Title: Diplomacy's Blade
Author: Vicki L. Reid
Email: dekrrini AT aim.com
Summary: Ambassador Worf attends a rebuilding summit on Betazed after the Dominion War.
Disclaimers: Paraborg owns all things Star Trek. I'm only borrowing a few of the characters, and promise to return them when I'm finished playing.

 

Looming ever larger in the front viewport of the shuttle, the Enterprise-E hung like a jewel against the star-studded backdrop of space. Smaller and sleeker than her predecessor, the Enterprise-E was a ship built for war not peacetime exploration. Much had changed since he had first entered Starfleet Academy as the first Klingon to be accepted into the prestigious school. He remembered those early years aboard the Enterprise-D with a sense of gentle yearning. Life had been simpler then.

After their encounter with the Borg at Wolf 359, the Federation had become less complacent about the security of the Federated Worlds. Section 31 became increasingly involved in the politics of the various worlds. Ships like the Enterprise-E, more in tune with the changing universe, were designed and constructed. And still the Federation had come close to losing the war with the Dominion.

Now the Federation was focused on reconstructing the planets most devastated by the Dominion and rebuilding the decimated fleet. The summit he was to attend was being held on Betazed, one of the planets most impacted by the Cardassian occupation. He was not looking forward to his mission.

"She's a real beauty, isn't she, Ambassador?" The pilot gazed with adoration at the Enterprise-E, his voice filled with awe.

Recalling the larger, more elegant version, Worf answered, "Yes. She is."

"Would you like a tour of the exterior, sir?"

Tempted by the thought of putting off the inevitable meeting with his former crewmates and consequent party, Worf almost agreed. But duty called. "Perhaps another time," he said, practicing his few diplomatic skills. "I must prepare for the summit."

The pilot turned to look at him. "But the summit is almost a week away."

Worf sighed. "And there will be other ambassadorial obligations I must meet. A week will not be long enough."

Silence fell over the craft as the pilot concentrated on docking the shuttle. Worf had concerns of his own. Circumstance kept returning him to this vessel which bore the name Enterprise. Bore the name, but not the heart. That had been lost on Viridian III. And now for the next few weeks, or possibly months, this Enterprise would be his home as he attended the summit on Betazed. The Federation felt that security for the delegates would be more manageable on a starship than on a planet in the midst of rebuilding. As a former security officer, he agreed with Starfleet's assessment, he just wished he had been assigned to a different vessel.

The shuttle touched down with an almost imperceptible bump. The welcoming committee was not quite as bad as Worf had feared, although the grin on Commander Riker's bearded face did not bode well for the ambassador's peace of mind. Worf had seen that expression too many times over the years, and it invariably led to an embarrassing situation.

"We're here, Ambassador," the pilot said as he powered down systems. Nodding to the waiting figure, he said, "That's Commander Riker, the first officer of the Enterprise."

Worf grinned for a moment. "The Commander and I are acquainted. We served together aboard the Enterprise-D."

Blushing bright red, the pilot said, "I'm sorry, sir. I had forgotten that."

Smiling down at the pilot, he said, "May Kahless guide your heart in battle."

He strode across the docking bay, ambassadorial robes flowing around his ankles. One of the few things he liked about being an ambassador were the official garments he was forced to wear. The robes afforded him numerous hiding places for a variety of weapons. Of course as an ambassador he was not supposed to be carrying weapons.

"Ambassador Worf," Riker said. "Welcome aboard the Enterprise."

"Commander." Worf looked around the docking bay. Eyebrow raised, he asked, "No Dazian band?

Shaking his head, Riker said, "Not this time, but I could try to arrange something for later in your visit."

Worf snorted. "Do not put yourself to any trouble on my account."

"Deanna thought the Dazian band might be a little much," Riker said. "I let her convince me."

"She is a wise woman." He paused as the door whooshed open before them. "Will she be attending the party?"

"Deanna's on Betazed. She's been there since the Cardassian's withdrew from the planet." Riker frowned. "The Cardassians plundered Betazed even more completely than Bajor in only a fraction of the time."

"They had help this time," Worf said, teeth clenched. "The Jem'Hadar and their Vorta masters would have found Betazoid telepathy unnerving."

"A resistance movement whose leaders communicated without written words or codes pushed them into committing atrocities no other planet had to face."

"I have seen vids of Betazed. May Gul Dukat suffer long in the Cardassian version of ghe"or."

Riker clasped Worf's shoulder briefly. "I'm sorry about your wife. I understand she was another casualty of Dukat."

A memory of Jadzia's smile and gentle teasing filled his thoughts. Pain smote his heart, but time had a way of lessening the hurt. "I was unable to avenge Jadzia as she deserved. But if I can persuade others of the importance of aiding Betazed and other ravaged worlds, I will have vengeance of a sort against the memory of Dukat."

Shaking his head, Riker said, "Why is there such opposition to rendering aid to the worlds once held by the Dominion?"

"Materials used in planetary reconstruction are unavailable to Starfleet. Many of the highest ranking officers feel these materials would be more useful in the construction of new starships, weapons, and other military equipment."

"You don't agree?"

"I survived Khitomer because of the kind heart of Sergey Rozhenko. He placed the life of a war survivor over his own career advancement in Starfleet. I will not dishonor him by turning my back on other survivors."

"Starfleet Command has made poor choices in the past. I suppose they'll continue to make them."

"Their concerns do have merit," Worf said. "A compromise would be the best solution."

Riker stopped, turning to stare at Worf. "Compromise? Did you say compromise?"

Nodding his head, Worf said, "Yes. The sharing of materials and manpower between the devastated worlds and Starfleet is the only viable solution."

Riker stared a moment longer. "I never thought I'd find you advocating compromise as a solution to any problem."

"Times change. People change."

"So it would appear." Riker began striding forward once again. "Your quarters are just ahead, Ambassador," Riker said. "There is a reception planned in the officer's mess at 1900."

Worf sighed. "I suppose I should be grateful there is no group in my quarters waiting to surprise me."

Riker chuckled. "I remember what happened the last time I thought of throwing you a surprise party. How many quantum realities did you visit?"

"I do not recall. It is not an experience I care to repeat."

The door slid open before them. "Please let me know if you need anything, Ambassador."

"Could you please call me Worf? At least in private?"

Grinning broadly, Riker said, "I'd be glad to, Worf." He gripped Worf's shoulder again. "It's very good to see you again, Old Friend. I've missed you. Our weekly poker games aren't the same without you."

Worf laughed. "You miss my credits, Commander."

The warm sense of camaraderie lasted until the door slid shut behind Worf, leaving him alone in his quarters. Although smaller than those he'd had on the Enterprise-D, these quarters were still more sumptuous than he liked. Even small luxuries made him uncomfortable.

The viewport gave him an unparalleled vista of the endless night of space. He was unsurprised when the white points of light suddenly turned into white ribbons, denoting a jump into warp. Now that he was aboard, the Enterprise could make best speed to Betazed and the summit.

Although his eyes were focused on the white strands of fire, Worf's mind, reminded of the experience by Commander Riker, recalled several of those quantum realities he had once visited. He had never told anyone that in several of those realities he and Deanna had been mates. But their mating was not to be in this reality. A faint stirring of regret touched his heart, but Worf thrust it back into its cell and slammed the door, locking it away. When Deanna and Will Riker had rediscovered their lost love on the planet of the Ba'ku, Worf had encouraged them. In his heart he knew it was the best thing for Deanna Troi, whose small frame and delicate nature would have been harmed by mating with a Klingon. But dreams, fostered by the memories of those other quantum realities, die hard and a part of him would always wonder, "what if."

~*~

Worf caught the overhead blow on the edge of his bat'leth, thrusting his opponent back with a grunt. He was getting old. He could remember a time when his calisthenics program barely raised a sweat at this level. Perhaps it was a good thing that the computer would not allow him to disengage the safety protocols of the holodeck. Not when he was this badly out of shape.

Raising its spike-studded club, the creature screeched what Worf took to be a cry to battle. Adrenalin surged through his body as he met the holoprojection with a roar of his own. Catching the spikes on the edge of the bat'leth, Worf twisted his wrists, deftly pulling the weapon from his opponent's hands. Now he could smell the fear radiating from the reptilian creature standing before him, weaponless but not defenseless. "You lose again, Klingon. Your honor won't allow you to kill a man without a weapon."

Eyes glittering with contained rage, Worf said, "Wrong, Dukat. As usual you underestimate the Klingon need for vengeance."

Worf raised his bat'leth for the killing blow. A dagger with a curved, jagged edge suddenly appeared in Dukat's hand. The Cardassian thrust it toward Worf's unprotected chest, but the blade flew from his hand as the bat'leth sliced the appendage neatly from his arm.

"How did you know?" Dukat asked, clutching his bleeding stump to his chest, pain etched on his face.

"We have battled many times, Dukat. I learn; you do not."

Voice haughty with contempt, Dukat asked, "How can I learn? I'm a holoprojection."

Worf grinned, eyes alight with an inner fire based on revenge. "The fact that you understand you are a holoprojection shows you have the ability to learn from your mistakes. I made sure of that when I programed you. Every time I kill you I want it to be like the first time."

"Why? Because of Jadzia?" Dukat spread his arms in a gesture of peace. "I did not want to harm her. The Pah-wraith was in control of me at the time."

"And what of Betazed? What of all the worlds you destroyed in your quest for domination of the known universe? What of them?"

"They were casualties of the Dominion. I had little control over the Founders."

Worf shook his head. "Even as a holoprojection you are a coward, Dukat. Take responsibility for your own misdeeds."

"Only when you do the same," Dukat said, rushing toward Worf again, and throwing himself on the ambassador.

Braced for the impact, Worf caught Dukat in a warrior's embrace, squeezing the breath from the Cardassian's body. Dropping Dukat to the ground, Worf stood over him for a few seconds, breathing hard. Blood dripped from Dukat's mouth as his body tried to expel it from his lungs. "Next time, Worf," he whispered. "Next time."

As Dukat's form shimmered and disappeared, Worf took a deep breath, trying to feel triumphant at the defeat of his enemy. But the feeling evaded him as it always did.

"Interesting choice of foe, Ambassador," a voice said behind him.

In a single movement, Worf spun around, dropped into a defensive stance and raised his bat'leth to an offensive position. The tip of his bat'leth touched the ground. "Captain Picard." Worf smiled wryly. "It is not wise to come upon me during my calisthenics program."

"I'll bear that in mind, Ambassador." Picard's smile was warm. Examining the walls of the dank cavern lit with flickering torches, Picard said, "I understand the choice of Dukat, I believe, but why here? Is this some sort of Klingon ritualistic battleground?"

Worf glanced around without much interest. "The venue changes with each battle. Dukat has the ability to become stronger and wilier."

"He can defeat you?"

"Any holoprojection has that ability, Captain, or it would be no challenge. But I cannot be harmed with the safety protocols in place."

"Also no challenge as I recall."

Worf laughed. "Let us say that I am older and wiser." The smile faded. "I have many responsibilities now. To both Qo'noS and the Federation."

"And how do you like being a diplomat?"

"Do not ask," Worf said, shaking his head. "But it seemed the only course open for me at the time."

A faint frown line appeared between Picard's eyebrows. "You could have returned to the Enterprise, Ambassador."

"Worf. Please."

Picard smiled. "You know a position for you is always open on the Enterprise, Worf."

"I cannot serve on this ship, Captain."

"Why not? Much of the crew is the same. And to be honest, it often feels as if a member of our family is gone. Missing in action."

"Computer, end program." The hologrid on the Enterprise-E was as different as the rest of the vessel. "I am sorry, Captain. I miss them as well. But I cannot serve on this ship."

Before Picard could press further for answers Worf was unwilling to give, the ambassador strode from the holodeck. He could feel Picard's surprise and unease, but Worf knew it was for the best. How could he make Captain Picard understand things he barely understood himself?

~*~

Worf hesitated before the door of Commander Riker's quarters, hand half-raised toward the announcing mechanism. Struck by a sense of deja vu, Worf recalled the many nights he had spent with his friends playing poker. The game had strengthened the bond between them. It almost felt as if he were coming home, but the carpet was a shade off color, the walls of the corridor a tad too narrow. No matter the name she bore, this vessel was not the Enterprise.

Since his encounter with Captain Picard on the holodeck, Worf had immersed himself in preparations for the summit. But he could not put off his friends forever. His research would still be there after the poker game.

The door whooshed open before him just as his finger touched the door chime. Riker grinned, pulling Worf inside. "Come on in, Worf. We were beginning to wonder if you'd gotten lost."

"Klingons do not get lost." Worf paused as the others laughed and began moving toward the round poker table placed in the center of the living area. "I have been studying my opponents, looking for weaknesses to exploit."

"Looking for weaknesses?" Picard frowned, taking a seat between Beverly Crusher and Worf. "That doesn't sound very promising, Ambassador."

"Given the personalities of the others involved, I expect trouble. Hours of bickering and backbiting."

"Sounds like fun," Riker said with a laugh.

"Perhaps. But I find my hand reaching for my bat'leth far too often during such negotiations."

Wearing his green visor and armbands, Data looked at Worf as he seated himself between the ambassador and Will Riker. "I am curious. Why did you become an ambassador if you find the procedure so irritating?"

Worf shrugged, his smile wry. "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

There were two empty places at the table. Even as Geordi rushed in, apologizing profusely, Worf knew the second place would remain empty. They were still a day away from Betazed. Deanna Troi would not be joining them this night.

Data shuffled the cards with his usual dexterity. Worf wondered how many decks of cards the android had crushed in learning the skills necessary to handle the cards so adroitly. The conversation around him was much as he remembered, concerning everyday life aboard the Enterprise. All this had once been part of his life, but no longer. He missed it.

"I finally got the transporters back online. As a last resort, I used nanites. They found the problem in no time at all." Chips hit the table with a plastic click. "I'm in."

"Lwaxana is driving her crazy with all her new ideas. A different one every day." More chips clicked together. "I raise you 50."

"How soon will we reach Betazed, Number One?" Click. "I see your 50 and raise you 100."

Lost in the feeling of camaraderie, Worf said nothing until Data nudged him. "Are you in, Ambassador?"

His eyes focused on the cards in his hands. A pair of sevens. Keeping his face completely neutral, he tossed the requisite number of chips onto the growing pile. "I am in. I bid 300."

Throwing his cards on the table, Data said, "I fold." He rolled his eyes toward the ceiling. "Some things never change."

Riker grinned as he tossed his chips on the table. "Still the iceman, I see. I think you're bluffing."

"Klingons do not bluff."

Geordi tossed his cards to the table. "Too rich for my blood."

Soon the game was just between Worf and Riker. Worf felt Riker's eyes studying him, but he did not allow his expression to change. Finally, Riker said, "The honor of Starfleet is at stake."

Falling back into their ritualistic bantering with an ease which surprised him, Worf answered, "Talk or play. Not both."

Riker fingered one of his chips for several seconds. Tapping it on the table, he watched Worf, but still the ambassador maintained his stoic demeanor. He tossed his cards on the table. "The pot's all yours, Worf. With the luck I've been having lately you have a royal flush to beat my full house."

Worf was saved from making any comment when the commlink in Riker's quarters beeped. "Commander Riker," the disembodied voice said, "you have an incoming call from Betazed."

"Route it to my quarters." Rising to his feet, Riker said, "Deanna must be bored. Otherwise she wouldn't dream of disturbing poker night. I'll be right back."

Riker moved to his terminal across the room, and tapped in his access code. Although barely audible, Worf could tell it was not Deanna's voice. From the serious expression on Riker's face, Worf knew that something was wrong.

Watching as Riker broke the connection with Betazed, Worf felt uneasy. A feeling which grew stronger as the first officer walked with slow deliberation toward them.

"That was Lwaxana Troi," he said.

"What happened, Number One?"

Riker's jaw clenched and unclenched. "Deanna was at one of the ancient shrines in the foothills of the Inzla Mountains. She's been helping to restore shrine, while helping the villagers cope with the emancipation from the Cardassians. One of them attacked her."

"Why?" Beverly asked, putting voice to the question in all their hearts.

Shaking his head, Riker said, "He'd been driven insane by the Cardassians."

Others asked questions, but the words washed over and around him without touching him. Rage and fear battered against his heart, making it impossible for Worf to comprehend what had happened. His mind was caught in an endless litany. Shrine. Madman. Destruction. Death. Not again, he thought. Not again.

Chips in his hands snapped with loud pops, the ragged edges cutting into the flesh of his fingers. Rising to his feet with an anguished cry, Worf thrust himself away from the table sending his chair crashing to the floor behind him. Poker chips flew like small plastic projectiles around the room, making the others duck and cover their heads. Worf strode blindly toward the door. He had to get out of this place. Away from the pain.

"Worf, stop," Picard said, trying to grab his arm.

Shrugging off the hand with little effort, Worf kept moving. He could dimly comprehend the captain's concern through the red haze that fogged his brain, but Worf could not think of himself. He was unimportant. What mattered was Jadzia. No. Deanna. What mattered was Deanna.

Worf stumbled from the room, the pain gripping his heart and mind, refusing to let go. He could hear the footfalls behind him and knew someone followed, perhaps fearing he would harm himself. Or harm others. But he would not. He was Klingon. He would not dishonor the memory of Jadzia . . . Deanna by attacking the innocent.

He was unsurprised when his path led to the holodeck. Hours spent studying the schematics of the Enterprise-E made him as familiar with this Enterprise as he had been with his own. Every time a career choice had to be made, Worf tried to visualize himself as the Chief of Security of this Enterprise. To no avail. He could no more serve aboard this resurrected Enterprise than he could bring back Jadzia through Ezri. He had tried both, neither worked.

"Ambassador Worf's calisthenics program. Level three."

The door opened before him, revealing an arena. Sand, warm and slick beneath his feet, covered the floor. Walls over 10 feet high enclosed the arena, separating him from the screaming crowd seated in tier upon tier. The sun beat down on his head, and he reveled in its warmth.

"Interesting choice," Captain Picard said. "The Roman Coliseum saw many battles to the death."

Duras and Dukat shimmered into existence, holding weapons befitting the Roman era. "Very interesting choice." Picard faced Worf directly. "Perhaps you could spare me a few moments before you exact vengeance on these holoimages."

"Weapon," he said. The trident felt unfamiliar, but Worf had no fear of his opponents. "There is little point. Nothing will bring her back. Jadzia . . . Deanna is dead."

Picard stared into Worf's eyes, and the ambassador felt his mind easing away from the litany of death. The captain's voice was calm, controlling. "Listen to me, Worf. Very carefully."

"I will hear you out."

"Deanna is not dead. She was taken to a Medical Facility near the Inzla Mountains. Although her injuries were extensive, the doctors on Betazed are quite sure she will make a full recovery." Picard smiled. "Beverly will make her own assessment when we reach Betazed."

"Not dead?"

"No. Deanna will be fine."

His mind pulled further away from the abyss. Worf separated the two, no three, incidents into their integral parts. K'Ehleyr had been killed by greed in Klingon form; Jadzia by pure evil in Cardassian. His mates had died, but Deanna was not his mate. She lived. He would grieve anew for Jadzia and K'Ehleyr, but his heart was filled with peace knowing that he would not have to grieve for Deanna. There would be no need for a third opponent.

"I understand." Worf's eyes continued to glitter with an inner rage. "If you will excuse me, Captain, I still have demons to defeat." He smiled. "Just not as many."

~*~

The delegate from Zaleik IV droned on and on, concerning his planet's state of devastation and depletion of natural resources. That the depletion had little to do with the Cardassian occupation, the delegate refrained from mentioning. But Worf had studied the background of each world represented at this summit. The Zaleikians were not the only ones trying to take advantage of the Federation's generosity during this time of rebuilding. The fools did not realize they played into Starfleet's hands.

"Six days," he said under his breath. "At this rate I will be here for a year or more." His fingers strained to bend the sliver of brushed duranium Captain Picard had given him after the first day. Worf smiled. Captain Picard had known the temptation to draw his d'k tahg would be strong, so he had given him an alternative to keep his hands occupied.

A hand touched his shoulder. "Ambassador Worf?" the young woman said. "Could you be spared from the proceedings for a few moments?"

"Of course," Worf said, rising to his feet. He followed the young woman from the room with alacrity. "Who asked for me?"

"I don't know, Ambassador," she answered. "The request came to the pages' desk. The person is waiting in one of the private meeting rooms."

Worf felt unease grow in the pit of his stomach. Placing the duranium into the pocket of his voluminous robe, he gripped the handle of his dagger. He did not like surprises. "I see."

"Is the summit going as badly as it sounds from our outside perspective?" she asked.

"Worse. Much worse."

The young woman stopped before a door, pressing the door chime. "I have brought Ambassador Worf as requested."

The door slid open with a soft hiss. Worf turned to thank her, but she had already strode away back to her duty station. Exhilaration shafted down his spine as he entered the room cautiously. When he caught sight of the occupant, he stopped dead. Heart pounding, he began to smile.

"Hallo, Worf. Or should I say Ambassador?"

"Deanna." He frowned. "Should you be out of Medical? Has Dr. Crusher released you?"

Her laughter filled the room. "Do I look crazy?"

"You look wonderful." Hair, dark and lustrous; eyes, black pools of compassion and peace; skin, flawless and unblemished. Beautiful. "I was concerned about you."

Tilting her head, she smiled. "So I heard. Several versions, in fact. Data's was the most amusing. Did you know he now has writing aspirations?"

"Kahless preserve us."

"Do you still have the painting he gave you for your birthday?"

Worf's mind's eye flashed to that picture, and other memories of that birthday. Memories he now suppressed to the best of his ability. "I do. It has a place of prominence in my quarters on Qo'noS." He smiled. "My fellow Klingons do not appreciate abstract paintings."

Deanna beckoned him closer, pointing to a settee set at an angle to a sofa. "Can I get you some refreshments, Worf?"

"No, thank you," he said, seating himself on the edge of the settee. He watched warily as she folded her legs beneath her as she sat on the sofa. She took a sip of her drink. "I do not believe that patience is bottled as yet."

She chuckled. "I take it the summit isn't going well?"

Shaking his head, he answered, "It is going even worse than I expected. Barely a quarter of the worlds have yet stated their needs and wants. The Federation cannot rebuild every planet that was harmed by the Dominion." He gritted his teeth. "I am Klingon. I am not a diplomat."

"I was surprised when you chose to become the Ambassador to Qo'noS," Deanna said. "I thought you might finally return home." She blushed. "Return to the Enterprise."

Worf looked over her shoulder to the view beyond her. Even now workmen were pouring plascrete, building scaffolding, and hammering boards. He rose to look out the window. Unlike himself, these men and women were doing work of importance. "I cannot."

"Why, Worf? Because of me?"

Worf spun around to face her. "Of course not. We were friends long before we explored a more romantic relationship. Serving with you and Commander Riker would not be a problem."

"Then what is the problem, Worf? You clearly don't like the path you've chosen."

"The Enterprise is dead. She died on Viridian III. I cannot serve aboard a ghost."

Deanna's eyes widened. "A ghost?"

"To a Klingon when a ship dies an honorable death as did the Enterprise, her memory should be revered. To try to bring her back from Sto-vo-kor by naming another ship with her name is unthinkable. It dishonors both the vessel and the crew."

"I understand," Deanna said. She smiled. "Terrans have a different view. From what Will has said, there has always been an Enterprise in service since the days when ships sailed upon the seas."

"An unbroken line?"

She nodded. "According to Will." She laughed. "He's a little superstitious about it. He claims that bad things will befall Starfleet if there is no Enterprise."

Worf had no answer. Even the short time he had spent aboard this Enterprise told him he could not serve aboard her. As if echoing his thoughts, Deanna said, "There are other ships."

"But not for me. I had planned to resign from Starfleet when Captain Sisko convinced me to remain on Deep Space Nine."

"And you've chosen to become an ambassador for the same reason?"

Worf nodded once. "I should have taken the first freighter out of Deep Space Nine instead."

"That bad?"

"Yes." He moved to the window again, watching as the workers labored. Although impossible to hear, Worf could see them laugh as they worked. He had not felt that sort of enjoyment in his work since Viridian III. Burying his thoughts of the past, Worf said, "More delegates arrive every day. Each hoping to take advantage of the Federation. None seem to understand that Starfleet also has a similar set of demands. And for the same materials and workforce."

Deanna moved to stand beside him. "From the little I've heard from my mother, they seem to be under the impression that these goods and services are theirs and that all they have to do is decide how these materials should be distributed."

"That is correct." He clenched his fists tightly. "By the time they decide, the starships will be returning from their first five year mission."

Deanna laughed. In a more serious tone, she asked, "Have you tried talking to any of them?"

Worf snorted. "I am new. I am Klingon. I know nothing of economics. Need I go on?"

"What will you do?"

Shrugging his shoulders, he said, "Continue to accumulate what information I can on the new delegates. Keep track of Starfleet's progress."

"Let me help."

Worf stared at her with narrowed eyes. "Did Captain Picard ask you to watch me?"

"No." She grinned. "But he did mention your unique form of therapy."

"It works. Most of the time."

Deanna raised an eyebrow. "Actually, I just want this summit over. It's taking resources Betazed can ill afford to lose. The Federation is helping, but it's not enough. I need to do something to help, Worf."

Pushing aside his misgivings, Worf said, "Very well. I could use your assistance. Thank you."

"Now, where do we start?"

~*~

Worf watched surreptitiously as Deanna hunched over her computer terminal, a slight frown marring the smoothness of her forehead. He began to wonder if working this closely with her was a good idea. Feelings he thought long buried had begun to claw their way to the surface, and he found it increasingly difficult to ignore them.

"This is not good," Deanna said softly.

"What?"

Raising her head, she stared at him for a moment. "Starfleet has just received permission from the Budgeting Committee to begin construction of another series of starships."

Worf slammed his hands against the desk, the pain barely registering through the red haze of his frustration. "Two-thirds of the budget is now in the hands of Starfleet. And these fools continue their petty bickering. Why do I bother?"

"Because it's who you are."

"A fool?"

Deanna shook her head, smiling at him with encouragement. "Far from it. You are a man of honor who is caught in a morass of infighting and double dealing that is the hallmark of diplomacy. My mother thrives on this sort of thing, but even she is finding this particular summit hard to tolerate."

"Why is that?"

"Betazed has been the most harmed by the Cardassians and yet we ask for nothing. She has a hard time feeling much sympathy for those that suffered less yet ask for much."

"I do not suppose she has any suggestions."

"We've not spoken at any great lengths. I've just tried to keep her informed of our discoveries." Deanna sighed. "I do know she wants all these diplomats off Betazed as soon as possible."

Worf scowled as he began pacing, his irritation growing with each measured step. "There must be some way to bring this summit to a close."

Deanna chuckled. "Maybe you could orchestrate an attack by Klingons. Or a terrorist attack. Or . . ."

"Your comments are not amusing," Worf said, eyes narrowed.

After accessing the file on the latest delegation to arrive at the summit, Deanna read silently for only a few seconds. "This is outrageous!"

"What?" Worf moved to stand behind her, reading the viewscreen over her shoulder. "The Majisians claim significant damage to their planetary resources by repeated incursions from the Cardassians. Much the same as all the other delegations are saying."

"But these delegates are openly lying." Deanna clenched and unclenched her teeth. Her voice sounded strained and angry. "The Enterprise drove the Cardassians away from Majis only hours after they arrived. Damage was minimal; nothing at all like they're now claiming."

"You are sure of this?"

"We were there, Worf. On Majis. One or two temples bore the signature of Cardassian weapon fire, but nothing else. These claims are completely false."

Worf placed a conciliatory hand on her shoulder. "We will find a way of revealing their perfidy to the others." He frowned. "I knew that many were making exaggerated claims, but I did not realize they might be complete fabrications."

"Mother will be livid." Deanna's eyes widened as she glanced at a chronometer. "Mother! I'm late. I was supposed to have dinner with her tonight. I must go."

Unable to contain his amusement at the sight of the normally serene counselor rushing from the room, Worf smiled broadly. But he knew had he been late for an appointment with Lwaxana Troi, he, too, would be rushing away. A wise man did not knowingly offend a Daughter of the Fifth House of Betazed.

A niggling of an idea began playing at the back of his mind. It could work, but he would need assistance. The sort of assistance he did not relish. He examined the idea from every angle. Even if it did work, his days as an ambassador were numbered. The Federation would not approve of his tactics. The thought filled him with a sense of relief. "Another career change. Soon I will run out of options."

~*~

Ambassador Dilislta of Majis spoke eloquently to his fellow constituents of the horrific losses his planet had suffered at the hands of the Jem'Hadar. Standing in the shadows at the back of the room, Worf shook his head, but said nothing. The fool could not keep his story straight.

"The food storage unit at Trilka was burned to the ground," he said, pain etched on his face. "As were the ones at Mesit and Nogmana. My people have been without food, without sustenance for many cycles. The young ones cry long into the night because the emptiness in their bellies pains them beyond comprehension."

The smaller of Worf's companions took a step forward, but he grabbed her shoulder firmly. "Wait. Let him dig the hole deeper."

"It's hard," she whispered.

"But well worth the wait, Little One," the taller woman said, voice harsh. "The example we make of Dilislta will make the others speak the truth."

"Then he lies?" Worf asked. When she nodded, he felt a sense of satisfaction. Soon all this would be over.

Dilislta continued to orate for several minutes. Worf watched with awe at the man's overweening arrogance. "How can he dare?" he asked.

"Please, Worf," Deanna asked. "I really can't stand much more of this."

"As you wish." Throwing back the hood of his cloak, Worf strode from the shadows, hair loose and unruly, his cloak barely concealing his armor. The light glinted on the polished steel of his bat'leth. Worf heard several gasps from delegates as he approached the dias. A hush fell over the room when he climbed the stairs. Dilislta tried to continue with his prepared speech, but the sight of a Klingon warrior made him stutter. Worf smiled ferally. Grabbing the Majisian by the front of his robe, Worf said, "bIjatlh 'e' yImev, nepwI'!"

Trying to escape Worf's grip, Dilislta said, "Let me go! I am an ambassador. My person is sacrosanct."

"You are a liar. Your words mean nothing. You are without honor, Ha'DIbaH."

Worf could feel him tremble beneath his grip. But still Dilislta tried to weasel his way out of his lies. "I am no liar. I don't have any idea what you're talking about."

Without loosening his grip on Dilislta's robe, Worf said, "I believe you have met my companions." Delegates gasped again as Lwaxana Troi threw back the hood of her cloak. Worf could sense Deanna's hesitation behind him. This ploy could harm her career in Starfleet.

Dilislta's eyes threatened to pop from his head when he noted Deanna Troi. "You were on the Enterp . . ."

"Yes, Ambassador," she said in a soft voice which managed to reach the far corner of the room. "I was aboard the Enterprise. Our vessel drove the Cardassians from your planet. I was one of the landing party."

Dilislta wilted in Worf's grip. "Our Primate thought it worth a try. We have had a bad year agriculturally. Our children are hungry."

Lwaxana Troi snorted with disdain. "Your offspring are fat and lazy." Her gaze raked him from head to toe. "As are you."

Worf shook the ambassador. "No. More. Lies." He stared into Dilislta's face, eyes hot with suppressed rage. "The time has come for truth."

Head drooping, chin touching his chest, Dilislta said, "Majis needs nothing from the Federation. We have lied."

"How many others of you have lied as well?" Worf asked, his gaze raking the room.

"Almost all," Lwaxana said. "Some far worse than others."

Shoving Dilislta toward the stairs, Worf said, "Sit down with the others, Ambassador. I will deal with you later."

Worf watched with satisfaction as Dilislta made his way down the stairs and to his seat. Even from this distance, he could see the Majisian's knees shake. "I will now speak, and you will all listen." When the buzz of worried voices rose, Worf bellowed, "Silence!"

The room became utterly still. "As you have been bickering amongst each other, Starfleet has appropriated two-thirds of the budget allocated to reconstruction."

Cries of anger and disbelief filled the room. "That was our allocation!" a voice cried out.

"No longer. If you do not wish to lose the final third, you will do as I say. Is that understood?"

Worf stood on the dias once again, staring into an empty room and contemplating his future. The odds of his remaining in the Diplomatic Corp did not seem promising. He had done what needed to be done, but he doubted his superiors viewed his actions in the same way. But had he done nothing, the summit would have continued indefinitely gaining nothing, but using Betazed's vital resources to no avail.

~*~

He shifted his shoulders slightly, glad to be out of the Klingon armor. He had found it oddly restricting. Stretching more aching muscles, Worf realized anew just how long it had been since he had had a full night's sleep. But in the end it had been worth it. All the worlds would receive the aid they needed to reconstruct their planets.

"Revisiting the scene of your triumph?" a voice said behind him.

"Triumph? Or disaster?"

Deanna moved to stand beside him, taking his hand in hers. An electric shock seemed to travel from his hand to heart at the touch. "It was a triumph, Worf. Without your intervention none of us would be getting the things we need. The idea of exchanging goods and services one world had in abundance for things that they needed was brilliant."

"Klingons still employ the barter system at times. It links us more firmly to the past." He sighed. "But I do not believe my superiors will agree with your assessment."

"Do you care?" she asked. "I thought you didn't like being an ambassador."

His smile was wry as he looked down at her. "Now that it seems no longer an option, the position seems much more attractive."

Deanna chuckled. "That sounds familiar. I think most things in life are more attractive when we face losing them."

"Perhaps." The grip of her hand was comforting. "Admiral Dakota of the Diplomatic Corp has arrived on Betazed."

Her grip tightened momentarily. "I know. He's speaking with my mother right now."

"Then my fate is sealed."

"Not necessarily. Mother was impressed with your tactics." She grinned. "We made a good team, didn't we?"

Worf knew he should not be having the feelings for Deanna that he did, but found he could not stifle them as easily as he once had. Distance would help. Time would help as well. "We did indeed."

"I told Admiral Dakota that you would be here," Lwaxana Troi said, her voice bright.

Dropping Deanna's hand, Worf turned to face his superior, a tall man with coppery skin, raven hair, and eyes like obsidian. "Admiral. It is good to see you again."

Of a similar height, the admiral stared directly into Worf's eyes. "Worf. Mrs. Troi has been telling me of your exploits."

Inwardly Worf groaned. "I expect she was too kind."

"I doubt that. I had similar reports from the delegates of other worlds. The Majisian ambassador was quite enlightening."

"Dilislta is a liar."

"So I've heard." Admiral Dakota's face never changed. Worf had heard that men of the admiral's tribe were stoic and now he had every reason to believe those rumors. "Starfleet is quite put out with you as well."

"Starfleet?" Worf was puzzled.

A grin split the admiral's face. "Starfleet Command was very close to securing that final third of the allocation."

Worf sighed. "So I do not have a home with Starfleet either."

Admiral Dakota frowned slightly. "You were planning on leaving the Diplomatic Corp?"

"I assumed I would have no choice."

Chuckling softly, the admiral said, "I don't know of another man in the Corp who could have pulled this off, Worf. We need men of action as well as men of words."

The relief Worf felt was tremendous, surprising him in its intensity. He barely heard the admiral's next words. "In fact, we need you to go to Saer III to help quell an uprising. The current diplomat is out of his element."

Worf frowned. "Saerians are old enemies of the Klingon Empire. Are you certain I am the right choice?"

"We have taken that into account. But we need someone the Saerians will respect as a fighter. You are that man."

"Tell him everything," Lwaxana Troi said. "You can't expect the poor man to walk into that liar's den unaware."

Admiral Dakota shook his head and looked at Worf with amazement. "You actually worked with this woman?"

Worf grinned. "Yes. She was of great help. I could not have managed without her. Or Commander Troi."

"You'll have to this time. Mrs. Troi assures me she can't be spared from Betazed during the Reconstruction."

"Yes, sir. I understand."

Worf watched with amusement as Lwaxana nudged the admiral in the ribs. A little harder this time. "She has suggested a replacement until she can train other suitable Betazoids to accompany you on your missions."

Feeling lost and overwhelmed, Worf asked, "A replacement?"

Admiral Dakota nodded toward Deanna Troi. "I have spoken with Captain Picard and he is agreeable if Counselor Troi is willing to accept the mission."

An exchange appeared to take place between Deanna and her mother. Deanna was only a tad hesitant in her acceptance. "I've been gone from the Enterprise so long now I guess a little longer won't be much of a hardship for the others." She smiled. "I'll be glad to go to Saer III as Worf's assistant."

Worf's hearts beat faster, harder. "Should you not consult with your mate before making such a decision?"

"Mate?" Deanna looked at him the puzzlement clear on her face. Then her expression cleared. "You mean Will?"

Worf nodded.

"Will and I aren't married."

"But on Ba'ku he asked me for advice concerning you. I assumed you had become mates again."

"For a short time. But once away from the influence of the planet, Will and I found that we make better friends than lovers."

Unable to help himself, Worf found himself grinning broadly. This day had begun with a sense of hopelessness, but was ending much more brightly. He now knew he could be an ambassador on his own terms. And maybe even a rekindled romance was not out of the question. "When do we leave?"

 

 
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