Into The Darkness

By: Amanda



It only rained once a year on the planet Risa; a fact of which Deanna Troi was painfully aware. Years ago, in what seemed like another lifetime, she had been witness to one of the infamous Risian torrents. The storm had left her stranded on the planet, her transport unable to land and carry her away from the pain that she found there in the place of the bliss she had been seeking.

And now she stared out the window of the conference lounge at the swirling mass of clouds covering the surface. That self-same storm was once again an impediment to her mission. Only this time the mission was to get there, not to get away.

Deanna, only peripherally aware of what the Captain was saying, looked over at the man seated next to her. Will had always promised that he would take her to Risa someday. She had never dreamed that they would be here like this.

She glanced down at the mission notes on the PADD in her hand. The information was sparse, incomplete, and unconfirmed. The only clear truth was that a small band of terrorists, fugitives from Cardassian justice, had taken several vacationers prisoner and then holed themselves up somewhere on the planet's surface. They were demanding Federation protection from the Cardassians.

And so the Enterprise had been sent to hear their demands; to negotiate the release of the hostages; to buy the Federation time while the powers that be figured out some way to end the standoff, which had now lasted for over a week. But if they were going to negotiate with them, they were going to have to find them first. And that was Commander Riker's job.

"Captain, I know I could get a shuttle through that," Riker insisted, as the voices in the room began to rise.

"Will," Deanna interjected. His was the first full sentence she had fully comprehended since the meeting had commenced, and she silently congratulated herself on picking the right time to pay attention. "Will, the storms on Risa aren't like storms anywhere else."

"She's right, Will," Beverly added, "The weather system on Risa acts very oddly. These clouds never fully dissipate. They just continue to build strength and collect moisture throughout the planet's revolution, until, once a year, they burst open in torrential rains, electrical storms, and hurricane force winds. You'd be a fool to try and get a shuttlecraft through that." Deanna nodded at Beverly. She then turned to Will and shot him her tight-lipped, 'I-told-you-so' grin. Her expression immediately fell when he looked back at her. He was wearing his 'resolved' face. She made a slight gesture of throwing her hands in the air and leaned back in her chair with the full knowledge that she had already lost this one and it was probably best to save her energy.

"I've flown through worse," was Will's only word in reply as he got up out of his seat, convinced that the conversation was over.

"Very well, number one," Captain Picard relented. He, too had learned Will's 'resolved' face and that it would do him very little good to argue. "Assemble your away team for launch in... one hour. Dismissed." Everyone at the table spun around in their respective chairs and began to leave the room. Deanna, who had been caught up in her own memories and tribulations, noticed that Beverly was moving a little slower than the rest. In fact, Deanna noticed, she looked positively dismayed.

"Beverly," Deanna asked her friend as she approached," Is everything alright?" Beverly shook her head slowly as she finally made it up out of her chair. Deanna put her arm around her friend and asked, "What's the matter?"

"It's Lieutenant Pearson," Beverly answered. "Two days ago she came into sickbay complaining of fatigue and headaches. I scanned her, and everything looked normal. We both thought it must have been a reaction to the unusual concentrations of nitrous oxide on Heidevan 6. I thought it odd that none of the other team members were having any reaction, but I didn't think it was anything to be concerned about. But, this morning, she canceled our breakfast plans because she still wasn't feeling well. I made her come into sickbay for a more thorough scan. I still didn't find anything unusual, but she lost consciousness twice while we were trying to conduct the exam."

Deanna shook her head. This was definitely some cause for concern. In the eight months since Lieutenant Amanda Pearson had come aboard the Enterprise, she and Beverly had become very close. Having learned of the young lieutenant's nearly three-year relationship with her son at the Academy, Beverly had taken quite an interest in the girl; even canceling two breakfast dates a week with the Captain in order for the two of them to spend time together.

"And she's still lying in sickbay," Beverly continued. "And I still have no idea what's the matter with her." The two women stepped into the turbolift. As the doors swished shut, Beverly directed it to "sickbay."

"Deck eight," Deanna added. She had some concerns of her own to tend to.

"I just wish you wouldn't do this, Will," Deanna implored. She was sitting on the couch in his quarters, wringing her hands in her lap, "Weren't you listening to what everyone was saying? The storm cell is so intense that it's not safe to use transporters, so you decide that you can fly a shuttle through it?"

"You don't think I can do it," he challenged, turning to face her with a less than pleasant expression. "You don't think I can get us down there safely."

"That's not the point, Will,"

"No, that's precisely the point, Deanna," he countered , "If you had any confidence in me at all, you'd be here wishing me well, not trying to stop me from doing what we both know has to be done,"


"No, Deanna, don't. I can't believe you don't think I can pilot a shuttle through a thunderstorm." He actually sounded angry. Deanna did not like the direction in which this conversation had turned; this was quickly becoming a fight. The first fight they'd had since their decision to become a couple again. "There are hostages down there," he continued, "And I refuse to sit up here and endanger their lives further because of some damned rainstorm."

"What about your life?" Deanna shouted, "And the lives of your team? This is not just some thunderstorm, Will. You've never seen a Risian storm before, you have no idea what you're dealing with."

"Oh, and you have?" Her breath caught in her throat at his angered question. She answered him simply, she only needed two words,

"Yes- once," she replied, her voice very quiet and beginning to quake. Will was almost certain he knew when she was referring to. After all, he had never known her to return to Risa after... after.... He couldn't think about that right now. He had a mission to accomplish, and he was going to do it. Damn Deanna Troi or anyone else who would get in his way. He ran his fingers through his hair in his signature gesture of frustration. He was not about to stay here and fight with her when there was work to be done. He looked at her as he strode towards the door,

"If you'll excuse me, Counselor," he said to her coolly, "I have a shuttle to launch." He turned on his heel and walked out the door.

"Imzadi..." Her mind called after him. There was no reply.


"Inertial dampeners failing sir!" yelled the frantic voice of ensign Stewart from his post at the shuttle's ops station. The shuttle was hurtling toward the surface of Risa at an alarming rate, and was totally and completely out of control. A cacophony of automatic alarms sounded over the startled and panicked cries of the shuttle passengers, only adding to their terror. Lightning flashed and popped right outside their windows and deafening thunder claps punctuated the maelstrom.

"Switch to manual control," ordered a harried Commander Riker who was trying his damndest to get the navigational systems back online. Deanna had been right, Will thought silently, this was no ordinary thunderstorm they were flying through; but he was determined to get to the surface. And anyway, it would be much easier to come down, he rationalized, than to try to go up again. He kept at his task, pounding his fingers into the lighted panel before him. It was no use.

"Manual controls not responding!" Stewart shouted back to him. "Attempting to re-route power now sir." The shuttle was listing precariously from side to side as it shook, violently, tossing it's occupants around like so many kernels in an old-time popcorn popper. "Auxiliary power control off line," Stewart called to the Commander.

"Adjusting attitude controls," Riker called back to him, "I'm attempting to slow our descent."

"Controls not responding sir! Maneuvering thrusters are off-line!" Riker could see the planet's surface rushing up to meet them.

"All hands brace for impact!" Riker yelled, "All hands brace for impact!"

Aboard the Enterprise, Deanna Troi sat bolt upright, and had to work to catch her breath. She had lay down right where she had been sitting before Will left. Where she had been sitting when they had fought; when he had accused her of not believing in him. She had been trying since he walked out the door, trying for the past half an hour, to send him her apologies. She hadn't been able to reach him. And suddenly, at this moment, she realized just what had caught her so off guard, what had caused her breach in concentration. She realized she couldn't sense him at all.

She stood up, only to discover that her whole body was shaking. It didn't even occur to her to call anyone over the com system. She had to get to the bridge. By shear force of will, she put one foot in front of the other. Three steps down the hall and she found herself running- racing toward the bridge- toward the one place where they may have news of Will; news of the shuttle she had begged him not to take- the shuttle that had caused their first fight in over a decade- the shuttle which, she was sure, had just crashed.

Deanna reached the turbolift and loudly directed it to the main bridge. She tapped her foot nervously as the turbolift moved toward its destination. Why had she never before noticed that they were so damned slow? She began pacing back and forth across the turbolift's small diameter, and was so intent on it that she did not immediately notice when the doors opened to the bridge. When she did notice, she practically leapt out of the forward port and into the midle of command central. Captain Picard was standing there, his face glowering at the storm clouds taking up the main viewer. Deanna had to consciously compose herself before asking,

"Anything from the shuttle Captain?" Captain Picard shook his head, confirming what Deanna already knew in her heart. He turned and went back to his seat, giving a reverent glance to the chair on his right. Deanna followed him. She slumped down in her seat as the Captain ordered,

"Mr. Data, report."

"Our sensors have been unable to penetrate the electromagnetic field generated by the thunderstorm, sir. We are currently narrowing sensor bandwidth in an attempt to scan for the shuttle crew's com signals. We have thus far been unsuccessful."

Deanna closed her eyes and swallowed hard. She purposefully slowed her breathing and tried to center herself. She focused every ounce of energy she could muster and opened her mind. She had had an unusually keen sense of Will lately, a fact she attributed to the revival of their long-dormant romance . She could not have imagined what it would feel like to have no sense at all of him- and yet, here she was; unable to detect his very existence no matter how hard she concentrated. Deanna was becoming increasingly aware that she was terrified.

"Counselor?" The Captain's voice yanked her away from her mental searching. Deanna tried her best to shake off the chill that had overtaken her as she turned to the Captain. He could tell that she had not heard a thing he had just said. "Counselor," he began again, "Are you able to sense anything, anything at all from them." Deanna shook her head. She was afraid to answer him; afraid that saying it aloud would somehow make it more true. She had to call on all of her inner strength to voice the one word that terrified her the most,

"Nothing," she finally whispered. She could feel herself becoming enveloped in an abiding emptiness that she was powerless to fend off. Without even excusing herself, she got up from her seat and left the bridge.

She headed first toward Will's quarters, but quickly changed her mind. She was averse to the thought of being alone with the fear and emptiness that were beginning to overwhelm her. And she was not about to accept what her heart was telling her. He could very well be purposely shielding his mind from her. He certainly knew how. And they had just fought. He was undoubtedly still agitated from the spat. No one Deanna had ever met had been able to hold a grudge quite like Will Riker.

She just hated the whole situation. Here she was, the trained psychologist, without a single of her wits about her. She was petrified with fear and uncertainty. And the one person in the entire universe who could have been a comfort to her- was not there. Will was not there; and that was what scared her. Unable to put herself together, she decided to seek the only solace she could think of, the comfort and companionship of her best girl friend on the ship. She ordered the turbolift to sickbay.

When Deanna turned he corner into the Beverly's office, she found the doctor engrossed in whatever was displayed on the computer station in front of her. Beverly sat forward in her chair, one foot up on the seat, with her hands clasped around her knee. Her brow was crinkled and she was chewing on her lower lip.

"Beverly," Deanna called, "Is everything okay?" Beverly nodded, but then stopped.

"Not really," she confessed. "I still can't figure out what's the matter with Amanda. We've hit her with every scanner we have, and we still can't find anything wrong. I don't understand it. She's passed out in the next room, but our scanners tell us there is nothing out of the ordinary. I'm having a level one diagnostic run on all sickbay equipment, maybe then we'll find what's wrong." Deanna nodded and feigned a smile.

"I'm sure," Deanna told her friend. She was truly concerned about lieutenant Pearson, as well as Beverly's state of mind, but she had her own problems to deal with. "Are you up for a break?" the counselor suggested, "I could use a little chocolate and girl talk."

Beverly smiled at Deanna as she leapt from her chair. It had been her experience that when Deanna suggested chocolate and girl talk, she had something very pressing on her mind. The two women linked arms as they walked out of the office and toward dessert.


Deanna wished vehemently that her quarters had curtains. Before she had joined Starfleet, all of the windows in her life had curtains. Like the big, plush ones in vibrant, exotic colors that seemed to actually brighten the enormous rooms of the Troi mansion on Betazed, or the pale, subdued ones in the Betazed Museum of Art that became a work of art in themselves as their colors danced in the wind . Her own room had purple curtains, sheer ones of the most delicate lavender, flanked on either side by a rich violet brocade and topped off with an ornate valance. Deanna had never missed those damned curtains so much in her entire life.

The Enterprise was hovering above Risa in an orbit synchronous with the last known coordinates of the lost shuttlecraft. Outside every window, Deanna could see the swirling tempest that had taken over the planet beneath them; the storm that had taken her imzadi from her, the storm that was keeping her from going after him. And how she wished she could go after him. She was sure now that something had to have gone wrong. Will may have left angry with her, but he would never have been so cruel as to guard himself from her for this long when he knew she was concerned for his safety. He would have opened his mind to her by now if only to say 'I told you so.' But he hadn't. She still could get no sense of him at all. And it troubled her deeply.

And so she couldn't sleep. In fact, she had given up sleeping this night long before she had actually returned to her quarters to try. Deanna had known instinctively that she would not be able to sleep.

She couldn't even bring herself to shut her eyes- for when she did, grizzly images began to intrude upon her thoughts. Deanna put her hands to the glass of her bedroom window. She stared down at the gyrating torrent that stood between her and the planet's surface, and made yet another futile attempt to reach Will.

She concentrated so hard on him that her head began to ache, "imzadi..." she sent him, incessantly. But she knew it was no use. She was so tense that she doubted she was even able to achieve the requisite relaxation level to thought-cast at all. And she was certain that Will was under enough stress that he would have had trouble receiving her. She knew in her heart that all she could do was stare out the window, into the darkness, and wait.

Various and overlapping moans and groans broke through the brief silence in the shuttle. Everyone suddenly realized that they were alive. They had, in fact, survived; largely due to Commander Riker's quick re-booting of the shuttle's navigational thrusters, which had given them attitude control for just long enough to stabilize their descent before the system went off-line again. "And Deanna thought I couldn't land this thing," he whispered to himself- more out of self-deprecating sarcasm than out of pride that he actually had managed to land. If you could call it a landing. Will Riker had a feeling that those who had accompanied him in the shuttle would choose to call it a crash.

Okay, so maybe it was a crash. But they had all survived it, and they were going to find the hostages, and by the time the storm cleared and the Enterprise crew could come looking for them, their mission will be accomplished. That is what Will Riker decided. That was how it was going to be. There was only one problem... Will Riker couldn't seem to stand up.

He realized that he had knocked the wind completely out of himself and hadn't actually taken a moment to catch his breath. It was for this reason that, when he attempted to stand, his body protested so heartily. He sat back and took several deep breaths. "Is everyone alright?" he called after a moment. A chorus of moans answered him in the affirmative. They certainly didn't sound alright, but Will Riker was willing to take his crew at their word. He tried to stand up again.

The staunch argument his body had put up just minutes earlier had ceased and he stood with relative ease. That is, the relative ease that a man of his stature always experienced when attempting to stand in such a low overhead. Will silently wondered why no one had thought to make these damned things any bigger. He would have to register his complaint with Starfleet another time- right now he had more important things to deal with.

The wind kicked up and blew freezing raindrops through the grapefruit-sized hole in the windshield that Riker, until that moment, had not noticed. He looked slowly around the dilapidated shuttle, less to survey damage than to give himself an opportunity to think out his next move. He spotted his tricorder where it had come to rest underneath the navigational station. He bent down to retrieve it. That was when Will Riker began to become fully aware of the beating he had just taken compliments of a shuttlecraft and a thunderstorm. Will thought to himself that, once this whole ordeal was over, he would have to take the time to get a proper massage. After all, they were on Risa.

Risa, however, was going to have to wait. Although Will silently saluted these terrorists for their choice of location, their timing couldn't have been worse. Risian storm cells were notorious throughout the universe. Luckily for the Risians, they were easily predictable, churning up unusual winds and high surf for days before they arrived, giving the planet's inhabitants plenty of time to evacuate. Unfortunately, many vacationers had not been given that opportunity on this particular occasion. The band of terrorists had arrived right along with the transport ships that were to evacuate the populace. They had swooped down from the sky and taken a number of the unsuspecting tourists by complete surprise- herding them at gunpoint onto their ship and into the caves outside the main city.

The storm had been a stroke of luck for the terrorists, or at least that was the best Riker could figure. He was almost certain that nobody, terrorist or otherwise, would actually choose to be on Risa during a storm. The fact that every single occupant of the planet chose to leave during the torrential rain was a good indicator of that. But then, Riker realized that desperate men sometimes took desperate measures. And remaining in the Risian caves during the yearly downpour was a desperate move to say the least. The caves were prone to flooding, and often times would be filled with water completely by the time the storm finally subsided. The hostages were definitely in jeopardy.

And no one knew how many hostages there were. The more conservative estimates were around ten or eleven, where the largest speculation had been nearly twenty-five. And as for the number of terrorists, it was anybody's guess. Their ship had been abandoned, that was known for certain, as was the fact that they must have taken the hostages to the caves outside of the city, because the resort complex was locked tight and the hosts would have been notified by a wind alarm if the shielding had been compromised. The Risian consulate had assured the Enterprise crew that it had not. The caves offered the only other plausible shelter on te planet. And so the caves were where Will Riker intended to go.

And go he would, he decided. He had come too far and risked too much already not to try. And besides, he said to himself, there was no getting off of the planet until the storm subsided, and he was much better disposed to trying to accomplish something than to sitting quietly and waiting for rescue. He assembled all of the shuttle's occupants at just inside the rear door, which, he noticed, had been bent ajar and was allowing enough rain in to form a small puddle on the floor.

"Anyone who wants to stay with the shuttle can stay," he offered his crew, "I don't particularly like the way it looks out there, either. But the way I see it, we're stuck here, at least for the time being. And I for one am not just going to sit here and listen to the rain fall when I know there are hostages just a few hundred kilometers away that need my help. Who's with me?" Every single member of the tiny crew acknowledged his invitation. Will Riker was by nature a leader, and it never showed so much as times like this- desperate situations when he could manage to light a fire under a crew so strong that they would risk their very lives in order to serve with him. He smiled as the crewmen gathered the necessary items for their journey into the caves.


Will wasn't sure at all if his tricorder was functioning properly. What the screen showed to be a few hundred kilometers, many of them underground once they reached the caves, could have just as well been thousands. The crew had been walking for hours and hours, and there was no foreseeable end to their trek Commander Riker hadn't been prepared for this excursion in the least. The terrain was rocky, not at all like the places on Risa Will Riker was familiar with. The wind had immediately become a formidable obstacle, making every step an incredible effort, and it blew raindrops at them so hard that Will was convinced they would leave bruises on any exposed skin. The rocks beneath their feet were slippery with the moss that grew there over the rest of the year; moss that was being washed and swept away beneath their very feet.

Will could tell that they were in a forest of some kind. At least, what had been a forest until the wind kicked up a few days ago. Remnants of yearling trees lay strewn about their path, making their steps that much more precarious. The stinging rain bit into Will's eyes as he tried to study the terrain before him just as the bitter cold was cutting into his resolve. He just had to get them to the entrance of the caves, at least then they would have some shelter from the blinding torrent. His driving force had become reaching those damned caves.

But what he wanted more than anything, what he wished for with his very soul, was to be home. Home; back aboard the Enterprise, warm in his bed with his arms wrapped so tightly around Deanna that she couldn't breathe. It was this thought, and not that of the caves' relative safety, that kept him going, kept him from collapsing right where he stood and allowing the deluge to overtake him. He wanted to get home to Deanna. He honestly wasn't sure himself how long 'home' for him had meant wherever she was, but the fact hit him like the proverbial ton of bricks as he slowly closed the distance between himself and the elusive caves on Risa. Home wasn't some starship, or the stars themselves, it wasn't a house, or a town, or some elusive desire so many people seemed to have. Home truly was where the heart is. And right now, quit possibly more than ever before, Will Riker knew that his heart was with Deanna Troi.

He felt a tangible pang of guilt when he wished she were there with him. As much as part of him wanted her there, to see, to sense, to know that she had a comforting word... he was decidedly glad she wasn't. To ask her to put her life in danger for no better reason than so that he could be close to her... well, that was very selfish of him. And he thought of how close he had been to asking her to come along. He really had wanted her to be here. Her empathic skills were second to none in locating people who were either lost or hiding, particularly when the range of the more high-tech sensors was limited. She would have been a great help in guiding them through the hundreds upon hundreds of kilometers of poorly-mapped caves they were about to delve into. But she hadn't wanted the mission to proceed at all, much less to be part of it. He remembered in disgust how, in the name of his own stupid pride, he had been so nasty to her. He could only hope that she understood and would forgive him. He was sure that was the case, after all, she often understood him better than he did himself. And he had to believe that she would forgive him- if he was going to survive. And dammit, survive he would, if only to make it up to her... to make up for every nasty or selfish, or just downright stupid thing he had ever done that had ever upset her. He reckoned that it would take him about forty years or so to accomplish this, a fact that strengthened his resolve even more.

"Just over this next ridge, Commander," called a feminine voice from behind him, "My tricorder's picking up a break in the surface, it could be the entrance to the caves." Will's head perked up a bit, and he quickened his pace slightly, all the while thanking any deity that cared to listen for their having made it this far.

"I don't understand it!" Beverly Crusher cried in disgust, "The equipment is working precisely as it should be, I am picking up absolutely no physiological abnormalities, and yet- I have a comatose patient. This just doesn't make sense." The doctor was obviously rattled, so much so that Dr. Selar had insisted on performing the most recent examination of Lieutenant Pearson herself. Selar had to admit, however, that she was no less miffed than her CMO over the young woman's condition. What Beverly was stating, although much louder than Selar would have chosen to, was the absolute truth.

"It defies logic," Selar confirmed. Beverly had put her hands on the biobed where Amanda Pearson lay unconscious, and drooped her head between her arms.

"How very Vulcan of you," Beverly told her colleague, with just enough annoyance in her voice that the Vulcan doctor would be sure to notice., "But I'm aware of just how 'illogical' this whole thing is, that's why it's so unsettling!" Beverly was quickly losing patience, as well as abandoning any manner of professional decorum. Selar examined the situation with a distance and clarity of thought that only a Vulcan could.

"Doctor, may I suggest," she began. Beverly looked her in the eye,

"Anything," she implored. Selar continued,

"If the scanners are running as they should, and we have effectively scanned her for every known viral, bacterial, genetic, infectious, toxic, and degenerative agent known to the Federation- perhaps it is time to search for things unknown."

"Right," Beverly drew this word out as though it were a great epiphany. "We can't tell what's wrong with her, because we've never seen it before- since we've never seen it, we don't know how to scan for it." Beverly stood to her full height and snapped into action. "Selar," she addressed her colleague first, "I 'll need you to draw a sample of the lieutenant's blood for analysis. I'm going to have to figure out exactly what is happening to her if I'm ever going to find out what's causing it or how to treat it." Beverly looked down at the unconscious girl, "Just hang on, Amanda," she whispered to her, "I'm going to get to the bottom of this."

Will would have called this painting "goopy". Deanna almost laughed out loud, remembering the charming, boyish young Lieutenant she had taken with her to the Betazed art museum so many years earlier. She wished he were with her now.

As it was, she stood alone, staring into the holodeck's very respectable recreation of the painting she and Will had stared at for hours. She remembered him telling her that the painting did not move him. She had never fully understood this, for this painting had always danced for her in her mind. Until now. This time when she gazed upon it's bright swirls of red, Deanna Troi saw nothing but paint and canvas.

She had come here to try and quiet the unsettling feelings that had owned her for the last twenty-four hours. But she could find no solace. What was the old expression, 'no matter where you go... there you are'? Deanna felt as though she were the living embodiment of that old cliche at this moment. She could not run away from herself. Even when she retreated to one of her favorite places, and to the deepest recesses of her mind, she could not relieve herself of her inner turmoil.

They had still not heard from the away team. The storm clouds continued to swirl as the wind and rain buffeted the planet's surface. And she still couldn't get a sense of Will. She had come here, to the holodeck, to the museum, to try and regain some vestige of mental clarity, so that maybe she would regain the plurality of her empathic sense that had left her. Deanna was aware that her empathic sense as a whole was being effected by her emotional crisis. If she had been only peripherally aware before, she was blind-sided by her lack of sensation during a counseling session with ensign Mari that morning. Her next appointment had come to the door and she hadn't the slightest idea until the doors themselves opened. Deanna maintained a special bond with her patients, and was normally capable of sensing their emotions several decks away. The fact that she had not sensed a patient at all as he had approached, put Deanna on alert that her senses were not functioning properly.

And so she had come here to center herself. Deanna had never felt so off-center in her entire life. Her only comfort was that she was becoming increasingly convinced that her inability to get a sense of Will was more likely due to her own mental chaos, than anything ill having befallen him.

Still... if only there were some word....


Commander Riker and his fellow crew members ducked inside the welcome shelter of the Risian caves. He wagered none of them had ever been so happy to see a cave in their lives. He sure hadn't. Will realized almost immediately that he was up to his ankles in muddy water, and he realized at that same instant that he didn't care. The rain no longer pelted his face, or stung his eyes, and the wind had much less of a bite when it had to reach him through walls of heavy rock.

The rock walls of the cave were oozing with condensed moisture, the mossy plants that clung there made a squishing noise as Riker leaned himself against them. He wished wholeheartedly that there were somepleace dry ahead; a place where they could warm the dry rocks with their phasers, and get warm and dry themselves. He knew this was a feudal fantasy, though. Caves, by nature, were formed by water. Riker knew that all he had to look forward to was more of the same. Still, it was better than being out there.

Riker pointed his tricorder into the darkness of the caves. His only flicker of hope lay in a tiny bleep, that could have been a life-sign reading. It was a hundred or so kilometers to the east of their position and Riker was certain that there was not going to be a direct route. He decided to share his findings with his cremates.

"My tricorder is picking up an energy reading about a hundred kilometers in that direction," he pointed down the long shaft of the cave.

"Life signs, sir?" asked a shivering ensign nearer the entrance to the cavern. Riker nodded,

"Could be. And I , for one, would rather find out what's down there than just sit here." Riker informed them. Everyone nodded in agreement. Each crewman pulled out his emergency light as they trudged through the quagmire in search of whatever their tricorders brought them.

Beverly was on the verge of tearing her hair out. She couldn't remember a time in her life when she had been so frustrated. She had been up most of the night pouring over her notes and her theories as to what could possibly be happening to Lieutenant Pearson. She had, at least, spent the night in her quarters, as she had learned long ago that spending the night in her office in sickbay got her reprimanded by the entire night shift. She ambled into her office that morning with the intention of picking up right where she had left off.

And then she saw Dr. Selar, who looked at her in a way that no Vulcan had perhaps ever looked. Selar knew something. Something was horribly wrong, and Beverly was about to hear it. She backed up against her desk ad waited for Dr. Selar to close the distance between them. When the Vulcan woman reached the doorway, she was business as usual. Her momentary un-Vulcan-like expression was now completely absent from her face; as was all expression, she was once again, being totally Vulcan. Beverly could not stand her expressionlessness for another instant,

"What is it?" her harried voice demanded. Selar handed the CMO the PADD she had been carrying as she began to explain,

"Although we have not yet been able to isolate the agent responsible, we have discovered the nature of the damage being done to Lieutenant Pearson. The infectious agent has infiltrated nearly every system in her body, affecting her on the sub-atomic level. There are no agents known to Federation medical science which would affect a human body in such a way."

"Well, there must be something causing it!" Beverly exclaimed. She stood straight up and shook her head, "I'll work on figuring out the cause, what I need for you to tell me is- can we treat it?"

"I have begun to administer a steroid-type drug that will fortify her system against the attack. But, regretfully, unless we can isolate and counteract the cause- Lieutenant Pearson will die." Beverly felt hot tears springing to her eyes. She was not about to let that happen.

"How long do you think we have?" Beverly asked her colleague in desperation.

"Hours," Selar replied coolly. "Days, perhaps, but not a very long time. We must isolate the cause."

"You're damned right we must," Beverly agreed. "Have the Academy interns and our infectious disease specialist working on this. I'll be in to check on everything in a minute."

Deanna Troi could not believe the sight that met her eyes. She knew intellectually that she was looking at her own reflection, but she barely recognized the face in the mirror. Her eyes had puffy, dark circles beneath them, and her complection had turned positively ashen. Her whole body was shaking, as if some outside force was causing her to shiver. She felt a blast of cold run through her very soul.

"Will..." Her heart was pounding in her ears. Her eyes were cloudy, but her mind... her mind was beginning to awaken. Or maybe it wasn't awakening at all. Her sensations were more basic than that. Cold. Fear. Cold... Will. She was sure that whatever this cacaphony of emotion in her head was supposed to mean, it was most definitely coming from him.

"Computer," she cried as loudly and hastily as she could, "Cancel all my appointments for today... cancel everything!" She stumbled back over to her bed and collapsed on top of the covers. She pulled a pillow to where an ache had begun to build in the pit of her stomach. She allowed her tears to flow freely, secure in the knowledge that no one would know.

She opened her mind as well as she could and tried to reach out to her imzadi. The only sensations she was able to receive were base, unconscious, and painful, but she didn't care. If Will was in pain, she would be in pain right along with him. She shook uncontrollably, a biting cold enveloping her as she lay there. She was scared to death.

"Imzadi," her mind called out to him, "I'm sorry..."


Amanda Pearson awoke slowly. She peered through tired and cloudy eyes at the unfamiliar surroundings. A series of blips, clicks, and beeps met her ears. The fog over her brain began to clear and she rationalized that she must be in sickbay. She reached for her communicator to summon Dr. Crusher and found it had been removed. Seconds later, she found that she didn't really need it.

The doors to the tiny room swished open and Beverly walked in. Amanda smiled slightly as Beverly walked over to her. "So how bad is it doc?" Amanda asked, trying in vain to leaven the moment. Beverly just shook her head as she tried to fight back the tears that were fast coming to the surface. "Tell me," Amanda implored in as strong a tone as she could muster, "please. I want to know." Beverly nodded. There was no use in keeping the truth from her. It wasn't as if shielding her from the knowledge of what was coming would somehow protect her from its inevitability.

"It's not good," the misty-eyed doctor admitted. "We don't know what it is yet, but there's something attacking every system in your body, at the sub-atomic level. I've got half my staff working to isolate the cause so we can formulate a treatment. But until we do... I mean, unless we can..."

"I'm going to die," Amanda surmised, blinking back her own tears. Beverly could only nod by way of an answer. "Wesley..." Amanda whispered. Beverly took her hand and said,

"I'll do my best to get in touch with him, but I'm really not sure how."

"I know," Amanda assured her. Beverly started toward the door,

"Rest now. I'll come back to check on you soon." Amanda smiled back at her and closed her eyes.

"Commander, over here," the voice of one of the crewmen echoed through the cavern. It was the most enthusiastic utterance any of them had made in hours. They had been making steady progress. The ground, though still slick, had fewer and fewer occurrences of standing water as the team moved along, and was free of extraneous debris and obstacles. The team had also been pleasantly surprised to find that the caves were geo-thermal, and their warmth was a welcome contrast to the bitter cold of the storm outside. And the tricorder readings had gotten much stronger. The team could be almost certain that they were hot on the trail of the terrorists. A fact that served to fortify them as they trudged ahead into the murky darkness.

The stagnant air was thick and heavy with moisture. The dank recesses of the cave were musty and tight and smelled of something unpleasant that Riker couldn't quite put his finger on. Despite the welcome change in temperature, the crew had given up hope of ever getting completely dry. The abiding humidity of the steamy cave was causing sweat to bead up on Riker's forehead. He was actively wishing for a hot shower and a fluffy towel when his crewman made the declaration,

"I think I've found them." The small team all huddled around Ensign Cross, the young man who had been keeping track of the life sign readings. They all scrambled for position to get a view of the tricorder's tiny display screen as it was held in the Ensign's hand, and were all disappointed in losing their vantage point when Cross obediently handed the instrument to his commanding officer for inspection. "Sir, according to the limited maps we have, this tunnel only goes on for another hundred meters or so and then stops. According to this," he gestured to the information on the tricorder screen, "The people we're looking for are just on the other side of this wall." Another crewman moved to the wall and scanned it with his beeping tricorder.

"Commander," the crewman began, "This wall is nearly a meter thick. Our phasers might be able to cut through it, but I couldn't guarantee the cavern wouldn't collapse. And It would most definitely warn the terrorists that we were here." Riker nodded his head as he considered his options. He glanced over at Lieutenant Crawford, the geological expert Captain Picard had insisted accompany this mission, and also the team's only female member. She had discovered a tiny trickle of water running down the cave wall a few steps further into the cave.

"Commander," Crawford called, "Over here. The water has eroded this wall significantly. It's only forty or fifty centimeters thick here. We should be able to cut through it without much trouble, and without compromising the integrity of the cave." Riker silently chided himself for arguing with the Captain about bringing her along. He looked at her and nodded.

"Cross, Crawford," he began. He was obviously in take-command mode and the entire team could tell simply by the tone of his voice. "Give us a door. Everyone else; phasers on heavy stun. We don't know what we're going to find in there."

The doorchime rang it's familiar interruption. Deanna Troi looked up at the source of the sound in disgust. Sometimes, Deanna thought, she wished she could disable the damned thing. One of the major drawbacks to being on a starship, was that a person could never just disappear. On a planet, even a planet of telepaths, it was relatively easy to run away. On a planet, there were no computers to follow your signal, no communicator badges or transporter traces to make that possible, and no automatic over-rides of a purposely locked door. But on the Enterprise, there were all of these things. There was no use ignoring the door. Whomever had rung the chime would not have put up with it. They would ask the computer where to find her, or try and contact her via com link. It wasn't even worth it to try. Defeated, Deanna called out,

"Come in." When the doors parted, Beverly Crusher was leaning on the doorjamb her eyes swollen, and her head hanging. She ambled into the room and all but collapsed into the chair on Deanna's right.

"Beverly, you look awful," Deanna observed. Beverly nodded and replied,

"You would too... if you'd just had to tell a twenty-three year old kid that she's going to die."

"Lieutenant Pearson?" Deanna surmised. Beverly nodded again.

"We know what's happening to her," Beverly told her friend, "but we have no idea why. If we can't isolate the cause, we can't treat it. All I can do is try and keep her comfortable." Deanna took a deep breath and sighed. As if she weren't felling low enough, she now had the impending death of a popular and promising young crew member looming over her already clouded life.

But Deanna knew that Beverly had not come there to burden her. She was obviously very troubled by the situation. Beverly had told her several times how hard it was losing a patient, any patient. Professional distance aside, Beverly treated the loss of anyone under her care as a personal failure. But, that's just the kind of person Beverly Crusher was. Caring, compassionate, and very dedicated. Deanna could only imagine the pain her friend was going through now. Beverly had become very close with Amanda Pearson in the last several months. Deanna knew that the doctor regarded the girl as a daughter, even though Amanda and Wesley had never actually married, and this loss was going to hit her very hard.

"And you have no idea how to contact Wesley?" Deanna asked. Beverly shook her head,

"No," she answered the counselor, "And she's asking for him." She folded her hands in her lap and looked Deanna directly in the eye, "I don't know what to do."


Commander William Riker had always prided himself on being prepared for anything. His team had warned him that cutting through the cave wall would most definitely signal their arrival to the awaiting terrorists. Riker figured that was a risk they were just going to have to take, and prepared himself to go in firing. He didn't have a chance. When he stepped through the makeshift door, he was met by a pair of large hands that grabbed him by the shoulders and hurled him against the far wall of the cramped cave. Riker took a moment to catch his breath and looked up at his assailant.

The man was large and mean-looking, even for a Cardassian, and, although unarmed, looked more than ready to fight if necessary. Riker searched the ground at his feet for his phaser, but he couldn't seem to locate it. Before he could even stand up, a large Cardassian boot came full-force into his stomach. Riker doubled over in pain. He could hear the melee in the corridor as the other team members fought their way through an unknown number of terrorists, and the shrieks and moans of the obviously frightened hostages. Riker caught his breath.

If these bastards wanted a fight, they could sure as hell have one. Riker practically leapt from his crouched position and met the unsuspecting Cardassian in squarely in the jaw with his fist. That was his first mistake. His second was taking the time to examine his now bleeding knuckles that had barely set the terrorist off balance. It was clear that this particular Cardassian was not about to let that go unpunished. He grabbed Riker by his good arm and flung him across the room, nearly taking out a huddled family of hostages in the process. Will could hear an audible ripping sound as he began his uncontrolled careen across the room. A white-hot pain shot down his arm and he shouted aloud several obscenities that he could only hope none of the children in his line of sight had understood.

But Will Riker was not one to admit defeat. He looked up once again, into the eyes of the terrorist. But it was what he saw behind his foe that caught his attention. Ensign Crawford, with a shaky hand, had a phaser trained on the giant Cardassian. And there was no sign of any of the other terrorists. Riker couldn't be exactly sure what she was waiting on to fire, but he decided that he would try his best to extend her opportunity to get a shot off.

"You think this is going to accomplish anything, you Cardassian son-of-a bitch?" Riker spat, "You took these hostages to try and secure Federation aid. What do you think the Federation does to those who assault Starfleet officers, hmm? Let me give you a hint- it doesn't often involve a cushy chair or a slice of cake." The Cardassian lurched at him. His first reaction had been to move out of the way, thinking that he was once again about to be on the receiving end of the Cardassian's very solid fist. Instead, the terrorist flopped harmlessly to the floor, unconscious. Riker looked up at the surprised, yet pleased expression on the face of Ensign Crawford, who was still standing in the door, phaser in hand. "Good shot, Ensign," he called to her. He slowly got to his feet, careful not to show his subordinates just how much pain he was in. The other officers, he observed, looked very little worse for the wear. He gazed at them in confusion. Ensign Cross picked up on the Commander's curiosity and spoke up,

"The other terrorists..." he searched for the right expression, "ran for their lives, sir. It seems they were trapped in there. They had cut out an opening to that chamber from the other side, just as we did, only they didn't know where to cut. Their entryway collapsed, almost immediately. They didn't think they were ever getting out. They, um, they got away, sir."

"Well," Commander Riker began, wiping away the blood that was beginning to flow from just below his right eye, "As long as that storm's churning outside, they won't get far. And as soon as it stops, they'll be the only life forms on the planet after we beam up. They shouldn't be hard to find."

Deanna Troi awoke with a start. She looked around, puzzled; she wasn't exactly sure what she was doing in sickbay. She sat up. Deanna felt her head begin to swim as a wave of nausea came charging at her. She quickly lay back down. After a moment of nursing what she declared to be a full-on stomach ache, she slowly tried again to sit. This time she was met with a much greater degree of success. She looked around the room. It was dim, obviously ship's night.

"Counselor Troi," called the voice of a young nurse who had just come into the room, "How do you feel? Do you want me to get Dr. Crusher?" Deanna shook her head lightly.

"No," she told the young woman, "I'm alright, but I don't..."

"You fainted," the young woman informed her, "In your quarters. Dr. Crusher said that you had gotten out of your seat to go to the replicator, you took two steps, doubled over, and fell to the floor. That was ten or fifteen minutes ago. Just relax," the nurse added, "Dr. Crusher will be into see you soon." Deanna nodded.

"I'll be fine," the counselor assured the young nurse. The girl took the hint and turned to leave the room. Deanna didn't feel the least bit chilly, and yet she found herself shivering. She was beginning to feel the effects of a splitting headache that she couldn't explain. She brought her knees up to her chest and began to sob, and she couldn't fathom why.

Beverly looked absolutely awful as she sat in her office, leaning across her desk, utterly exhausted. Her eyes were red and her face as white as a ghost. She didn't even notice when her visitor poked his head inside the door. In fact, she didn't notice when he came all the way into the room. She just stared straight ahead, her eyes glazed over, her haggard mind working overtime, her body wishing for a moment's respite. She didn't know that he was even there- not even when he came into the room and leaned himself over the chair directly opposite her. She wasn't so much as aware of his presence until he waved his hand in front of her face and whispered,

"Mom?" She looked up, suddenly aware of what she had just heard. Her eyes came into focus and she couldn't believe the sight that met them.

"Wesley," She called, rushing over to him. She threw her arms around her son and hugged him tighter than Wesley could remember being hugged since he was a small child. "I don't know how you knew to come here, Wesley, but I'm so glad you got here in time." Wesley stepped away from his mother, a confused expression on his face,

"What do you mean, in time?" he asked, "We were on our way to starbase nineteen, the Enterprise was in the area, I thought this would be a good chance to see everyone. Mom, what's going on?" Beverly backed up a few steps and took a deep, shaky breath.

"Wesley, sit down,"she ordered him, moving back around her desk to sit back in her own seat. He complied, his look of confusion changing to one of concern.

"Mom, what is it?" He demanded to know. Beverly folded her hands on her desk and looked her son square in the eye.

"Amanda's in the isolation room. Some unknown infectious agent has infiltrated her system. It's tearing her apart atom by atom. We haven't been able to determine what's causing it, we can't treat it." Wesley's eyes shone with tears as he began rocking back and forth in his chair,

"She's not..." he tried to speak, but the words were swallowed by a sob that was fighting its way to the surface. Beverly nodded grimly,

"She's dying, Wesley."


"NO!" Deanna heard a familiar voice yell from inside Beverly's office. She slid down off the biobed where she had been sitting and slowly made her way into the room.. She saw Wesley Crusher leaning on the interior wall of his mother's office, sobbing uncontrollably and shaking his head. Beverly was standing behind him, her arms crossed. "There has to be something you can do!" Wesley shouted, he turned to face his mother, "You can't just let her die."

Beverly didn't know what to say. She didn't know what to do. Her son's heart was breaking before her very eyes and she was helpless to do anything about it. She felt like she couldn't breathe. Deanna, her mind beginning to clear, could sense Beverly's helplessness. She closed the distance between herself and her friend. She reached out to offer Beverly a reassuring hand. Beverly took it gladly. Both women looked up at Wesley. He looked absolutely wretched.

"C...can I see her?" Wesley managed to ask, his weak voice nearly an octave higher than usual. Beverly nodded. She and Deanna followed Wesley the few steps to the door of the room where Amanda lay.

"Wesley," his mother said to him sternly, "I want you to see her, I want her to know you're here. But I won't have you in there telling her to 'hang on' or to 'keep fighting'. She's fought harder and held on longer than anyone should have to. And if she's ready to let go, we have to let her know that it's okay." Wesley shut his eyes and nodded once, slowly. He understood.

"Wesley," Deanna called softly as the doors swished open, "I can sense... that she knows you're here. She may be too weak to let you know that, even too weak to open her eyes, but she knows you're with her." Wes turned briefly to face Deanna and his mother just as the doors swished shut behind them.

The two women held on to each other as they slowly moved back into Beverly's office. They both sank into chairs and leaned themselves on Beverly's desk. Neither one of them spoke. Neither had to. There was so much in the air already. They were startled by a voice that rang out,

"Dr. Crusher?" The two women looked up. It was the traveler; Wesley's companion and teacher from Tau-Alpha C.

"Hello," Beverly said to him, "Please, come in." The visitor complied, taking the few steps into the room and seating himself in the one remaining chair. Beverly looked at him and smiled. It was a weary and mournful smile, but it was a sincere one. "I don't know how you knew to bring him here" Beverly said to the traveler, "but I can't thank you enough for it." The traveler just nodded, knowingly.

"He has a connection to her," he told the two women, "on a level that he's not even aware of. But I can sense it coming from him. Somehow I knew he needed to be here. She needs him." Both women nodded. Deanna smiled for the first time in days. She knew exactly what he was talking about.

Commander Riker surveyed his surroundings, trying not to let the intense pain in his right arm get the best of him. The cave would have to serve as temporary shelter for all of them until the storm subsided. He had assigned Ensign Crawford to monitor the weather for the first sign of a break in the storm. Ensign Cross had done an admirable job in dealing with the still unconscious Cardassian by tying him up with the restraints the team had removed from the slowly relaxing hostages.

Hostages. There were nine of them; a family with two small daughters who were still clinging to their mother as if for dear life, a couple- clearly newlyweds, and three young men who had been on Risa to celebrate their acceptance to the University on their home planet. All were very relieved to see the Starfleet officers come charging to their rescue. All were wondering when they could get the hell out of the dark, miserable cave that had been their prison for days. They were all also very disappointed to learn that they were going to have to stay put for the time being.

At least one of Will's wishes came true. It was unusually arid inside this chamber, and the rocks that had tumbled into the room when the terrorists' entrance collapsed seemed to be strategically placed to act as heaters. Riker had assigned team members to specific rocks strewn about the cavern floor to make certain that they stayed warm. He could actually feel himself beginning to dry.

Wesley moved slowly toward Amanda's sleeping form. The room was very dimly lit, but he could tell even at a distance that she was very ill. Her complection was sallow and waxy, and her lips thin and ashen in color. Her eyes seemed to have sunken into her skull and were surrounded by enormous dark circles. He reached for her hand. It felt cold and clammy, and the skin seemed to drape from her fingers as if there were no muscle attaching skin to bone. He shivered a little as he looked down at her. To his surprise, her eyes opened, ever so slightly, to look at him.

"Wesley?" she whispered. He nodded and then bent down closer to her face.

"I'm here, he assured her." She smiled. He couldn't believe it- even now, she was smiling at him. And it still made his heart melt.

"I'm glad," she told him. He kissed her forehead.

"Me too," he answered.



"I'm not afraid." Wesley couldn't believe his ears. It was though she were trying to comfort him. But then again, she had always been strong.

"You're going to be fine," he lied. She managed to shake her head a little,

"I'm dying Wesley," her weak voice told him. He couldn't help it, tears began to stream unchecked down his face. "But I'm not afraid of dying," she continued. "I don't want to die alone...Wesley- promise me... that you'll stay- until..."

"I'll stay here as long as you want me to," he told her, "I promise. And you're going to get better if I have anything to do with it. You're not going to die, Amanda." She smiled up at him again as she whispered,

"Not today."

Deanna had to get out of there. She had to sleep. She had to try, just one more time- or a thousand more times- to reach Will. The traveler had sparked something inside of her that fear and pain and fatigue had buried so deeply that Deanna had almost forgotten it was there. Wesley hadn't even known Amanda needed him, but he had come. Deanna believed wholeheartedly in connections of that sort. And she knew for a fact that the connection between herself and Will Riker was just that kind. She also knew, deep down, that Will needed her. She couldn't say how she knew, but she did- the same way Wesley knew, even without being aware of it, that Amanda needed him here. She was going to reach him if it killed her. She charged single-mindedly toward the one place where she thought she could get the best sense of him.

His quarters. The doors opened to allow her access without so much as a word. It had been months ago that they had each programmed their doors to allow the other unlimited access, and Deanna hadn't though twice about letting herself in since. Until now.

She stifled a gasp as she walked into the living room. It was cold. Unnaturally cold. And there was something else that made the room very uncomfortable. Although Deanna was not able to put her finger on exactly what it was, she found it most unsettling. It took her a moment to realize why she was experiencing these unpleasant things. But then she knew... Will had spoken his last words to her in anger, and in this very room she could feel his anger as though it were still reverberating through the walls.

She walked the short distance into his bedroom. The bed was not made, its coverings tossed casually onto the floor. Deanna smiled at the memory of how the covers had wound up that way; of how a polite breakfast had turned into a frenzied romantic encounter, causing them both to be late for bridge duty. Will obviously hadn't taken the time to make the bed before leaving for Risa.

Risa. Deanna hated even the sound of the word. Why was this planet of paradise always a cause of heartache for her? How come, every time anyone went to Risa, she wound up miserable somehow? She remembered once when the Captain had vacationed there, and Will spent the entire time he was gone regaling the crew with tales of his own previous exploits on the planet. Deanna had not been amused. And once when Will himself had taken shore leave on Risa, he had returned to find Deanna deeply engrossed in a triple-fudge chocolate-chocolate chip sundae and dared to ask her if she was depressed. What the hell did he think? Of course she had been depressed. The one and only time she had ever been to Risa, he had stood her up, it had rained, and she had had the most miserable time in her entire life. Why was it that everybody else was able to have the time of their life on this planet and it brought Deanna Troi nothing but bad luck? She couldn't bear to dwell on it any longer. She took a deep breath and tried her best to center herself.

All of the sudden she felt a part of her opening up. She wasn't quite sure what it was, but she could only hope that it was Will trying to reach her. She wanted so badly for him to want her; to have forgiven her for whatever it was he thought she had done to make him mad. She began to shake and sat herself down on the bed. She snatched the cover up off of the floor and pulled it around herself. She was rocking back and forth. And then it all came to her.

It came in flashes; in... pictures, images, and sensations. She was in intense pain, but did not dare try and close her mind to it. It was Will, she was certain of it. The sensations were indiscernible, and the pictures in her mind bled one into the other without definition, beginning, or end. It was cold- colder than Deanna could stand. She lay down and curled herself up as tightly as she could to try and keep warm. She was still shaking violently. She felt a hot pain shoot through her arm and then her face, and then darkness, an abiding and all-consuming darkness that could never have been experienced physically. She lay there- for hours- trying to make the pictures make sense, to force them into submissive order. She even longed to make the pain more intense. She tried as hard as she could to reach him; to touch his mind in some way, to let him know that she was there. She wanted to take the pain and cold from him, as if it were in her power to do so. She wanted to do... something- anything to make it better for him down there on that awful planet, in that wicked storm, and in such terrible pain. She reached out for him with all she had, until her body slipped out from under her and she fell dead asleep.


Will Riker looked up into the sky at what was probably the most welcome flicker of sunlight he had ever seen. The clouds still loomed ominously overhead, but the wicked deluge had stopped. The rain had actually subsided nearly an hour before, but the Starfleet officers had wanted to be certain it was actually over before herding the hostages out of their makeshift shelter and up to the surface.

Will closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. He had always loved the way the outdoors smelled just after a rainstorm. He remembered being a child and wandering down to the seashore to see what treasures the torrent had washed up onto the shore. He also loved the feeling in the air just after the rain; the stillness that set in, and how the whole world felt new and alive as it emerged from it's dripping hideouts. He wished he could be sharing this moment with Deanna instead of an away team, nine hostages, and an angry Cardassian.

Deanna. He would be seeing her in just a few minutes. And he knew they were going to have to have a very unpleasant conversation. And he didn't want to. He knew that Deanna, being a psychologist, would want to analyze why they had fought, to learn something from it, to try and make the relationship grow from it. He was almost sure that she wouldn't just accept it if he fell to his knees and apologized, took the blame for the whole thing, and promised never to do it again. Not that he wasn't tempted to try. Will Riker was in no mood for a deep conversation. All he wanted in the entire universe was to wrap his arms around her and not to let go for a week. He would probably have to shower first. But that shouldn't really pose a problem seeing as he was probably going to have to seek her out if he wanted to see her.

Will tapped his communicator, "Riker to Enterprise" he called out. He could feel the relief wash over him when he heard Commander Data's voice, clear as a bell, answer,

"Yes Commander, we read you."

"We've got the hostages," Will continued, a broad smile crossing his face. "And you should be able to track down several Cardassian life signs on the planet, including one at our position. Beam them all to the brig. As for the rest of us, you can beam us up, too." It was a split instant and Will found himself back onboard the Enterprise, standing squarely in the center of the transporter pad. He stepped down and exclaimed, "It's good to be home." He turned to the team that had been his constant companions for the last two days, "Good work people," he encouraged them as he went toward the doors leading to the hallway. He then turned and added with a smile, "dismissed." They all smiled in return.

Halfway to his quarters Will had decided to visit sickbay first. The pain in his shoulder and arm had not but barely subsided, and no matter how exhausted he felt, he knew that he would get very little sleep fighting the pain. It was silly even to try when he was sure that Beverly could fix him up as good as new in no time. He had decided to wait until morning to try and find Deanna. This decision had been brought about by several factors, not the least of which being that it was two a.m. aboard ship and he could pretty well figure on her being fast asleep. He also hoped his pain would subside substantially before he had the chance to see her so that he could keep his injury from her. He knew that she had been right to worry, and he didn't need to concede any more to her than he already planned to.

He turned the corner into sickbay going faster than he should have, accidentally bumping his injured shoulder against the door, which had opened too slowly for him to clear it completely. This caused him to cry out, involuntarily, "Ow" he ejected, much louder than he would have liked. His painful outburst had gotten the attention of Dr. Crusher, who had been staring off into space near the entrance of the sickbay isolation suites. She ambled toward him. He had never seen her looking so frazzled and worn out. "Beverly?" Will began. She took him by the good arm and said,

"I'll explain later. First tell me what happened to you." Will hopped up onto the biobed she had led him to and answered her,

"A Cardassian terrorist decided he didn't like the way my shoulder works and thought he'd do something about it." he jested. Beverly smiled through her fatigue. She had always admired Will's unique talent for making light of anything painful. She ran her tricorder over the injured area.

"Mm-hmm," she uttered, "You've got a torn rotator cuff," she told him, "and one heck of a shiner," she added. Will chuckled. With everything that was going on, he had almost forgotten his busted cheek. He must look a fright. He was suddenly very glad he had voted against going straight for Deanna. Beverly walked away and returned quickly with various and sundry instruments. She administered a pair of hyposprays,

"For the pain," she told him. He could feel the cellular regenerator rebuilding his shoulder, and then his face. It took a total of five minutes and Will Riker felt nearly as good as new.

"Well," he told Beverly, "Now all I need is a hot shower and a fresh suit of clothes."

"And a good night's sleep," Beverly recommended. Will seriously contemplated suggesting the doctor take her own advice when he caught a glimpse of a shadow moving out of the isolation suites.

"Was that..." Will began.

"Wesley," Beverly nodded in confirmation, "Mm-hmm. You've... you've missed a few things while you were down on the planet. Amanda Pearson, she's , um, she's contracted something- we don't even know what. We can only speculate it was on Heidevan 6. It's killing her, Will. She's dying. There's -nothing- I can do about it. And Wesley, he just... showed up, a few hours ago. The traveler told me that the two of them are connected somehow, in a way they're not even aware of. And so Wesley's here, so that he can be with her when..."

"DOCTOR CRUSHER!!!" a high-pitched voice roared through sickbay, much louder than was polite in such a setting. Beverly spun quickly on her heel, realizing almost at once that the cry had come from the direction of the main lab, where technicians and science officers had spent the past three days working on the mystery of Lt. Pearson's illness. Beverly's breath caught in her throat. "Doctor Crusher!" the loud voice repeated,

"Mom- Come here- quickly!" Wesley's voice added with an urgency that Beverly couldn't help but take seriously. She didn't even bother to excuse herself before taking off in a flat run toward the source of the two excited voices.

Will practically stumbled into his quarters. He had known intellectually that he was tired, exhausted in fact, and that he needed to sleep. He knew that, for the duration of a crisis, adrenaline could take over and keep a person alert and functioning; but once the danger was over, the need for hibernation would replace the powerful endorphin and lull a person into a very deep, healing sleep. It was an effective combination of this basic physiological fact, the dim 'night-time' lighting on board the Enterprise and the pain killers Beverly had given him to help ease the dull ache that remained in his shoulder, that caused Will Riker's eyes to be almost completely shut when by the time he reached his door.

Luckily, he had returned to his quarters half-asleep more than once. He was easily able to shuffle across his living room without calling for a single light. He tore his soiled and foul-smelling uniform from his body as he went. He debated over whether or not he could even manage to stay awake for the duration of a shower. He hadn't given himself an answer yet when his shins found the edge of his bed. "Dammit," he cursed. To his complete and total surprise, he got an answer.

"Will?" Or was it a question? Didn't matter. It was Deanna's voice. He swatted a panel on the nightstand and a tiny row of lights behind the bed turned themselves on. He looked down at Deanna. She had his blanket wrapped around her like a cocoon. And he couldn't help but notice that her expression was like that of a trapped animal. She reacted to his presence immediately, flinging the blanket toward him and scrambling to her feet. She backed away from in a manner that he could only perceive as cowering. She backed all the way out the door and into the hallway. He shook his head. Just how mad was she?


"I would never have believed it if I hadn't seen the reports with my own eyes," a smiling Beverly Crusher told her patient. Amanda looked at her in amazement, her weak eyes astonishingly clear after the news she had just heard. Beverly looked over at her beaming son, who hadn't let go of the girl's hand since they'd come back into the room. "It was actually Wesley that made the connection," Beverly conceded. "It seems as though, forty or so years ago, a renegade group of dissident Klingons built a hideout on Heidevan 6. It was always rumored that they were trying to develop a new and improved biological weapon. The story has it that the disease got loose and killed all of them. But it turns out that one of them survived. He returned to the Klingon homeworld, weapon in hand, to try and take over the Klingon high-council. He was subsequently caught, an antidote was administered in time, and a crisis was averted. The good news being, the Klingons still have samples of both the infectious agent, and the antidote. We've contacted the proper authorities and we should be able to start treatments within the next day or so."

"Wesley, how did you..." Amanda struggled to ask

"Well, I just asked the computer to list all known or suspected periods of occupation on Heidevan 6. There were only two; a primitive civilization that was wiped out about three million years ago, and then there was the suspected Klingon occupation. I cross-referenced Heidevan 6 with Klingon historical databases and got a hit."

"You're here less than six hours and you've already saved my life," she said to him, with a smile that did not at all betray her weakened state. He bent down and placed a tiny kiss on her forehead.

"Go to sleep," he told her. "I'll be here when you wake up." Amanda nodded, she had been waiting for just such a suggestion. She happily closed her eyes as Wesley's hand let go of hers. She heard the doors swish open and shut just before she drifted off to the first peaceful rest she'd had in days.

Deanna emerged from her bathtub feeling nothing short of completely refreshed. Never, at any time of her life, when she had felt the need to relax or focus had a bubble bath not been a substantial step in the right direction. She blotted her damp skin with a plush green towel. She reached up and unfastened the pins that held her hair in a pile on top of her head. She could feel a cool burst of air from the rest of the cabin as the fans automatically turned themselves on, trying to regulate the heat and humidity that had built up in her bathroom. She quickly shimmied into one of her more flimsy nightgowns and took two steps into her darkened bedchamber. And what met her eyes stopped her dead in her tracks.

Damn those automatic doors. Will Riker lay across her bead, corner to corner, his chin propped cavalierly on his fist. He cocked his head to one side as he regarded her in her wafty nightgown, which had begun to cling to several still-moist patches of her skin- Deanna couldn't help but think that he was looking right through it. His blue eyes danced in the little bit of light they were able to reflect. He looked completely cool and in control. Deanna couldn't stand it. But she was obviously going to have to play his game; and from the look of things at this moment, she was already losing miserably. She squared her shoulders and tried her best to sound unaffected as she said to him,

"I wasn't expecting to find you here."

"I figured turn about was fair play," he shot back. He had the upper hand here and he knew it. Will Riker was aware that he didn't often get the upper hand when it came to Deanna, an occupational hazard of being imzadi to an empath, so he planned to use this opportunity to his full advantage.

"I guess you're right," she answered him casually, betraying none of her inner turmoil to him. He swung around to a sitting position and pulled only his eyes upward to look at her.

"And what, pray tell, were you doing in my bedroom earlier?" he quizzed her, with just a hint of playfulness in his tone. She broke his gaze and walked around him, to the opposite side of the bed and sat down.

"Sleeping," she told him, so matter-of-factly that she was actually proud of herself. "And that's what I intend to do now. You may stay or you may go. It makes no difference to me." She pulled the blanket up over her and tapped a panel on her nightstand to shut off what little light was on. "Good night," she finished.

Will, still playing cool and collected, stood up and turned around. "Well then, I'll just be going," he told her taking a casual step toward the door.

"NO!" She had not meant to say the word out loud, but her mind felt it so violently that it had escaped her lips as an impetuous cry, and she was want to do anything about it. The force of that single word had pulled her into a half sitting position and had yanked defiant tears to the surface. He turned to face her. Part of her expected him to be laughing, mocking her childish outburst; but instead she saw his face covered with pain and concern. He quickly stepped back over to the bed and sat beside her. Without thinking, she flung her arms around him and pulled herself as close to him as she could. "Please stay," she added as the tears began to fall down her cheeks. She was openly sobbing, and she couldn't have cared less.

Will rocked her back and forth, gently, whispering soft, comforting words to her; surprised to find that he was crying himself.

"You're home," she whispered, more to remind herself than to him.

"I'm home," he assured her. "I'm right here."


"Imzadi," he whispered into her ear, easing her head down onto her pillow. She did not let go of her grip on him in the least.

"I was so scared," she confessed, "You were down there, and I couldn't reach you. But I... I had- have... this sense of you. You were... frightened, and I could sense it, you were in danger, and I knew- they hurt you..." she ran her hand over his injured shoulder, "and I could feel it." She buried her head in his chest and tried just to breathe.

"Deanna," he whispered.

"Will, please stay with me," she begged.

"Always," he replied, rocking her back and forth gently.

"Promise... I don't want to spend another night away from you- ever," she told him.

"Me neither," he said, planting a small kiss on her temple, "me neither."


Wesley practically skipped though sickbay and into his mother's office. His eyes were hopeful as he sat across from her. But his face fell when she looked up from her computer terminal and frowned at him. She looked like she had been up all night once again.

"Mom?" Wesley asked, his voice shaky with concern, "What is it?"

"I've got bad news," she confessed.

"What? Is it Amanda? But you said there was a cure- you said..."

"Wesley," she interrupted, "Will you let me finish?" Wesley sat back and nodded. "There were a few things we forgot to consider," she told him, "I was so excited to have found the cause and a possible treatment that I didn't think things through entirely. The treatment- the 'antidote', it was designed with Klingon cellular physiology in mind. It's highly toxic- sure it will kill this genetically engineered virus, but I can't guarantee that she'd survive the treatment, especially not in her weakened state. I don't know what to do."

"Well, is there a way to modify the antidote? Can you make it weaker, dilute it maybe, or change it somehow so that it would be less dangerous to her?"

"I've thought about that," Beverly answered, "But the serum is very specific. I'm afraid that diluting it, or altering it in any way could cause it not to work at all."

"Well then what choice so we have?" Wesley asked his mother, "We could try it or not, and she could die either way. I think we should ask her what she wants to do." Beverly nodded. She held out her hand to her son as she stood from her chair. He took it and the two of them walked together the few steps into the isolation room.

Morning came as it always did, but this particular morning Will Riker wished he would never have to get up. He had awoken slowly, as though his body knew not to stir. He wouldn't want to awaken the sleeping beauty in his arms. Will closed his eyes and inhaled deeply the scent of her; that glorious amalgam of soap and shampoo, powder and perfume that always hung in the air when she was around. He loved that smell. And he loved this woman he held in his arms.

He looked down at her. She was sleeping so peacefully, with just the faintest hint of a smile on her rosy lips. He had to suppress the urge he felt to bend down and kiss her. There would be time for that later. Right now he felt content just to lay there and hold her; happy to be in her presence, happy to feel her in his arms. She sighed a little in her sleep. Will couldn't help but plant a tiny hiss on her forehead. She opened her eyes and smiled broadly at him.

"Good morning," she whispered.

"I didn't mean to wake you," he told her. She smiled again,

"I've been awake," she whispered, shifting in his arms to be even closer to him, "I just didn't want to move. I could stay like this all day."

"I could arrange that," he whispered to her, his lips brushing her earlobe as he did.

"I only wish," she answered, running her hands over his chest, "But I don't think the Captain would approve a request from the two of us to spend an entire day in bed." Will laughed out loud.

"You're probably right," he told her. He flashed her his most wicked smile, "But we don't have to be anywhere right this minute," he added.

"No, we don't," she confirmed, kissing him heartily on the mouth. Will could feel his head swim as she kissed him. He had forgotten what an amazing kisser she was.

"Deanna," he whispered to her when the kiss finally broke. She propped her chin in her hands, looked up at him with wide eyes, and responded,


"Did you mean it last night when you said that you don't want us to ever spend another night apart?" She looked at him sternly,

"I wouldn't have said it if I didn't mean it," she told him.

"That... that didn't come out right," he confessed, "what I meant was- I know you meant it when you said it. Do you still mean it now?" Deanna tried her best to get a fix on what Will was feeling. It was no use; the man had become more than proficient at keeping his mind from her when he so chose. And he so chose now- where was this conversation leading?

"What are you getting at?" she had to ask him.

"Deanna, answer me." he more pled than demanded, "Is that what you really want? Right now, in the light of day, do you still mean what you said? Do you want us to spend every night together for the rest of time?" Deanna, still wondering exactly where this conversation was headed, couldn't formulate a sensible answer. She was just going to answer him with pure honesty and forthrightness. Her response met his ears as one, whispered word. It was the one word he had most wanted to hear,


"More than that, Deanna, will you spend every night with me for the rest of time?" She was looking at him with a most puzzled look on her face, her mind racing at warp speed, was he asking...?

"Deanna will you marry me?" Her mouth fell open. She couldn't believe what she had just heard.

Moreover, he couldn't believe what he had just said. He had made the decision to ask her to marry him months ago; and ever since then he had waited for the right opportunity. In his mind he had dreamt up dozens of scenarios when the opportunity might present itself to propose. And he had spent countless hours on te holodeck trying to come up with a perfect setting, only to scrap every idea he had for not being 'perfect enough'. But this morning, he had just blurted it out. There was no way she was going to say yes to him now.

"Yes," he heard her whisper, her eyes downcast, and a very serious expression on her face. He looked her in amazement, had she really said,

"Yes," she repeated, looking into his eyes as the most wonderful smile crossed her face. An ecstatic cry erupted form his lips as he leapt from the bed and darted into the other room. "Will?" she called after him. She had never heard of a proposal being immediately followed by the man's running off, at least not an accepted one. "Will, what are you doing?" she called. She could hear the familiar sound of her vidcom powering on and a signal being sent. Through the doorway she watched him spin her chair around and straddle it, his face trained on the vidcom screen. "Will, who are you calling?" She asked. She got no answer, instead, she heard a very familiar voice over the comlink.

"Hello," Lwaxana Troi's shrill voice rang through the room. Will shot her his most charming smile as he addressed her,

"Mrs. Troi," he began, "It's been too long."

"Will dear, this is a surprise. How are things? How's Deanna, you know she never calls me anymore, always so busy with that career of hers. She is okay isn't she- that's not why you've called, to tell me there's something the matter?"

"Well, Mrs. Troi, it's like this," he began, taking on very serious demeanor, "Deanna is, well, physically, she's fine. But I'm afraid her mental state is... beginning to decline."

"Why, whatever is the matter, Will? How long has this been going on? Why didn't you contact me sooner, I'll leave Betazed right away, I"

"Mrs. Troi," Riker interrupted her mini-breakdown, "You didn't let me finish. There's nothing really wrong. I'm just sure Deanna's gone crazy; because this morning, she finally agreed to marry me." Lwaxana Troi laughed out loud,

"Oh, Will dear- you shouldn't tease an old woman like that. You really had me going. Marriage indeed."

"Mrs. Troi, I'm quite serious. All of ninety seconds ago, I asked your daughter to be my wife, and by some miracle, she said yes."

"Well," Lwaxana exhorted, "That's wonderful! And it's about time. Where is Deanna? Can I speak to her?" Will looked in Deanna's direction, her eyes were as big as saucers and she was shaking her head.

"She's showering," he lied, "I promise to have her contact you as soon as she has a moment."

"Yes, do that, will you? We have so many preparations to make." The screen went black and Will erupted into laughter.

"Why did you do that?" Deanna asked him as he slid back into the bad.

"I knew your mother would be ecstatic," he answered, "And now that I have her in my corner, you couldn't back out of marrying me if you wanted to."

"You needn't worry about that," she assured him, pulling him down and kissing him again.

"It's up to you," Beverly concluded. She had spent the last half hour explaining the intricacies of the Klingon antidote to Amanda. Wesley had spent nearly the entire time pacing the length of the cramped room, stopping only for short intervals to hold the girl's hand or to study her expression. Amanda looked up at him now.

She was visibly weaker, even more than she had been. It was obvious to everyone that she was getting worse. Her marginal appetite had become none at all, and her brief naps had turned into hours of unconsciousness. Her only comfort was that Wesley was with her. She knew what he would want her to do, but she somehow needed him to tell her.

"What do you think, Wesley?" She asked him, her weak voice cracking as she spoke. He went to her side and brought a glass of water that had been sitting on the table beside her up to her parched lips. He looked down into her pleading eyes and answered,

"I want to tell you to go through with the treatment. But I can't just tell you that. Knowing that it might not work, knowing that you'd be in pain, and that it might not do you any good," tears began to well up in his eyes. He ignored them and continued, "I just want you to live," Beverly's com badge tweetered and the two young people didn't even notice when she slipped out of the room to answer it. Wesley was still speaking,

"I just want you to get better," he told her, "to be yourself again. I want to see you cracking the whip up in your department, stressing over efficiency or intern evaluations, laughing at my dumb jokes... I- I don't want to see you hurting- but I don't want to lose you either." He hung his head. She reached up and took his hand in hers. It was warm and reassuring.

"I want to do it," she told him, straining to keep her eyes open. "An outside chance is better than none at all. And I'm just not ready to give up." He bent down and kissed her forehead, "but you have to promise," she continued, "that you'll be here the whole time. I'm not sure I could handle it if you weren't here." Wesley nodded. He couldn't believe how brave she was being; and he was certain that it was partially for his benefit.

"I promise," he told her, "I'll be right here."


It had become like a ritual; some ghastly, odious rite that Beverly was being forced to perform. Every six hours, Amanda had to be roused from what little peaceful slumber she was able to find Often as not, Wesley had to be awakened as well, from the tormented dreams he had in his chair by her side. This particular time, his head was resting on her bed, her left hand sat gingerly on his hair as though the two had succumbed to sleep in the midst of a tender moment. Beverly always hated to wake them.

She called for the lights first, as her pernicious ritual dictated, it seemed. Most of the time, the bright lights served to wake one or both of them without Beverly's further intervention. Amanda opened her eyes slowly, becoming gradually aware that it was almost time, once agin, to receive the tortuous treatments that were supposed to be saving her life. She cast her eyes over at Wesley. He was sleeping more soundly than she had seen him in the days since she had begun receiving the Klingon antidote. It broke her heart to wake him, but she knew that she had to. She would need his strength if she were going to get through this yet again.

Beverly had warned them that the treatment would be painful, but nothing could have prepared any of them for the reality of this drug that was their only hope. Beverly administered the hypospray. The doctor and her son watched in horror as the chemical began to flow through Amanda's veins. At first, she had tried her best not to cry out as the chemicals coursed through her body like liquid fire. She had held onto Wesley, unknowingly breaking three bones in his hand that Beverly secretly patched up after she was asleep. But soon enough, she found that it was a little easier to take if she could scream. She still kept her death-grip on Wesley as she wailed in agony. She would ball herself up into a fetal position and shake violently as she could feel the onslaught of the wicked chemical in every cell of her body.

The pain, to that degree, lasted sometimes as long as twenty minutes. But eventually, her screams would subside, as would the ferocity of her grip on Wesley's hand. She would curl up into a ball and weep silently as the pain grew less exquisite. One time Wesley even went so far as to climb onto the bed next to her, cradling her in his arms as she cried. This was when Beverly always left. There was still no guarantee this treatment was going to work, and she felt she owed it to the young couple to give them as many of Amanda's lucid moments as she could.

This time, when she left the isolation room and went back to her office, Deanna Troi was waiting for her. The counselor looked nothing short of serene and content as she sat in Beverly's office chair. She had obviously closed her mind to the pain in the next room. Beverly dared not ask what it was exactly that brought her friend to sickbay this morning; afraid that she was about to get a lecture on letting her work take over her life. For this reason, it had been Deanna who spoke first,

"Beverly," she began, "How do you feel..." Beverly braced herself for some unsolicited counseling. She leaned on the doorjamb as Deanna continued, "about standing in front of a large group of people without any clothes on?" Beverly was sure she couldn't have heard what she swore she had just heard. She looked downright miffed as she slowly walked to an empty chair and sat herself in it. She decided on a cautious answer.

"I... don't... know- Deanna.... Why do you ask." Deanna couldn't contain herself. Her face brightened into the broadest smile Beverly had perhaps ever seen. The counselor answered,

"Because you're going to have to get used to the idea if you're going to be in my wedding." This time Beverly was sure her ears did not deceive her.

"Deanna, do you mean that Will..." Deanna stood up and nodded,

"Yes," she told her friend. The two women practically squealed in delight as they embraced one another.

"Well, it's about time!" Beverly exclaimed, scrambling to get at her computer terminal. She spun it around to face her and prodded a few keys.

"What are you doing?" asked a giggling Deanna.

"When did he propose?" Beverly asked, "was it last night or this morning?"

"It was this morning," answered a confused sounding Deanna, "What's going on?" Beverly smiled, there was no use keeping this from Deanna now.

"We had sort of , well- a shipwide pool going on. We all had our guesses as to how long it was going to take the two of you to get engaged, and it turned into a bet. Deanna laughed out loud,

"And how many people were in on this?" she asked Beverly who sheepishly replied,

"The last I checked, about four hundred, but I haven't been in charge of it for a while. A few of us, Geordi, Data, and myself, have been taking turns keeping track of the wagers. And it looks like Captain Picard will be very happy the two of you waited until this morning. If it had been yesterday, it would have been Ensign Carson."

"The Captain was in on it?" Deanna asked in disbelief.

"Everyone was in on it, Deanna," Beverly told her, "Everyone. The three new Academy interns had their days picked, okay. The entire ship was waiting for this to happen. It's not like the two of you were making a secret about anything."

"I guess you're right," Deanna chuckled, "I'm sure Will is going to get a kick out of knowing that the entire ship was waiting for him to propose." She shook her head and laughed a little more.

The tone in the room was business as usual, which felt odd to many who sat around the table in the observation lounge. They listened to the Captain as they always did, but somehow, the professional demeanor of the Captain didn't jive with what was going on in the heads of his senior crew members. The Captain was quick to pick up on this unusual dynamic.

Commander Riker looked positively distracted. He should have been pleased that the captured terrorists had been turned back over to the Cardassians without incident; that the hostages had been tended to, and transferred onto the Risian evacuation ships to await the rest of their vacations. Most of all he should have been glad to hear that the storms had almost entirely ceased on the planet's surface, and that the crew was being offered four days shore leave planetside just as soon as the resort opened its doors again. But instead, Will Riker seemed a million miles away.

It was also obvious that Dr. Crusher might as well not have come at all. She was visibly struggling to keep her eyes open, her focus waning with each passing second. The Captain was surprised that she was even in attendance this morning. She had sent him her report on the condition of the hostages as well as a report on the terrorists within hours of their arrival aboard the Enterprise, and although her input was always welcome at these gatherings, under the circumstances, the Captain was surprised to see her there.

He silently admonished himself for not taking notice of the doctor's disheveled state before this morning's meeting. She would have normally delivered reports to him in person, particularly when they involved such sensitive matters as Cardassian terrorists and the condition of recovered hostages. But instead, she had transmitted the reports to his ready-room directly from her desk in sickbay. He had fully intended to check in on her several times in the past day or so, but had thus far not managed to do so. He was tempted to relieve her of duty, but knew better.

Captain Picard did not have the slightest inkling of what was going on onboard his ship. He knew it. He resolved to get to the bottom of every issue he had just become aware of; and to call meetings more often.

"Dismissed," Picard called. It was probably the first thing he had said all morning that gotten everyone's full attention.


For the first time in days, Wesley Crusher felt like he could breathe. It had been sixteen hours since Amanda had received the final dose of the petulant drug that was to have freed her from the clutches of the Klingon virus; and she had made it through. There had been times; many times, Wesley was forced to admit, when he had been prepared to let her die in peace. He had never seen anyone in so much pain. He had taken to being grateful when she would lose consciousness; grateful that she was, at least, unaware of the pain for a moment. But today was different. His mother had assured him, when she had shooed him out of sickbay hours earlier, demanding he go sleep elsewhere, that Amanda was steadily improving. Wesley hadn't been able to tell that she was getting any better, but he had complete trust in his mother and was sure she would not lie to him.

So it was that he had gone to Amanda's quarters and taken a much-needed nap, wrapped up in her hand-made down quilt. He had slept under that quilt for nearly a year when the two of them had shared a room at the Academy, and although he remembered intellectually how soft it was, he was pleasantly surprised at just how soft it actually felt as it swaddled his exhausted body. He wasn't sure exactly why, but he had slept wonderfully. His best guess was the proportional combination of his own fatigue with the comfort of the quilt and her other belongings surrounding him. In fact, as he awoke slowly, he thought for a minute that he was back at the Academy, and that she would pop out of the other room any minute to chide him out of bed. But, of course, she didn't. Wesley wasn't sure how long he'd slept, but he hopped out of bed without so much as rolling over to reconsider the prospect. He wished Amanda had been there to witness that. She wouldn't have believed it.

But, of course, she wasn't there, and that was the whole reason he had jumped out of bed without a second thought. After an all too brief shower, Wesley threw on clothes and headed in the direction of sickbay. When he walked through the door to the isolation room, he thought he would fall over.

Amanda was practically sitting upright, her head propped on a large stack of pillows. She was sipping a cup of tea, and the proper color had begun to return to her cheeks. Wesley practically ran to her side.

"You look great," he told her. She rolled her eyes up at him,

"Don't lie," she told him, "I'm sure I look exactly like I feel.... Like I've just been run over by a Talarian battle cruiser. But I'm sure it is an improvement." Wesley laughed out loud. This was the first moment he had had absolute confidence in her imminent recovery. Beverly laughed too. Wesley hadn't even noticed her at first, she was in a corner to his left , checking and re-checking the readouts being sent there by the biobed.

"Well," Beverly began, with an actual smile on her face, "You are officially on the road to recovery." Amanda smiled back at the doctor. She had only a marginal awareness of what Beverly and Wesley had been through for the duration of her illness, but she could only imagine that it had been rough on them. She half thought of asking Wesley just how he managed to get to the Enterprise when she needed him, but decided she didn't care. She reached out her hand to him. The door chime rang.

"Come in," Beverly called without a second thought. Commander Riker strode intently through the door.

"Lieutenant Pearson," he addressed the girl, who sat up as straight as she could, trying her best to appear at attention for her superior officer. Will found this more than just a little bit amusing. Here she was, having spent weeks teetering on the verge of death, and the minute she came into contact with a superior officer, she sprang to attention, or at least a close approximation of such. He still wasn't sure why she hadn't relaxed any around him in the eight months they had worked together. Even when she would sit in on the officers' poker game, she would catch herself calling everyone else at the table 'sir'.

"At ease, lieutenant," he instructed her through a very wide grin. "I just came down to let you know that your department is functioning fine. Dr. Crusher was convinced that you would try and run things from down here if at all possible, so I came to tell you that you are by no means fit for duty. Your department had been under my direct supervision, and I can assure you that nothing has burned down, blown up, or been otherwise irreparably damaged. So you just keep on recovering, however you see fit, and leave Command/Operations to me. You can have it back when I'm good and ready to give it up." Amanda laughed a little.

"Aye sir," she answered. "And, Commander Riker?"

"Hmm?" He acknowledged,

"Look out for Ensign Carson," she warned. "She's had a thing for you since the minute she beamed aboard." Will cocked his head at that, a little flattered, but more amused than anything.

"Well, that's just too bad," he commented, "I'm an engaged man."

"No?" Amanda exhorted, then added, "Commander Riker that's terrific!" She then turned to Beverly, "Who won?"

"Captain Picard," Beverly informed her, "If you can believe it. If I didn't know better, I'd say they planned it all along."

"Deanna told me about the betting pool," Will informed them, "Good for the Captain. Maybe it'll make him feel better about having to take his clothes off for our wedding." All in the room laughed aloud at the prospect of Captain Picard's reaction to the news of his expected attendance at a traditional Betazoid wedding.

"Could I maybe go to my quarters now?" Amanda asked, skeptical. She was hoping to take advantage of the jovial atmosphere in the room. Beverly glowered at her,

"No," she answered, her tone was playful, but the look on her face showed that she meant business.

"It was worth a try," Amanda confessed, "I really want a bath, and my blue-flowered pajamas." Wesley laughed out loud at this request. Never, in the course of their entire relationship, had he known Amanda to so much as own pajamas in a solid color.

"You and your ridiculous pajamas," Wes commented, still laughing. Amanda turned to him and shot back,

"At least I'm not the one who insists on sleeping in socks every night."

"My feet get cold," he defended.

"I am fully aware of just how cold your feet are, Wesley Crusher." She countered. Beverly, for her part, was quite entertained. She giggled softly,

"You two sound old and married," the doctor observed. The young couple squeezed each others hands and laughed.

"Well, if things had gone according to plan," Wesley began, "We'd be about to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary. And we'd be expecting our second child."

"And maybe our third," Amanda added, "If twins came into the equation."

"Do twins run in your family?" Beverly asked casually.

"Boy, is that an understatement," Wes proclaimed. Amanda shook her head and explained,

"There were a group of geneticists who accompanied the original colonists to Tarra 6, my home planet. Because there had been only five previous Earth colonies, no one could be certain that the colony would succeed. These geneticists thought they had a way to make sure it would. They introduced a genetic mutation into the chromosomes of all the women. At the moment of conception, this mutation takes over and causes X chromosomes to clone themselves. Therefore, every female child ever born on Tarra 6 is, or at least started out as, an identical twin. This way, they figured, there would be plenty of women to bear plenty of children to keep the colony going. What they didn't figure on is that the mutant gene never became recessive. So, still to this day, every female pregnancy is identical twins."

"I've never heard of such a thing," Beverly commented.

"Yeah," Wesley affirmed, "And we had decided that if we had twins first, we were going to stop right there. If not, than we would wait three years, and try again. Twins or no, that was going to be it, though."

"I was not about to spend the most important years of my career pregnant." Amanda affirmed.

"I know what you mean," Beverly empathized, "And if your children turned out anything like mine did," she looked over at Wesley, "You'd have quite a handful." All four of them laughed at that comment. Their momentary jollies were interrupted, however, by the voice of the Captain coming over Will's com link.

"Commander Riker to my ready-room," the voice called. Will swatted his com badge and answered,

"I'm on my way." He tapped his badge to close the link, "If you'll excuse me," he said to the others in the room.

"Actually," injected Beverly, "We should all be going, Lieutenant Pearson needs her rest,"

"But..." Amanda tried to protest.

"No buts," Beverly argued, crossing to Wesley and taking a hold of his free hand. "You are going to get some rest, and I am taking my son to ten-forward where I plan to force-feed him a very large meal to make up for how much he hasn't eaten in the last week. We'll be back in an hour or so."

"Okay," Amanda conceded as the three of them began their way out of the room, "And congratulations again, Commander Riker," she called, then added, "it's about time." They all were laughing as the doors to Amanda's room swished closed.


Will had been relieved, and pleasantly surprised when he learned of the reason why he had been summoned to the Captain's ready room. It seemed as though the Risian Government, now leery of another terrorist attack, wanted to implement a more comprehensive planet-wide security protocol. And the Enterprise crew had been charged with its creation.

It was going to be a simple matter really. The Risians already had a more than adequate system in place. All the Enterprise crew members had to do was to show them exactly how to make it do what they wanted it to. Risa had never been a planet big on technological advances, Risians considered their planet there for leisure, and nothing more. It shouldn't be difficult to put their minds at ease and allow the crew to continue with their shore leave. The storm had all but completely ceased, and the vacationers were already being offloaded to continue their holiday on the paradisiacal world.

And what a paradise it was. Will couldn't wait to get Deanna down there. That planet was going to charm the pants off of her- literally- if Will Riker had anything to do with it. The two of them were long overdue for a holiday on Risa, and he could think of no better place to celebrate their engagement.

It was with this thought in mind that Will found his way across ten-forward to where Deanna was waiting for him. He snuck up behind her and whispered softly in her ear, "sorry I'm late." He left a kiss on her earlobe before walking around to the seat directly across from her. He smiled; he wasn't sure he had ever felt this amount of tangible happiness in his entire life. He picked up Deanna's hand from where it was wrapped around her glass and kissed the back of it. Then he turned it over and kissed her palm. He turned her hand back over and kissed the tip of each of her fingers one at a time before finally returning her hand to her. She was positively giggling by the time this happened.

"You're in a good mood," she observed.

"Why shouldn't I be?" He asked her, leaning back in his chair, like a king taking stock of his riches. "I'm aboard the finest vessel in Starfleet, in orbit around what is arguably the most hospitable planet in the galaxy, and I'm engaged to the most amazing woman in the galaxy." Deanna could actually feel herself blushing as he said this. She didn't remember a time ever before when Will had managed to make her blush.

"I have to beam down to Risa in just a few minutes," he told her, "We're helping them to get their new protection grid online. But it shouldn't take long. Meet me there at 1900 hours?" Deanna felt herself having to struggle to keep the pleasant expression on her face.

But she didn't want to fight. Not here. Not now. Not about this. Not ever again about this. She just nodded. Will, luckily didn't notice her inner struggle one bit. He was too caught up in his own happiness. Deanna was glad. These were her issues and she was just going to have to work them out.

"Good," Will affirmed in response to her silent nod. He stood up and leaned across the table to kiss her lightly on the lips, "see you then," he told her, turning to leave.

Across the room, Wesley Crusher was devouring a sandwich as though it were his last meal.

"Slow down," his mother instructed, "it's not going anywhere."

"Sorry, mom," Wesley answered, his mouth still part-way full, "I just had no idea how hungry I was."

"I can see that," Beverly observed, spearing another bite off her plate with a fork. Wes put down his sandwich and looked his mother in the eye. Beverly could tell that he was about to say something serious. But before he could even open his mouth, he lost his resolve, his expression changing from determination to that of a hopeful child,

"Mom," he began. Beverly was wondering just what he was about to ask. "Mom , do you think I could, I mean, would you let... would it be okay if..." He paused to collect himself, "Do you think I could take Amanda down to Risa for a few hours while we're here?" Beverly frowned at her son.

"Wesley," she contended, "She's been almost dead for more than two weeks, and the first day she shows some sign of life, you want to take her to Risa?" Wesley had been ready for that argument,

"I'm not talking about playing Parecia Squares, mother. I just think it would be nice to lie on the beach for a while instead of in sickbay. It would be relaxing, and I'm sure she'd appreciate the sunshine. And if anybody has ever deserved a vacation, she does." Beverly frowned even bigger.

"I hate to say this to you, Wes, but you've got a point." She hesitated for a second, "Okay. Tomorrow- maybe. And only for an hour or two." Wesley smiled across the table at his mother, his mouth once again full of food.

"Thanks mom," he said. She answered with a stern yet playful,

"Don't talk with your mouth full."


Will looked at his chronometer for what was probably the hundredth time. Where was she? He had thought, at first, when she was a little late, that it was just her way of giving him a ribbing over their non-existent previous meeting on Risa. But now she was over an hour late. He had tried more than once to raise her via com link and she had yet to respond. He sincerely hoped this was not her idea of a joke, because he didn't find it funny in the least.

He finally gave up. With a mix of annoyance and concern, he tapped his com badge and called,

"Riker to Enterprise , one to beam up." He felt the familiar tingle of the transporter and the next minute found himself on the pad in transporter room one. He did not even pause to exchange the usual pleasantries with the transporter officer on duty. He charged down off of the platform and out the door. He headed straight for Deanna's quarters. One way or another, he was going to get to the bottom of this. He reached her cabin and almost ran headlong into the door, as it did not open for him. He found this more than a little bit odd since they had programmed access to each other's cabins months ago. He prodded the keys to the right of the door, the code chiming him access to the doors that then obediently opened. He stepped inside.

Deanna was not more than ten feet away from him, staring out her window. Before he even had the chance to ask her why she hadn't met him, she whispered,

"I'm sorry." It was clear to him that she could sense his confusion and hurt. She turned to face him. The tears had barely begun to dry on her flushed cheeks. Will took a step toward her. "I just couldn't go down there," she told him, sinking into a chair. He crossed the room to sit on the couch next to where she had seated herself. "I was afraid that you wouldn't be there."

"What?" Will whispered in disbelief.

"I got as far as the door to the transporter room and I turned and ran. I was so afraid that you were going to leave me- again. Like the last time we were supposed to meet here." Will felt like his heart had been ripped from his chest, he reached over and took her hand,

"Deanna," he began. She shook her head quickly.

"I know it's a stupid irrational fear," she confessed, "but it's MY stupid irrational fear, Will. I just couldn't go down there." He slid down onto his knees in front of her and looked her square in the eye."

"Hey... Deanna," he whispered tenderly, "You know I'd never leave you, don't you?" She shook her head as she sniffed back the remainder of her tears. "You know I love you, and I would never desert you- not ever. Tonight, we'll stay right here, okay?" She nodded, her eyes beginning to come clear. "And tomorrow," he continued, "we'll beam down together. Together, alright?" She nodded her head and then slung her arms around his neck. He held onto her, rocking her gently back and forth.

"I'm sorry," she whispered again.

"Shhh," he quietly insisted, scooping her up into his arms and carrying her over to the couch, "There's nothing to be sorry for." He sat down, placing Deanna in his lap, he looked her directly in the eye as he reminded her, "I understand."

They sat there for a few minutes, without saying a word. Deanna, who was normally comfortable in a quiet room, found the silence deafening. She scooted herself off his lap and onto the couch beside him. She rested her head against his shoulder and beseeched him to,

"Talk to me, Will. About anything... just let me hear your voice." Will thought for a second and then responded,

"Here's something I never though would happen." Deanna looked up at him, inquisitively. "This afternoon I actually found myself having a conversation about marriage and children with Wesley Crusher. It was almost surreal." Deanna chuckled a little at that.

"I guess we've all had our own problems getting used to Wesley as an adult." she observed.

"You said it," Will confirmed, "He and Lieutenant Pearson said that, if things had happened as they had planned, they would be celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary and expecting their third child right about now." Deanna smiled at the thought of that, but then looked up at Will, a somber expression on her face.

"But then life stepped in. But somehow," she continued, "I have a feeling that things will eventually work out for the two of them. Look how long it took us."

"Yeah, but it was worth it," he said, picking up her hand from his lap and kissing it. "I can just see us five years down the road," he mused, "blissfully happy and surrounded by little Rikers." Deanna physically shrank away from him as he made that statement. She pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs. She hung her head, unable to look Will in the eye.

She wasn't sure exactly how she was going to say what she was about to have to say. But she knew she had to tell him. She felt overwhelmed by guilt and fear as she began,

"Will," her voice sounded barely above a squeak, "I'm not sure how to say this... I... I've never kept anything from you before. I have no idea how to tell you this." Tears burned fresh in her eyes. He reached over and pulled her chin up to where her eyes were even with his.

"Deanna," he said, "whatever it is... it's okay." He was trying his best to encourage her, but he could tell right away that it wasn't working. "Just tell me," he urged. She swallowed hard.

"Nobody knows this," she began, but then retracted her statement, "Well, mother knows, and... and Beverly, but that's all." She fidgeted a little before continuing, "Will, there's a very good chance that I can't have children." Will was dumbfounded, he looked at her, puzzled,

"But, Deanna," he said, "You've been pregnant before, you..." She cut him off by raising her hand.

"That was different," she told him, "Ian was... he had nothing to do with me, really. He just... chose me to bring him into our world."

"Is this because you're half Betazoid?" He asked, he was still confused, but trying his best to make heads or tails of what she was saying. "I thought... I mean I've met..." She shook her head. It became very clear to him that she had to get this off her chest.

"Human and Betazoid DNA is remarkably similar," she explained, "But there is one specific genetic combination that doesn't... well... speak to each other. If I inherited this dissimilar gene from either parent, getting pregnant will depend on whether or not your genes interact properly. But if I inherited it from both parents... I.." he nodded his head, he didn't want her o have to finish that sentence. He was sure that sharing this secret with him had been hard enough already.

"Well, is there a test?" he asked her, "I mean, Deanna, there has to be some way to find out whether or not..."

"There is," she answered him abruptly, "a test. I've just never had it done. It's..." she hesitated, "invasive." She paused again, "and painful," she added. He nodded, trying his best to understand. He knew that she needed him right now, but he had no clue what to do. "And the truth is, Will," she swallowed hard, "I've never really wanted to know. I mean, it bothers me sometimes, but... I always thought I would find out eventually, but, I was always afraid of what it might do to me if I found out and the news wasn't what I wanted to hear. And then, the older I got and the more it looked like I wasn't going to have the chance to have children of my own, I just put it out of my mind." She looked into his crystal blue eyes, and could see his longing to ease her pain, "I can have test done," she suggested, "I'll schedule it with Beverly tomorrow. And if it comes out that... well- if it turns out that we... that I can't have children... if you want to call off the engagement- I'll understand." She was fighting back her tears so hard with that final remark that Will could almost sense her in physical pain. He turned in his seat and took both her hands. He waited until she looked him in the eye again to begin,

"Deanna," he whispered, "I love you. Period. No matter what, for better or for worse, come what may I love you. I have always loved you. And I don't care whether we have twenty children or none at all; I want to be with you. I want to marry you, to spend the rest of my life with you. If you want to have that damned test done, fine... I'll be right there to hold your hand. But do it because you're ready to know, not because you feel some sort of obligation to me. In fact, wait and do it after the wedding; after the honeymoon. If you don't come back pregnant, then we'll discuss the test, okay?" Deanna sniffled, smiling at the man who sat before her. Even had she not been an empath, she would have been able to sense the love and concern emanating from him.

"Thank you," she managed to whisper. She leaned forward and buried her face in his chest. He leaned back and pulled her up to where her head lay on her shoulder.

"Go to sleep," he whispered to her, "Big day tomorrow." He could feel her face smile against him, and then her eyes blink closed.


Wesley Crusher bounded through the door to his mother's office, barely even pausing to tell her hello as he passed,

"Hi, mom, she up yet?" Was all he said, he didn't actually stop moving as he said it. Beverly was quite tickled by this. She just chuckled, nodded, and affirmed,

"Yes." Wes shot his mother a quick smile as the doors to the isolation suite swished open to allow him entry.

He was very pleased at what he found on the other side. Amanda was across the room from her bed, in the midst of asking the replicator for a

"Frozen pineapple sorbet," Wesley was very glad to hear her sounding exactly like herself.

"Good morning," he called as the golden treat materialized in the foodslot. She turned to face him as she picked up the frozen concoction and began the short trip back over to her bed.

"Good morning to you," she sang back. She hopped up onto the biobed and took a large bite out of the mound of sorbet in her hand. "Don't tell," she instructed him, regarding the cup of fruity goodness she was obviously relishing. "Somehow, I don't think your mother would approve." He walked over to her and kissed her forehead,

"Your secret is safe with me," he assured her. She looked down at the parcel he had carried into the room,

"What's that?" she asked, "Is it for me?" She sounded almost childlike in her curiosity. Wesley loved every second of it. He grinned knowingly and nodded. She managed to snatch the bag out of his hands as he was making his grand attempt to be cut and immediately peeked at its contents. She withdrew her head, confused.

"You brought me clothes," she observed, her voice very dry and matter-of-fact. Then her eyes widened and she perked up a bit, "Are we going somewhere?" she guessed. Wesley nodded, he was enjoying this guessing game,

"Mm-hmm," he affirmed.

"Where?" She asked, then retracted, "No, don't tell me, I don't care." she decided, "As long as it's not here," Wes turned toward the door,

"I'll be in mom's office," he told her, "As soon as you're ready, we'll go." He walked through the door with a happy spring in his step. He swaggered through the door to his mother's office and flopped himself down into a chair. Beverly smiled at her son.

"She's getting ready?" the doctor asked.

"Yeah," Wesley confirmed, "I wouldn't tell her where we're going," he laughed.

"It'll be a nice surprise," Bev encouraged. "I'm sure you two will have a great time on the surface, just make sure you take it easy; she's not well yet." Wesley nodded, his face falling into a frown.

"I know mom," he affirmed, "I promise. But I do think it'll be nice for us to have some time away."

"Me too," Beverly agreed. "And I'm sure you both could use it." She crossed her arms over her desk and the tone of her voice changed, "Wesley," she said, sounding very serious, "I'm not sure how much longer you're going to be able to stay, and to tell you the truth, I'm still not sure I understand how you got here in the first place. But I don't think Amanda would have gotten through this without you." Wesley smiled.

"Mom," he began, "did Amanda ever tell you about the first night we spent together?"

"The night you met?" Beverly asked.

"No, I mean the first night we ever slept in the same bed," he corrected. Beverly leaned back in her chair, she wasn't sure she liked where this conversation was going.

"No," she told him, "I don't think that ever came up, why?"

"Oh," he said, "it just seems like she would have told you the story." Beverly looked a little bit puzzled, but allowed him to continue. "I was so sick, mom," he related, "I had caught this mutant influenza virus; half of San Francisco had caught it in the space of a week. It ran its course in thirty-six hours, but they were the most miserable thirty-six hours in my entire life. I was on the tail end of the epidemic, in fact, I was the last person I knew that had it. The anti-virus took twenty-nine hours to synthesize and could only be synthesized in small quantities, so basically, There just wasn't any by the time I came down with it. And Rino, my roommate, was away at an internship. So there I was, alone, and sicker than I had ever imagined being.

"Amanda and I had only been seeing each other for a couple of weeks. We had made plans, and I was so sick I totally forgot. She showed up at my room to demand an explanation, oh- she was so mad. But then, when she saw how sick I was, mom, she was so good to me. She bundled me up in a bunch of quilts, she made me drink some sort of herbal tea from her home planet, and it really helped. When my fever spiked, she put a cold rag on my head, I had never heard of such a thing, but it worked. And, in the middle of the night, I woke up with such a chill that I thought I would never get warm. So she climbed into bed next to me to warm me up.

"Mom, the two days she spent taking care of me were the only two days of school she missed the entire time she was at Starfleet Academy. I guess it was that week that I figured out that I loved her. I just remember that it was a lot easier being sick when she was there to take care of me. I couldn't let her be sick without me here to take care of her. I was just returning the favor."

Beverly smiled. She was very proud of her son. She resisted the urge to walk around the desk and hug him; an impulse that was helped by Amanda's well-timed entrance. Wesley stood when he saw her. "You ready?" he asked. She nodded.

"I wish you would tell me where we're going," she goaded. Wesley just grinned and shook his head.

"You'll find out when we get there,"he told her. She rolled her eyes at him. He extended his arm to her and asked, "Shall we?" She gladly accepted the offer of his arm and replied,

"Let's go." The young couple strolled out of sickbay as though they didn't have a care in the universe.

The giggling young couple was surprised when the transporter room doors swished open and they found that they had come upon Commander Riker and Counselor Troi. They tried their best to stifle the giggles that had been consuming them for three decks. They tried their best to display decorum before their senior officers. It didn't work. Their youthful spirits and open affection had a warming effect on the other couple, who smiled brightly at them. Commander Riker stepped onto the transporter pad, reaching out his hand to the counselor to do the same.

"Going down?" He asked the young, giddy couple. Wes nodded in response and then he and Amanda bounded up onto the transporter pad as well. They heard the voice of the transporter officer call out,

"Energizing," The familiar tingle of transport overtook the four of them and the next thing they knew, they were standing in the middle of a large Cabana, facing an incredible beach.

"Welcome to Risa, ladies," Commander Riker announced. Deanna couldn't help but wonder how many times he had said that in his life. But she wasn't going to think about it. They were there to have a good time, and that was exactly what Deanna intended to do. She reached over and took Will's hand and the two of them started toward the water.

Wesley, for his part, had his attention focused entirely on Amanda. She was visibly in awe of everything. The sunlight glinted off the pink sand beaches, and there were Enterprise crew members all around, dressed in civilian attire, obviously enjoying themselves. She even caught sight of the profile of Captain Picard as they made their way to a row of cushy chaise-lounges.

"Wesley," she whispered. He turned to her to share whatever secret she was about to impart, "If the Captain's down here," she asked, "the who's running the ship?" Wesley laughed out loud at that. Here she was on what was arguably the most beautiful and romantic planet in t galaxy, and she was worried about who was running the ship.. He shook his head,

"Who cares?" he laughed. The two of them took a seat in a large, comfy lounge chair and snuggled up against one another. Amanda looked up at Wes and smiled.

"I don't know how much longer I'm going to get to keep you this time," she told him, "but I'm thankful for every minute. I'm so glad to get to have you here, my Wesley; my sweet Wesley. Every minute is like a dream come true. I just hope I get a little warning before you have to go this time. If you recall, your last poorly-timed exit interrupted my commendation ceremony." Wes chuckled. He put his arm around her and pulled her a little closer.

"I'm not ready to leave here just yet," he said, "I haven't even had the chance to kiss you properly this visit." She blushed a little at his open expression of affection.

"Well, I'm right here," she encouraged. Wesley took the hint. He bent down and gently kissed her, savoring every moment. The kiss was interrupted by the unmistakable sound of Captain Picard clearing his throat. The couple instinctively scooted away from one another as they looked up to acknowledge him.

"Mr. Crusher," Picard began, "I just wanted to say how pleased I am that you'll be joining us for such a long tenure this time."

"I beg you pardon, sir?" Wesley answered, not sure of what the Captain was getting at.

"Well," Picard clarified, "I have just spoken with your traveling companion. Seems the two of you were on your way to Starbase nineteen. He asked to stay aboard until the Enterprise puts in there next for maintenance. I told him that it could be four months or more until we were scheduled to put in for maintenance, and he said there was no hurry."

"Four months?" Amanda asked, her face glowing and the hope visibly swelling in her chest.

"I may have to make it five," the Captain confided, smiling at her.

"Thank you sir," was all Wesley could bring himself to say before the Captain turned and walked away, leaving the young couple alone. Wes turned to Amanda and began, "This is going to be..." she finished his sentence,

"Better than I could have ever dreamt."

Deanna was staring straight ahead, out across the vast expanse of the ocean. The sky was turning miraculous shades of amber and pink as the Risian set, and it was a sight she wanted to etch in to her memory forever. They had spent the entire day on the beach; strolling, talking, even pausing once to make love within a tiny cove of rocks that had caught their eye. She couldn't believe that she had ever been afraid to come here; that she had ever hated this place. She knew, still, that Will had fond memories of Risa with other women, and she still held to the painful memories of this planet that were part of her past. But that's just what all of that was; the past- water under the proverbial bridge, nothing to be dwelt on, nothing to be examined or argued over. They had made new memories together.

Deanna leaned back to lay her head against Will's chest. She delighted in the comfort the sound of his heartbeat provided. She loved him more than she ever had imagined she could. And he loved her to the same impossible degree. Of that she was sure. The suns had finished setting, and the warm glow in the sky was replaced by a sea of infinite stars, twinkling and shining. Will leaned back onto the sand, and she lay back beside him, resting her head on his outstretched arm as they stared up into the darkness.

"How do you feel about Risa now?" he asked her.

"Right," she answered him, "I feel like everything in the Universe is right the way it had ought to be. I feel like everyone's in love and everybody's happy. And I'm glad I came."

"Me too," he affirmed, "Me too."