Deanna had hoped for a few moments to collect herself, to take a deep breath and psych herself up for the hours ahead, but, that was dashed before she could even remove her shift. Her buddy, her ally, her right royal pain in the butt of a best friend, Chandra swung open the door, allowing the music, laughter and festivities that lay beyond to escape, assaulting Deanna's ears. It took a tremendous dose of instant courage on her part not to flee back out of the door that she had just stepped through.
"Deanna! You're finally here! And there was I thinking you'd chicken out on us." she grinned, "Come on in, the fun's just kicking off and everyone's dying to see you."
Deanna took a deep, steadying breath, settled her swirling mind and stepped into the room where, indeed, the party was in full swing. For Deanna, it was like taking a ride in a shuttle caught in a time loop; terrifying, dizzying and nauseating. Her meagre stomach contents clamoured to her throat and she had to take an even deeper breath to stop it from coming up any further and completely humiliating herself.
But, apparently, this was exactly what Chandra and her mother, bless her, both said that she needed. Right at that moment, though, Deanna could have thought of a million other ways of feeling better. Like taking an hour long luxurious spa bath. Or visiting her cherished museum and waxing lyrical with her favourite piece of art. Or slitting her wrists.
They said she was depressed. Deanna preferred to think of it as a, 'transition time'. She had some major decisions to make on her life, and her future. Her best friend and her lone, dominating, but much loved parent, thought that it was much simpler than that: marry Wyatt, settle down, have babies.
Deanna was sure that her life, her destiny had more in store for her than that single option. She just had to find it.
A cacophony of laughter brought Deanna back to the moment. The crowded party, with its kaleidoscope of colourful clothes; it's 40 different voices; small talk and silly laughter; teasing aromas of party food, and the heavy scents of perfumes had Deanna stepping backwards towards the doorway. She did not want to be here. She absolutely did not.
But her buddy had spotted her slow, determined retreat. "Come back here, Dee, I am not going to let you hide away. Here." Chandra trilled overly loud so that heads turned her way, trapping her. She barely registered the cool tall glass of wine that Chandra had slipped into her fingers before gently tugging on her arm, steering her deeper into the throng towards someone. A man. A very tall man. A very tall, handsome man. A very tall, handsome, smiling man.
Hell, a gorgeous man.
And immediately her senses dulled. Instinct alone told her that her friend was match-making. Something inside her squirmed and panicked and Deanna fought frantically against gripping Chandra's arm, so instead she desperately tried to catch her eye so that she could plead, but Chandra was too busily staring up into the man's face making her introductions. Eventually, Deanna had no choice but to use her limited Betazoid powers. **Don't leave me with him, Chan....!**
But she was too late. Chandra had slipped away with a flutter of her fingertips in her direction and a knowing smile skimming her lips.
The universe, the room and its occupants vanished as Deanna stared for a long moment at Chandra's retreating back with disbelief in her eyes and fear in her heart. Eventually, if nothing else, manners finally stepped in and Deanna turned her eyes up to the man that stood before her.
The smile that had greeted her was still there. He really was a handsome man, Deanna thought. Dark very short hair - military hair, and the bluest eyes she had seen for a long time. And tall, so, so tall. And his voice; like velvet when he finally spoke.
"You're afraid of me."
It wasn't a question, simply an honest, observant statement.
"Don't be." he said quietly.
Deanna made to deny his outrageous claim but he stopped her before she could say one word, his quiet voice holding a hint of amusement. "Yes, you are, don't deny it."
Deanna blinked. **Was he reading her mind?** Deanna mentally shook herself. Don't be absurd. He's an off-worlder. A Terran. A temporary blip in her crazy, mixed up life.
**Liar!** her mind screamed.
The next hour passed in a blur for her. Will, as he introduced himself after realizing that she had embarrassingly missed Chandra's introduction, was quite pleasant. His conversation was light and undemanding on her wavering attention, and his patience was inexhaustible in coaxing each reluctant word from her.
But Deanna still steeled herself against him. She was aware that her responses were stilted and monotone and she hated herself for behaving that way towards a visitor to her planet. But she was afraid of him and the incomprehensible feeling that she felt continued to grow in his presence.
Her mind was on Wyatt. These past few months it had seemed that he was always on her mind, one way or another. He dominated her days, tormented her nights. Her head - and her mother - told her it was time to settle down, but her heart told her to fly.
But fly where? What did it all mean. Become a pilot? Leave her home? Take a chance and find something that was a myth, a mystery. Imzadi?
Deanna stole a coveted glance at the man that still stood before, comfortable in her silence as he took a long sip from his glass, glancing with curiosity around the room at the other guests. Was he her Imzadi? Was this why she was so afraid of him? Did her heart already know something that she didn't?
Suddenly and deliberately Will slowly brought his face back to hers and captured her gaze, and once more, the room and its occupants vanished. Was this it? Is this what she'd been waiting for? Was this Imzadi?
Wyatt began to diminish in her thoughts to be replaced by the man before her. Was it that simple, could she stop loving one and love another so quickly? That didn't sit well with her. Was love so shallow that just looking into the eyes of another could wipe out another's? Clearly it was because that was happening and it troubled her greatly.
Disturbed by her thoughts she took a deep, shuddering breath and forcibly tore her eyes away from his. She jumped slightly when she felt Will's hand settle on her shoulder and his voice came close to her ear. "Let me walk you home."
Her fears vanished as she accepted the inevitable and let him steer her out into the moonlit night. It wasn't far to her home and the walk was done in a companionable quiet and the hand that had rested upon her shoulder remained there for the duration of the short journey. Deanna felt his heat, welcomed its warmth and cherished the intimate but unobtrusive touch. She could like this man. She did like this man. Liked who he was and how he behaved around her. Even though she had sensed his initial desire for her it had soon diminished once they had started conversing. That had pleased her.
Reaching the path that led up to her door, Will released her shoulder and followed her quietly up to the porch steps. Deanna heard his footsteps stop as she continued on to the door and knew that he had reached the boundary, garnering another brownie point in his favour. She had expected the usual fumbling grope and slathering kiss that she usually endured when allowing a date to walk her home. Will had surprised her, and thrilled her.
With his hand firmly tucked into his pant pockets his eyes met hers in the darkness. "Can I see you again?" He asked, his voice a half-whisper but no less potent in its seductive power.
Reaching behind her, Deanna turned the knob on the door as she deliberately toyed with her answer until eventually she smiled shyly at him and whispered as equally quiet, "Yes." before slipping inside before he could say another word.
Quietly closing the door behind her, Deanna leaned against it. For a time the smile that lit up her delicate features remained as she thought about the man that she knew still stood on other side, staring at it, hoping that she would go back out and kiss him good night. Laughter bubbled up inside her as she eventually pushed herself away from the solid structure and made her way to bed.
**So this was Imzadi.** she said to herself with wonder.
"That was rotten of you, Chandra. You knew I wasn't ready to have another man complicating my decision yet."
"He still walked you home, though, didn't he? Did he kiss you?" She asked gleefully, clearly unrelentless as she endeavoured to capture another forkful of her prawn cocktail.
"Chandra!" Deanna gasped indignantly.
Chandra waved her fork delicately mid air at her after devouring the tasty morsel. "Oh, stuff it, Deanna. You were crying out for help. I'm helping."
"You call that helping?" She cried. "Chandra! he...he..." Deanna melted when Will's gently smiling face swam before her.
"Yes?" Chandra asked, her face alive with joy at her successful entrapment.
Deanna realized the futility of her outrageous outburst as she caught the laughter in her friends eyes. Shaking her head with bemusement, Deanna finally acceded. "He was...nice."
"Nice!!?" she cried. "Nice!!? Deanna, the man is adorrrrrrable. The man is a hunk. The man is a sex god. The man is...."
"Okay, okay, I get the picture!" Deanna laughed and then quickly sobered. "How do you know if he's a sex god?"
Chandra grinned knowingly at her closest friend. "He's nice, huh?" effectively bypassing the question.
Deanna laughed. "Stuff it, Chandra."
Chandra managed to suppress the knowing grin and concentrated on her lunch again, steeling herself for the serious talk that she knew was coming. Deanna had decisions to make and needed her opinion. But in Chandra's mind, the decision was already made. The fact that Deanna had technically pushed Wyatt Miller aside and searched for something more was the bulk of the problem solved. Meeting Will was another one solved, too, as far as Chandra was concerned. Will was perfect for her. The final problem was slightly more awkward.
Chandra had always known that Deanna had itchy feet and longed to explore, even if she hadn't actually realized it yet. Marrying Wyatt would have chained her to Betazed, and to her mother. As much as she loved her best friend, Chandra had to encourage her to let go. Letting go of Wyatt and Betazed's pull would set her free to find her true self, and her true love, and Chandra truly believed that William Riker from Planet Earth was that man.
"Help me, Chan. I don't know what to do." Deanna's quiet plea inched its way into Chandra's musings.
"About what?" She asked, knowing full well what her buddy was requesting.
"About...." she struggled with which item perplexed her more and gave up. "Everything!" she said with exasperation.
Just for clarification, she asked, "You want me to map out your life for you, tell you what to do, where to go, who to marry?"
Chandra laughed out loud.
"Don't laugh at me, Chan, this is killing me." Deanna said sadly, her eyes instantly misting.
Chandra instantly sobered. "Talk to Wyatt."
"Why would I want to talk to Wyatt, Chandra? He's the problem - well, one of them, anyhow."
"He's your tie here, Deanna. You need to be free of him before you can decide on anything else. Talk to him."
Chandra sighed. "Talk to Will."
Deanna's eyes widened. "Why on Earth would I want to talk to him, I hardly know him." She protested.
"Because he's the key - to everything." She explained, hoping fervently that the darker woman would gleen some kind of understanding as to why the Starfleet officer was to be important to her.
She did. "You think he's the one, don't you?"
"The one?" Chandra asked innocently, silently holding her breath as she waited for her answer.
"My Imzadi." Deanna murmured with sadness, suddenly realizing the importance of her discovery.
Chandra held her breath. "I don't know, Dee. Do you think he is?
Deanna's eyes met and locked with Chandra's as the two women took stock of the question until eventually Deanna whispered, "I don't know."
Chandra reached over and touched her arm with tenderness and whispered, "Then I think it is time you found out, for once and for all." Then squeezing her arm playfully she said with laughter, "And put us all out of our misery."
The girls laughter rang around the small bistro, hiding a myriad of chaotic emotions that bubbled beneath the funny moment. Chandra was right; she did have to confront Wyatt and put her past behind her, then sort out her future and discover if Will was indeed the key to everything that was keeping her heart and soul hostage.
"I won't ease your conscience, Deanna." he shouted.
Wyatt really couldn't explain why he had reacted with so much vehemence, particularly as he watched the only woman he had ever loved crumple before him. She had hurt him and he hurt her straight back. Deep down inside, Wyatt had known that he was trying to hang onto an elusive butterfly, even if the butterfly in question hadn't know which way it wanted to fly. All he'd known was that Deanna, his betrothed, had some yearnings inside of her that kept her from coming completely to him.
And today, she had finally told him that he wasn't going to be a part of his future. She had no explanations for her decision only that she had known that she could not and would not marry him.
But he wasn't quite ready to throw in the towel yet. "I wanted to marry you, Deanna."
Deanna sighed, hanging her head with shame and a reluctance to drag the futile conversation on for any longer. "I know you did, Wyatt, and I'm sorry."
She turned away from him but his next words halted her steps. "You're going to leave here, aren't you?"
Deanna slowly turned back to him as she pondered over his strange question. Was that in her plans? Would she follow Will when he eventually left Betazed. Where would she go? Her answer was honest when she finally responded with a shrug. "I don't know Wyatt."
Her murmured, 'Goodbye.' was barely heard as she turned and walked away, her mind a turmoil of troubles once more as she struggled to find the next path that she needed to take.
"So is it on, then?" Chandra asked excitedly.
"Is what on, Chandra?"
Chandra sighed dramatically. "A date with William T Riker, of course! He's young, dishy, works for the best company in the universe, loves cooking and appears to be completely smitten with you." she added for effect.
Deanna had, 'seen' Will a total of four times since they'd met. Every, 'date' had been under the guise of tutor and pupil, Deanna being the tutor. Will had an insatiable appetite for knowledge and wanted to learn just about everything to do with Betazoid culture and even though Deanna was reluctant to take things beyond friendship, they got on famously. He was easy to be with, and quite the opposite of Wyatt.
Where Wyatt was quiet, Will was dynamic and assertive. Where Wyatt preferred to frequent places that he knew and was comfortable with, Will wanted to meet her friends and new people. Wyatt was quickly being pushed further and further back into the memory pockets of her mind.
But now Will had asked her for a date. A proper date. A date that would probably end with...more. Whilst the idea thrilled and excited her, the very idea of being held and loved by Will terrified her. It was another step towards finding out if he was, 'the one', but even Deanna knew that it would take more than a kiss to find that out. It would take giving her soul away, her heart, and God help her, her body.
Once again, Deanna met Chandra's eyes across the table until, eventually, Deanna released the shaky breath that she'd been unconsciously holding and murmured. "Yes, it's on."
"You look like you need a shoulder. Talk to me, Deanna."
Deanna sighed heavily as her friend came and sat beside her. The tissue that she systematically shredded within her fingers crumbled in her lap and she sighed again at the futility of it all. "I'm okay, Chan, really."
Chandra's eyebrows rose. "Oh, really. Do you normally shred paper hankies like that? And, girl, has your hair seen a comb today?"
"Gee, thanks." Deanna grumbled.
"Don't mention it - that's what friends are for. Now, talk to me."
"It's Will." She began.
"That's good - isn't it?"
Deanna sighed again. "Chan, you remember how much my father worked away from home. Sometimes we didn't see him for months."
Chandra began to see the light. "Like Will would - does." She emended.
There was a long silence as Chandra waited for Deanna to go on. "It was hard for us, you know?" Chandra nodded understandingly. "She rode every crisis, handled every decision - practically brought me up single-handed. Everything I achieved in my life, it was only ever my mother I saw in the audience, sitting so alone. It was hard, Chan."
"I know it was, baby." Chandra soothed, her head touching hers as she pulled Deanna closer.
"Daddy used to come home, after months away with a small token for me and some garish lump of jewellery for Mother. We'd be ecstatically happy for a little while and then he'd be off again, neither one of knowing whether he would come home again." Deanna trailed off, unsure suddenly how she felt about revealing her inner turmoils.
Chandra squeezed Deanna's shoulders, bringing her out of the past and back to the present. "Hey, tell me who that woman is that I see strutting around the town as though she owns it. Tell me who that woman is that has her nose into every pie, interferes with everybody's business, and, I might add, who is admired for being one hell of a lady."
"Deanna," Chandra added gently, "Look at who you two have become. Look at your mother, look at you. Your dad did the best that he could, but best of all, he loved you. Will loves you, Deanna, I am certain of that. Are you going to throw that away for something infinitely more precious?"
"But Mother was always so sad, Chan." Deanna cried. "She missed him so much."
"Talk to her, Dee. Hear her side of the story. I think you'll be surprised."
"I do. Talk to her, and then," she added with a suspicious wink, "and then you can finally go on this date."
"Which date?" Deanna asked nervously.
Chandra winked again. "Oh, you know. **That** date. I know it hasn't happened yet." She stood to leave but not before adding, "It's time, Deanna."
"I've never asked you about Dad," she broached, once the gossip had been caught up on. "How did you cope?" Deanna asked. "All those weeks - months when he wasn't there for you."
"Oh, but he was there for me, little one!" Deanna's mother, Lwaxana Troi said, quite shocked that Deanna should think otherwise. "He was always there for me - for all of us - in his heart."
Deanna was shocked and embarrassed. To think that she hadn't been able to sense that during all those months - and the years since - her father had been away yet still there at home, for them. All kinds of emotions run through her mind.
Her mother knew her confusion. "This is about that young lieutenant, isn't it, little one?" she asked. Deanna couldn't raise her eyes or open her mind - her misery and embarrassment too acute, too raw.
"I'm not like you, mother, I couldn't handle the emptiness, or him...leaving me."
Her mother smiled at her tenderly and took her chilled fingers within hers, forcing her to listen to her. "It's simple, really, Deanna, can you handle his never coming back?" she asked softly, already knowing the answer.
It was seven o'clock in the evening and Deanna was standing in front of Will's dormitory door. She blushed profusely when other Starfleet officers passed her by, the knowing grin upon their faces, the wink that told her that her luck was in, if she wanted it to be.
All she had to do was raise her hand and knock on the metallic surface. She counted - one, two, three - and did it before her feet betrayed her and ran. She had taken six very long, nervous breaths before the door finally opened and Will stood there with nothing more than his uniform pants on.
To say he was surprised to see her was an understatement, but surprise quickly turned to pleasure. Deanna saw it in his eyes, felt it in his mind. She linked her hands in front of her, rocked on the balls of his feet and plunged right on in. "I...I hope you don't mind me calling on you here, I know it's a little unorthodox but I've got some things that I want to say to you and I don't want to wait...just in case."
For a long moment Will simply stared at her and then without breaking eye contact he stepped forward, took her hand and pulled her inside the room. He closed the door without letting her go, came and stood before her without letting her go and then simply pulled up against his chest and kissed her, only releasing her hand so that he could cup her head to deepen the kiss further.
The unexpected turn of events shook Deanna to the core. She had known for some time that Will was going to be a major part of her life, her future. Talking to her mother had finally settled her troubled mind and her decision to come to him had been of her own free will.
But even as Will broke apart from her lips, doubts swept through her. "I'm scared, Will, but I don't know what I'm scared of."
Will touched her lips again with his and whispered as he looked deep into her dark eyes, "I've got news for you, Deanna, I'm scared, too. This...love thing is new to me, as well."
"You love me, too?" She asked with incredibility, hope surging through her, bringing unwanted tears to her eyes.
Will briefly looked to the heavens and puffed out his pent up breath before capturing her gaze again, settling his large hands either side of her face. "Yeah, I think I do. I've never felt this way about any other woman before you and I can't imagine my life now without you." He hesitated. "I don't want to imagine my life without you." He emended, softly, smiling tenderly at her.
The unwanted tears finally broke free and Will gently sipped them from her cheeks before settling his mouth upon hers again. The kiss was different, Deanna knew that and welcomed it. She sensed an urgency behind it, particularly when his hands dropped and caressed her body lovingly. Deanna began to tremble with unaccustomed desire. She was clearly an innocent and he was a master. He knew where to touch and what to say to allay her fears, and more, and she wanted him, desperately. There was no going back for either them. Not now.
Will swung her up into his arms and took her to his narrow bed and stretched out beside her, but sensing that he was going to fast for her, Will slowed his pace and simply worshipped her as though she was a precious treasure. He rained feather-light kisses upon her face, teasing her with the promise of something deeper until she could do more than writhe and moan against him, shocked when she realized that the sounds were coming from her and not him.
Unable to resist the pull of her tempting naive body any longer, Will moved over and settle between her thighs. He exulted in the gasp that left her lungs when she felt his hardness against her, his ego boosted sky high by the wonder he saw upon her face. Gently he rocked against, tormenting her, the barrier of clothing between them becoming an annoyance.
"Will?" she pleaded, her nails digging into his biceps, her eyes wide with wonder and desire. "I...I need...." unable to find the unfamiliar words that she needed tell him.
"Sssh," Will crooned against her throat. "in time. I need to tell you something first."
"Tell me later...after." She moaned as she frantically pulled his head down and showered kisses of her own, catching his lip between her teeth, the action emitting a healthy growl from his throat and a surge in power from his loins.
He chuckled huskily. "No, no, I must tell you now, before it's too late. Before I make love to you. It's important, Deanna."
The seriousness of his tone finally penetrated the fog of lust and Deanna slowly stopped her ministrations and found his eyes as they waited for her. "Tell me." she murmured.
Will steadily held her gaze as he spoke. "I'm leaving, tomorrow. I have to go on a mission and I may not be back for some weeks."
It was a long time before Deanna spoke. At his news she could only simply stare at him. Here it was, her worst fear. The one thing that had plagued her. Her nemesis. He was going to leave her and they hadn't even become what they were meant to be.
Eventually a slow, seductive smile spread across Deanna's face. Reaching down between them she tugged gently at the snap on Will's pants. Shocked as he glanced at what she was doing before finding her face again, he whispered, clearly puzzled, "Deanna?"
"It's okay, Will, I understand. You're not really going. You'll be right here, in my heart, won't you, Imzadi?"
Comprehension dawning, Will grinned inanely at her as he, too began to tug
at her clothes. "I won't be anywhere else, I promise...Imzadi."