picard struggled to keep his response to himself. Fortunately, Beverly's answer enabled him to remain silent. She shook her head slowly. "Deanna has enough on her mind right now, Will. She doesn't need any more distractions."

"I expect you're right," Riker answered.

Before anyone could respond, a disembodied voice said, "Captain Picard, you have two Priority One messages."

Picard frowned. "Two?"

"Aye, sir."

Riker smiled a little ruefully. "So much for poker night. Why don't you take them in my sleeping quarters, sir? It's private."

Rising to his feet and tugging at his uniform, Picard smiled at his first officer before saying, "Route them to Commander Riker's quarters."

"Aye, sir."

The smile deepened as he seated himself in front of Riker's terminal. The captain had a very good idea just who the messages were from and he was getting a great deal of amusement from the fact that two of his best officers were about to make the alliance of a lifetime. An alliance they had both wanted for a very long time.

~*~

Tugging at the shoulders of her daughter's sheer, white gown, Lwaxana Troi said, "This is just not right, Little One."

Deanna rolled her eyes at her mother's frown. "What's not right, Mother? The gown, the wedding, what?"

"Both. Everything," she answered, touching her daughter's cheek. "You should be marrying for love, not political expediency."

Shrugging her shoulders, Deanna said, "No one else could do this. You said so yourself. Besides, I can't have the man I want so why not marry for power."

"Power means nothing to you, Deanna," Lwaxana said shortly. "I've tried often enough to get you to assume your rightful role as a Daughter of the Fifth House and you always refuse."

Deanna touched the heavy, gem-encrusted pendant suspended between her breasts. The Klingon betrothal necklace weighed heavily on her soul, threatening to bend her neck under its great weight. She refused to bow down, however. After all, she was a Daughter of the Fifth House of Betazed as her mother so frequently reminded her. But so much depended on her and her ability to deal with a Klingon husband. "I'm learning, Mother," she replied, a half-smile touching her lips. "You should be proud. No one else on Betazed will rank as high as I after the wedding."

Eyes sparkling for a moment, Lwaxana replied, "And as your mother I will outrank most of Betazoid society." She paused, tugging again at Deanna's gown. "But strange as this might sound coming from me, your happiness is much more important to me than any ranking within Betazoid society."

"Romantic happiness has always eluded me. I'll settle for domestic harmony." Growing irritated with Lwaxana's constant fiddling with her dress, Deanna pulled away. "Please, Mother, would you leave my gown alone? It's fine."

"I don't see why you need any sort of garment at all," Lwaxana said, a petulant note entering her voice. "All Betazoids enter marriage as they enter the world--naked."

Deanna sighed. "We've had this discussion so many times already, Mother. Why are you bringing it up now?"

"Because there are certain protocols that should be met," she began. "As a Daughter of the Fifth House . . ."

"Mother, stop!" Deanna exclaimed. "I will not be the only naked person in the Great Hall so just stop right now." She glared at her mother with narrowed eyes. "Did you really want to face a roomful of irritated, naked Klingons on my wedding day?"

Lwaxana frowned. "Of course not, Little One." She paused for a moment before adding thoughtfully, "Would they really be that upset at not being able to carry weapons?"

Deanna could only laugh at her mother's naivety where Klingons were concerned. And she finally realized that what everyone had been telling her for the past few weeks were true. She was the only Betazoid female who had the slightest chance of understanding a Klingon mate. "Yes, Mother," she answered with a grin. "Without weapons a Klingon feels vulnerable. And a vulnerable Klingon is an unhappy Klingon. I would prefer not to be surrounded by irritable Klingons on my wedding day."

As her mother stared fixedly into her face, Deanna could feel a smile of resignation touch her lips. Lwaxana frowned. "You still have time to back out, Little One," she said softly. "I will help you in any way I can."

Deanna should her head. "It's much too late to change my mind now, Mother," she answered. "I'm resigned to my fate. It's the least I can do for Betazed."

As Deanna picked up the gem-studded diadem from a small table beside her, Lwaxana said, "Here, let me help."

Placing the diadem on Deanna's head, and rearranging her hair around it, Lwaxana said, "I wanted so much more for you, Little One, than an arranged, loveless marriage."

"I know," Deanna said, smiling at her mother. The thought that the diadem would have looked more attractive if her hair were longer flashed across her mind, but she had no regrets for cutting her hair yet again. Her smile intensified. "And who knows what the future may hold. I fell in love with one Klingon, maybe I'll fall in love with the Chancellor as well."

~*~

In an antechamber next to the Great Hall, the Chancellor of the Klingon Empire stomped his feet as he paced anxiously across the room. The sound of steel against stone reverberated throughout the room. Clad in body armor from his head to his steel-heeled boots, Worf waited for the moment when his Betazoid bride would appear in the Great Hall. He knew that she had arrived on Qo'noS and was preparing for the wedding in another antechamber on the far side of the Great Hall. A part of him had hoped she would not come. He did not want the death of another female on his conscience.

"Will you stop pacing?" Martok said, irritation clear in his voice.

Worf paused and glared at his general. "No," he answered as he began striding back and forth across the width of the room. "I may have to marry this unfortunate female, but you cannot force me to be happy about it. And when I am unhappy, I pace."

Holding out a gem-studded diadem which was slightly larger than Deanna's, Martok said, "Put this on, Chancellor. It's almost time."

Looking at the smallish crown as if it were a poisonous reptile from one of the distant provinces, Worf said, "I will not wear that."

Martok sighed. "You must. Your bride will be wearing one. You must wear yours."

Worf shook his head. "You do not understand. Jadzia and I married according to Klingon tradition, but she died anyway. I will not place this female in further danger." He frowned. "Perhaps we should have married according to Betazoid tradition."

The room was filled with raucous laughter. "I do not think that humans or Betazoids are ready for a room full of naked Klingons. Our bodies would not be considered attractive by those puny species. In all likelihood, they would run screaming from the Great Hall."

Another thought flashed through Worf's mind. A thought he had tried desperately not to think about in the weeks which had followed his decision to go through with the Marriage of Alliance. Would his future bride find him physically unappealing? Females of other species had found him attractive enough. Jadzia, Deanna. Worf shook his head. He could not think of Deanna. Especially not on this day. A day when he would wed another Betazoid female for the sake of his homeworld--and hers.

He grabbed the diadem from Martok's outstretched hand, and jammed it on his head. "Happy now?" he growled.

The smile faded from Martok's face. "You are as a son to me, Worf," he said, a serious tone entering his voice. "I wish that this burden had not fallen to you. I wish that you could have returned to the Enterprise where you were truly happy."

"As do I," Worf said. "But I understand why you and the other members of the Council believe that I am the best choice for Chancellor." He smiled wryly. "I may not agree, but I will do my duty to Qo'noS. And to you."

Martok said nothing for sometime, staring intently at his foster son. Finally, he said, "So tell me about this Betazoid female who holds your heart."

Worf was stunned. "What?" he managed to stammer at last.

"Your tIqqoch. Who is she?"

After opening and closing his mouth several times, Worf answered, "Her name is Deanna Troi, and she is the ship's counselor for the Enterprise."

"Deanna Troi, you said?" Martok asked, a glint of humor entering his eyes. Although Worf wondered what the other Klingon found so amusing, all thought was driven from his mind when Martok asked, "Why did you never take her as your mate, if she is your tIqqoch?"

Unable to meet Martok's eyes, Worf looked away. "I made a mistake," he said. "In a moment of weakness, I mated with Jadzia and so I had to wed her." Hunching his shoulders defensively, he said, "I followed Klingon tradition."

"So you did," Martok said. "Yet another reason, the Council wanted you to remain Chancellor. You often follow Klingon tradition more closely than any other Klingon."

"And just see where that has brought me," Worf said. "Now I must marry some unknown Betazoid female just to satisfy Klingon tradition." He paused. "I just hope she does not pay the ultimate price for wedding me."

Again Martok's eyes twinkled. "She will not," he said.

Before Worf could respond, the door opened and Rodek entered the room. "Chancellor," he announced. "Your bride has arrived."

~*~

Captain Jean Luc Picard glanced around the Great Hall of the Klingon Empire, searching for Lwaxana Troi. But she was nowhere to be seen. Several of the members of both Councils were intermingled at the front of the room near the Chancellor's Seat of Honor. Most other worlds would call it a throne, but not the Klingons. Picard smiled at the thought. Klingons could be so unpredictable at time, while at others, a person knew exactly what their response would be.

A knowing smile crossed his lips as he looked at his companions. All his senior staff were standing beside him wearing their dress uniforms. Picard was thankful that Starfleet Command had returned to the previous dress uniform. He didn't like looking like a glorified waiter at some elegant function.

"I thought Deanna would be here," Beverly whispered.

Picard shrugged, trying to keep his smile under control. Perhaps he should have warned the others of his secret, but it would be so much more amusing to see their expressions when they realized the truth.

"So did I," Will Riker said. "I guess she didn't want to take the chance of running into Worf. Especially since she doesn't know about the death of his wife."

"Perhaps she had duties on Betazed," Picard said.

Data entered the conversation. He shook his head. "As a Daughter of the Fifth House of Betazed she would be expected to attend this Marriage of Alliance."

"I don't see Lwaxana Troi either," Geordi chimed in. "But have you ever seen so many Federation and Starfleet dignitaries in one place before?"

"I expect they are anxious to learn the identity of the new Chancellor of the Klingon Empire," Picard said, glad for the change of topic.

"I'm surprised the Klingons could keep this secret for so long," Riker said. "They're usually not quite so reticent."

"I wonder if it's anyone we know?" Beverly asked.

Before anyone could answer, there was a stir at the back of the room, and Lwaxana Troi entered, holding her head up regally as her elegant gown swept the floor. She was followed closely by a small figure enveloped from head to toe in a velvet traveling cape of deepest burgundy.

"I'll be damned," Riker said under his breath. Turning to Picard, he asked, "Did you know about this, Captain?"

Turning a gaze of utmost innocence upon his first officer, Picard said, "How would I have known, Number One?"

The small figure reached the foot of the stairs leading up to the Chancellor's Seat of Honor. As she stood there waiting for the appearance of her groom, Data said, "Well, we now have a good idea of who the bride is, I wonder who the Chancellor will turn out to be?"

Beverly smiled wistfully. "Wouldn't it be wonderfully romantic if the Chancellor turned out to be Worf?"

Riker's head snapped around so quickly that Picard could have sworn he heard the vertebrae pop. "Worf? The Chancellor of the Klingon Empire?" He frowned intently. "It would explain a lot, I guess." He smiled a little ruefully. "And it would be great for Deanna, if she is indeed the bride. I know she still loves him."

Silence swept through the Great Hall as another cloaked figure appeared on the dias. Then the whispers began as everyone began speculating upon the identity of the Chancellor of the Klingon Empire. But silence once again reigned supreme as the small figure reached up to loosen the hood of her cloak.

*Soon,* Picard thought to himself. *Soon they will know.*

~*~

Worf stood in front of his Seat of Honor and looked down upon the cloaked female. She was so small that he feared even more for her. When she reached up to loosen the ties on the hood of her cloak, he noticed that her delicate hands were trembling and he wanted to reassure her that she would be safe with him. That he would never hurt her and would do everything in his power to protect her.

"I have come to fulfill Betazed's part in the Marriage of Alliance which will bind our two worlds together," the small figure announced to the room at large. A gasp filled the room as her cloak fell to the floor, revealing the Chancellor's bride.

Deanna Troi stood proudly, chin raised in perfect imitation of her mother at her most regal. The sheer, white gown clung to her figure in all the right places, eliciting an involuntary growl from Worf. His growl deepened at her smile, and he could barely restrain himself from running down the stairs and taking her in his arms. She was as beautiful as he remembered, and the Klingon jewels she wore only enhanced her beauty. He frowned slightly at the sight of her close-cropped hair and he wondered why she was wearing it so short. He was brought out of his revery by her voice. "Chancellor?"

Still stunned by the identity of his bride, Worf could not move or speak and his knees felt like buckling beneath him. Martok nudged him, and whispered, "Chancellor, the room awaits your response."

Worf then did something unexpected. Holding out his hand to his bride, he said, "I welcome you to Qo'noS."

He could tell from the wary look on her face that Deanna was aware that she was not expected to climb the stairs to the dias just yet. If ever. But she threw back her shoulders and took a step upward toward Worf's outstretched hand. The room buzzed as the Klingons spoke to each other about their Chancellor's unorthodox behavior.

Finally, Deanna reached the dias and took the Chancellor's outstretched hand in hers. Worf knew that she still could not see his face beneath the hooded cloak, but he heard her faint gasp as their hands met. A feeling similar to electricity surged between them, and Worf smiled. The bond was still intact. Even after all this time. Even after Jadzia. Even after Will Riker.

Throwing back his hood with a flourish, Worf announced, "I claim you as my mate, Deanna Troi, and thus fulfill the Marriage of Alliance in the name of Qo'noS."

"Worf?" she said, gazing up into the eyes of her husband-to-be. A smile of pure joy filled her face. "Worf?"

"Deanna," he answered, breathing in deeply of her scent.

"How? Why?" she asked.

Worf shrugged. "I am the Chancellor of the Klingon Empire," he told her. A smile of happiness refused to leave his lips. "And for the first time since I fought Gowron, I am glad to be the Chancellor."

Squeezing his hand tightly, she said, "And I am overjoyed to be the Chancellor's bride."

Once again Worf did the unexpected. Sweeping Deanna into his arms, he kissed her with the pent up passion of several years. As her arms slid up around his neck, Deanna returned his kiss with equal fervor. When Worf's head raised slightly, Deanna whispered, "I think you're supposed to kiss the bride after the ceremony."

"Before. After. During." Worf grinned with untamed fire in his soul. "I may never stop kissing you, tIqqoch."

Tears filled Deanna's eyes. "I thought I would never hear you call me that again." A frown marred her smooth forehead. "But, Worf, how is this possible. I thought you were married."

"And I thought you mated to Commander Riker," he said. "Explanations can wait. Now, we wed in front of your world and mine."

A grin crossed her face. "Don't forget Starfleet and the Federation."

Worf looked out into the sea of faces which spread out on the floor below. Most of the dignitaries from the Federation and Starfleet looked stunned, while the Klingons were exuberant in their celebration of the Marriage of Alliance. One face in particular caught Worf's attention. Captain Jean Luc Picard looked almost smug. Questions needed to be asked of that one, Worf thought, but it would have to wait until after the ceremony. Nothing in this universe would keep him from marrying his tIqqoch.

Again taking her hand and placing it against his hearts, Worf looked into Deanna's luminous eyes. "Will you marry me, tIqqoch? Will you be the Chancellor's bride?"

An impish expression filled Deanna's eyes, and Worf remembered that she had a rather strange sense of humor at times. He blamed it on her human side. So he was not surprised when she answered, "I thought you'd never ask."

 

 
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