The Age of Commencement
Worf stood with his hands behind his back and looked down at Alexander asleep on a Sickbay diagnostic bed. Although he knew his son couldn't hear him, he told Alexander sternly, "You were not prepared to die." But suddenly he again saw Alexander as he had been just that morning, bravely crying defiance at a creature he couldn't hope to defeat. And remembering how helpless he had felt, watching and too far away even to try to go to his aid, Worf admitted more softly, "Nor was I prepared for you to die."
The lieutenant pulled a chair to the side of the bed and sat down heavily, wondering if his own parents had ever experienced such feelings. Probably not—Worf had never stowed away on a Federation shuttlecraft on what should have been a routine mission to offer medical assistance to a new colony.
Alexander had probably heard Worf discussing the mission to Asered with Doctor Crusher and Doctor Selar—that they would need to take a shuttlecraft because the abundance of pyretimite on the planet's surface interfered with the transporter, that the med team would need a security officer because the planet had somewhat violent flora outside the confines of the colony proper—and Alexander had put this information together with the fact that at the same time that he was of the age to cry defiance at a threatening being, the Enterprise had too many safeguards for him to be in any real danger and he had determined how to put himself in harm's way.
Worf bent closer to Alexander and told him, "Now we will have the chance to talk. Of many things. And then you will know how to face death. I will also have you talk to Doctor Selar when she is well," he promised, seeing again in his mind's eye the Vulcan woman who had come to his son's aid. Selar was now lying in the next ward and Worf pointed out to his unconscious son, "She knows how to face death bravely and well."
"Worf!" His head snapped up at his name, called by a woman's voice—Doctor Crusher's, loud and breathless at the same time, as if it had taken all her strength to say one word—and not through his communicator. He turned and was halfway out of his seat, one hand going to his son protectively, when he heard again, "Worf, I need you—!" Worf left the room at a dead run, the hand that had just touched Alexander's arm in brief reassurance now going to the small phaser he always carried.
Doctor Crusher's face was as red as her hair as she hit Doctor Selar hard and then stepped back as Worf went to her side. "Worf, hit Selar," she gasped. "She's in a Vulcan healing—trance and the pain helps—her back to consciousness. Hit her hard," she emphasized when the Klingon hesitated.
Worf squared his shoulders, stepped in next to the bed and slapped the Vulcan.
"Harder," Selar rasped.
Worf's eyes widened, but he complied, putting his whole body behind the blow.
Worf hauled off and hit her again, and again, and again, and—
A surprisingly strong hand shot out and caught his wrist. "That will be sufficient," Selar said, her voice rough. She opened her eyes, widened them as she focused on Worf, who froze as he met Selar's clear gaze with his own. "I thank you for your assistance," she said, measuring each word as if afraid he wouldn't understand her full meaning.
Worf realized that this was the first time he had ever truly looked into Doctor Selar's eyes, that he saved his scrutiny for only his friends and enemies and had considered Doctor Selar neither. When they had first worked together, on the mission to Graves' World, Worf had noticed she held her chin down and lowered her gaze to talk to others instead of bending down, probably because she was taller than most humanoids. Her hooded eyes had held no invitation then, and he had dismissed her as unreadable. But now she was gazing at him in full, and he thought he saw something there almost familiar, as if he half-remembered a similar look. He hesitated before he answered her, "And I thank you. For the life of my son."
Selar nodded, accepting his thanks. "We will speak of this later." She took a deep breath. Her eyes flickered as she caught the movement of Crusher's red hair and she answered the doctor's unasked question, "In another twelve hours I will be ready to begin physical therapy."
Crusher nodded, smiled at the Vulcan. "We'll let you rest."
Selar's grip on Worf's wrist relaxed. "Your pulse is higher than normal," she noted, her voice matter-of-fact but her eyes showing the barest glint before they closed.
Worf, oddly, found himself amused, but the act of putting his arm back down at his side caused his customary frown to resurface. He looked at the long-fingered, delicate hand Doctor Crusher tucked back under the sheet with some surprise. He could swear his wrist was sprained.
The Human doctor sighed, then turned a grateful smile to Worf. "Thank you. I don't know what would have happened if you hadn't been in the next room." She moved away from the bed, talking as if in relief at the danger passed, and Worf followed her. "I don't know what I was thinking," she said, "except that it was too early or I would have had someone standing by to bring her out of trance. With all my equipment and all my training—it came down to a simple matter of strength." She massaged her upper arm with her hand.
"That is easily corrected with the proper training," Worf pointed out as he concentrated on keeping his wrist immobile, and remembered an impossibly fragile-looking Vulcan fearlessly and without hesitation defending his son. Hadn't he learned by now to look beyond appearances, to know strength behind a small frame, humor in the most serious of eyes—? "I can tailor an upper-body strengthening regimen for you, Doctor," Worf went on, his mind not on what he was saying, "a variation of the exercises and routines used by the women in Security first designed by—by Lieutenant Yar."
Worf actually stammered, he was so taken aback by how much emotion he felt after all this time. But hadn't Yar been in the back of his mind as he'd looked at Selar in the diagnostic bed, as he'd realized the Vulcan was teasing him about his pulse rate, as he'd relived how she'd saved his son's life? And Selar's eyes—light brown, as Yar's had been... He glanced quickly at Crusher to see if she'd noticed his hesitation and saw that her usually serious blue eyes had become absolutely withdrawn.
Crusher struggled against the memory of the futile attempts to revive Tasha Yar even after she knew with utter certainty that Yar was dead, of placing her hand hot with exertion on an already cool forehead, of the impersonal duty of an autopsy Doctor Selar had offered to perform but which Crusher had insisted on doing herself in order to grieve Yar and move on—and realizing at that very moment that she hadn't moved on at all. She managed to say hollowly, "I will seriously consider your offer, Lieutenant. When may I get back to you?"
"At your convenience."
After a pause Crusher asked in a more normal tone, "How is your son?"
"He appears to be resting well," Worf replied. "I need to discuss many things with him, so that he will understand that an action has—consequences."
"I'm not sure I understand what it is Alexander tried to do today. You called it 'The Age of Assertion'?"
"A better translation, perhaps, is the Age of Commencement," Worf explained, relaxing in the neutrality of strict information. "It is the first step a young Klingon takes on the path of the warrior. One does, indeed, assert oneself, one's independence, but the point is that there are many steps and this is the beginning. You have made your choice and you signal this by 'crying defiance' at some sort of physical threat." Worf continued with self-deprecation, "Alexander decided that the most suitable threat would be found on Asered."
Crusher nodded. "The path of the warrior—how many steps are—"
"It is a lifelong process. What the passing of each rite signals is that one has attained the next level. In a sense, one is always 'becoming,' which is a particularly powerful tenet of Klingon philosophy. There is always another level to attain, another aspect to the path chosen—all movement is forward, and the various Ages mark the forward movement so all will know."
"You know, I almost envy Klingons," Crusher admitted thoughtfully, to Worf's surprise. "You have such well-defined rites of passage—I sometimes think Wesley would have had an easier time of it if he'd been able to go through a rite, perform an action and then everyone would have had to acknowledge that he had attained this level of maturity or that level of authority..." Crusher looked away and said softly, "or that someone has died well and that grief is over."
Worf could think of nothing to say in answer. The doctor shook her hair back and nodded at Worf, and he turned to go. "Worf—" He stopped. "Is something wrong with your hand?" Before he could answer she pulled her tricorder out of her jacket pocket and did a quick scan. "Your wrist is sprained," Crusher said, puzzled, leading him to the table in the middle of the room and focusing a mediscanner on his wrist. "When did this happen? Isn't this the hand you used to hit Doctor Selar?"
"It is of no consequence," Worf said impassively.
"Worf," she said, concentrating on the scanner's changing readings, "isn't this the hand you used—"
"I did not injure myself when I hit Doctor Selar."
"Well, then when—"
"I believe Doctor Selar—when Doctor Selar stopped me from hitting her again—"
"She doesn't know her own strength," Crusher muttered, holding his wrist firmly as she ran an anabolic protoplaser over it. Worf sighed and submitted himself to the inevitable clucking. The Human doctor was so serious at times. "And you were just going to walk out of here like this, probably go on duty like this and—how many time do we have to have this conversation, Worf? You know that merely accepting the pain will not heal the injury, that there's no sense in not taking advantage of modern medicine, that it's false bravado..."
Worf gazed off into the middle distance until Crusher put the protoplaser away, did one final scan with her tricorder and wound down, "...and I don't want to make that an order, is that understood?"
"Yes, Commander," Worf emphasized. A smile quirked up the corner of Crusher's mouth, and Worf was pleased. He glanced at Doctor Selar resting peacefully. "She will be well?" he asked, unsure about Vulcan healing techniques.
"You heard her yourself. And Vulcans don't lie," Crusher told him, smiling.
Worf walked into Ten-Forward after checking on Alexander one last time. Commander Riker sat alone at a table near one of the viewports and Worf made his way towards him.
"Worf! How's Alexander?" Riker greeted the Klingon.
"He is well, and resting now."
"I looked in on him just before I came up here. He looks so innocent—I wouldn't be too hard on him."
"I wasn't planning to," Worf said, trying not to sound defensive. But Riker grinned at him anyway.
"And how are you doing?" the Human asked, looking at him with an evaluative eye. Worf merely looked back at him, and Riker nodded, seeing Worf wanted to talk but needed time. Worf ordered a drink and they sat in silence until the waiter brought the drink and left.
"I—thought of Tasha today," Worf began quietly. "And I was not prepared for how I felt when I remembered her again."
Riker shifted in his chair, acknowledged, "I don't think any of us are."
"If the subject makes you uncomfortable—"
Riker shook his head. "No, no, please—go on. That's something I have to deal with—me in command of that whole landing party, Armus and..." Riker threw back his drink, considered the empty glass and shook his head again. "Part of what I feel is colored by—the way she died, it was so sudden, so senseless."
Worf nodded. "It is difficult to contemplate a death that has no reason," he said in general. "But—understand." Worf leaned forward, said intently, "Before you and I became friends, I found in Tasha...a kindred spirit. I was only beginning to understand what that meant to me when she died. I—" Worf stopped, fearing he had exposed too much, but a nod from Riker was all the encouragement Worf needed to go on. "She was a fierce woman, very passionate. She was quick, and strong, and fearless. In her eyes I saw a warrior's heart, full of courage and delight. I felt a connection to her, but was not able to express it before she died. I feel—connected to you. You have the same qualities—behind your boldness, your intensity, are compassion and laughter."
Riker looked down at his glass and smiled. "Sounds odd, compassion and laughter." He searched for Worf's exact phrase, raised his glass in salute. "To kindred spirits..."
"K'Ehleyr, also, was a kindred spirit," Worf stated, his expression darkening for a moment. He grasped his drink, downed it swiftly. "You will forgive me for being angry with fate."
"No one has a better right." Riker signalled to a waiter for two more of the same. "Isn't that the way it goes, though. It's not as if one thing can happen to you and life lets you go at that, it has to bring back every other memory that—"
"I have found, though, that there are cycles, patterns, a reciprocation of events," Worf went on, wanting Riker to understand. "Lieutenant Yar died, and I was able to commemorate and carry on her legacy by assuming her post. K'Ehleyr died, but I have Alexander, and my family name. You—"
"I assure you, I have no intention of dying in the near future," Riker said wryly.
"I do not fear for you," Worf stated. "What I mean is that I can talk to you as I am now. This is a great consolation to me, and I trust you will do the same when it is necessary."
"You can count on it."
Again, Worf remained silent as their drinks arrived. Only when the server left did the Klingon say hesitantly, "There are—certain—feelings—" Worf barely kept himself from growling, the word sounded so soft, but he couldn't think of another way to phrase it. "—when I meet a person I feel I could—understand—"
"Who are you thinking of?" Riker asked, cutting to the heart of it.
"Doctor Selar." Riker's mouth twisted as if he was hiding a smile. "You are amused," Worf observed, his face darkening as he frowned into his glass.
"Well—" Riker took a hurried sip of his drink, then smoothed his face. "Okay. Tell me."
"Only if, afterwards, you will tell me."
"The—reciprocation of events, the cyclic pattern I was trying to explain—Alexander almost lost his life, but was saved by Doctor Selar. I do not know Doctor Selar well, I have only worked with her once before. Yet she acted without hesitation or thought of her personal safety in defense of my son. She possesses true honor and courage. I had the opportunity to thank her in Sickbay today, and when I looked into her eyes, I felt a...connection." Riker bit his lip and took another hurried sip. Worf said grimly, "Now you will tell me your thoughts."
Riker smiled openly. "Selar is Vulcan."
"You say this as if being Vulcan necessarily precludes being a kindred spirit."
"I'm pretty sure it does."
"Why do you say that?"
"Worf, believe me," Riker said, leaning across the table, his eyes full of amusement. "She's no warrior."
"Perhaps that is for her to say," Worf retorted, straightening away from Riker.
"Well. Looks like we don't agree and there's only one person who can settle it. When she's up and around, why don't you ask her?"
"Ask? It is action, action and—a sense of how things are with a person. My sense regarding my chosen friends is very good. Words do not prove anything."
"Oh, I think a Vulcan would disagree with you. And don't underestimate words. They can be very—stimulating."
"I see you are determined. Very well, I will ask her. And you will know her answer," Worf threatened, getting up and walking out. Riker kept his face carefully innocent until Worf was safely through the door, and then he relaxed in his chair and grinned to himself.
Guinan glided up beside Riker's table and sat down. "You look like—now let me think of the expression," Guinan teased him. "You look like the feline that—no, you look like cat that ingested—"
"The cat that ate the canary," Riker supplied.
"And why is that?"
"I just talked Worf into asking Doctor Selar for a date." Guinan's mouth quirked and she raised her eyebrows at him. "Pretty good, huh?" he asked.
"Sounds to me like you need a hobby," she told him. "Playing cupid with a Klingon and a Vulcan?"
"In an odd sort of way it makes sense. According to Worf, Selar has all the attributes of a warrior. And yet, you know, she's not. What's the difference?"
"And Worf's gone to find out."
"This should prove very interesting."
When Selar was released from Sickbay and able to resume her duties, Worf invited her to participate in the Klingon tea ceremony in his quarters.
"I thank you for the life of my son," Worf said formally at the conclusion of the ceremony. Selar bowed her head slightly in acknowledgement. Worf was struck by how much the Vulcan resembled the bhrihoq, a lily only native to the Klingon homeworld—tall, slim, deceptively delicate-looking. In tribute to her, he gave her his highest praise, "You have the heart of the true warrior."
"I am no warrior, Mister Worf," she contradicted easily. Her slender arms rested on the table as she leaned forward to place her cup in its holder but she didn't sit back. She fixed her clear-eyed gaze on him, looking up at him from lowered lids. "A Vulcan's life philosophy is one of peace and logic."
"A warrior," Worf persisted, unconsciously leaning forward in imitation of her, "has certain qualities. Physical strength. Mental acuity. Absolute bravery and courage in the face of a—difficult situation. Loyalty. Discernment."
"I have all these things." Her pale, thin fingers lined up the pattern on the cup with that on the holder and Worf recalled how those same fingers were not as frail as they seemed. "Yet I do not call myself a warrior, nor would anyone call any Vulcan a warrior," Selar went on.
He knew he saw it again, if for only an instant—a glint in her eyes, like a facet on a piece of highly polished stone. "When you saved Alexander's life, you were willing to give your life for him," Worf persisted, fascinated by the light in her eyes. "You accepted that fate stoically."
"I thank you. And you, also, would accept death stoically?"
"Yes. Even gladly, were it asked of my honor."
"Then you ask what the difference is between you and me, Mister Worf?" she wondered aloud. When he said nothing, she offered, "Is it perhaps—the need to triumph? To be right?"
"That is incorrect. A warrior knows his cause is right. Otherwise, there is no honor."
The Vulcan nodded. "Is it then—the willingness to take the offensive, to make the first move, even to provoke?"
"Not provoke. To be the first, yes, is always good. It is the position of advantage—action, not reaction. But you did not wait for danger to happen—you stepped in, deflected danger by provoking it in your direction. You did take the offensive."
"I did," she admitted. "I believe, then, the difference is emotion. My action in defense of your son was based on pure logic—a smaller, inexperienced being, menaced by a larger, deadly being. I was closest in range, had the requisite strength to dispatch it, and knew that the odds were in my favor that I would survive the encounter. Only then did I act."
"You imply that none of these thoughts would occur to a warrior. You are mistaken."
"I am not saying they would not occur. But what would be the very first thought? An emotional one. That is simply not the case with a Vulcan."
"Is that indeed our difference?"
Worf, having replayed again and again in his mind the events on Asered ever since their occurrence, persisted craftily, "But when you defended Alexander, I saw fire in your eyes. And there is fire—now."
"I regret the display of emotion," the doctor said, somehow sounding simultaneously contrite and not the least contrite. "But do not think logic has deserted me even now. My being here is an instance of logic. You thank me, invite me to participate in this ceremony, out of impulse, emotion. I accept only after I consider calmly all sides of the question."
"I have spent much time with your son as we went through rehabilitation. We have spoken of many things, including the Age of Commencement and the path of the warrior. I feel there are some parallels between Klingon and Vulcan philosophy, and that I find myself at my own Age of Commencement. I have chosen my path.
"I find I like your son very much," she stated simply. "And you—strong, acute, brave, loyal, discerning, holding fire and stoicism inside you—I find you very attractive."
Worf, briefly, was stunned. But he came back with, "A warrior, also, must be able to laugh. And we have been baiting each other."
She looked deep into his eyes, and he knew now what he saw there. He saw Tasha Yar, pleased and shy when he'd told her he'd bet on her in the martial arts competition, "a sure thing." He saw Will Riker sternly hiding a smile at the same time that he was grateful Worf was also rescuing Soren. He saw K'Ehleyr asking for a bite on the cheek...and he knew his own path was unfolding before him.
Selar told him softly, "I do not laugh now."
Worf allowed himself a fierce, inward grin. His eyes glowed. "Nor do I."
Riker called, "Enter," as his door chimed. He looked up from his computer screen at Worf standing in the doorway. "Mister Worf. Good evening," he said, gesturing for the Klingon to sit.
"You are correct," Worf told Riker without preamble.
"Yes. Words are very stimulating. And so is Doctor Selar."
Worf turned on his heel and the door closed smartly behind him and on Riker's "Worf?" Then Riker bellowed after the lieutenant, "Worf! WAIT!"
Worf, smothering a grin, kept walking.