Sometimes people at the academy would ask Deanna how she ‘saw’ emotions, which was of course a concept that made no sense. They might as well have asked her how she ‘saw’ sounds. Emotions were simply something she perceived. Just as clearly as she could see that a table was red, she could know that someone was feeling dread, or excitement, or joy.
The real trick was in pretending she didn’t know what others’ emotions were. For many races, humans included, it was considered rude to comment on what was obvious but not explicitly stated. Deanna had attended many functions where one guest or another had food lodged in their teeth but everyone pretended not to see it and went on as they normally would. Once Deanna understood what was going on, she would be warned by the crackle of second-hand embarrassment of the group that surrounded the unfortunate chewer. Deanna would usually be able to brace herself not to laugh, by the time they turned and Deanna saw the leafy green vegetable dangling, she had already schooled her face into blankness.
Worf never expected Deanna to pretend to know less than she did. It was one of the things she liked best about him.
And it was the reason that she could turn to him after Alexander had gone to sleep and say, “You are uncomfortable about the upcoming Batlh jaj festival.”
The Klingon Day of Honour was approaching, and since the Enterprise was close to Klingon space Martok had invited Worf to join him for blood pie and ritual combat. Ever since the invitation had been extended, dread had rolled off Worf in thick waves. It needed to be addressed and because she was talking to Worf there was no need for pretense or fishing questions, she could simply state what was true, and start the conversation there.
Until Worf’s had reacted negatively, Deanna had been looking forward to the festival and even Alexander was cautiously excited. He said it reminded him a bit of Yom Kippur, which he had celebrated with his grandparents, but with more fighting. Deanna thought ‘...but with more fighting’ could summarise a lot of Klingon festivals. A lot of things about Klingons in general. She shared that thought with Alexander and laughed so hard and long that they had to make up something when Worf came by to ask them what was so funny.
“I am not uncomfortable,” Worf argued. “I am concerned.” A fine splitting, but Deanna allowed it as part of Worf’s process.
Deanna touched his arm, and felt herself tap into the undercurrent of fondness that underlay everything Worf said to her. Some people experienced love and attraction as a fire, burning itself out, some spiked and crashed depending on proximity to their intended or variations in the weather but Worf's attention was as constant as a free-flowing stream. His other moods surged through him, rage turning to determination, but nothing ever touched how he felt about her, a singular constant.
“What are you concerned about?” she asked.
“It is not so long since you helped me realise I needed to stop forcing Alexander to behave the way I wanted him to. And,” he paused and Deanna could see him wanting to hold back and then deciding to be honest, “you are not Klingon. I do not wish to make you feel like you must be Klingon in the way that I have made Alexander to feel less than Klingon. You and I have been,” Worf searched for the word. Deanna could think of a few, happy, stable, new but she wasn’t sure what he’d choose. “Fine, here on the Enterprise. I see no reason to disrupt our routine.”
Deanna thought about it for a moment. It was touching to see Worf, normally so certain of himself, acting cautious in order to try to make her more comfortable.
“I don’t want us to have a human relationship.” She could explain further, but this was the core of it.
Worf stared at her, staticky with uncomprehension.
Deanna shook her head, gathering the words as her hair settled behind her. “I’m half-human; you were raised by humans. We both ‘speak human’ fluently, for want of a better term. It’s easy for us to fall into those shared patterns so to avoid awkwardness.” She reached out a hand to touch his arm. “I appreciate that you took me seriously about not pressuring Alexander and allowing him to do the Klingon rituals that are most meaningful for him, but you’re not pressuring me. I want to understand and embrace your culture, and I hope you will do the same with mine.” He was open, receiving her message. “Otherwise we will both end up feeling like we are being cut off from parts of ourselves.”
She waited for this information to settle. Some minds clicked between pieces of information, snapping them into place but Worf let things settle until they found the right spot. She had another question to ask, but she wanted to wait until all of the residue of what she’d already said had cleared so she could get a full read from Worf off of her next statement. Non-telepaths considered this cheating, but Deanna never rejected any of her abilities. So when Worf had returned to his baseline she asked, “Unless you are embarrassed to be seen with me among your people.”
Pride and denial cascaded off of Worf in waves as he bared his teeth in defiance. She smiled. All of that intensity was for her and she basked in it. “If anyone dared to disrespect you, they would have me to answer to,” Worf growled.
“Good,” she said and leaned in, the intensity pulsing harder the closer she got. “That’s settled.”
Martok had taken over some sort of a mansion and packed it with his closest two hundred friends and family. Immediately, Deanna realised that most of them were not taking the Day of Honour as seriously as Worf took it. The mood was one of celebration rather than of atonement.
Deanna stayed close to Alexander as Worf was swept up into bone crushing hugs from Martok and then another Klingon, and another. It was nice to see that even when Worf’s position in the Empire was unsure, he still had friends. The blood wine was flowing freely and so was the energy in the room.
Alexander muttered, “This is not like Yom Kippur.” Deanna put her hand on his shoulder.
Martok turned and saw them. “Alexander!” He roared. Alexander reared back and could have tripped if Deanna hadn’t been behind him. She stabilised him as Martok grinned at them all teeth and placed his hands on his hips. “And Commander Troi,” Martok thumped his fist to his chest. “We are honoured.” Martok took a step towards her and gripped her shoulder. “It is right you are here, for the Batlh jaj is above all a war against the mind. You honour us with your presence.”
Deanna blinked a little because Martok’s sincerity was piercing. Her crewmates on the Enterprise respected her work as one might respect any other expert in their field, but Martok had a halo of reverence around him that was entirely unexpected.
Martok dropped his grip from her shoulder to kneel in front of Alexander. “You are lucky, Alexander,” Martok said, “to be accompanied by such strong warriors.”
Alexander was still pressed against her but his nerves unspooled a very little. Martok nodded at him.
Martok tried to get up, wobbled a little and eventually got hauled to his feet by two friends who pulled him up and into the crowd, and somehow pulled Deanna and Alexander along as well.
Martok found her again later at a small table in a corner of the hall with Alexander and a young warrior who was earnestly telling her about a taqnar that had flown in her face when she was hiking up a mountain and caused her to stab herself with her own d’k tahg -- did Deanna have any thoughts about how dishonourable that was?
Embarrassment fizzled under her skin and Deanna thought her fortunate, that this was the action she thought she most had to atone for. But Deanna could tell it was important to the young warrior so Deanna said, “Very dishonourable.” The warrior perked up. Deanna continued, “If you can manage to fully atone tomorrow during the Suv’batleth combat tomorrow, you will have subdued a worthy opponent.”
Martok came up halfway through her answer and waited until the young warrior thanked her and walked off. “I see that Huss is wiser than I thought, if she came to you for guidance,” he said. “May I sit?”
Deanna leaned back and waved to the recently vacated seat. Alexander half-heartedly stabbed at his blood pie and didn’t look up. Martok lowered himself into the chair, his joints creaking almost as much as his armor. “Excellent. I needed a moment.” Deanna raised an eyebrow and he waved his hand carelessly -- an expansive shrug by Klingon standards. “I can atone as well as any warrior, but I’m not as young as I used to be.”
“You are welcome to sit as long as you would like,” Deanna said. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Worf up on a table, singing. Worf was singing blHar ‘e’ ylmevQo’, an old song that he said reminded him of her, and sure enough he was looking over at her, tankard raised, eyes shining, chin pointed to the sky. She smiled.
“Worf is lucky to have ensnared you.” Deanna looked back at Martok, surprised that Martok felt that way. A half-betazoid would not have been her first choice for the scion of a Klingon House if she were in Martok’s position. She looked for any sarcasm or falsity but Martok continued to be the most earnest person she had ever met. “I hope he is appreciating you. I would hate to have to tell your mother he was disrespectful. I like Worf. What she would do to him would not be an honourable death.” He smiled at her, all sharp teeth, but he wasn’t joking.
“You know my mother?” Deanna asked, surprised.
“Ambassador Troi is a fearsome woman.” Martok’s words were drenched in respect, bordering on awe. Deanna had a lot to say about her mother, some of it even kind, but one thing Deanna could never doubt was that Lwaxana was a powerful ambassador, somehow able to win over any audience from any culture. It should not have surprised Deanna that her mother had done so here.
Something about the casual way Martok spoke of her mother drew the words out of her. “Worf wasn’t certain he should bring us. He wasn’t sure I’d fit in,” she confessed.
Martok drew back, hair quivering in his surprise. Then he leaned in, conspiratorially, “That’s the Russian in him.” Martok looked at her face. “Don’t be surprised, I have studied the humans deeply as I sought to learn my enemy. Through this I can distinguish several human cultural sub-types.” Martok thumped his chest, “I am an expert.” She smiled again and did not challenge his assessment. “Klingons know emotions must be drawn into the open and conquered. Russians, on the other hand,” Martok gestured with his hand that was holding his blood wine and sloshed it onto the floor, “they keep everything right here,” he pointed at his chest, “and then they die.”
Later that evening, Deanna was wrestling herself out of her boots while Worf similarly struggled with his shoulder piece on the other side of the bed.
“I had an interesting conversation with Martok,” she said, yanking her final boot free.
Worf immediately stiffened, the lines of his body promising violence.
“He was very nice,” she said. She expected Worf to relax but instead he was...disappointed? “Did you want him to be rude to me?”
Worf bared his teeth. “No.” He wasn’t lying, technically. But there was more going on. His emotions were a tangle of regret and recrimination and Deanna didn’t know what they meant. This was something that was rarely acknowledged, just because she knew what someone was feeling, she didn’t always know why. The more she knew someone, the better her interpretations were. She knew Worf very well, but she didn’t like any of the guesses she had.
“You didn’t want me to feel welcome,” she said finally, guessing.
He shook his head, but she knew she wasn’t entirely wrong. His shame told her that.
She sat on the edge of the bed and smoothed the skirt in her lap, saying without words that she would wait until he explained himself.
He came around to stand in front of her, his hands at parade rest. Picking a point over her shoulder to focus on he said, “I have strived to be a good Klingon.” She nodded. “I believed there were right ways and wrong ways to be a Klingon.” He stopped. She waited. “It was never easy. For me -- to feel correct. I felt the judgment -- as you have seen -- that I am too human. I have felt that way myself.”
His strength was dimming. He would not be able to go on. Worf’s feelings hadn’t changed so Deanna knew they had not reached the root yet. “And?” She prompted, spurring him on. When Worf could not continue for himself, he would always find reserves for her.
He sighed and sat down next to her. “I was prepared,” he admitted, “to fight for you, to defend you.”
She had worried that today would be difficult, herself. She knew her father had not always had the best time on Betazoid. Deanna did not imagine that every Klingon occasion would be as welcoming as this one. This was one party, at the home of a friend, and Deanna was a novelty.
Worf’s voice lowered. “Did I underestimate my people? Or,” Worf’s worry crested, “did I not understand them?” He turned to her. “Was I judging myself incorrectly? If it was so easy for you, could it have been different for me?” He shook his head slowly. “These are questions for which I have no answers.”
His emotions were clearer now, not interfering with each other, which told her he was speaking to the core of his issue.
“No one expects me to be Klingon,” Deanna said gently. She meant that the standards for her were different; he couldn’t judge his own behaviour against what they would accept from an outsider.
“But you wanted them to.” He opened his mouth. She put out a hand to stop him. “You wanted them to judge me so you would know what it meant to be Klingon. If they had reacted as you predicted, it meant that you knew all of the rules and could be sure if you were following them.”
He bowed his head. “Yes.”
This was not as strange an emotion to feel as he seemed to think. It wasn’t welcome, and she hoped they would get past it, but it wasn’t unusual to want to feel proprietary about your own culture. Worf had fought for his place, and lost it, and now he felt jealous that Deanna was so easily able to step in. Throughout Betazoid history, many non-conformists had rejected the freedoms of the younger generations -- freedoms they had fought for -- because they could not bear the psychic strain of feeling how little they had to struggle. Empathy became a barrier, instead of a bridge. Her people had a name for such a phenomenon, and a reconciling chant, but Worf had no such practice to draw on.
“It was dishonourable of me to want something for myself and not for you.” He reached out and cupped her face with his hand, his fondness undiminished. “Will you help me atone?”
Deanna covered his hand with her own. “To yourself? For putting yourself under unreasonable pressure? Yes.” She pressed into his hand, thinking of the way he had listened to her counsel even when he was new to the Enterprise, even when it went against what his life so far had taught him. He had deferred to her judgement in her areas of expertise and never once diminished her insights. He had honestly acknowledged to both himself and her when his respect had become tinged with admiration, and he had come to her, emotions laid bare, as he had come to no other woman.
So while he was right to work to improve, she hoped he knew that she saw him as attentive and doting as any Daughter of the Fifth House could expect from her chosen partner. “But if you think you need to atone to me? Not today.”
He cracked open, love and affection and relief pouring into the space between them.
“You are very forgiving. I know I do not deserve it, not so easily.” His eyes were shining at her again, this time with determination.
“If it makes you feel any better,” she said, rubbing at his shoulder, “the Betazoid festival of renewal is coming up. It mostly involves bathing under waterfalls and fanning each other with woven reeds. You’re going to feel really out of place.” Little pops of humour mingled with Worf’s cocktail of relief and regret as his lips drew up into an involuntary smile.
“It sounds very challenging.”
“Oh yes,” she teased, “only a warrior of the greatest mental fortitude can handle the 24-hour long chant. We use telepathic signals to indicate when someone needs to take over so it never dies.”
Worf looked at her, contentment flecked with melancholy, all resentment and shame gone. “You speak as though you miss it.”
She sighed, settling more against him. “I do. But I joined Starfleet to experience other cultures.”
Deanna tracked that one as it settled into him. “I wanted to protect people.” She nodded. They’d talked about this already, him wanting to protect people like no one was able to protect his Klingon family.
It all resolved within Worf and his sparks of emotions coalesced into one coherent resolve. “I will do better by you, to protect you for any who do you harm.” He smiled at her. “Including myself.”
Deanna pulled him in by his arm and he went easily, all of his strength bent to her will as she drew him into a kiss.