Author: Anna C. Bowling
Email: Unzadi AT aol.com
Summary: Worf speaks with Dax's new host and tries to heal the wounds of the past.
Author's Note: This one is, like my favourite Beethoven piece, fer Elise. Blame MCC again. It's best read after "Bedtime Stories." The chocolate pancakes are optional. :) Paramount owns Star Trek, but it doesn't own me, so there. >:P
Disclaimers: Everything Star Trek, including Worf and Deanna Troi, belong to Paramount Pictures. No infringement is intended, no profit is made.
"Thank you for agreeing to meet with me."
Worf's only acknowledgment of the man beside him was a slight inclination of his head. Keeping his steely eyes fixed on the house atop the sloping hill, he began to walk along the lake's shore, his strides slow and purposeful, matching his thoughts. The ground was soft and fertile, the lush green grass dotted with pink, red and yellow flowers which rendered his heavy footsteps silent. Only the day before, he had walked this same path with his small granddaughter, gathering the blossoms to weave into garlands for her birthday celebration. It felt like a lifetime ago.
His companion, a Trill male of middle years, fell into step beside him. "I must admit that it was somewhat of a surprise that you finally agreed to a meeting. A whole lot more than somewhat, actually. After all these years, I had almost given up hope." The Trill, too, looked towards the house. "How was the party?"
"It was a family affair," Worf said shortly, his pace quickening.
The Trill nodded. 'Worf," he interjected softly, "I was almost family."
Worf's shoulders stiffened, his left boot carelessly plopping into the water. The splash, followed by a muffled Klingon expletive, sent a small, green amphibian jumping into the middle of Lake Cataria in search of a safer haven. "Reldek. If you had become family," Worf ground out, "yesterday's festivity would not have taken place."
"I know." The Trill's mouth twisted into a wry smile. "I wouldn't begrudge you that, truly," he whispered. "Being a grandparent is a very special joy. There are just times when I think about things. Muanna is a lovely child. I trust she received my gift?"
"Her parents have it," Worf said, wiping a trail of lake grass from the top of his boot by scraping it against a rock.
"Did she like it?"
Worf stopped and turned to face Reldek Dax. "Muanna's mother believes her too young to possess such a weapon."
Reldek shrugged. "Whatever happened to the belief that a Klingon girl is a warrior the day she can first hold a blade? I'm sorry if my gift was inappropriate. Six is just such an important age that I hated to see it pass without..."
"Any rites of passage Muanna participates in will be at the discretion of her parents. She is also Betazoid ," Worf reminded Reldek, noting the flicker of contrition in the Trill's hazel eyes. "And human as well as Klingon. It is her parents' place to integrate these cultures."
"You're right," Reldek admitted, opening the top button of his tunic under the warmth of the morning sun. "You were so often right. Would you like me to take the *taj* back and get her something else? A stuffed targ, maybe, or some sort of doll? I don't know what little Betazoid girls like to play with. Klingons, I know, but Betazoids..." He let the sentence dangle, his eyes darting away from Worf's.
Worf inhaled deeply of the breeze coming from the house. His stomach growled as he recognised the scent of chocolate pancakes, personally made by Mogh's wife, Kyrri, and their valet, Mr. Surno. The previous night had left him hungry, but he had promised Deanna he would do this before he ate. He had never broken a promise to her before, and did not wish to begin doing so now. "That will not be necessary. We will give the knife to her when she is ready for it."
Reldek nodded, a lock of burnished gold hair falling over his forehead. "I should have asked. I'll do that next time."
With an impatient growl, Worf looked directly at Reldek. The face, of course, was so different that he would have passed this man in a crowd without a second glance, were it not for the identity of the symbiont. Faded spots trailed down either side of a sun-bronzed face that Worf imagined must be attractive by Trill standards. He had stopped caring about Trill standards decades ago. There were fine wrinkles tracing across the man's brow and radiating from the corners of his wide hazel eyes. Deeper lines framed a mouth with an uncertain set, the lower lip held unnaturally stiff. No matter the change in features; Worf had seen that expression many times before, and he was not surprised to hear a familiar tone in the man's voice.
"I did not say goodbye to Jadzia," Worf stated. "I wish to do so now."
"I see." Reldek took in a long breath, watching with feigned interest as a male passionbird lighted on the upper branch of a nearby tree, to preen for his mate. The female, smaller and more subdued in colour than her scarlet and azure counterpart, pretended not to notice. "Did Deanna put you up to this?"
Worf swallowed an expletive. "It is my decision."
Reldek squinted into the brightness of the sun, averting his eyes from the birds' intimate display. "Your decision. Well, then, this must be the part when you just say *naDev vo' ylghoS,* turn around and walk out of my life forever. I'd rather it didn't come to that." Impulsively, he darted a hand out to grasp Worf's leather wristlet. "Please, not like this. After all we've been to each other, does it end and go away?"
"Continue in this fashion, and it will end with my breaking your neck," Worf hissed, snatching his hand away from Reldek. "Your behaviour is inappropriate. It will cease."
The Trill looked at his own hand as though it were an alien being that had just recently attached itself to the rest of his body. He allowed the hand to drop limply to his side. "I'm sorry. I don't seem to be able to do anything right today, do I? There seems to be a pattern here." Neither of them laughed at the feeble joke, so it hung in awkward silence, broken only by the mating cry of the birds. From the house on the hill, the sound of children's laughter drifted down.
Worf turned his head towards the house. Inside, Muanna and her cousins, Alexander and Thia's children, were awake now, clamoring for the chocolate pancakes they'd been promised the night before. Deanna would be attempting to corral them all, with little success. She would need his assistance. He took a step in that direction, then turned back. He still had purpose where he was. If all went well, this would not take long. Very little, though, went well when he thought about the man next to him.
The hem of Reldek's long tunic fluttered in the breeze, mimicking the motion of the rippling waters of Lake Cataria. "I take it by your hesitation that you have more to say?"
"Yes," Worf answered, seeing past the middle-aged man in front of him, to the lithe young woman who had hosted the Dax symbiont last. "I did not wish for Jadzia to be killed."
"Neither did I. At least we agree on something." This time, Reldek did laugh at his own joke, a quiet, rueful sound. "Don't think that I've forgotten how much we..." he broke off, correcting himself for Worf's benefit. "How much you and Jadzia used to argue. Curzon always found arguing with Klingons to be extremely interesting. It still is, but I have to admit that it's lost a great deal of the fun."
Worf scowled. "Fun?"
"Fun. Jadzia was young, you understand," he explained, beginning his walk along the shore again, motioning for Worf to join him. "There are things that naturally happen when a young woman and a handsome young man are together." He brushed the fingers of one hand casually across the chain of the Bajoran earring that dangled from his right ear. "Especially a lonely young man."
Worf nodded, looking back at the house even as he fell into step beside Reldek. "I was alone. That does not excuse..."
"Does not excuse looking for a little companionship? Some comfort? A little pleasure where pleasure can be found?" Reldek shrugged, the subtle ornamentation on his tunic's shoulders glinting in the sun.
"It does not excuse the fact that I was not in love with Jadzia. She believed that I was." Having said the words, Worf did feel a measure of relief, just as Deanna had assured him he would. He stared hard at Reldek, watching the Trill's face for some sort of reaction. All he could see was a slight movement of the other man's throat as he swallowed.
Reldek looked out over the water. "I'd wondered about that," he admitted quietly, the last word nearly drowned out by the soft warbling of the passionbirds. "There was a lot to sort out when I received the Dax symbiont. Normally," he paused, squinting into the bright sunlight, "there is time to prepare for a joining, time for the old host and the new to get to know each other, for the symbiont to become accustomed to the pending change."
"There was none of that when Jadzia died," Worf finished, his voice flat. His booted foot struck against a hidden stone, causing him to stumble.
"It was most unexpected," Reldek agreed, the nodding of his head causing the unadorned chain of his earring to sway. "I was surprised, to say the least."
Worf had nothing to say for that, but only made a low sound in his throat. In all the years that had passed, there were still times when he could feel Jadzia's body in his arms for the last time, the life draining out of the host, while the symbiont still clung to life. When dreams of that battle woke him, drenching his body in a cold fever, those same arms of his would reach out to Deanna, who felt his anguish as her own, and they would comfort each other. He wished she were here now, bearing his confusing emotions, instead of waiting for him in Mogh's house.
The two men came to a bend in the path, Worf ducking his head to pass beneath a low-hanging branch that dripped with soft green moss. Reldek reached out to pluck a strand of the moss from Worf's hair, surprising them both with how fast he drew that hand back. "I'm sorry," he apologised. "You didn't want me to touch you."
"No." They stopped walking.
Reldek nodded. "You don't like to be touched very often, do you?"
Worf looked away. "No."
There was a pause as Reldek studied the Klingon. Time had not detracted from Worf's strength or vigor. Were he so inclined, Reldek assessed, Worf could still best him at mok'bara or some other form of hand-to-hand combat. "Jadzia didn't understand that. I wish you could see yourself as she did."
Worf's eyes met the Trill's, sharply, demanding clarification.
"I don't know if you would understand it coming from me," Reldek said, "but that's all there is, seeing as how she's not exactly here." His words broke off as he tried to regroup his thoughts into something more cohesive. "Maybe it is best that Trills not pursue entanglements with nonjoined beings." He reached up to remove the Bajoran earring from his ear and weigh it in his hand. "Nava has begun to talk about marriage. It won't happen. She's too much like you in a way for that, but she is a delightful companion."
"This does not pertain to the reason for our meeting," Worf protested, his shoulders growing stiff beneath the dull fabric of his jacket.
Reldek shrugged. "Doesn't it? It must be easy, having only one set of memories to sort through." His voice held a wistful tone. "In body, there's only Reldek and Dax here, but we carry Jadzia and Curzon and Tobin and so many others that they all start to blend together. Curzon was the one who took to the Klingon in you, but Jadzia was attracted to the man."
"And what of Reldek?" Worf demanded. "Why do you persist in attempting to contact me when I do not wish it?"
In the silence that hung between them after Worf's words, a frog croaked and hopped from stone to stone. "You wished it today."
"I wished to say goodbye."
"You said that. The Klingon way would have been to tell me to go away, and then you would have gone back to your home, your business done. Something keeps you here."
Worf let a muffled expletive escape his lips. He was growing soft in his old age, his rumbling stomach reminding him just how long it had been since last night's feast. Looking at what the rest of his family would take to be just a humanoid male, he could still see remnants of Jadiza in Reldek. The way a simple statement could be turned into an argument that had no winner; that was still there. The way Reldek would reach out to touch him in proprietary ways he welcomed only from Deanna; that, too, was much like Jadzia. "What do you want?"
"What do I want? What do you want? What did we ever want?"
"You ask too many questions," Worf protested. "You speak in riddles."
Reldek let out a long sigh. "Riddles, maybe, but at least we are speaking. I have a feeling," he ventured, a slight lifting of his lips accompanying his words, "that your wife put you up to this."
Worf grunted. "I often seek Deanna's counsel. She is a wise woman."
"You'll get no argument from me," Reldek conceded, turning away from Worf to examine a hanging strand of moss. "The House of Worf and Troi is a first. Few Klingons live to see themselves as the head of a House, but to share that honour with a mate, a non-Klingon at that..." his voice trailed off, more than a hint of admiration colouring his words. "You should be proud, and I know that you are. I feel proud every time I say that I once knew you." He rubbed the moss between his thumb and forefinger, letting the earring drop to the ground, forgotten for the moment. "I'd like to say that I still know you, but as you would say, that would be inappropriate."
"Do you mention my association with Jadzia?"
Reldek brushed his hand against his robe, freeing his hand of the yellow pollen he'd picked up from the moss. "You mean, do I mention that I was once the great Worf's lover?" He waited only a second, watching the fire that flared in the Klingon's eyes. "No," he admitted, his voice becoming soft and quiet. "I do not, because I wasn't. That was Jadzia. Curzon was your friend, Jadzia was your..."
"I did not love her," Worf cut in. "I should have honoured her as the friend I desired her to be."
"Aha. Is that what you were worried about? All this time?" Reldek clucked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. "Honourable Worf, beating himself for years over mistreating a woman. Very commendable, but you can put the pain sticks away. You're not on the homeworld now."
Worf let out a breath through flared nostrils. "Betazed is also my home," he stated, with a calmness that surprised him. "It is Deanna's home, and therefore mine."
"I meant no slur," Reldek offered, holding up a hand in a gesture of peace. "What I meant was..." He shook his head, leaving the sentence unfinished. "Why did you become involved with Jadzia to begin with?"
"I...do not...know," Worf replied, slowly, considering each word. "That time is confusing to me."
Reldek turned back to face him. "The Enterprise was gone, true, but you didn't stay with Deanna then. You could have."
"No. I could not. She was..." He groped for the right word. "She was vulnerable then, afraid, blaming herself. The fault was not hers, but I could not help her. I was weak."
Reldek raised dark blond brows and sighed. "Guilt can be a powerful emotion. Dax had a host once, long before Jadzia..." he cut himself off with a dismissive wave of his hand. "No, you hated when she did that to you, so I won't start again. You felt weak, and someone saw you as strong. It makes sense. It also didn't hurt that she looked great in blue. Sorry, that wasn't funny," he added, at seeing Worf's scowl. "I'd at least like us to part as friends," he admitted. "Truth be told, I don't much care for all this emotional exploration either. I just don't want us leaving as strangers. Not like it was on Trill."
Worf nodded. "I had nothing to say."
"I beg to differ. Jadzia cared for you. Not in the way you might have thought she did, but she did care in her own way. She missed you. I missed you. All the memories she gave me of serving with you made me want to meet you, to thank you for all you'd done." Instinctively, his hand reached out in Worf's direction, but didn't touch him. "The first thing I did when I was able to get up was to research the battle and how you'd preserved Dax. I thought you were every bit the hero Jadzia said you were. I wanted to tell you that, but by that time, you had left the Trill homeworld. No message, just gone. The Klingon way, Curzon tells me."
"My mission was accomplished," Worf defended himself. "There was no time to wait for introductions. The Dominion..."
Reldek broke into Worf's words with a relieved smile. "Was defeated, with thanks to you...and your lovely bride, of course. You were ever the dedicated warrior. Is it any wonder Jadzia wanted you to join her in the Camelot program in the holosuite? Ah, I see you didn't know about that. I'd thought she would have told you. Life is full of surprises, even the eighth time around." He paused. "I imagine it was a surprise for you to find out that the next host would be male."
"I had not thought about it," Worf confessed, starting off again along the path. Standing still and talking was an uncomfortable posture for a Klingon, unnatural especially with this man. At least in motion, there was a purpose, if only for the physical exercise. "It was not one of my concerns."
Bending to scoop the earring from the soft grass, Reldek slipped it into his pocket and followed Worf. "And you still haven't thought about it, not really, have you? Did you know I had a great line all planned to break the ice? I was going to ask you if this," he swept a had down along his torso, indicating the male host, "meant the wedding was off." He smiled weakly. "Worf, it would have been anyway."
Worf turned about, sharply, as though he were performing the motion in parade. "Explain."
Reldek tapped two fingers against his mouth. "I don't have to tell you that battle can make many ambiguous things clear. For Curzon, it was good being on a Klingon ship again. It was wonderful, like an old man reliving his youth. Not, of course," he qualified, "that you're old. Far from it. Jadzia was just so...so young that she didn't always think things through. That, any parent can understand. Haven't we all seen a child do something just because they wanted to do it, without thinking of the consequences?"
Reldek's words made Worf think of the day before, when he had led Muanna through the marsh grasses in search of water lilies to float in the punchbowl. All the child had cared about were that they look pretty in the punch, the bitter taste being something that had never entered her mind. "We discussed marriage."
"But it wouldn't have happened. Trust me, it wouldn't. She knew. The signs were there. There's a difference between having someone's body, and having their heart. Take Alexander," he suggested, gesturing towards the house. "You never introduced Jadzia to Alexander, and I can't recall a direct mention, either."
"It did not matter." Worf lengthened his strides. He hadn't mentioned Alexander to Jadzia, but there had never seemed to be a right time. Alexander had been with his Rozhenko grandparents, on Earth, a long way from Deep Space Nine.
*But if there were to be a marriage, there should have been a meeting.* The words hung between them, unspoken by either. Try as he might, and he had, several times, he couldn't imagine a meeting between Jadzia and Alexander. The two did not mix in his mind, as opposed to Alexander and Deanna. Although he would never want to forget K'Ehleyr, it was difficult to remember Alexander without Deanna by his side, guiding and teaching the boy.
The deep, ringing sounds of a gong echoed through the still morning air. Worf looked back towards the house, to see the tall, slender form of Mogh's valet swinging a padded mallet against the hammered metal disk. Behind Mr Surno, Deanna stood, robed in a flowing gown of crimson and gold that rivalled any of her mother's costumes. From where she stood, she waved to him, holding a bright scarlet portion of her train to make certain he saw her. Worf raised a hand in acknowledgment of Deanna's gesture.
"You'll be going now," Reldek stated. "But before you do, I want you to know that it's all right. Nobody blames you."
Worf looked at him quizzically. "For what?"
Reldek gave a weak smile. "Jadzia. Some things," he paused, with a sad shake of his head, "just aren't meant to be. If it helps anything, Curzon heard you roar. He appreciated it."
Worf said nothing, but acknowledged Reldek's words with a distracted nod. Deanna had abandoned the porch, making her way down the trail to the lake, scarlet train still in her hand. Curling tendrils from the red wig that matched her gown danced in the breeze around a face alive with joy. Her other hand, bedecked with rings that glittered in the morning sun, held aloft a red and gold lace parasol that caused light to dapple across her features in all the places, Worf noticed, that she liked to be kissed.
"Go to her, Worf," Reldek urged. "Go to her completely. We release you. We did a long time ago. *batlh Daqawawlu'taH,*" he finished, his voice hoarse as he said the words in Klingon.
Not taking his eyes from Deanna, Worf repeated the phrase, feeling as though a door he'd left propped open far too long had finally shut. "*batlh Daqawalu'taH.*" You will be remembered with honour.
By the time Deanna was close enough for Worf to see the traces of concern in her eyes, the Trill had already melted away into the shimmer of a transporter beam. At that moment that Deanna's hands reached wordlessly out to him, dropping both train and parasol, he felt as though the rest of Betazed had disappeared, and it was only the two of them on the lake's shore.
He crushed his wife to him in a powerful embrace, feeling the familiar comfort and strength her body held. He needed them, needed her, fiercely, as he always had. "Reldek has gone," he explained, his words muffled as he buried his face in Deanna's hair. The scent and taste of it reminded him she wore the wig. Lifting it off her head with steady hands, he tipped her face up so that their eyes met. "I do not like this wig," he told her, his voice rough with a dozen emotions. His voice caught in his throat as her own silvery curls tumbled down, free of pins. She had known he would remove her wig, and had planned for it.
"Then do something about it," she replied, the light in her eyes turning as flirtatious as it had the first time he'd hated one of her wigs. She knew what was coming next.
Worf clutched the wig firmly in one hand, slipping the other arm about Deanna's shoulders. His features taking on the appropriate severity, he hurled the elaborate confection of bright red curls and ringlets far out into the middle of Lake Cataria. It was easy then to join in Deanna's laughter at his action, feeling her gentle touch on his waist.
"You feel better," Deanna pronounced, assessing Worf's expression. In contrast to the grim set of his face just an hour before, now he looked like a man at peace. She wouldn't ask her husband what had transpired between him and Reldek; she didn't have to. Everything Deanna would ever need to know about Worf was written on his well-beloved features. This was one Klingon who wasn't hard to read. "It's over, then?"
"Yes," Worf agreed, placing a hand on the bustle-like bow at the small of Deanna's waist. "It is over. I do not like this ornament," he growled playfully, his fingers already searching for the hidden buttons that held the monstrosity in place.
Deanna's husky laughter caressed Worf's ears even as her hands caressed muscles now free of the tension that had plagued him earlier. "And I never liked this tunic," she teased, "but we should be getting back to the house."
After a few moments' work, Worf had freed the brocade bustle, and tossed it into the lake after the wig. "Be quiet," he urged, breathing deeply of the scent of Deanna's hair.
She could feel the need in him, the emotional need far greater than the physical one. It echoed her own. She knew then that she would never ask him what he and Reldek had talked about. That, like the topic of Jadzia was finally closed, finished and done. It felt lighter, so much lighter, that she wanted to dance around in the soft dewy grass. Instead, she slipped her hands up under the tanned hide of Worf's tunic, feeling the warmth of his skin against her own. "Later," she whispered in a voice filled to the brim with promise, "we'll finish *this.* Muanna is waiting for her story."
Worf gave a growl of impatience, but disengaged himself from the embrace. "She can tell it better than we can by now."
"How does it feel to be a legend?" Deanna teased him, picking up her parasol and tucking it under one arm before Worf could toss it, too, into the lake. She held in a smile, knowing that the late morning would find the unfortunate Mr Surno wading out into the lake with his pole, to retrieve the items Worf had sent to their watery fate. "From what your stomach is telling me, I'd say you're hungry."
Worf nodded his agreement, taking Deanna's hand as they started back up the path. He looked back only once to the spot Reldek Dax had last stood, and for a split second, thought he saw Jadzia standing there, making a shooing motion with her fingers as she smiled at them. "Deanna..." He blinked, and the image vanished.
"Is something wrong?"
In the empty grass, all that remained was a slight depression, the size of a woman's bootprints. "No," he said at last. "Nothing is wrong. I live in Paradise."