Author: Vicki L. Reid
Email: dekrrini AT aim.com
Summary: Will Riker searches his heart for the true path to honor. Third in The Path series.
Disclaimers: Paramount owns all things Star Trek, including the crew of the Enterprise and the universe in which they live. I'm only borrowing a few of them for fun--not profit.
William T. Riker had a problem. As was his wont when doing soul searching, he had headed for Ten Forward. Solitude had never been conducive for thought for him as he preferred to be surrounded by the subdued noise of people's voice. It helped him think. It also prevented his mind from being deafened by the sound of his own inner voice.
Even after two years, Will still expected to see Guinan behind the bar of Ten Forward, but this was the Enterprise-E, and she had not sought transfer to this ship. He wondered where she was, because he could use her advice about Deanna and Worf. Somehow Guinan had a way of cutting directly to the heart of the matter. And he needed that right now.
Striding over to one of the large transparent viewports, Will gazed out into the endless night of space. Because the Enterprise was traveling at warp, the star field became long ribbons of white fire. But his attention was not on the sight before him. Instead his mind's eye was focused on a pair of ebony eyes, whose inner light no longer twinkled like stars.
"Of course I want to marry you, Will," Deanna's voice echoed endlessly in his memory.
Her words said one thing, but her eyes screamed for release. When she had looked at him with the expression of a trapped animal, he had offered to let her go. But Deanna seemed determined to honor her commitment to him, a distinctly Klingon attitude. Even now Worf's influence on Deanna was profound. And extremely disturbing to her fiancee's piece of mind.
*Why, Worf?* he thought to himself. *Why did you marry Jadzia when you still loved Deanna? Why?*
But his friend never answered. Strangely enough, however, Will thought he knew the answer. Worf had told him once, long ago, when he and Deanna had first realized their feelings for each other were serious.
Will paced cautiously beside Worf, clutching a bat'leth in his hand and searching his surroundings for potential danger. He fervently hoped Worf had remembered to engage the holodeck safeties this time. Glancing at the Klingon stalking stealthily beside him, Will said, "I gather things are getting a little serious between you and Deanna."
Shifting his bat'leth from hand to hand, Worf acknowledged, "They are."
The point of Worf's bat'leth was perilously near Will's neck, making him hesitate for just a moment. But Deanna's safety was more important than his. "Is that wise? Won't Deanna get hurt?"
"Not by me," Worf responded, his face taking on a feral cast as if he could smell his enemy's fear. "I will never betray her trust."
Wincing as Worf's intentional thrust struck home, Will said, "I meant physically. Not emotionally."
The woods rang with the sound of metal against metal as Worf fought his attacker. A thrust, a parry, an overhead blow, and the enemy was vanquished. Smiling with satisfaction, Worf said, "I will not harm her physically either. Klingons are not animals."
Will looked at the remains of the enemy at Worf's feet before the image flickered and disappeared as the holodeck automatically removed 'killed' fighters. "Really?" Riker asked sarcastically. "I seem to recall several conversations where you claimed human females were too fragile for mating with a Klingon."
Sniffing the air around him, Worf's lip curled with satisfaction. "I lied."
"You what?" Riker exclaimed, staring at the other man in disbelief.
The attack came from behind and only Worf's quick thinking and reaction time saved him from an inglorious end. "I lied," Worf stated, blocking the blow with his bat'leth. "Otherwise you would have caused me much trouble. Lying was easier on both of us."
"I don't see how."
Worf shrugged, letting down his guard for an instant. "Had I told you that Klingons do not participate in casual sex, would you not have seen it as a challenge?"
"Almost certainly," Will admitted as he shifted his bat'leth to his other hand. "I would have tried to prove you wrong." He sighed. "So what's changed? Why have you decided to go against Klingon tradition become intimate with Deanna?"
Frowning at Riker, Worf answered, "I am not going against Klingon tradition, Commander. I love Deanna Troi and wish to mate with her."
Will's mouth dropped open and he missed seeing the killing blow descending toward his head. Fortunately, Worf did and easily deflected the blow. "You love her? I had no idea things had progressed that far between you."
"I can only speak for myself," Worf said. "I do not yet know the depth of her feelings as we have not yet discussed them." After another brief exchange of arms with an alien enemy, Worf continued, "You must understand one thing. When a Klingon mates, he mates for life. Or until his mate tires of him. Casual sexual relationships are not accepted by Klingon society."
Staring at his friend whose bat'leth was now swinging casually by his leg, Will said, "So you're telling me that if you have sex with someone, you must marry them? Am I understanding you correctly?"
"That is correct."
"And the male partner can't seek a divorce if the relationship doesn't work out?" Will asked.
"Not according to Klingon tradition," Worf stated. "Which is the primary reason for choosing one's mate with care. If hormones are allowed free rein, a man can find himself mated for life to a female he does not love."
With a frown of concentration on his face, Will's hand scrubbed at his beard as he realized that Worf's words had proven to be oddly prophetic. He had found himself mated to a woman he didn't love--at least at first. That Worf had loved Jadzia at her death, Will was quite sure. Deanna knew what was in Worf's heart perhaps even better than he did himself. But it was more than her empathetic powers that gave her insight into Worf. She had always had the ability to look deep into his heart. To look beyond the gruff exterior into the soul of a fiercely gentle warrior.
Will had also learned something about himself that day on the holodeck. Something he had ignored for several years. He loved Deanna Troi. For years they had worked together, forming a very close friendship. But this was much more than feelings of friendship. He loved her and wanted to spend his life with her. But as usual, he realized too late his true feelings for Deanna. Sometimes he thought that the two of them had lived their relationship in reverse, seldom, if ever, meeting on the same plane. In the beginning, she had loved him, but he put his career first. Then came the friendship. Then he had loved her, but she had moved on to one of his best friends. Finally, on Bak'u it had seemed as if they were in sync, both in love at the same time.
Sinking down into one of the chairs, Will ran his hands through his graying hair worried about what was in Deanna's heart. He remembered well Worf's reaction upon catching the two of them en flagrante after their bubble bath reunion. Deanna had been devastated by Worf's rejection, although she had tried to hide her pain. Will had no idea what words had passed between them, but it had been painful to watch a barely healed wound gape wide open again. Worf had seemed tender, but sad at the parting. But he had made it clear there would be no second chances--for either of them. When Deanna had sank to the floor, sobbing Worf's name, Will had felt responsible for her pain. A responsibility he still carried with him, which now placed him firmly on the horns of his present dilemma.
Will considered his choices carefully. He had no doubt that Deanna loved him, but in a vastly different way than she had loved Worf. So he could choose to remain silent and allow Deanna to become his wife, although she clearly still had deep feelings for Worf. Or he could break their engagement himself. And do it in such a way that Worf would feel honor bound to ignore his honor. But what if he was wrong? What if Worf simply no longer loved Deanna as she deserved to be loved? What if Worf's heart was eternally bound to Dax--no matter what her incarnation? Although Will had serious doubts as to the validity of any of these questions, he would not hurt Deanna again without reason. Not ever again. Risa was enough for one lifetime.
"There's only one way to find out," Riker muttered to himself, rising from his chair and placing his palms against the transparent viewport.
"Worf," he said to the image on his viewscreen. "I was sorry to hear about Jadzia."
"Thank you, Commander," Worf replied, glowering with obvious discomfort.
Unconsciously echoing Worf's discomfort, Will's hand stroked his bearded chin. "How are you holding up?"
"I have been better," Worf admitted, with a curl to his lip. "But once Jadzia has been avenged, and Gul Dukat is dead I will be fine."
*Will you?* Will wondered to himself as he gazed at the frowning Klingon. Aloud he said, "Deanna said she had spoken to you. Offered you our condolences."
Nodding briefly, Worf answered, "She helped me find my path. I was having trouble choosing the correct one for Jadzia's soul."
For several seconds, the two men stared at each other, tension rising unbidden between them. The tension Will felt exuding from Worf's soul told him much, but not everything.
"When is the wedding?" Worf growled, his expression becoming even fiercer, and sending a shiver of anxiety down Riker's spine.
"Wedding?" he asked, stalling for time as he tried to read what was in Worf's heart.
The exasperation Worf felt was clearly expressed in his voice. "Your wedding, Commander. Yours and Deanna's."
Eyeing Worf cautiously, Will chose his next words with care. "We haven't set a date yet."
Worf stared at him for several seconds longer, as if willing Riker to make a decision. "If I might give you a word of advice," Worf said slowly, "do not wait too long. Deanna's heart is a precious gift which should be treasured always."
"I know," Will said quietly, dread entering his heart. "It took me a long time to realize just how precious."
Staring at Will with an intensity that made him shiver at the depth of emotion, Worf said, "I have one boon to ask of you."
"Do not invite me to the wedding."
And Will had his answer. Worf did love Deanna, but his Klingon sense of honor demanded he respect her commitment. Will could have his Imzadi, but at what cost? Worf's sanity? Deanna's happiness? His own honor? It seemed to Will that the four of them had made one bad choice after another. Jadzia pursued a man already bound to another. Worf followed his tradition of honor down the wrong path. Deanna allowed her loneliness to prey upon her heart. And he had let his feelings for her cloud his judgement, leading Deanna down yet another wrong path.
Losing Deanna would be hard, but nearly as painful as waking up with her in his bed each morning knowing that deep in her heart she wished to be elsewhere. There was only one thing to do. One correct path to honor. His honor.
Will tapped out a code on his terminal. When the shaven-headed captain of Deep Space Nine appeared, he said, "Captain Sisko, I'm Will Riker of the Enterprise."
"Yes, Commander," Sisko answered. "I remember you. How may I be of assistance?"
Will smiled ingratiatingly at the captain. "It's more a question of what I can do for you, Captain. I've just been talking to Worf . . ."
Will entered the quarters he shared with Deanna, and looked around the main living area. For the first time, he realized he had never truly belonged here, and there were few of his things in evidence. It had never felt like home, but only a place where he lived. Across the room Deanna sat staring out into the midnight sky, and Will could almost feel her great sadness.
A sad half-smile crossed his lips as he gazed at the forlorn figure before him. Will wondered for a moment if Jadzia had known of this bond between Worf and Troi or had Worf been more adept at hiding his feelings than Deanna. Will had a feeling that Jadzia had known, but married Worf anyway. Perhaps she had realized that Worf would not, could not return to Deanna anyway, and Jadzia had decided to make the best of a less than ideal situation.
Klingon honor. Will's hand moved to his chin as he pondered the path which had brought them all to this point. The path of Klingon honor was hard to travel, but Will was not Klingon and while he respected and admired many aspects of Klingon culture, he had no desire to be Klingon. And so his path, while hard, was not impossible to trod with honor.
"Deanna," he said quietly.
Startled at the sound of his voice, Deanna jumped up from the couch, wiping her face with her hands before turning to face him. But it wasn't enough to hide the evidence of her tears. "Yes, Will?"
He crossed the room quickly, and gathered her tenderly in his arms, wishing for just a moment that she might remain there forever. "It's okay, Imzadi," he assured her. "Everything will be all right soon. I promise."
For a moment she stiffened against him and then slowly eased into his body. Will felt her shake with her inner anguish, and he knew he had to make this as easy as possible for her. Stroking her back gently, he said, "You'd better get packed. Your shuttle leaves in an hour."
Pulling back slightly to look into his eyes, Deanna asked, "Where are we going? What's the mission?"
"We aren't going anywhere," Will smiled, wiping her tears away with his fingers. "You are going to Deep Space Nine."
She stiffened again in his arms, eyes wide with fear. "What happened to Worf?"
"Nothing," Will assured her tenderly. "Worf is fine. Or at least he will be once you get there."
Deanna shook her head. "I can't, Will. You don't understand."
Placing his fingers against her lips, he said, "I know it's a Klingon point of honor to wed the one you bed. But I'm not Klingon. I release you from your oath."
"But Worf . . ." she began.
"Don't worry about Worf," Will grinned mischievously. "I'm quite sure that after you whack him over the head with a bat'leth a time or two, he'll get the point."
She had to smile at his irreverence and the truth of his statement. "Worf is stubborn," she conceded.
"And he loves you, Deanna," Will said. "Go to him. Make him admit to those feelings. Don't let his Klingon pride get in the way of your happiness again."
Reaching up to touch his bearded cheek, Deanna asked, "And what about you, Imzadi? I do love you."
Will held her hand against his cheek for a moment. "I know. But not as much as you love Worf. And I can't live like that. Maybe Jadzia could, but I can't."
Tears filled Deanna's eyes. "I'm sorry. I never meant to hurt you."
"I know that," Will told her, smiling down into her ebony eyes. He had thought he was prepared to send her off to Worf, but it was harder than he'd ever imagined. "You'd better go, Deanna. Before I change my mind."
Deanna pulled his head down to hers and gently kissed him one final time. Eyes sparkling again through her tears, she said, "She is out there somewhere, Will."
"Your one true love."
And then she was gone. Soon, Will knew, there would be nothing left but her memory. He had a sneaking suspicion that when Deanna returned she wouldn't be alone. But in the here and now, Will's arms felt empty without her and his heart ached with the certain knowledge that she would never be there again. But even through his pain, Will felt satisfaction that he had chosen the right path. The path to honor.
The commlink chimed on his terminal. With an exasperated sigh, he accessed the link. "Yes?"
"How's life been treating you, Willie?" a woman with white-blond hair asked.
Grinning broadly, he answered, "I was just thinking of calling you, Brit."