From A Distance

by Carol Sandford

Rated MA


The tall man strode up towards the wide flight of steps leading into the office suites, his brow furrowed in thought as he continued to wonder why he had been summonsed back to Earth. On another day, he would have swung his gaze around the building's impressive frontage, fondly remembering the first time he had stepped towards his new life. But that day was not today. He took the shallow steps two at a time, one half of him eager to find out his fate, the other half dreading news that he most certainly wasn't going to want to hear.

Nodding briefly to passing superiors that he knew mostly by face rather than name, William Riker didn't falter his pace until he reached the door that he needed. Taking a deep breath, he readied himself for what lie beyond, half convincing himself that it could only be bad news that awaited him. Rapping the heavy teak door sharply with tense knuckles, he awaited his admittance.


Taking another deep, calming breath, Will turned the ornate brass handle and stepped inside, his eyes quickly fixing onto the woman that sat demurely behind a huge teak desk, its glossy sheen reflecting Admiral Alynna Nechayev's image, highlighting her classical features as she sat with her hands laced before her upon the desk.

"Ah, Lieutenant Riker," she beamed, her hand separating from the other to show him where she wanted him to be. "please, come in, take a seat."

As Will sank into the plush seating opposite her desk, Will murmured, suddenly feeling like he now knew how it must feel to face a firing squad. He wasn't going to show her that completely irrational fear though. At least, not yet. "Thank you, ma'am. It's good to see you again, although I didn't expect it to be quite so soon."

Both fully aware that Will had only been on board the Potemkin for barely six months, nobody was more surprised than Will when he received the summons from Starfleet Headquarters to return for a special mission. His captain had protested, and even Will had protested, but to no avail. No one else would do for the job, so he'd returned, reluctantly to Earth. Very reluctantly.

"No," Admiral Nechayev agreed, "I'm sure you didn't, but an important assignment has been put into our hands, and, unfortunately, you're the poor unfortunate soul who's been requested to see it through."

Turning down his full, bottom lip in thought and dismay at the possibility of having his life snuffed out before he'd gotten a chance to do what he'd joined Starfleet to do, Will's blue eyes met Nechayev's slightly lighter blue ones straight on. "Guess that means it's a dangerous mission, huh?"

He was momentarily taken aback when she chuckled ruefully. "Depends on your viewpoint of dangerous, Lieutenant. If you can deal with the waspish tongue of a dignitary who's reputation is as big as her ego, then yes, it could be dangerous, but only to your pride. Because, by God, Will, she will tear you to shreds if anything happens to your charge!"

Will went cold and a slither of dread slipped down his spine. "Charge, ma'am?"

Nechayev nodded, her own lips pursing with distaste and regret at the poor mans crummy luck. "Yes, Mr. Riker. Charge. Your mission is to keep someone safe for a while. It seems you made quite an impression when you last met and you have been especially requested for the job."

Will blinked several times as he stared at the woman before him, allowing the information to sink into his stunned mind, until, at last, unable to keep quiet for a moment longer, he blurted, "You mean to tell me, that I've been pulled from my ship that was in the middle of an important mission of it's own, just to come back here and baby-sit somebody's brat, just because I made an impression?!"

Will didn't need to add that whilst he was planted planet-side, again! he was missing out on valuable space time. Even he knew that if he was to beat Kirk's record for youngest ever captain, he was going to need every second in outer-space that he could get. That was if he ever even made it to captain! At the rate he was going, he'd never do it, and that really pissed him off.

Will didn't even realise that he'd risen to his feet as his outburst and his anger escalated until Admiral Nechayev pointed her finger at him and indicated for him to put his butt back down onto the seat. Will uneasily lowered himself down adding somewhat quieter, inwardly grimacing at the pleading tone in his voice "Tell me you're kidding me, ma'am, please."

Feeling sorry for the man in front of her, Nechayev smiled gamely at him and shook her head, regret shadowing her eyes as she spoke. "I'm sorry, Lieutenant, no joke. Please report first thing tomorrow to shuttle bay one for the arrival of, 'the brat'. You're to take them first to a suite so that they can freshen up and then onto a unit within then campus grounds that has been especially assigned to them whilst they are here. There will be a servant coming along, too, so your time won't be completely taken up - just mainly for security if they are off campus."

Still stunned at his assignment, Will pushed himself back to his feet. "Will that be all, ma'am?" he asked quietly. On Nechayev's reluctant nod, she quietly added, "When they arrive, we'll talk some more. I'm sure I don't have to remind you that this has to be kept on a strictly professional level at all times, Lieutenant. Do I make myself clear?"

With amusement, Will was sure he knew exactly what she was driving at. So she was afraid that he was going to bully that brat, or worse, and smirking with barely disguised malice, he answered her with a clear, "Crystal, ma'am." Spinning on his heels, Will turned and left her office before he said something he shouldn't.

Baby-sitting. He'd been pulled off assignment just to baby-sit someone's kid and was suddenly incensed at the very idea. He'd waited for so long to get out among the stars where he belonged, even considering his time planet-side on Betazed as part of the training he'd need to get out there and do a better job. Having fought the Sindareen and won. Loved a woman, and unfortunately lost. But, even so, Will still figured he'd learned something, so now, looking back, it had all been worth it; The pain and the glory.

Baby-sitting. Will was still growling when he took himself off to the nearest bar and ordered the stiffest drink he was allowed, and while he sat there brooding into his synthehol, he began to run through the possibilities of who his charge was going to be. Hell, he didn't even know if it was a boy or a girl. What the hell was he supposed to do with a little girl, for cryin' out loud! Play with her Barbi dolls!?

Chapter two
At nine fifteen sharp, Lieutenant William Riker stepped into the shuttle bay. It was alive and buzzing with people coming and going to and from their various destinations. Over the throng of excited, welcoming cries of those just arriving to the muted, tearful snuffles of those departing, Will allowed to let it all wash over him, bleakly remembering his own arrival not so long ago, alone.

Moving to the appropriate landing dock Will stood apart from others awaiting the arrival of the same shuttle. Trepidation coursed through his veins as he watched the shuttle's docking routine begin, counting down the minutes to when he would finally meet his assignment.

Standing tall with his hands clenched stiffly behind his back he waited for the rear door to open. As it rose, Will unconsciously found himself holding his breath as he studied, one by one, the people that began to disembark down the slight ramp.

Convinced that he was looking for a child, Will was momentarily shocked when his eyes rose to an overly tall figure as he stepped out, stooped low and straightened up again when he was clear of the shuttle. Even before he saw the man's features, Will knew who it was. Homm. What on earth was he doing here? Will wondered as he stared open-mouthed at the seven foot plus man that hovered by the shuttle's door waiting for someone else to follow.

But, then, as soon as he saw the final passenger as she began to emerge from the shuttle, Will knew, with shock, who his charge was going to be. Deanna Troi. The same Deanna Troi that he had loved, left and lost some six months before when he'd been stationed and then subsequently left Betazed. The same six months since it had taken him to shake her out of his system enough to be able to get on with his job. Six months of pain and longing until, at last, he learnt how to ignore his heart's true want.

It had been the most desolate six months of his entire life.

Everything that he'd achieved and tucked away so that the pain of recalling her face, her body, her soul and her love wouldn't kill him at the most crucial of moments when he needed his wits about him, had been done in that long six months. It had been a bloody, long, hard ride to achieve sanity again, but he'd won. By God he had won.

And now, just one look from her ebony eyes as she looked across at him had put him back by about a hundred years. Just one look at her and he remembered their last moments together; when they had said goodbye, the same time that they had each broken each others hearts. Just one look and his soul melted as his mind drifted back to when he'd taken her body and shared it with his own and made it into one.



They were still Imzadi. He watched her make her way down the ramp and walk towards him. They always would be Imzadi. Always. Forever, he recalled silently to himself, already lost to times past, times that he wanted to remember, but hurt too much to do so right then. Later, he mused as his eyes locked with hers. Later.

Shaking himself free of the memories that cascaded through his mind, Will side-stepped the need he saw in her eyes, smiled and stepped forward, holding out his hand to the tall man servant first, "Mr. Homm, it's good to see you again." quickly realizing that he suddenly meant every word of it. Homm pumped his hand, stooping low, revealing his all-too-familiar tight lipped grin, his silence quickly telling Will that not one thing had changed about him. The man was still, and always would be, an enigma, and it was that that Will, and everyone who met him, perversely liked.

Releasing his hand, Will took a deep breath to prepare himself for the next few moments and stepped sideways to put himself in front of the woman waiting beside the giant. Before Will could utter one word, though, Deanna raised her finger to her lips, effectively silencing him. Instead she spoke to him with her mind, taking his proffered hand within her much smaller one. Sssh, Will, do not speak my name aloud. We will talk when we have more privacy.

Unable to speak, Will took a very long moment just to simply gaze at her and remember the woman he had once loved - still loved. Watching her eyes melt as his thoughts graphically and lovingly replaced his voice told him that she had 'heard' his endearment.

Keen to get them away from prying eyes, Will gently squeezed her fingers and reluctantly released her hand and turned away, indicating with the same hand his intentions. "Follow me, please. I have a suite ready for you where you can refresh yourselves, and then we can talk."

From the look in his eyes as he held her gaze for a moment longer, relieved that the meet had been more pleasant than she had expected, Deanna knew he had more to talk about other than her reason for being on Earth. Whether he was going to like what she had to tell him was another story.

Homm retrieved the huge, and Will knew, very heavy carry-all that had been put at his side by two burly porters and they made their way out of the shuttle bay towards the foyer where he led them into an elevator which sped them high up into the building above.

Guessing it was a hotel of some type, Deanna willingly followed Will's footsteps, desperate to, not only tidy up from the arduously long journey and get out of the dark, unobtrusive travelling outfit that she wore, but spend some time alone with the man before her - if Homm let her out of his sight for more than five minutes.

["Homm,]" She'd remembered as she heard her mother dictate to him, {"Do not let my daughter out of your sight. Do not let that young Lieutenant - or any other lieutenant, come to that matter, take advantage of her, even though I'm fully aware that the young scallywag has already taken one too many advantages than he was entitled to. I'm putting her completely in your hands. Look after her,"] she ordered sternly, ["or so help me, you'll have me to deal with when you come home."]

Deanna had heard every word and for the life of her couldn't imagine why her mother had specifically requested that Will be her guardian for the next two or three weeks. It was a mystery. It was also completely absurd. Lwaxana Troi had practically run him from her planet when he'd been stationed there, for, 'messing about with her daughter', but barely six months later, she was practically forcing him to stay by her side. It could only result in one thing, as far as she was concerned. But her mother had made it perfectly clear that that was not going to happen.

So Deanna had promised to, 'stay away from him'. And she knew that Will would have been instructed to, 'promise to stay away from her' by his superior officers, too. But the question was, could they promise to stay away from each other?

Arriving on one of the uppermost floor levels, the trio exited the lift-shaft and made their way along the lush corridor adorned with deep russet carpeting and a profusion of floral arrangements that complimented their surroundings perfectly. On reaching their suite door, Will showed Deanna and Homm into the luxurious interior and handed Homm the key card. "Please, make yourselves comfortable."

Stepping over to the vivid green panel on the table in the centre of the room, Will pointed to one particular glowing section and said, "Order up a meal if you wish. Just press this area and make your request. I'll come back in, say, two hours?" glancing at the Betazoids for confirmation. On Deanna's nod, Will reluctantly headed back for the door, murmuring, "I'll see you later." as he opened it and stepped outside, closing it with a firm click, signalling the release of the pent up breath he'd been holding since he'd first set eyes on his past.

Chapter three
Leaving Deanna's room and letting the shock of the morning's events finally sink in, leaving him in a state of sheer exasperation. Sure, he was glad to see Deanna again, but God, not now! He wasn't over her enough to be in control of himself, his heart, or his wayward emotions, the latter he hated Deanna knowing about, and he was sure that she did.

Just one look into her dark eyes spelt doom for him. Will knew he wasn't going to able to keep his promise, to neither Nechayev, Deanna, or himself, and damn it all, he needed to. He had a career to consider, a career that he could feel slipping through his fingers as yet again, in the space of as many moments that it had taken him to take another shuddering breath, Deanna's features swum before his eyes, slowing his steps as his heart catapulted in his chest, creating an intense pain that hurt.

Will needed answers and a solution to the invisible problem that was there before it even manifested itself. A problem that he was going to have trouble in explaining without revealing more than he wanted to. But as he headed back into the same building that he'd only visited just a few, scant hours before, Will knew he had no choice, and by the time he reached the same office, he was furious at having been put into a situation that could potentially ruin him, in more ways than one.

Will had headed straight back to HQ, pounded on Admiral Alynna Nechayev's door and demanded an explanation. "Want to tell me what the hell is going on, Admiral?" Will almost spat out his superior's title as his anger escalated once more at having been duped by her.

Exhaling a puff of air from her lungs as though she had half expected the visit, she indicated for Will to sit down, unsurprised when he didn't. Raising her eyebrows at his insubordination, Nechayev laced her fingers in front of her and rested them on the desk and looked up at him.

"Deanna Troi is here because she has joined the Academy, Lieutenant, and, unfortunately, for a short while, she has got to go, 'incognito'. Therefore, for the time being - and possibly longer, she will be known as Evelyn Starr."


"Because her mother, Ambassador Troi has insisted so. You have to remember, Will," She patiently explained, "that Deanna is the last of her family to carry on after her mother's demise, therefore, she is to be treated with the utmost care, and respect. Now, of course, I have assured her that the academy is as safe as safe can be, but, of course, it was not good enough for her. So, she has asked us - you, to watch over her for a couple of weeks, just to make sure that there is no threat."

"Damn it! Why me?!" Will almost roared, unaware that his heart was truly lying on his sleeve for all to see as his eyes glittered suspiciously bright. "Why have I got to be the one to look after her? There must be a hundred and one other suitable people here that can do the job. Why couldn't it be one of them?"

Suddenly seeing beyond the tirade, Admiral Nechayev frowned and looked up into Will's troubled eyes and asked quietly, "Is there something that I should know about, Lieutenant? Something that, perhaps, you should be telling me?"

The world stopped dead in it's tracks. What did he tell her? That he'd had a tempestuous, hot and steamy affair with his charge and that he didn't trust himself to keep his hands off her, or did he say nothing and hope to God that he could get through this without ruining his reputation, and Deanna's? Or did he tell her the truth, that he was still madly in love with her, and, damn it all, he didn't want to be."

It was a long tense moment as Will weighed up the options open to him, until at last, he reluctantly chose probably the wrong one. "No." he said finally. Adamantly.

She gave him another chance to change his mind, her intuition telling her her he was lying through his teeth. "Are you sure about that, Lieutenant?"


"No, there is nothing, or, yes, there is something that I should know about?" She teased seriously.
Will took a deep breath, again. "No, there isn't, ma'am."

Nechayev nodded, now certain that the handsome lieutenant was lying through his teeth. "Good, because Mrs Troi specifically requested you, and you know yourself what a formidable woman she can be." Will nodded knowingly. Oh, he knew, alright. Better than most, unfortunately. She sighed and then added for clarification, "But I'm sure I don't need to say, that, while she's under your care, Riker, she is strictly off limits. Do I make myself understood?" Hoping that the unwanted piece of advice might somehow aid him in his dilemma.

Already resigned to what was probably going to be a fate worse than death, Will response was caustic and with more conviction that he actually felt, he replied, "Absolutely no problem with keeping that order, Admiral. No problem at all." She didn't see his fingers crossed at his back.

Slumping back in her chair, she replied on another sigh, wanting desperately to get Will to open up and confide in her but realizing that prolonging the meet was completely futile. Reluctantly she called an end to the meeting, aware that she was probably throwing one of their best cadets into the lion's den. She just hoped that he could claw his way out unscathed at the end of it all.

"Good," she smiled tightly at him effectively ending the confrontation. "glad to hear that, Lieutenant. Dismissed." Watching as he turned to leave, she suddenly remembered his untimely arrival and with a hint of a smile that took away the sting of her reprimand, she added, "Oh, and next time you barge in here, young man, make sure you've got an appointment to back it up, or else I'll have your ass in the brig."

Smirking as he passed back through the door he'd only minutes ago slammed coming in, he said grinning, "Yes, ma'am."

Chapter four
Will took another deep breath as he stood outside Deanna's door. But before his knuckles could rap its surface, it was opened. The door swung wide and Homm stepped back, bowing slightly in his usual way and indicated for Will to enter. He took two steps inside and stopped.

Deanna stood apprehensively across the other side of the room. She had changed into a softer, long shift instead of the heavy dark outfit that she had arrived in. Her hair was down, now cascading down her back in ebony waves that caught the sunlight as it streamed through the window behind her. She looked ethereal. She looked gorgeous, Will amended, as he stared across at her. The slight smile that lit up her features told him that once again, she had known what was racing through his mind.

Beckoning him in with her fingers, Deanna spoke, laughter lightening her words. "Come on in, Will, we have a lot to catch up on."

Taking another step into the room, Will turned when he heard the door close firmly behind him. Expecting to find Homm hovering at his back, he was surprised to find him gone. With raised eyebrows, he turned questioningly back to Deanna.

"We have half an hour." she clarified, sarcasm lightening the sudden tightness in the air. Moving to the couch, she sat, inviting Will to sit at her side. He went gladly, sliding onto the seat, nervously linking his hands together, afraid that they'd reach out and do what they wanted to do; pull her into his arms and then onto his lap and hold her close while he kissed her deeply.

Her soft and lilting voice tore him away from his daydream. "It's been a long time." she smiled gently. He smiled back, hiding the memory of them parting. It wasn't a long time ago. It had only been six months. But then, he wondered, it had been a long time since he'd held her, kissed her, made love to her, and gave his heart to her. But a long time? It felt like only yesterday to him. But he wasn't going to admit that to her.

"Yes, it has." Taking a deep breath, he looked deep into her dark eyes and asked quietly, "Why are you here, Deanna?"

He didn't miss the way her eyes darted away from him briefly. She hadn't expected such a brutal question from him so soon, that was clear, but he'd never been one for beating around the bushes. Her being here was going to cause him no end of grief and, in the end, he figured he had a right to know.

"I took your advice." She told him with a brave smile, a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes.

"My advice?" he queried, as he slipped further back into the seat and studied her, feeling safer away from the aura that surrounded her, seemingly pulling him in, wanting more than he was ready for.

"Yes," she suddenly grinned, taking his cue and settling her own taut body further back, feigning comfort now that the ice was broken. "You made me realize that there was more out there than home, and that I could do some good for other people - other cultures. I'd finished my studies," She explained, with a light shrug, "mother was nagging, always going on about her role in society and that it was my duty to follow her, but it was not what I wanted anymore." She looked him squarely in the face. "You made me see that, Will. You made me see what was beyond my own doorstep. So," she took a deep shuddering, nervous breath, "here I am."

"Why Starfleet?

"Why not?" She countered back, and then a shyness and a smidgen of shame crept into her features. "And besides, it was at mother's insistence. 'Little One' Deanna mimicked her mother to perfection, 'if you're going to abandon me, then at least find a job where I can keep an eye on you, and keep an eye on all those men that are going to be constantly drooling all over you.'"

Will suddenly grinned at her, shaking his head in agreement. "Oh, yeah, men are definitely going to drool all over you, Deanna. I can just see the headlines now. 'Betazoid temptation drowns in dribble.

"They are not!" Deanna cried indignantly, laughter slipping through, quickly reminding Will of times past when he'd deliberately goaded her, knowing that her naivety would get the desired results from her. Things were no different now and Will was shaken to realize that without him by her side here on Earth, she was going to get into trouble. A whole lot of trouble.

Still, he had two, maybe three weeks to clue her in on the mating habits of young, Terran males, and on that thought he began to enjoy the chance to have some fun, even if it was at her expense. He was looking forward to seeing how she coped with dissuading ardent young, virile men. Hell, she'd managed to keep him away from her for a while, but only for a while, and he silently preened at his prowess at finally getting under her skin, and her clothing.

But then again, he was different. He was Will Riker and he was going to keep his word, simply because he had no choice. It was either Deanna or his career, and his career still came first. He could do this mission, of that he was certain now - providing Deanna kept her side of the bargain. All he had to do was stay away from her soul, the one place that he knew he couldn't fool.

Chapter five
From his viewpoint in the bar, Will could see Deanna, plain as day. Surrounded by four fawning men, she appeared to be lapping up the attention. Her sultry laughter reached his ears from across the expanse of tables and chairs that separated them and twisted his gut, sending a ripple of awareness to his loins. He wanted to be with her. He wanted to be the one looking into her eyes, making her chuckle, and going home with him at the end of the evening.

A long fingernail physically pulled his face away from her. "Hey, Tiger, are you here with me, or am I doing this dating thing on my own tonight?"

Without a trace of guilt, Will smiled at the woman barely inches away from his lips. "Sorry, guess I'm not very good company tonight. Do you want me to take you home?"

"Sure!" She grinned, her blue-green eyes lighting up with the prospect of the hot and steamy night ahead, deliberately misreading his real intent. "Let's go."

He couldn't resist it. He had to look over at her again. Deanna's eyes met his and held, oblivious to the chatter going on around her. DON'T GO, the black orbs pleaded silently, holding the fake smile for those beside her.
Will's feet slipped to the floor as he stood from his stool. his hand automatically reaching out to take his companions arm to assist her off the tall stool. But still his eyes never left Deanna's.

"Do you know her?" Sharri's voice turned petulant and sulky as her own eyes curiously studied the beautiful black haired girl that had caught her guys attention for the best part of the last hour or so.

"Not really," Will mumbled, distractedly. Suddenly realizing that he was being incredibly rude, he guiltily broke his gaze away from Deanna's and turned to Sharri, smiling regretfully. "A little," he finally admitted.

Flexing her shoulders so that her ample bosom captured Will's full attention, Sharri leaned closer and whispered huskily, "Was she as good as I am, sugar?" Licking her full lips, giving Will's libido a swift kick to remind him that he hadn't been laid since Deanna had stepped on his home planet.

Caught up in the moment, Will grinned widely at her, slipping his arm around her waist and pulling her closer to his long form before whispering hungrily. "Actually, now that you come to mention it, I've nearly forgotten what you're like. Wanna remind me?" Only his heart was aware of the double entendre.

Her elfin face lit up like a beacon as she lifted her hand and dragged it across his chest, making sure she scraped his hardened nipples before dropping it to lace her fingers with his. "Sure. Take me home, tiger." She growled, pulling him along behind her like a bitch on heat, deliberately making sure that the woman watching them across the room saw them leave, throwing her a triumphant smirk as she her passed by.

Will couldn't keep his hands off Sharri once they made it outside into the darkness of the late Autumn evening. Pulling her up hard against his body he let his hands roam at will. "Come here, tease. I've been dying to do this for hours."

Sharri saucily chuckled as she allowed herself to be led out of sight around the corner, spinning in his arms so that she could a little exploring of her own, the sounds on the other side of the wall vanishing, replaced by the harsh, hurried tempo of their breathing. "Guess we're not going to make it back to your place, huh?" she purred before devouring his mouth with hers.

Will growled as he laced one hand through her hair so that he could manoeuvre her head, whilst the other hand slid down her slender hip and cupped her bottom as he ground himself against her and then kissed until they were breathless, their moans, loud in the evening's quiet. Eventually Sharri tore her mouth away from his and leaned in to kiss and lather his throat.

Will looked up at the heavens, closed his eyes and lost himself. His loins pulsed with desperation as he held her snug against him, allowing her the freedom to do what she wanted with him.

But it wasn't Sharri that was making love to him, it was Deanna, as it had taken Will absolutely no effort at all to replace the Betazoid with the blonde before him. He wanted Deanna and this was as near as he was going to get to her, so long as he kept his eyes shut and his mind trapped in times past.

Will's hands had settled on Sharri's waist and he realized that she was now raining tiny kisses all over his upper torso, leaving tiny hot, damp patches upon his top. He swallowed thickly as it dawned on him that she was heading south and sure enough a moment later, he found his hands instinctively encasing her head as she went lower still.

Closing his eyes again, he lifted them to the darkened skies and let himself believe that it was Deanna that was sending him to heaven. He felt her fingers reaching for the snap on his pants and he swallowed again and sucked in his breath, flattening his already smooth stomach. He wanted this. God how much he wanted this.

Deanna's presence on Earth had sent him reeling. She was so close, so, so close to him but he couldn't even touch her, couldn't tell her how he was feeling, and didn't even dare to think about her in case she listened in on his thoughts and desires.

He wanted to cry out her name, He wanted it to be her that was before him now. He wanted her in his arms and back in his heart where she belonged. He wanted Deanna, pure and simple.

Something shifted in his train of thought, bringing him back to the present. He wasn't sure what caused the shift until he opened his eyes and looked down at the blonde head, now intent on taking down his pants as she squatted down in front of him. He could see the tip of her tongue between her teeth as she struggled with the snap, concentration etched upon her delicate features.

WHAT AM I DOING? he gasped silently, suddenly conscious of exactly where he was. Embarrassed, Will turned his head, somehow already knowing that he was going to see something, or someone that he didn't want to.

And he did.

Deanna stood some twenty feet away from him, her silhouette standing rock still at the edge of the club house building, watching him, he knew, with disbelief and sorrow. He couldn't see her features in the darkness, but then he didn't have to. He was more than aware of how it looked to her, he only wished that she knew that it was Deanna that was making love to him and not the blonde bimbo oblivious to what was happening around her.

Will didn't know how long she had been standing there watching them and dropping his head back against the wall, not even noticing the sting of pain as his skull hit the brickwork, Will swallowed again. GOD, NO, he murmured wordlessly, remembering the last time he'd been caught out. NOT AGAIN.

Turning to face her again, he spoke aloud, his deep voice echoing in the stillness. "Deanna. I...."

But she hadn't heard him, nor wanted to. With tears streaming down her cheeks, Deanna turned and walked away from the haunting scene, already knowing that she would never eradicate the memory that now scorched her heart and mind.

But another woman had heard him. Sharri stopped just as her fingers reached inside his pants when all she found was his suddenly surprisingly soft flesh. Still almost kneeling, Sharri looked up. Seeing the torment on Will's face as he continued to stare at the space where she assumed they'd been witnessed, she realized that he'd known the brunette a damn sight more than the little that he had proclaimed.

Wordlessly Sharri came unsteadily to her feet and for a long moment she looked into Will's eyes and saw the truth there. Truth that she hadn't wanted to see. Will was clearly and hopelessly in love with the brunette. "I guess you knew her more than a little, huh?" She asked, sadly. When Will didn't deny it, Sharri took an unsteady step back and whispered brokenly, her head shaking slowly in heartbreaking disgust. "You bastard."

Will couldn't even move as he watched Sharri walk the same way that only moments before, Deanna had stood and watched them both. Once more he dropped his head back against the wall, this time deliberately wallowing in the sting of pain that it caused. And then he did it again, and again, emitting expletives that only he and the night could hear.

"Fuck. Fuck. Fuck."

Chapter six
"I don't want this assignment, Admiral. Get me out of it."

Nechayev's eyebrows rose up under her fringe before her eyes turned to glittering chips of steel at the young lieutenant's tone, and somewhat unsurprising demand. "Out of the question, lieutenant. You have been given this job and you're going to see it through."

Will's heart pumped with fear. "I'll leave Starfleet." He threatened.

Alynna Nechayev laughed out loud. "Try it, Riker and I'll put your ass in the brig for insubordination and desertion."

"Right now, I don't care what you do to me, Admiral," Will warned. "just get me off this job."

Nechayev sighed dramatically and said, "Sit down, lieutenant." When he made to ignore her, she barked, her finger jabbing the air in the direction of the chair. "Sit!" making him jump with it's sharpness.

Thinking better of it, Will reluctantly lowered his tall frame into the seat opposite his superior officer and slipped his shaking hands beneath his thick thighs. Nechayev studied him silently for a long moment and Will could see the pity in her eyes. Eventually he had to look away, unable to hold her steady gaze any longer, ashamed that he'd had to come to her.

Alynna didn't hold anything back when she confronted the young, handsome officer. "You lied, didn't you, Will, when I asked you if there was anything that I should know, concerning Cadet Deanna Troi?"

Will turned steady eyes back to the older woman, realizing it was pointless to deny it any longer and said slowly. Defiantly. "Yes, ma'am, I did."

"I'm listening."

Defiance dying, he lost his moment of bravado and Will turned away and shrugged. "We were an item on her home planet. Now we're not."

Nechayev laughed again and the sound began to bite on Will's nerves. "Nothing is that simple, Riker. If it was, you wouldn't be getting so uptight about this assignment. What aren't you telling me?"

Suddenly reluctant to tell her, Will clammed up, but his silence did nothing to conceal his true feelings. They lay open to the admiral as surely as if he'd told her, until eventually she guessed all on her own. "You fell in love with her." It wasn't a question, more a statement.

Will refused to answer, instead asked again, hope tinging his question now that she knew his secret. "Will you reassign me, Admiral?"

She shook her head, her bluntness shocking Will momentarily. "No." She sighed again, her mind changing as quickly as her decision. "Will, you have one more week. You can make it through that, I know you can, you're stronger than this, I know you are."

Will shook his head sadly, uncaring that he was shattering his male pride. "I wish I were, Ma'am."

Suddenly Alynna Nechayev made a decision. "Listen. The worst of the job is over. There have been no threats toward Miss Troi, and, she does have that big..." She struggled to find a suitable description for Homm, reluctant to use the only one that fitted who and what he was, but failed. "man constantly looking over her shoulder at every turn. I'll concede that you don't have to be at her side every time she steps out of the door, so, I'll make your job a little easier for you, lieutenant. Take care of her from a distance."

"From a distance?" Will asked, puzzled. "Is that supposed to make me feel better?"

"No," She answered honestly, "But it means you're getting the job done. It's the best I can do, Will. Be blessed that you haven't got Ambassador Troi on your back. Trust me, your job is nothing compared to grief I'd get from her if she found out you'd renegaded."

"That's the best I can get?" Will asked.

"Yes, it is. I'm somewhat disappointed that you've dug yourself this all too familiar hole, lieutenant. I thought you were better than that.Twenty years ago you would have been kicked out of the academy. Actually," she emended, "two years ago you would have been, too. Starfleet are getting mushy on us, a trait that I don't particularly care for. But," She sighed dramatically again, "Our ships have families on board now. I guess romance has gotta start somewhere!"

Will felt compelled to apologize. "Sorry, ma'am."

She shrugged, preparing herself to dismiss him. "It's nice to know your human, lieutenant, it's just a shame Deanna Troi's mother isn't."

Will chuckled as he pushed himself to his feet. "Don't remind me. The woman was put in the universe purposely to make my life miserable, and she's succeeded."

Will stretched out his hand to Nechayev and she in turn put her own into his. "Keep your distance, Will. Just one more week."

"I will, ma'am. Thanks."

And as before, Will stopped in his tracks as his hand reached for the door handle as Nechayev's raised voice rang out. "Next time, lieutenant, I'll kick your ass out of that door myself if you barge in here again."

Will tried to keep a straight face, but failed again as he stepped through the door and pulled it shut. "Yes, ma'am."

Chapter seven
Deanna's footsteps slowed as she pushed through the doorway and stepped out into the bright San Franciscan sun and saw him waiting. It had been strange, having Will so near, and yet, so very far away. He stood against the dorm wall, his arms and ankles crossed as he waited for her to emerge.

Deanna knew that he was waiting for her, and she knew that he would follow her wherever she went. But he stayed away from her. Never spoke to her, barely even acknowledged her, even though it was clear that he was still watching over her.

And it silently broke Deanna's heart.

On her emergence, Will pushed himself away from the wall and waited for her direction. He hated the situation, but he'd only got himself to blame. He was a coward and he was frightened of Deanna Troi. Hell, he was frightened of himself, if the truth be known.

And she knew the truth.

Will's hooded gaze followed her as she turned left and headed towards the teaching units. It had become a regular pattern of hers and Will mentally began to prepare himself for the tedious two hours of waiting that he knew was coming. He felt inanely stupid loitering in corridors for hours on end while Deanna went about her academy life as though he wasn't there.

But he was there, and Deanna was acutely aware that he was there, waiting for her, even if he was no longer talking to her, or if she admitted, she him. She hadn't forgiven him for the scene in the alley. Only a moron would have done what he'd done. Only a moron would have done it with the woman he supposedly loved so close by. Only a moron would have been stupid enough to believe that he wouldn't have been caught.

Will had hurt her, again. Was she ever going to learn?

Probably not, not as far as he was concerned.

Deanna sighed heavily as she pushed open the heavy door and stepped into the lecture hall, the thrum of waiting cadets chatter quickly drawing her in, helping to dispel the temporary loss of Will's presence, and betrayal, as she moved in amongst her fellow classmates.

"Hey, Evelyn! over here! I saved you a seat!"

Deanna smiled warmly as her friends high-pitched call reached her ears, even though she had already been making her way over towards her, anyhow. It hadn't taken long for routines to take form, and it hadn't taken long to make friends. Jan was one.

Jan also had a crush on Lieutenant William Riker.

As Deanna settled into her seat beside the bubbly, effervescent teenager, she had already second-guessed her buddy's first, and usual question. "Yes, my shadow is out there, Jan, and no, he's still not interested in being a guinea pig for your psycho-analysis course."

Her eyes widened further still, if that was possible. "You asked him!?" She squealed, fanning her face at the thought that she'd been a topic discussed with possibly, the dreeeeeeeeeeamiest hunk on the planet!

Deanna chuckled. "Sure. He said that he was sorry that he couldn't oblige as he was otherwise engaged in a highly secretive mission for Admiral Nechayev, but, he said, that next time he was home, he'd gladly oblige." Deanna didn't bother to add that she was lying and that Will probably wouldn't see Earth again for at least ten years once he'd finished with his current assignment. She didn't see the need to completely shatter the impressionable young woman's dreams.

And besides, Will was still, 'technically' hers, and if she couldn't touch him, she was as sure as hell certain that her buddy wasn't going to get her hands on him, either. Since Deanna had witnessed his little romantic liaison, she'd been pretty certain that Will had remained celibate and much to her own chagrin, she had, too.

Deanna had initially looked forward to sampling other men; seeing what made them tick, finding out if she could go beyond loving Will, but Will had sullied that for her. Catching him with that woman had hurt her. Seeing the pain upon his face had crucified her more. Merging her mind with his and seeing her there instead of the woman at his feet had completely destroyed her.

How were they going to get through the last few days without ripping each others hearts and souls apart?

Easy. They just had to stay away from each other.

Damn it.

Two long, thought-filled and painful hours later, the Betazoid and the Terran were the first to head for the door, barely waiting for the lecturer to utter, 'dismissed'. Deanna didn't want to admit to herself that she was desperate to see Will's presence. It soothed her. It tormented her more, but she couldn't help it. If all she had to fill her aching soul was his presence, then so be it. Seeing him would have to be enough. Feeling him nearby was equally gratifying. Wanting him would continue to haunt her heart.

Little did she know that she was about to have all those illusions shattered yet again as her hand turned to door handle.

Deanna stopped short, causing Jan to collide with her back as she stepped through the door, the gasp leaving her lungs caught in her throat, forcing a piteous squeak to erupt from her lips. She couldn't believe her eyes as she surveyed the sight before her. He was doing it again.

Will stood opposite her, one shoulder casually propped against the cream wall as he looked down at the small dark-blonde headed woman that stood beside him, her stance the same. The only difference was the moon-stuck awed look that etched her face as she looked dreamily up into Will's. The conversation between them was obviously deep; waves of unrest cascaded through Deanna as she desperately tried to gather herself and push away the surge of shock, envy and pain before he sensed it.

She failed as his face turned and found her sorrowful eyes as they waited for his to meet them.

Spinning on her heels, Deanna hurried away. Will's shout echoed after her and she forced her feet to go faster to escape the inevitable confrontation. "De...Evelyn! Stop, damn it!" He roared, uncaring of the scene he was creating.

But Deanna kept running, and he took up the pursuit after her determined that she wasn't going to escape his explanation this time. She wasn't being fair on him. Deanna had to realize that he had a life before she came. He had many friends, he had even more lovers. The friends he had to hang on to, for his own sanity, The lovers - well, he would willingly put them aside for her and, indeed, he was trying to, but not all of them wanted to be put aside.

Jemima Tracer had been just another hopelessly devoted who didn't want to grasp the fact that he was a fly-boy; never in one place for more than an easy lay and keeping his heart firmly tucked beneath his sleeve, making it nobody's property but his.

And damn it, Deanna Troi's.

Will had been painstakingly trying to explain that to the beautiful young cadet when the inevitable had happened. It seemed he was destined to be constantly caught out. Was this his future? he wondered. Was this his destiny; a constant reminder that he was somebody's Imzadi. Deanna's Imzadi.


But none of that mattered now. He needed to make peace with Deanna Troi - again. But this time, he wanted it done on his terms. Too much was at stake, most of all their hearts.

Although Will could catch up with her any time he wanted, he let her run. Ignoring the curious stares as he hurtled after the tiny Betazoid, Will followed, doggedly following her steps through the corridors of the Academy's maze until she reached the freedom of the outdoors. Belatedly, Will realized that he could quickly lose her outside and stepped up his own pace.

Deanna raced across the green expanse of ornate lawns that spread out before the towering academy building now behind her. She could not let Will catch up with her. It could only end up in one way and she was not prepared to let it happen. Fear of hurting her soul further gripped her, making her run even faster still.

Will felt like he was leaping into some fathomless black hole as he dived through the outside sleeping quarter's doors in his pursuit of his quarry. Pissed that once again he'd been caught out in a compromising situation, even though it hadn't been what it had looked like, Will's escalating fury boiled further still with each foot that Deanna put between them. He knew that once she'd reached the lifts, he'd lose his chance to put things back to how they were, even though that safe-ish even keel was killing him to be there. It was still better than what could lie ahead if she won this battle.

Eagle eyes from high up in the academy suites followed the chase with a growing sense of unease as she watched her star cadet head towards disaster and worse still, breaking his promise. She just hoped that Ambassador Troi wasn't lurking around a corner waiting to pounce on the clearly tormented couple. Sighing heavily, she pulled herself away from the window and made her way back to her desk. Punching the panel before her, Alynna Nechayev set the wheels in motion to end everyone's torment.

She uneasily hoped.

Chapter eight
Will skidded to a halt just as the lift doors closed shut. Deanna's eyes held fear as she watched Will approach her at break-neck speed and she frantically willed the doors to close before he reached her. She heaved a wobbly sigh of relief as her prayers were answered. She knew that Will wouldn't come to her suite where Homm was waiting for her.

He wouldn't dare.

Even though she knew who was on the other side, Deanna jumped with shock as Will pounded his fist twice on the wood. Glancing uneasily at the tall man nearby, Deanna whispered frantically, "Don't let him in, Homm. If you do, I swear, I'll tell Mother."

And through the door came, "And if you don't, Homm, I won't give you that promised bottle of scotch for keeping your mouth shut."

Homm grinned apologetically at Deanna's stunned, open-mouthed features as he moved towards the door and swung it wide, leaving it open as he stepped through it, nodding enigmatically at Will as he ambled off down the corridor leaving the two of them alone.

Quietly, Will stepped into the room, his eyes never leaving Deanna's as he closed the door behind him. "Why has he got to keep his mouth shut. Are you mad?!" She cried, her own eyes staring into his with disbelief.

Slowly Will stepped up to her and stopped, his gaze serious as he stared at her outraged features, savouring the fire that lit up her dark eyes. "Because both he and I knew that this day would eventually happen. THIS would eventually happen and I don't want Ambassador Troi - your snooping mother - knowing about it. We need to talk, Deanna. We MUST talk."

Deanna spun away from him in a valiant effort to hold onto control of the situation, her voice dripping ice as her heart began to freeze against the pain she knew that was coming. "I don't want to, Will. It serves no purpose."

Angrily, Will reached for her arm and spun her around to face him, taking in the angry tears that pooled in her eyes, threatening to dissolve the moment into something that weren't up to handling, not without talking first.

"Damn it, Deanna, don't you dare cry on me. That's not fair." But even as Will spoke, he was slowly pulling her into his arms. "Don't, Deanna. Please don't." he brokenly crooned as he placed a long kiss on top of her soft hair. "For Christ's sake - our sake, please send me away. Cry rape, scream the place down, do anything, anything to stop me."

Deanna balled her fists against his solid chest and willed herself not to fall to pieces, but it was damned hard. It was the one place she wanted to be, the one place that she was, and she shouldn't have been there. She sniffed against his shirt in an attempt to rein in her tumultuous emotions, the trembles rippling throughout her entire body as she whispered brokenly, "I can't. I can't." and Will pulled her even closer to him.

"Don't cry, Deanna." he quietly pleaded, carefully lifting her chin so that he could see her face and let her see that he was hurting too and suddenly, at that very moment and with clear clarity, his career meant nothing to him, only the woman before him.

And Deanna felt it. "Why not?" she barely whispered, mesmerized by his handsome face, a face that she loved beyond reason.

Without thinking, Will cupped his hands around her neck. "Why not?" he whispered back, bemused by her strange question.

"Why not?" she repeated, her eyes falling to his mouth, willing it to lower further still, forcing him to acknowledge the obvious.

Will saw her swallow, felt it against the heels of his hands. Her lips were much too soft, too close, too tempting. He brushed them lightly with his and answered her just before the brief touch of lips turned into a full, passionate kiss. "Because of this."

The invisible sigh that took the couple over as they recaptured the love that had teased and tormented them for the past two weeks sizzled into much longed for need. The coldness that had invaded Deanna's heart to keep her away from Will finally thawed as he let go of his words and she clung to him as she let herself let go of everything else that had held her hostage.

BECAUSE OF THIS, he'd said.

So simple. So true. They were both here, because of this. Because of everything that had happened before, because of their connection, because they still loved each other, and, because of Imzadi, they were together again.

Because of this.

All too soon Will pulled his lips from hers. It was then, she realized, they were both gasping for breath. Will groaned and buried his face in the soft spot between shoulder and neck. "God, Deanna, what are we going to do about this?"

He raised his head to search face for an answer and saw only bewilderment and longing written upon it. The intended touch to the lips soared into a shuddering, earth-shattering kiss once more. For many long moments they kissed until Will forcibly tore his mouth away again.

Her eyes were glazed with hungry passion, her lips, wet and swollen from the pressure of his and Will revelled with the fact that she was in his arms and let his hands blaze a familiar path down her slender body. He rained kisses upon every inch of her face, unable to let her go, not even wanting to, even though he knew he would eventually have to.

But not yet.

Smiling Deanna held her face away from his and traced a loving path around his own face with the tip of her finger. Will kissed it's tip as it dragged across his lips, letting go the moan that the intoxicating move created. "Deanna?" he asked again.

She took a deep steadying breath. "I think," she whispered, "because of this..." She touched her mouth to his again. "you should stay."

Chapter nine
"Deanna...touch me."

And as her small fingers reached for him, Will's head dropped back as Deanna shoved his tunic top up and teased his broad, masculine hairy chest with feather-light kisses, feeling and hearing his pounding heartbeat beneath her hands. She tugged lightly on one tiny bud and then swirled her hot tongue around it before transferring to the other, twinning the movement she had shared with it's mate. Will moaned to the ceiling with ecstasy.

All rational thoughts of promises and assignments were long forgotten as the Imzadi couple renewed their acquaintance in the the only way they knew how, and wanted. With love.

Impatient for more, Will tugged the tunic top over his head and threw it to one side as Deanna's hands ran over his skin, setting it ablaze with her unique touch. Growing frantic to feel the same, Will hastily but gently pushed her hands away and reached for the hem of her own top. "My turn," he said thickly.

Feeling, seeing and needing Will to explore her, Deanna chuckled and raised her hands above her head saucily. "By all means, lieutenant, go right ahead."

Breathing heavily, Will was within one inch of feasting his eyes on the breasts that had tormented his mind and his body for eons when a shrill noise came from the communication panel somewhere behind them and broke through the sexually charged illicit reunion.

Both Will and Deanna halted in mid movement at the intrusion before the reality of what they were doing, and about to do, suddenly cleared their befuddled mind. What if it was the Wicked Witch of Betazed? What if Homm had gone against his promise and had warned her that they had broken their own promises and succumbed to the inevitable? And, God forbid, what if it had been the admiral?

For a long tense moment, Will and Deanna eyes locked in mutual fear, regret and longing. Desire, and something infinitely more deeper than they could say without words until, finally, Deanna whispered hoarsely, "You should go."

At her quick turn about Will pressed his lips together, his blue eyes sparking with anger. But deep down, even he had to acknowledge that she was right. Reluctantly taking a large step back away from her many temptations, least of all the eyes that betrayed her ultimate request, Will swept up his tunic from the floor and made to leave.

But then as suddenly as he turned, he swung back and yanked Deanna into his arms and gave her a hard, punishing kiss, a kiss that held more than regret for being denied. A kiss that he somehow knew, deep down inside was going to be the last for a long while. But not forever he vowed. "I'll be back, Imzadi" he growled at her startled face, the threat a promise that he intended to uphold. One day. "I'm not giving up on us that easily. Not now." And with one last hesitant long look at her, Will tugged his tunic over his head, straightening it as he went and swept out the door, it's closing echoing in her ears long moments after he'd gone.

Deanna couldn't tear her eyes away from the solid structure, pleading silently with her heart and soul for him to come back to her, but she wasn't answered. He'd gone. He'd left her. It seemed all too familiar. Too painful.

Eventually Deanna abruptly brought back to the present by the persistent shrill chime beside her and belatedly tugging down her own clothing to cover her heated and wanting skin, she approached it with trepidation. But as she reached down to touch the offending panel, and before she could chicken out, knowing that to do so would not do her budding academy career one ounce of good, another pounding at her door halted her fingers descent.

Chapter ten
Did she answer the comm first, or the door? The last of the great dilemmas as Deanna's head turned from one to the other, knowing that either way her very young, very tenuous career at Starfleet was hanging by an even thinner thread. And so was Will's. And for what? For love. For Imzadi.

Another sharp, louder, more insistent wrap on the door quickly solved it all. Cautiously walking towards it, fearful of who lie on the other side sent rivers of trepidation through Deanna. There were times when she fervently wished that she had her all of her mother's powers, if only to have a ready response for whoever lay on the other side. Now was most definitely one of those times.

Nervously opening the door ajar and peeking around the corner, Deanna's eyes met those of two of Starfleets security guards, but Deanna's were quickly drawn to the man who stood sullenly between them. With his hands firmly tucked behind his back, but she instinctively knew that he wasn't handcuffed, it wasn't Starfleet's way, Will silently pleaded with her to keep quiet; do as she was told and say nothing. He looked scared. He had a lot at stake, more than she. A lot rode on the next hour but neither of them realized that it was more complex than that.

Swinging the door wider still, Deanna opened her mouth to protest, but Will's silent heartfelt plea, {Don't, Deanna. Don't say a word. Let me handle this.} reverberated through her mind, stilling her. Instead, she straightened her stature and said, with an air of confidence that she absolutely did not feel, her fingers gripping the door handle tight enough for her knuckles to go white, "Officers. Can I help you?"

The senior of the two, even though he kept an air of formality in his stance and voice, never-the-less managed to formulate a regretful smile as he said, "Yes, ma'am. You've been requested to follow us for an urgent meet with Admiral Nechayev. Please come with us, Cadet Troi."

As Deanna took her place between the three men and started towards the exit she spotted her trusted valet ahead, waiting at the doorway, unsure of what to do, or where to go. As Deanna approached him, she marched on past him murmuring loud enough for him and her escorts to hear, "Homm, get hold of my mother. Get us out of this or else I'll make sure you don't get that bottle of scotch that Will promised you."

With any luck, she hoped, the threat of a confrontation with the formidable ambassador would make Nacheyev reconsider whatever action was about to happen behind closed office doors. United in their troubles, Deanna wasn't surprised when she felt Will's hand wrap around her own. He gave her a reassuring smile when her eyes met his, showing her that he was ready for whatever lay ahead.

Deanna took a deep breath, squeezed his fingers and silently hoped that the powers that be were on their side today. Surely being Imzadi meant something? It was all they had to bargain with.

Chapter eleven

"Don't you think they did well, Alynna? And with only one day to go, I'm amazed," She turned to the couple staring open-mouthed at the screen at her. "and disappointed." She added, with a derisive sniff. "Little one, I cannot believe that you managed to blow your chances yet again with William."

She shook her head, riveting her daughter with a gaze that would shrivel anyone more timid. Both shoulders and hands rose expressively and, even though she was probably a million light years away, Lwaxana Troi just might as well have been in the same room. "I despair of you sometimes, child. How many more times is it going to take before you two silly clot-heads finally see sense? What else have I got to do?"

She continued relentlessly. "Anybody would think that neither of you wanted to actually BE together, but," she laughed, highly bemused at the possibility that that could be the truth. "you're Imzadi, darlings. You're both stuck with it. Forever. Eternally. It's time you both got used to it."

Will and Deanna turned to stared disbelievingly at each other before Will finally found his voice, cutting Deanna off before she could beat him to it, turning to the woman uncaring of who or what she was. "Are you telling me that you've dragged me here, from my ship, for the sole reason of manipulating Deanna and I into having an affair - an affair, I might add, that neither of us want?"

Lwaxana's laugh almost reached fever pitch." Lieutenant, you are deluding yourself. How could you not want an affair with my daughter. How could you not want to marry her? She is your Imzadi, for heaven's sake!"

Will took a slow, predatory step forward, leaned down and planted his palms firmly on the admirals desk with the sole intent of putting his face as close to the ambassador's as humanly possible. He wanted her to not only see, but feel what he had to say. "Mrs. Troi," he began, his words slow, even and purposeful. "I love your daughter,..."

Grinning, Lwaxana made to interrupt but Will's sharp tone cut her off. "Shut up, Mrs. Troi and let us have OUR say. I love your daughter. From the first moment I set eyes on her I knew that she was mine. It had nothing to do with you, or fate, or Imzadi, I fell in love with her. That WE chose not to continue our relationship was OUR choice, not yours, nor fates, nor Imzadi's. OURS."

Pushing himself away from the desk, Will stepped back towards Deanna and linked his hands with hers, his eyes locking with her misty ones, his heart on his sleeve for all to see. "Yes, I do love you Deanna, with all my heart, but both you and I know that this is not yet our time. We have been given some space to explore, not only our own hearts but our futures, too. We weren't ready then."

Turning back to the two women silently watching, he murmured. "Our time will come when we're ready and that time is not yet. We both have goals to achieve. We both want what's best for us, and we both know that, in time, we'll find each other and become what we are destined to be, without your help."

Deanna stepped closer to the man whom she knew she would spend her life with, one way or another and instinctively, Will gathered her close as she reached out for him, and together - united, they reached for each others lips and tenderly kissed, sealing the pact that Will had verbally made and she had silently accented to.

Deanna felt Will's heart beat against her chest as they reluctantly broke apart and she knew that their time together had once more come to an end. Dropping her fingers to lace with Will's she turned back to the screen and said to her mother in a voice that trembled with emotion, "Let us be, Mother. Let Will and I do this our way."

She nodded briefly to the somewhat embarrassed but immensely proud woman standing safely behind her desk. "Admiral, I apologize for my mother's interference, but you have my word that it will not happen again."

They'd barely made it to the door when Alynna's voice stopped them in their tracks. "Lieutenant, I regret to inform you that as of 0700 hours tomorrow, you are off this rock, reassigned to the USS Potemkin." She paused briefly as the couple looked deep into each others eyes, sorrow pouring into the depths at the chance they'd been denied yet again. Contritely, Alynna added, "I'm sorry, I really am."

Gamely, accepting their fate with the aplomb that the moment called for, Will said with a strength that surprised him, considering his tumbled thoughts, "Understood, Admiral." And then with a twinkle in his eye, he turned his gaze back to the woman beside him and said, uncaring who heard him, "That gives me twelve whole hours to say good night to the woman that I love..."

Chapter twelve
Slowly, quietly, Will closed the door, shutting out the rest of the world. Before she could open her mouth and bombard him with the questions that he knew were racing around in her pretty head, Will quickly pulled Deanna flush against his heated body. Enveloping her within his long arms, he rested his cheek upon the top of her head, and let a sigh escape him as he drank in her essence, effectively silencing her.

For a long moment Deanna allowed him his silence. Will's promise had surprised her. Thrilled her, but surprised her more. They had fought hard against this union. They had battled against the bond that still entwined them; linking them together, no matter what. And now, a few bare scant hours away, they were going to be torn asunder again.

But this time, they were ready for it. Nothing had hurt more than the first time this moment had occurred. Oh, it was going to cause them pain, deep, deep down inside, but this time...this time, it was going to be different. Knowing that sometime, that someday, this moment was never going to have to happen to them again. The next time they met, there would be nothing and no one to stop them fulfilling their destiny.

Drinking in his unique scent, Deanna finally turned her head, reminding Will that they had very little time. Drugged with longing, Will met her eyes. Gently kissing her forehead, Will whispered hoarsely and with promise, "I meant what I said, Deanna, we *will* find each other again. I'm not letting you go."

Deanna snaked her hand up around to the nape of his neck and pulled his head down, his lips hovering just above hers, their breaths making love together. "I know, Imzadi," She murmured, her eyes filling with moisture at his pledge. "and I'll be waiting for you."

Tenderly, their lips met but the kiss had barely begun before when Will broke away, hovering as before. "Thank you for giving me the time. I know it is me that needs it. I'm sorry."

Deanna's finger tip quickly reached up to silence him. "Hush, don't be. I'm giving you this time, Will, because I need it, too, and I will wait for you, no matter for how long, because Imzadi won't let us go. You do know that, don't you?" She asked him, her brow furrowing with worry that the other half of her soul might not have understood the complexity of the ancient bonding.

But she need not have. His guilt finally liquefied with her question and Will felt free to quench other thirsts that competed against that one sinister one. She had forgiven him, and she had let him go...for now. But Will knew that, one day, deep down, they would come together again. His all-too-short time on Betazed with an incredible woman had promised him that. Their Imzadi bond had promised him that, too. He knew he was tied to Deanna on a level that went far deeper than any other human being could understand.

"I do," he murmured huskily, his love for her shining in the magic of his blue gaze, melting the last of her reserve, filling her own eyes with tears that relayed her happiness. Just two simple words to set them free.

"I do." He repeated with promise as he pulled her gently but hard up against his eager and wanting body and swept her away with a kiss that defied everything that had or would stand in their way. Swinging her up into his big burly arms a few moments later, Will hastily made his way to his bed. He'd chosen his quarters purely because he'd known that there would be no interruptions, and, because it was nearer. The couple needed to be alone, and fast. But even so, the tender words spoken had been needed. Had been said. Had been heeded. And then all forgotten as physical overtook everything.

Fevered fingers tugged at his mustard tunic. "Hurry," Deanna gasped, "I want to feel your skin against mine."

Chuckling quietly, Will gladly aided her frantic removal of his clothes. As soon as he was bare, she started on her own. Grinning as he watched her awkwardly manoeuvre her own body to shuck her shoes, her pants and her own tunic top, Will finally snatched her racing hands, pushed her down, moved over her and pinned her palms beside her head.

"Whoa, Deanna, there's no need to hurry. We've got all night, and besides, I want to remove these last few scraps, myself. I've dreamt about this too often. Hell," he muttered with humour as he deftly reached behind her and snapped open her bra, "I've had nightmares about this."

As he exposed her breasts Will's fevered fingers slowed to a halt as he feasted his eyes on the vista that lie beneath him. Deanna's chest rose and fell with excitement and exertion and the rosy tips grew with desire as she saw and felt the desire that they evoked.

Slowly as he removed the tiny panties, discarding them along side the rest of their clothing, Will's eyes rose to hers, suddenly choked to find her own steadily waiting for him. Waiting for him to make this moment right. "God, Deanna, I have been such a fool. I'm sorry. I'd forgotten."

Even though Deanna knew exactly what Will was referring to, she wanted him to tell her how he felt. What he felt. "Forgotten what, Will?" She whispered, her hand freeing from his, reaching up to trace a gentle path along his jawline as she waited in anticipation for his reply.

"The power of us." He answered honestly. "I'd forgotten how this felt. This..." He hesitated, struggled to find the right words to convey how and what he was feeling. In the end, he simply shrugged. The hand that she had released, now free to trace a tender path across her chest, circling the perfect globes of her breasts down to her trembling flat tummy and then back up to her face, cupping it with tenderness. "Us. I'd forgotten us."

Shifting him so that he lay cocooned between her thighs, his heat, hard against her, waited patiently while he revered her heart body and soul. His answer would do. In the end she was glad that he hadn't been able to put it into words, because there were none. Taking his hand back within hers, lacing her fingers through his as she placed it back beside her head, Deanna gently moved her lower body, allowing his hot, pulsing length to drag against her own sensitive, wanting folds, finally succumbing to the begging throb that haunted her body and mind.

Rising above her like an Adonis, Will locked his eyes with hers and eased himself into her waiting heat. Tiny beads of perspiration formed along his upper lip and his fingers involuntarily gripped hers harder as he allowed the sensation of being bonded, locked and loved by the woman beneath him soar throughout his entire being.

Slowly, steadily Will began to move, his eyes never breaking away from hers. Her throat, her cheeks, high with fevered colour made her obsidian sultry eyes seem brighter, darker, more wild as they watched him watching her.
Like a well tuned machine, Will's tempo never slowed, never faltered even when eventually, Deanna's legs snaked up to settle around his waist. The only sign that he'd acknowledged her movement was a deep-throated groan that slipped past his lips as he felt himself go deeper still, touching the very heart of her.

The slowness was as erotic as hell, building to a point that meant that they could fall from the higher pinnacle of ecstasy together. Deanna felt it coming; felt it deep inside of her as Will continuously touched parts of her that had lay dormant since Will's visit to Betazed. The brush of the rough hair against her highly sensitized skin as he steadily loved her was beyond comprehension. Beyond feeling. Beyond anything she'd ever felt before was to be her undoing as she climbed higher and higher, reaching for oblivion, reaching for, Lord knows what else. She only knew that she had been waiting for it, she was ready for it, and it came.

With shocked widened eyes Deanna gasped, "Will!" It was the only thing that Will saw and sensed as she fell apart before his very eyes. Arching her back off the bed, Will roughly gathered her to his sweat-slicked body and let her fly. The feel of her pulsing around him set free his own purposely controlled climax. Her strangled gasps mingled with his own filling the charged air around them, bouncing back and caressed their senses. The sensation was magical. Unforgettable. Will would not forget a second time, Deanna had made sure of that.

Twice more Deanna made memories for Will to remember. Twice more after that, she made some for herself.
A crimson dawn met them before they were ready. There was still so much to say. Too much to do. More memories to make, but they had run out of time.

Goodbye had come, even though neither one of them could say it.

Deanna watched the shuttle bank high into the San Franciscan sky. She didn't bother to even try and hide the tears that scorched her cheeks. Unable to tear her eyes away from the retreating ship, Deanna sniffed hard. Damn it, she knew she should have brought a tissue with her.

Suddenly something touched her shoulder and out of the side of her eye she caught the flutter of just the very thing that she needed. Gratefully taking the proffered tissue she dabbed her eyes and delicately blew her nose. The hand that had touched her shoulder remained there, it's gentle squeeze reassuring, comforting.

"My name is Deanna," She croaked without taking her eyes away from the blue skies above.

"Hmm," The high pitched girlie voice pondered. "I heard that that man I was hankering for was in love with a woman called Deanna. Would that be you, by any chance?"

Choking back the sob that threatened, Deanna whispered hoarsely. "Yeah, it' s me, Jan. I'm sorry I lied to you - about a lot of things."

Jan squeezed her shoulder again, this time moving so that she could face her friend and see the devastation of losing the man that she loved upon her face. "He'll be back, Deanna, you do know that, don't you?"

Deanna's watery smile wobbled as she looked into the caring, sympathetic eyes of her closest buddy. "Yes, I do. He will be back, of that I am certain."

Dropping her hand, Jan slid it under Deanna's arm and steered her away from the window. With a deliberate cheerfulness, it's sole purpose designed to pull Deanna back to the present and away from the past, and the unfathomable future, Jan said brightly, "Good, I can wait a little longer for my psycho-analysis session with him."

Jan steered her out of the room and headed along the corridor. Breakfast beckoned. The two women joined the queue in the cafeteria. Jan had gone quiet but Deanna knew she was mulling over something in her mind. As she poured herself a glass of pink grapefruit juice and placed it on her tray, the question that Deanna hoped she wouldn't ask, finally came out. "How long do you think he'll be, Ev...I mean, Deanna? Sheesh, that's gonna take some getting used to, isn't it?" She babbled on. "How long, a week, month, what? 'cause I can't wait forever, y'know?"

Deanna suddenly laughed at her buddy's predicament. Jan had wanted so badly to get into Will's head - and probably his pants, she surmised with a smirk, even though she knew that Jan would not do that to her, not now that she knew the score.

Deanna's thoughts drifted off. How long would it be before she came face to face with her Imzadi again?

How long?

Looking around at her fellow cadets as they went about their own business, Deanna suddenly felt very lucky. Her life had a purpose now. Her future was mapped out for her and part of that future included William Riker, where ever he was. They just had to find each other again.