The Cost of Destiny

by Carol Sandford

Okay, a quick run down.

I often thought about Will & Dee's first meeting and wondered how it
would be if Deanna didn't actually ~want~ to become Imzadi. So this
story is basically the total opposite of the original storyline.

It is pure fluff. Pure steam, and I hope you guys like. :)

The Cost of Destiny by Carol Sandford
Disclaimer in force, so bugger off guys.
Rated: NC17

Oh, p.s. I stole the poker game from elsewhere. I don't have one clue
about the game but it was an important part of the story.



Cigar smoke lay like a heavy hand in the small back dining room of the Troi mansion. Three men, one woman, sat around the table, cards in hand, their dark gazes intent on the current deal. Sergeant Tang, the crusty looking, ageing man, frowned at his luck while Mark Roper, considered the possibility of drawing another king for a pair. Beside him, the sole woman of the meet, smiled inwardly at a pair of jacks and deuce wild, while Will, all but did mental backflips over the three queens in his hand.

The foursome made an unlikely quartet. Each holding a quality that one another admired, and each trying their damnedest to produce the most perfect poker face - and succeeding. Sly glances occasionally broke the concentration as the vied for something, anything, that would give an opponent away. All failed.

The woman studied the man opposite her for longer, his features likeable enough to capture many a look. He had eyes that made women forget to breathe. Startling blue, like a mountain lake fed by the purest of waters, and curtained with sweeping lashes. And that smile. That smile of his could charm the stripes of zebra.

It also didn't hurt that he was six foot four, with a physique to match his height. He was all male. It didn't matter that he was an off-worlder. Her people had long accepted that they needed aid from the outside. The small army that resided not too far away from this very room, somehow, seemed calming. Safe. William Riker was one of those soldiers, he was also a formidable poker player, and was happily piling up her precious chips before him as he waited for his Lady Luck to wave her magic wand his way, again.

"Five dollars says that pot is mine." Will grinned.

Tang glanced up from his hand of cards and bit down on his own cigar. "The hell you say..." he glanced red-faced towards the female of the group, "sorry ma'am - I'll see your five and double it."

"Too steep for me." Mark threw his cards down and pushed away from the table. "Gotta go, folks. Need to check on that daughter of mine - see if she really is tucked up in that bed of hers. I doubt it it though, she's probably harassing some poor soldier into giving her a good time."

Will continued to stare at his cards. He still had a game to win and the last member of the group didn't look like she was about to fold. He caught her eyes with his own, "Looks like it's just you me." Will tipped back his chair on two legs while the men pulled on their jackets. "I see you...." he tossed a few more chips into the pile. "....and I-"

The door to the dining room flew open, creating an instant draft that lifted the cards already placed on the table top.

"Mother, this has got to stop immediately!"

Will swivelled to look at the woman standing in the doorway.

Deanna Troi.

Deanna's ebony hair tumbled around her flushed face and fell in riotous waves over the shoulders of the purple dressing-gown she wore, its lapels overlapping and pulled tight around her slender figure, and then held fast with a belt, the sleeves, so long they completely covered her hands. But it was her eyes that held Will's stare; black orbs that matched her mothers, blazed with thunderous emotion. She was livid.

"Little one, I can explain..."

Lwaxana Troi took the unlit, enormous cigar daintily from between her lips and put it onto the table. It fascinated Will to watch her play the game with the huge six inch cigar stuck between her teeth. She'd never lit it, not even once, but for whatever obscure reason, she found the smell and, or the taste of it comforting. Either that or she just liked to be, 'one of the boys'.

Dropping the chair onto all four of its legs, Will glanced forlornly at the queens in his hand, sighed, then threw his cards down, folded his arms and rested them on the table and waited for the show to begin.

Flopping back into her chair Lwaxana turned her attention to her daughter who was moving stiffly out of the way as the departing men bowed uneasily, and silently as they made their escape. Will would have done the same, but his perverseness at watching the two women argue kept him planted in his chair.

Hell bent on bending her mothers ear, Deanna ignored the man sitting opposite her. But even though she didn't even glance in his direction, she could not ignore the sheer power that oozed from his direction. Damn him, he was going to listen to her rant and rave at her mother, and once more, make herself look the bad guy. She hated that.

Will studied Deanna's flawless features as she ripped into her mother. Something about that haughty, patronizing air of hers, quite often made Will want to grab her by her cute chin and kiss her senseless. She rattled him, big time. But she was her mothers daughter. She was a dignitary. She was as good as a princess. She was off-limits.

And he'd wanted her as soon as he'd laid eyes on her.

But sitting here, watching her blow a gasket, with her hair all rumpled, dressed in her robe and fluffy slippers, Deanna didn't look quite so starched, or quite so stiff, or quite so regal. She looked kind of...soft. Soft and cute. He began to wonder what she was hiding beneath the sack of a bathrobe. Was it a sexy little see-through number. Or maybe a virginal white shorty? Nah, it was probably some god-awful frumpy thing that she'd inherited from some maiden aunt or something similar.

Startled by his thoughts, and the silence that now surrounded him, Will looked first to her mother, and then to Deanna and noticed the rigid lift of her shoulders and the tight press of her lips. He shifted uncomfortably in his chair remembering, belatedly, that he was in the presence of a powerful telepath and an empath, and his thoughts of moments ago would have been as vivid to them as watching a movie show.

It was time to leave.

Hastily pushing himself to a stand, the chair scraping in protest at its harsh treatment, Will scooped his healthy pile of chips into his hands. "Time to go, ladies, I know you both need your beauty sleep. Thanks for the game, Mrs. Troi, look forward to doing it again sometime." He mentally kicked himself as he found himself bowing as he backed his way towards the door, "Deanna. Good night."

Too late.

"Stop right there, Lieutenant Riker!"

Just two more steps and he would have been home-free. Framed by the doorway, Will stood his full height, the small tuft of his hair lightly grazing the top of the doorway. How the hell Homn walked around the house, still bewildered Will.

He watched Deanna's small frame approach and his body went tense with inner dread. But when she spoke, he couldn't have been more surprised if he'd tried.

"I see you've lost a lot of money tonight, Mr. Riker, and I feel bad about that. How about a rematch - just you and me?" she challenged.

He eyed her suspiciously, drowning himself in her dark eyes, "What's the catch?"

She seemed to already looked triumphant, "If I win, you must promise never to play anymore poker while you're on my planet, or include my mother in any of your"

"And if I win....?"

"You get to play poker whenever you like...and I'll come and work for you for..."she tapped her chin as she pondered the option, "two weeks."

"You'll cheat."


"You'll read my mind. I won't stand a chance."

"I thought you were good at this, Mr. Riker."

"I am!"

"Prove it."

"Okay, you're on."

They both made their way back to the table. Lwaxana Troi stood and stretched her arms high above her head, her voice high and full of shameless pretence, "Heavens, is that time? I think I'll retire and leave you young things to battle it out."

Neither Will nor Deanna expected her to stay as they moved either side of the table and sat down, but with Lwaxana's parting words, they both looked up at her with determination, fire and a touch of fear in their eyes.

"May the best man win, darlings. Good night." she ended on a sing-song tone.

Deanna stared across at the man that sat opposite her, her muttered, "Good night, Mother, I'll see you in the morning." slipping from her lips, devoid of emotion. Will's own half-hearted, "Good night, Mrs. Troi." also drifted off as he watched Deanna collect up the scattered cards and begin to shuffle them as well as any card dealer could.

He was in trouble.

He also made a mistake when he asked what game she'd like to play as she placed the pack in the centre of the table," So what's it going to be, Deanna?" he was sure she was going to say Go Fish, or Crazy Eights, but when he watched her sit up in her chair and her hands lace delicately on the table in front of her, he knew he was sunk.

"How about five card stud, one-eyed jacks wild?"

"You want to play poker!?"

"Of course! My father taught me to count with a deck of cards when I was two. When the other kids were playing kiddy stuff, I learned how to double down with an eleven in blackjack." She smiled and held her cool eyes steady with his. "Now deal the cards, Lieutenant, I'm about to kick your butt."

Chapter two

Will groaned into the snowy white pillow as the alarm jangled beside his head. Reaching out, he slapped the offending time piece and resumed his position, only this time, the things that ran through his mind now became thoughts rather than dreams. Living on the base's campus, meant that Will only had to allow himself five minutes to walk from his bed to his office, and he fully intended to make the most of the precious half hour he allowed himself before he had to move.

Rolling onto his back, he found himself staring at the ceiling and thinking about the poker game, and Deanna Troi. Over the two hours or so that they had battled it out, Will had learned a lot about Deanna Troi. About the way she scratched the minuscule dimple upon her chin when she was bluffing. The way her throat turned pink when she was on a winning streak. He liked the way she tucked wayward strands of hair behind delicate ears that just begged to be kissed. And he liked her sassy mouth. The latter a pleasant surprise.

He was a man that had come to fully appreciate the female of the species. With their exotic smells and delicious curves, they fascinated him almost as much as they intrigued him. They were complicated and mysterious; sweet and coy one minute, difficult and confusing the next.

Fortunately for him, women enjoyed his company as much as he enjoyed theirs. He understood the game well enough to know that, as an unattached male, he was open season for all single women. but he was honest and up front with every woman he dated; he wasn't looking for anything more.

He pulled the pillow on top of his head and groaned again. Not until he'd met Deanna Troi.


Why now? He'd 'known' Deanna for some time. He'd seen her around and she'd ignored him. At first it bugged him. And then it had intrigued him. And then he'd all but given up. The rumours that he'd heard about her seemed to be true, and he just wasn't up for the challenge - not when there were other women willing to offer him what she clearly had no intention of offering.

Wendy Roper. Nice lady. Great ass. The word easy slipped into his head, but then just as quickly slipped out again. He'd been even easier. She was willing, and he was ready. Heck, he'd been flat on his back, dressed only with a, 'come and get me' smile plastered upon his face. She got him.

Occasionally she sought him out, and occasionally, he admitted to himself, he caved in to her feminine wiles. Okay, he moaned. he, 'always' caved in. He was a man, after all. And she was willing, after all.

But what he wanted - what he really wanted, was a taste of the forbidden fruit, and if he had to play dirty to get it, then so be it.


"You cheated, didn't you?"

Riker smiled enigmatically, "I'll never tell. I'm much too much of a gentleman to reveal such a secret as that."

Tang propped himself against the desk and folded his arms across his wide chest. Laughter lit up his wiry features, "You cheated. There is no way on this planet that you won against a Betazoid. How did you do it?"

Will shoved the file into its appropriate slot and slammed shut the drawer, "Actually, it was easy. Somehow....I managed to get into her mind just enough to know what she was holding. She obviously figured I couldn't do that and left herself wide open for invasion. I just made the most of the opportunity." he said proudly.

"I bet she was as mad as hell."

"Actually, she wasn't," he grimaced, puzzlement clouding his normally handsome features just for a moment, and then a big cheesy grin took its place, "Maybe she wanted me to win."

Tang barked out his surprise loudly,"Deanna Troi!? Never! Her reputation as ice-queen, stuffy-drawers and snob are not uttered in vain. She is every bit as formidable as her nick-names imply. You think her mother is a tyrant? You haven't seen nothing until you have met the wrath of her daughter!"

It was then that Tang noticed how Will was staring past his shoulders, the look of horror and tension, and embarrassment etched upon his face, "She's here, isn't she?" he groaned, his moustache drooping along with the line of his mouth, the stark terror lightening his already pale, wishy-washy blue eyes.

Deanna stepped further into the room, her face, Will could tell, was hidden behind a well used mask, her words dripping amusement. Bitter amusement. "Glad to see I still have my reputation in tact, Lieutenant Tang, I'll be sure to pass the good news onto my mother, she'll be thrilled to hear my regalness still has some strength around here."

Well done, Will thought to himself, even if Tang wasn't that far off the mark. Still, it had gotta hurt; being tagged with handles, that to a young and beautiful woman, must hurt, it had got to. But she sure as hell wasn't going to let him, or anyone else know.

Still with that same bitter amusement, she brought into his train of thought, "Good morning, Lieutenant Riker. As you can see, I've kept my side of the bet. I am at your disposal for the next two weeks."

As she stood within Will's office, Deanna was still stunned at how Riker had beaten her at poker. NO ONE had ever beat her! Ever! He had got to have cheated, but as she'd lay in her bed, no matter how many times she replayed the game over and over in her head, could she find the moment when he had.

And so here she was, at his mercy. God help her. Tang's cruel words had stung, but she'd heard them before - and had dismissed them just as fast before too. But they still rankled. They still hurt. Sometimes, she liked having that elusiveness - that edge of being, 'different', but unfortunately those differences not only kept tongues wagging, but kept men away. No man dared to approach the mighty Deanna Troi, and as she looked up into the mesmerizing gaze of William Riker, she thought morosely, if only they tried.

If only he'd try.

Will watched her blink a thought away and wondered just what had gone through her crazy head. For an instant he thought she was going to cry, but as fast as her eyes shimmered with tell-tale tears, they got replaced by that no-nonsense cool facade again.

How the hell was he going to work with her, for two, whole, damn weeks?


"WHO THE HELL PUT FLOWERS IN MY OFFICE!?" William Riker's voice echoed around the sparsely spread complex, making his voice carry and sound even louder than it really was. Why he yelled the stupid question was beyond him. It was obvious who'd put them in there; Deanna Troi.

When the person in question stuck her head around the door barely thirty seconds later, it was to see him dumping the beautiful blooms in the bin.

"Why did you do that? Don't you know that having a little piece of nature around you helps your peace of mind. Calms you?" she offered, stung that he'd not even just simply moved the flowers, but had unceremoniously thrown them away. She suddenly felt as discarded as them.

"Ms. Troi, in case you hadn't noticed, this, is a military base. We are supposed to be seen as soldiers of war. Saviours of planets. Men of action. How in God's name do you think I would feel, sat in my office with an admiral - or some other important person, and a bunch of...of...." He grabbed at a name out of thin air, "daffodils waving in their face!?"

"They're not daffodils," she said petulantly, "They're Chrysanthemums - and I did chose a masculine colour." She added for good measure.

The deep green of the foliage only seemed to highlight the beautiful, rich auburn hue of the buds. In another setting, Will would have admired the blooms, but not here, not in his office. And not from her, because every time he'd look at them, he would think of her, and these days, she was never far from his thoughts, anyhow.

And now, as she stood dejected and tinged with anger, he was almost sorry for his childish outburst. His voice softened a touch as he slid behind the safe haven of his desk - only because he'd slid a glance down her slender body and caught a glimpse of creamy breast where her no-nonsense blouse had shifted. The innocent slip on her part, created a masculine, graphic response on his.

Damn, she'd caught him out as her own startled gaze quickly glanced down, and fingers even quicker than her glance, whipped up and covered the now blush-tinted exposed flesh. Her eyes held a hint of apology and embarrassment, and before he could even dismiss it, and her, she turned tail and vanished.

Will shook his head in stunned bemusement as he watched her retreating back. Was she really that shy? Now, if had been Wendy Roper, she'd had been perched on the edge of his desk by now and....

Will slapped the image away. He didn't want Wendy, he wanted...

He wanted...


Chapter three.

When Will returned from a meeting in the consulate a couple of days after his very frank, and very unwanted admission, he walked through the door to the complex to find the object of his displeasure striding towards his office from the opposite direction, clipboard in hand.

Determined to keep her not only out from under his feet, but amused with a job that he expected to take her at least two days, Will had given her the task of sorting and counting the stores, with instructions to order supplies if necessary.

She had balked when she'd stepped into the huge storeroom, with its towering layers of racking and some thirty feet of area. It was stacked from floor to ceiling with almost every kind of supplies imaginable. It was a relatively easy job; she had a list and she just had to cross-reference with what was on the list to what was on the shelf. Simple.

He swore she gave him a look of pure venom before demurely telling him that it was, 'no problem'. In hind sight, he should have wondered about her strange answer. In hind sight, he should have at least checked up on her occasionally to see if she was coping okay. In hindsight, he should have known she had something up her sleeve.

She did.


"Good morning, Lieutenant Riker."

Will beamed at the sight for sore eyes before him. She couldn't have smiled any wider. And, she couldn't have looked more gorgeous if she'd tried. "Good morning, Miss. Troi, how's the inventory going?" He gave himself a mental pat on the back; Good thinking, Riker, keep it on neutral ground, you can do this.

If it was at all possible, her smile turned even more saccharin sweet, "Oh, I've nearly finished. Just got to check the medical supplies and then I'm all done. I've ordered the diminished supplies like you instructed. Some have already arrived, and the others should be here by the end of the week."

He had to hand it to her, Will thought, she was putting up a really good front. If he didn't know better, he'd think she was actually enjoying herself. Which of course, she wasn't.

"Oh, good, good, that's great," he marvelled, "that'll save us a lot of time. You've done a remarkable job for us so far, I'm glad we played that game now." Will gamely grinned at her, convinced that she would understand the humour behind the remark. When she didn't comment, Will wished he could backtrack; remove the joke, but knew he was too late. He turned to his office door, effectively halting the unwanted and uneasy moment, "Well, I'll be in my office if you need me. See you later."

As he put his hand on the handle. Will didn't wonder why she stopped several feet away from his office door, and just assumed that she was waiting for him to shut the door on her. But he soon found out the reason why when he turned the door's handle and stepped into the room.

"What the...!?"

A mountain of toilet rolls rained down on him like an avalanche of snow. Hundreds of the pearly white packs of tissue toppled over him, some stacked as high as the ceiling. As he rose frantic arms to ward of the worse of the freefall, he only succeeded in making the other still standing piles collide against the one beside it, creating a domino effect.

Like lava flowing, Will tried frantically to side-step the rolling mass, but only ended up landing flat on his back, buried beneath the still tumbling packs. When at last they all came to a halt, Will lay there, stunned and feeling decidedly foolish, slowly pushing away the remaining rolls from his torso.

He narrowed his eyes, and gritted his teeth. Somebody was going to die.

When that somebody leaned over him, he stared up at her, his command of speech got totally obliterated.

"I guess I forgot to mention that I made a slight error with the order. Isn't it funny what the difference is between one thousand individual toilet rolls and one thousand packs?" she blinked, apparently stunned by the information, "Amazing." She said, and then her eyebrows rose in mock concern, "Sorry."

Deanna squeaked when Will's hand snaked out and grabbed her down and on top of him. In one swift, fluid move, he rolled and pinned her underneath him. Eyes wide, mouth still agape with surprise, she looked up at him and saw the murderous glint in his eyes.

She couldn't help it. She started to laugh. She watched, fascinated as a muscle jumped in Will's jaw as he stared down at her. Revenge glistened in his bright blue eyes, and a slow, sinister smile touched his mouth.

She was in trouble.

Deanna struggled to move away from him, but Will was not having any of it. Straddling her, Will tried to grasp her hands, but she fought like a demon. Eventually he captured her arms and pinned them to her sides. She tried to break free but his grip only tightened. He was much too strong for her to throw him off, and she would only embarrass herself if she tried.

She tried to reason with his nicer side, even threw a gentle, teasing smile his way, "I did say I was sorry, Will."

Will shook his head bemused, the action forcing the shock of hair to fall over his forehead, "You want to tell me how you managed this little trick by yourself?" he demanded quietly.

"Tang helped." she admitted smugly, "We had the driver back up to your office window and he very kindly passed them through to us - Well, threw actually," she emended. "There was such a lot." she added innocently.

He couldn't believe what he was hearing, "You did this on purpose? You actually spent the entire years budget, just to get back at me!?" His eyes turned darker. Stormier. Hurt.

Guilt suddenly racked through her. She hadn't thought of that, or how he would feel."I claim full responsibility for my actions," she said emphatically. "I insist that all consequences be directed at me."

As he watched the guilt fill her eyes, it triggered a momentary moment of compassion within him, allowing the joke that it was filter through. "You insist, do you?" His voice suddenly turned husky. "All consequences?" his voice dropped another octave, "Are you sure about that, Deanna?"

The sudden change startled Deanna and her struggles slowly stilled, insecurity filled her mind, chasing out the foolishness that had taken over, creating a dangerous situation. What was she doing? What wasn't she doing? She wasn't fighting him anymore. She wasn't even thinking anymore. She'd never been more aware of a man in her entire life. Will's body was long and hard and muscular. The angles of his face were sharp now, his jaw clenched, his eyes narrowed and dancing with the devil. His strong mouth was pressed into a smirk, his hair, tousled and itching to be touched.

But it was the pulse at the base of his throat that had captured her attention. She couldn't take her eyes of it. The air shimmered around them. Grew taut. Deanna didn't want this. Didn't want to cross any lines that she'd regret, and she had enough regrets in her life at the moment, and she really didn't want to add William Riker to that list.

The pulsing in her body screamed at her to shut up and offer herself to Will without question or protest. But her head sensibly over-ruled her rapidly heating body and she thanked the stars that she still had a thread of good judgement left to cling onto.

"So," she said lightly, desperately wanting to pull the mood back to playful, or even apologetic instead of the dark, sensual tone that had suddenly closed in around them. "Am I forgiven?"

He stared at her for a long moment, then his gaze dropped to her mouth. "No, you're not. I need to think of a suitable punishment." he said, his voice strained.

With her body still pinned beneath his, Will lifted her arms over her head, then lowered his mouth to hers. At the first light touch of his lips on hers, she held very still, determined not to respond. And then that last thread of good judgement she'd been so proud of, snapped like a twig in a tornado.

His mouth was firm and strong, but the kiss was gentle. Her heart slammed in her chest as he nibbled on the corner of her lips. Liquid heat rushed through her body, and her skin became tight and tingly.

"Will," she whispered as her traitorous lips moved against his, "I don't think..."

"Me, either."

Then he completely destroyed her.

He crushed his mouth to hers. Her senses spun at the fierce demand of his lips, the press of his strong, long body over hers, the faint masculine scent that was his, and only his. He was power and she was powerless. The silly myths she'd heard over the eons about fairy tale romances and being swept off her feet. They were all true.

She had no defences against him. His kiss stripped away every argument, every last remnant of reason and logic. Her mind was no longer in control. Right then, she could only feel. And it felt wonderful. It felt better than wonderful.

He deepened the kiss and a low, unguarded moan rose from deep in her throat. She squirmed beneath him, frustrated that he still held her arms, yet excited at the same time. Intense pleasure sparked in her blood, then burst into flames. When his hands finally released her wrists, only to slide down her arms, she trembled in anticipation.

Needing him closer, she wound her arms tightly around his neck. His mouth moved down her throat, his tongue, hot and wet, tasted and nipped. He murmured something against her ear and his warm breath sent ripples of delight through her. Skilfully he moved hands down her sides, then lower still, gathering her skirt upward, exposing her calves, then her thighs. His hands felt rough on her sensitive skin and she shivered at his touch. An ache settled between her legs, and she moved restlessly against him, wanting more.

Then his hands moved upward and slid under her blouse. She gasped when he cupped her breasts, arching upwards, inviting more, receiving it when his thumbs caressed her hardened nipples. She almost fell apart there and then, but knew there was more to come. He nipped at the base of her throat, murmured her name, then moved lower...

"Hello! anyone here?"

Both she and Will jumped at the deep, booming voice that echoed through the empty corridor, barely a few feet away from where they lay on the floor amongst the carpet of toilet rolls, practically on the point of making love.

Muttering an oath, Will moved off of her, then stood, reached out a hand to help her up. Shaking, she rose on jellied knees and quickly smoothed down her clothing with hands that trembled violently, not only from what had happened to her body, but from almost being caught making out. She wasn't sure at that point which was worse.

The man that eventually stuck his head through the door, stared in bewilderment and amusement, first at the toilet rolls that the couple now stood in up to their knees, and then at the, 'don't you dare say a word' expression upon both their faces.

By the time Will had dealt with the delivery man, Deanna had gone. Escaped.


Chapter four

"I'm surprised to see you this morning, Miss Troi - especially after...yesterday." Will handed Deanna the day's agenda, his eyes holding a hint of surprise, and pride. Unable to resist himself, Wills fingers tenderly stroked her hand as she took the padd from him, "I thought you would have wanted out from our...agreement."

She jerked her hand away as though she had been burnt, her frown marring her pretty face, "I finish what I start, Lieutenant. I don't scare that easy." she said firmly.

He grinned at her, "I'm glad to hear that, Deanna. Very glad."

There was no doubt in her mind as to what he meant, and her cheeks turned pink, which only made Will smile wider. He leaned in closer, bringing his mouth to within a couple of inches from hers, and her eyelids lowered. She started to sway towards him, then she blinked and jerked her head away.

"Oh, no," she swore, "That is one thing that is never going to happen again. Do you understand me, Lieutenant?"

Before he even had a chance to agree, or even laugh at the absurdity of her threat, she spun on her heels and left the room, leaving behind a delicate waft of her perfume, and a challenge.


Deanna tried to find a million and one excuses to get out of her mother's little, 'get-together', and for every excuse Deanna found, her mother threw each one straight back at her, until in the end, she pinned her daughter with a murderous glare, puffed out her chest, lifted her eyebrows and growled, non-too-ladylike, "Deal with him, Deanna. Either give him what he wants, or stay away from him."

"But mother, I am trying! But everywhere I go, he's there. He's...everywhere!" she cried passionately. "It's's like, he's a magnet to me. I can't seem to avoid him." she added rather despondently. Thoughtfully.

Lwaxana Troi watched the misery and confusion mar her daughters beautiful face, recognizing the true problem instantly; Deanna was falling in love. Her little girl had fallen for possibly the last person on Betazed that she should have done. A man that was going to spend his life among the stars. A man, who had only been on her home planet for less than a month, but had still managed to build a reputation with the ladies. Simply, a man.

William Riker was a cad in the first order. William Riker was the one man that she didn't want teaching her daughter how to be a woman. A proper woman. William Riker was not suitable husband material, and Deanna would never have a moments happiness with him after the initial flush of passion had been spent. He was either likely to disappear from her life, leaving her behind with a broken heart, or he was going to die amongst those stars that he clearly idolized.

Just like her beloved husband had.

The exasperation drained from Lwaxana's body as quickly as it filled it. Sliding down onto the couch beside her, she gently tugged on Deanna's hand to follow her down. Knee to knee, she squeezed Deanna's cold fingers while her eyes bored into her very soul.

Looking utterly miserable, Deanna whispered, "Mom, he kisses me like..." she trailed off, blushing delicately, "like he..." and still she couldn't say it, so her mother finished it for her.

"Like he wants more." she murmured, understandingly, simultaneously, images of them writhing together filled their minds. Lwaxana tugged on Deanna's fingers, effectively severing that particular line of thought, forcing Deanna to look into her own obsidian eyes. "Darling, if you were really trying to avoid him, why did you challenge him to that silly game? It seems to me that you were doing everything, 'but,' avoid him." she challenged softly.

"I didn't think he'd win, Mother. Nobody's ever beaten me before. I don't know how he did it." she whispered brokenly.

Her mother's tender and tolerant smile captured her forlorn gaze, "Deanna, there was only one way William could have won. Hasn't it occurred to you yet how it happened?" At her blank, onyx stare, Lwaxana's own eyes went misty. "Little one, he read your mind."

Deanna reacted as though she had been slapped, "But how can that be, Mother? He is a Terran. He's not even my life partner. He's just!....he's just....a man!" she cried with despair.

"A man that you have very strong feelings for, Darling," Lwaxana lamented.

Deanna leapt from the couch, unable to sit and face her mother any longer. Unable to hide the truth. But being a telepath, Lwaxana Troi didn't need to see her daughter's face to know what lie beneath her tearful eyes. "No! No, that cannot be, Mother! I didn't want this to happen. I'm too young. And he's...he's Starfleet! He's the worst of the worst."

"He is also destined to become your Imzadi, Deanna." she unwillingly admitted quietly.

Deanna whirled on the spot, her dress, her hair swirling around to caress her with the angry, stunned action, until everything in the room came to a cataclysmic halt. "No!"

The one, simple word reverberated around the room, only to be mocked by an even more powerful, silent one.


Chapter five

She envied him. The man prowled around and in between her friends like he'd known them his whole lifetime. Which he hadn't. But even so, it didn't stop her envying his ability to invade her world so effectively, so thoroughly, so...intimately.

The party had been in full swing by the time William Riker had arrived. The room practically heaved with bodies of varying age, race and interest. Deanna knew everyone that had come, welcoming them through the door along side her mother. But the moment she'd sensed Will arrive, she had been knee-deep in conversation with her best friend's father, Gart Xerx, and other than a cursory acknowledging nod of his head towards her, he didn't speak. Just lightly smiled that enigmatic smile of his. The one that usually infuriated her. The one that melted her insides with longing. The one that seemed to be saved solely for her.

For two, long, painful hours, Deanna covertly watched the strikingly tall man throw himself into conversation with practically everyone in the room. Festering, Deanna also endured watching him dance with just about every woman in the room too. Everyone except her. She ached to feel the strength of his arms around her, guiding her around the tiny allotted dance space and all the while hoping that it would end with him taking her to see the moonlight outside.

But first she had to catch his attention, and that was proving almost impossible. It seemed that wherever she placed herself, deliberate or not, somehow, Will always managed to be facing the opposite direction.

But did he look her way? No. Not once. Oh, he knew she was there, it was painfully obvious by the way that he did ignore her. What was she. Chopped liver!? When she had reached into her wardrobe earlier that day, it was with the utmost conviction that she was NOT going to dress for him. So why was she standing here, in a drop-dead gorgeous, blood red dress, being ignored, by him?

Her onyx eyes flashed with fire as she watched Wendy Roper sidle up beside him, and, damn it all, did she really just drag her fingers across his butt!? Hell! And she just reached up and kissed him! On the lips!! Worse! He responded! Welcomed it! Revelled in it!

Her indignancy, her horror, and her envy, must have been strong enough for the man in question to finally, slowly glance her way. But when he did, it was with a smile. But not a friendly smile. It was a knowing smile. A victorious smile.

He knew, damn him. He knew. But how?

Her mothers words drifted through her senses again; << Little one, he read your mind...>>

<<...he read your mind...>>

and he's reading it now...

Deanna sucked in a startled breath as the shocking thought jumped into her head and her eyes locked with his across the crowded room. Drawn by the pull of her eyes and the sudden pallor of her skin, as well as something more that he couldn't put his finger on right then, Will started moving towards her, heedless of the woman beside him.

When he came to a stop in front of her, Deanna expected to be asked for a dance, or maybe just taken out onto the dance floor and swept into his arms. At the very least she expected him to strike up a conversation with her. But when he simply looked deep into her eyes, reached for her hand and pulled her after him, out of the room, she followed without question. Without fear. Without even knowing why, only that she knew that her life was about to change, and William Riker was the one who was going to change it.



Chapter six

Will felt the slight resistance on his fingers as they walked along. The only sound that could be heard was their feint footsteps on the path and the night's creatures. They said nothing. Nothing needed to be said. Something was about to happen between them. They both knew it. They both accepted it, until Will felt the gentle tug on his fingers as Deanna tried to stop him from walking on.

He slowed his pace, realizing that his long strides were probably too much for her much shorter legs, until he finally took a glance at her and saw the look of fear upon her moonlit face. She was beautiful, he thought. He'd always been aware of her beauty, but now, in the moonlight, with her hair pulled away from her face, her make-up, and that dress, she was exquisite. Slowing to a reluctant stop, he turned towards her and drank in her features as she looked up at him with huge eyes.

"What's wrong?" he murmured, seriously.

Deanna melted with the low, husky, almost drugged tone as he searched her face for a reason for her fear. And she was afraid she realized. Not of him, or of what they were probably about to do. But of what her mother had told her the previous night. It still over-shadowed her thoughts. Still thrummed through her senses. Still scared her.

She didn't feel ready to share her soul with a man that she had only kissed, even if her mothers prophecy was right, and he was her intended Imzadi. It wasn't just about becoming Imzadi, it was about after. It was about how their lives were going to change afterwards. She was certain that Will was not going to remain on Betazed and become her life partner, in any sense of the word. He was a Starfleet officer. He wanted to travel. He wanted freedom. He wanted more than her.

The Imzadi bond was going to mean nothing to him. It couldn't. Will would never understand or comprehend what it would mean to both of them. Or cost.

Deanna looked up into her future lover's blue intense gaze, her eyes unable to hide her feelings, her passion, or the fear that now sparkled within her own dark orbs, "I...I mustn't do this, Will. If you have any feelings for me at all, you won't do anything more than kiss me tonight."

Will's eyes creased in concerned puzzlement, and Deanna felt his disappointment rush through her, quickly meshing with her own disappointment at never knowing what it would be like, or feel like, making love to the one person that destiny had promised to you.

For a long moment, Deanna thought Will was going to agree to her terms. And for an even longer moment. Will silently promised her that he could just give her a kiss, or two. Slowly, delicately, he lowered his mouth to hers. Lips that matched one anothers fitted perfectly, and they both drank the bliss that poured from deep within.

But as slowly and delicately that they had meshed, they broke apart. Will raised his palm to her chest and settled it gently against her pounding heart, his breath, laboured, much like her own. He whispered hoarsely, "Do you feel it, Deanna?" he questioned, "What's happening here will not settle with a kiss. We are going to make love tonight, and I don't think either one of us can stop it." Will watched as her eyes, and her heart, finally accepted that he was right.

Deanna studied Will's face in the muted moonlight, taking in each feature and imprinting in upon her heart, helping her come to the only conclusion available. Her one simple word set the last shred of fear tumbling down. "Where?"

As they both stood on the sidewalk with their hands laced and their hearts beating with anticipation, Will looked around at the surrounding area, searching for somewhere that they could call their own for a little while. They didn't see the magnificent houses standing tall and regal. Nor did they see the moonlight's rays, shining down on them; two solitary people. Two lovers to be.

Will spied the huge glass dome that was the town centre's pride and joy; the arboretum. It was warm, and it was mutely lit with tiny colourful lanterns amongst the flower beds, casting its rainbow coloured beams across the blossoming array of exotic blooms. The air was heady with every essence of flora imaginable. It was romantic and deliciously quiet. It was also open. And it was perfect.

To the eyes that watched the couple enter the glass doors, they looked like any other visitors. The only thing that gave them away as lovers was the linked hands and the speed that their feet were moving.

The oppressive heat and aromatic aroma of moistened earth, along with the floral scents hit their noses as soon as they entered. Will slid to a halt, pushing the door closed behind him. He released Deanna's hand and began searching the immediate area.

Bemused, Deanna asked, "What are you looking for, Will?"

Reaching down, he picked up a length of watering hose, testing its flexibility, his forehead wreathed in a vexed frown, "Something to secure the door with, Sweetheart," He deftly wrapped the hose through the handles. "I don't want any, 'surprise' visitors creeping up on us."

Deanna blushed with just the mere image, but her chuckle still left her mouth anyhow as he continued securely knotting the door shut. "Will, we are surrounded by telepaths," she said, "they'll know that someone is in here making out."

"Hell, I know that, Deanna!" he said, exasperated, "I also know that there are a few nosy, and very un-empathic Terran's around too. Better to be safe than sorry." he reasoned.

Satisfied that he'd tied the knot so that not even the devil himself could squeeze through, he took a deep shuddering breath and turned himself back to the woman who was waiting. The joviality of the moment vanished, along with the last chance to go back, and somehow, it made all the difference.

Capturing her eyes, Will reached for her hand once more, and she slipped hers into his and they both walked into the shrouded canopy of the thick, overhanging vines and small trees. They both seemed to know where they were going, even though Will had never entered the glass dome before. For a moment, Will wondered if Deanna had been here previously, with someone else. It briefly made him falter, uncomfortable with the thought, until he threw her a quick glance and found the answer he was looking for in her eyes. She hadn't.

Somewhere in the centre of the complex, the thick density of foliage opened out into an area that took Will's breath away. A pool shimmered in the moonlight that spilled through the overhead glass, the accelerated sound of tumbling water, louder because of the quiet, cascaded from a figurine placed strategically in its centre.

Deanna kept on walking past the alluring feature, the gentle tug on Will's hand leading him back into the what seemed to be the depths of foliage again. But after only a momentary blackness, they came across another feature, and Deanna pulled Will straight into its heart.

It was a gazebo. A beautiful gazebo. But it was no ordinary gazebo. It was almost overrun with trailing, heavily scented flowers. Will thought it was Jasmine, but he wasn't sure, only that its scent was intoxicating, heightening his already heightened body. And better still, it had a never ending bench running around the inside, and Will imagined that on a glorious day, like so many were on Betazed, that this was a magical place to be. It even had a small drinking fountain, its trickle echoing once more in the stillness of the night.

But it was the object in its centre that had captured his attention; it was a chaise longue. A very largish chaise longue. Its presence painfully clear, leaving only images to ponder on. He turned questioning eyes towards Deanna. "Is that what I think it's for?" he asked, his voice raising with humorous surprise.

Deanna swallowed as she too, stared fascinated at the thickly cushioned seating area. "I...I guess," she said. "I've heard people say they come here for...for..." She couldn't finish the sentence, searching his eyes in the moonlight, " comes highly recommended." she finished bravely.

Will laughed out aloud at her incredulous announcement, the hearty, rich sound resounding in the vast silence, "Highly recommended!? Miss Troi, have you been eavesdropping on your friends romantic discussions?"

She sniffed derisively, "I go to college. I hear...things." She trailed off lamely, ashamed at revealing a little more of her natural curiosity, and her innocence.

Will reached for her hands again and tugged her towards him, pulling her closer than before. Close enough to kiss her, if he wanted. His voice held a hint of pride. A hint of challenge. A hint of hope, "And you wanted to see if the rumours were true, eh?" he grinned at her upturned, smiling face.

Deanna didn't answer him. She couldn't. But she didn't need to, her silence said enough, and at last - at long last, Will finally settled his lips against hers, and let the night begin.

Chapter seven

Will kissed her so thoroughly, so deeply, so...erotically, that Deanna's head began to swim with desire, making her feel drunk, and very, very wanted. Will's hands reverently ran up and down her body, his need to touch and explore as fevered as the tongue that swept in and and out of her mouth. Each time Will plunged in his moist tongue to dance with hers, she felt the tug deep within her, giving her a taste of what intimacy was going to feel like when his body finally joined with hers.

Will felt Deanna shudder and gently pulled away from her lips, their heaving breaths mingling as they slowly opened their drugged, heavy eyes. Will licked his tender lips, relishing the sweet moisture that lingered there, the taste sparking his already swollen loins into readiness again. His eyes dropped to Deanna's mouth and noticed the feint tremble. He lifted one arm and tenderly stroked the soft pad of his thumb across her lower lip. "Are you afraid of me, Deanna?"

He saw the flare of sureness in not only her eyes, but her entire body, it came alive along with her need to tell him that she wasn't, ", I'm not afraid of you, Will. I..." She confessed, "I'm afraid of...other things, but not of you."

He understood. Lightly pecking her lips with his, Will tightened his hold on her body. The arms that held her loosely before, now tightened as he spoke, his voice louder, urgent even, as his eyes bored into hers, asking her very soul, "Do - you - trust - me, Deanna?"

Deanna didn't quite know where the long silent moment came from, or why, but it did, even though she knew deep in her melting heart why. She slid her hands up higher, fastening them behind his neck, pulling him back towards her waiting mouth. Her whispered, confident, "Always." got lost in the drugging kiss she bestowed upon him.

Deanna felt herself being lowered; the back of her knees touching the cushioned seating. She allowed herself to be seated, half expecting Will to follow. But instead, he slowly dropped to his knees on the floor before her. She didn't realise how tightly her knees were closed until she felt him softly kneading her outer thighs, his eyes never leaving her face.

Forcing herself to relax, she released the stiffness in her muscles and let Will create his magic on her. Now at a vantage point, Deanna took delight in controlling what was happening between them. She began to trace her fingertips along his masculine contours; his strong, hard jawline, his ears - far too small for his overall size but beautiful, non-the-less. Her own thumb ran along his full bottom lip, her eyes, heavy with desire, watching the motion, until she could stand the separation no more. Slipping her long fingernail between his lips, opening them wider, she moaned before settling her own mouth against his again, and as she did that, the legs that Will had been working on, and the dress that he had ridden up inch by inch, finally gave way and he moved his body between her thighs.

Unable to, and not even wanting to pretend that what was happening between them was chaste, Will roughly dragged her own heated body against his. He could feel her warmth against his stomach and growled when it dawned on him that all that was separating him from her was a tiny scrap of lace. This time when Will ripped his mouth away from hers and held her face within his massive hands, gasping with unleashed agony, again he asked her, "Do you trust me, Deanna?"

As Deanna's dreamy eyes stared deeply into his, she gently chewed on her already swollen bottom lip, until Will moved his hands away from her face and down to her bare thighs. Her gaze followed their descent and she then understood what he was asking of her; Will was giving her one, last final chance to stop what was about to happen.

She sucked in a shaky breath and released it along with one, solitary word, "Yes." Her body throbbed with need and expectancy. She was prepared to accept whatever was about to happen, but Deanna was determined to fight against Will becoming her Imzadi. But she could no longer fight her bodily craving. It was time, and if it meant giving away her soul to feel what she was about to feel, then so be it. But she was going to fight it, all the way.

Once more Will surprised her when he dropped his head to her knees and kissed the tender spot on its inside, and then duplicated the movement on the other side. Her heart fluttered with unease at the intimate motion. It wasn't what she was expecting. But then she really didn't know what to expect. Was this the normal course of love-making, or was it something that Terran's did? She just didn't know, and that scared her a little.

Nervously, Deanna watched his head as he systematically worked his way along her inner thighs, but by the time he'd reached barely a few inches from his ultimate goal, her breathing was laboured and she was clinging on to the seat's edge, her head was thrown back as she waited for... something!

Deanna felt Will gently stroke his finger across her lace panties, aware that he was pleased to find that they were already saturated with need. She couldn't stop the tiny pants from leaving her lungs as she waited for whatever was to happen next. And she waited. He was killing her with his slowness, until she dimly realised that he was still giving her a chance to halt the inevitable.

When he slowly moved his hand away from her, bringing them to rest on the outside of her knees once more, she dragged her heavy head back to face his to find that Will was watching her intently. Gently, he moved back, pushing her knees together, and Deanna thought he'd had a change of heart; that he was the one who was going to stop. But when he slid his hands up the outside of her thighs and found the thin elastic strip of her panties, she realized that he was asking her consent to remove them, along with yet another chance for him to stop.

She answered him by lifting her bottom just high enough for Will to slip his fingers beneath the band and tug them towards him, slipping them the entire length of her slim legs. He lifted her feet, marvelling at how sexy she looked in the high heels and very little else, making a mental note that if in the future they ever got together, he would have her parading around their bedroom in nothing else but those high heels. And maybe a sexy smile. And just a touch of make-up.

But that would be all.

Will watched the woman before him with shadowed eyes. He'd never done anything like this on a first date before. With other women, it had been about getting the act done, for both of them. But with Deanna, it was different. It felt different. Something special was about to happen. He didn't know what, but his gut, his heart, told him that Deanna Troi was going to need everything he'd got, and he was happy, and proud, to give it. Deliriously happy.

Deanna looked down and studied the man between her knees and audibly gasped when he moved her knees back apart - even further this time, the rush of cool air tickling her sex. Will was going to give her the most intimate kiss of all and Deanna wasn't quite sure what to do about it. Her whole body began to tremble with fear, excitement, and, anticipation. Unable to look at him any longer, she frantically looked around the gazebo at anything, and everything until she felt Will's hot breath reheat her exposed genitalia, and his searing, wet tongue touch her.

The unexpected, sudden, wondrous, gasped, "Oh!" left her mouth as she felt him flick against the sensitive bud, sending a kick to her womb that only cried out for more, and it was then she let her head fall back again, and she allowed herself to be carried away on the tidal wave of wonder and ecstasy that engulfed her.

She tasted of paradise, Will surmised, as he gently shifted his own now very uncomfortable lap to accommodate the bulging, welcome heat in his pants. What he would have done at that moment to have been able to shuck his clothes and bury himself in paradise. But he couldn't, not yet. Will was about to make history with this woman. He didn't know why, or how, only that he was certain that he was about to go on the most exquisite ride of his life.

Deanna struggled against what was happening to her body. The insistent lapping of Will's tongue against her felt strange. Delicious. An inner heat began to boil deep inside of her and she felt herself begin to panic, the sensation unlike anything she had ever felt or imagined before, and she was terrified. Deanna had to stop it from happening, she just had to. Freedom was imminent, but she was terrified of the escape.

She heard her own desperate soft moans of, No, no, no! tickle her mind, unaware that the words were slipping from between her lips too. But with her last heartfelt 'no!', she felt her legs shift higher and Will's tongue deepen the contact, deepen the ache, releasing a strangled gasped, 'Oh!' from her. Deanna felt Will's triumphant thought rush over her, as she struggled to keep herself upright, her position more precarious than ever - in more ways than one.

Will was winning against her, she could feel it. As her body began to rock against him, the movement unfamiliar to her innocent loins, Deanna felt herself begin to fly. Over and over, her heart, and her mind groaned, 'no' but her body cried,'Yes!' The battle was relentless. Futile even, but she struggled on.

The war raged on, but the man between her knees was oblivious, only intent on winning his own war. He could sense her fighting him; her fear drenched him from head to toe. But she was so near, so close, she just needed one minuscule moment of acceptance, and he'd send her off like an exploding rocket. He had to change tactics.

So Will touched her.

He didn't know who was surprised more when Deanna shot back, away from his probing fingers, her eyes ablaze with shock, and embarrassment, her legs instantly squeezing closed, shutting him out. But it didn't stop the throbbing from coursing through her body, in tune with her pounding heartbeat. It matched his.

For a long moment, they simple stared at each other; his eyes, glistening like sapphires, hers, like glorious, luminous orbs of jet, wide and wild, like the breath that left her mouth. The silence hung between them, waiting. Will dropped his eyes to her lips, and then licked his own, the simple movement sent a flare of remembrance to her womb, and her head filled with regret, and longing.

Somehow, Will sensed the loss, the need, and when he gently tugged her back towards him and pulled her knees apart, moving in between them again, there was no resistance. But this time, when his tongue touched her, it was against her own as he began a relentless assault on her mouth.

Deanna inched nearer to him, her body unable to sustain the loss of having him so far away. Locked. That was how she felt; locked, and Will held the key, and as he continued to batter her defences down, she felt her entire being begin to open.

And Will felt it too. When he reached down between their bodies and gently touched her again, she was ready for it. A long finger began to mimic his tongue and he felt her begin a mimic of her own. He pushed, and she pushed back, harder, wanting - begging for more. Gone was the struggle deep within her, holding her back. The woman was emerging, the one that wanted to feel. To learn. To love. The fire began to build inside her again. Her entire insides; her womb, her belly, her mind, and her heart, filled with an overwhelming desire to be set free.

Will threaded his fingers into her hair, gripping the back of her neck, turning her head so that he could plunder her mouth even deeper still. She was close, so close. He felt her hands caress the vast expanse of his chest, her nails digging into the taut muscles that he knew rippled with his own tension. He wanted her. Will ached to get so deep inside her, that he let himself drift off into a dream, a dream that he hoped the night would let come alive.

He felt rather than heard her explosion, in the way her body went taut, gripping his hand between her now firmly clamped thighs, and the sudden release of hot liquid that poured into his palm, along with the intimate throbbing. And by the way her fingers left his chest and rose to his neck, ripping their mouths apart as she stared, open-mouthed and stunned at his overjoyed, and revered face.

And then he found himself flat on his ass, watching her fleeing form scuttling away from him as though the devil himself was hard on her heels, her billowing skirts rippled in a multitude of glorious reds as it danced with the moonlight that poured in through the glass overhead.

It took him a full ten seconds for the shock to pass and sanity prevail as he jumped to his feet and set off after her. "Deanna!" he called, his voice echoing though the quiet darkness as he followed her retreating path. He couldn't see her, but he could hear the light tapping of her shoes, and she was still running - away from him. As he chased after her, his way only lit by the small colourful lights that lit up the flower beds, Will frantically wondered what had gone wrong. He was so sure she was enjoying herself, and so sure that it was what she had wanted, that he was quite frankly, totally mystified. And scared.

"Deanna! please stop! Let's talk about this." Even he heard the fear in his voice as it bounced around the huge structure. His only answer was silence. Total, eerie silence, which instantly told him she'd stopped running.

But where was she? Will was pretty certain that she hadn't left the building because she had been running in the wrong direction, towards the back. Will groaned. Maybe there was another way out - an emergency exit. There had to be one.

He stopped running, dragging his feet to an unwelcome halt and let his laboured and fear-ridden breath ease a little. He stared deep into the surrounding flora trying to hopefully catch a glimpse of his quarry, but she had disappeared - merging herself into the dark shadows.

"Damn!" he angrily muttered, his heartbeat still pounding in his chest - not just from the exertion, but from the loss of her. Deanna. Will began to miss her in the worst possible way, and it shocked him. How could that be? He hardly knew her. But then, he thought, he'd gotten closer to her than any other woman he'd been with. He had to find her.

But then a tidal wave of common sense drenched him from head to toe. He felt it start in his dense head, squeeze his loins and then dribble on down to his feet. He could find her, he had the ability. He didn't know how, or why, only that if he put a mind to it, he could find her. Sense her.

He figured it was his years of training with Starfleet that had honed in his senses. Learning to seek out silent, hidden enemies had been par for the course. He also figured that if you wanted something - or someone bad enough, you could draw on your gut feelings. And so that's what he did.

He stood ramrod still, illuminated only by the moonlight, and forced his mind to empty; calm itself. Once more his eyes surveyed the dense area letting his experience, and his heart do the job at hand, taking in the various structures - seeing which one would hide a terrified woman.

It took a few moments until his head and eyes were drawn to an archway of sorts. The flowers that created the structure were stunning. Rich, purple blossoms hung like bunches of grapes from its branches, but beyond the arch lay a black area of some kind. His eyes travelled above the structure gauging the depth. It was enough to hide in.

Sure, slow footsteps took him nearer and he felt his heartbeat begin to hammer in his chest. She was here, he could feel it. He put one tentative foot between the arch, and then another, lowering his tall frame beneath the dangling flowers. His eyes adjusted automatically to the somewhat dimmer surrounding as he swung them furtively around, and even though he knew he'd find her there, he was still mildly surprised when he found himself staring into a pair of wide, cautious, ebony eyes.

Chapter eight

But even as Will slowly approached her, Deanna was backing away and he realized that she was going to run again. Quicker than a bullet from a gun, his hand shot out, and caught the soft flesh of her arm just as she spun to run. "Deanna!" he quietly pleaded.

"Let me go!" she cried, her voice dripping with dread. "Please!"

But he didn't, he couldn't, and he pulled her around, clasping her other arm as she fought like a demon against him. He had to pull her closer to him, mostly to stop her flailing hands from doing any damage to him, but also because he needed to comfort her; stop her from being so afraid of him. "Hush," he crooned.

Looking up into his face, her eyes and cheeks now awash with tears, she sobbed, "Let me go. Just let me go."

Will dragged her trembling body up hard against his and released her arms, letting his hand rest on the back of her head as he settled his chin on her shoulder. His mouth was right against her ear and she heard his tortured, "I can't, baby. I'm sorry, I just can't. We both know that I can't let you go. Not now."

He didn't have to speak the rest of his declaration, Not ever, it scorched her soul as the silent words reached out to her, and with them came release. Deanna felt the dam burst inside her and she began to cry in earnest. Will held her tightly in his unwavering arms. She was wrapped in sheer misery and Will had absolutely no idea of the reason why. She'd wanted him, he knew that. She even seemed to be willing, that, he also knew. Okay, it had to be her first time, so maybe that was it. But he was also conscious that he was the one she'd chosen to be her first, so just what was the problem? He was totally and utterly baffled.

He was also totally and utterly determined. This night was meant to be, of that he had no doubt. He was just going to have to work a little harder at seducing the lady currently bawling like a baby in his arms.

His kiss, when it came, simply wiped away everything; the tears, the pain, and the doubt. It was as devastating as any storm she had ever been in. He had captured her, and enslaved her, with nothing more than the heat of his mouth on hers, his tongue sweeping through her mouth, taking possession like a warrior; a conquering hero.

But what then? A hero couldn't save her from herself, or from the secret she fought so valiantly to keep hidden. But for the moment, she'd let him kiss away the tremors and fears that consumed her soul until she was strong enough to fight him off.

But Will had other ideas and he was pitiless. Wherever his giant hands touched, they burned, scorching a path between her buttocks and her head. He either didn't seem to know where to touch next - or he wanted to touch everything, everywhere. Her body was crushed against his entire, rock hard body and she could feel the hardest part pushing against her stomach.

In the end, his hands finally found a home; One nestled in her hair so that he could manoeuvre her head to accommodate his almost desperate mouth. The other settled in the small of her back, pushing her tight against him, letting his need get as close to heaven as it was going to get at that time.

Deanna arched against him of her own free will, her own hungers saturating her body. He could have me, she dimly thought, right here and now, and I wouldn't stop him. All it would have taken was a movement from her; a sign. She'd never felt so alive, so...absorbed before and it was all down to the man that was in her arms, and now in her heart.

She was still in a daze when he finally lifted his head, struggling for breath, and sanity, as he fought to stop the primal urge to hoist her to his waist and take her hard and fast, right there and then, and know that it would be like nothing they'd experienced before.

Reluctantly, Will swung his eyes away from her flushed, beautiful face, looking at anything but her. He was trembling. Deanna loved the fact that she could make him tremble with need, as he'd made her. She was also aware that she didn't want to let go of the feeling, or go back to the life she led before he'd come along. Deanna needed completion, but when Will disentangled his body from hers and stepped back, she knew she'd blown her chances with her silly, immature behaviour.

Will studied her, more unsure than he'd even been in his life. He should walk away from her. He should leave her be. She wasn't ready for a sexual relationship. She didn't seem ready for any kind of relationship, and he couldn't believe how wrong he'd gotten it. He made one, very unwanted step backwards, but stopped when he heard a, No! don't go, ripple through his mind. Shock alone stopped his feet from moving any further.

When she'd sensed his withdrawal, Deanna desperately tried to switch off the negative emotions that surged from the depths of her heart. She was torn in so many different ways; Did she, didn't she? Could she, would she? and pushing up in between them all, like a volcano seeking release from the very base of her soul was only one answer.

Deanna had only one way of making Will stay now, and so staring up into his face, losing herself in blue eyes that watched, waiting nervously, patiently, and so longingly, she brazenly reached out a trembling hand and trailed a nail across his chest, making sure she scraped a puckered, tiny nipple on passing.

Will sucked in a painful breath, but she knew it wasn't because she'd hurt him. It was an intimate reaction to her touch. Nervously, she did it again, with the other tiny nipple this time and was rewarded with a similar reaction. Gaining bravado, she ventured lower. Will's breath held in his throat, his eyes dropping to watch her fingertip following the line of his pants before taking the plunge to trail the length of his straining hardness.

It was then that Will finally sparked into life, scared of losing the last ounce of his control. Angry at not being able to. Grabbing her hand, he snatched it away from his throbbing body. "Don't!" he snarled, "Don't play with me, Deanna."

Where had the anger come from? Deanna wondered, as her eyes flew to his face and registered the change from need to refusal. Aware of the double entendre, the guilt instantly swept over her as she realized just how mean she was being to him.

But damn it all, he was being mean to her too. Why all this fooling around? Why all this furtiveness? Why couldn't he just take her to bed and get it over and done with. Like normal people. Like Betazoid's?

She inwardly groaned. Because he isn't a Betazoid, you dimwit. Because he's special. Because you are special, to him. Because he deserves more, more than what you are giving him.

Because he is your Imzadi.

Will watched a variety of emotions flicker across her upturned face. They ranged from a spark of anger that probably matched his own. Pain, despair and then finally, resignation. He stood still and waited, but what he was waiting for he didn't know. He was only aware that he'd had enough of her games, and now he was putting the ball firmly in her court. If she stayed, then so be it. If she walked, he wasn't going to stop her, regardless of how much agony it would cause.

But she didn't walk. In fact she stepped up closer to him, reached one hand behind her and tugged at the zipper that kept the bodice of her dress tight to her. The other hand she snaked up behind his head and pulled his face down to her open mouth, but not before her murmured, "I can do this..." reached his stunned ears.

Will heard rather than felt the rustle of her dress slip down her body, and the way she gently shifted her body away from his to allow it to drop to her waist, its thin spaghetti straps released by the barely noticeable drop of each arm. It wasn't until he allowed himself the luxury of raising his lax limbs to touch the bare skin on her back that a surge of adrenalin kicked into gear, and with a deep breath, he pulled her hard against him and devoured her willing mouth, wishing that his skin was as naked as hers so that he could feel her.

With both arms linked behind his head, Will was free to roam the creamy contours of her body, sliding his large hands along the frame of her rib cage, daring himself to raise them higher to encase her heated breasts. But he didn't dare to. Oh, mercy, he wanted to, so badly, but after her previous reactions to his forwardness, he just didn't have the courage, or the desire to have her running away from him again, so he reluctantly dropped his hands lower until they rested on the bunched up silky material of her dress that rode low upon her hips.

As he tucked his exploring fingers beneath the material, and almost groaned out aloud as the material slipped from his grasp and pooled at her feet. Now I've done it, he thought to himself, she's gonna go running. But without missing a heartbeat, he felt her shift her feet and kick the dress away. So good so far, he thought to himself, but he still didn't trust her. He broke his lips away from hers with an audible sucking noise, the minuscule sound still managing to echo in the confined, dark area.

Will couldn't stop himself from looking downwards; She was beautiful. She was more than beautiful. She was stunning. Deanna was as naked as the day she was born, and didn't seem to care about it. Quite the opposite, in fact.

She knew what he was thinking. "Betazoid's welcome nudity, it is a very strong part of our culture, Will." And then she whispered the mother of all invitations as she reached out and captured his hand, lifting it to her upper body. "Touch me."

He swallowed deeply as he settled his trembling, but eager palm against the soft mound of her breast, his heady eyes drifting shut as the pang of longing throbbed through to his loins. He wanted her, so badly, but after everything that had happened tonight, he didn't have enough trust in her to follow on through.

He felt her clasp his wrist and slowly tug. His eyes flew open as he felt himself begin to fall forward; she was pulling him to the ground. Managing to steady himself before falling in a heap on top of her, he guided himself to a sensible position beside her, finding himself on his knees as she lay seductively prone on the dirt beneath her.

Will felt an idiot; seducing a woman in a flower bed. It seemed to be the lowest of the low, and he couldn't believe he'd gotten himself into this ridiculous position, or situation and he went to tell her so, but she second guessed him by touching a silencing finger to his lips, "Shhh, it's okay. Touch me again, Will, I'm not running away anymore."

Tenderly removing her hand from his face, he stared deeply into her eyes, and knew that this time, she meant it. Her words were full of conviction, and need. Reaching up, Will removed his top, dragging his hair up, leaving it looking all spiky and then unbuttoned his pants. But he didn't take them off. He wasn't ready for that, and neither was she.

Now at a vantage point, Will leaned over and kissed her deeper than he'd ever kissed her before, swallowing the shudder of her response as she reacted to the primal motion, her fevered fingers reaching for his now bare, heated torso, the freedom to do so feeling exceptionally exquisite, and Deanna sighed, almost with relief.

Despite Deanna giving him free reign to touch her body, Will held his hands at bay, happy to just settle one hand on her small waist. But even so, he could feel her body gently gyrating, pushing towards him, beckoning him to touch and explore.

Deanna was almost frantic with hunger. Why wasn't he touching her!? Why wasn't he giving her what they both wanted!? she moaned silently. He continued to plunder her mouth as though it was his manhood invading her body. She felt his erotic thoughts seep through her, giving her an intimate taste of what was to come, but still he wouldn't touch her.

And then it sunk in to her sex-infused brain. He was scared, scared of her letting him down again. Scared of her turning tail and running. Scared of actually making love to her. William Riker was scared of doing what came as natural to him as breathing, all because she hadn't succumbed to his charms in the first five minutes of their crazy meeting.

Well, she thought, that's about to change.

In a heartbeat, she had reversed their positions. To say that Will was shocked was an understatement. She shocked him even further when she tugged at the waistband of his pants in an attempt to push them from his long legs, her face wreathed in concentration as she battled against the unusual task.

Will chuckled nervously, "Whoa! Here, let me help." lifting himself so that the job became a whole heap easier. Deanna moved them down his legs and pulled them off the other end, dropping them close by her own dress.

Will felt naked, exposed, and it took a monumental effort from himself to stop his hands from covering his nether regions. Deanna sat back on her heals and surveyed the sight before her. He had got one hell of a body - something she already knew he would have. Just looking at his clothed frame had told that he was muscular, and lean. And hairy. Everywhere. Betazoid men sported practically no hair apart from whatever was on their head and a small thatch, 'down below', much like herself. But Will was covered from head to toe, some places denser than others, and she couldn't resist fingering the tiny curls that sprang from his chest.

Her eyes flickered to his groin. He still sported the nondescript, non-fussy, standard Starfleet underwear. She knew they were, because in her wildest dreams, she couldn't imagine Will wearing them otherwise. He looked like a boxer man; elastine and tight. And red. Or black.

Lordy, her tummy flipped when the provocative image filled her mind, and before Deanna even realised what she'd said, she told him crisply, huskily, "Take them off, Will."

No one was more surprised that Will when he said in a very clear, determined voice, "No," He coughed low in his throat before emending himself, a slight blush lightening up his features,"not yet."

A moment of silence hung between them as they both weighed up his strange refusal. Deanna was certain it was nothing to do with him being shy - far from it. Perhaps, she thought, he's still expecting me to run, even though I've promised that I won't. An image of him running through the streets dressed in nothing but a small pair of standard Starfleet underpants created a tiny smile before she effectively wiped it away behind her fingers.

Okay, she thought, as she suddenly moved across and straddled his lap, here goes nothing.

Will's hands automatically went to her tiny waist, spanning it easily with his huge hands, watching her through heavy lidded eyes, waiting, admiring her nude form as she made herself comfortable upon his rapidly hardening lap. He shifted her higher, moving her away from him, unable to handle what she was doing to him. But moving her up meant she was now against his stomach, and he moaned as he felt her heat, her moistness upon him.

Deanna crowed silently at the effect that she was having on him. This was sex - pure sex. Nothing romantic, or Imzadi-ish about it. By taking the initiative, she had reduced the chance of the impending union becoming anything more than a sexual release - a release they both needed. Badly.

Dropping both hands onto the hard planes of Will's chest, she steadily met his eyes in the dimness. Will watched her and realized that she had changed. He still felt her pull, still felt an urgency to join with her, on every level, and he thought she'd wanted that too. But not now. Deanna was ready, but it was only her body that was ready. Her feelings had been pushed elsewhere for the time being.

Will wasn't sure if he liked the change, especially when she whispered urgently, "Make love to me, Will. Now."

He felt himself shrivel and die beneath her, the effect of her harsh words instantly reducing his libido to nothing. To prove it, he pushed on her hips, moving her backwards, back to where she started. Only this time time she met softness instead of solid muscle. She searched his eyes in the dimness, wordlessly.

She didn't understand what she'd done wrong, and Will felt her helplessness wash through him, and his heart melted. Tugging on her upper arms, he pulled her upper body down to his, kissing her cheek as it settled beside his. "I'm sorry, sweetheart, but I can't just make love to you."

He felt her blush against his face and threaded his hand into her hair, massaging the back of her head, holding her still when he felt her trying to move out of his grasp. "Deanna," he whispered huskily, "I won't make love to you, but I will make love with you."

Deanna edged herself up so that she could study his handsome face. "Isn't it the same thing?" she asked, quietly.

Will laughed quietly as he answered her, hugging her trembling body closer to his, warming it with his ardour. "No, sweetheart, it is most definitely not."

She slumped against his shoulder again, defeated, which puzzled Will. Why did she react like that!? he wondered. What in the world was going on here? They lay silently for several long moments. Will's hands continued to gently stroke along her spine as minds churned over the problem at hand.

Will knew he wanted her. He also knew he more than liked her - liked her enough to work through whatever was putting its nasty big foot smack bang in the middle of their relationship. But what relationship? he worried. They were getting nowhere and he didn't know why. Something was holding the woman in his arms back. Something that was over-riding her basic needs. Something that was important.

But what?

If this problem had happened to him on Earth, he would have said the woman beneath him was having a problem with her morals. Or her age. Or perhaps it would be guilt, or simply that she just didn't want him enough.

It happens. Not often, but it happens.

But none of the things related to Deanna. None. So he figured it was a cultural thing. A Betazoid thing. He could only ask. "Deanna, is there something I should know - about you...or us?" He felt her stiffen; her body going rigid along side his, she even tried pushing up from him to get away, but he held on to her. "Deanna?" he demanded.

"No. No, there's nothing. It's just me being silly. I'm sorry." She hurriedly murmured, before kissing him briefly on the cheek.

Will didn't believe her for a minute. Gently he tried again. "Deanna, when we make love, are we going to be okay...after?"

"Yes, of course!" she told him.

He tried again, "Am I going to get frog-marched in front of a priest or something - forced to marry you because I've taken your...innocence?" he joked.

She laughed weakly at his attempt at humour, "No! nothing like that." And then she thought about what he'd just said. "You know I've never...?" she asked with dread.

He nodded once, "Yes. I know that all this..." he searched for the right word, "playing around is because you're scared, and you don't know what to do," he hurriedly amended himself, "but that's okay, I understand. What's happening between us is scary."

He took her chin in his strong fingers, forcing her to face him straight on before continuing, "But Deanna, it is going to be the most beautiful experience of your life, if you'll just let me in. I can show you what it can be like for us - What it's going to be like for us." he emended.

God, she wanted to believe him. She wanted so much for him to take her in hand, and love her in the same way that he loved other women; naturally. Honestly. But she couldn't be honest back. She didn't dare be honest back. But she wanted to try. She really wanted Will to show her how it could be. All she had to do was hold on to her soul. "Okay." she whispered.

One simple word slipped passed her lips and everything changed again. Before she changed her mind again, Will pulled her back to him and kissed her. This time there was no holding back. He let his hands roam where they wanted; touching her everywhere. Stroking her everywhere. Delving into everywhere, letting his body climb back up to its previously uncomfortable state again. He gritted his teeth against the strain of holding back. He wanted her to be ready for him. He wanted her to be unable to stop when he pushed too far.

She scooted back, sitting upright on him. He moaned as he felt her scorch him through the fabric of his underwear, but seconds later, he gasped when she reached down and freed him from the tight restraint, settling her small fingers around him.

"Deanna!" he warned, the growl coming up from his boots as he struggled against doing what he ached to do to her. The back of his head buried itself deeper into the grainy dirt as it suddenly dropped back, the simple power of her sensitive touch jerking everything into life within him. Not yet, Riker. God, not yet, he silently moaned.

But she had other ideas. Dropping back down along his length, she guided him toward her, gasping a little at the sensations that rocked through her at the first intimate touch against her. So hard, so swollen, and so large. Deanna began to tremble as she imagined what it was going to feel like as he entered her.

Will pulled her fingers away from him, taking both her hands and imprisoning them beside his head, allowing their bodies alone to complete the imminent union. He gently moved against her own movements, slowly parting her, opening her until he finally entered her, going deeper and deeper, allowing her to be the one to draw him inside of herself, encasing him in her damp heat.

She felt...Oh god, he couldn't put words to the feelings, as he closed his eyes and let those feelings control him. Will didn't think he'd had ever welcomed a sensation as eagerly as he did this one. It surpassed every other intimate instant he'd know, purely because of the fight beforehand; the wait.

Or maybe it was because of something else; that something more that was filling his soul. Was it love? It couldn't be. Not yet. It was too soon. It wasn't possible. It wasn't sensible. He'd never fallen in love.

Until now.

As the thought crept into his head, Will opened his eyes and let himself see the woman he was falling in love with. She was watching him intently. Her black eyes glistened, captured by a tiny shard of light that had found a way through the shadows.

He felt...honoured. The rush of tender emotion swept through him, and he quickly released her hands and pulled her head to his, settling his mouth against her and letting the tidal wave of desire begin.

Deanna's fingers dug into the soft dirt either side of Will's head as the shock of what Will was doing to, not only her mouth, but her body too. He'd dropped his hands to her hips, taking up the master role, guiding her so that he could fill her more completely. She felt him shove down his underpants a little more, moving them away enough to expose himself fully and then grasping her hips again firmly, he thrust upwards, just once, filling her deeper still.

Deanna cried out, breaking her mouth away from his as the strange intrusion penetrated the deep, untouched, internal heart of her. For a moment Will thought he'd hurt her, but when she moved her hips a little and found his open mouth again, he knew it hadn't been about the pain, but surprise - a nice surprise.

The pace started off slowly. He glided in and barely out of her over and over again, every movement threatening to turn his gut inside out. So controlled. So alive. So intense. And something else. Something that kept fluttering in the back of his mind. A word. It wasn't until they both unanimously began to quicken the pace, that the word began to become coherent.


No... no... no

Will was perplexed. Why in the world was she muttering, no? What is hell's name was she fighting against? The imminent orgasm? The fear of letting herself go so completely. Him releasing himself inside her - which he didn't plan on doing? Whatever it was, it was scaring her senseless.

What he did know was that it was making him angry. He felt it in the way he suddenly gripped her head with one hand, threading his fist into her hair, yanking it to a position so that he could literally assault her mouth. And he did, brutally. The other hand, drawn to the base of her spine, pushed down as he thrust upwards, time and time again. He pounded into her - relentlessly, intently, angrily.

But instead of having the desired effect, it did the opposite. Will felt her respond to the harsh treatment in the way she began to squirm against him, trying to maximise the contact between them, forcing her over sensitized bud to brush against him. The way her tongue wrestled with his, releasing tiny, pleading whimpers. The way her body went taut, trying to hold on. Trying to let go.

But still he heard that word,No! only now it was a desperate, no. But it was a no that wanted to become a yes.

Will suddenly released her mouth and pushed up up away from him, his movements hurried, spiteful even. Roughly gripping her hips, he held her above him, just for a moment, then pushed down onto him, hard. But with that push, a word squeezed between his tense, drawn back lips, the effort of his spent control trickled down his temple into his hair. "Yes!" he hissed.

Deanna's eyes went wide when the angry word spat from his mouth. He'd heard her. He'd heard her futile effort to stop herself from moaning the one word that she truly wanted to say. The one word that would change her universe. The one word that would tie her soul to his. And she didn't want to say it. She wouldn't. She couldn't. But, Oh, God, she wanted to, so much.

What she would have given to be able to experience the ultimate Betazoid gift with the man she loved was beyond comprehension, and she had it here, just a heartbeat away. A word away. All she had to do was open her soul, her heart and her mind and let Will share it. But she couldn't. She wouldn't.

But the man beneath her was intent on extracting it from her, one way or the other. He believed he was trying to get her body to release its precious gift, but if he'd known what was really at stake, she was sure it would be her dumped on her butt watching him run away. And she wasn't about to risk it, no matter what her mother had told her. No matter how much it cost her. Or hurt her.

Damn her! Will seethed. She wasn't giving in. But he had another surprise for her. Neither was he. In the space of a heartbeat, Will rolled her beneath him, managing to shuck his underpants along the way, crushing a multitude of greenery as he did so. But he didn't care, and nor did she.

Deanna felt her hair become heavy and gritty with dirt, but it was too late to worry about it now. She had more important things on her mind. Like loving the man that relentlessly crashed his way through her carefully erected barriers.

Will began to move again, rising himself above her like an Adonis. His skin glistened with moisture, his eyes, drugged with passion as they studied her features. Bending at the elbow, Will lowered his head, sealing his lips with hers, his tongue sought out and found hers, swirling and dancing, soaking up her own desire.

Now he was free of the his cumbersome clothing, Will didn't hold back. Embedded to the absolute hilt, he pushed Deanna's knees higher and further back and she gasped at the extra depth it created. He was so deep, she could feel him against her womb, searching for deliverance. Reaching for home.

They both began to climb again and felt their heartbeats thumping together as the tension increased tenfold. Will tore his mouth away from hers, needing to watch her fall apart in his arms, soothed by the missing negative word that had filled his head. Now he needed to hear her cry out another.

He gripped her chin, planting a quick sharp kiss upon her gasping mouth, searching her eyes as he fought to control his imminent explosion. "Say it, Deanna. Say it!" he pleaded, unable to hide the anger that laced what should have been a euphoric moment.

"No!" she cried, "I can't! I won't!" as she tried to tear her face from his vice-like grip.

Her eyes were filled with terror and frenzied passion, and Will thought it was a strange combination, strange enough to slow himself down and look deeply into her eyes. Tenderly brushing away the sweat-dampened wispy hair that caressed her cheeks, Will gently, reverently, kissed her lips, and whispered, "Please. For me."

His desolate, broken plea was the undoing of her, and with a heart-wrenching sob, Deanna linked her arms around his neck, kissed him deeply and let it happen.

The rush of freedom from her was so serene, so quiet, Will wasn't quite sure it had happened until he felt the familiar moist warmth surround his own pulsating, sexual release. But he knew the real reason her climax had almost passed him by - the word. A word he hadn't expected, threw him for a loop along with the eerie way his mind and his heart seemed to separate from his body's explosion.


The word tore from her throat as though it had been dragged up from the very gates of hell. Gently slipping himself out of her body before activating his own painful release, he raised himself back onto his very unsteady arms, Will stared at Deanna's face that was wreathed in agony. Tears streamed from her eyes and he knew that if he hadn't of had her pinned beneath him, she would have ran away. She clawed at his chest in a valiant effort to move him off, eventually instead throwing her hands over her face to hide her evident shame and misery.

Will blinked hard and wondered what had just transpired. He felt different, which was stupid because he knew he didn't look any different. But he certainly felt different. Like, he wasn't 'alone' anymore. Like, his new best friend had just coalesced with him, and stayed.

Swallowing painfully, he plucked up the courage to ask her in a voice that was as unsteady as his arms. But even as he said it, he felt himself withdrawing away from her, both physically and mentally, until eventually he sat beside her, waiting. "What did you just do to me, Deanna?" his voice was low, threatening. Scared.

Deanna licked her suddenly dry lips, her body still pulsating with raw emotion. "I...I," she trailed off, unable to think of a suitable response. "I'm sorry." she said, instead. Pulling herself to an unsteady stand, she reached for her dress, using it simply to cover her frontal nudity, which seemed a little absurd, considering what had just happened between them.

Will pulled himself to a stand too, but stood, tall, naked and proud, his eyes never leaving the smaller woman's face. "Sorry for what, Deanna. What the hell just happened between us. What did you do?" He didn't realise he'd moved closer to her until he found himself looking down at her upturned, scared face, his stance, his voice threatening, as though he was reprimanding a subordinate. "Deanna," he growled, "answer me, dammit!"

"I...I made you...mine," cowering as the painful admission left her lips.

Reeling back on his heals, Riker blinked, several times, letting her simple, but he knew it was anything but, statement filter through the throbbing pain steadily growing in his head, making him slightly nauseous before saying incredulously, heatedly, "What!?"

Now the truth was out, Deanna regained some of her equilibrium, straightening out her body so that she could face him, eye to eye, even though it was still from at least ten inches below him. She squared her shoulders and repeated herself. "I made you mine. I made you my, Imzadi."

Will spun away from her, trying desperately to reign in his runaway emotions. But just as quickly he'd turned away, he spun back around on her, fire spitting in his vivid blue eyes and blood pounding in his head. Did she mean, 'mine' as in, 'mine because they have made love', or was it 'mine' as in, 'my slave forever'? Fear gripped him by the throat, threatening to suffocate him. Will felt strangled; Imprisoned, and only one word managed to leave his mouth, "Explain."

Deanna studied his rigid features for a moment before dropping her gaze lower and swallowing the sudden rush of unbidden desire that flickered through her. She swallowed noisily. "I think you should put some clothes on before I explain anything."

For all intense and purposes, Will looked as though he was going to ignore her, and then one sharp look downwards had him inwardly agreeing. Swinging his gaze around for his underpants, he soon gave up the search when it looked like that they had vanished into thin air. Instead he grabbed his pants from the pile and slipped them on. As he tugged his top over his head, he heard Deanna slip her own dress over her head, the whisper of silk bringing a kick of desire as he envisaged it cascading over her nude curves, aware that she was still naked beneath the crimson folds.

Will raked his hand through his hair, grimacing at the dirt that had embedded itself in it. He glanced at Deanna, pitying her because he was aware that hers must have been much, much worse. They stood in tense silence looking at each other, only their laboured breathing giving away the tumultuous emotion that raged beneath the surface.

Will spotted a movement lower down and dropped his still overwhelmed gaze to her shaking, out-stretched hand. Raising uncertain, questioning eyes back to hers again, he saw only tenderness, and understanding, but among both, Will spotted fear - the fear of loss, a fear that he mirrored, and moments later, he slipped his own, not so steady fingers into hers.

Chapter nine

They retraced their steps back to the gazebo. To anyone else's eye, they looked like any other courting couple as they walked along, with their hands linked. But to the trained eye, anyone could see the stiff shoulders, and the reluctant pulling of her hand in his, the shadows of doubt in their eyes as they warily threw side-glances at each other as they tried to gauge each others feelings.

Even though their pace was slow and leisurely, the tension between them garnered feelings of urgency. Will tried to stealthily look at the woman beside him, but every time he did so, she caught him. She seemed to be so attuned to him, that it momentarily startled him. Was this part of the Imzadi legacy she had bestowed upon him? he wondered. Every thought that I had, or every look, she would know about, or feel?

Will began to feel uneasy again. Trapped, and he felt his throat and his heart constrict; squeeze tighter against the sudden threat of losing his soul, and his sanity to something he didn't understand. But then he reasoned with his warring mind that she did try to stop him. She did try and fight against becoming - whatever it is they've become! He felt himself looking sideways again, only this time when his eyes met hers, it was with understanding. She was aware of his inner chaos, and knew she was the one to cause it. But was she able to allay it?

He was scared stupid, Deanna thought, as she caught him looking over at her again. She saw him frown when her eyes had met his and she quickly surmised that he thought it was part of the Imzadi gift that they now possessed. In truth, it was simply because Deanna hadn't taken her eyes off him, not even for a second.

They had made love together. They'd had the most beautiful experience bequeathed to man, and woman, and they had become Imzadi. Reluctant Imzadi. Deanna wanted - needed to know if their union had meant as much to him as it had to her, and the only way to do that was to relive it. Relive the love. Relive the moment when his body entered hers.

A warmth stole through her as she filled her mind with him again, letting the image of them making love tumble through her thoughts, and it brought a tender smile to her lips. Will turned his head to look at her again and she felt his gaze bore through her as his own mind begin to see what she saw. Deanna held on to the image, letting it transcend into his, watching the memory visibly shake him to his core.

Time stopped. Everything stopped. Their feet. Their hearts. Their breathing, as they stood and absorbed the intimate moment between them. Will's eyes glistened with hunger as the strange dream-like moment filled his senses. He turned his body towards her, his eyes never leaving hers as they both rode the wave again, its culmination releasing the breath in their lungs on a whoosh.

Sounds of the night began again as Will studied the small woman before him as she looked up into his face. "Is that what it is going to be like for us, from now on?" he asked, his questioning voice husky with emotion, and desire.

Her barely inaudible, "Yes," slipped from between her lips. Deanna didn't apologise for it, she didn't see the point, or the need. It had happened. It was done. Will was her Imzadi now, and he was just going to have to get used to it. But what Deanna wanted in her heart was for Will to accept it and embrace it, even possibly become her Imzadi, in every sense that the endearment meant, but first she had to explain her actions, and what she had bestowed upon him, and hope that he didn't end up hating her for it.

They took the last few steps to the gazebo and sank down together onto its softness. All of a sudden, a shyness crept in between them, and for a long moment neither one knew what to say. But Will had so many questions racing around his head, he had to get the ball rolling.

He studied her fingers, still entwined with his, marvelling the cascade of colours on her long, slender opalesce painted nails as the moonlight glinted on them. "Did you know this was going to happen..." he broke off, raising his eyes briefly to hers before adding, "to us?" Deep in the corners of his soul, a feeling that whatever had happened to them had been special and was not an every day occurrence. He still wasn't sure if he had been blessed or cursed and was becoming tremendously uneasy. It was gnawing away at his gut not knowing,

Deanna licked her overly dry lips, the movement releasing her even drier tongue, allowing her to speak. "My...mother warned me that it might happen, but I thought I could control it. I failed. I'm sorry." she trailed off, suddenly embarrassed again.

"Your mother!?" Will said, his voice rising with surprise, "Your mother knows that we we're...we've...?"

She nodded, "Of course. She is one of the most powerful telepaths on the planet, Will. I don't like that she knows absolutely everything that happens with me, but sometimes it can be a blessing not having to explain myself, or my actions, because she always invariably knows,"

And then she added sadly, "and sometimes I wish she'd leave my head in peace."

She didn't have to add, 'like now.' it was written all over her face; failure. Her head hung low, covering her forlorn features, and Will had no choice but to watch the crown of her head as he waited for her to continue. Deanna had failed in keeping Will out of her soul and knew that her mother knew. And she knew that her mother knew that the union hadn't gone well. True, destiny had been fulfilled, but at what cost? An overwhelming feeling of loss washed over her and Will felt its impact sweep through him too.

Deanna rose her eyes to his, but now they shimmered with moisture. His resolve to not succumb to her feminine wiles until she had revealed her secrets melted along with his heart when he saw her struggling with her pain and realised that this was as hard for her as it was for him. Moments later his arms moved towards her, and with a muttered, "Come here," he pulled her onto his lap.

She sank against his chest and let the relief pour from her as he cradled her in his large arms. He felt her voice rumble through his chest, "I'm sorry, Will. I never meant for this to happen. I know how important your career is to you, and I'm not going to hold you back just because of what's happened."

"But what has happened? Tell me, Deanna, so that I can understand." Will pleaded, quietly.

Okay, here goes, Deanna thought silently, and she took a deep breath. "On my planet, love..." she hesitated. The word 'love' seemed to be too strong for the moment and she tried to think of another one better suited, but couldn't, so she continued, "love between two people has become something of an extension of the spoken word."

She glanced briefly into his shadowed face, comforted by the intensity that held it rapt as she spoke, so she continued once she'd settled her cheek against the huge barrel of his chest, the heartbeat within it, solid and even. "Sometimes, people - lovers, are privileged to experience this extra level of the emotion. They go beyond the simplistic level of love that most people know."

"What happened to us tonight was beyond love. We became, Imzadi because our feelings for each other are deeper than normal."

Once more she sat up higher, her face just a few scant inches away from his, her eyes studied his, beseeching him to look further than what he saw. "Will, can't you feel that what we have is more than you've ever felt before?"

Will's fingers stung with pain, linked together at her waist, holding her onto his lap. He did feel different, but he had never experienced the concept of love before. He had never been in love, so he wasn't quite sure that what he was feeling was love or magic, because the moment of intimacy that they had just shared had been magic. He'd felt like he was floating. He'd felt connected, to her. He'd felt...good.



"Yes," he whispered, "Yes, I feel it, but I don't understand what it means from now on, Deanna. What now?"

She turned her head away from him long enough in the vain attempt to hide the pain that her one word created, "Nothing." before re-claiming her heart, her voice, and her traitorous eyes to face him again, "Nothing. I'll live my life, and you'll live yours." she ended sadly.

Suddenly Will's eyes glittered with humorous malice and his voice dripped with venom as he spoke, "Oh, no, no, no, Deanna. It is not quite that simple, is it?" he growled, "I feel connected to you. I bet if I walked away from you now, inside my head, I would hear you call me back. When I leave this planet, you'll be coming with me, maybe not in person, but you'll still be with me, won't you, Deanna?"

He knew the moment he'd hurt her when he watched the tears well in her eyes when he said that he was leaving, but up until that moment he hadn't realised why it was going to cause her so much pain. He'd been arrogant enough to know that Deanna had probably fallen in love with him, and if he was totally honest with himself, he'd fallen for her. But she'd known, as he did, that he was going to leave Betazed, but until now, Will had thought that maybe he'd be leaving behind just a broken heart. Now he knew different. He would be leaving his own soul behind too.

Her throat tightened around the words that wanted to come out, so she simply nodded, the movement releasing a tear. Will watched it trickled down her soft cheek, automatically reaching his hand up and brushing it away with his thumb. Tucking strands of wayward curls behind her ear, Will murmured, "Will that be so bad?"

Deanna didn't realise he had spoken until his silence was so obviously waiting for an answer. She was so rapt with losing herself in his sea-blue eyes, heavy with need and tenderness that she forgot everything except watching him. And then suddenly his question filtered through the fog, "Will what be so bad?"

Will rolled his eyes, and a half indulgent smile lifted his lips, but he soon turned serious again, "Will it be so bad if I take a little piece of you with me when I go?" he asked, a touch of hope lacing his words, as inch by inch pulling her slowly towards his waiting mouth, and as her lips settled against his, he heard her breathy, barely audible whisper of, "No."

Chapter ten

"Smell this one, Will, it's called Cherrydew," she plucked the deep Burgundy bloom and held it under his nose, her face alight with mischief and wonder, "it smells just like the fruit, doesn't it?"

Will breathed in the sweet, and yes, definitely cherry scented, and murmured his agreement, trying his hardest to keep his chain of thought directed to the flower in question and not that he'd just recently had tasted something else that had decidedly tasted of something similar.

Deanna watched as his eyes flared with desire and instinctively knew that he wasn't thinking about the flower in her fingers but something else a little more...erotic. Twirling the bloom between her fingertips, she linked her arm with his again and they continued moving around the vast flower beds.

They looked like a normal, happy couple on a warm, summer's day, admiring the flora and fauna in the arboretum. Only it wasn't a warm, summer's day. It was three o'clock in the morning. It was pitch black, apart from the illuminations, and the couple were both stark naked.

They had made love again, but this time their love-making had been different. It had been romantic. Now that the fears had vanished, and the newness of intimacy had gone too, a new awareness had risen. Love had emerged from its secret place and surrounded them both with its power. When Will had entered her a second time, it was with not only her blessing, but her culture's, and perversely, he felt it was with her mother's approval too.

But even so, the shadow of his eventual leaving hovered between them, and it was the next large hurdle they faced. Could he stay? Should he go? Could he leave her behind? In the back of his mind, the questions churned over and over, sullying the precious memories he was creating in the here and now.

Deanna looked up into his face, her eyes alive with feeling. He dropped a quick kiss to her lips, slipping his arm around her shoulders and pulling her against his side, making an effort to dispel the nasty thoughts until another time. Until he had no choice but to think about them. He felt her own slim arm snake around his waist and he sighed with contentment, squeezing her shoulder to spread the feeling across to her. She answered him with a squeeze of her own.

Slowly, they gradually made their way back to the gazebo, and reluctantly began to put on their clothes, knowing that it was time to step back into reality. From the moment they had sealed themselves in the glass dome, their life had become surreal. Unforgettable.

As the folds of her crimson dress shimmered down her thighs, Will slipped on the last piece of his attire, his shoe, and then it was done; they were back to normal. Back to the now, and as they stood, face to face, a shyness stole over each other and silence balanced equally between them.

But pushing aside the shyness, they unanimously stepped into each other's arms. They felt as though they were saying goodbye, even though the feeling was illogical. Will wasn't leaving, and Deanna had long since accepted that destiny had taken over and shown her what her future held.

But then with a flip of the coin, Will remembered that he was leaving - probably sooner than later, and destiny had got it wrong for Deanna. How could she survive without her Imzadi by her side? How was she going to survive without her Imzadi by her side?

Too many changes were happening tonight, and every one of them was out of their control, except one. The important one. Imzadi. The were both aware that they could, and probably would, walk away and never see each other again. And they both knew that their lives had changed forever, not because of Imzadi, but because of love. They had fallen in love. They had become lovers, and they would always have the memories.

But Imzadi...Imzadi had bound them together for eternity, no matter what. Love could move on, a second best could take the place of the one, true love. And time could be forgotten, and so could memories, but there would always be Imzadi.
"Will I see you tomorrow?"

The whispered question tickled her ear, and Deanna smiled, drawing his body even closer than before if possible. She slid her hands up his back, testing the texture and marvelling at the power in his shoulders.

She dropped a light kiss upon his smooth cheek, her own voice as quiet as his.

"Yes." And then she was gone.

Will watched the door close with a quiet click, her perfume, along with another scent now, lingering in the porch way, and he drew a deep breath, savouring and saving it for a private moment alone when he got to his quarters.

He groaned as he turned, already missing her. Suddenly tomorrow seemed a lifetime away.

Chapter eleven

"What do you mean she's gone. Gone where!?"

William Riker stood upon Deanna Troi's doorstep the following day, dumb-founded. It was nearly noon and Will thought that he'd pick Deanna up and they'd have a picnic lunch together, somewhere quiet - like maybe the arboretum.

But instead of finding himself staring at Deanna Troi, he was being openly stared at by her mother, her eyes alight with fascination at his quandary, and he was in a quandary. Did the woman mean 'Gone, disappeared?' or, 'Gone, gone shopping?'

He got his answer when she stuck her nose in the air and sniffed derisively, "The Troi's do not go shopping, Mr. Riker. My daughter, not that it is any concern of yours, has gone away for a while..."

Gone. Disappeared. Will wilted inwardly, She lied to me. She doesn't want to see me after all.

"She thought that it would be best if you didn't see each other again, Mr. Riker." she finished, turning away from him, preparing to close the door.

Will started forward, slipping his arm forward enough to stop the door's closure, "She thought, Mrs. Troi, or you thought?" Will asked gamely, his words tinged with bitterness.

The moment Will had invaded her space she turned back around, shooting him a look that could wither a slug on sight. "As much my daughter respects my decisions, there are some things that only she decides, and she has decided, Mr. Riker, that what happened between you two last night, will never happen again."

Will blinked twice as he absorbed, not only the shock of Deanna's betrayal, but that her mother seemed to know the intimate details of their night together. Before she could slip another damning word out, Will recaptured his pride and stepped back, straightening his torso, and his scattered wits, "Very well, Mrs. Troi. Thank you for letting me know where I stand. Good afternoon." He spun on his heels and walked away without a backward glance.


"That's not quite what I said, mother." said Deanna, stepping out of the shadows.

Lwaxana sighed deeply as she slowly pushed the door shut, watching the tall man's stiff, retreating figure with regret. She genuinely liked the young lieutenant, and liked where he was going with his life. The man had high hopes and had enough bravado to achieve them. Oh, she didn't like that he was a Starfleet officer, or that his life would be on the line every minute of the day, as well as her daughter's if she went with him.

But, he was her Imzadi now, and that changed the status quo a little. A lot, she amended with a grimace, turning to face Deanna. "You said you didn't want to see him, little one. You didn't tell me how long for. I only assumed that things didn't turn out quite like you had planned last night?"

Lwaxana was fishing and she knew it, waiting to see if Deanna would tell her the truth about what happened between them. Telepathy was a wonderful thing when one couldn't get their own way, but Deanna was her only child, and she liked to imagine that she would still come to her, talk to her about anything and everything, including last night.

But she was dashed, and disappointed when Deanna said, as she turned away and walked dispiritedly up the long staircase, "No, they didn't."

Oh, yes, they did, Little One. Yes, they did.


"Turned you down, did she, boy?" Tang's gruff voice, lit with merriment, boomed through Will's office.

"Shut up, Tang," Will groused, burying his head in the file that he had in front of him, not seeing one word on it. "a lady is entitled to change her mind."

Tang laughed out-right at Will's preposterous statement. "Riker, you are talking about a Troi. You are not talking about some young filly that has got within your grubby little paws. You are talking about a woman with substance. You are talking about royalty, as near damn it." He ploughed on regardless of the pained look on the younger man's handsome face. "You are talking about Lwaxana Troi's daughter. She would not change her mind."

Spinning around the chair, Tang hoisted one leg up and put his big booted foot upon it, leant his arm on it and lowered his face to Will's level, looking him straight in the eye. "So," he demanded, "what are you going to do about it - her?" he emended.

Will rose his sky-blue eyes and looked into his friend's with determination, "Nothing."


"Nothing," he confirmed, "If Deanna changes her mind, she knows where to find me."

"Oh. And what if by some crummy misfortune, you get hoisted off this rock before that happens?" Tang asked.

"Nah, never happen. I'm stuck here for at least another month, maybe more. Plenty of time for Ms. Troi to come begging for my body again." he sneered good-naturedly, his age and chauvinism clearly coming to the fore.

Tang shook his head, smiling with age-old wisdom. "Young Riker, you have got a lot to learn about women." Coming upright again, he pushed the chair back to its original position and headed for the door, but not without saying his parting, and very wise words, "Will, if you want her, you're gonna have to do the begging."

It was on the tip of Will's tongue to shout back at him that he didn't beg for anything, or anyone, but held back the ridiculous comment. Did he want her enough to go after her? Did he love her enough to beg?

No! he vowed, and then, moments later, he pushed himself out of his chair, determination consuming his every pore and thought.

Dammit, yes, I would!

Chapter twelve

The tree was the perfect place to stake out the Troi mansion. Will stood behind its vast trunk, watching the house across the street. Night was falling rapidly and the only sounds to be heard were the sounds of the night creatures, none of which were a threat to him. It was one of the things that Will liked about the planet; the lack of bugs. The other thing he liked was the constant balmy weather, although he'd heard that occasionally, Betazed had rain storms, but he had yet to witness one.

His dark outfit made him inconspicuous in the moonlit shadows that stretched out from the tree. It also made him look dashing, and dangerous. He looked good in black, with his extra long limbs and his dark hair. He found that ladies liked him in dark clothing. Made him look, 'sexy and mysterious.' so one particular lady had told him, as she'd taken each bit off, bit by bit.

Tonight though, he other plans for the dark outfit.


It had been two days since he'd approached the Troi mansion. Only last time, it had been in broad daylight and he'd been turned away. This time though, he wasn't going to wait to be invited. Will had been watching for signs of movement. His instincts had told him that Deanna hadn't disappeared and that she was just, 'laying low'. It stuck in his craw that she had lied to him. It had also hurt that she hadn't had the balls to tell him to his face.

But then again, whenever they got face to face, other feelings got in the way, and morosely, Will kinda understood that maybe that was why she'd taken the cowards way out, using her mother to do her dirty work.

But it still didn't squash the empty feeling inside that had consumed him ever since. His life seemed to have come to a stand-still. He still did his job, nobody could fault him for the that. But everything else seemed to be unhappily suspended. Was this another facet of this Imzadi thing that he'd yet to understand?

He'd begun to feel as though he was on a dog's lead; wanting to go for the walk, but with no one to take him. Constantly under the control of his master. Walked when he wanted to be. Petted when he wanted to be. Loved when he wanted to be. Only Will felt as though his master had abandoned him, without taking off the dog-lead.

So lost was he in his self-analysis of his feelings for Deanna, he almost missed the real reason he was there, skulking in the shadows, waiting. A light flicked on in her bedroom and a movement within the room sent the gauzy curtain moving. But as quick as the light went on, it went off again. But it was enough evidence for Will to tell him that Deanna was home. He glanced at his watch; 10.35 p.m. it read. Bedtime.

Confrontation time.

And moments later, his dark, shadowy figure made its move.

Chapter thirteen

Deanna stepped out of the shower and wrapped the huge, fluffy, cerise towel around her slender body, and then wrapped another smaller one around her head. She was still tucking the dark tendrils under its edge as she strode nonchalantly into her bedroom. It wasn't until then that she got a tickle in the back of her mind that she was being watched.

It only took her a second for her eyes to fall on the large bulk that sat, looking rather silly in the rather delicate and ornate chair, the one man that had consumed her thoughts and her dreams.

It was no use feigning shock, horror, or surprise at finding him there, so she simply said, "How did you get in," and then another thought entered her head. "Did my mother put you up to this?" But she couldn't take her eyes of him, or the way he looked; sexy. Damned sexy. And dangerous.

Shadowed by the natural light in the room, and dressed all in black so that all that showed was his face and his large hands, Deanna couldn't stop it when her tongue snaked out and swept across her suddenly dry lips.

Will didn't miss the erotic movement and secretly smiled to himself as he answered her, taking care to not let his eyes drop below her face. He'd taken a long, leisurely look at everything else before she'd sensed him and drank his fill of her creamy skin. Her long slender throat. Her delicate ears. Her tiny ankles, and her sexy toes.

Once more, the mention of her mother threw him for a moment. What was with the mother!? he wondered before actually saying flippantly, "I'm a Riker, I can get in anywhere if I put my mind to it." And then belatedly thought about his response, groaned and hoped that Deanna hadn't spotted the erotic version of his daft boast. The hurt sparkle in her eyes told him he'd hit a nerve and he quickly murmured an honest, "Sorry," He hesitated a moment before adding gently, "I'd like to talk to you, and since you're apparently, 'not here', I wanted to know why."

Deanna quickly turned away from him, not wanting him to see the blatant lie in her eyes, "I thought my mother already explained my reasoning. It won't work for us, so there is no point in making it any harder than it already is."

Will studied her as she plonked herself down in front of her mirror, taking the head towel off as she did so, letting the riotous, ebony curls cascade down her back. He looked past her bare, creamy shoulders and watched her reflection as she picked up a brush and began to work through the knots, and pondered on her answer, working on his own suitable response at the same time.

"I know that I'm not going to be on Betazed for long, and so do you. Why can't we enjoy the time we have left together?" But even as he said it, he knew that wasn't possible. They were now more than casual lovers. A few weeks wasn't going to cut it. He was waiting for her predictable answer but was surprised - stunned when she finally did speak.

"I love you." The passionate words slipped out before she could stop them and she cursed her own idiocy. She had made a vow to herself that she wouldn't tell him how she felt, not would she put him in that awkward position of having to reveal his own feelings. His reaction spoke volumes.

"Huh?" His entire body went rigid. It was the last thing he expected her to say.

"I'm sorry," she murmured, "that kinda slipped out. I didn't mean to tell you." her eyes briefly finding his in the mirror before looking away, confused with her confession.

But his held the hint of a smile as he spoke, "If you love me, how come you sound so miserable?"

"I am miserable," she admitted, "You're the last person I want to love," she began to reel off the excuses, "You're not my type. You're pushy, bossy and arrogant. Half the time I don't even like you. You work in a dangerous job. You could be killed at any time." She'd started out strong, but her voice was shaky by the end.

Many silent moments later, Will quietly stood and moved slowly towards her. She watched his movements in the mirror, her eyes dropping when he lowered himself to kneel down beside her. His eyes never left hers as he spoke, "I'm a Starfleet officer," he clarified un-necessarily. "but I'm a good Starfleet officer. I'm not going to die tomorrow, or the day after, or for a very long time, if I have my way,"

He lifted a hand and tenderly fingered a solitary damp curl that sat upon her shoulder, "especially," he continue huskily, "if I've got something to live for."

At last Deanna's eyes left the mirror and found his. Swallowing, she whispered, "I've never been in love before. I hate it." the emotional confession brought moisture to her eyes.

Will smiled tenderly, instantly understanding, "I've got news for you. I hate being in love too, Deanna. But we are."

She nodded, accepting the logic, and the situation, "Yes, we are." she sighed.

Will pushed himself to a stand, his fingers trailing down her arm until they reached her waiting fingers. Pulling her up with him, Deanna dropped the hairbrush onto the table and turned into his arms, soaking up the compassion he offered.

After a few moments. Will smiled above her head as he heard her take in a deep appreciative sniff of the cologne he wore. It was a favourite of his, and of every other female that had gotten close enough to wallow in its intoxicating aroma. He felt the palms of her hands flatten out against his back and begin to move,

Gently, he pulled his upper body away, inviting her to take the lead wherever she wanted to go. Her face left his chest and she looked up, her eyes silently asking him to kiss her. Before the plea had even finished, his lips were settling against hers, and barely a second later, their tongues danced to the tune that only lovers ever got to hear, unanimously sucking in a trembling breath and a tortured moan with the kiss's intensity.

Will's heartbeat began to pound, the ardour deep inside him began to swell like a rolling wave about to turn over and wash him away. God, he wanted this woman, more than he'd ever wanted a woman in his entire life, and he still couldn't quite believe that he actually had her, in his arms, and in his heart.

Deanna felt Will's mind, and soul shift. A few seconds ago, he simply wanted to make love to her. Now, now he wanted more than just her. More than just her body, her words, her touch. He wanted the rest that normal people couldn't see, or have, or desire, and now need.

The realization, for some unknown reason shocked her. Until that moment, truly that moment, their virginal Imzadi bond had seemed surreal. Enchanted. But feeling Will's honest, raw need from deep, deep inside of him, finally and cataclysmically, told her that the man in her arms was, without a shadow of a doubt, the one, inescapably chosen to be her Imzadi.

Will was breathing heavily when he reluctantly separated his lips from hers, his eyes, inflamed with passion dropping to her glistening mouth and then lower, his hands leaving her waist to rise to the knot that held her towel tight against her body, the only barrier that separated his skin from hers.

Wordlessly, Will's darkened blue eyes met and held Deanna's, his voice, husky with passion asked, "Can I?"

The hesitation was no longer than a breath before she answered him by moving her own two hands to the knot and pulled at it, freeing breasts that were already reaching to touch him. And then, amongst the haze of desire, Deanna heard a silent whisper, Don't, Little One.

Will's face turned to bewilderment as he watched Deanna suddenly and seemingly change her mind and begin to re-knot the towel, depriving him of the minuscule glimpse of what lay beneath, "Deanna?" he questioned, hoarsely.

Unsteadily, Deanna stepped back and out of Will's arms, her cheeks tinging pink with embarrassment, "I'm sorry. This is not the time, or the place, you've got to leave."

Mystified and bemused,Will wasn't quite sure what to do. He didn't want to leave, he knew that without any doubt, but he didn't want to stay and cause her harm in any way. But he felt he had a right to ask about her sudden change of heart, "Can I ask why, Deanna? Did I do something out of turn, or...?"

She cut him off, "No, no. It isn't you. It's me," taking another reluctant step back she reiterated, "I think you'd better go, before..."

Will caught the nervous glance towards the door and instantly found the answer he sought. Her mother. Warily, Will reached out his hand and touched her arm. She reacted as though he'd burnt her, and Will pulled away with shock. "Before what, Deanna?" Perversely he knew, but he wanted to hear her say it. "Is your mother on her way up here?"

Deanna cringed with embarrassment at Will's quick insight to the problem, "No, worse," she said, almost whispering, "She's listening."

Will blinked with surprise, momentarily stunned into silence, and then his eyebrows rose and his eyes widened, and he asked incredulously, "She's listening! - to us making out!? Isn't that kind of sick?" he protested weakly, too shocked to even imagine the great Lwaxana Troi being a voyeur.

And then he had a sudden thought, "Isn't that illegal?" he asked, a spark of anger igniting deep inside himself.

Deanna swallowed, "She's only thinking of me, Will. She doesn't want to see me hurt. Don't be cross." she ended lamely.

"I'm not cross, Deanna. I'm disappointed, and a tad disgruntled at being labelled a bad guy, especially when I haven't done anything wrong except fall in love with you, and last I heard, that, wasn't a crime." he said, moving back towards her again, unable to keep the distance between them, needing her closeness to prepare him for the moment that he was going to be wrenched away from her, not only physically, but mentally too.

And he wasn't going without a fight.

Before she could back away, Will pulled her into his arms, a little more roughly than he'd intended, blaming it on the still simmering flicker of fire that surged through his veins at being thwarted. Deanna didn't even struggle. She couldn't, and she didn't want to. If defying her mother to put another memory in her own and Will's heart was the only way, then so be it, and when Will's tongue swept into her mouth, she gladly met him halfway, snaking her arms up and around his neck, holding on for dear life. Holding onto him.

But it was Will who eventually ended the kiss, his eyes ablaze with fire and need. "I love you, God dammit." he growled, planting another quick, final kiss upon her lips before ripping himself away from her embrace.

He made himself back towards the window in which he arrived and putting one foot the other side of the frame, he suddenly stopped and with a devilish smile upon his face, he spoke to thin air, "G'night, Mrs Troi." before dropping out of sight, winking at her just before he disappeared.

Deanna chuckled as she felt her mother's indignant Hrumph! echo through her senses, watching as Will vanished into the night, glad that he visited. Glad that they'd gotten another chance before time and circumstances - and her mother - intervened again.

Taking a deep breath and tightening the knot at her breasts a little tighter, Deanna turned towards the door, ready for the showdown with the woman on the other side of it.


Chapter fourteen

Will's footsteps echoed as he ambled along the streets heading back towards the officers quarters, his long form, creating even longer shadows in the moonlight. It was barely midnight - had he really been over an hour in Deanna's room? he wondered, still mystified over the visit's culmination.

Will chuckled wryly to himself, his imagination running riot as he pictured Deanna's mother with her ear against the door, listening in to their conversation. I wonder how much she heard? he wondered. Hell, another five minutes and she would have heard a lot more, he bragged to himself, his walk turning cocky as he kicked a small pebble along the ground, watching it skeeter away, the movement somehow reminding him of Deanna, making his smile wider still. Always running.

He didn't see or hear the body skulking in the shadows, realizing that if it had've been an assailant, he'd be dead by now, a fact he mentally chastised himself for. When he did hear who it was, he breathed a grateful sigh of relief.

"Penny for them?" A high pitched, seductive voice broke the night's quiet. Will recognized the sultry tone as soon as she spoke.

He chuckled again, blushing lightly as he thought about just what he'd been thinking about, knowing that Wendy would not want to hear about the gut-punch of a kiss that he'd recently shared with Deanna. "I'd want a lot more than a penny for them, Wendy. What are you doing out here this time of night? You shouldn't be wandering the streets alone. You never know who you'll bump into."

Wendy Roper stepped out of the shadows, her soft laughter suddenly becoming loud in the night's calm, her shoes tip-tapping, piercing the darkness, intruding on it's tranquillity. "I bumped into who I exactly wanted to. You're a hard man to track down, Lieutenant."

Flattered, Will didn't immediately discard her as quickly as he should have, especially when his mind was still over-stuffed with images and thoughts of Deanna. Wendy, who now brazenly stood before him, half shadowed in the moonlight, making her look even sexier than when she had prowled around him at the Troi get-together, waiting patiently for his mind to switch gears.

She's nothing more than a friend, he told himself, as he smiled down at the woman who moved within touchable distance, need oozing from her every pore. "What could you possibly want from me that you couldn't get from a score of other Starfleet officers that are unattached and available?"

She chuckled seductively, the sound vaulting down to Will's reluctant loins, the laugh reminding him of another certain Betazoid's that he'd just left. "Last I heard, Lieutenant, you were unattached and more than available. In fact, going by our last little...meeting, I got the distinct impression that I could perhaps change that situation for you."

Boldly she stepped nearer and traced a finger tip across Will's pectorals, skimming the tiny buds that stood to attention with not only the night's chill but the sexual acknowledgement to being touched, wanted, and uncannily like being trapped in a transporter beam, Deanna's presence in his head shimmered away too.

The first touch of her lips on his though was like having a bucket of icy cold water pouring over his head. Her lips were cold, probably from the midnight coolness, but he still managed to compare Wendy's with Deanna's warm, welcoming touch. And he startlingly realized, the connection was missing to.

Until that moment, he hadn't appreciated just what being bonded really meant. But as Wendy tried to deepen the kiss by sweeping her tongue across his lips, seeking access, nudging the tip against his closed teeth, Will felt totally devoid of feeling. Not just sexual feeling, but spiritual. It was wrong. It felt wrong. It felt empty, like he was kissing a vast void in space; dark and unwanted. Like nobody was on the other side. Like something was missing. Or someone. Deanna.

What am I doing!? he asked himself, horrified at the rapidness of stepping into anothers arms when it was possibly the furthest thing from his intentions. I love Deanna! Reluctance gone, his sensibility returned with a force that guiltily gnawed at his soul. Will firmly disentangled himself from Wendy's clinging lips and arms and stepped back out of reach.

Opening his mouth to apologise for leading Wendy on, he stopped when he saw the smile on her face. It wasn't a nice smile. In fact, if she had been a cat, Will would have thought that she'd definitely had a good lick at a huge dollop of cream.

"So I was right," she crowed, her voice tinged with malice,"little, Miss Snob hasn't got what it takes to keep a man interested," boldly stepping towards Will again, that long fingernail preparing to torture him again, stopping short when Will reached up and held the hand just short of its goal, the pressure in his fingers harder than he intended.

"Interested!?" he repeated with surprise and venom, "Deanna Troi, is the hottest woman I have ever met, and she has absolutely no problem in keeping me interested. In fact..." his fury building within him at not only his own lapse at remembering how much the woman in question meant to him, but how Wendy could even say such a ridiculous thing. Will had heard the gossip, and he admitted to himself, that had been some of the reason for getting to know Deanna better, but never in his wildest dreams did he think he would be in the position he was in now; Captivated.

Totally and absolutely captivated by Deanna Troi. His Imzadi. He twirled the new word around in his mind, liking how it made him feel warm. Calm. Desired. Loved.

"In fact," he stormed on, but now with a catch in his voice that defused some of the venom leaving him wide open to ridicule. But he didn't care anymore. He knew he was wearing his heart on his sleeve for the whole damn world to see, and he didn't give a fig. "I wish she was standing in front of me instead of you because I miss her, and I only left her ten minutes ago. Doesn't that tell you something, Wendy?

"Yeah," she said, completely taken aback at his defence, and passion for someone who had markedly gotten under his skin, and pissed that the apparently not-so-cold Betazoid had snagged the only man on the entire planet worth snagging. "it tells me that you're no better than the rest of the horny Starfleet bastards here, and she's welcome to you. Goodbye." She spat.

Spinning on her teetering heels, Will watched Wendy stride away from him, her head held as high as it could go, but even so, she still couldn't stem the seductive sway of her hips as she walked, quickly releasing Will'a anger and making him chuckle. She must have heard it because somehow, she managed to get another inch higher, indignancy and pride oozing from every pore.

Will stayed in the same spot for several long moments relaying the past few minutes over in his mind, wondering if he should feel guilty or not. I didn't kiss her back. I swear, I didn't, he reasoned to himself. She came on to me,


Where the hell did that come from!? he wondered to himself, trying to put the word back into the jumbled jigsaw within his mind, seeing where it fit. It didn't. He was beginning to think he was going mad. Either that or someone, somewhere was butting in again and instantly, a vision filled his head. A very unwelcome vision. "Lwaxana Troi." he muttered angrily. Great, just flippin' great!

Chapter fifteen

Exactly noon, Will found himself back on the Troi mansion's doorstep again. Knocking louder than what was necessary, Will took a pace back and unconsciously straightened his uniform, sweeping his hand through his hair too, ignoring the tremble in his hand. He initially put it down to his excitement at seeing Deanna again, but as soon as her mother opened the door, he realized the tremble was fear, of her. Puffing up his chest in a show of bravado, he spoke. "I'd like to see Deanna please, Mrs. Troi?"

"I'm sure you would, Mr. Riker, but I am not going to allow it." Lwaxana Troi told him in no uncertain terms, her voice firm and unyielding, "I won't tell her you called. Goodbye."

Reeling from her words, Will didn't immediately react to the door being shut in his face until it was almost closed, and with the speed of a bullet, Will put one of his rather large, black, shiny booted feet in its way. "Have I done something to offend you, Mrs. Troi. I thought we were..."

He hesitated on the word he wanted to say; friend. It didn't seem to be quite the right one anymore. She was obviously upset about something and he swallowed when he saw the look upon her now sour face. "Friends, Mr. Riker? Is that what you were going to say? I thought, 'friends' didn't kiss each other in quite the same manner that you and that Roper creature did last night. I'm sure my daughter won't see it in quite that way."

Caught. Trapped. Presumed guilty without a trial. Will swore beneath his breath, never taking his eyes away from the formidable woman that stood taller than him, courtesy of the door's elevated rise from the lower step that he still stood ramrod still on, the foot that had previously wedged the heavy wooden door now firmly back beside its mate. Frozen.

And then he replayed the bitter words that had fell from her mouth; I'm sure my daughter won't see it in quite that way...

Won't see it...

She hadn't told her!

"No, I haven't told her...yet." she confirmed, "but I intend to, Mr. Riker, as soon as I'm confident that she will believe me," she stated. "At the moment, her head is not being ruled by common sense, but it will, because you, Mr. Riker, will hurt her..."

Will opened his mouth to defend himself, but she cut him off before he got a word out, "You will hurt her, Lieutenant, and it has nothing to do with your...dalliances with other ladies." she said, disgust lacing her words.

"Because I'm leaving." Will realized, feeling even more miserable about that than about his other minor transgression.

"Because you're leaving." She agreed. And after a long moment of tormented inner struggle, watching the truth drain from the young Starfleet lieutenant, the fight suddenly left her, and moving away from the door, Lwaxana Troi's arm made a dramatic sweep, inviting him to step in. He did so, warily, glancing behind the door to see if the giant housekeeper, Homn was lurking there, ready to pounce.

"No, he isn't there, Mr. Riker. He's fixing lunch." she said, reading his mind, and his actions.

Will slowly closed the door behind him and stood barely a few feet away from it, uncertainty oozing from his very essence, but amongst that uncertainty, Will felt a glimmer of hope. Maybe she wasn't such an old gargoyle after all....

Stopping in mid stride, the matriarch turned back towards him, her mouth and eyebrows risen in amusement., her voice holding a hint of laughter as she spoke,, "Trust me, Lieutenant, I can be."

Will inwardly groaned. Being around one of the most powerful telepaths on the planet was getting to be a right, royal pain in the proverbial a... He cut the thought short when he caught her glancing over her shoulder at him again as he followed her through to the impressive drawing room, missing the smirk as she turned back away from him.

Indicating to him that he should be seated, he wisely waited until she had done so, his manners at last making an appearance. Hoisting his pant legs up as he stretched his long limbs down onto the fancy seating, Will perched nervously on its edge, lacing his fingers to hide the feint tremor, waiting for...what? He didn't have to wait for long.

"I'd like to know why you're hurting my daughter." she asked.

Will was confused, "But...I thought..."

"No, no," she exclaimed, batting away his confusion with her hand, cross that he'd misunderstood her, "That was before. Now I want to know why you needed to find solace in another woman's arms, and don't tell me it wasn't your fault, Mr. Riker. I know perfectly well what went on last night, and you were not totally innocent of the encounter."

Will had absolutely no intention of telling her one, solitary thing about his little mishap with Wendy Roper. Okay, so maybe he wasn't quite as innocent as he proclaimed, but he sure as hell wasn't exactly rolling in the hay with her, and, he added, he did back away as soon as his head caught up with his libido and reminded him about another woman who was at home, keeping his place warm for him.

But then his guilt and excuses skittered away to be replaced by other feelings, emotions, and finding Lwaxana's eyes, he held them fast with his own and as honestly as he could, he said, "I forgot," his broad shoulders lifting a fraction, aiding his response.

It was said so simply, Lwaxana's last ounce of mistrust and doubt slipped away. She hadn't expected him to say what he had. What she'd known of Terran males in the past, including her treasured husband, was that when it came to matters of sex, honesty was about the furthest thing from their minds.

But William Riker was different. Every time she encountered the man, or heard something about him, he never failed to surprise her, and sometimes he even delighted her with his own brand of uniqueness. It was easy to see why her daughter had fallen head over heels in love with him, and if she'd have been twenty years younger....

Dragging herself back to the present and away from her fanciful, and evocative daydreams, Lwaxana quickly decided that she wanted to make William squirm for a little longer before putting him out of his misery.

"You forgot. My daughter?" Lwaxana packed her voice with a touch of venom, using her expressive eyes to carry the insult across. "Would you like to expand on the word, 'forgot', Mr. Riker?"

Will blinked rapidly as he accessed his befuddled brain, searching for the explanation that would get him out of the hole that was getting deeper and deeper by the minute. He swallowed, "Perhaps forgot was the wrong word, Mrs. Troi." he said carefully.

"No it wasn't. The word was exactly the one you meant to say, and I'd like you to explain to me how a man that barely two days ago, not only took my daughters innocence, but was privileged to become her Imzadi too, could possibly, 'forget' her."

"I didn't forget Deanna!" he jumped in, his whole posture coming alert as he realized that her mother had got entirely the wrong end of the stick. Gamely he ploughed on, "I love your daughter, Mrs. Troi. Forgetting her is something that will never happen, I can promise you that." he said sincerely.

"Then just 'what' did you forget?" she asked exasperated.

Will sighed heavily, moving his eyes away from her intent gaze as he tried to make her understand the importance of his confession. "I forget about the Imzadi," he said, turning his face back to her, pleading for belief.

Now it was Lwaxana's turn to blink. "You thought you could behave inappropriately with another woman and get away with it, but you got caught out because the bond squeezed in between and reminded you that you'd given your soul to my daughter? Is that it, Lieutenant. Is that the pathetic excuse you're going to use to placate me?" she asked, astounded.

Will inwardly cringed at her scrutiny, and her accusation. She was right, he couldn't argue against that, and when she voiced it out aloud, the whole episode became sordid. What in hell's name had he done?

Deanna meant more to him than that. In the space of a few scant days, Deanna had become everything that made life worth living, and he'd thrown it all away because he hadn't had the will power to say no. The realization made the bile rise to his throat and he pushed himself to a stand and prepared to leave, unable to stare his failure in the face any longer.

Looking down at Deanna's mother, sadness and regret etching his handsome features, he uttered the only two words that came to mind. The only two words that he could offer with any degree of sincerity.

"Forgive me."

Will visibly watched the anger fade from Lwaxana's face, his eyes rising as she too came to a stand before him. He was surprised when she gently reached out and touched his arm, a sad smile forming upon her face. "Forgive yourself, Will. Consider what happened a lesson. You weren't to know about the powers held within an Imzadi bond. But I'm sure you do now, don't you?" she asked kindly.

Understanding, Will nodded slowly. "Yes," and then brightening a little he added with a smile, "Besides, how could I possibly want more than what Deanna has given me."

It wasn't a question and Lwaxana saw it as such, but still, she answered it as though it were. "All I ask is that you remember that, Will."

Will felt the ton weight lift from his shoulders as he stood smiling at the woman before him. Taking a deep cleansing breath he figured he'd got nothing left to lose as he opened his mouth to ask her the obvious. But he soon closed it again when she beat him to it.

"No, Mr. Riker, you may not see Deanna today," She stated firmly as she took his arm and lead him through the house towards the door, "You can go back to your quarters and spend some time thinking about our conversation. And then, you can think about what you've got to offer my daughter. And then," she carried on relentlessly, Will's head spinning with the barrage of assignments she was enforcing upon him, "I want you to think about what's going to happen when you get reassigned and leave my planet."

By then they had reached the outer door and once more Will stood on the threshold, still held captive by the matriarch's domineering voice. Moving to close the door, she finally added, "And then, I want you to think about Deanna. Goodbye, Mr. Riker."

The door closed with a solid, 'thunk' and Will didn't move from his familiar spot, thinking about her parting words.

Think about Deanna...

Of course Will knew exactly what she had meant. He was going to leave Betazed sooner or later and when he did, Deanna was going to be broken hearted. In fairness, so was he. But in maybe a month or so's time, they would be closer still - maybe even inseparable by then, but Will was aware that no matter how much he cared about Deanna, when the time came, he would leave.

But, if he broke things off now, despite their Imzadi bond, technically the pain would be less. But even as Will turned away from the closed door, his heart began to ache with the prospect of never seeing his one, true love - his Imzadi, ever again.

What in hell's name am I going to do?! he wondered sadly, the prospect of never seeing Deanna's beautiful face again, never to touch her, kiss her, talk to her, or make love to her ever again was completely unbearable.

Yup, Will really was going to think about Deanna, but he knew he wasn't going to like the end result.

Chapter sixteen

"Can't you do something to get me off this rock, Tang? C'mon, I know you can pull some strings for me," Will pleaded, unable to keep the frustration and underlying urgency out of his voice, and his eyes. "Please!?" he quietly asked.

In the chair opposite him in his somewhat smaller office, Sergeant Tang studied the man that sat forlornly, but tinged with a simmering unsettled madness that gave away his true plight, with compassion. Tang wondered if Will had slept the night before because frankly, the young Starfleet lieutenant looked like hell. Dark circles smudged his upper cheeks beneath his eye sockets, and his normally light sky-blue eyes looked more like the dark brooding hue of an impending storm.

"'fraid not," the older man sympathised, "seems the bosses are very impressed with what you've achieved since you've been here - want you to stay for another six months, so I heard, only just yesterday. I would have told you sooner, but you weren't around to hear the good news." he ended with a slight smile, aware that Will would ignore the ironical humour in his news rather than the foreboding doom that it really meant.

Will reacted exactly as he expected. He dropped his head into his hands, the effort to keep it upright seeming to fail with the tidings. Six months!? He couldn't stay here for six whole months and not see her! He didn't think he could even manage a day without somehow spying on her as she went about her daily routines. Just one second to remind him of what he felt for her would be all he'd need to satisfy his loss. But six whole months...



Tang's voice broke through his meanderings, "You know the planet has been under threat from the Sindareen. They're convinced that it is only a matter of time before they strike, and Starfleet are convinced that you're the man for the job when they do."

That didn't make him feel any better. Betazed had been under threat from the notorious scourge of space for so long now, that they'd almost seemed to be complacent about them, convinced that's all the threats would ever be; threats.

But any military man knew that they were just biding their time; waiting for that complacency to fall asleep just long enough for them to slip through the net and cause havoc on the peaceful Betazoids. On Deanna, Will grimaced as an unwelcome image filled his mind. On his Imzadi, he angrily reminded himself silently, his heart suddenly beginning to race at the mere thought of something, or someone laying one, filthy disgusting hand on her.

Will sprang to attention. "Damn it, Tang," his anger spilling out as he confronted the man, "those damn Sindareen could turn up one day after I left Betazed in six, bloody months time. What good will I be then? I'm only one, damned man, for God's sake!"

Tang's eyebrows lifted with surprise. A week ago, he would never have heard those words from William T Riker. The rising star of Starfleet was the one person that Starfleet could have guaranteed staying power, and commitment when the going got tough. But not now, not since he'd gotten tangled up with Deanna Troi, and Tang had the nasty job of reminding him.

"This is your job, Lieutenant, like it or not. When those bastards finally hit, they want you here to deal with it," and then came the bombshell, "no matter how long it takes." Tang let that extra piece of bad tiding's sink in before sucking in a deep breath and continuing,

"I suggest," his voice dropping to a more compassionate note, "that you end whatever you've started with Miss. Troi, and do what you came here to do. Leaving Betazed right now is out of the question."

Tang pushed himself to a weary stand, his eyes never leaving the dejected man that still sat, unable to move as he tried to take in what he had told him. "I suggest, Will, that you go and find Miss Troi and end it on a good note. In time you might need the political powers that the daughter of the fifth house wields, and if you're antsy with her daughter, you could become very unstuck, and that will REALLY piss Starfleet off."

He headed for the doorway, but then another thought must have entered his head because he stopped and looked back, Will's head rose as he waited for Tang's final piece of advice, already knowing that he wasn't going to like it. "Get your head back into military mode, Lieutenant before you get it blown off."

And Will knew that he wasn't just talking about the rising threat of the Sindareen. If headquarters got wind of what he was up to here, they would be after more than his head, they'd want his ass too. But he still couldn't help saying the words that slipped quietly and thoughtfully from his lips as he too pushed himself to a stand, misery poring from every vein in his body "If only it were that simple, my friend. If only it were that simple."

Chapter seventeen

Deanna wandered into the military complex like a woman on a mission. Her tiny feet walked with sure, quick steps, echoing along the vast corridors that led towards her goal; Lieutenant Riker's office. Several personnel that she gotten to know in her brief stint as dogs-body called out a friendly, 'hi!' as she passed and she politely greeted them back, but kept walking, halting any further conversation, something she despised herself for doing. But she had things to say to Will, and she was going to say them. Now.

The buzz of tension filled the air as people hurried about, each with a chore to do, each trying to squash their inner panic to what lie ahead. Deanna felt the unease but pushed it away. At that moment, she was only concerned about one person, but along side the concern was a discernible amount of disbelief, frustration, and misery.

Two weeks! Two whole weeks and not even a sighting of him. Not one word. Not one kiss. Not one anything. At first she was sympathetic, and then hurt. And then angry, and then the feelings that she had reached now, and they were the worst, by far.

In the days that had past, Deanna had felt Will's presence, welcoming its comfort to get her through the days until he would come to his senses and come to her, confident that their bond would be strong enough to get through the solid barrier that had been forced up in between them.

But sense had clearly deserted him because he not only never came near her, he did a very good job of blocking her out too. Most of the time the blocking was entirely innocent, like he was shutting out his own pain to get through the tormenting moments as he remembered a treasured memory.
But sometimes it was a deliberate effort to expel her from his mind, afraid of revealing that he ached for her as much as she ached for him, seemingly aware that she was with him in thought.

And every day, the torment had gotten too much for her, knowing that he was suffering as much as she, the knowledge making Deanna step up the front door of her house, open it, stand on its threshold, mentally kick herself in the head for being weak, and then go back in and close it firmly shut. And every day she hated herself a little more than the day before for not yielding to her heart instead of her head.

Over and over, the same question tumbled around in her mind; Why had she succumbed to Will's charm and given her heart and soul to him, knowing that it would end like this; Torn apart, hurting, lonely, aching and so damned defiant. Why?

Deanna paced around the Troi mansion like a caged tiger; desperate for freedom but trapped because of her own fears; the fear of Will actually telling her to her face that it was over between them. The fear of falling apart before his very eyes as he witnessed her heart breaking. The fear of never seeing him ever again and being left feeling like she did right then for the rest of her life.

Her mother, bless her, had tried to reason with her saner side, but Deanna was beyond listening. She wanted Will, but she couldn't have him. The bond had done exactly what she had feared; it had lost her Imzadi. It had cost her her destiny.

And then this morning, something happened. Everything changed.

Everywhere tensions increased tenfold within the small community. Only half an hour before, Deanna had sat at her dressing table staring into the mirror at her pallid face. Dipping her foundation brush into the powder, she lifted it her cheeks and began to dab away the dark smudges beneath her eyes in a valiant effort to hide the night's struggle against sleep.

And then she felt it; the wave of worry, fear, confusion and then excitement when one word, the word that they had never hoped to hear, WAR zipped over the planet like an out-break of plague; touching everything and everyone in its way. It washed over her, rippling through senses like an enormous tidal wave, rolling up from deep within, building bigger, higher and mightier with its power, consuming everyone in its path with its malevolent word.

Forgetting her pale face and her ratty hair, Deanna threw on some clothes and tore down the stairs like a bat out of hell, with only one purpose in mind.

Her mother was waiting at the bottom. "You're going to him, aren't you?"

Deanna was surprised, and mystified at her question, "Of course!" the lines upon her forehead deepening, adding years to her tender age.

She slowed as she reached the bottom, preparing herself to be barred from leaving the house, "You're not going to stop me, are you, mother? Please don't." She pleaded quietly, but no less urgent than the importance of finding Will before it was too late.

Lwaxana Troi's heart ached as she studied her daughter, her impatience to get to the base etched upon her pretty face, even though it was creased in worry, blotchy from a half-botched make-up job, and extra lined from the lack of sleep. She'd heard Deanna tossing and turning in the night. Not just last night, but every night since his last visit. Since she'd told him to think about everything, including Deanna.

Knowing that she was the cause of the young couples grief didn't sit well with her, and knowing what was about to happen didn't help either. She couldn't begrudge them a few moments together, not now. Especially not now.

Smiling sadly, Lwaxana stepped aside even though she technically wasn't in her way. But moving away seemed to execute her acceptance that Deanna needed to go to him. Her voice was shaky when she spoke, revealing her insight to the tragedy about to unfold,"Go, darling."

Flying to the door, gratitude lighting up her features, innocence ignoring the thrum of impending doom surrounding the city, Deanna's lightened voice yelled, "'love you, mom!" before slamming it shut after her speedy exit, the noise reverberating throughout, not only the house, but Lwaxana's teeth, making her grimace with distaste at the vulgar display her daughter had just exhibited. "Heaven's," she murmured, "what am I going to do with that child!?"

But when Deanna stepped into Will's office, it soon become very apparent that she was too late.

Chapter eighteen

Will Riker studied the controls in front of him, checking everything was okay before he set off. He was deliberately going slow; taking his time, checking things that didn't need to be checked. Killing seconds before Deanna reached him.

He knew she was coming, Tang had already radioed him and warned him that she was on her way. The rest of the team had already left the hanger until only he was left. Even the flight deck crews had drifted away and Will wondered if they'd guessed that he and his guest wouldn't want bystanders watching on, or listening in.

A vision filled his mind and he closed his eyes and allowed her features, her body to consume him for a moment, reminding him again why he loved Deanna Troi, marvelling at how God had created someone that was a perfect match, both inside his soul and out. How his heart undoubtably beat in time with hers. How her tiny contours flawlessly fitted against his vast bulk. How her lips were just the perfect size and shape for his. And how his rampant hardness had found home in her welcoming body.

Will moaned, and his hands trembled and he mentally berated himself for the visible lapse of control over his desires, and fears. And he was afraid. Of her, and of himself. Afraid of losing himself to her once again even though it would be the most dangerous thing he could do.

Somehow, two very long weeks had gone past without a single word passing between them. It had taken a colossal effort on his part to keep away from Deanna, at times physically having to stop his feet from moving when his head and heart had caved in to the need, letting sense and sanity step in when he needed it most, and he was exhausted with the constant battle between the two.

And now, after all that effort, just when he thought he was home and dry - and about to leave, Deanna had heard and had come to him. Will's mouth suddenly went dry as he heard her footsteps echo through the vast corridors. She was almost upon him. Just a few more seconds and he could feast his eyes upon her beautiful face again. One second more and his will-power was going to vanish into space.

Will heard her footsteps slowly come to a halt and he knew she was searching the area for him. He sat ramrod still in the cockpit waiting for her to finally spot him. The rush of tense silence filled the hanger increased tenfold, heightened by the chilly air of the vast metallic dome. Will could see the tiny plumes of breath leave her lips as the cold filled her lungs, her arms immediately snaking around her waist as it hit her torso too.

Will couldn't leave her out there any longer and aware that she couldn't hear his voice, he opened his mind and silently spoke, willing her to hear his rudimentary attempt to thought send, I'm in here, Deanna, come in out of the cold

He heard a couple more footsteps as she moved nearer the shuttle's window and then she was facing him head on, and for a long minute they simple stood and stared at each other. Stormy brooding eyes faced her and her large doe-like ones faced him, until unable to tolerate the chills that were seeping through her body any longer, Deanna stepped out of sight and made her way to the back of the shuttle.

By the time she had timidly entered, Will had turned his body to face her, and battened down his racing emotions for whatever storm that was about to occur, and for whatever damage they were each going to do to their souls yet again, but he could halt the desire that dilated his eyes as he drank in the sight of her. That she was here, before him. That she cared enough to come to him, to be with him, despite everything.

Nervously, Deanna looked around the small craft before seating herself on the edge of the seat that ran along the side, her palms holding onto its edge as she prepared herself for whatever was about to happen. She tried to gauge his state of mind, but apart from the very brief moment he had let her in to tell her his whereabouts, Will kept it well and truly out-of-bounds, and a few very uncomfortable moments went by before he finally said quietly, "Why did you have to come?"

Deanna swallowed, her throat tightening with dismay at his question. His voice held accusation, fear, and dread at her answer. But looking into Will's eyes, Deanna saw beyond the question. Saw that he was holding back an ocean of tears and emotions that he didn't dare release, afraid of revealing his true pain.

But she wasn't quite so afraid of showing him hers, and tears that she had kept disguised for so long rose to the surface, choking her words as she spoke, "I...heard you were leaving, Will, and I couldn't let you go without seeing you."

Will's eyes flared with pain, his response more a statement than a question, "You don't think I'm going to come back," His anger sparked, "You've come to say goodbye to me, is that it, Deanna?"

Deanna was horrified that he thought that she had only come because she never expected to see him again, especially as it had been the furthest thing from her mind. It was never seeing him again, knowing that he was out there, somewhere, living a life without her. Not wanting her, period, that hurt her more. Much more than him dying.

Throwing herself off the seat, she found herself on her knees at his feet, her hands reaching for his forearms as her eyes pleaded for understanding, "Oh, no, no, Imzadi! I never meant that at all! I...I..." she stalled as she tried to formulate into words what her heart was screaming at her.

But Will had gone beyond reasoning, already accepting that he had jumped to conclusions. Now his head was reeling from hearing the endearment fall from her lips as naturally as speaking his own name, and he found himself smiling sadly at her upturned, tear-washed face, "You called me Imzadi."

Deanna froze, her eyes locking with his as she mentally back-tracked to her heart-felt words, unable to take them back and then not even wanting to as she witnessed the reaction to her innocent mistake upon his face She smiled weakly, and then wider still as Will's hand rose and his palm caressed her jawline, "You are my Imzadi, Will."

Will closed his eyes and sighed heavily, the burden of failing the woman before him increasing another notch. Reluctantly opening his eyes again, he was serious and forlorn as he murmured, "I know," He sighed again before continuing, "You've got to believe me, Deanna when I say I wish this had never happened between us. Not now."

And she did, nodding understandingly, "I know, Will. No one is more sorry than I, and I'm sorry that I forced you into this position - that I wasn't strong enough to fight against it happening to us," Her voice strengthened with conviction, hoping that it would pull them out of the painful moment. "But it has happened, and we've both got to put it aside and get on with what we've got to do, especially you, Will. Especially now."

Deanna felt the wave of agony sweep over her at her words and she reached up and gripped the hand that still caressed her face, moving it over her mouth and pushing her lips to it's palm, his words bringing stinging tears to her eyes again as her heart shuddered with sorrow.

"I think I'm going to die, Deanna." Will said brokenly, the sudden realization stunning him, hurting him, deep down inside in a place that he'd never knew existed, that had over the past weeks had revealed itself and its capability of inflicting unbearable pain.

She gasped at his brutal honesty,"No! no you're not, Will! Don't say that. Don't ever say that! You are not going to die!" And then sudden inspiration hit her and she said quickly, "I can ask my mother to intervene. Starfleet will listen to her! She can tell them that you're needed here - to protect us. Or for..."

Will cut her off, "Deanna, Starfleet didn't want me to do this anyway. This mission is my idea. My decision."

Deanna leapt to her feet, denial pouring from every pore, terror ripping away at the very thin layer of self preservation, exposing just what his actions was doing to her, "NO!" she cried, as fresh tears steamed down her face, "Why are you doing this to me - to us!? You don't need to do this, Will. You don't need to go!"

Will jumped from his seat, pulling her into his arms, holding her tight against his chest, her wails lost as his body soaked up her suffering, absorbing it along with his own. Now he'd gotten over the worst part of telling her, he felt a calmness fall over him and his voice was quieter and steadier as he tried to explain,

"I've got to, Deanna. We've had word that the Sindareen have an encampment on the far side of your second moon. They are gathering forces - preparing to strike Betazed any day now. We are going to go and get them before they come and get us - catch them on the hop."

Pushing her away far enough so he could look into her face he continued, "While I've still got breath in my body, I am not going to let them get near you, Imzadi."

Will looked longingly down into the face that had been etched upon his soul forever and struggled against giving in to what he wanted. What he only wanted, and with a groan of submission, and self-loathing, Will caved in to the hunger that gnawed away at his heart.

Their mouths met with a crash as Will crushed her to him, sliding his tongue into her welcoming mouth with a fever that had eaten away at his soul for two long miserable weeks. His body shook with feeling, and he let her replenish him with everything that she offered, giving it equally back, hoping upon all hopes that it would be enough to see them both through the next few hours.

It had been naivety that had brought them both to this moment, but love had stepped in and taken over the first chance it had gotten. But it had never meant to take it to this extreme, and never expected to be torn apart this soon.

They had no chance of remaining friends. Every time Will spoke to her, or saw her, or thought about her, his heart would break. Knowing that he had to live without her beside him was beyond comprehension. Beyond forgetting. But he couldn't do that anyway, because she was with him, and within him, everywhere he went.

But for now, Will had to let her go. He had to say goodbye, but his tortured and rebellious mind refused to take that final step, clinging onto the tiny shred of hope that somehow, someway that had a chance. But he had a job to do first, and he had to get back home to her, alive.

Will ripped his mouth from hers and urged her to the back of the shuttle craft, struggling to hold his voice as he spoke, failing as it crackled with emotion. "Go," he pleaded, "Please, Deanna, go."

Unable to speak, the tears clogging her own throat, Deanna could do nothing more than take one last look at him, hesitating a moment longer, tormented by the agony etched upon his face, knowing that she put it there. Spinning on her heels, she hurried out of the shuttle and once she was clear of the doors, she stopped, turning to watch the hatch come down, her soul preparing to close its own doors to hide away from the pain it was going to have to contend with until she saw him again.

Deanna moved around to the side out of harms way as the engines began start up. Her eyes searched for his through the window, and once more, for a long moment they simply looked at each other until, with a small salute, Will finally began to move off.

Deanna rose her hand to wave goodbye, but he was already gone, banking sharply out of the giant hanger door and heading towards his comrades as they sat waiting for their leader, mentally preparing themselves for the mission ahead.

War was all but a heartbeat away and nobody knew who was going to be the victor. But Will hoped and prayed with all his heart that it was going to be him, just so that he go home and feast his eyes upon his Imzadi again.

Chapter nineteen

"I make fifteen. What about you, Tang?"

The two men were huddled down behind a craggy outcrop, the jagged rocks surprisingly sharp despite being mostly made out of sand, the tiny, gritty particles already ripping at their noses and throats making them splutter and grimace against the invasion on their tender, dry, membranes, their eyes, smarting as the tears tried valiantly to wash away the grit.

Tang quietly coughed away another mouthful of sand before speaking, "I count nineteen, sir. From this angle I can see the shadows inside the tents, and there is at least another four besides your fifteen."

Will grimaced with dismay. Even though the Federation party outnumbered the Sindareen almost by double, they were still at a disadvantage. He figured it was why the Sindareen had put themselves exactly where they had; Only one way in, and only one way out - and they were sitting right in the way of either.

Will squinted, trying to focus his eyes not only against the sand that was totally intent on getting behind his eyeballs to cause even more grief than it already was, but the dying sun too. It was almost eleven o'clock and there was still a lot of daylight left to die. He figured it was going to be at least another good hour before the tangerine ball settled down for the night, leaving them shadowed enough to move in.

Sergeant Tang scuttled nearer to Will's position so that he could converse with his leader, which made Will smile a little considering that even though Will out-ranked Tang, he had heaps more experience, and enough balls to let a younger man take the lead in a situation that he'd been in more times that he'd care to remember. Knew that even though he was a military man through and through, he was more than aware that he was an ageing military man who's reflexes were somewhat diminished with age, and his strategy tactics were in dire need or modernizing.

And Tang was more than happy to pass the reins over to him.

"What's the plan of action, Sir" Tang murmured, his eyes never leaving the scene below, watching for the tiniest of movements that would have them either scuttling back out of sight, or worse still, have them hurting down the hill at them like an avalanche in full unstoppable flow.

Will quietly studied the encampment below, watching one of the mongrels mooching around, looking for kindling to light a fire before the last of the sunlight to vanish and plunged them into midnight blackness.

His eyes moved further around. Another tent began to go up, this one bigger than the others. Will surmised it was the command centre. It sure as hell wasn't the latrine as his gaze moved on to another solitary figure standing apart from the others, his stance typical of a man relieving himself.

Somehow that thought stuck in Will's craw; having to think of them as men with the same bodily functions and needs. Unwillingly, his mind drifted back to Deanna, sitting back in her house, undoubtedly worrying her beautiful little head off, unaware that a creature that could stand there taking a piss like a man, could also fuck like a man. Fuck his Imzadi

The thought made the bile rise in Will's throat and he had to swallow convulsively to shift the bitter taste and thought, shaking his head to dispel the image that swam through his head.

Tang caught the movement, spotting the tightly reigned in anger that caused his blue eyes to sparkle in the moonlights first beams. "You alright, sir?" he asked, deep lines furrowing his already tired ageing brow.

Will cursed himself for allowing himself the moments lapse to let Deanna back into his head, forcing him to lose himself to her rather than what lay ahead. He inwardly moaned as yet again, just saying her name allowed the damn picture that he kept tucked away in the corner of his mind to wave in front of his eyes and torment him for another fraction of a second.

Damn it, Deanna, get out of my head or I swear, I'll bloody strangle you!

"I'm fine!" he growled, making the mistake of glancing at the older man and seeing the worry in his eyes, impelling Will curbed his bitter attack, "I just want to get this done and get out of here in one piece."

Tang nodded thoughtfully, and then quietly turned his eyes back to the encampment below. Will followed suit, surprised that he hadn't made a remark, and then after a moment when he though he was home free, Tang muttered, wisdom softening his advice, "Leave her at home, son."

Will's chin dropped to his chest, his eyes closing against the pain that flared through his soul as he silently thought to himself as he struggled to get himself back together, and back to the present,
I'm trying, Tang, but it's bloody hard.

Tang didn't answer his silent, but no less desperate plea. Instead, the two men and the rest of the landing party focused their attentions on the scene down below, watching and learning about the men that they were going to kill, one way or the other. The only thing they had to decide was whether it was going to be now, or later.

Chapter twenty

When nightfall finally descended across their half of the planet, and when the last dying embers of the camp fires petered out to nothing more than a smouldering pile of ash, and when the residents each retired to their tents, Will and his team slowly and silently backed away and made their way back to their own craftily concealed shuttles, a trek that took them almost two hours, made easier by the coolness of night. When they had arrived it was in the burning rays of the morning sun.

The walk, even though it was relatively hurried, was guided with a sense of satisfaction. After observing the Sindareen for the entire day, watching them making plans, studying maps, and have the occasional punch up when tempers flared, it seemed that the entire raiding party was present; no more arrived.

So was that it? The Starfleet officers asked themselves over and over and continued to churn over the same question on their way back. Were any more coming? Was that just the first wave of a raiding party, or was that really it?

Relieved, and starving when they finally reached the sanctuary of their shuttles, the men soon made short work of the food rations allotted to each man. They had enough for three days, hoping that within two they would be be home on Betazed, back with their loved ones.

Now the immediate danger was over, Will allowed Deanna to fill his senses without guilt. Satiated with a full belly and a small snifter of whisky someone had passed around, Will stood, stretched as much as he could within the small shuttle's confines, and then stepped outside, letting his long body prop itself against the shiny hull and slide it down until he was seated on the cool, dusty earth.

Closing his eyes, he let her image swim before his eyes, smiling tenderly as he watched her drop the red dress to the ground, step out of it and kick it away. Licking his suddenly dry lips, he watched as she sashayed up close to him, as naked as the day she was born, walked straight into his arms, and straight into his heart. And then he began to kiss her, running his hands over every soft curve. As he slipped not only his hot tongue into the welcoming recess of her mouth, but the long, thick length of him inside of her heat, her whimper of submission and ecstasy splashed over his senses like a waterfall from heaven.

Will barely registered the movement as he heard Tang approach. He knew it was Tang purely by the way he huffed and puffed as he too shifted his ageing body down beside his. Without opening his eyes, Will smiled, gently tucking away his erotic fantasy for another time when he needed her. "You're getting old, Sergeant," he murmured so that those inside the shuttle couldn't hear the teasing.

But Tang had a smart comeback of his own, "I can still whup your ass, boy, make no mistake about that!" he said, good-naturedly.

Will chuckled at the image that replaced the one that he'd once more tucked away for safe-keeping.
"I'll keep that in mind next time your near enough to snag me, because you sure as hell couldn't out-run me," he bantered back.

"Don't be so sure," he retorted with humour, "I'm really the bionic man in disguise. Got me some jet-powered legs hiding underneath these pants, just saving them for just such a cause."

Will couldn't help himself as he roared with laughter, pushing himself back up to a weary stand, automatically turning to extend a hand to the man still seated.

Tang's humour vanished as he studied Will in the moonlight for a moment before suddenly beaming from ear to ear, reaching for the proffered hand and allowing Will to take the brunt of his weight as he heaved him to his feet, failing to hide the wince as his knees protested against the too short reprieve.

"Damn," he muttered with a smile, "Could've sworn I put my legs on this morning."

Laughing, both men entered the shuttle, flicking the switch to close the hatch as they did so. Looking around at the other three occupants who were already bunked down for the remainder of the night to get some sorely needed shut-eye, Will somehow felt better than he had done for some while.

Maybe it was because their enemy was just a handful of trouble that could be taken out with the minimum of fuss. And maybe it was because Deanna Troi had replenished his soul just enough to reinforce his love of life. And her.

Chapter twenty one

"Sit down, Deanna, you're making me dizzy." Her mother grumbled, trying her hardest to avoid watching the pacing young woman and concentrate on the book in her hands. It was futile, and a moment later, unable to take the strain any longer, she dropped the delicate book into her lap, and put her full focus upon her daughter, the silence heavy as she struggled to find something to say that she would want to hear. "He's all right, you know," she said unnecessarily.

Coming to a full stop in front of her mother and studied her intently, looking for the lie but not finding it. Deanna sighed audibly before dropping, finally, into the armchair, making it groan with the sudden and rapid weight, "I know. It's just...."

Lwaxana Troi reached across and squeezed her fingers, forcing a half smile across her ageing features, instantly understanding what was racing around the younger version of herself, in more ways than one. "I know," she commiserated, "It's just wanting him back."

Deanna's eyes found hers, her surprise at the very honest, and very knowledgeable insight to her feelings such a relief that tears sprung to the dark orbs. Seeing her mother sitting beside her, seemingly waiting alongside her reminded Deanna of a similar scene many, many years ago. So long ago, she could barely remember it. But she did remember the look of anguish and pain upon her mothers face, and then, in a heartbeat, everything fell into place .

"You had to do this with daddy, didn't you?" she asked, already knowing what her answer would be.

But the older woman simply smiled, even though it took a monstrous effort to make the effort genuine and without the ache that pushed in between a very long past distant memory, "Yes, darling, I did," she squeezed her fingers tighter, making Deanna inwardly wince, but never dreamt of showing her how much it hurt, aware that she was revealing a very private moment that was rare to see.

Deanna spoke her apology, "I'm sorry to make you relive that again because of me."

Tugging at her fingers, suddenly needing the comfort of her daughter in her arms, Lwaxana moved over as Deanna seated herself beside her, her arms snaking around her mother's shoulders in a gesture that revealed a child's love for it's parent, despite everything. Despite re-stepping in their exact same footsteps.

Lwaxana drank in Deanna's affection, savouring the precious and rare moment, clinging onto it as though it were a lifeline. Even though Deanna had a heart full of love for every being in the universe, when it came to her - her own kin, it was very carefully reserved for situations, just like this one.

She knew why, and she understood why; Deanna didn't want to get hurt by those who loved her most, and Lwaxana took comfort in that. And pride. Her child had seen a lot of hurt in her short life, especially when she was small, and Lwaxana had made a supreme effort to get her through those dark times and bring her up to remember the past with affection rather than dwell on the wounds that would never heal, no matter how hard she tried.

Except her own.

The pang of this duplicated scene brought tears to her own eyes and taking a delicate sniff into the tiny lace hanky that she had tucked up her sleeve, Lwaxana pulled away, hiding her face, valiantly trying to hide the pain that she knew was etched upon her classic face. But she didn't quite manage to achieve her aim as Deanna spoke.

"I'll finish whatever I have with Will, if it hurts you that much, Mother." The revelation surprising Deanna as much as the woman opposite her.

Lwaxana Troi's head snapped around, her watery eyes blazing with shock as she stared closely into Deanna's face, unable to truly believe what she had just heard. Rapidly pushing herself to a stand, severing the closeness that only seconds ago promised much more than an intimate moment between a mother and her daughter, she rounded on her."Don't be absurd, Little One," She laughed, the sound leaving her mouth in a much higher pitch than normal, revealing it's falseness. "As much as I wish your relationship with William had never evolved to the level that it did, nothing can ever be finished between you."

And then sense and determination come to the fore just when she needed it most of all. Clenching her fists, she stared her down and Deanna recoiled back, reeling with the fury that poured from her heart. "You are going to sit here and wait for your Imzadi to come home, and when he does, you are going to be there, with your arms, and your heart wide open. Because many years ago, on a night like this, your father went on a mission against my wishes, and I was livid with him. I never saw him off, and I never saw him come back,"

Her voice broke, but she was determined to finish what she'd started. Determined to make Deanna see the importance of not only the fragile Imzadi union that had was so fresh, and so deliciously new. They still had so much to explore, so much to learn, and maybe not enough time.

There was never enough time.

And then there was Will.

He needed the strength of their Imzadi bond to get him through this and any other mission he would undoubtably involved in. He needed that lifeline. He needed to know that Deanna was there, waiting for him, willing him to come home. Come back to her.

Taking a deep breath, Lwaxana filled her words with power again, the fury turning to a threat, a threat that she intended to make her keep. "So don't you dare give up on Will now. Do you hear me, child?"

Her words echoed around the room, and around Deanna as she absorbed her mothers extraordinary demand, as as she timidly nodded her acquiescence, the sense and determination had vanished from Lwaxana's rigid body, and the tears that had only threatened minutes before, raced down her cheeks like a scalding torrent.

Deanna watched her mother exit the room as though the devil was on her tail, her own silent promise, trapped in the draft that her long gown had created, I will wait, Mother. I promise She vowed as her own tears began to fall.

Some were for herself. Some were for the man who was putting his life on the line for her. And some were for her mother who was reliving her own personal tragedy, a tragedy that she herself may have to suffer, if her own Imzadi didn't make it home.

God help him. God help them all.

Chapter twenty two

Spirits were high when the men arose at the crack of dawn the next morning, despite only having four hours sleep, in conditions that were as far removed as they could be from their warm, cozy beds back at base. But even the meagre breakfast couldn't dampen the men's eagerness to get the day started, the job done, and then home again for a sumptuous, well earned feast tonight, if everything went according to plan.

Walking back towards the shuttle after doing his own personal ablutions, Will whistled as he raked his hands through his dark hair, unsuccessfully trying to flatten the damp ends that perpetually stuck up on end when it got a half inch over long.

At first he ignored the feint buzz, thinking it to be bugs of some kind, especially as a couple of close by ones attempted to make a meal of his nape and he swiped them away, automatically raking his hand though his hair once more to flatten the re-raised area, cursing mildly as he did so, "Damn, pesky gnats. Go away and nibble on somebody else."

But the buzz didn't dissipate. It grew louder. Nearer. Ominous, and Will began to feel a wave of terror wash over him when it sank in that it wasn't pesky bugs he was hearing, but space ships.

Alien space ships.

Sindareen space ships.

His hands, feet and heart froze as the distinct whine of ships engines grew louder. Shielding his eyes with the same hand that only moments ago was raking though his hair, now damp with perspiration, as the dread began to claw at his gut, Will scanned the horizon, instinctively looking toward the Sindareens encampment.

Fear gushed into his soul when his eyes finally focused on the small dots that looked like an invading swarm of flies, an ebony wave of death that Will estimated would take less than five minutes to reach them. He began to run.

He had to get his men off the ground, it was their only chance. On the surface, they were nothing more than sitting ducks. Somehow the Sindareen knew that they were there. Somehow, someway, they had found their location and had planned their attack with military precision. Somehow their enemy knew when they would be at their most vulnerable. They had timed it just right, and caught them still pulling their boots on.

Will ran faster.

Even as he approached the camp, he could see his men scuttling around, thanking the stars that they had heard the invading ships too, and reacted with as much speed as the scum about to pound them. But they needed another few minutes more to become the soldiers that they were trained to be, and not the fumbling, chaotic bunch that their superior witnessed.

Will watched as some were desperately trying to pull boots on, their antics at any other time would have been comical as they hopped around in an effort to get the task done faster, when in reality it would have probably been quicker if they'd just sat down and done it. But that was what fear did to you.

Others were throwing things into the back of the shuttles, not caring where they landed. Will raced the last few meters, his lungs bursting with not only the effort of running, but the same fear that filled his soul, feeling it fill every pore, and every thought.

Forget the supplies!" he bellowed. "Get the ships in the air, we must get off the ground!" he roared, as he finally ploughed into the camp, grabbing the nearest man and physically dragging him into the ship. Making his way to the helm, he was gratified and relieved to find Tang already at the controls, preparing to lift off as soon as his C.O. commanded him.

It didn't take long.

"Get this bird moving, Tang, NOW! Those bastards thought they'd catch us with our pants down. Christ! ten minutes earlier and they would've." Horror lacing his words as images that were too painful to imagine flicked through his mind. Throwing himself into his seat, Will's hand flew over the controls, years of practice simplifying the tedious job.

The ship began to lift and along with it a smidgen of relief. "Made it...just. Good work, Tang." Will swung his gaze around the ship, checking if he had his complete complement on board. Four men, eyes wide with fear and excitement stared back at him. "Buckle up, it's gonna get bumpy." But nobody took any notice of their commanding officer. The job was already done. Now they just had to wait for the bumps.

The air was alive with frantic tension and War. This was what they'd come to Betazed for. This was what they'd joined the military to do; To defend those that couldn't defend themselves. To eradicate scum that preyed on the innocent. To give the Federation shooting practise occasionally.

Hell, they needed it.

And hell, they were going to get it, right now.

Will flew toward the oncoming enemy ships, silently balking when he saw how many were headed straight at them. Sometime during the night, more had arrived, because ahead of the Federations measly eight ships, were at least twenty Sindareen fighter craft.

Will was mortified. He'd gotten it wrong. He had underestimated his enemy. Believed that they were a second rate force that bared no resemblance to the might of the Federation. Thought that they would die as easily as stepping on a sleeping slug.

But he'd got them wrong. Terribly wrong.

Sergeant Tang marvelled at the man that sat beside him, even though he'd known that Will was beating himself up for under-estimating the Sindareen. Hell, if he'd have been in the same position, he'd have probably done the same thing. The only difference was, he didn't have a little lady waiting at home for him like the young lieutenant, and Tang wasn't sure if that was a blessing, or a curse.

When he intruded on Will's private time last night, it was as plain as day what Will was daydreaming about, and he warmed at the memory. The only thing that he had to think about was finding a seamstress to add another inch or so to the waistband of his struggling pants.

Tang envied him.

But that all was irrelevant now as they stared death in the face and wondered how it was going to happen. Would it be quick, or would they shoot them down and leave them to fry in the searing sun.

The mild expletive left Tang's mouth, "Shit."

Will swung a look at Tang, and Tang caught the gaze and met it with one of his own. Swallowing, Will muttered quietly, "Say a prayer for us, my friend."

And quieter still, Tang told him, "I already did, Sir, as soon as I woke up this morning and found that we were still alive."

Will swung another quick look at him, and Tang murmured, "But I guess it won't hurt to say another one."

And then all hell broke loose.

Chapter twenty three

"When am I going to get to meet this man, then, Deanna?" Chandra grinned mischievously, her eyes alight with mirth and tenderness as she swooped on the tranquil moment that popped up in between catching up with the news.

Deanna couldn't help her own bashful chuckles from erupting as she glanced at her friends smiling face, "What have you heard?" she asked, humorous exasperation packed her question as she prepared herself for the inquisition, that she quite frankly, thought would have been explored as soon as the two girls had gotten together.

Chandra laughed, the sound wonderful to hear against the threat of impending war and the loss of the military protection that allowed them to sleep safer in their beds. The dreams to remain their own instead of the nightmares that were sure to come. "Oh, come...on, Miss Troi. I sometimes wonder if you forget which planet you're on. Did you really think you could slip that little secret of yours by me?" She asked, the air of conspiracy written all over her features.

"If only," Deanna moaned. "Between my mother, who we all know has the biggest mouth and mind in town, and you, who'd like nothing more than to see me, and I quote, 'join the human race', and, 'get down and get with it', as you like to call it, I stand absolutely no chance." She grinned back at her, "Go on, admit it. You're all thrilled that I've finally burned my bridges and snagged a man."

"But not just any old man," Chandra admonished with a smile, "Not one of our own kind. Not even someone nice and ordinary, who would stick around until you're old and wrinkly." She ploughed on relentlessly, "Give you half a dozen babies to keep you amused, and love you until the end of time."

Deanna laughed loudly at her friends preposterous assumption of her future, but the slightly older woman hadn't finished yet. "Nope. Deanna Troi, daughter of the daughter of the Third House only goes and snags THE hottest, THE sexiest, piece of ass that ever landed on our soil."

Deanna blinked with stunned surprise, not quite sure whether to be out-raged, or flattered by, it seems, not only Chandra, but the vast majority of people who knew her, and knew Will. In the end, she decided to take the ribbing with the good humour that it required, "He is cute, isn't he?" she grinned shyly, her onyx eyes lighting up with the feelings that washed through her when the man in question filled her thoughts, standing there, tall and proud in his uniform. The smile upon his handsome face, for her. Only for her.

Deanna sighed with longing, the smile still firmly in place, until Chandra spoke again, but now the humour was gone, replaced by a burning need to know. Her footsteps slowed, and Deanna's feet automatically slowed along with her, until finally, coming to a full stop, they turned to face each other. Chandra's eyes searched Deanna's, wanting to see what lay beyond the cool exterior that everyone else saw. Only Chandra knew that beneath the stoic surface, there was a whole lot more; There had been a woman that was dying to be loved, and that who, a long last, had found that love, regardless of whether she was ready for it, or not.

Deanna had been trembling on the brink, fighting to hold on to her heart, and her soul with all her might. But Lieutenant William Riker had swept into her life like a force ten tornado and had tipped her over it's edge.

"What's it like?"

For a long, companionable moment, nothing was heard except distant voices in the background, rising in alarm as the weather began to change, and then Deanna spoke, but her words were barely above a whisper, but the whisper told more than if she had stood on a roof top and shouted it at the top of her voice. "It's wonderful, Chandra."

The small shrug that lifted her shoulders along with the watery smile that lit her face was as much as Deanna could convey, aware that anything else she said would not be even remotely as accurate as her simple heartfelt response.

But Chandra didn't need her friend to say anything else. She saw it all there, in her eyes, even her aura oozed what becoming Imzadi had meant to her. Smiling radiantly, telling her without words that she was ecstatic for her friends happiness, Chandra slipped her arm through Deanna's and they moved on, and with each step, the euphoria that surrounded the two finally dissipated as they finally began to take notice of what was happening around them.

Glancing up at the sky, the clouds began to thicken above their heads. The normal turquoise, clear skies soon became a blanket of water-laden puffs of angry rain clouds, almost ready to dump their heavy loads onto those below that weren't quick enough to find shelter.

Quickening their pace, aware that the infrequent showers that Betazed occasionally endured were heavy, saturating everything in seconds. Deanna and Chandra picked up their pace and hurried towards the campus for the afternoon session.

As the temperature dipped, Chandra rubbed her arms, shivering from the sudden chill that the dark clouds sent down as a prelude of what was to come. Still some ways from the college grounds, they soon realized that they were not going to make it back in time. Slipping her sweater off, Deanna passed it to her friend. "Here, take this."

"No, Dee, I'm fine, honest. There's no point in both of us getting cold." Chandra protested, trying to hand the soft lemon top back to her friend, grateful for the thought, but mortified that Deanna would then freeze while she would be all snug and warm beneath her sweater.

Deanna Troi forcibly shoved the top back into Chandra's arms, chuckling good-naturedly as they continued to trot along, relieved to see the campus in the near distance. "Take it, Chan. I'm more than warm enough. See, I have a long sleeved blouse on, and your arms are bare. You need it, I don't. Take it, and don't argue." she said, not giving her a chance to argue back.

Relenting after seeing the determined look upon the darker woman's face, Chandra smiled gratefully, slipping the garment over her head, pulling it down past her slender hips, folding up the cuffs out of the way. Deanna was a good four inches shorter than her taller frame, but right now, Chandra didn't care that she wasn't a fashion icon. She was just glad to be warm again.

A crack of thunder roared through the skies so unexpected that both girls leapt a foot in the air, their screeches echoing in the sudden quiet of the surrounding area. It was hard to believe that only an hour ago, they had been walking through the park. The sun had been high in the sky and Deanna was feeling better about Will's absence, more so since her talk with her mother.

She knew only too well that when a couple were bonded, their thoughts were never far away from one another. Having a permanent connection between their minds was soothing. Knowing that he was alive and okay helped. Knowing that he was thinking about her was even more precious than she dared to admit, and she had to keep positive, for her Imzadi's sake.

Will would have been able to feel her, sense her pain and worry, and eventually, Deanna realize, that she could be doing his own state of mind some harm. And so when her best friend, Chandra had called and asked her to spend some time with her, away from the house before classes, Deanna was more than keen to go.

The dark canopy above their heads rolled and rumbled, the noise becoming deafening as it began to rain. Deanna felt the first giant drop hit her shoulder just as they both did a mini sprint to the college entrance, relieved that they made it unscathed.

But then above the roar of the storm, they heard something else. Something far more ominous than the rain, and when they both swung around on the college steps, they watched in horror as a huge ship swept down, it's size creating a shadow that blacked the entire college grounds like a huge bird of prey, swooping down, searching for it's quarry.

And then it found what it was looking for, and slowed, finally coming to a halt, hovering before them like a vast, shadowy, evil praying mantis preparing itself to do its worst. The two girls, along with a score of others that had accumulated upon the college steps stood frozen, unable to move, unable to break their eyes away from the hypnotizing scene before them, until a whining sound broke their gaze away from the ships hull, their eyes dropping to the ships under-carriage, watching as two doors opened.

From then on, everything turned to slow motion; the whole universe slithered to a fractional crawl, letting everything evil savour on the chaos it had gathered up into its embrace. Someone screamed, and then they all began to scream, the men and the women as the evil began to spew forth its poison. Turning, everyone hurtled themselves toward the glass door behind them, desperately trying to squeeze their bodies through the too small gap, only designed to fit two people at a time instead of the mad crush that besieged it, seemingly growing smaller in protest, holding them back, keeping them out. Maybe it knew better than those poor souls. Maybe it realised that they were safer out than in. But no one listened.

Deanna, still transfixed and unable to move, could only watch in horror as two identical missiles left the alien ship and headed straight for her. Deserted by her friend as she had made a desperate run for her own life into the building that had stood proudly for the past seventy plus years, Deanna closed her eyes, never feeling more alone than she'd ever felt before, and then let her own screams join the others, her last thought was of never seeing her beloved ever again.

Chapter twenty four

Smoke and fire filled the air, blinding everything and everyone in the melee of battle. Battered craft swirled and danced as each and everyone tried desperately to evade the crisscross of missiles, laser fire, and perished ships, all almost invisible against the rising sun that was still climbing from its bed.

Will and Tang were hot on the tail of a wounded Sindareen ship that not only still managed to avoid the hit that would send them plunging to the scorched earth below, but was still capable of shooting a Federation ship down. Knowing it was doomed, it threw missiles non-stop from it's heart as it boldly ran from from its pursuer, its last piece of action before it died the death of a hero, to its own kind.

Deftly evading a hail of gunfire that approached them from the side, Will spun the ship in a death roll, dipping low to the planet, the bullets skeetering off their belly in a shower of sparks that momentarily blinded them.

But the two men weren't concerned about something so minor. Their eyes were focused solely on the crippled ship ahead, and kicking the ship into a lower gear, Will banked down further and faster, almost scraping the ground below, manoeuvring himself beneath the enemy craft, quickly, and surely, releasing their own missile straight into the ship's hull, the crew whooping with satisfaction as they watched it jerked upwards momentarily before turning on it's ass and spiralled out of control, exploding as it crashed into the small hill.

But their moment of euphoria soon evaporated when Pilot Jameson John's urgent voice came through the comm.{You've got one on your ass, Lieutenant. When I count to 3, swing right!" Will heard him swallow noisily before the numbers quickly followed. {One, two, three!}

On the three, Will swung his ship away, the ensuing nearby explosion rocked his craft with enough force to throw the rear passengers to the floor, Tang hung onto the consul with white knuckles whilst Will valiantly tried to stop the ship from spinning out of control, his stomach churning and rolling, protesting against the brutal treatment. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when she finally righted herself and swinging away to steady not only the ship, but their nerves too before swerving back to join the melee once more.

Stabbing at the communication button before him, Will spoke, "Thanks for the heads up, Jameson. We owe you."

{Any time, Lieutenant. Now let's go and get another one.}

Both ships turned about and headed back, side by side, their sights already homed in on another two targets that were in pursuit of one of their own.

But just as he was lining up for the killing strike, Lieutenant William Riker gasped out loud as he felt something horrible ripple through his senses, knocking him off balance for a moment, making him veer away from his intended target that was hastily retreating away from his pursuing ship.

More than surprised at his leader sudden movement, Tang glanced at Will when he heard the gasp of invisible pain that left his mouth. He was more surprised at the unexpected retreat from a certain hit on the Sindareen ship ahead.

"Will?" the older man asked, puzzlement etched upon his weathered face, " What's wrong?" as he focused on the younger man's sudden pallor and the haunted gaze.

But Will was gone; lost to the torment of his mind, searching for it's source, reaching into his mind's deepest places, desperately grasping for a link to the woman he loved.

And then he found her, huddled in a pathetic heap on the ground, crying as though her heart had been ripped away from her soul as she tried to block out whatever was happening to her, or around her, her screams, high and hysterical. The pitiful sound ricocheted around Will's head, leaving him feeling helpless, hopeless.

"Deanna." He murmured, his eyes wide with shock, staring at nothing, seeing only her. Seeing her in her darkest moments.

And he wasn't there. He wasn't there to help her. Be with her. Comfort her. Hold her.

"Deanna." He moaned again, his own agonies and loss adding to his troubled thoughts.

Will blinked away the vision when the man beside him shouted. Tang was incensed, his anger sparking as quick as a flame to paper, "Damn it, Lieutenant! This is NOT the...." he barked, understandable ignorance causing him to react in a way that was rare to see.

"No! no, Tang, it's not that," he quickly reassured, struggling to keep a focus on his thoughts. On Deanna, frantically searching his mind for the lost contact. "Something's happened. Something's wrong," he fretted, fear tinging his voice. "I....I heard her scream, Tang," tapping his temple, "in here."

Tang stared at him as though he was mad, before forcibly moving his eyes away, looking out of the window to see if there was a Sindareen ship on their ass When he was briefly happy that they weren't about to be blown to pieces, he turned back to his partner. "How do you know?" he demanded. "You're not a Betazoid, Son. You're not supposed to be able to read minds."

Will glanced at him, then back at the controls, swallowing the bile that began to rise from deep in his gut, still queasy from the stunt a few moments before. He glanced back at Tang, wanting him to understand with his own eyes what he was telling him. "I can with Deanna."

After a long moment, as long as he could afford, Will watched Tang's face change, watched the comprehension finally dawn."You've become Imzadi," He stated, his voice holding a hint of envious awe. "That explains a whole heaps of things."

But that was as far as the intimate conversation got - as intimate as it could be with two men sitting behind hanging onto every word, because even as Will's revelation sank into Tang's befuddled mind, and Will's distraction as he desperately tried to focus on Deanna's plight, neither one spotted the missile that was coming their way.

Lieutenant Jameson John could only stare in horror when seconds later, he witnessed his commanding officer's ship blow up like an erupting volcano before his very eyes, and then watch it spin to the ground, and explode once more, bursting into angry flames that clawed up to the skies above, obliterating everything within its reach.

Intent on getting his ship on the ground to check for survivors, Jameson was oblivious to what was happening around him until his helmsman spoke, "Sir, abort the landing! We can't go down, they're on our ass!"

Jameson tore his eyes away from the scene below, looked behind him and gasped in terror. The remainder of the Sindareen fleet; six ships out of all that met them in battle, were now in hot pursuit. Jameson had only one choice left to him and his scared crew. He had to run. He was the last surviving Federation ship, and he was in deep, deep, trouble.

Taking one final distressed glance at the burning wreckage beneath him, searching vainly for any sign of life, hoping beyond hope that someone - anyone, made it out before it hit the ground. Jameson swung his ship away. Wracked with guilt at failing his C.O., Lieutenant John and his crew ran for their lives, without looking back.

Chapter twenty five

One enormous muddy coloured boot stepped down from the ship, slowly followed by a matching one. Once on solid ground, both feet slowly turned around towards her and Deanna couldn't stop her eyes from rising higher, and then higher still.

He was tall, taller than Will by a good three or four inches. And despite his alarming pallor which Deanna assumed was natural, he had a mean, vicious aura about him. Judging by the way that other members of his team that had descended after him, stood much shorter than he, and much less fearsome, Deanna knew instinctively that he was the leader.
The Sindareen's gaze surveyed his handy work, his face impassive, uncaring as it slowly turned from left to right, finally settling back on the carnage that she was aware lay behind her. Where she knew that her friend, her dearest friend lay deathly still in a mangled heap. She could hear sounds; pitiful wails of dying people, distraught people, scared people all around her, but Deanna's own silence, she knew, was caused by shock, the deep shock of loss.

But when the giant Sindareen moved towards her, Deanna found that her quietness was an unconscious mistake and she soon realised that he was selecting her because she wasn't making a noise. Steely intent filled his being as he bent before her and wrenched her to her feet, roughly holding on tighter as her knees buckled from the pain of her many minor injuries and the terror that rendered her as useless as a babe in arms.

Deanna winced as he dragged her up from the floor. Her injuries, even though mostly minor, still managed to emit a hiss of searing pain, especially when he reached behind her to support her, causing her to flinch away from his touch. Of course he only held on tighter, thinking she was going to make a run for it.

Even though Deanna had no idea what her back looked like, she knew that she had sustained a number of sharp shards of glass that ripped right through her top and embedded themselves into her delicate skin. She'd felt tiny rivers of blood trickle down, but hadn't dared reach round to check if the blood loss was major. She had a feeling that she wouldn't have wanted to know.

Her hair she knew must be a mass of frizzy, matted and melted strands. She could smell the unmistakable stink of burnt tresses, even amongst the odour of burning corpses that lay behind her. It was a smell that would live in her memories forever.

When Deanna's feet refused to carry her weight, she found herself swung up into huge arms, the stench of his alien body assaulting her nostrils and she gasped before adapting her breathing to take in shallower breaths, reducing the intake to her sensitive nose.

His breathing was also an alarming noise, seeming to come from gill-like structures along his neck that moved much like a fish's, the rasp sounding hoarse and painful, even though he gave no indication of it being so.

It was then that Deanna suddenly realised what was going on, what was happening to her. He was taking her to his ship. He was going to kidnap her, or worse! As he reached the bottom of the ladder that he had only stepped down from - was it only minutes ago? - Deanna finally sparked into life, the Sindareen starting in surprise as she jerked in his grasp in her futile, pathetic attempt to free herself from the inevitable capture.

Deanna yelped as his massive fingers tightened their grip on her slim arms, and she was fully aware that if he chose, he could snap the thin bones in two. But at that moment, she didn't care. She had to get away from him because she knew, if she left this planet, her home, her family, she would die. Stories from long ago about the Sindareen still swam around her head. Stories of torture, and rape, and murder. Somewhere, sometime, long ago, when as children, they had spoken in dreaded awe about the 'bad people', she had even heard rumours of cannibalism.

She had to get away, she just had to. She had to try.

Deanna squirmed and twisted, boldly trying to turn enough out of his grip to jump away, her whimpered pleas, high pitched with the terror that oozed from her very soul as scenarios that had no right to belong in the mind of a young woman filled her thoughts. Intimate unions that she had shared with Will, with her Imzadi, were sullied, pushed aside by visions of brutal violations that she feared were in her imminent future.

Will. Oh, God, Will. Where was he? She needed him, but he wasn't here. He wasn't even in her thoughts any longer, severed eons ago when she had cried out to him as her world died around her. One minute he'd been there, reaching out for her, and the next, gone.


Will was gone. Deanna struggled to remove him from her mind. Tried to imagine him lost to her forever, but she couldn't do it. She couldn't let him go. Wouldn't let him go. But the word still drenched her soul, pulling her deeper into the abyss.


The fight left her body as the loss began to permeate her soul, bringing her out of the dazed-like state. Deanna began to wail as though her heart would break, drawing the Sindareen's attention to her face, He stared down at her, his strange mouth turning hard as the noise filled his head. He hated noise as much as he hated the pathetic humanoid race that were weak and stupid.

Even with soldiers from other worlds, what good had it done them? Where were they when the planet needed them in their darkest hour?

The Federation were off chasing his decoy group. The gullible fools had fallen for the trap.

The thought tickled the Sindareen and suddenly he began to roar with laughter, deliberately shutting out his captive's cries as climbed up the ladder and bundled her, non-too-gently inside. Following her in, he all but threw her into the vast empty cavernous hold towards several other captives that had already been loaded.

Instinctively, Deanna and her fellow prisoners huddled together, holding onto one another, the women whimpering quietly into the men's embraces, and the men watching the activities going on around them.

Soon, three more Betazoids joined them, none seriously injured, and Deanna realised it was purposeful. Minor injuries meant less hassle, and better bargaining chips. And maybe also, less injuries meant better torture sessions. And better games for the brutes that would undoubtably take advantage of the women. And if they were going to be eaten, fresh, live meat tasted a whole lot better than battered and bruised dead meat. Deanna briefly wondered if her childhood stories were true, or just the work of over-active imaginations. She hoped with all her heart that it was the latter.

The man Deanna clung to, a man that Deanna didn't recognise, felt her fears, her pain. Hugging her tighter, she heard him speak silently to her, I won't let them hurt you, Little One, not as long as I am breathing

Her own breath shuddered past trembling lips as she sighed with gratitude, uncaring about the fact that he had used her mother's pet name for her. Just knowing that there was someone there, with her, for her, was beyond relief. Will couldn't be there for her in her hour of need, but this man would be, she was sure. She didn't understand why she suddenly felt safe - as safe as she could be under the circumstances, but safe enough to let him step in and just be there, for whatever happened.

Thank you, whoever you are

But minutes later, the moments relief and comradeship that swept around the small group of terrified prisoners got swept away on a tide of terror as the ship's engines started up and the hold door slowly began to close, enclosing them into an inky black darkness that was as terrifying as what they knew lay ahead, the roar of the engines, so loud that they obliterated everything that ran through their minds. Everything except the terror.

And as the ship began to lift off the ground, behind Deanna, a woman began to scream. Seconds later, Deanna's scream joined hers.

Chapter twenty six

The darkness surrounded Will like a comforting blanket. For the first time in hours, he felt relatively safe and he allowed himself a moment or two to drop his head back against the chilled sand, close his eyes and hope that the few minutes respite would be enough to see him through the long hours of the night.


She drifted into his dream like a butterfly on the breeze, fluttering into his mind's eye, letting his heart warm with her presence. Lord knows, he needed her there, more than ever. Imzadiiiii he heard, the sacred word replenishing his soul, brought forth by his own desperate need to hear something more than the stillness of night, heavy with suspended foreboding.

But Will refused to let their hovering predicament sully his precious moment with Deanna. The Sindareen could wait. He needed, Her, just for a moment longer, just to help him through.

He ached, all over. The aches hurt more than the multitude of tiny burns upon his exhausted body. His uniform, tattered and singed, hung in ragged strips around his torso. It was caked in soot, dust and gritty sand that bit at his sores, adding to his misery. But he was okay. He was alive.

But then he opened his eyes and glanced at the battered soul beside him. Tang. The poor old fella had struggled to jump free from the exploding ship, and had suffered dearly for it. Will assumed his age had made him slower, less quicker to react. Or maybe he just got stuck on a piece of the ship's interior. Or maybe he just got unlucky.

Will shuddered when he thought back, his mind letting Deanna go back to her tiny hideaway until another moment in time when he would need her. How did they escape? He wondered, the question still managing to emit a disbelieving shake of his head.

It was a miracle, he surmised. Nothing short of that. The missile that had knocked them out of the sky had hit their rear engine head on, springing open the rear door, creating a vortex that sent the ship into a spin which had thrown the four men from their seats to the floor. Tearing metal groaned in agony as it tore itself away from it's fixtures.

Amongst the screams that filled the small space, Will heard his own. He was sure it was his own. It sounded like his voice. It sounded terrified; Certain that he was about to die. Certain that another higher pitched scream he could here was his Imzadi's. Was she somehow watching his death from afar, feeling his terror? Maybe she knew that they were never to touch one another ever again. That thought alone hurt Will more than the possibility that his life was about to end.

As the ship spiralled towards the ground, alarmingly quick, the men managed to jump clear before impact, rolling away just as the ship blew apart. The gust from the blast forced the men further away from the fire that tried to snatch at them, its fiery fingers reaching out, livid that it had was being denied.

But it still had one man in it's clutches. Lieutenant Tang. He hadn't made it. As the three men scampered away from the ship, Will didn't notice that only two bodies had followed him until he reached a point that he considered safe enough to stop and take stock. When he turned to aide his men, he almost died on the spot when it was clear that his friend was missing.

Unable to see or hear through the dust created from the still battling ships above and the flames and smoke of their own felled shuttle only a few meters away, Will's eyes smarted from the burning fumes and grit. Will had only one option, and that was to call to his comrade and hope that he was still alive.

"TANG!" he roared, immediately succumbing to a coughing fit as the heat burned his throat. He tried once more, but the first effort had singed his vocal chords and he gasped as the searing pain tore at his tender membranes. For the time being, he could do nothing more than wait, and pray.

Eventually, as the canopy of dust and smoke that clouded around them slowly lifted, Will eventually spied the old man. Trapped beneath a lump of the hull, Tang lay still. Deathly still. Will was torn between revealing himself to those above, and risking all to pull his friend free of the burning wreckage, or fleeing away from the scene in the vain hope that their enemy would conclude that they had all perished.

Taking another anguished look at the trapped man and still seeing no sign of life, Will, his heart ripped in two with the loss of a man who had treated him more like a son than his own father had done, wrenched himself away with the other two surviving members of his crew, moving towards another felled ship. It was a Sindareen ship, and they hid beneath its vast, broken wings, out of sight from the battle still raging in the skies above his head.

It felt like hours, but in reality it was probably only minutes - the longest minutes of Will's life, before the fight above him suddenly took a turn for the worse. Will's heart ached as he watched another Federation ship explode in mid air, more than conscious that the crew could never had survived.

But worse still, there was only one Federation ship left, and Will instantly recognized it as Jameson John's ship, the man that had saved their lives a little earlier on. But now he was in dire need of rescue himself as, aware that he was out-numbered and alone, Jameson and his crew had turned about and ran for their lives. But as he ran, he had six Sindareen ships on his ass.

Will was acutely aware that John's was his only hope of either rescue, or at the very least to relay a message back to base to report survivors on foot. But then Will suddenly thought, his heart pounding with panic, What if he hasn't see us. Nobody know's we're here. Nobody but the bloody Sindareen. Oh, shit! he groaned.

Will and his men watched with a mixture of worry and relief as the lone Federation ship disappeared out of sight over the distant horizon, leaving behind a deafening silence, only broken by the crackle of burning fuselage. All three men in unison turned their heads to their own ship, with one thought on their minds; Tang.

They all scurried towards him, the wave of desperate dread etched upon their dirty, scorched faces. "Tang!" Will croaked as he reached his side, his hand instinctively reaching for the pulse in his neck, his eyes searching his charred and blistered face for any sign of life

Will barely suppressed the tears of gratitude as he felt the very feint rhythm beneath his burnt fingertips. But even so, he couldn't contain the gasp of joy, his eyes relaying the good news to the other two men who sat on their haunches on the other side of the felled man.

But seconds later, Bobby Tiller leapt to his feet, encouraged by his leaders findings and made his way to the rear of the shuttle in the hope that he can get inside and salvage anything useful - especially a medikit.

Gently tapping Tang's face as he tried to rouse the unconscious man, Will spoke gently to his friend, "C'mon, Tang, I know you're in there. We need you awake, old man." He looked to his remaining team member who watched Will working on the Lieutenant, worry laced his words, "We've gotta get our asses away from here before those bastards come back." He tapped the craggy face once more, "Tang. Tang!" he croaked.

William Riker and Zakar Trez, the only alien amongst Will's team, heard the distinct sound of an extinguisher, which raised their hopes that the ships interior was accessible, But moments later, those hopes were dashed when Bobby stepped back to their sides, gingerly holding a smouldering medikit case in his hands, the heat from the metallic casing obviously still hot enough to burn.

"Sorry, Sir, doesn't look like this is any good. I can't even prise the catch open, it's melted that much." Slinging it to one side, disgusted that his moment of glory had to go up in a puff of smoke along with the medikit, he added, "Nothing else is salvageable either, Sir. Want me to check out the other ships? Might be able to find something useful."

Will hadn't taken his eyes off Tang's face as he continued to try and rouse the big man. But after Bobby had given his report on his findings, Will first looked at him as he pondered over his question, then swung his gaze over the distant horizon, searching for returning Sindareen ships.
"I don't think we can afford the time, Tiller. Chances are they'll come back to see if there are any survivors. I think we need to move, and move now, especially while the sun is up. I can't see them bothering with us after nightfall - maybe we can come back then and have a nose around. But for now, I think we need to get as far away from here as we can."

And then a heavy, telling silence descended and Will felt the gaze of the two other men fall upon the still unconscious, prone man, his own eyes dropping, realizing what was going through their minds. "I'm not leaving him behind," he vowed.

Both men went crimson, instantly contrite of their thoughts, the silence stretching out uncomfortably as the three men volleyed their objections with their eyes. Will said it again, more forcibly this time. "We are not leaving him behind, even if I have to carry him myself."

Bobby glanced at Zakar and Will wondered what was going through their minds. He couldn't really believe that they would even consider leaving Tang behind, if not to certainly die, then to possibly be captured by the Sindareen, if and when they came back.

Zakar's voice broke his pondering. "It was Lieutenant Tang's orders, Sir." he said, warily.

"What orders?" Will asked, already figuring out what they were going to say.

Tiller took over, "Wounded were to be left behind, Sir, no matter what. They were too much of a burden on retreating survivors. Said they'd hold them back, Sir. We got to leave them...him, behind, Sir." he ended, lamely.

Will, shell-shocked with the revelation, slowly pulled himself to a stand, using his full height to its full advantage as he squared up to the two now cowering men. "And do you agree with this..." he struggled momentarily to find the right word and ended up spitting, "regulation?"

Once again the two men looked to each other for confirmation, and once again it was Zakar who spoke first, "Well...not personally, Sir, but rules are rules, aren't they, Sir?"

Will took a deep breath as he realized that they weren't actually, 'happy' with the ruling, so he figured it was time to change it. "Yes, they are, Trez. But likewise, new rules can be made, can't they, gentlemen?" He looked to them both for confirmation. The two men nodded in agreement, already the relief of Will's suggestion lifting the burden of leaving a wounded man behind.

"Good," Will said, "The new rules are that as long as a wounded man doesn't endanger us any more than the danger that we are already in, then we take him home with us. Understood?"

Two heads bobbed in unison before him. Two distinctly lighter voices spoke up in tandem too, "Understood, Sir. Thank you, Sir."

Will took another deep breath, this time, it was one of relief, "Okay. Now then, let's see if we can find something - anything that we can make into a make-shift litter." His eyes already moving around the battle sight looking for possibilities.

Less than an hour later, the three men plus a very angry Tang, even if he was still half dead but awake enough to cause a ruckus at having his own rule broken by a mere, pain-in-the-ass juvenile, made their way towards the distant hills, and hopefully safety, fully aware that they were utterly and entirely, on their own.

But were they?

Chapter twenty seven

"Three survivors, in those hills," he pointed off to the far horizon, "I want them found."

Moments before, his gaze had searched the surrounding barren desert, inch by inch, the exploration hampered by the swirling rusty clouds of dust rising up from dead ground resembling miniature tornado's. As the slate-grey eyes reached the protruding crags, sweeping over them disinterestedly, barely giving them a glance, until something tickled in the back of his mind and he slowly swung his eyes back. It was the only logical destination. It was the only way to go. It was the only safe place to hide.

On arrival, it had taken the party a while to survey the metal graveyard. The still smouldering, twisted beyond recognition, carcasses of Federation and Sindareen craft lay strewn over a two mile radius. And just as tragically lay the dead and dying souls that had given their lives to fight the cause. The dead were quickly vaporised. There was no time for elaborate funerals. The dying enemy were treated to the same fate, and their own wounded, mercifully transported onto the ship hovering not too far away in orbit.

One by one, the reconnaissance party moved from one torn ship to another, searching for survivors and thoroughly destroying the ships so that the enemy couldn't gain any knowledge of their technology.

That was until they reached one of the last ships that fell to earth like a fatally wounded bird. The men milled around the Federation craft searching for it's occupants and not finding one. But then the leader spotted the abandoned medikit, tossed away, discarded, already half-covered by the red dust that blanketed the planet. As he stepped cautiously inside the shuttle, searching the hidden corners for signs of trouble, he couldn't fail to miss the tell-tale layer of oozing extinguisher foam, now sticky from the heat and time. It could only mean one thing;


Stooping as he stepped free of the confining ship, he straightened his long form up and surveyed the nearby ground looking for evidence of life, and found it. Footsteps. He followed their somewhat scuffed and muddled trail towards a crashed Sindareen ship, ducking once more as he stepped under the enormous wing, studiously attempting to ascertain his quarries movements, and soon deciding that they had remained there for some time whilst they had watched and waited out the fight in the skies above, out of sight, and out of relative danger.

Signalling his men, using his menacing weapon as an extension of his arm before nonchalantly throwing the bulky, cumbersome load onto his shoulder, the tall Sindareen raider began walking in the direction of the distant hills, his steely eyes following the footsteps that led the way. One by one, his comrades tagged on behind him, creating a formidable line. Each one with an agenda in their mind. Each one with hatred in their soul.


The ship descending into the metal graveyard was almost obliterated by the red dust cloud that billowed up from the burnt earth. As they touched down and killed the engines, it plunged them into a ominous hush that fitted the scene of annihilation that surrounded them. A scene that plunged it's captain back in time, and back to a hellish moment in time that would torment and torture him for the rest of his life.

The sight of the smouldering ships shimmered out of focus to be replaced by burning buildings. Screaming, terrified people, either running away or rooted to the spot they stood on, too dazed, too scared to move. Moans oozed from some of the torn bodies strewn around his feet. Others lay noiseless. Lifeless. Some he recognized. Some he didn't, and some, God help him, he couldn't tell, and that was the worst. Who were they?

Who were they?

He snapped back to life as the quiet was when the shuttle's hatch lowered, the whoosh of released air pressure momentarily filling the air, breaking the eerie stillness. Four men stepped out from the ship's belly, their phasers held firm in steady hands as they warily surveyed the immediate area.

But instead of hate in their hearts, these men had apprehension. These men had come to look for their venerable leader and his companions. These men had come to take their own home, regardless of their fate.

Captain Bill Travern's eyes lit up when he spied the open hatch on the doomed Federation craft, and with feet that were as keen as his heart, he bounded over to the ship and stepped inside, his eyes adjusting to the dim interior caused by the trapped dust and the setting sunset that cast a ghostly haze over the cockpit.

He heard the rest of team come up behind him, their eyes too searching for men, that in their hearts they knew they would not find. Travern ignored the dispirited lull that cascaded over them, his eyes too intent, too busy searching for clues; A sign, any sign that the men that fell with this craft didn't perish.

But when he recognised the distinct grubby-white globs of foam that a fire extinguisher expelled when triggered, another image flashed through his mind, forcing his eyes to close against the visions and unable to stop them coming; Skin. Melted skin, burnt clothes, the unforgettable stench of burning flesh. The screams. The moans. The desperate cries for help. He swayed with remembrance as he struggled against the pull of his memories.

But with an effort that created a half-strangled croak erupting from his throat, Travern pulled himself back and allowed the sight before him to overrule the sights and sounds racing through his head, purposely injecting the hope that his voice and heart held with his discovery.

"Survivors!" he said, turning to his fellow comrades, his relief more than evident in his brown eyes, hastily pushing past them to step back outside the ship and begin the search in earnest, determination strengthening his demand, "Find them."

The group exited the ship and searched for signs of movement in the drifting sands that covered the ground, but Travern soon silently howled in frustration as he tried desperately to filter out the partial footstep remains. It had been too long, too long since the battle had happened. Too long since he'd left a shell-shocked race of intensely peaceful people. Too long since he'd searched for, and lost the Sindareen craft that had spirited away innocent public; men, women, even some children from their homes, from their loved ones.

Too long since he'd heard that his revered leader's woman, Deanna Troi, one of the planet's most admired citizens, had lost her life.

He began to tremble, as he began to remember her with horror, Oh, God, too long,

Chapter twenty eight

The hushed, terrified whispers trickled through the still dazed captives aboard the oppressive and dimly lit hold on board the Sindareen ship. For a long time, the only sounds that could be heard besides the thrum of the engines were cries of pain and suffering. Of fear and of prayers being systematically repeated, over and over.

But eventually as time passed, when it seemed that their deaths weren't immediate, or that they weren't about to be brutalized, or raped, an uneasy calm settled over the prisoners, and they began to quietly chatter amongst themselves. Even though each and every one of them could communicate silently to each other by telepathy, somehow, the sound of their spoken words added to their calm, and Deanna was no exception.

She sat in the safe curve of Jeb's arms, mostly to stave of the chills that racked her body, most of it born from terror, and some from the cold that permeated through the ship's hull as it moved further and further away from the moon's orbit and out into the depths of open space. They had no idea of their destiny, and they had no idea what fate had in store for them.

Jeb's hands tenderly stroked Deanna's arms, the motion not only warming her, even though his own hands were chilled, but soothing her inner hurts. She missed her home, her friends. Chandra, her mother. But most of all, she missed Will.

"Tell me about him," he said quietly against her hair. "Tell me about this man that has captured your heart. I've heard your mother's interpretation of the infamous William Riker, but I want to hear yours. Can you tell me, Deanna?" he asked gently, but persuasively, as if knowing talking about him would help her through.

It would also remind him of a love that was long lost. Jeb would have done almost anything to feel what Deanna was feeling for her man right now. Within his own heart, his love was as powerful as hers, but without Lwaxana, without his heart's desire, that love was as hopeless as his life. But his love was too long past. Too late for him. But it wasn't too late for the woman in his embrace.

Jebediah Murser didn't care about his own worries. All he cared about in this moment was that in their most desperate moments, as he had stood and witnessed the most abominable act of his life, a voice had cried out to him. It was a voice he knew very well. A voice that he had remembered from a long time ago, a time when he was young and foolishly in love with a girl that he had no chance of ever claiming for his own. This voice, or more appropriately, the woman it belonged to, had silently pleaded with him to help her beloved daughter.

Being one of the most powerful telepaths on the planet of Betazed, Lwaxana Troi had seen in her mind, the attack on the city centre, and the college where she knew Deanna was. But worse than that, she had heard Deanna's horrific cries, and unable to break through her daughters terror, somehow, someway, Jeb had stepped into her thoughts and told her that he would take care of Deanna, no matter what. No matter how.

And so here he was, doing as he promised, for the woman he had always loved, and always silently would.

"Tell me about him," he repeated quietly, his voice thick with emotional remembrance.

Deanna trembled violently as the pain of loss swept through her soul. "I miss him, Jeb," she murmured, before pulling away far enough away to look up into his eyes, her own dark orbs filling with fresh tears as Will's love saturated her thoughts, "I need him here. I need him in my arms." her voice breaking.

Jeb hugged her close again, giving her that precious moment to gather herself together. He knew Deanna would talk, she needed the release. Needed to be reminded that not everything in the universe was sullied and bad, and sure enough, barely a minute later, he heard her soft rumblings against his chest.

"He loves me, Jeb, and I love him," she said simply. "I tried and tried not to fall in love with him because I knew that if I did, he would break my heart." She paused momentarily as the shock of her own confession, and realization of what her future held, came and forcibly smacked her across the face again.

How many times would this feeling of desolation, and betrayal haunt her. Cause her to cast aside the good for the bad. Unthinkably disregard Imzadi for sanity. Chase away happiness for unimaginable agony. Abuse destiny because of what was happening to them now. And as hard as she tried, Deanna could not avoid the thoughts. They plagued her every moment of the day, except for the few precious times that Will physically absorbed her, heart, body, mind and soul.

Jeb heard the heavy sigh leave her lungs before she said even more quietly, "But I can't let him go. I don't think I'll ever be able to let him go," Her shoulders lifted in a resigned shrug, as though stating the obvious held all the answers to her dilemma. "He's my Imzadi."

She felt Jeb's chin rest on top on her head as he pondered over her words, but when he lifted it again, there was an urgent stiffening of his whole body, along with a cascading wave of uneasy silence that drifted throughout the hold. Deanna lifted questioning eyes to his, but Jeb's were staring ahead and with an air of foreboding, Deanna turned her head in the same direction.

The big Sindareen that had brought her aboard stood in the doorway, and he was looking straight at her, his menacing face that had previously been devoid of colour, was now tinged with red. He appeared to be angry, at her, and she had no idea why.

But Deanna didn't have any time to wonder what had brought the anger on because a second later he stretched his hand out, extended one long finger towards her and slowly turned it over, bending it at the knuckle.

"You," he spat, "come here."

Chapter twenty nine

The man that still held her tight against his chest, tightened his grip even more as he rose his eyes up from his huddled position in the cargo hold to look into the face of the gigantic Sindareen that stood in the oval doorway. In reality, Jeb guessed that the man was maybe six feet five or six, but against their smallness and the fact that he clearly had to stoop to manoeuvre around the ship's insides, he seemed gigantic.

Jeb felt the trembling woman in his arms stiffen when she'd lifted her own eyes and realized that he'd been addressing her. Her unconscious, whimpered, "No, please!" tore from her throat on a sob before she buried her face against his chest, pulling her limbs closer to her body in a valiant effort to somehow make herself disappear.

But her effort was in vain when she heard the thud of his boot as he stepped into the hold, reached down and dragged her to her feet by her hair, emitting a screech of protest and pain at the brutal handling, her hands instinctively reaching up to prise his fingers loose. It was a futile effort. His hands were like hard, ice-cold vices.

Jeb made to stand, to help her, stop them, say something - anything to halt whatever they had planned for his charge, but when that same boot landed upon his ankle, snapping it in one swift purposeful stomp, the sickening noise echoing in the shocked silence, he could do nothing more than slither back to the floor, crying out in agony as he felt the bone snap, his face draining of colour as he swallowed down his churning stomach as the pain surged throughout his body.

Deanna screamed as she witnessed the barbaric treatment of a friend who had become someone to hold on to, someone whose mental strength had saved her own sanity in this desolate and cruel time. "No! No! Leave him alone!" she cried. "I'll come quietly!" Spinning in his arms to face him, her eyes beseeching his, pleading for mercy.

The Sindareen let out a roar of laughter that made her blood run cold. But she didn't have time to reflect on her precarious position as he spun her around and begun to drag her out of the hold. And then suddenly he stopped, addressed one of the guards that stood watch by the door, pointed to Jeb and snapped, "Get rid of him."

Unable to stop herself, Deanna let out another ear-piercing scream, "NO!" she sobbed, making one more try at freeing herself from his grip, her pathetic attempt only producing another heinous bout of laughter from her captor.

She watched in horror as the guard stepped inside and reached down to drag her quivering, terrified friend off the floor, but the boom of anger from the man holding her made her jump out of her skin, "Not him, fool! The piece of scum behind!"

All eyes turned to the poor soul that lay half covered, bent over in a foetal position behind Jeb. The young man was dead. Deanna shivered with horror as she realized that she had sat within inches of a corpse. So wrapped up in her own grief, she hadn't noticed the dying man take his last painful breath and her heart broke as she pictured him dying alone without a hand to hold his as he passed away.

They all watched with morbid fascination as the guard reached down, dragged the man up onto his shoulder as though he weighed nothing at all, and passed them by, taking him out of the hold.

But horror turned to disgust when he dropped the man to the floor, reached down and released the latch on a hatch, pulled it open, letting a whoosh of air pour into the ship, making Deanna gasp with shock at it's frigidness, and then he simply, and without ceremony, or feeling, dropped the man through it, and then just as calmly, closed the hatch and bolted it down once more.

For a long moment, Deanna could only stare at the metallic hatch and imagine the poor soul free-falling through the skies, but she deliberately closed her mind and her eyes to the vision that would ultimately follow his arrival to solid ground, but as hard as she tried, Deanna couldn't stop herself, her face paling with the waking nightmare.

With morbid curiosity, the grinning Sindareen watched her face with interest, until at last, satisfied that his action had received as much revulsion from her as it could have, he laughed and moved on towards the ship's control room, still dragging her along by her hair.

Pushing her free of his hold as they reached the centre of the control room, Deanna momentarily stumbled with the suddenness of her release. Glancing around the room, taking in the three men who's backs faced her as they manned their own panels, she questioningly turned to face the big man, her eyes wide with fear.

Grinning sadistically, he studied her for a brief moment, and then pointed to the control panel behind her. Puzzled, Deanna turned and glanced at the unfamiliar set-up and then back at him, confusion etching her wary, tired, tear-stained face.

He laughed loudly for a moment, and then just as suddenly severed the action, and then with his overly deep voice, punctuated with venom, he snarled, "Beg for your life, Betazoid bitch."

Chapter thirty

"Wha....what? Deanna stammered, not quite sure that she heard him right. Was he telling her to beg for her life to stop him from slaughtering her, or did he mean call home and beg for rescue?

Her question evoked a violent response from him as he swung his mighty arm back and slapped her heavily across the face, sending her spinning on the spot before crumbling to the floor at his feet.

Deanna felt the distinct taste of blood trail down from her nose onto her arid and cracked lips, making the bile rise from her gut at the smell. Blood had never been a favourite sight of Deanna's. It always seemed to signify death and pain, and at that moment, both seemed to sweep through her senses with such magnitude, that for a very brief second, she welcomed the calm serenity of death. Anything. Anything was better than feeling the way that she did right then as her head, her senses swam, threatening to send her off to oblivion in a dead faint.

But she didn't dare. The fear of a similar fate happening to her like the dead man kept her from doing what she most wanted to do; sleep the nightmare away, only waking when she was safe back home with her loved ones. Lifting a trembling hand to her swelling nose and mouth, Deanna dared to look up at the towering man before her, her pain and confusion written all over her face.

Planting both hands upon his hips he bent over and stared her down, his face even more menacing, if that was possible, than before. "I want you to call your planet and get the remainder of the pathetic scum that tried to outwit us, to come and rescue you."

Deanna remained silent for a long time as she took in what he was saying. He wanted Betazed's only protection to come after her and the rest of the captives and lead them to certain death. Who knows where they were heading, or how many other Sindareen ships were out there, waiting. She couldn't do it. Even though she knew in her heart that Will wouldn't be amongst them, she couldn't willingly sacrifice so many men. An ancient Vulcan saying that she remembered from her schooling flitted through her mind. ' The needs of the few outweighed the needs of the many'

There was only maybe a dozen people huddled back in the ship's hold. There had got to be at least a hundred or more service men back on Betazed. And then of course, there was the rest of her planet. Take away their defences, and her people, her friends, her family would be left open to attack. She couldn't do it.

"I can't," she said with a smidgen of bravado in her voice. "I won't do it. I won't let you kill anymore of my people."

Without even turning around he spoke to the guard hovering by the doorway, the same guard that had thrown the poor dead man out of the hatch, "Araak, kill the man that this bitch was with. I'll let you have the option of how you chose to do it."

"NO! NO! DON'T!" Deanna cried, leaping to her feet. She didn't know if he meant it, or if he was bluffing. All she knew was that he was a mean bastard without an ounce of heart and he didn't give a damn whether they lived or died. What he wanted went beyond a few meagre captives held in the grotty bowels of his ship. What he wanted was the Federation army, whatever it took, whatever it cost. And at that moment, Deanna realized that she had the fate of her whole planet laying in her tiny hands.

Dropping her chin to her chest, her grief poured from her soul as she muttered, utterly defeated and wretched, "I'll do it. Just don't harm anybody else, please."

He sneered knowingly at her, completely unashamed of revealing his barbaric tactics to her. He was aware that she wouldn't tolerate him hurting another living soul, whatever the price. Using her companion was simply the quickest way of getting what he wanted. He could have toyed with one of the others, but he was losing time, and patience. He wanted retribution, and he wanted it now.

He wanted to be rid of his unwanted cargo, and he didn't care whether they lived or died. But when he'd overheard the woman before talking about a man - it had to be a man, probably a Federation man at that, he knew he couldn't lose the chance of having another stab at ridding the universe of a formidable force.

Taking on the mighty Federation was a huge undertaking, but he figured he could do it, if he was crafty enough. And using the woman was a small stroke of genius. He's sensed something about her when he'd attacked the college that she attended. Watching her standing there whilst everyone around her went berserk instantly told him that she was different.


And he liked that in a female, even if it wasn't one of his own kind. Even now as she stood before him with tears streaming down her face, he knew it wasn't because she was scared - not woman scared. It was because she was about to betray her people. Her home. He had a hunch that her man was Federation, and that made it all the more sweeter. It meant that he would sacrifice himself for her.

He was going to enjoy watching their reunion when it finally happened.

Chapter thirty one

Will deliberately looked away, pretending that he was searching the far off hills as his friend coughed as though he was trying to get a boulder out from his throat. The same hills that Will initially started heading for, and then changed his mind figuring that any enemy following him would think the same thing; head for the hills, head for safety. So Will didn't. He and his men turned tail, making sure they left enough evidence to indicate they were going towards the hills, but not enough to indicate their true path. The found refuge in a small, rocky outcrop, smack bang in the middle of nowhere.

Lieutenant Tang coughed again, the painful wheeze making Will grimace with compassion and fear. The old man was dying. Will knew it, and he was certain that Tang was more than aware of it too.

When the painful gasps subsided briefly and he heard Tang spit out the accumulation of dust and gunge that had worked its way into his system as he'd sucked in breaths, Will allowed him a second of privacy as he struggled to pretend that he wasn't as bad he feared.

"You okay, old friend. Need a drink?" Will was already reaching for the small pouch that held barely a quarter of a litre of precious water, his hand stilling at Tang's gruff, weary voice.

"No, no, save it. Don't go wasting it on me, Son."

Will ignored him, detaching it from his waistband and releasing the cap, wishing more than anything that he could raise it to his own lips and drain it dry, but he couldn't. He was okay, he could survive without water long enough to get rescued. His friend wouldn't.

The extensive burns he had meant that his skin couldn't hold any moisture apart from the massive blisters that caked his body, and Will hoped and prayed that none of them burst or got infected. God only knew what the dust and dirt on this ball of rock held.

Tang's eyes met Will's as he turned to him and lifted his head and shoulders from the ground, holding the pouch's lip-edge to his own charred mouth. Weary gratitude shone in his exhausted, pain-filled eyes and despite his own rule about leaving the dead and dying behind, Tang was glad he was being given a chance to live.

He caught the slight smile that touched Will's mouth as he gratefully sipped the temperate water, determined to take as little as he could until, at last he felt the liquid slide down his burning throat. He purposely closed his lips to stop Will from wasting any more. He'd had enough, and if they were going to have to see out the night. If he saw out the night, he emended, he was surely going to need more in the morning. At least now in the inkyness of night, the searing heat wasn't an issue. But come morning...well, that was a different story and he wasn't looking forward to it, one bit.

Will heard the men urgently whispering in the background and carefully laying Tang's head back down, he moved over to find out what they were talking about. Scuffling the few feet towards them, he stopped dead when he saw Bobby Tiller raise his palm to him, indicating that he should be silent. Will stopped dead, his ears searching out anything audible, his eyes reaching out into the darkness, looking for something, or someone.

Silence. Total silence. Will turned questioning eyes to his comrades who were still listening intently. Tiller's hand turned and indicated that Will should proceed, and as quietly as he could, Will moved closer.

"What is it?" he whispered quietly.

"I thought I heard something, but it's gone now." he whispered back, the white of his eyes, almost luminous as they caught the moonlight. "Wait!! there it is again!"

Instinctively, the three men quietly lay flat upon the hard, cold ground, trying to make themselves blend into shadows, their ears desperately trying to pick up any indication as to whether their enemy was as close as they feared. Worriedly, Will glanced over to his friend, checking that he was sufficiently out of sight from enemy eyes, whilst his heartbeat began to pound, echoing in his ears.

But he couldn't hear a thing. Nothing. Zilch, and that worried Will even more so. Did that mean the enemy could hear them and were taking similar precautions. Or was their minds playing tricks on them? Celestial spirits sent to torment their minds. God, he hated sitting like a possum, waiting. Praying. They were stuck between a rock and a hard place and whoever was on the other side of the rise knew it too.

And then they heard the distinct sound of a phaser being loaded, the tell-tale whine of the button being pushed along, elevating the beams intensity from stun to kill, and as Will prepared to be confronted, more than aware that they were likely to be out-numbered and definitely with more fire power than they possessed, his eyes squeezed shut as one vision filled his senses and two words slipped despairingly from his trembling lips, Goodbye, Imzadi.

Chapter thirty two

"Fill me in, Captain. I want to know everything - and I mean everything."

Leaving a more than competent pilot to fly them home, Captain Bill Traverse sat opposite the visibly exhausted man, but even so, he was never happier to see anyone alive as much as he. He studied Will's face, as much as he could through the grime and dried blood that caked his skin. But even though exhaustion poured from his being, nothing could defuse the steely regard in his cobalt eyes. The man wanted to know what was happening with the Sindareen, and he wanted to know now.

Only Bill wasn't too keen on telling him - not all of it anyway.

"The Sindareen attacked Betazed, Sir." Shock still tinged his words as he looked Will straight in the eye, holding his gaze steady as Will digested the news, inwardly startled that he didn't seem surprised to hear his bad tidings. When Bill was confident that the crummy news had registered, he ploughed on. "We think they deliberately set us up in order to get some of us away from the city."

Will's face creased in puzzlement, "Why? What on earth were they trying to achieve? We left behind more than enough military to protect Betazed. They couldn't have got through." But even as he said it, Will realised that it sounded stupid. Of course they could get through. Nothing was impenetrable, least of all a docile citizen that wouldn't recognize a bad guy if he come and slapped him across the face.

But Will continued to study the Captain's face and instinctively knew that his assumption was wrong, and worse than that, there was more to hear, the fearful look upon Traverse's face told him that. He swallowed noisily before adding, "Carry on."

"They took hostages, Sir." he said warily, half expecting the giant man to leap up and punch him for allowing it all to happen. For not doing their job properly. For not protecting those that had come to serve.

And then Will knew; knew that his beloved was one of those captured. Somehow things that had flashed through his mind. The screams, the cold hand of death gripping his heart as he lay waiting to be picked up. It all made sense to him now. "Deanna." He murmured distractedly, the same cold hand tightening its grip on his heart again, hurting him, reminding him that there was more at stake here than the woman he loved, his eyes widening with the horror that his instinct, his feelings had been correct. "Deanna's been taken, hasn't she?"

Will reeled back as he watched Captain Traverse slowly shake his head, his eyes dropping away as he tried to mask his horror and dispel the image at what he'd witnessed. "No, Sir," he said slowly, sadly, "Miss Troi is dead. I'm sorry, Si..."

He started as Will leapt to a stand, instantly filling the ships small confines already greatly reduced because of Tang's prone body on the cot laying between them all, the shock of Bill's news not only slamming him in the midriff, but emitting a similar gasp of shock from the other members of Will's remaining team. Traverse cowered back as Will reached down and grasped the front of his tunic, forcibly lifting him off his seat. "No! no, she's not! Deanna isn't dead. I'd know. I'd feel up here," letting Bill go with one hand so that he could tap his temple, accentuating his point, "I'd know if she was dead, and she isn't."

He felt a tug on his pant leg and with wild eyes he turned his attention downwards, to Tang's damaged face, to the man that knew that what he was saying was true but even so, he felt he had to say something, prepare him, question his senses, knowing that the mind was a powerful machine that could will anything that you wanted to see. "Will, it was hours ago that you said you'd heard Deanna. She might be dead by now. Accept that it may be true, Son"

Freeing Traverse's clothing, absently brushing the clothing down as he turned to his fallen friend, Will shook his head, denial wreathed his features, "No, I'd know, Tang, I'd know" he swore with such conviction that Tang nodded wearily, completely accepting affirmation for what it was, his eyes slipping closed once more as he continued with his painful struggle to stay alive.

He'd welcomed the pain medication with a mixture of relief and dismay. More than aware that now they'd been rescued, he was effectively out of the game and that he'd be shipped straight off to a med-unit as soon as they touched base, and that his war was over. Hell, his career might be over and that wasn't even worth contemplating. He'd been a Starfleet officer all his adult life, and he'd been so close - so close to being pensioned off, that his health had begun to suffer with the knowledge of being, 'set free'. He didn't want it. Hell, what was he gonna do, out there in the real world. Sit and read a book? Go fishing!?

Hell, no!

But it didn't look like he was going to have any other choice now. Damn it! So lost in his drug-infused meanderings he didn't quite catch most of Traverse's next words, but he sure as hell caught the tail end of them.

"...I saw her myself, Sir. I...I remember the jumper that she used to wear when she worked at the base, it was a pretty kind of yellow." He swallowed, turning paler as he plucked up courage to continue. "I...She...wasn't recognizable, Sir, she'd lost her..." He couldn't continue. He didn't have to, the picture he'd painted was more than enough. Too much.

Numbly, Will shook his head, not only denying his head to fill with the image that tried to over take his mind, but also wanting to dismiss the information that he was hearing. He could only reiterate his previous confident reply. "She's still alive, Bill. Trust me." He pleaded quietly. Bill could only nod. What more could he do? He hoped with all his being that the tall man was right.

Turning his gaze out of the ship's front screen, Will watched as they approached Betazed. One could not fail to see the numerous dark plumes of smoke that rose from the still smouldering buildings, the air of chaos blanketing it like a heavy, dark shroud, and as the ship landed back at the base, Will was already hovering impatiently for the door to open, and as soon as it did, he leapt free as soon as he could safely do so. Will set off towards the worst hit part of the city, his feet barely touching the ground as he raced on, his heart pounding in his chest, preparing him for what he was about to see.

Even though Will was confident that he wasn't going to find his Deanna amongst the dead that would surely be laying in the make-shift morgue by now, an ounce of him - one tiny ounce of him wondered if he'd gotten it wrong - that the intense love he felt for her was over-shadowing the truth.

Will was sure that he'd heard her, seen her in his dreams, and held her silently in his embrace. She was scared senseless, but she was okay, he could feel her. And somehow, he knew then even more so, that her life was connected to his. That they were bonded by a force that he wasn't sure he'd ever come to grips with. He rolled the word through his mind again, unconsciously reaching out for her, Imzadi Testing it's power, hoping above all hopes that she was out there, alive, waiting for him.

He almost slipped to the ground as he felt the feint ripple of her voice, and her fear, trickle through his frazzled mind.

Help us. Oh, God, Imzadi, help us!

Chapter thirty three

Will's feet slowed to an unsteady stop as he neared the still smouldering college building, the shock of what his eyes were seeing faltering his steps as he slowly took in the carnage that spread out before him. Medical teams worked on people that had been dug out of the collapsed entrance way, the flurry of military personnel, some of which Will knew, battled to stop relatives, friends and everyone else from entering the precarious building in a desperate attempt to find their missing loved ones, their cries and pleas swirling around Will's heart, gripping it even tighter, the pain becoming unbearable.

Unable to resist the pull, forcing his feet to move, Will hesitantly made his way off to the side where a dozen or so corpses lay in a row, their bodies covered with make-shift sheeting. Blood stained the stark whiteness of the material a bright and vivid red, the black soot a stark contrast amongst it, like a gruesome abstract painting.

Even though Will knew he wasn't searching for Deanna, he still found himself looking for a glimpse of the yellow jumper that Bill Traverse had mentioned on his way back to the planet. He had to see it for himself, despite everything. He just had to make sure it really wasn't her. When he saw the Zerx's holding each other as they stood over a prone corpse, Will inadvertently sighed with sad relief before letting his genuine sorrow come to the fore once more.

Several people, relations of the deceased Will guessed, stood beside those that lay on the ground, their grief pouring from their hunched, miserable figures, disbelief mingled the piteous whimpers as they tried desperately to comprehend the senseless waste of precious life, and with it Will felt an immense wave of shame wash over him. He had failed these people. He had let down his guard, believed that he was in control, and let these people put their utmost trust in him, and he had let them down.

He couldn't help the roll of despair that drenched right through to his soul as his moist eyes moved away from his failures, the action releasing a solitary tear. He didn't bother wiping it away letting the blurriness somehow distort the carnage around him. His gaze came to settle and refocus on a solitary figure standing back from the other mourners, her head bowed low, her dress sombre, like the mood that shrouded the scene.

Will quietly moved, coming to a silent stand behind her. He didn't know what to say so instead he lifted his hand and rested in gently upon her shoulder. Within seconds, her own came to settle upon his, and he felt and heard a deep, shaky breath leave her lips.

For a long moment the two of them did nothing but watch as yet another body got carried out of the smouldering building, the victim being laid along side the last in the row of those already there. Despite the sheeting covering the body, it could not hide the woman beneath. A bulge in her abdomen area brought a gasp of shock from Will's lips as he realised that the poor soul had been with child.

"Oh, my God," Will gasped, instantly feeling Lwaxana's fingers lace with his in a futile effort to help him through the shock of what his eyes were seeing and what his mind was screaming at him. "What have I done?"

Lwaxana Troi watched the movements before her, unable to look away, unable to turn and embrace the man behind her as his guilt filled her senses. "It wasn't your fault, William," she whispered, squeezing his fingers harder, "None of this was your fault. It was mine."

Everything stopped, just for a moment as Will absorbed her misplaced blame, which were preposterous. Stupid even. How could she take the blame for this war? How could she possibly have stopped it? Betazed had called on the Federation for their help, and they had sent him. HIM He was the one that should have seen this coming; seen the deception, but he hadn't and innocent people had died. Innocent people had been kidnapped. Deanna, his Imzadi, had been kidnapped.

"What could you have possibly done, Mrs. Troi?" He asked. "This was not your fault." Will told her quietly.

She squeezed his fingers again and finally, slowly turned to him, and he saw the shadow of a sad smile upon her tear-stained face. "And nor was it yours, Lieutenant Riker. But, I could have done more," she hesitated for a brief second, her brow furrowing with thoughts that raced through her mind, "I should have done more." she reiterated.

Will studied her features intently, ignoring the blood shot eyes and the added lines that seemed to have sprung up over-night with worry. "What could you have possibly done that I hadn't?"

"You forget, William, that I am an ambassador. I not only have friends in high places, I have friends elsewhere in this cosmos." Spinning on her heels she started to walk away from him and Will instinctively followed, dimly aware that something she had just said had sparked a flame of hope within her, therefore reigniting his too.

She continued, "We need help, Mr. Riker, and I am intent on getting it. It's time I used my status, and my charm to its full advantage, and you, Will, are going to help me. Come along."

Will hastened his footsteps to keep up with hers that were almost at a run now that she had made a decision, and he couldn't help asking her the obvious, "What about Deanna, Mrs. Troi, and the other captives?"

Without missing a beat, or even a step she said, "That'll be your job. I'm entrusting my daughter into your hands, so you'd better make sure you bring her home to me, preferably alive and in one piece." She added for good measure.

Will balked at her words, "Mrs. Troi! I don't think..."

"Save it, William. I know you can communicate with her, and you have, haven't you, since she's been gone?" She looked at him briefly for confirmation as he nodded, even though she didn't really need to see his face to know his answer. "Deanna will lead you to her."

Will couldn't help asking, "Have...have you 'spoken' to her, Mrs. Troi?"

Will winced under her indignant stare,"Of course I have, silly boy! I am her mother." Her eyes softened at Will's discomfort, slowing her steps until she actually stopped and reached out a hand to touch his arm. "She's alright, William. In danger, but alright, I promise."

Will nodded, his stance visibly relaxing a little with her reassurance. But even he knew that there was still a long way to go, and a lot to do before he could see for himself. Before he could hold her in his arms and never let her out of his sight again.

Will followed Lwaxana into the military base, his curiosity peaked to its height. "What are we doing here, Mrs. Troi?" Although he realized it was the logical place to be, and the once place that he knew he should have come to first, Will still couldn't understand why she would come here.

Not even bothering to knock on the door that they approached, which Will recognized as the boardroom, a room that he'd only ever visited once - on his arrival. The matriarch of Betazed's highest society pushed open the door and barrelled in, with Will close behind, hot on her heels, curiosity and excitement filling his being.

The seven stunned men within turned to see who had barged in on their crisis talks, balking and then visibly shrinking when they saw who it was. Without a greeting, Lwaxana Troi made her way to the head of the oval table, placed her hands upon the rich red mahogany top and stared intently at each and every one of them, not giving them a chance, or daring them to utter one word.

"Gentlemen," she stated, her face alive with determination, and hope. "We have a war to win, and I know how we can win it."

Chapter thirty four

The air was alive with frenzied tension as the men once more prepared to take to the skies. This time more ships, and more men were going into space to confront their enemy. This time, they were sure there would be no deception, and no cowardly attack on peaceful Betazed. The Sindareen had got what they'd wanted. A full frontal, no holds barred battle, out in the vast ocean of space and the Federation were going to give it to them, head on.

Lwaxana Troi hovered outside Will's shuttle as he busied himself with making sure everything he needed was on board, but even so, he still spoke to her, realizing that despite the message from Deanna pleading them to come and rescue them all, Lwaxana, and himself, held the truth within their heads.

Deanna's voice had shaken them all to the core as she relayed the very much prompted message. No ransom. No trade. Just to come and get them, if they dared. Will shuddered as he remembered Mrs. Troi crumpling to the seat behind her as Deanna had spoken directly to her telling her that it was a trap barely seconds after the crackly message got transferred to the boardroom.

But what else could they do? They had to go after them, the Sindareen and the hostages. There would be no stalemate in this battle. It was all-out war, a war that had been a long time coming. A war that would once and for all diminish the threat against the peaceful planet.

Betazed had no idea why the Sindareen had targeted them, other than sheer cursedness. That and a chance to wield their power upon a planet of peace. They were more cowardly than those that they tormented. They truly believed that they had the Federation in the palm of their grotty hands. Picking them off fleet by fleet instead of raiding Earth was a pathetic act of cowardice. Here, on their own turf, they could destroy the Federation, one by one if they had to. On Earth it would be another story.

Will stepped inside the shuttle and settled himself in the pilot's seat. He wasn't even mildly surprised when Lwaxana stepped inside after him, plainly with more on her mind. He wasn't sure he wanted to hear, but courtesy and intrigue forced himself to take a deep breath and wait, but even when she did touch his shoulder to garner his full attention, he still hadn't been surprised with her revelation.

"Listen to her, Will. Let Deanna guide you. Whatever happens out there, let my daughter help you." She implored, filling him with hope and more, realising that she was telling him that the silent communication that Betazoid's were famed for were going to be the key in the coming confrontation, and Deanna - his Deanna. He was going to be linked to her beyond the physical level. Beyond anything that he'd ever experienced before.

When he'd first heard Deanna in his mind, he'd been scared, scared of what she might be seeing. Hearing. But with each meeting, he grew more comfortable, more adept, and kinda honoured that he'd been blessed with what he knew to be a gift, and he intended to use his gift to not only get his Imzadi back, but to win this war.

He came back to the present with a quick shake of his senses and turned his full gaze onto the woman hovering at his shoulder. Will nodded solemnly. "I will, Mrs. Troi, and I'll bring Deanna back to you, you have my word." he vowed.

Lwaxana offered a sad smile as she nodded, tapping his shoulder to reiterate her faith in him. "I know you will, William. I'm very proud of you, you know? My daughter has chosen well."

Will didn't quite know how to respond to that as memories of her denial to mate with him cascaded through his memories, despite her subsequent acquiescence. Will still felt that given half a chance, Deanna would do anything to change what they had become. The thought gave Will a strange feeling deep within him, one that hurt, a hurt that spiralled throughout his body and soul making him tremble with its intensity.

Smiling tenderly, Lwaxana leaned down and put a tender kiss upon Will's brow, her heavy scent filling his nostrils, taking away the smell of fear that filled the ship, even if it was just for a brief moment. "Deanna loves you, Will." She said quietly. "Remember that and you will come home. You'll both come home." she promised, her voice quivering with emotion as a moment of loss rolled over her, a moment that didn't belong with her promise to the man that looked up to her, his convulsive throat movement revealing more than he wanted.

She'd said enough even though she wanted to say a whole lot more to him. Lwaxana Troi made her way back out of the ship and Will watched her go, a new respect for her filling his senses. When she was clear of the ship he pressed the button and closed the hatch, turning to his co-pilot that slid into his seat beside him, he took a deep shaky breath.

"Well, here we go. You ready, Bob?"

Bobby Tiller, more than happy to be be back behind the controls so soon after returning from their last harrowing trip out, had deliberately made himself scarce when the matriarch of Betazoid's society followed the lieutenant inside the ship, obviously needing some privacy going by the sombre expressions upon their faces.

Moving back into place and touching several of the multi-coloured controls before him, Bob beamed at his leader, hoping that he didn't notice that the smile that he put upon his face didn't quite reach his eyes, nor notice the trickle of apprehension touch his affirmation. "You bet, Sir. Let's go and kick some Sindareen butt!"

Nodding, the motion firing his eyes, and his heart with steely determination, Will fired up the engines and lay in his course. "Best damned idea I've heard all day. Now let's go and get my girl."

Chapter thirty five

Shut away again, out of sight and out of mind in the dark and dank hold, Deanna and her fellow captives felt the shift in tension escalate throughout the ship - not only through themselves, but her captors too. The fear reverberated from person to person as the arrival of the ships signalled the next stage in this deadly war game, the men able to stand, moved gingerly to their feet in anxious expectation.

They were here.

The Federation had ignored her silent advice and had come anyway. One part of her, the part that hurt, told her that they truly did not have a choice but to come. The other part, the part the hurt even more, hoped with all her heart that they would sacrifice those few and save the many.

But what hurt most of all was knowing the man that she had fallen desperately and hopelessly in love with would have come despite everything. She couldn't stop the shudder that rippled through her body, not only for the battle that was sure to come, but because, at last, at long last, if they got through this, if they made it home, Deanna was a only heartbeat away from seeing Will again. But the even greater reason was because any moment now, she might lose her Imzadi forever.

Her thoughts and movements betrayed her Jeb shifted his own thoughts from elsewhere to his charge. He had to reassure her, to help her through this next trial. "We'll be fine." He'll be fine," Jeb emended, realizing that her own thoughts were focused on one man as he held her closer still, trying to absorb the trembles that racked her slender frame, his quiet voice, strong with conviction as he studied Deanna's shadowed features as she sat tucked close beside him.

Deanna marvelled at the man holding her. In spite of the incredible pain he was suffering from his ankle injury, Jeb still managed to hold it together enough to offer her comfort. She so needed him beside her through this; to replace the one person that she could not have in his place. Deanna could only turn in his arms and coil her arms around his neck in gratitude.

Momentarily startled, and surprised at the innocent affection that Deanna was showering upon him, Jeb Murser recoiled a fraction until he felt her need, and then his fatherly instincts kicked in and he held her back, gently rubbing away the chilling shudders that still rippled throughout her slim body.

He knew what was troubling her, despite the obvious. The war was about to begin in earnest, and they were either going to live, or they were going to die. For some of them that had no one to care for, including him, death was just another step into another dimension. For others, like Deanna, death would be another path, a path of loneliness, and loss, and infinitely more. But it didn't start in the afterlife. It started here. Right now, and Deanna was already beginning to feel that loss even though he knew as well as she did, that her beloved was still alive.

Jeb could only offer her his comfort, and Deanna seemed more than content with that. His ankle hurt worse that hell itself and he tried valiantly not to move the shattered limb. As Deanna had turned in his arms, he felt the hot shard of pain shoot through his entire body and it was as much as he could take to stop the moan from leaving his mouth. He shifted a fraction to alleviate the pressure, but the woman in his embrace seemed oblivious to his dilemma.

And then he realized that along with her sudden stillness she was deathly quiet, the shudders finally ceasing along with everything else, bar the thrum of the ship surrounding them. She was communicating with someone, and Jeb had no doubt that it was their saviour, Lieutenant William Riker.

He hoped. Oh, God, how he hoped.

Chapter thirty six

The Sindareen pilot winced as he felt his Captain's fingertips dig into his shoulder as they all stared out of the screen ahead at the arriving Federation fleet, the morbid fascination at facing their enemy head on bringing an evil grin of satisfaction to his leaders face. He knew this because he heard the familiar grunt of devilish glee leave his mouth, and of course, the excited pressure of his thick, strong fingers. Both of which he reluctantly ignored for fear of retribution.

Maror barely turned his head to the man behind him, but his eyes never left the screen ahead as he snarled, "Bring me the girl." The silent rush of anticipation swept through the bridge crew as the imminent confrontation was at last about to happen. Some welcomed it, and some did not. The man beneath his leaders fingers was one of the latter. Of all the bridge crew, he was the one that had something to live for; A family. A home. A life, back on Sindar.

Without uttering a word the man spun on his heels and ducked beneath the doorway and disappeared beyond only to return barely a minute later with the requested woman gripped tightly in his hands. Letting her go as she stepped through the bridge doorway, Deanna gently massaged the now bruised area of upper arm that still stung from the harsh grip, but the pain was all but forgotten as her eyes soon fixed upon the same scene that the entire accompliment on the bridge watched.

Federation ships. A whole fleet of Federation ships, and Deanna felt her heart sink to her toes. God, how many were there? she asked herself, mentally beginning to count the silver shapes that sat suspended beyond the screen, waiting.

Thirty two. Deanna got to thirty two before Maror's bitter and twisted voice broke her concentration. "Hail the lead ship," he ordered her. "I want them to see you before I kill them all."

Deanna's shock left her mouth in a gurgled gasp as she recoiled against the anger and hatred that fuelled his promise. "I won't do it! I won't tell them anything you want me to repeat, damn you!" as she unwittingly came to stand barely two feet away from the only man that she would ever hate with every ounce of her heart, an emotion that as a Betazoid she so rarely felt. So rare that she physically felt the bile rise as she let the horror of his promise fill her being.

Maror spun on his heels so fast that Deanna stumbled back stepping straight up against the Sindareen that had brought her in and he instinctively held her upper arms in his tight grip to face whatever Maror figured to be her punishment for speaking to him in that manner.

But Deanna was beyond being frightened for herself. She cared about one thing and one thing only. Life. Not her life, but Will's, Jeb's, Betazed, her home, her family and strangely odd, she even cared about the Federation, realizing in that fraction of a moment then that was where her life lay, if she survived this.

She did not care about the scum that stood before her with possibly the nastiest, vilest smirk upon his face that she had ever seen.

"You will pay for that, Bitch!" he sneered, leaning so close to her that Deanna felt his stale breath upon her cheeks, his fist, clenched tight in anger raised high as though he was going to hit her, hard.

But Deanna refused to flinch, or cower beneath his evil stare-down as she waited for the inevitable. For a very long moment, everything was suspended. Everything stopped as they waited for his fist to make its mark.

But then a spark of something flared in his devilish eyes and without turning, he growled to his helmsman, "Hail the ship. I want them to see this."

Deanna's legs went weak when she realized his intention and she would have fallen but for the steely grip still upon her upper arms. Her eyes left Maror's face and looked over his shoulder to the screen. Barely a moment later, a face that she never thought she would see again filled the space, and Deanna released the choked sob that she didn't realize she had been holding. Oh, my God. Will! she silently cried, shaking her head as she tried to deny the vision she was seeing.

She watched as Will, shocked beyond belief at what he was witnessing, rose up from his seat. And she watched as silent angry, desperate, pleading words poured from his mouth, unheard because the comm system had been viciously turned off. And she watched as Maror slowly turned back to her, rose his fist and brought it down upon her upturned, petrified face.

Will's silent scream roared through her head as her face exploded with a million different splintering shards of pain with the force of his bare-knuckled punch and then a blackness stole over her mind. This time when her legs gave way, the man holding her let her go and Deanna slipped to the floor into a grateful unconsciousness.

Stunned, disbelieving silence saturated not only the Sindareen bridge, but every Federation ship that witnessed the barbaric act. Will was beside himself as he watched with tears streaming from his eyes as his beloved, his Imzadi slide to the floor under the force of his fist, unable to tear his eyes away from her pitiful, crumpled figure upon the steel floor of the the Sindareen ship.

Deanna. Oh, God, my poor Deanna! he silently cried.

After along moment, Maror's voice impinged on Will's brain and he tore his eyes away from Deanna and stared instead at the piece of scum that stood grinning at him. "You going to come and get your woman, Federation man? he sneered, "Or shall I keep her for myself? She's a feisty young thing, but I think I can handle her." He suddenly laughed as though he suddenly had an amusing thought., "I think she might even like it after a while."

Raucous laughter trickled throughout the Sindareen bridge crew, and even Will, his initial shock wearing off to deal with the matter at hand, suddenly realized that the ball game had changed.

They had come here with war in mind, but had hoped that with with a united show of Federation craft, that maybe, just maybe, the Sindareen would back down. But not now, not after seeing what the Sindareen raider had done to Deanna, Will had no intention of letting him live, and if that meant wiping out the entire Sindareen race just to get at him, then so be it.

Taking a deep, shuddering breath, Will's face split into a grin laced with an equal amount of malice. His voice, now free of the choking tears that he had already spilt as he'd watched him beat Deanna, spat, "Over my dead body, you bastard."

Maror laughed, "That's the plan. You want her?" he asked maliciously, "Then come and get her." he dared.

But before Will could utter another word, Bobby Tiller suddenly said, with absolute terror in his voice, "Enemy force coming in, Sir. It''s the Klingon's."

Sucking in a shaky breath, Will's fingers gripped the back of Tiller's seat, his finger tips turning white with tension. "What the...? Where?" he barked.

The air in the ship disappeared with their breath as he answered, glancing up into Will's deathly pale face. "Behind the Sindareen force, Sir."

Will began to tremble. It was one thing to go into war with the Sindareen, but it was entirely a different matter to fight against the Sindareen AND possibly the nastiest, most vicious race known to the Federation, and the rest of the civilized worlds. He only had one choice.

"Prepare to retreat." he said, the fight quickly leaving him, his heart suddenly turning frozen at what he had to do.

Bobby Tiller's fingers stilled as his leader's words sunk in, and he turned his eyes to his his once more. "Sir?" he asked with surprise. "What about...?"

Will cut him off, unable to hear him utter Deanna's name as he prepared to let her go, and the others, this time for good. "They've won," he said sadly. "We can't fight them both." Slipping back into his seat he punched the control panel before him, ignoring the frantic buzz of activity upon the Sindareen ship. "Spread the word. We're returning to Betazed."

And with one last long sorrowful look at the woman he loved still lying unconscious on the cold metallic floor, Will silently whispered, his heart breaking with his decision, Goodbye, Imzadi

Chapter thirty seven

Don't go, Will, don't go! They're on our side. They're here to help us

As Will and Bobby Tiller prepared to turn the ship and the entire fleet about, a voice filtered through the fog of anguish that lashed at Will from all sides, his very soul torn in two at what he believed he had to do to save everything and everybody, except the one person who meant more than all of them put together. Deanna. His love. His Imzadi.

Don't go, please

There was no mistaking it this time. It was Deanna whispering through his senses like a tidal wave of welcoming water, leaving him trembling with relief at hearing her soft, melodic voice before making his heart soar for a moment, just to know that she was alive and lucid, and even though he had all but turned away to leave her to die, she hadn't blamed him, she hadn't spurned his torn heart.

But surely Will hadn't heard her right. He couldn't have. The Klingons, on their side? Never, not in a million years. The Federation had been locked in battle with the Klingon Empire ever since the very beginning. The Klingon's were the very reason that the Federation came to be.

And then another voice sifted through his befuddled mind. Believe her, Will. Do not turn back. Stand your ground. I haven't gone to all this trouble for nothing, so don't let me down, Lieutenant

Lwaxana Troi? How in hell's name did she manage to send him a message all the way from Betazed? he wondered with astonishment.

He swiftly got his answer. Silly man. Did you really think I would stay behind and miss all this fun? laughter alighting her tease at his confusion.

Slowly, very slowly, like the sun rising above the horizon, his surprise only managed to rise a touch before anger tinged his joy and Will felt the blood begin to boil within his body. So she thought this was a joke? The entire universe was about to go to war and she thought it was funny!

But even so, he found himself saying something he'd never thought he'd utter to the man beside him, who sat patiently, awaiting his order to move off, his voice tipped with a longing that he thought had died. He may not have been particularly enamoured towards Mrs. Troi, particularly when it concerned her daughter, but never-the-less, there were some things that she was good at and negotiating was one of them.

"Hold on, Bob, it seems like we've got God on our side today."

Bobby Tiller visibly balked. "What!?" he choked, his fingers pausing midway to the reverse button.

Will's eyes caught his, amusement brightening up the once troubled blue orbs into pools of mischief, "Sorry, I meant to say Lwaxana Troi, but sometimes I do wonder." he smirked.

I heard that, Mr. Riker

And then it all went wrong as shouts reverberated throughout the comm systems on board the Federation ships. Deanna's scream sent a shockwave of alarm through each and every one who heard her.

God, Will, he's going to kill you all! Don't let him do that to you just because of us, please!

But it was her mother that hushed her terrified daughter, her harsh words splashing on her fear , instantly defusing the terrors that ran amok in her heart. Oh, shush, Little one, you don't think I turned up with just my friend Martok, do you? How little you know me, daughter, dear. What do you think I do when I put my best ambassador hat on. Sit knitting booties for that grandchild that you will one day undoubtably give me between the two of you?

Her high pitched laughter rattled right through Will's head and he wondered in that brief instant if the woman had gone insane once the flare of longing of her vivid imagination zipped through him. Lwaxana Troi certainly had the knack of punching him just where she knew it would hurt him most, and just because her fantasy was one that was tucked away within his own private hopes and dreams, didn't make it any easier. The woman was a witch.

Too late, she'd caught him out again, but this time, instead of answering him silently, her voice came over the comm unit, loud and clear, creating a wave of stunned disbelief as hearing her speak. "I am NOT a witch, nor am I insane!" she said haughtily. "If you'd care to move your eyes to your long range scanners, Lieutenant, you'll find we're about to have a few more visitors."

Both Will and Bobby, and the rest of the waiting Federation ships pulled their eyes away from the growing carpet of ships ahead and automatically dropped their eyes to the instrument panels before them and watched in shocked awe as a flotilla of ships, still some way off, approached them from behind. Will heard Bobby swallow noisily, and when he recognized just what was heading their way, he could only do the same.

"Vulcans!" they chorused together.

Oh, yes Mrs Troi crowed, The Vulcans are very good friends of mine, and were more than happy to lend a helping hand." And then shed dropped the bombshell. Of course, I had to offer them an alliance with the Federation... She said, matter-of-factly, not even wincing at the somewhat expected outburst that almost shattered her eardrums.

"What!?" Bellowed Will. "You've done what!?"

Exhaling dramatically, she repeated her news. I promised them an alliance with the Federation. And the Klingons too. She added for good measure. They're really friendly when you get to know them, you know? I did toy briefly with asking the Cardassians, but I'm really not fond of them. To...Neanderthal and barbaric for my liking

One could imagine the grimace of distaste that etched her classical features with her enlightening insight into the Cardassian race. One also wondered why she didn't include the Klingons in the same vein, after all they practically were Neanderthal.

For a brief moment, Will thought that he was going to feint. God, what on earth was Starfleet going to say? The Cardassians!? The Vulcans!? The KLINGONS!? Will groaned, his eyes closing to try and shut out the scenario that was sure to come about when he got back home to face his superiors. He was destroyed, for good. His life as an aspiring Starfleet officer was over. Finished, annihilated by a meddling, mad woman. He'd never live it down. Never.

But even so, despite all her interfering, and once the momentary shock had subsided, Will was quick to realize that with the Vulcans, and the Klingons on their side, they at least now had a chance. They could show a united force and beat the Sindareen just by the show of numbers.

Squaring his shoulders, Will stared determinedly at the screen before him, took a deep breath and said to Bob, "Hail the Sindareen ship. The negotiations are over. It's time to get our people back."

Bobby grinned, his voice lifting with glee. "Aye aye, Sir."

Chapter thirty eight

It was over. It was done. The Sindareen, faced with three massive fleets against them, had had no option but to allow their hostages to be transported back to their own kind, and then have to face the indignity of being escorted out of Federation space, with their tails tucked firmly between their legs, lucky to have escaped with only a severe warning. This time.

Lieutenant William Riker and the rest of his command returned back to Betazed, coming to land with, it seemed, a welcome fit only for royalty. As soon as the ships touched down, a massive swarm of people descended on them as they stepped out of the hatches, each and everyone of the Betazed people either wanting to vigorously shake their hands with gratitude, their tearful words unable to convey their feelings, or kiss them, sweeping them into their embrace, silence saying much more than words ever could.

Taller than most, Will could only soak up their indebtedness, reddening right down to his toes for, what he considered, to be simply doing his job. As he began to search out with a mixture of fevered urgency and longing above the tops of the heads of the very people he had helped to save, to try and spot the only person that he wanted to see right then. It seemed to be an age of tortured waiting, of thumping heart, and dreaded fear if what the Sindareen had put her through, until finally, he saw her.

Will spotted the wild mane of ebony hair, and even before physically seeing her, he'd felt her presence, allowed it to quench his soul's thirst, and knew that she was almost within his field of vision. Almost there with him. Among the frenzied hustle and bustle of disembarkation, and the band of security people forcing themselves through the fray holding a makeshift stretcher, he reached out to her with an invisible touch of comfort, and without seeing her with his own eyes, Will captured her relief and worry as she clung to the hand of the stretcher's occupant as she walked along side it.

Will swallowed his disappointment along with the minuscule flare of mistrust that whoever she was escorting, clearly needed her more than he. He didn't care about that, having thrown his entire quota of trust at this one woman and he trusted her implicitly, so jealousy didn't even enter his mind other than that of his own selfishness to have her holding onto him. He needed her, just for a moment, just for a second, just to satisfy his heart, his soul, that she was back and she was safe.

Just one second.

Just one second. Look at me, Imzadi. See me, he pleaded silently.

As his eyes followed her his breath caught, the silent pleading for Deanna to stop finally filtered through the chaos that surrounded her and her feet slowly came to a halt. In slow motion, she turned and her eyes found his across the colourful forest of heads, unable to anything more than look, and feel. Deanna simply soaked up the very sight of him, felt the warmth of his love flow into her frozen, hurting body and replenish her heart. Her huge eyes swam with tears in her pale and dirty face as fatigue, sorrow and fear poured from her soul. Will felt each emotion batter her mind as she battled against falling apart before him.

And then she was gone, cocooned within a blanket that suddenly appeared upon her shoulders and then led away with the other rescued hostages, and Will's heart ached as he realized that he was going to have to wait a while before he could get to see Deanna again and wipe away the terrors that he knew from experience, would come and claim her later, and he hoped, above all else that he would be there to help her through.

Chapter thirty nine

Later, after giving his somewhat lengthy and totally bizarre report to his superiors, Will made his way back to his quarters, took a very long and theraputive shower, donned his favourite navy pants and a comfortable, soft sky-blue sweat-top, acutely aware that the colour matched his eyes, which were alive with excitement. He was going to see Deanna.

Winding his way to the Troi mansion with a noticeable bounce in his step, he arrived barely fifteen minutes later and hopped up onto the porch step with a lightness that came with the taste of freedom and, he realized, much more, but when he came to a stop before the massive door he found himself overcome with a sense of deja vu again and he felt the sunlight fade from his dreams.

How many more times was he going to find himself here - right here, feeling foolish, nervous and extremely wary? Feelings he'd experienced because of Deanna's mother. He couldn't even describe how he felt about seeing Deanna's face once more. The nearest he'd gotten to verbalising it with a word, was love. He loved her face. Her body. Her voice, and the weirdest of all was her mind.

How could he love a mind? he wondered, the amusing thought created a chuckle and catapulted him back up into the sunlight again, the goofy smile reappearing upon his face once more, the movement managing to chase away the doubts that clouded his mind. As he raised his knuckle and knocked he decided he didn't care anymore. He was past caring. He loved Deanna, and she loved him.

He stepped back and waited. Slipping his nervous hands behind his back, his fingers linking to hide the tremors, Will suddenly became overcome with something that he didn't want to feel. It hit him so quickly that he staggered backwards, the force moving his feet down onto a lower step. Negativity swamped his senses as an avalanche of fear swept through his befuddled mind and gasping for breath, Will struggled up through the invading darkness to keep himself focused. To keep Deanna with him.

He wasn't going to lose her, not now. Not after all that had happened. Not after his goofy moment of mushiness. He needed it back. He needed his soul in happy mode to get him through the coming hours, because he now had a hunch, a trickling down his spine that even though he wanted to howl from the rooftops with happiness, the woman the other side of the door was not going to be in the same frame of mind.

And as soon as the sour thought invaded his head, Will felt it again. Fear. Deep, mind-blowing fear and Will didn't know why the emotion saturated his entire being from head right through to his soul. At last he heard footsteps approaching on the other side of the solid door. A moment later, the handle turned and he found himself staring up into Lwaxana's face. He tried to gauge her mood, and failed. As much as she was a master of negotiating, she was also a dab hand at hiding her feelings from those she didn't wish to reveal them to, and Will knew, that he was one of them.

"Hello, William. Please, come in." she said, her voice level, without a hint of welcoming.

But Will stayed where he was, his feet refusing to take the step that would bring him closer to news that he didn't want to hear. He'd rather hear it there, on the doorstep, so that he could turn and walk away without too much fuss.

His heart began to pound in his chest and he felt himself begin to go cold with dread. But even so, he managed to keep his voice even as he spoke, his eyes holding hers as he reached out for truth. "Deanna doesn't want to see me, does she?"

It was then that Lwaxana sighed and let her true feelings show, just in the one tiny movement of her eyes, the even tinier shake of her head. "I'm sorry, she doesn't want to see anyone right now." she said quietly and apologetically.

But Will didn't buy it, not for a minute. "No, Mrs. Troi." he muttered with clenched teeth. "Deanna doesn't want to see me. and I'd like to know why, please." anxiety slipping into sizzling annoyance.

"I can't tell you that, William. Maybe it would be best if you left her alone, just for today. She has had a very traumatic time." The excuse sounded lame even to Lwaxana's ears, but to Will, it sounded pathetic, and he wasn't accepting it. He figured it was time to make a stand. He had reached the end of his very tight tether, and only one person could defuse the ticking time-bomb inside of him. Will desperately needed to be close to the one person that would make him feel human again. Whole. Wanted.

Before he'd even taken a step to enter the door, Lwaxana had second guessed his motive and moved to stand in his way, her dainty palm raising to stop his entrance. "Now, William, you cannot come in here and upset my daughter further. I know you, and I know what you are capable of." But even as she said it with as much bravado that she could muster, she realized that the man before her was coming in, one way or the other.

And he did. His eyes turned glassy blue as he boldly stepped up to the hand that still sat suspended in mid air in a futile attempt to halt the giant man's approach, Will moved close enough to allow it to rest lightly upon his massive chest, and then, with a determined grin inching across his face he simply raised his hands to her arms, plunked one very sound kiss upon her startled lips and gently moved her aside, and there wasn't an ounce of resistance from the stunned woman.

Stepping around her and releasing her arms, he said with artificial amusement, "Excuse me, Mrs. Troi. Today I went into space more than ready to give my life to save your your daughter. Now, I'm going upstairs to see Deanna, whether she likes it or not, and whether you like it or not." He hesitated, turning his head back towards her, a wicked grin erupting upon his handsome face. "I may be some time." he added, daring her to deny him.

A spark of pride lit up her eyes as she watched him continue up the stairs. Now that's a man she mused to herself, and then sighed, amusement replacing the longing. Sheesh, how can I be so jealous of my own daughter! It's definitely time I got myself married again!

Chapter forty

Firmly, without ceremony, and without knocking, Will turned the handle of Deanna's bedroom door and opened it. He didn't see the point of being polite; She knew he was coming, he was sure of that, and empathy had nothing to do with it. Pure common sense would have told her that he would come to her. Need would have told her that he would come to her, tonight. Destiny foretold that he would come to her. He had to. He couldn't not.

As quietly as he entered, Will closed the door behind him, his eyes taking in every detail of the room, including the fact that she didn't appear to be in it. Even though he couldn't physically see her, Will sensed her presence, felt her presence, and smelt it in the faint flowery scent that lingered around him, along with the haphazard array of clothing strewn upon her bed.

Will slowly stepped towards her bathroom, drawn by the heat from her recent shower as it permeated through the slightly open door, and he didn't even hesitate as he took in a deep breath and drank in the clean erotic aroma. His eyes drifted shut as the image of the woman he longed to see swam before him. Deanna slowly came towards him with a large fluffy towel draped demurely around her slender body. He lost himself in the welcoming smile upon her face, and then melted as he watched the smile turn wanton as her hands drifted up to the tight knot...

But it all vanished as quickly as it came like a bubble bursting as the breeze from the window whipped in and broke his dreaming, stopping the wayward thoughts in their tracks as he felt the cool touch of the evening's chill brush his skin. Will very quickly realised that Deanna's shower was even more recent than his original assumption, the draft from the window not yet reaching the bathroom's steamy interior sufficiently enough to cool it down.

So where the hell are you, you crazy female? he mused, perplexed, the whoosh of air leaving his lungs as disappointment set in that the urge to see him wasn't as strong as his urge to see Deanna. And he wanted to. Oh, God, he wanted to, so much. So much so that his heart ached as he stood in the middle of her dainty, feminine bedroom, suddenly and completely alone, confused and hurt.

And then he heard it. He heard her. Well, not exactly her, but as soon as it he heard it, he realised that he'd found what he was looking for. It wasn't much, but as soon as he heard it, the penny dropped and he couldn't stop the knowing grin from erupting upon his face, and with four silent steps, he moved furtively towards the window.

Looking down, his breath caught in his throat as he watched the top of Deanna's head as she attempted to find her footing upon the lattice work that sporadically encased the outer walls. The same lattice that he had scaled himself not so long ago to get to her. The only difference was that he was a whole one foot taller than the petite woman that was struggling to place her foot somewhere safe, and she was failing, making Will's heart stop with alarm.

Leaning through the window, Will stooped low and held out his hand, dangling it just in front of her face. At first, so intent with keeping herself from falling, Deanna didn't notice the proffered hand, but when she did, she didn't have to look up to know who it belonged to. Will Riker had distinctive hands. Huge hands. Hands that she had watched take her to heaven. Hands that were as familiar to her body as well as her own now. Hands that were offering her a life-line. Hands that would inevitably put her right back where she'd started; Back within the cradle of his arms.

The breath that Deanna had been holding in fear now left her lungs in defeat, and rising wary eyes, Deanna met his. She was convinced that she would see anger, or contempt. But all she saw was a compassion that she felt she didn't deserve. Shame slipped into her conscience briefly too when it dawned on her that what she was doing to him was nothing short of torture, and he Will did not deserve that.

But she couldn't seem to help it. The man frightened her to death. The one man that she should have been feeling totally at home with, comfortable enough to spend the rest of her life with, love, bombarded her very soul with terror, and every time that she knew she was going to come face to face with Will, she found herself frantic with the need to get away from him.

And she was more than aware that he recognized that, and that hurt her even more.

Time ticked by second by painful second, and for a long moment, Will didn't think Deanna was going to take his hand so that he could haul her back into the bedroom, and more importantly, back to safety. And for an even longer moment they simply looked at each other. Will could only watch as the demons within her battled against her, and with what he was sure he was trying to silently tell her; that he cared. That he wasn't going to go away, and that above all else, he loved her.

And then the world started revolving again as finally, Deanna's hand reached out to his and he firmly folded his long fingers around her shorter ones. Will gently pulled her up towards him and when he was sure that her feet were firmly planted back upon the concrete ledge that surrounded the entire house, putting her head just about within reaching distance of his, Will halted his rescue, holding her close to the wall so that she didn't fall back.

Startled when Will stopped, Deanna clung onto the window's edge for dear life, even though the man that held on to her showed no sign of letting her go. Puzzled, she turned her face to his and met his eyes square on. Barely a heartbeat stood between them; so close, so, so close, and yet an abyss sat between them, for her part. For his it was merely a puddle, a puddle that was easily breached.

Mesmerized, Deanna could only watch as Will slowly moved his face closer to hers. He was going to kiss her, she was sure of that, and she felt her body, her mind and her will surrender to the inevitable, suddenly aching for the contact, desperate to rejoin their souls, even if it was only for a moment.

She felt his breath caress her skin, and memories whispered through her senses of another time, another moment when Will had come close to her, close enough to illicit the same feelings that she was feeling now, and her heart cried out for him to kiss her. Her eyes fluttered shut as she breathlessly waited, but as the seconds passed by, Deanna's eyes slowly drifted open, puzzlement pouring from their inky depths as she once more met his.

Hunger rode through his senses and Will wanted nothing more than to give into what he wanted, as well as the woman before him. But he couldn't, not yet. Not until he'd tried, yet again to settle Deanna's very unsettled feelings. He knew he could wash each and every one of them away simply by sweeping her into his arms and making love to her. If it had been any other woman, that would have been how he would have dealt with the situation.

But this wasn't just any other woman. This was Deanna. This was a his future and he wasn't going to blow it, not again. Raising his palm, Will gently settled it against her jaw, looked deep into her eyes and whispered huskily, "Please stop running away from me, Deanna. I'm not going to hurt you, I promise."

Unable any longer to resist the pull of his lips, Deanna closed her eyes and slowly lay her mouth against his, feeling her entire being melt with the rightness of the motion, but barely a second later, Will pulled his mouth away, back to its original, and tormenting position, and Deanna felt the loss right down to the pit of her stomach.

Lifting her heavy eyes to meet his, Deanna drowned in what she saw. Raw need, but not an amorous need, although it was there, deep within his body. The need she saw went much further and deeper than that. It was their Imzadi bond, she was more than aware that, the one thing that she found herself constantly fighting against, even though it had been the most beautiful thing she had ever experienced in her entire life.

Even though the man before her was her destiny, in every sense of the word, but it was a destiny destined to encase the rest of her life with pain, and Deanna didn't she could take that amount of agony. She'd witnessed enough of it with her parents. Her father had undoubtably promised the same things to her mother, but it hadn't made the slightest bit of difference to their lives. He had still died, and she still nursed a broken heart - not so anyone would notice.

But Deanna knew. Time and time again, she'd heard her mother in the dead of night, crying as though her heart was breaking all over again. She'd heard her talking to him in her sleep. She'd heard her moans as she'd called upon precious Imzadi moments that allowed a man and woman to relive intimate unions, just as she had shown Will in the Arboretum. And each and every time, it had torn Deanna's heart apart, reinforcing her decision to never put herself in the same position.

But she had. She'd already done it, with the man that watched her intently for her decision. A decision that destiny had already taken away from her, and she was still pissed off about it. Big time. She'd felt that her life had been snatched away from her.

But she was going to have one last go at getting it back. Decision made.

"Don't make promises you can't keep, Will." She muttered as she began to clamour through the window, with or without his help.

After the initial thoughts of strangling her evaporated, Will helped Deanna climb back in through the window, but as soon as she hit solid ground again, she wrenched herself out of his arms, bitterness raging through her at a hundred miles an hour.

Will went to reach for her again, but she evaded his hands. "Don't, Will," she spat, anguish and tears filling her words. "Don't touch me. I couldn't stand it right now."

But she hadn't figured on the tenacity of William Riker when he'd set his mind, and his heart on something, and before she realised his intent, Will had reached out for her arms and held her within a steely grip that dared her to turn and run.

He was angry now, angrier than he'd been for a long time. "Oh, no, you don't, Princess, you're not going to do this to me again, not after everything I've gone through because of you. Don't you think you owe me something, Deanna?" he cried. "I almost died out there for you. Doesn't that say enough for you? Isn't that enough for you, Deanna!?"

The tears rose from where they were waiting and pooled in her eyes, her anger dissipating in a shower of self-loathing and fear, fear of losing the man before her forever because of her inability to hold back her soul. She'd tried, so hard to not become Imzadi, because of feeling the way she felt right then, and for instances like what had happened out in space earlier when she had almost lost him.

The ache of losing him almost killed her, and just didn't think she was ready to take on that kind of responsible, that amount of loss because she knew that becoming Imzadi, becoming one meant that the pain of losing him became ten-fold. Unbearable. Undescribable.

Choking back on a sob, Deanna looked up into the face of the only man she knew she would ever love, and cried, "Yes! yes! But don't you understand, Will? I don't want you to die for me! I don't want to have to sit here and wait for you, wondering if you're all right. I don't want to hurt like I hurt right now. Can't you understand that!?"

Dropping his hands to his sides, failure surged through Will's body like a draining plug-hole. As he stood staring at the woman who he, up to now had been sure he'd be spending the rest of his life with, pain ripping through his soul as he sadly looked down at her. He was hardly audible when he spoke, his eyes glistening with the force of his words. "But I didn't die, Deanna. I didn't die. I'm right here."

Torn from her soul, the tears that Deanna battled to hold back, sprang free as the truth of his heart-felt declaration fell from his mouth. Unable to hold herself away from him any longer, Deanna drifted into Will's arms and snaked her own around his waist. The anguish that racked her body echoed in her thoughts that were now clearly defined upon her tear stained face as she rose it to his.

"This time, Will," she said brokenly. "How many times will you put me through this torture just so that we can stay together?" she asked.

Will couldn't hold her gaze as the truth in her words penetrated the misery that cascaded through him. She was right, he knew. She was so very right. But this was life; the biggest gamble in the whole universe, and if he'd learned anything in his short life, it was that he was a pretty good game player, and he wasn't throwing his hand in just yet. But that wasn't what Deanna wanted to hear.

So he lowered his mouth to hers instead, pulling her tight against his body so that he could soak up her heat; feel that she was real, and alive, and that what he was holding in his arms was not the dream that had consumed him for the past two days.

What in God's name would he do without her if he walked away from her now? He couldn't do it. He simply could not do it.

But he was going to have to.

But not now. Not tonight

Chapter forty one

Still entwined, neither spoke as they clung to each other, feeling each others hearts pound together in unity. They trembled like leaves in a breeze until the sweet, healing kiss ended, but for each of them, the tremble was for different reasons.

Even though Deanna had decided that the tenuous relationship between them needed to end, because she knew, deep down in her soul that only heart-break lay ahead for her, putting herself back into Will's arms and kissing him as they clung onto the Imzadi bond that shackled them with invisible chains, shredded every cognizant denial that entered her being. Will was to be forever a part of her, a part that became renewed and reborn each and every time she saw him, or touched him, and, God help her, loved him.

It was only when he wasn't close enough to touch that the demons came and took over, ripping him away from her soul, leaving her mindless with grief. And when logic and sanity penetrated the love that she felt cascade through her whenever Will was thinking about her, it scared her senseless. Scared her into doing the ridiculous things that she was doing, just to avoid him. Just to avoid the cataclysmic agony that stabbed at her heart incessantly.

That was until she stepped into his arms and it all vanished. If only you could stay here with me, Imzadi. If only you were truly mine she whispered silently, uncaring if her heard her or not, her small hands sliding up his back, pulling his heart nearer to her ear so that she could listen to the heavy beat, taking comfort in its unsteadiness, knowing that inside, he was suffering as much as she.

Sighing heavily, Will pulled her deeper into his embrace as he absorbed her silent words, resting his suddenly tired head upon hers as the wave of apathy flooded through him along with her words. Words that he didn't want to hear, or acknowledge.

She wanted him to stay; to give up Starfleet and remain here with her on Betazed. But he couldn't do that, even though his heart and his head were screaming at him to give in and become what destiny had recently bestowed upon him.

Imzadi. Such a powerful word and an even more powerful sensation, one that he could not ignore, even if he wanted to. Holding Deanna in his arms, greedily soaking up her love was testament to the strength of the bond. He felt it wrap itself around them both and tie them together, and equally, possibly even more so, he felt it when they were apart, but then it left him feeling torn, bereft and empty.

But, he reasoned, he would feel empty even without the bond. He loved this woman, with every fibre of his soul, and when he left Betazed, it was going to be the hardest thing he'd ever do. But, he was more than aware that leaving Deanna was going to leave a void in his life that he had no concept of dealing with. He didn't even know where to start.

But he was going to have to.

But not yet. Not tonight.

The resounding clunk of a door closing brought the couple apart with a puzzled frown. Dropping his arms down, Will linked his fingers with Deanna's and moved nearer to the window so that he could see the street below. Deanna followed his line of sight, her eyes settling on the retreating back of her mother and her trusted valet, Homn.

Fully aware that she'd been spotted, Lwaxana glanced over her shoulder, throwing a wave and a smile their way. Her noisy exit had been deliberate and she thought, very necessary. No one was more conscious of the decisions being made between her daughter and the man that she had chosen than she was. Destiny had to choose it's road, one way or the other, and she was going to help in any way that she could. Leaving them in peace seemed a good place to start, not that she thought that the young Starfleet officer would be bothered about her hearing things that were not for a mother's ears, or mind.

I'm going to the hospital to visit, Jeb, my dears. I may be some time she added glibly, her eyes lighting up with mischief before continuing on her way, the swish of her dress fading along with her footsteps, leaving Will and Deanna staring after her, bemusement and awareness taking over from where sorrow left off until she turned the corner, out of sight, and now completely out of mind. Will took a deep breath and steeled himself to face the woman beside him, knowing that things were about to take a different corner.

Shyly, their eyes met briefly, longing and doubt swam in their depths, creating a silent moment that neither seemed able to fill. Breaking their linked hands, Deanna found herself wandering aimlessly away from Will, moving cautiously and slowly as she endeavoured to fight against the magnetism that constantly hauled her towards him.

They were going to make love, of that she was sure. Her body and soul vibrated with the knowledge that they were going to be joined, in every nuance of the word once more. It was just a matter of when they would both give up the fight and succumb to her mother's more than blatant suggestion.

If only life was that simple.

Sighing, Deanna slowly sat down upon the small chair in front of her dressing table, her gaze never leaving the man opposite, who, after a moment, followed suit and sat himself down, upon her bed. It was the only logical place for him to sit and he did so with some reluctance. Not because it was her bed, and it was pink and frilly and he felt incredibly silly, but because he simply wanted her on it with him, doing the natural thing that lovers do on it, frills and all.

Deanna watched Will, ignoring his unease as she tried to find the words to break the uncomfortable silence. She took a deep, unsteady breath as she boldly faced Will and finally spoke. "You shouldn't have come."

Her decidedly brave but stupid words released the stiffness that kept Will's body rigid, inwardly smiling as he realized that she was going to keep up the futile fight. He liked fighting with her. It meant the making-up would require very ounce of his masculine skills to subdue whatever it was that kept her coming back for more.

Most of the time. There had been a couple of occasions when her arguing had torn him to pieces as he battled against her, leaving him mentally battered and bleeding. But not this time. This time he welcomed the argument because he'd been given Lwaxana's blessing to prove himself, and he wasn't going to waste the opportunity, even though it would probably be his last encounter with her daughter.

He took and even deeper breath than she. "Yes I should have. We're not finished yet, Deanna. You can't push me away this time." he said, with conviction.

Deanna swallowed, her dark eyes rising to meet his in defiance. "I will not let you destroy my life any further, Will. I don't want to see you anymore."

Will smiled, but the smile didn't quite reach his eyes. "Too bad. I'm not going anywhere until we resolve this." he promised.

Deanna blinked, fear creeping up her spine. "Resolve what?" she asked, bewildered, her slender shoulders rising. "You are destined for the stars, I am beholden to my planet, my people. One day, I will become an ambassador like my mother. I belong here, Will, and you will not stay with me."

Will stood and made his way slowly towards her. "You haven't actually asked me what my plans are, Deanna. You're being a little presumptuous about my future, aren't you?" he asked, reaching her chair and spreading his hands upon it's back so that he could look down onto her face.

Courage filled her again as she searched his azure eyes which now glittered with malice. "No," she told him. "You're a Starfleet officer. You would not have joined if your intention was to remain on land." Here with me she silently added.

"But things have changed, haven't they, Deanna?" he asked. "I made love to you and you changed my entire existence. I'm still not sure if I should be pissed about it or overjoyed." He pushed himself away from her, disgust and despair surging through him as he fought against the frustration that consumed him and her pull, a pull that seemed to constantly be there. He moved across to the window and stared unseeing out at the street below, trying to make sense of it all, and failing. When he spoke again, his heart hurt with the all the confusing chaos that it was trying to decipher. He gave up on that quickly too. "Frankly, lady, I don't know whether I'm coming or going, and I don't like the feeling."

His words hurt them both because they were each torn with the same excruciating dilemma, and for a long moment, Deanna couldn't answer him, simply because she didn't know what to say. But her silence unnerved Will; made him feel lost, desperate even, because he was conscious that silence usually meant the answer would not be the one he wanted to hear.

He spun on his heels, his palm reaching towards her, beseechingly. "Deanna." He paused, hesitant to ask the obvious. "Imzadi, what are we going to do about us?"

Deanna held the breath that caught in her throat when Will spoke the one word that meant more than live itself to her. "What do you want to do, Will?"

His answering anger made Deanna jump even though, deep down, she expected nothing less. She couldn't help it, it was the Betazoid within her; analysing, soothing, questioning. But Will's response quickly told her that this wasn't somebody else's life she was trying to aid, it was her own, and Will's.

"Damn it, Deanna, don't do that!" He roared, sorrow forcing his voice to crack under the strain of keeping himself from losing it all together. "Don't keep treating me like one of your cases. I deserve more than that. I deserve an answer, Dee. An honest answer."

The fire in his words left as quickly as they came and Will dropped to his knees onto the floor before her and took her icy fingers within his warmer ones, his eyes reaching into her heart for an answer for their desperate situation.

But she couldn't give him what he sought. "Will," she wept with the wretchedness that they both felt, her face twisted and tortured with indecision. "I don't know. I just don't know."

Will couldn't take anymore. It was over and done with with. They'd reached stalemate. Neither wanted to let go of something that they both realized was beyond their ability and comprehension. They simply were not ready to give every inch of their hearts, bodies and souls, and their separate lives to become what Imzadi required them to be.


Nor were they prepared just walk away from each other without, something. And that something was there, now, right between them, waiting. Will answered the plea by pulling Deanna from her chair and up into his arms, holding her tight against his chest as he carryied her the few steps to the bed.

As he lay her down amongst the tumbled array of bedding and clothes, all got discounted as Deanna laced her arms around his neck, pulling him down with her, settling her mouth upon his as her head touched the soft pillow, their tongues snaking out to caress each others in a blatant and evocative movement that spoke volumes.

Gently, Will gathered her within his arms and kissed her as deeply as he could, stealing her breath away to keep it for his own, for another time, another place. For tomorrow, when he left Betazed, and Deanna, his Imzadi, for good.

The tears began to flow as they tenderly, reverently began to divest each other of their clothing. It was done in silence, a silence that was as accepted as the decision that had mutually passed between them as Will had picked Deanna up to carry her to the bed. To their last intimate bonding before he left.

To their final unspeakable goodbye.

Chapter forty two

The sunset's shadows crept across the naked couple, heating their skin as it said good night to the day, but neither Will or Deanna noticed as they lay upon the bed. The only sound to be heard was the seductive rustle of linen as slow, exploring fingers swept along each others bodies and the heady, desperate strangulated gasps of longing as they kissed. Unable to stop them, Deanna's tears trailed down her temple, through her hair to leave an ever growing damp patch upon her pillow but neither acknowledged them. Neither wanted to.

Will lay nestled between her thighs, his thick length nestled against her, comfortable to be there as though it belonged and had done for many years, the small movements along her heated and damp softness, delicious and totally torturous, familiar and wanted. The desire to plunge himself deep into her body consumed everything but his mind, but his heart refused to give in to the physical need. He was going to take it slow, even if it killed him, despite Deanna's futile attempts otherwise.

Eventually, Deanna began to squirm against him, trying frantically to move just so, so that Will would slip inside her, but he wasn't having any of it and evaded her every effort until, with a groan of agony, he tore his mouth from hers and captured her head within the palm of his hands and searched her face, pleading for mercy.

"Sweetheart," he moaned, "Baby, stop. I'm trying to go slow but you're making it impossible for me." But even as he said it, he couldn't stop himself from gyrating gently against her welcoming body.

But she was a novice, and right at that moment, Will was relieved that she was. A more experienced woman would have known how to manipulate him into getting what she wanted. A more experienced woman wouldn't be laying there with tears streaming from her eyes, the dark, glistening orbs begging him to make love to her. She would have flipped him over and impaled herself upon him. She would have reached in between their bodies and guided him into her. She would have...

In a heartbeat Will found himself flat on his back, the air leaving his lungs on a whoosh with the surprise and ferocity of her sudden and aggressive manoeuvre. Even though her eyes still shone with spent, and unspent tears, Deanna had that determined, 'I'm in control now, buster' upon her face.

Will stared at her, shocked at her boldness, his eyes widening even more as she shimmied her lower body down his stomach, her moist heat burning a trail all the way down to his burgeoning and waiting hardness and he couldn't stop himself from dropping his hands to her hips and guiding her to him, her dampness re-lubricating him, preparing him for that final union.

Dropping her palms to his hair-roughened chest, Deanna spread her fingers wide, balancing herself above him, tormenting him with her body, enticing him with her eyes and her smile. "So you think I'm not experienced, Lieutenant Riker, hmm?" she drawled, her voice husky with the tears that still threatened to fall. "You think that just because you've only made love to me twice that I know nothing about the act of having sex?"

Will inwardly groaned, realizing in an instant that the witch had invaded his mind. "That's not fair, Deanna. You have the advantage" But his choice of words had a strange effect on him and he found himself growing still, his hands, his body, even his heartbeat for a moment.

Deanna grew still along with him, watching his face with dismay at her untimely admission, mentally berating herself for using her gift to better the man beneath her, a gift that was scorned amongst her own kind.

"I don't think I like you invading my mind, Deanna. It kind of makes a relationship pointless, doesn't it?" he asked sadly, feeling his body and ardour cool considerably. He shifted her from his lap and sat up, swinging his legs over the edge leaving her kneeling behind him. He felt her slump onto her heels, her sorrow sweeping over him in a wave that crashed against his own feeling of loss.

"I'm sorry," she murmured, and Will's shoulders drooped along with his futile attempt to argue against her. Time was too short, for them both, but he wasn't going to let up, not yet. He liked it when they sparked together, and they were both itching to re-ignite. But it still stung.

Surrendering to the inevitable, Will sighed as she shifted towards him and wilted when her hands settled upon his shoulders. He dug his fingers into the mattress' edge, shifting his frustration and longing into the bed's softness rather than aim it at Deanna.

"Then why did you do it?" he growled quietly, his attempt at inflicting some annoyance into his voice failing as she dug her fingers into the a tight knot between his shoulder blades that he hadn't even noticed was there. "Do you have any idea how it makes me feel knowing that whatever I'm thinking about, or who I'm thinking about, you know about it, intimately? It's trespassing on my privacy, Deanna. It's not fair."

But Will melted even more when he felt Deanna's mouth touch the top of his spine, her moist lips leaving behind an imprint that cooled as soon as her mouth left his skin, "I said, I'm sorry, Will." her voice grew husky and slightly sulky, but it only lasted for a second or two. Will felt a different shift in her and he stiffened in anticipation as he felt her breath against his nape as she trailed her tongue along it's length.

"Do you want to see what I'm thinking about?" she asked innocently, but the words were laced with mischief and Will soon garnered the idea that it was anything but when she pressed her naked breasts against his back and slid her palms down his chest, leaving feint welts as she raked them back up to his shoulders. One palm continued higher, pulling his chin around so that she could settle her open mouth upon his. The apologetic kiss barely began before she felt his tongue beg for admission against his stubborness.

But he couldn't deny her one thing as he twisted his torso and slipped one hand around her waist, pulling her around onto his lap, finding himself right back to where he was just a few moments ago. Gravity and Deanna's insistence pulled him back flat on his back. She hovered a scant few inches away from his face, looking deep into his eyes, and he was sure, right into his very soul.

Will drowned in the chocolate pools and he felt himself harden purely on what he saw before him. He laced his fingers with hers and silently they both studied the tender and innocent joining, so simple but so overwhelmingly powerful.

Will's gaze left their entwined fingers and he studied Deanna's face, his thoughts tumbling through his mind at what tomorrow would bring. He would leave her, he had to, and he wasn't looking forward to the fall-out that was going to happen.

But that was tomorrow. Today... today was different. Today he needed her. And today he wasn't going to let her go. Nor was he going to let go of her hands. She was so beautiful and Will mentally pinched himself to re-assure himself that he was indeed here, with her, in her bed and about to make love, both mentally and physically.

Why us? Why did have to go so wrong for us? he mused, a lump forming in his throat at the bittersweet gift that destiny had accorded him, a gift that was going to be the ultimate cost of something that would never, ever be fulfilled and his gut began to churn with a mixture of sorrow, and a strange sense of gratitude.

Deanna watched Will silently as she hovered above him and watched the conflicting play of emotions flicker, not only across his face, but through his entire being. Feeling slightly ridiculous, leaning over him, stark naked, hovering on the brink of taking him into her body, taking them both onto that next level of ecstasy, she gently lowered her form against his, the movement so subtle, so slow that anything sexual that could be garnered from the motion became diluted in the tender action.

Instinctively, Will's arms moved to hold her close, and he sensed the change in Deanna's mind and body again as they switched mode, both unable to hold onto the constant ebb and flow of their slowly crumbling relationship.

God, what are we going to do? he sighed, melting against her, tucking his face into the soft curve of her throat, drinking her scent, the sense of peace that always seeped through, calmed him, cherished him, and he wondered if it felt exactly the same for her.

Will's warmth flowed through Deanna, physically and spiritually, drowning her in the river of turbulent emotion that poured from each of their souls. What can we do? Deanna wondered sadly to herself, feeling the tears prick at her eyes again. She'd heard his silent question and her heart ached for not only him, but for them. For the loss of never knowing what their future was going to be like. For the children that they were never going to bear. For everything.

Deanna answered him silently. You're not staying, so I've got to let you go. But he didn't hear her, the thought too deep within her, too painful.

Deanna turned her face and buried it deeper into Will's shoulder as she tried to hold on to her crushed emotions, feeling a cascade of pure agony ripple through her, setting off a tremor that threatened to engulf her. But her gutteral silent thought created a breath from Will that was so painful that it was hoarse, Deanna realised that she had not only said it silently, she had whispered it aloud.

"I'm going to let you go, Imzadi. That's what I'm going to do. I'm going to let you go."

Time stopped, until unsteadily, Will pushed her up by her shoulders until he met her eyes head on. Lifting her face to his, Deanna hovered just above his, close enough for her to see herself within his blue eyes. Close enough for him to know that what she was telling him was important, even though it was breaking her heart. Moving his hands to gently cup her face, Will searched their depths for the truth and saw it there along with acceptance, sorrow, loss, pity, bravery, and her own tearful farewell.

"I'm sorry, Imzadi, I never meant for this to happen to us." He whispered thickly.

Deanna's eyes slipped shut as she tried in vain to shut out everything that was so desperately wrong, the small shake of her head defying her shattered heart. Will pulled her lips to his and gently kissed her. But one kiss wasn't enough to remove the searing pain that bubbled up from deep inside and he kissed her again. And again. And again until pain become a bruising ardour, determined to seek justice for being denied.

As the kisses deepened, their bodies responded to the gentle coaxing, and like two lost souls searching for home, they joined on every level. Will edged himself inside Deanna without the carnal need that had consumed him earlier. He didn't need it now; that all consuming need to take and possess her. He had gone beyond that.

This was about Imzadi, pure and simple. It wasn't about love, and it wasn't about desire. It was about being whole. Complete.


A oneness that was soon to be ripped apart, forever.

Chapter forty three

When the steam filled the room once more, Will was aware that Deanna was standing quietly in the bathroom doorway watching him. It seemed eons ago that they had showered together, washing away the last remnants of their love-making, replacing it with something infinitely more memorable and everlasting.

He lay upon her bed face down, his head cushioned by his forearms as he dozed, waiting for her to finish her shower. Moments later, he grinned lazily to himself when he felt her weight touch the bed's edge and she crawled up his body, kissing her way up his spine until she lay flush upon him, settling her face between his shoulder blades, instantly comforted by the steady and even heartbeat against her breast.

The deep sigh that she took as Will raised a palm and lovingly cupped her head, his large hand engulfing it with its size, momentarily washed away the rising panic that bubbled up within her. It was almost time for the goodbye that had consumed them both for the last couple of hours to be become reality.

"You okay?" Will mumbled, his quiet voice heavy with tiredness, bone weary fatigue, and sadness.

Will felt her nod against his back, feeling her thoughts to his question fill her with a pain that coincided with his own and he realized then, that he couldn't walk away from her tonight and never see her again. As selfish as it made him seem, he needed to see her again. Tomorrow, before he left. Before he moved on with his life, and his career. That was his goal now.

It had taken a long and painful time to make his decision about whether to stay with the woman he loved, or leave her behind and fulfil his destiny.

Destiny had won.

Maybe, just maybe, they would find each other again, somewhere, sometime, out there, and be given a second chance.

Will was willing to risk heartache for a future. Only destiny, a word that had become to feature in many of his hope and dreams, and a few of his nightmares, would decide if he and Deanna would meet again. Only destiny would be cruel enough to deny them that chance.

The lazy strokes upon Will's arms and the tiny kisses upon his shoulders began to make Deanna's body stir. The towel that hugged her torso became an unwanted barrier and Deanna wished that she'd slipped it off before she climbed upon Will's back.

She wanted him, again. How long had it been. Ten, fifteen minutes? It wasn't long enough but she was dimly aware that it was a desperation creeping in; a futile attempt to keep him with her for longer.

Will felt Deanna wriggle against his butt with a movement that could not be anything other than sexual and he rewarded her with nothing more than a tired chuckle. "Forget it. I'm gonna need at least another hour."

Another hour.

He'd be gone in another hour and the comprehension dawned quicker than having an ice cold bucket of water thrown over them both, but before he could stop himself, his next words surprised them both as he asked her quietly but urgently, "Will you come and see me off tomorrow? I need to see you before I go"

Will turned his head enough to look into Deanna's startled eyes as she rose her head to move it enough to see his face. To see the plea in his eyes. Her silence as she watched him unnerved him a little; that she seemed to be considering refusing his unreasonable request. But now he'd said it; that he'd asked the unthinkable, he realized that he wanted it, more than anything.

He moved his face nearer to hers, hovering just a breath away from her mouth. Touching his lips to hers, Will whispered one word that was torn from his heart.


Moulding her lips against his, Deanna softened to his plea. She shouldn't do it. She shouldn't hurt her soul any more than it was already suffering. But then, she thought rationally, it couldn't hurt any more than it already does. Her heart ached with sorrow and her mind was numb with grief, but then, Will was suffering as much as she was, and if he was willing to prolong the inevitable, then so was she.

Quietly seperating her lips from his, her eyes shut tight against the pain that had surfaced with his plea, she murmured, before settling her mouth against his once more, "Yes, Imzadi, I will come."

Chapter forty four

He thought maybe it would take him maybe half an hour to pack away his belongings, but every time he picked something up, folded it and tucked it away into his holdall, Will didn't seem to be able to stop himself from slowly wandering around the room, coming to a halt each time in front of the small window that over-looked the large landscaped area before the camp.

Even though his heart, and his common sense told him that Deanna wouldn't come to him, he silently wished that she would. Outside he watched shadows move in the moonlight and thought, hoped that one of them was her, coming to him, only to deflate with immense disappointment when they disappeared out of sight and he was forced to move his thoughts, and his feet back to the task at hand.

The first inkling that he wasn't alone came as he stuffed, with a little more force than necessary, a pair of socks into a spare corner of the bag and he felt his spine stiffen with a combination of reasons.

Had she come to him? And now that she was here, did he really want to see her? He didn't know what he was going to say to her. He wasn't even sure if he could face her now. When he had left her barely a scant couple of hours ago, Will didn't even know if he was going to be granted his reassignment. It had taken a lot of coercion, a lot of bull-headed bravado, and finally it had taken threats to get him what he wanted;

Off this rock. Away from Deanna, and to the freedom that he was certain that he wanted.

But, God help him, if he was going to have to face her again before their pre-arranged time, he wasn't sure if he was going to be able to uphold any one of his many excuses.

The pull towards Deanna consumed each and every pore. Each and every coherent thought. Each and every indecision. Each and every one of them was eating him alive and he'd all but run out of the strength to fight them off.

But when he heard the very unmistakable rustle of the stiff material that only seemed to adorn one particular woman on Betazed, the breath left his lungs on a relieved whoosh. With his hands now shaking from the released tension that had gripped him, Will picked up another pair of socks from his bed, he carried on stuffing them into another corner of his bag. The silence was unnerving, but the anticipation of what was to come was even more daunting.

Without turning to face her, Will spoke first. "You didn't have to come all the way out here in the middle of the night to tell me what a bastard I am, Mrs. Troi, I already know."

Turning only his head towards her as she stepped into the room, Will waited for the inevitable tongue lashing that he was certain that he deserved. But she surprised him, yet again. The woman never ceased to stupefy him. She had so many hidden depths, talents, and a knowledge about life, and all it's quirks, he was constantly in awe of her, and constantly wary of her too.

Her casual stroll towards him didn't fool him either. The woman was on a mission and it was clear that she had come to say some things that he really did not want to hear, certainly not right now when his heart was bleeding with pain.

Instead of moving in beside him, like he expected her to do, Will coyly watched as she made her way over to the same window that had pulled him, God knows how many times, towards it. As she spoke, their eyes caught for a brief moment. "I know you do, William, but I'd thank you to not use that language within my earshot, please, Lieutenant."

His mumbled, 'sorry', was quickly shot down with a quick retort. "No you're not."

Will's eyebrows rose along with his eyes as they met hers once more. "No, I'm not, you're right. I'm worse."

It was her turn for her eyes to relay her surprise. "Why? Because you couldn't conform to a custom that your world has never heard about, or ever had the privilege of experiencing? Nor was it your fault, William that Deanna went out of her way to make sure that you became Imzadi."

Lwaxana pushed herself away from the window and slowly made her way towards him, her voice low with regret. "The only way you could have stopped that, William, was to never have come here, or not had fallen in love with my daughter."

Will went to open his mouth to speak, but she stopped him before he could get one word out and he closed it again with a snap. "That was taken out of your hands before you had even put your two big feet upon my planet."

The instant she had put the simple reason into viable words, the answer came to him as clearly as dawn breaking on the horizon.

"Destiny." He breathed, not even bothering to hide the touch of awe that slipped into the natural conclusion as it fell from his lips. It wasn't a question. It was a statement of fact, and Lwaxana answered with a tiny nod of her own head.

"Destiny." she confirmed needlessly.

For a long respectful moment, they stood and let the word settle between them. Such a powerful word, and equally, a word that could turn about on its heels and destroy; Beauty and the Beast. The Devil and the Divine. Heaven and Hell.

Which was which?

As Will tried in vain to claw his way back towards Heaven, he could only feel Hell grabbing him by the ankles and pull him back down. To where? he wondered. He thought he was already there, or almost there. A couple more hours and he would be. A couple more hours and the pain that was steadily ripping out his soul was going to succeed in it's sadistic task.

Will gasped as he tried to keep down the rising wave of agony that began to engulf him as he tried valiantly to hold it together before one of the few people who knew what he was going through, and it made him as angry as hell.

"So why has Destiny kicked us both in the proverbial nu....teeth?" he emended as he spotted the familiar unamused rise of her eyebrows. "Why aren't Deanna and I going to get a chance at fulfilling our destiny, Mrs. Troi? Tell me why not...please." he pleaded, with his heart on his sleeve.

"Because," she said sadly, "you're the one who's stopping it from happening. The human part of you is fighting it every step of the way. It won't give in, Will, not even knowing what it is about to lose, even though it is killing you inside."

Lwaxana blinked back the sudden tears that rose as she watched the man before her go pale with guilt; to know that it was his fault that all the pain and suffering was down to him alone. Down to his inability to give in. But even faced with the truth, his life-long demands to follow his dream still far out-weighed what Destiny had offered him.

Will's eyes sparkled suspiciously bright as he took his pain, and some of his anger out on Lwaxana. "Why did you allow it to happen to us? You could have had me kicked off this planet before I'd gotten off my ship. You had the foresight, and the power to have stopped all this before it had a chance to start."

Her simple shrug dismissed his blame as though she expected it, even welcomed it. Will had a lot of guilt to rid himself from before he left her homeworld. It was true, she did have the power to do everything that he'd said, and more besides, but life wasn't made to be that easy. She, of all people, knew that better than most, despite what it had cost her.

"Because I selfishly wanted my daughter to have her chance of happiness, as I had had,Will. I had to give her the opportunity to become your Imzadi. I could never have forgiven myself if I had purposely stopped the natural course of what was to happen."

Lwaxana turned away from him and headed back towards the window once more, leaning her arms along it's edge as she stared out in the darkness, sadness radiating from her as she lost herself to a memory that was hers alone.

Will stayed silent, instinctively knowing that she was going to say more, and moments later she continued. "The day I met Deanna's father, Ian, is as vivid to me as though it were only yesterday. I knew...I instantly knew, as soon as I saw him that he was mine."

She chuckled sadly at a memory. "He came with a hundred or so other men, but I was aware, more than aware before he had disembarked that he was my destiny."

Resting her cheek on her forearms, she turned to face Will, a tender smile lighting up her face even though the sheen of tears still brightened her eyes. "I wanted Deanna to know happiness, Will. I wanted her to feel what I felt when I met Ian."

"Ian died, Mrs. Troi, I might too." The stark admission knifed him in the heart, knowing that it would have felt the same to her too.

"And if you hadn't have come here, Deanna would never have known true Imzadi."

Will nodded slowly, an ancient proverb suddenly appearing in his head, making sense of Lwaxana's reasoning. "Better to have loved than to not have loved at all." he recited, aloud.

Lwaxana pushed herself to a stand and started towards him again. "A very prophetic quote, William. I couldn't have said it better myself."

Once again, they found themselves head to head again, sadness permeating the air around them as it waited for an answer even though neither of them had one, and both of them knew that.

"I can't stay, Mrs. Troi." Will said, with sorrow.

"I know you can't."

Will tipped his head in puzzlement. "Then why did you allow us tonight?" he wondered.

She turned away again, this time, heading for the door. "You both needed closure, and a last opportunity to reinforce your bond."

Lwaxana pulled open the door, stopping before she took the steps that would end their heart to heart but feeling the need to explain her strange parting words, she added, "Your bond has got a long time to hold you two together, but be warned, it won't wait forever."

Something surged through Will. "How long?" he asked, his heart thumping with expectancy of her answer.

Her smile was etched with conspiracy. "That's for Destiny to decide, that and maybe a little effort from you or Deanna."

Feeling happier than he had felt for eons, Will couldn't help but smile. "Thank you, Mrs. Troi."

She smiled back. "For what?"

Will raised his hand and rested his palm against the unsteady beat of his heart and whispered as a fresh wave of emotion rose up from it's depths. "For giving us something to live for."

Will was smiling as he turned away from the door, relieved that the confrontation with Deanna's mother had gone much better than he could have ever hoped for. She was an astounding woman; full of depth and a deep understanding for things that weren't the norm. Her own history had prepared her the harsher realities of life. Only she would know how both he and Deanna were feeling. Only she would know how their lives were going to play out.

But his relief was short lived as he barely had time to pick up the T-shirt from his bed when, this time, Will heard rather than sensed Lwaxana as she hovered in his doorway.

"By the way, William, when was the first time you had sex?"

As he swung his gaze back towards the door, the only thing that gave away his surprise was his raised eyebrows. He toyed as to whether he should answer or not, but then figured that the scene that just ran through his mind would have been like sitting in a movie theatre for her, Will quickly gave in, but not entirely. "Alone or with a woman?"

Her smile was indulgent. "Very amusing. Answer the question, Lieutenant."

Will sighed dramatically. "What has this got to do with my relationship with Deanna, Mrs. Troi?"

Only waiting silence met his reasonable question.

Will sighed again, well aware that he was already beaten. "I was fifteen and a half, and it was as messy as hell, for a variety of reasons." Will inwardly cringed with embarrassment at the long past hellish memory. He hadn't even gotten near to the girl's reproductive system before losing, not only his pride, but the pathetic release of manly liquid that went everywhere but where it was intended. He'd been so inexperienced and naive, and so dumb that he'd humiliated himself just purely by the erotic kiss that they were indulging in. And worse still, she had laughed at him. Will inwardly groaned, his eyes slipping shut at the monumental failure that haunted him still.

"So it was nothing like that with Deanna?" Lwaxana prompted.

It took a moment to register Lwaxana's voice, and her personal question, but when it did, Will realised that she had intimately witnessed his first bungled step into adulthood and was suitably shocked with her indelicacy. "Mrs. Troi! I..."

She waved away his indignancy with a flip of her manicured hand. "Humour me, William."

A different memory filled Will's head, a memory of a beautiful woman that gave everything to him, and more than he could have ever imagined. He'd taken it and cherished the honour. He swelled with pride. "No, Mrs. Troi." murmured, "nothing could even come close to what I had with Deanna. It was amazing." Will's heart lifted, the first time it seemed, for a long time, and with it came the familiar grin. "Your daughter amazing, Mrs. Troi, but then you know that anyway, don't you?"

The tender smile they shared as she closed the door behind her as she left meant more to Will than he would ever admit. Giving him that precious gift of hope meant that his final meeting with Deanna wasn't going to hurt quite as much as he dreaded.

But it was still going to hurt, regardless.

Chapter forty five

Deanna took in the surroundings before allowing her dark, troubled eyes to finally settle on the object of her true intention; Will, standing amongst his fellow comrades; friends he'd made, Betazoids that had come to admire and respect him to wish him a fond farewell.

She'd dressed appropriately for the occasion, or so she had thought. Deanna had been tempted to wear an outfit that Will would never ever forget; something slinky, sexy and beguiling. But then, at the eleventh hour, she had changed her mind.

As Deanna had stood in front of her mirror assessing the gown she had chosen, her heart had become overcome with a feeling that she hadn't expected. A feeling that she had experienced not so long ago. A melancholy that she had felt when a friend had died. When Chandra had lost her life. It had swept through her; chilling her heart, clawing at memories that needed to remain light, turning them into nightmares that threatened to consume her very soul.

Will was leaving, and it felt like he was dying, right then and there, in her arms. She couldn't stop the reaction from sending a chill throughout her body. Hugging her slim arms around her midriff as the loss cascaded through her, Deanna continued to stare at her reflection in the long mirror, the tears that she longed to shed, finally breaking free as she let them cleanse her heart of the misery that had bottled up inside since Will had left her a few scant hours ago.

Death required a different outfit to the one that adorned her slender body. Stripping it off, Deanna reached into her wardrobe and pulled out a black high-necked and long sleeved top, slipping over her head before reaching in again and pulling out black pants that, although fitted her derriere snugly, flared out until they reached the floor.

The hair that she had pulled up into a high bun, leaving tendrils escaping here and there to take off it's harshness, Deanna freed it from it's confines and let the riot of curls fall to lay naturally down her back.

Now she looked as she felt; like a woman that was losing her soulmate. Taking one last look in the mirror, Deanna swept a shaky hand across her cheeks to wipe away the moisture that lay there, and then turned away with a deep sigh, pulled open the door and walked out and down the stairs, her footsteps as heavy as her heart.

As she put her hand on the handle of the front door, Deanna hesitated. She'd sensed her mother behind her, aware that she had paused in the drawing room's doorway, unsure if she should say something to comfort her daughter or let her be.

Deanna turned the ornate bar and pulled the door slowly open, she hesitated before turning her head far enough to face the one person that must have known what she was going through. Deanna offered her a sad but tentative smile. A smile that relayed to her that she would be okay. Lwaxana could only offer a watery smile back before turning away to remember a memory of her own, a memory that she needed to share with no one but herself.

Deanna headed down to the base, a walk that took her almost twenty minutes. Grateful for the solitude and the time to compose and prepare herself for the ordeal she was about to face, she wasn't prepared for the sight that greeted her as she approached the base's accommodation sector.

A riot of jovial laughter and chatter assaulted her ears and as Deanna stepped into the building, she realized that a party was in progress. Will's leaving party. Inanely, she had thought that their farewell would be somehow similar to when Will had gone to face the Sindareen; that they would be alone. That they would be saying goodbye amongst kisses and tears. But as she neared the room that the raucous laughter was emanating from, Deanna quickly realized that that was not going to happen.

Half concealing herself just outside the door, she watched the man that she longed spend the next half hour of her life with in private behave as though he was going on a routine run out and not as though he was leaving a bereft woman behind. Dismay rode her features as the enormity of the situation unfolded before her.

Her frown deepened still as she watched him throw back his head, letting go the roar of light-hearted laughter that Deanna hadn't needed to read his mind to know that it was of a rude nature. He stood so tall, so handsome, his Starfleet uniform, freshly laundered or replaced fitted his lanky frame as though it was to be forever moulded to his lean body, a harsh jolt to remind her of just who Lieutenant William T Riker truly was.

Be despite his attempt of being at ease with himself, and his leaving, Deanna could see, without even delving into the depths of his mind, that his stance was rigid, and edgy. Desperate even. He listened intently; leaning towards those who spoke to him, afraid of letting his thoughts wander off to a place they did not want to go. He craved the people that clamoured for his attention as though everything depended on it, his very life. His sanity.

He's scared. Deanna quickly realized. He's petrified to be alone with me. The instant she had arrived and seen the crowd surrounding Will, Deanna was aware, probably more than Will had been, that it was a deliberate attempt on his part to reduce the pain that they were about to endure, to a level that could be tolerated.

Deanna wasn't sure if she was silently relieved, or pitifully saddened. Could the next few minutes be lessened to merely a fond farewell? To a chaste kiss on the cheek? Could she allow one solitary tear to be set free from the dam that bubbled and raged inside her, waiting to do it's absolute worst to her already bleeding heart, her tormented mind, and her completely tortured soul? Could she let him go without revealing any one of them to him?

God help her, no. But she had to try, for his sake.

When Will's buddies had descended upon his room just before ten o'clock after a spending the last few hours of night plagued by taunting, conflicting demons, some begged him to stay, others told him to go. To follow his heart. To go get the girl. To be the man he always wanted to be. To be the man that Deanna wanted him to be.

What did he do? He was emotionally ripped into two and the only thing that kept him from yielding to his hearts true desire, was his goal. The same goal that he had chased since he had been a boy.

To be captain of his very own Starship.

Even if it meant giving away his soul, a soul that he no longer owned anyhow. A soul that he knew now, he would one day reclaim, along with the woman who took it.

Deanna. His Deanna. His destiny. The destiny that he had been promised.

And then, as he'd roared with grateful laughter at the roguish wisecrack, Will's mind first tingled with a familiar sensation, the same sensation that he'd come to be too familiar with in short a time. A sensation that he knew he was going to miss, for a variety of reasons, the biggest being not being able to turn around and find her there, to see her beautiful face and be aware that she was only a touch away, mentally and physically.

Will felt his body tense as a wave of excitement that somehow, despite the situation, always found him turning towards the origin. The same magnetism that drew him towards her whenever she was close by. He couldn't stop it and he didn't ever want it to, and now was no different. The chatter that continued regardless of his sudden silence dissipated into a distant hum as Will found himself being pulled towards the source of his mind and body's pull.

Will took in a deep, unsteady breath as his eyes found hers, instinctively turning his body to face her head on. But that was as far as he got. His feet refused to move. He was aware of the voices around him, aware of the jocular taps on the shoulder as the men continued to include him in the conversation, completely unaware that the star of the show had his mind and eyes locked onto the woman that was slowly walking towards him.

Chapter forty six

Will held his breath as Deanna slowly walked towards him, steadily holding her eyes as he estimated that it would take her eight steps to reach him. By three he felt rather than saw the men around him begin to fade into the background, acknowledging the approaching woman in silence, retreating even quieter away from the intimate union about to happen. The party was over, in more ways than one. Will knew that, and they knew that. But not as clearly as the woman heading his way.

Deanna couldn't move her eyes away from Will's as she slowly walked to him, hoping, praying that the audience surrounding him would take the hint and leave. They read her mind as one by one, they vanished as though a force had locked on and beamed them away from the couple. One minute they were there, the next, gone, their footsteps fading away along with the echoes that followed them through the metallic structure.

Deanna came to a stop before Will, her breath catching in her throat as she devoured his very essence as it swirled around them. Slowly, she lifted her palm and settled it upon his chest and as she did, Will's eyes broke away from hers and dropped them to her mouth, triggering a memory that skittered a powerful surge of desire that stirred his loins enough to force his face to lift to the heavens and gasp for the breath that she stole away from him as she touched him and felt his body react violently to the intimate caress.

Will wanted her, even more than his next breath, he realized. He wanted her so much that in that instant, that moment, he almost threw away everything he was fighting for, just to have her beneath him once more. Just to feel the way he had felt when they had first made love. God, just to, feel.

But he couldn't, he wouldn't, but he had to do something, something that would transcend them somewhere other than where they were now; at the abyss of loneliness. The intelligent, sensible thing to have done right then was to have walked away. It was madness, to prolong the agony, but God help him, he couldn't step away from her, not yet. He still wasn't ready, just as Deanna wasn't.

As Will moved his own hand to cover hers, he dropped his gaze back to eyes, holding it as he rose his other hand and ran his thumb along her lower lip, cupping her jaw tenderly as he lost himself to the moment. Her mouth parted and her dark eyes, heavy with passion, struggled to remain focused. Futily she gave up the fight and let them drift shut as Will continued his torturous assault on her lips, wishing with all her heart that it was his mouth that was tormenting her.

She could feel his breath upon her face, amazed that the simplistic movements upon her mouth, the caress of his hand upon hers could be so erotic. She was melting inside. She wanted more, more than his touch, more than his thoughts that rushed through her, making her aching and wanton.

Will's ferocious need was holding on by a thread, along with her own. It was pointless trying to hold off the inevitable. Why should they? They were adults. After tomorrow, the chances of them meeting again were so remote that it clawed at Deanna's soul.

But this was goodbye, a goodbye that couldn't be uttered. A goodbye that had to be said in a different way. And it had to be this way, for both of them.

Will hovered close to Deanna's mouth, absorbing her breath as she reached her face up to him, his own quickening with anticipation. With each breath that slipped past her lips he felt her heartbeat accelerate beneath his fingertips. Turning his hand, Will covered her breast. Immediately it begged to be caressed, pushing into his heated palm. Deanna's desire pooled low in her belly, making her burn and squirm against him. She was on fire.

The sizzling currents between her and Will were so potent they were nearly visible. The suggestive heat in his eyes burned through, making her bask in a glow that, at the point, she really shouldn't be feeling. But she couldn't help herself. It was always like this for her when Will touched her, the knowledge hurting even more to know that it wasn't going to happen for them again.

He was about to leave her, damn it! But before he went, Deanna was going to remind him what he was leaving behind. The hunger for his kiss increased, but with it came the pain, the pain that started as hunger and was now, when she least wanted it, turning to a feeling that ate at her heart.

Oh, God, she thought, desperately, God, not now, please...not now But despite her silent pleas, Deanna felt the pain that she had pushed away slowly emerge from places that she'd forgotten about, probably deliberately, if she were honest with herself.

Will saw the pain fill Deanna's eyes. She was like fire and ice. A moment ago he felt her need, letting it heat his own growing ache to devour the woman in his arms. But just when he was sure their lips were about to collide and set them both aflame, a bolt of sorrow consumed him, he saw it in her eyes, heard in the gasp that left her lungs.

Not now! Will moaned silently. They had to fight the all-consuming terror that fought to take them both over. Just for a short while, that was all they needed. Just a little while longer. Just long enough to give them a memory worth holding in their hearts. Pulling her hard against his body, crushing her tiny hand against his solid chest, he held her gaze. Kiss me he ordered with his eyes. Don't talk, just kiss me goodbye, Deanna

As though he were tormenting her, Deanna gamely reached up and pressed her lips to his, and with it came release; the dam burst within them both and as Will's tongue swept into her open and willing mouth, Deanna's met his half way and drowned in the deluge that overpowered their souls as they connected for the final time.

With a groan that started from his hardened loins, Will gripped her waist and hauled her up higher. With an urgency that sent his pulse racing, Deanna knotted her freed hands in his hair, twisting his head to a better angle, sweeping her tongue further into his mouth, swallowing the same groan as his heat raged higher, scalding his throat.

Suddenly, Will's only thought now was, where. Where could her take her to make love to her? Back into his room, or the office? Nothing flat there but his desk and that was covered with abandoned paperwork. His abandoned paperwork. Tang was going to rip his ears off when he got back on his feet, he mused before shifting his frantic mind back to the matter at hand; Deanna.


Oh, God, Deanna.

Deanna felt the two changes in him as his thoughts went from highly erotic to despair in moments. For a moment she had been sure that had there been somewhere suitable that he could have taken her, both literally and figuratively, they would now have been making love, and she would have let him. She would have welcomed him.

But then something clicked and Deanna sensed it as clearly as a light being turned off. She felt it in his mind. Felt it in the way the kiss turned from carnal to desolate; a sadness invaded his soul and poured itself into her, consuming her entire body and mind too, turning desire into grief.

Stifling the sobs that began to rise, Deanna clung to Will's shoulders as she felt him struggle, and fail, to hold onto his emotions. Will was losing himself to the grief that was taking over. It was the last thing that she wanted to happen. Deanna rationally knew, more than anything else, whether she liked it or not, that Will had to leave.

She had to end this, now, for both their sakes, before she couldn't stop making a fool of herself, and leaving Will in a position that would undoubtable destroy their lives.

Moving her hands back down to Will's chest as she manoeuvred her body lower until she touched the floor again, ignoring the tug on her heartstrings as Will clung onto her lips and her body as he dimly realized what she was about to do.

She tried in vain to disconnect her unwilling mouth from his as she gently pushed away from his body, but Will only held on tighter, fusing his lower limbs to hers, stretching his face to hers as she moved her own away, forcing her body to bend backwards, the end result only heightening the need of their lower bodies.

Will! She cried silently, desperately, pushing harder until at last she finally managed to tear her mouth away from his. Will stared down at her with fascination; Deanna's lips were swollen with his kisses, her eyes swam with the tears that he had created, and she had never looked so beautiful to him. In a heartbeat, Will yanked her back towards him, fastening his mouth upon hers again, plundering it's depths like a man about to die of thirst.

Deanna struggled for as long as the shock of his sudden movement startled her, but within moments, her arms snaked around Will's neck and she kissed him back with as much fervour as he as whimpers of frustration mingled with the scalding tears as they squeezed from between her tightly shut eyelids. God, she didn't want to cry, not yet, but the sadness that invaded Will's mind now merged with her own.

A minute later when they reluctantly broke apart, it was mutual. It was as though they both, at the same time, acknowledged that it was time. Slowly they broke apart and simply stood devouring each others features, carving them into their memories for a life time.

Unsteadily, Deanna took one step back, dropping her hands into his, unwilling and unable to break that final link. In the distance, they both heard movement. The base was coming back alive again. It had let them have their time of privacy and now it was time to move on. Men were returning to their posts. Ships were firing up, preparing to leave. And they were equally conscious that Will's was one of those waiting.

Deanna took another step back away from her soulmate. The knowledge that this was it; that this was the end, finally set free the tears that had waited a lifetime for this moment, clogging her throat as she tried to utter goodbye.

Quickly shaking his head, his own eyes brimming with carefully held back tears, Will reached up a hand and touched her lips with a trembling finger. Don't say anything, Deanna. Don't say the words.

When Deanna took another step back, it was too far for their hands to stay linked. As they let go, they seemed to let go of the hold that had kept them locked together. Destiny had finally set them free.

Tears streamed down her cheeks as Deanna choked back the hysterical sobs that she could feel bubbling deep inside. She had to go, now before she did something stupid, like tell him that she loved him, or not to go. To stay and be her true Imzadi, in every sense of the word. But she couldn't. She absolutely would not, even though every part of her screeched at her stupidity and her cowardness.

Spinning on her heals before her mouth could utter one damning word, Deanna quickly moved away. But she had barely taken half a dozen steps when Will mentally called to her, stopping her flee with a suddenness that caused her to sway where she stood.


Deanna dropped her head in defeat but didn't turn, even though she wanted just one last look at him. She could hear Will's fear as he spoke her name, scared that he would never, ever see her again, and knew she needed to let him know that she was going to be okay. But she didn't turn. She couldn't, nor wouldn't. It was over. It was done, there was nothing more to say, nothing more to do.

Taking a deep breath and squaring her shoulders, Deanna spoke silently as she began to walk away, this time without stopping, the tears blurring her vision so much that only memory guided her way.

Remember what I've taught you. Remember me as I will always remember you, Imzadi.

Ten minutes later as she walked back towards her home, Deanna pondered on how her life was going to be from now on. She knew that it would never be the same again, a man called William T Riker had made sure of that, and Destiny had secured their fates, at a terrible cost of their happiness. For now. Would they ever meet again? she wondered. Would they feel the same way about each other? Would their Imzadi endure the time apart?

In her heart, Deanna knew that it would. She'd witnessed her mother's, even though their had been other men, and it looked like there was soon to be another to take her father's place. But there would never be another Imzadi for her, just as there would never be another Imzadi for Deanna.

Deanna heard a ship soar into the clear blue skies above her and knew that Will was it's pilot. Stopping, she couldn't help herself from watching as the small craft banked and headed away from Betazed and away from her. She watched until she could no longer see him, or feel him. Taking a deep, shuddering breath, Deanna pulled her watery gaze away from the heavens and continued on, numb with a loss that she knew would stay with her until they came face to face once more.

He was gone, and now it was up to Destiny to decide when their paths would meet again, and Deanna hoped with all her broken heart and soul that it wouldn't be too long.

Epilogue: Two weeks later...

Deanna lay back and stared up at the clear blue sky through the glass. It was as clear today as it was on the day when her love left her behind, but she didn't see the turquoise songbird that hovered overhead as it teased a potential mate. Nor did she see the fluffy white clouds as they passed by, slowly moving time along.

One hand cupped the back of her head and the other settled lightly upon her stomach, calming the churning within. But nothing could settle her scattered thoughts, nor the longings that gripped her heart still even though Deanna came to the arboretum to specifically meditate and soothe her bruised soul.

Drawn by the peace, the solitude, and the memories that continued to haunt her, Deanna invariably ended up here, on a daily basis, in the arboretum, on the chaise longue, the same chaise longue where her intimate romance with Will had deepened beyond thought.

And it was the one place that Deanna allowed herself to remember, and grieve for what was lost, and today was to be no different. She wore the black outfit that she had said goodbye to her soul mate in. It seemed fitting and suited her mood. Today was going to be a bad day, she knew that as soon as she woke this morning after a restless night, tormented by memories of the past and visions of a future that was beyond her grasp, and when she woke and realized that nothing had transpired from her dreams and she was alone in her bed, still, Deanna wept with misery.

Very aware that she was still here, thinking about Will, and Will was still out there, somewhere, but was he still thinking about her? There had been no communication from him, no passed along messages via his comrades, nothing, nothing but an emptiness that was growing bigger in her soul by the day.

Her mother, bless her, had tried to help; told her that it would get better. That she knew what she was going through. That one day, in time, she would see her Imzadi again, she promised. But Deanna didn't want to hear it. If it hadn't been for her playing that stupid poker game, this whole, thing would never have even gotten started. If it hadn't been for her being a Betazoid, she would have never have even had to make Imzadi part of her life, and she wouldn't be hurting like she did now.

But she was, despite her half-hearted attempt not to take on the ancient and traditional ritual. And her mother had warned her. And she hadn't known that Will was capable of even becoming her Imzadi. It just didn't happen normally. It just didn't! The chance was so remote, especially with her being only an empath, that realistically, it should not have happened.

But it had, and now she was going to have to deal with it.


But later, in an hour or so, when she went home and tried to carry on with her life. Right now though, she just needed time to remember, alone, and here was the best place; away from her home, away from her mother. Just away from everything but her traitorous thoughts. But it was hopeless.

Will she murmured quietly, feeling the familiar ache in the pit of her stomach grow. Deanna rubbed it absently with her hand, the tiny circular movement comforting until a shard of desire bled through and stabbed lower still, creating a heat that pooled in her womb causing her to squirm. A low moan of despair slipped past her lips as Will's features swam before her eyes, his blue eyes, alive with love, smiled down at her. The hand left her waist and raised itself unwittingly to him, reaching up towards the vision that hovered above her.

Oh, God, Will, come back

Why do you keep doing this to yourself, Little One?

Startled, and guilty of being caught, Deanna gasped before shooting upright, the surprise upon her face now flamed with shame instead of longing. "Mother!" she cried, "I come here to stop you from interfering in my private time. Why have you come?" she asked, spitefully, the flush turning from shame to anger. "Is it to lecture me again?"

Stepping from between the shrubbery and shadows, batting away the overhanging branches with feigned irritation, Lwaxana Troi stepped towards her daughter, ignoring the flush that coated her skin along with the indignant and insulting thoughts that ran riot through her mind.

"It's been two weeks, darling," she said worriedly as she settled herself beside Deanna, grimacing at the slightly grubby lump of furniture that she had placed her raw silk gown upon. "I think it's time for you to stop being silly."

Deanna blinked rapidly and disbelief raged through her at her mothers heartless comments. "Silly!" her normally low and melodious voice stepped up along with her rage. "Silly! You think that me mourning for my Imzadi that only left me two, whole, long, incredibly agonizing weeks ago, is silly?!"

Once again, Lwaxana batted away the question with a dismissive wave of her hand. "Oh, hush, Little One, anyone would think that Will had passed away the way you've been mooning all over the place. You haven't, I might add, even been to see the Xerx's to offer them any support, after all, they have just lost their daughter. Chandra is dead, you know?"

Guilt swept through Deanna again when her treasured friends beautiful face filled her thoughts for a moment and she sighed with defeat and shame even though facing Chandra's parents was possibly the last thing she wanted to do right now. But she owed them her loyalty. They had seen her born and grow into the woman that she was today. "You're right, Mother," Deanna sighed, "I know my priorities are misplaced. I'll go and see them tomorrow, I promise."

A long silence stretched as mother and daughter looked at one another, trying to breach the awkwardness that had never been there before. It was a new experience for them both. Oh, they had had their tiffs before, some had even escalated into full scale arguments, but this was different. This was about something that they had both been through, and still suffered for. Something that still affected their hearts, their futures. But within moments, Will flooded her thoughts again, eradicating everything but her acute loss.

"I'm sorry," Deanna murmured as unwilling tears flooded her eyes, "I...I just miss him so much."

Lwaxana melted. Slipping her arm around her much smaller daughters shoulders, she pulled her to her breast. "I know you do, Darling, I know you do. I miss him too. He was an enormous presence in the short space of time that he was here."

Long moments later, when she felt Deanna's mind settle as she comforted her she puffed out an over-exaggerated breath of air and said, "I wish he were still here, I don't think I'll ever play a decent hand of poker ever again without him." she mused,"Humans are so transparent, they take all the fun out of the game. Except William, of course," she added, with pride. "Now that man knew how to play."

Pushing herself to a stand, Lwaxana wandered over to a rare rose that hung from a branch, heavy with other roses born from the same root but each blossom as different as the next. It was why it was so rare; from the deepest crimson to the palest of pink, the rose was beyond beauty. She touched one delicately, her orange nail-polish a stark contrast to the flowers own beautiful colour.

Absently, she said quietly, as she moved her face closer to take in the heavenly scent. "I'm glad you lost that game, Deanna." Deanna stayed silent, realizing that she had more to say. "Without Will," she carried on, "you would never have contemplated ever leaving Betazed."

Deanna pushed herself to a stand and moved towards her mother. "But, why? I thought that was what you wanted of me, mother; to follow in your footsteps, to become an ambassador like you. To carry on what would die otherwise if I didn't."

Smiling sadly, Lwaxana linked her arm through Deanna's and lead her back through the maze of fauna, away from the area that prompted unhappiness. "Darling, to become an ambassador, you must see beyond your own home. You must come to understand other cultures, other peoples way of thinking and doing in order to be as successful as I."

"But you...!"

"No, I didn't, not until it was too late to truly appreciate what a wondrous universe lay beyond our own. Deanna," she said with wonder, "there are things out there that you would never believe could be true. There are people that will leave such a mark on your life that will go even further than friendship. You can win wars with knowledge, Deanna, but not if you stay here."

Stunned, Deanna could only stare at her mother and let her astounding words sink in, and when they did, she could only retaliate with, "But I..."

"Yes, you would, Little One. Until William came along, you had not considered that there was other worlds out there to explore. You were happy here. You would not have gone any further than your own back yard."

The silence stretched between them again. By this time, they had stepped from the glass enclosure out into the sunshine and were heading towards the college, the one place that Deanna had steadfastly avoided since that fateful day when Chandra, and others, had lost their lives.

At first, she battled against the lies that her mother revealed to her, but slowly, each lie became a truth. Deanna had been happy here, and she have never wanted to leave the security of her family, her home, her friends, or indeed her life. She thought she'd got it all within the palm of her hand. She thought her life had been mapped out quite nicely.

But that was until William Riker had come along and made her see beyond herself.

As they sank onto a park bench to watch the workforce rebuilding the shattered remains of the college, Deanna turned her body towards her mother, gathering her fingers in hers as she asked. "What should I do?"

For a long moment, Lwaxana said nothing, but finally, without taking her watery eyes away from the scene ahead, she murmured, "Go after him. Don't let him go."

"But he's already gone, Mother." Deanna cried.

"That's not what I mean, Deanna, and you know it." she retorted, quietly, breaking her gaze away from the disturbing sight ahead to instead turn and take in her daughters troubled features.

"Will has only gone physically, you mustn't let him leave your soul. You must go after him, Deanna. You must not let him go."

Deanna's mind raced with elation and dread. Could she leave her life and start another? As soon as she asked herself the question, her heart gave her the answer she sought. Yes, she silently cried, joy soaring from somewhere deep inside bringing tears to her eyes. Yes, I could

Deanna sprang to her feet with excitement and Lwaxana silently moaned with dismay. "Not yet, Deanna, you can't go after William just yet."

Deanna deflated like a punctured balloon. "But, you ..."

Wearily, Mrs. Troi pushed herself to a stand and captured Deanna's fingers again. "Darling, you cannot just up and leave, and William is not ready for you to find him again just yet." Deanna stared at her with bewilderment, unsure why her mother was back-tracking on such a heartfelt command. "Finish your studies, Darling, and then go and hunt your man down."

Deanna chuckled at the serious expression upon her mothers face, knowing full well that she was being anything but. "Hunt him down!?" she giggled.

Lwaxana Troi nodded, letting the smile that she deliberately kept hidden erupt on her classically beautiful face. "Hunt him down, Deanna." she reiterated again before adding, "That boy owes me a poker game and he owes you a rather a lot more. No man takes on the Troi's and get's away with it."

Laughing, the two woman linked arms again and headed home. It wasn't long before Deanna Troi did indeed leave her home and head for Planet Earth to start a life that would eventually lead her back into the arms of the man she loved, a bittersweet journey that she would never have even dreamed of, if it hadn't been for Lieutenant William T Riker.


June 05