Prisoner of Imzadi

The Sequel to "Girl Talk, Boy Talk and Romancing the Stones"

Author: Cassandra


Rated: R/NC-17, because you can't do the naughty bits, the French
language, and the steamy scenes without it! Don't worry, this one
isn't violent.

Disclaimer: You have to catch me to sue me! I'm not a fast runner,
but I hide well.



Soft. The hand interlaced with his was so soft. And delicate. His
was too big. Clumsy by comparison. But the difference between the
two didn't seem to affect the way her soft fingers fused perfectly
into the deep crevasses of his much longer digits. He brought their
joined hands to his mouth and gently rested his lips on the tender
skin glossing the female side of the union. The flawless body
attached to the hand stirred at this motion and molded itself even
closer to fill every empty space between them.

Will Riker didn't think it could get any better than this.

He was on the perfect boat, a luxury yacht, out under the twilight
Betazed summer sky, on a perfect blue-green ocean, with no one around
for possibly hundreds of miles. The yacht came with a built-in
sleeping area above the deck, padded and soft, perfect for the
passionate dances of two seasoned lovers who had not a care in the
world. Yes, "perfect" was the word.

Deanna deserved this honeymoon to be perfect. She had been through
so much. Enough that a normal person would have caved long ago.
Will squeezed his drowsy wife, his bare arms relishing the feel of
her closeness, as he unwittingly remembered the condition she had
been in when they had arrived on Betazed two weeks earlier.

After the incident in the Neutral Zone with Shinzon, they had been
granted a full month's leave before they would be expected to assume
their new posts as captain and counselor of the USS Titan. Will had
known by the haunted look in his wife's eyes, and the sunken cheeks
and pale coloring that generally accompanied starvation and lack of
sleep, that she was in desperate need of help. Help only her mother
and the other Betazoids could provide. He couldn't fathom the
emotions coursing through her, after having been raped for a third
time by her own husband.

"It wasn't your fault," she had said more times than he could count.
He had to wonder if those words were as meaningless to her as they
were to him.

Yes, he hadn't been responsible for the first one. That was Jev. An
insane Ullian who had perverted one of Deanna's happy memories of her
Imzadi into one of a horrific mind- rape that took her the better
part of a year to heal from. At least that was how long it had taken
for the nightmares to stop.

The second time was supposedly not his fault either. He had been
intimate with her in a stone-studded cave that was unsafe. The
stones had brought out his evil side - a lust and thirst for violence
that he hadn't known he possessed. He had brutalized her in a place
unknowingly forbidden to females. The stones had done the same to
several other male members of the crew, and the women had suffered as
a result. None worse than Deanna, although Beverly came in a close
second, whose attack was also "not his fault," even though he could
have stopped that one before it began. It didn't matter what anyone
said about it, he would never fully forgive himself for the numerous
offenses of that day.

He and Deanna had not been intimate again after that until years
later in the Briar Patch, when they rediscovered their love and
became engaged. Before then, she had actually chosen to date Worf
instead (what a joke!). Probably exploring her own dark side. Riker
couldn't fathom any other reason for this choice. They were such a
mismatch. But his guilt over the incident with the stones had kept
him from interfering in the relationship. Who was he, her rapist, to
object? He didn't deserve her.

The third incident that was not his fault was her most recent mind-
rape by Shinzon. The monster attacked her twice. The first time in
a turbo lift when she was alone. The second time, far worse, during
a passionate night when he and Deanna were at last able to assume
their roles as newlyweds. It was a simple thing. No big deal.
Making love to one's new wife was something most people did without a
hitch. Why was there always a hitch for them?

It was the third time she had been brutalized by the person who loved
her most in the world, whether he had been a knowing participant or
not. What he hated the most was that it really hadn't been his
fault. He had never had any say in the matter - in any of the
situations. He had been victimized as much as she had been, but he
was supposed to protect her from things like this, not participate in
them. Helplessness was never a feeling that settled well with the
Riker family. He, like his father before him, was a firm believer in
taking charge of one's own destiny. There was no room for
victimization in his philosophy. One simply didn't allow things like
that to happen.

But it did happen. Over and over again.

So where did that leave him? Where did that leave Deanna? Will
wasn't one to believe in a supreme being, but if by some miracle
there was one, and it didn't turn out to be Q, he had a hell of a
twisted sense of humor, and Troi and Riker were his favorite

His wife had become withdrawn in the days that followed Shinzon's
attack. She had not accepted physical contact from anyone, claiming
that she just wanted time to mourn Data's death, alone. She remained
like that all the way to Betazed, where they were to complete their
bonding by participating in a traditional Betazoid wedding. She
hardly ate a thing in days. She sat awake at night, staring out into
space, her midnight eyes distant and tearless.

At last they had arrived on Betazed, and Will escorted his new wife
to her mother's house. Lwaxana greeted them with a similar worry-
worn expression, having received the news ahead of time that again
the Enterprise had taken heavy damage with her daughter at the helm,
directly in harm's way.

Deanna didn't weep in her mother's arms the way she had after the
incident with the stones. Her face remained impassive as she shared
a private telepathic conversation with Lwaxana, while they wound
their way through the large estate. They sat in one of the smaller
living rooms of the Fifth House and discussed things for quite some
time while Will tried to look interested in the view outside the
large, ornate picture window that he had seen many times before. He
tried not to breathe too loudly for fear of disturbing the eerie
silence in the room.

At one point Lwaxana gasped in shock and threw her arms around her
daughter, exclaiming aloud, "Oh Deanna!" She cried theatrically,
splashing large tears on Deanna's shoulder. Her daughter's eyes
remained dry and disturbingly defeated. Then there was an intense
moment where the two of them just stared at each other, Lwaxana's
posture erect and urgent. She was trying to convince Deanna of
something. At first the younger Troi shook her head in refusal.
Then Troi senior took her daughter's hands in her own and squeezed
tightly, pleading.

Deanna's shoulders deflated then as she gave a small shrug of
acquiescence. At last Will was invited to join a conversation that
didn't seem to involve him at all.

"Will, mother has a… suggestion that might help me to feel better.
I'm not sure I like the sound of it myself, but…"

"But it's the only way to heal her mind, William," Lwaxana cut
in. "Deanna has suffered several mental and physical violations that
are damaging her psyche as we speak. The Betazoid brain, while being
quite resilient, is weakest to mental violations. My daughter has
been through so many incidents now that her mind is essentially
caving in on itself - it's a protection mechanism that very few
Betazoids have ever had to rely on. As you know, violations of this
sort almost never happen on Betazed." She sniffed
melodramatically. "If we don't do something soon, she could lose her

Images of Lwaxana's collapse when she had acted as ambassador to the
Cairn on the Enterprise flashed through Riker's mind. She had been
suppressing memories of her first child who died young, and it nearly
destroyed her psyche. Only Deanna was able to save her mother, in a
way no one was privy to but the two of them.

What Lwaxana proposed next sounded like a page out of a fairy tale
book. It involved taking Deanna to see a controversial witch of
sorts, Silva, "The Weaver,"one of the strongest telepaths on the
planet, who had learned the illegal Ullian art of memory tampering.
This woman might be able to wipe away Deanna's memories of the
violations so her brain could heal properly with a clean slate.

"Isn't there a safer way to handle this?" He objected. "Like modern
medicine?" He knew the answer before she spoke it.

"They wouldn't have a clue how to work with this situation. They
would drug her into a stupor and be done with it. I'm telling you,
William, there is no alternative," Lwaxana insisted. Then sobbing,
she babbled, "Just look at my daughter! Can't you see what pain
she's in?"

Will had to agree. He was so desperate to have his Imzadi back that
he would have done just about anything, no matter how farfetched.
But he needed reassurance that no harm would come to her as a
result. He searched the ghostly pale face of his wife, who turned
her eyes away and rose from the couch to pace the room. Her arms
moved up to cross over her chest protectively.

"What if the suppressed memories cause the same reaction in Deanna
some day as they caused you with the Cairn?" Will voiced his
internal concerns to the elder Troi.

"This is different. The memories won't be suppressed. Well, they
will be at first, but once the treatment has settled in, the memories
will be wiped clean completely. There won't be a shred left," she
assured him.

Will contemplated the implications of such an invasive procedure.
He would never allow someone to tamper with his mind that way, but it
wasn't about him. He wasn't a Betazoid, so he couldn't pretend to
know the right thing to do to help her. He had to leave the decision
up to his wife. If nothing else, she was sensible and she would make
the right choice.


She didn't answer.

Will knew what kind of struggle was taking place in her mind. Losing
some of her memories was in essence losing control over certain
aspects of her life. She didn't care for the prospect of
relinquishing control any more than he did. He watched her struggle
over the decision while her mother's apprehensive gaze never left her
gaunt face. At last her deep, black pools met his concerned
expression and she nodded. "It's the only way, Will."

They left to find the witch that very same day.

The procedure took hours. Hours of silent unknowing as Will waited
outside the small "clinic" belonging to the mystic woman whom he
never even laid eyes on. He tried to act nonchalant as passersby
flashed him knowing smiles, winked at him, or looked at each other as
they shared telepathic comments that he wasn't privy to.

He had just made up his mind to barge into the clinic to see what was
going on when Deanna and Lwaxana finally emerged. Will had to gasp
at the changed woman who rushed up to him with open arms. The
creases in her brow had smoothed, her eyes were lighter and sparkling
with life again, her shoulders were straight and the grace had
returned to her posture. She hugged him fiercely, joyfully, and
insisted that they leave for their honeymoon right away, as they
still had two weeks before the Betazoid wedding.

Amazed and a little overcome with the sense of innocent contentment
flowing from his wife, Will beamed and agreed that they should leave
right away. But before they got ready to depart, Lwaxana pulled Will
aside and gave him a stern warning.

"The procedure worked, but the memories could resurface if Deanna is
reminded of them. You must protect her from these memories, Will!
Erase the incidents from Starfleet records. Don't even think about
the incidents yourself until at least a week has passed. After that
time, the memories should be buried so deep that nothing will cause
them to resurface. That is, nothing short of being violated again -
and you have to ensure that that will never happen! It would ruin

"You have my word, Mrs. Troi. I'll do everything in my power to
protect Deanna. And I promise you, it WON'T happen again."

Will and Deanna had hit the high seas in Lwaxana's luxury yacht that
same evening - to blissful isolation and peace.


Deanna was having a lovely dream. A memory of a magical time…

The Enterprise was back in the Briar Patch and Deanna had just forced
Will out of her office, playfully rejecting his attentions with a
single word - "yuck!" She was grinning to herself after the door
shut, leaving a dejected Will Riker on the other side. This was
going to be fun. She felt like a teenager again, playing head-games
with a boy who was a little overeager to possess her. She was
attracted to this boy, very much so. But she wouldn't allow him to
have her. At least not yet. He would have to try harder. Prove he
meant it.

Something about the beard bothered her. She told him that she had
never kissed him with a beard before, but that was plainly untrue.
There had been the numerous friendship kisses they had shared
throughout the years, and of course, there had been the emotional
fling with Thomas Riker - plenty of beard there. And she had to
admit she liked how Tom's beard had felt on her chest and her belly,
tickling and increasing sensation as he worked his way down…

Maybe she wanted the beard gone so they could start fresh - be young
again, the way she felt herself just then.

Or maybe there was more to it than that. The bearded Riker had hurt
her in some way in the past. In this dream, she couldn't put her
finger on it, but it made her feel unsettled inside. The only way to
articulate it was "yuck!" Anyway, if he cared enough, he would let
her remove it for him. That could be even more fun than forcing him
to chase her.

So how would she do it? Where? When? A hot tub on the holodeck
perhaps. The thought of being in a hot tub with Will Riker made her
stomach clench in apprehension - or was it excitement? Why couldn't
she sort out her own emotions? Everything was all jumbled up. It
had to be the planet they were hovering above. As young as it made
her body feel, she had to accept that immature emotions would come
along with the package.

The tightening response inside of her at the thought of Will's large
hands roving across her aching body swiftly erased all fears and
doubts. She could sort it out later. All that mattered was that she
had to have him. Soon. There was no time to wait for him to make
the next move. It would have to fall to her. She would prepare the
holodeck as a surprise.

Deanna was feverish with excitement as she attended to every minute
detail of the setting that night.

Candles. Hundreds of them, all white, all different sizes, some
floating in mid-air, some resting on the floor, illuminating the
steaming hot tub with their soft glow.

A sharp, old-fashioned straightedge blade - because a little fear
would keep the man alert and ready for action - a trick she had
learned from her short affair with a certain Klingon warrior. The
danger was half the fun.

Champagne and two glasses. Elegant and simple.

Scented bubbles - a blend she used in her own perfume - to fill his
senses with her.

Shaving cream of the highest quality, and of course a box of
chocolate… for later.

Now, should she greet him clothed or naked? Elegantly robed? In the
water? She thought long and hard about this one. She wanted the
effect to be perfect. At last she decided. It would be hair up,
with her body submerged in the water so he wouldn't get aroused too
quickly by seeing overly much. She wanted this to last. Her hair
had to be up so he could take it down himself. He loved to do that.

A half hour of primping herself until everything was just right, and
she was ready. Time to call Will.

"Troi to Commander Riker," she spoke the code words to the ship's
computer and the message was immediately routed to the one

"Riker here," came the overtly anxious reply.

"I am in need of your assistance, Commander. Are you available to
meet me in Holodeck 3?"

There was a pause. Then she heard him jerk upright from a reclining
position. He hit his head on something hard in his haste and gave a
short grunt of pain, then, "I'm on my way. Riker out."

She grinned and laughed quietly to herself, certain that he was by
now in an all-out run for the holodeck. Better hurry and get in the
tub, she urged herself. It was too late to back out now. He would
be there in a matter of seconds.

He was. The door opened just as she had settled herself into the
soothing warm water.

He was panting, clearly out of breath.

"A bit winded today, Commander?" she smirked wryly as the holodeck
door closed and pointedly locked behind him.

He recovered quickly, his handsome face breaking into a full, white-
toothed grin. "Not yet, but I have a feeling I will be soon," he
assured her. His tongue coming out to briefly lick his lower lip, he
took a moment to glance about the dark room, lit only by a multitude
of candles. Then his eyes returned to hers and locked there as he
edged closer to the hot tub.

"Wait!" Deanna blurted suddenly, breaking the spell.

He halted in his steps.

"The deal is, we get rid of the beard before anything else." She
held up the silver object in her hand and flicked out the razor part
like a switchblade. It glinted in the candlelight dangerously. Her
lips curled up into an equally dangerous grin.

Her Imzadi swallowed visibly and held out his hands, his confidence
wavering. "Wait, have you ever used one of those things before?
Couldn't we just do it the 23rd Century way?"

"I'll be careful. And I'll go slow…" she drew out the last word

She knew he wanted her too badly to resist, even if there was a
chance she could kill him in the process.

He swallowed again. Then his hands moved up to unzip his
uniform. "You've been hanging out with Worf too long," he muttered
as his clothing fell unceremoniously to the floor. The evidence of
his desire was hard to hide at this point, though he modestly tried.

Deanna unabashedly took in every ounce of his muscular form as he
lowered himself quickly into the hot tub. His senses were on fire,
she could feel it, and it only added to her own rush of need. But
she had to take it slow and stay in control a while longer.

He moved to kiss her, but she held out her hand to stop him.

"Just one," he begged huskily, his body pressing insistently closer.

She thought for a moment, torturing him with her practiced self-
control, then nodded. "Just one." She closed the razor safely in
its case and set it on the ledge beside her.

Though she could tell he wanted to crush her with the force of a
raging stampede, his lips sought hers in a gentle joining. His hands
slid around her waist, pulling her flush against his chest and she
couldn't help but move her arms up to clutch his neck. His scent was
so masculine. So familiar and soothing. His lips, warm and soft,
melded into hers as if they belonged there permanently. She could
get used to the tickly beard, couldn't she?

That's just what he wants you to think! Her rational mind warned
her. The apprehension crept in again, tightening her stomach and
causing her to push him back. The only thing she could connect this
reticence to was the beard. It had to go.

Will sighed in disappointment and hung his head as Deanna reached for
the razor and the shaving cream. He released her grudgingly and
allowed her to guide him backward until his behind connected with the
edge of the hot tub and he sat on the built-in bench. She tilted his
head up by the chin and slowly smoothed his face with the rich white
foam. She made sure he could feel various parts of her body rub up
against him seductively as she did this so he wouldn't see it as
anything other than foreplay. It worked. She had his complete

She abruptly flashed the straightedge blade high so he could see it.
His eyes grew wide as she slowly brought the blade to his cheek and
made the first stroke.

"Bridge to Riker." Worf's gravelly voice pierced through their
private sanctuary.

Deanna instinctively sank lower into the bubbles to cover herself as
Will answered the call. "Can I get back to you, Worf?" The
irritation evident in his voice.

"Admiral Dougherty's on the comlink, sir."

Shit! The curse shot out from his mind strongly enough that she
heard it loud and clear.

Will spoke with the admiral, who was suspiciously insistent that they
leave the sector immediately. Deanna took a sip of her champagne and
spent the moment in introspection, wondering if their renewed
feelings for each other were just a side effect of the planet's youth-
giving rings. What if it all disappeared after they left?

But hadn't they always had these feelings for each other? They had
become quite good at suppressing them in the name of professionalism,
but through it all, their Imzadi link had always remained strong and
sure. Their connection to each other was unshakeable, regardless of
who they shared their physical affections with. It was beyond
jealousy, beyond petty possessiveness, almost frightening in its
power over them. Perhaps that was why it had been fairly easy not to
act on the bond in a romantic way. It frightened them both. They
knew that if allowed to run its course, the spiritual linking could
completely consume them to the point where they couldn't focus on
their jobs. Once the floodgates were opened…

"Yes, sir," Riker responded impassively, as the conversation came to
a swift end.

"Dougherty out."

She looked at Will with disappointment, having heard the conversation
clearly despite her mind's wanderings. It appeared this romantic
encounter was over before it even began. "Something's rotten in
paradise," she said. "Why does Dougherty want us to leave when his
own people have been exposed on the planet surface for much longer?"

"I only know one thing for certain," Will leveled his gaze at her
with a measure of humor. "I can't report for duty like this." He
pointed to the hairless patch on his cheek.

The youthful mischief returned to her eyes as she raised the blade to
his face again. "I can fix that quickly enough."

"Take your time, Dea. The admiral can wait. He's not going to ruin
this night for me… for us."

Slowly she drew the razor across his face in gentle stokes, not sure
if she was doing it right, but quite sure that she was enjoying the
process of exposing the soft skin beneath the prickly fuzz. It had
an intoxicating affect on her. The power of the blade in her hand.
His open trust and barely contained desire as she tenderly sculpted
his face like a fine artist. His breath was cool on her heated cheeks
as she shifted her body to straddle one of his legs, resting her
knees on the bench that fringed the interior of the hot tub about
half way down, so she could reach his other side.

The effect was powerful on him as well. She absorbed his rising
delirium and allowed it to pass through her as his hands
uncontrollably rose to touch her outer thighs. His heart pounded
hard against her left arm where it braced itself on his colossal
chest. She did one long swipe down from his sideburn, then had to
close her eyes to regain her composure as his hands moved up to her
hips and applied some pressure downward. It caused her to connect
with his leg in an intimate embrace, which only served to ignite her

"Not yet," she faintly whispered with a shudder.

Obediently, his hands left her hips and slowly massaged their way up
past her waist until they came to rest on her breasts, which floated
of their own accord toward the top of the water. Deanna gasped
despite her supreme effort to stay in control.

"Will…" She pulled back and swished the razor in the water.


"If you keep that up, I'm not going to be responsible for what
happens with this razor."

He emitted a low hungry growl. "Aren't you done yet?"

She leaned down to kiss him sweetly on the nose. "Not quite. I
haven't gotten under your chin yet. Now, lift your head and drop the
hands, mister."

His dizzying touch ceased and she felt his fingers come to rest
platonically on her knees. He obviously needed to touch her
somewhere and he chose the best place he could manage. She could
live with that.

At last she was done. After setting the razor on the pool's edge,
she cupped some of the steaming, fragrant water in her hands and
trickled it down his cheeks. Using her fingers to rinse off the
remaining shaving cream, she smiled at the smooth softness that met
her skin. Anxious to feel her beardless Imzadi in a different way,
she lowered her lips to his jaw line and placed lingering kisses
where the hair had once been, first all the way up one side, then all
the way down the other. When her lips completed their journey she
pulled back just far enough so she could meet his pleading eyes.

"Now?" He whispered, his pupils completely dilated, his breath

She was certain he wouldn't survive it if she made him wait a moment

"Now," she uttered on his lips as he pulled her to him in a crushing

The kiss was the deepest, most passionate joining she had ever
experienced. A timeless blending of mind, spirit and heart, as well
as lips and tightly wrapped arms. He gave himself over to her
without restraint. Opened himself completely in offering and she
willingly accepted his essence into herself. When she lowered
herself onto his hardness, and his hands moved down to brace her
lower back, the merging became complete. Every part of her was
deliciously full of him. They breathed as one, moved as two halves
of one being. Their hearts raced together and exploded at the peak
as one.

Please be my wife his mental voice sounded in her mind as they
floated dreamily down.

Yes… was all she could manage in her rose tinted euphoria.



"mmmm…" Deanna lifted her hand to stroke her husband's bearded
cheek. Hair or hairless, it no longer mattered. He was perfect just
being him.

"You awake?" Will ventured quietly.

She nodded her head against his chest.

"What were you dreaming about?" he asked in genuine curiosity, his
fingers toying with the long ebony curls tickling his stomach. "I
think I felt some of it."

Deanna's lips curled up in a contented smile. "I was remembering the
Briar Patch, when I shaved your beard."

"Should have known," Will's chest rose in silent laughter. "That

"I know."

There was a long silence where feelings spoke volumes more than words.

Then quite suddenly, "What about children?"

"Hm?" Deanna responded, only partially registering what he had just
said. She was gazing out at the strawberries and cream sunset
appreciatively, her mind drifting back to the sensual pleasures of
the dream.

An evening breeze fluttered across her bare arms with just a hint of
a chill. Will felt it too and reached down to pull up the thin
blanket that was wrapped around their ankles. Now shielded from the
oncoming night, he drew her close to him again and she snuggled into
the crook of his arm. The boat rocked soothingly against the breast
of Mother Sea, cradling them in tranquil evening mist.

"Children. Do you want them?" Will asked again, his voice quietly

"You already had a child, remember?"


"Barash." She smiled knowingly.

"Right. Father-for-a-week. I kind of liked it."

"Did you really?"
"You're evading the question. I know it was hard losing Ian. You
never really did get over it. You scared something like that could
happen again?"

Deanna mulled this over a while as suppressed memories of Ian raced
back to the surface. "I still miss him." Her throat reacted to the
words with an automatic tightening.

"I don't doubt it. But you know that if we have children, it'll be
different this time. They'll be here to stay."

"I know. Do you want children?" she hedged again, turning her head
up toward his face.

"Oh, no, I asked you first."

"Well, it seems to me that it would impact your career the most,
Captain Riker."

"My career? The last time I checked it was the woman who bore the

"I can be a counselor and a mother at the same time. It's not hard
to mix those two things. Can you be a captain and a father? Would
it distract you from your work? Impair your judgment in dangerous

"My judgment's already as impaired as it's gonna get. I married you."

She gasped in surprise and slapped him playfully on the
chest. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Do you have any idea, Imzadi, how terrified I am at the prospect of
you going on away missions now? It's going to take every ounce of my
strength not to over-protect you when we get to the Titan."

"That feeling is mutual."

"But we took the biggest risk of all, didn't we? Got married anyway."

"And you don't think children would just increase that feeling ten

"Maybe it would. It's hard to say. But I think I'm prepared for
that. Are you?"

"Well, I helped to raise Alexander, and that wasn't so hard. I
worried about him at times, but… well, he is Klingon, maybe that's
different. They see hardship as a sign of strength." She felt his
muscles tense at the word "Klingon" and knew exactly what was going
through his mind at that moment. It flattered and worried her at
once. She pushed off from his chest and leaned on her forearm so she
could gaze down at his disdainful expression.

"What is it?" She asked, bracing herself for the answer.

"Come on, Will. You can't hide the truth from me, so you might as
well come out with it."

He released an exasperated sigh and rubbed his hand along her upper
arm, presumably to warm her, though it was the reassurance of her
presence that he was truly seeking. "It's nothing. I just… almost
lost you to a Klingon family. I don't know how I could have been so

"How WE could have been so stupid," she corrected, fully willing to
accept half the blame herself.

His body relaxed a bit, but there was still a trace of tension. He
had said it, but not all of it.

"Do you ever… miss him?"

There it was.

"What do you mean?" She pretended ignorance to better draw his
thoughts to the surface so they could be heard and dealt with.

"Worf. Do you… hell. Never mind."

"Say it, Will! You've been wondering this for a long time. Oh,
gods! It's been eating at you for years, hasn't it?"

"I don't know," he shrugged. "I guess. It's really none of my

"You want to know how he compares to you as a lover."

His eyebrows shot up in astonishment at her frankness. "I… guess."
His cheeks flushed with a touch of embarrassment. "Yeah. But I know
it's not my place to know. It never has been. That's a private

"Not true," she shook her head knowingly.


"Not true. You've been afraid to ask."

"Why was I afraid to ask?"

Deanna sighed. "Because you couldn't bear to hear the sordid
details. You thought I might say that I loved him and you didn't
want to hear that."

"Well, did you?"

"Love him? Yes. I still do."

Will frowned, but Deanna quickly smiled away the shadows in his
heart. "But not in the same way. Not even close, Imzadi."

"I still don't get what you could have ever seen in that boorish

"Oh, as if you were always the epitome of grace and good manners!"


Deanna laughed, thoroughly enjoying the way his lips pursed in
feigned hurt. "He had a certain… caveman-like charm."

"So you like the primitive thing, huh? Well, count me out. Been
there, done that."

"Oh! I forgot! I never got to see you in your de-evolved form," she

"I hear you made a lovely frog yourself."

"Okay, enough about that," she rolled her eyes and shook her head to
dispel the unwelcome memory.

"Back to Worf."

"Right, Worf. It was difficult. We just weren't seeing eye-to-eye.
Our basic natures were so opposite."

"No kidding."

"That doesn't answer your question, though."

"No, but that's okay. You don't have to tell me. I guess I'm just
curious about how you managed to avoid getting hurt. Don't take this
the wrong way, but you seem a bit fragile for Klingon sex."

"I know what you mean. But you never had to worry about that." She
paused for dramatic effect. Then biting her lower lip to keep her
amusement at bay, she continued, "We didn't..."

Will's eyes grew wide at hearing this unexpected news. He turned on
his side to face her, supporting himself with his elbow. "You

"You heard me."

"Didn't have sex?"

Deanna sighed and turned her eyes down to the bed. "Not exactly,"
she mumbled.

"Not exactly? What does that mean? Either you did or you didn't."
His voice sounded more forceful than he intended.

She knew he wasn't angry, though. He was filled with an intense
desire to hear what he desperately hoped was true - that Worf had
never had her intimately. Other than a few impassioned kisses,
caresses, and a bite or two, Worf hadn't pressed it. To him, the
next level of contact was an automatic marriage, which had been a
frightening prospect to both of them. They knew they were a mismatch
in a multitude of ways, not the least of which involved the Imzadi
bond that she shared with another man. It just wasn't mean to be.

"Well… I'm sure you don't really want to hear the details, Will. It
will only upset you."

"I can handle it, Deanna. I got you in the end, didn't I?" He
smiled brightly, his appreciation of her sparkling in his azure eyes.

"YOU got ME? Funny, I remember things a bit differently." She
pointed a finger at first her chest and then his to emphasize. "I
believe it was I who got you!"


"I was the one who proposed, remember?"

"No, I did that first."

"What are you talking about? Don't you remember what I said to you
in your quarters after we left the Briar Patch? When you were coming
up with all those horrible excuses why we should take it slow…"

"Will, if you don't shut up and marry me, I'll accept the very next
proposal that comes along just to spite you!" he said in his best
imitation of her voice, then laughed heartily.


"So, like I said, I proposed first."


"In the hot tub. You don't remember…"

"Oh gods!" Her hand went to cover her mouth in surprise. "I thought
I dreamed that!"

"No, it happened. We were in an altered state at the time, so
reality didn't mean much." He laughed at her look of utter shock.

"I can't believe it!" She shook her head, then gasped loudly as
another realization dawned on her. "You!" She wanted to hit him but
held back. "Why did you put me through all that if you had already
proposed and I had accepted?!"

"Like I said, we were in an altered state at the time; you know, the
effects of the planet and all, and I wasn't sure if you would still
want to go through with it once life returned to normal. I needed
you to make the first move so I could save face!" he laughed again,
anticipating her reaction to this statement.

"William Thomas Riker!" He slid his arms around her waist and pulled
her to him then, his lips quickly smothering any further protests.
She melted into his embrace and abruptly let the issue go as he
pressed her back down to the bed under him. What did it matter
anyway? They were together now. The past was nothing but a dream.


After nearly two weeks at sea, stopping only briefly to visit some
famous tourist attractions and coastal resorts, the newlyweds were at
last rested enough to return home for the final stage of their

They were greeted at the Fifth House by a most unexpected event,
although they should have anticipated its inevitability. Lwaxana had
arranged a surprise party for them. All of their friends were on
Betazed for the wedding, so she figured, why not get them all
together and shock the newlyweds back to reality the second they
walked in the door? Of course it wasn't her intent to disrupt their
blissful peace. She just didn't view love the same way they did. To
the Daughter of the Fifth House, nuptials were to be shared with as
many people as possible, at all stages of the relationship.

"Deanna! Darling! Welcome home!"

"Mother! What's this?" Deanna hardly had the time to get the words
out before she and Will were swept up into a crowd of friends,
welcoming them back from their honeymoon.

There was music and dancing, gourmet catering and wine, candlelight
and boisterous conversation. Deanna and Will were pulled apart and
engaged in various conversations by everyone from Captain Picard to
the Daughters of the Third and Seventh Houses, who each begged to
play major roles in the upcoming wedding ceremony. By the time
Beverly was able to get anywhere near her friend, Deanna's head was

"So, how was it?" Beverly asked, linking her arm through Deanna's
and ushering her around the crowd toward a secluded table at the far
end of the elaborately decorated ballroom.

The counselor was too distracted by some of the surprise guests at
the party to answer at first. They passed a beaming Geordi LaForge
dancing with an obviously love-struck Leah Brahms; an
uncharacteristically confident Reginald Barclay dancing with Deanna's
childhood friend Shrilexie, who she hadn't seen in over a year; and,
shockingly, Kyle Riker, who made his way purposefully through the
dancers with two glasses of wine, then came to a stop before Lwaxana
Troi. He handed her one of the glasses, smiling broadly, and led her
by the arm to the opposite end of the room.

Deanna choked. "Good god! What…"

"I know. Just keep walking," Beverly urged.

They reached the table in the corner at last and sat down.

"DeeDee!" A young boy suddenly landed on Deanna's lap, his colorful
party hat falling to the floor as he threw his arms around her
neck. "You're back!"

"Hello, Barin!" She nuzzled the soft cheek of her little brother,
deciding right then that the question of whether or not to have
children of her own was a no-brainer.

"How's your vacation?" He asked, trying his best to sound grown up
in a room completely devoid of others even close to his age.

"It was wonderful! We brought you a present."

"You did?"

"Uh-huh. It's in my bag in the front hall. You can go get it if
you'd like. It's wrapped in blue paper."

Barin abruptly sprang from her lap and dashed toward the door. She
smiled wistfully after his retreating form. Then her eyes located
Kyle Riker and her mother leaning against the far wall, drinking wine
and laughing together, completely absorbed in each other. Her mother
looked almost demure.

"Not possible!" She whispered just loud enough for Beverly to

"It's the shoddan rin mixed in the wine. It probably won't last."

"It'd better not!"

"Listen," Beverly touched her arm to drag her attention back. "I
have to ask you something."

Deanna met the desperate eyes of her best friend and immediately
slipped into her counselor role. "Beverly, what is it?"

"Jean-Luc asked me to marry him last night!" There was no trace of
joy in this statement, but something akin to panic.

Deanna held back the urge to jump out of her chair and hug her friend
to congratulate her. She knew this day would come. Couldn't believe
how long it had taken, in fact. But then, she had never met a more
reserved group of people in her life than the command crew of the
Enterprise. Glaciers moved faster than they did when it came to
matters of the heart. "Why does this bother you, Beverly? You knew
it was coming eventually."

The doctor frowned in consternation. "I don't know. What about
Starfleet Medical? I just got this post! I don't want to give it up

"What makes you think he's not ready to join you there and take the
position of Admiral that was offered to him?"

Beverly raised a delicate eyebrow. Enough said.

"Right. Stupid question. I know he's not ready to give up command
yet, though the time will come someday. Does the thought of
rejoining the Enterprise unsettle you?"

"At times I think the Enterprise is where I belong. I haven't made
any friends at Starfleet Medical yet. Oh, they treat me with the
highest respect, of course, but everyone's so distant and staunch
there. It's a little unnerving."

"Not quite what you had expected?"

"Not quite. I'm sure I'll get used to it, but I do miss my old life

"Beverly, do you love him?"

Troi's best friend sighed and lowered her head to rest in her
hands. "You know I do. I always have."

"Then your answer seems clear."

Her green eyes flashed with a fresh wave of anxiety. "Still, what if
it's the wrong thing to do? I keep thinking about the future he told
us about, where he and I were divorced, and I can't help but feel a
hand closing around my throat. I don't want that to be us, Dea.
I've already lost one husband. I'd rather not get married at all
than have a future like that to look forward to…"

"Now hold on. Take a deep breath for a moment." Deanna took a
breath from her diaphragm to slow her own heart rate and to help
Beverly by example. "You're letting your fears run away with you.
Jean-Luc told us that it was a possible future that could be
prevented. It already has changed. Think about it. Data's no
longer with us, but he was there in Picard's future. I married Will,
so that eliminated the fight between him and Worf…" She paused as
another memory of Picard's words vied for attention.

Beverly read the thought by the look on her friend's face and
immediately deflated. "I'm sorry. You're right. No one's going to
get divorced. And no one ELSE is going to die." She offered Deanna a
surrendering smile, and grasped her hand affectionately. "Thanks."

"What are you going to do?"

"I don't know. Say yes? Maybe?" Her eyes searched the dance hall
for a sign of the man in question, but he seemed to be lost in the
crowd at the moment. Then her hand went to her forehead and she
swooned a bit.


"I'm dizzy. Must be the drink."

Deanna scowled. "Mother… she purposefully chose shoddan rin to alter
the moods of her party guests. Oh, no!" She gasped as her gaze came
to rest on her parent who was now in the arms of Will's parent,
sharing a passionate kiss. "I think I'm going to be sick!" She got
up from the table so fast, her chair toppled over behind her. She
didn't pick it up. Didn't say goodbye to Beverly. Didn't respond to
Will when she passed him and he called out to her. Didn't look back
at all as she dashed out of the hall. The exhaustion from her trip,
the unwelcome surprise of a house full of people when she returned,
and her mother's new, extremely unsettling conquest, was more than
she could take at the moment. Her head throbbed painfully as she
made her way to the banister.


There were so damn many of them!

And halls.

Her old bedroom was an eternity away. At last reaching the familiar
door that promised peace and quiet on the other side, she yanked the
handle open and slammed the door closed behind her. It was blessedly
dark. The only light source emanated from one of Betazed's moons,
trickling its essence onto her bed from the open curtains
highlighting an ornate bay window. The bed was exactly what she
needed just then. Still panting from the long walk, her feet heavy
as latinum, she made her way to the inviting white surface and
collapsed onto her back, the pillowy warmth rising up to meet her.

"Ohhhh," she groaned in despair. "I just can't take this!"

"Take what, Imzadi?" Will's soothing baritone issued from the dark.

She was too caught up in her emotions to be surprised that he was
there. "My mother! Your father! Didn't you see them? Brilliant.
Just brilliant! She basically drugged the wine!" She exclaimed with
eyes closed. A thought nagged at the back of her mind. How did he
get in without the door opening? But she dismissed it as irrelevant
for the moment. She didn't want him to be there at all. What would
be the most polite way to ask him to leave without hurting his
fragile feelings? Men were such babies sometimes!

Will didn't answer. In fact, he was uncharacteristically silent and
distant. It caused her to open her eyes and raise her head so she
could look at him. He had changed his clothes. His black slacks
were now blue, black shirt now white, covered in an attractive tan
leather jacket. He stared down at her with a haunted longing such as
she had never seen before. "I'm sorry," was all he said, as he
grasped her arm tightly and the two of them promptly disappeared.


"Deanna?" Will knocked on the door respectfully, though the room was
just as much his as hers during their stay at the Troi mansion.

There was no answer. His muscles tensed automatically. Something
wasn't right. He quickly opened the door and moved into the room
with long strides, his eyes darting about in the dark for any sign of
his wife.

"Deanna?" he called again in a futile effort to make her appear out
of nowhere. She obviously wasn't in the room. But he had seen her
head toward the bedroom just moments before. Approaching the bed, he
lowered his hand to the comforter that still emanated warmth from her
body's impression. *So she was just here,* he thought.

The window was closed and there were no other doors in the room. He
gazed through the window anyway. She couldn't have gone out that
way; it was a four-story drop. A sense of dread welled up inside
him, as if he was in a space suit several sizes too small, squeezing
the circulation out of his limbs. The feeling started there, at his
arms and legs, and quickly moved inward toward his trunk. He
suddenly knew without a doubt that his Imzadi had been taken. He
could feel her panic, an echo of her psyche whispering through the
room. But when he stretched out his senses to her, as she had spent
hours teaching him to do since their wedding, he couldn't feel her
presence in the house at all. He stretched out his senses further
and realized with shock that he couldn't feel her anywhere. She was

Imzadi! His mind shouted to her with all the mental strength he
possessed. He was met with only silence. A blind rage washed over
him as he barreled out of the room to get help.


"Let go of me!" Deanna demanded in her most authoritative voice.

He released his vice grip on her arm and stood back so she could see
her surroundings.

But her complete attention was on her abductor, her eyes pinning him
defiantly. "Will, what the hell…" Then she gasped and her hand went
to her mouth. "Tom?" The blood drained quickly from her face,
neglecting to go any other place where it might have been useful, and
the world spun.

Tom caught her in his familiar strong arms as she nearly collapsed.
Quickly recovering her equilibrium, her forearms locked with his for
support, she tilted her head up and shot him a withering
look. "Deanna, I'm sorry, but believe me, there was no other way. I
had to get you alone."

She abruptly pushed him away from her with shaking hands. "What are
you doing? I can't believe this! How could you take me against my
will?" Her string of protestations trailed off as it became apparent
to her just where she was.

The cave was stunningly beautiful. A multitude of fist-sized stones,
in all the colors of the spectrum, glowed eerily in every square foot
of the cave walls, like the Christmas lights she had seen and adored
on Earth. Only these were brighter, and familiar to her somehow,
though she was sure she had never seen them before. All by
themselves they cast enough light to illuminate the entire cavern,
and its contents. It was just the two of them, plus a replicator, a
large sleeping bag on a tall inflated mattress, big enough for two,
and a couple of other machines, one of which looked to be an air
purifier and oxygen generator, humming quietly.

The continuous vibration of the generator and Tom's breathing were
the only sounds that could be heard in the mildly damp grotto. That
was, until Deanna spoke again. "Where are we?" she asked almost
reverently, struggling to find her calm center.

"A place that masks telepathic abilities, or so I'm told. About
thirty meters underground."

Deanna's eyes grew wide. "On Betazed?"

Tom nodded. "Actually, I've been told a lot of things about these
stones, particularly their ability to change telepathic links. Took
me months to find this place."

Troi crossed her arms over her chest and rubbed her hands along them
against the chill in the air. Then turning her attention back to
Tom, "Why? What do you hope to accomplish?"

"Cold?" He crouched down next to the energy generator and adjusted
the temperature level.

"I'm far more than cold, Tom! I'm furious! I need an explanation,

"Oh, I see. Her royal highness is a bit miffed," he shot back, his
words soaked with sarcasm. "Life must be pretty damn hard for you,
with all the parties and vacations, honors in Starfleet, and wild sex
with my twin!"

"How dare you?!" She shouted, her voice shaking, her hands dropping
back to her sides, fists clenched.

"How dare I? How dare you, oh high-and-mighty-one? How dare you
forget about me? How could you live with yourself just casting me
aside as if I never existed? I never used you that way!"

"Used? I used you?" Her mouth fell open, incredulous.

"You sure as hell did. You couldn't have him, the one you really
wanted, probably because he was smart enough to keep his distance.
So you took the substitute! Imitation Riker - that's me. You stole
my life!" He picked up a laser instrument lying next to the
generator and threw it against the wall. It clattered to the floor
and broke in two. The echo of the impact resounded through the room,
silencing both of them for several moments.

At last Deanna cleared her throat and raw anger began to simmer to a
daunting saddness. "How could you think that of me?"

"How could I think that? Let's see," his stormy gaze met hers as he
paced the room. "First you refuse to come with me when I get my
promotion to the Gandhi, then you don't respond to my letters. You
don't even inquire about me when I'm imprisoned. Next you're marrying
my twin…"

"Wait. Letters? What letters?"

"The twelve letters I wrote to you. One every week until…"

"I never got those letters."

"Doesn't matter anyway. It's too late now."

"Why wouldn't I have gotten your letters?" Deanna puzzled over this,
unwilling to let it go.

"Probably because he didn't want you to see them. He only changed
his mind about you because I was determined to get you back. He
always had to win." Tom lowered himself to the elevated bed and put
his head in his hands dejectedly.

Instead of a full-grown man, Deanna saw a very lost little boy at
that moment and the block of anger she had been holding onto inside
rapidly dissipated. She had thought all along that Tom had done just
what he had promised he would never do. She thought he left for his
promotion and never looked back, just as Will had all those years
ago. Why hadn't she ever sensed him obsessing over her? Of course
she hadn't felt him when he was stranded on Nervala IV either. Must
have been the distance. Or the fact that Will was so close by and
she had attributed what faint traces of emotions she subconsciously
picked up to him.

She had been wrong. She could sense clearly that Tom was telling the
truth. He didn't just walk away from a relationship with her. He
HAD written those letters. Was it possible that Will had them
destroyed before she could see them? Was it really the letters that
caused Will to look at her differently? Was his goal in marrying her
to possess her so that Tom would lose?

It couldn't be. He had more integrity than that, didn't he?
Besides, wouldn't she have sensed the deception in him?

No, it couldn't have been Will. But if not him, then who?

Deanna's head felt light again with confusion. None of this made any
sense. "But you turned your back on Starfleet! You got arrested and
sentenced to a Cardassian prison. I thought you had forgotten all
about me! I honestly thought you had lost your grip on sanity."

She moved over to the bed and lowered herself next to him. He
leveled his misty eyes at her, his countenance openly defeated. "I
did lose my mind, Dea. It's still gone. I don't know what changed,
but after we were intimate again… something happened. You took a
part of my soul away and I've only been half a man ever since."

Her brows knitted together in befuddlement and rising concern. "What
do you mean?"

"I was lonely at Nervala IV, desperately so, but I never felt like I
was any less than what I am. When I saw you again, I felt like there
was hope for my life after all, even though there were two of me.
But I was still a whole man then. I had aspirations. I had
interests and desires. I was on top of the universe when you and I
renewed our relationship. I felt like I might just live the life I
always dreamed of living after all."

He stood suddenly and paced the room again, his features tense with
agitation. "I wasn't about to push you to come with me to the
Gandhi, but I also had no intention of staying on that ship if you
never joined me there."

Leaning his forearm against the wall, he stared at the scintillating
stones distantly, avoiding her expert gaze. "I had to be with you.
The feeling grew stronger every day. I found that I didn't like to
do the things that usually interested me anymore. I… I couldn't make
decisions. I had… have, a horrible empty feeling inside." His hand
went to his stomach. "Like something that used to be there is gone.
The only constant has been my feeling for you..."

He paused and met her eyes. The pain she saw within his cobalt blue
orbs sent a shudder through every nerve ending in her body. "I
started to research Betazoid history and discovered that when Imzadis
are apart for a long time and then re-consummate their relationship,
they become more strongly bonded than ever before. I wanted to
believe that you must be suffering too. That you needed me as much
as I needed you. But when you never answered my letters, I knew what
you had done. You redirected your feelings onto him and forgot about
me. You had an Imzadi bond with him too, so it was easy for you.
But it left me with nothing!"

He began to pace again. "I became more and more distracted on the
Gandhi. The pain of my connection to you - without being near you… I
couldn't perform my duties… and then the anger started. I wanted to
kill someone, or kill myself. Or both. I almost did."

"You almost killed someone?"

"Almost killed the ship's first officer on an away mission when he
climbed down my throat one too many times. Thought about taking my
own life as well, but part of what I read was about how the Imzadi
bond lasts beyond life, and I kept imagining myself as a body-less
ghost, still searching for you, and the thought scared me more than
staying alive in this hell I call life."

Deanna swallowed back a threatening flood of sympathetic tears.
Finding her voice again she ventured, "So what happened? How did you
end up stealing the Defiant?"

"It all happened on that same away mission. I was observed having a
fight with my first officer, getting relieved of duty. But instead
of beaming up to the ship as I was ordered, I ran into the city,
looking for a way to escape."

Deanna sucked in a breath at hearing this. This didn't sound like
the Will Riker she knew at all. But she didn't comment. She wanted
to get the whole story.

"The man who observed the fight invited me into his home where a
group of his Maquis friends were staying, and they propositioned me.
I was just the man they needed for the job of getting back at the
Cardassians. I had to admit, they were right about how dangerous the
Cardassians were and how the Federation was doing nothing about the
threat. When I heard the snakes had plans to attack Betazed, that
did it for me. My life had a purpose again." He shrugged and
continued, "Plus, the latinum they offered was hard to resist. I
knew my career in Starfleet was over. I had already lost you and
everything I ever cared about. So I took them up on their offer. It
was enough money that I could retire and live on Risa the rest of my
days without another care in the world, after getting the Cardassians
where it hurts, of course. What could be better?" He forced a smile
then, that never reached his eyes, before an expression of anguish
clouded his features once again.

"I failed at that too, as I've failed at everything. I couldn't even
manage to die in the Cardassian prison, not for lack of trying. I've
spent nearly two decades of my life in purgatory, Deanna. Now I'm
asking you to help me." He approached the bed slowly, visibly
swallowed his pride, and sank to his knees before her, his eyes
bloodshot and moist from unshed tears. He grasped both of her hands
in his. "Please. Release me from the Imzadi bond so I can go on
without you. Make me whole again. I can't bear this pain any
longer," he whispered emphatically.

His next action astounded her, for she had never known William Thomas
Riker to give in so fully to his emotions. He slid his arms around
her waist, lowered his head to her lap and wept.


William Riker barged into the ballroom, wove his way roughly through
the dancers and rudely interrupted Captain Picard's conversation with
a well-known Betazoid ambassador. "Captain, I need to speak with
you. It's urgent."

"Of course, Will. Please excuse me, ambassador," Picard said as he
took his leave and followed Riker through the double doorway.

"Deanna has been taken, Sir," Riker burst out just as they exited the

Picard raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Captain, there is no need to
call me, `Sir.' We are on equal footing now, remember? Now, what's
this all about?"

"Sorry. Old habits… Deanna is gone. I need to get to the Enterprise
so I can begin a search."

Picard compressed his lips tightly in concern, knowing full well that
serious expression on his ex-first officer's face. "How do you know
she's been taken?"

"She was headed up to her - our bedroom. I followed her. But she
wasn't there when I entered. There are no other exits from the
room. The bed had her imprint on it…"

Picard held up a hand and interrupted, "There could be an easy
explanation for this, Will. Did you ask Lwaxana to communicate with

"There you are, William!" came the resounding voice of the woman in
question. She had seen the two men leave the ballroom in a rush and
was curious. "What's all this fuss about? Where's Deanna?"

"We were wondering if you could tell us, Mrs. Troi," Picard responded

"A moment please, gentlemen," Lwaxana said aloud, confident that she
could locate her daughter easily through telepathic communication.
Her eyes glazed over as she concentrated. Moments later, she was
crying out, "Deanna?! She's gone!"

Picard met Riker's desperate gaze and consented immediately with a
nod. As none of them was wearing a commbadge, they headed quickly to
the computer, conveniently located on a nearby wall, and contacted
the Enterprise.

Picard sent Riker to the ship first while he himself rounded up the
rest of the crew. Lwaxana elected to stay on the planet and gather a
group of her own to help with a telepathic search. Kyle Riker chose
to stay by her side, much to Picard's inner amusement. This was
certainly a strange turn of events; one that Will had declined to
comment on when he first took notice of it. Deanna's disappearance
had distracted his ex-first officer soon after that and there had
been no time to gain any further information about the unlikely

Picard made sure he was the last to beam up to the ship, which now
contained all the members of his new crew as well as many of his old
crew, whom he had missed more than he cared to admit, particularly a
lovely redhead who would not be getting away so easily this time.

She was standing there in the transporter room, waiting for him to
beam up. The epitome of Grecian beauty, except for the slump to her
weary shoulders and the troubled lines in her brow.

"Beverly, why don't you accompany me to the Bridge?" He stepped down
from the transporter pad and gently guided her with a hand on her

"Jean-Luc! I was the last one who talked with her. This could be
partially my fault!" She bit her lower lip to keep it from trembling.

They walked quickly down the corridor toward the turbolift. "Now how
could this be your fault, Beverly?" Picard inquired calmly as he
pressed the call button.

"Of course I know I didn't make her disappear, but I could have
easily added to whatever stress she was dealing with, including that
of her Mother and Kyle Riker…"

The lift arrived just then, and the door opened to admit them. They
stepped aside as an officer got out, then entered the lift together.

"Bridge," the captain commanded, then turned to face the person he
cared for most in his life. His voice was gentle with deference to
her fragile emotions. "Beverly, whatever was said, I'm sure it had
nothing to do with her abduction. She may have been upset, but
that's not going to cause her to disappear without a trace. However,
for the sake of this investigation, it might be prudent for me to
know what you were discussing just before she left the ballroom."

"I was telling her about your proposal and she was giving me advice.
She seemed fine with everything, had even helped me make up my mind,
when she suddenly stood, said she was going to be sick, and took off."

Picard scowled despite his resolve to keep his emotions in check
during this crisis. Beverly's statement had brought up twelve
questions at once in his mind, and nearly as many insecurities. The
most pressing one was the first to make it's way to his mouth. "I
fail to understand why you would need to share this private
information with someone else. If it distresses you to consider my
proposal, maybe we should take that as a sign…"

"No, Jean-Luc, listen," she cut him off, stepping closer and reaching
for his hand. Her right hand grasped his, as his left hand rose to
take hers. "I had to express my concerns aloud to someone before I
could settle my mind. And Deanna's the only one I could trust to
confide in. I had several concerns. But I don't anymore."

"You don't? Then I gather you have an answer."

"I do."

"And that would be?"

"Computer, halt," Beverly said, and the lift smoothly ceased its
motion. She moved her arms up to encircle his neck as her eyes
filled with tears. "Yes, Jean-Luc, I will marry you," she whispered
on his awaiting lips, just before his mouth devoured hers.

The kiss was long and passionate, deepening with every passing second
until at last, breathless, they parted. Beverly smiled at the dazed
expression in his eyes. "And I will live on the Enterprise a while
longer, passing up the greatest opportunity known to the medical
field, mind you, as long as you promise that I'll be able to go back
to Starfleet Medical as soon as you're ready to accept a position as
Admiral. Deal?"

Picard afforded her a lopsided, closed-lipped grin. "Deal." He
stared into her eyes, completely captivated several moments longer,
then commanded, "Computer, resume."

"Oh, and one more thing. There is no way in hell I'm keeping this
marriage a secret from the crew!"

"I can live with that…I think," Picard replied without smiling,
though it was clear to her that his heart was light, and that he was
more than willing to make some adaptations to his lifestyle to fit
her into the picture.

The turbolift came to a halt at the Bridge. Beverly disengaged her
arms from his neck just as the doors opened. Picard straightened the
front of his uniform and stepped quickly out, followed by his
blushing fiancé.

The familiar form of Will Riker was hovering over Geordi's shoulder,
assisting with the scans of the space around the planet. They were
searching for errant ships, warp signatures, or energy traces
entering or exiting the atmosphere.

"Captain," the ship's new first officer called from the seat at the
science station next to Geordi's.

"Yes, Madden?" Picard and Riker responded together, the former
standing up from his seat in the captain's chair.

"Sorry," the impulsive young man swerved his head toward Picard. "I
was referring to Captain Riker." Picard nodded and Madden continued
to Riker, "Sir, I am registering transporter traces from Counselor
Troi's bedroom."

"I knew it!" Riker exclaimed. "Can you isolate their destination?"

"Negative. But there's no indication that the beam ever left the
planet surface."

"I'm not finding any traces of ships that have left orbit in the last
few hours either," Geordi chimed in.

"Then she's down there somewhere," Will's fist tightened with
resolve. "But where? Why can't Lwaxana reach her?" Something about
this situation sounded terribly familiar to him, but he couldn't
quite put his finger on it. Then it suddenly hit him like a Klingon
in a bad mood. There was a place on Betazed that blocked telepathic
transmissions. But the caves had collapsed years ago, hadn't they?
What if one still existed and Deanna was in it? "Oh, god!" What if
her memories were coming back?

Will fought down his sense of panic and tried to respond rationally
to Madden's questioning, "Sir?"

"Scan the planet surface for ganzi stones. Hurry!"


Lwaxana Troi came to a similar conclusion as soon as she got word
from the Enterprise that Deanna had to be on Betazed somewhere, as no
ships had left the system during the party. It was time to show the
charming Kyle Riker what Betazoid women were capable of. He was
leaning back against the wall in the ballroom, his arms crossed over
his broad chest, square jaw tilted up in interest, looking positively
dashing. Lwaxana flashed him her best, most affectionate smile,
despite her concern over the disappearance of her daughter. One
thing about Deanna, though, was that she always seemed to come out
okay in the end, regardless of the seemingly insurmountable trials
that continually bombarded her life. Lwaxana knew with a sense that
went far beyond her Betazoid abilities, with a connection only a
parent and child could share, that her daughter was safe, wherever
she was.

But this Daughter of the Fifth House would be condemned to the Fourth
Plain if she allowed some idiot to abduct her child now and ruin all
the wedding plans! Swishing her intricately laced, satiny gold gown
to the side, Lwaxana quickly gathered about her some of the strongest
telepaths on the planet, many of whom just happened to be at the
party, as they were her closest friends. It was time to get to work.

Kyle watched with fascination as the other telepaths assembled around
Lwaxana. They formed a circle, all twenty of them, and held hands.
As one, their eyes closed and their heads fell forward on their
shoulders. They began to hum. An eerie, methodical sound that
emanated from deep within their cores. Soon the sound reverberated
outward until the very walls of the room were quivering in response
to the vibration.

Then just as suddenly, all was silent. Several moments passed as
Riker senior, feeling out of place as the only male in the room, and
a non-telepath at that, scanned the circle for some sign of
movement. He gathered that the women were searching for Deanna's
mental signature somehow, but what exactly they were seeing, or not
seeing, was beyond him. His mind felt fuzzy, bubbly, like the drink
he had enjoyed a little too much. What was in that stuff anyway?
Whatever it was, it certainly packed a punch.

His eyes fell on Lwaxana with admiration. She made him feel young
again. Free to laugh and enjoy life the way it was meant to be
enjoyed. He had only known her a couple of weeks, as he had arrived
on Betazed just two days after Will and Deanna had taken off for
their honeymoon. But it had been a hell of a two weeks. Things were
moving fast - maybe too fast, but how much time did he have in the
whole scheme of things anyway? Carpe diem! It was time to seize the
day. He wasn't one to beat around the bush when it came to the
things, or people he wanted. Sure, this was a little weird in terms
of the family relations, but if his son could find happiness with a
Betazoid, he damn well could too, and to hell with the nay-sayers.

Lwaxana suddenly lifted her head, followed closely by the other
telepaths. Kyle started with surprise at the unexpected movement.
Then the telepaths spoke aloud as one, "The Caves of Knowing."



Deanna stroked Tom's hair as his fingers tightened in the folds of
her lavender, sleeveless blouse. She didn't know what else to do.
This was a situation beyond her reasoning. She had no idea how to
release him from the Imzadi bond. Was such a thing even possible?
And whatever the stones had to do with it, she didn't have any way to
discover their secret.

All she knew was that this place was beginning to have a strange
affect on her. She could feel her mental shields lowering against
her will, leaving her completely open to his tidal wave of emotion.
She had to fight hard to maintain her identity as being separate from

Closing her eyes, she tried a trick her mother had taught her when
her empathic abilities first made themselves known. It involved
using her imagination to erect a protective wall around her psyche.
Her first wall was made of solid stone, several feet thick, light
gray and featureless. That crumpled down just moments after it was
erected. Next it was a barrier of impenetrable metal, cold and
smooth, bending and molding to fit the shape of her brain. No good.
His thoughts and feelings burned right through the metal, melting it
to liquid. Her final effort was to create a barrier of pure white
energy that repelled invading thoughts like the shields of the
Enterprise repelled errant ships. It took every last ounce of
strength within her to maintain this level of shielding, even just
for the span of a few practiced breaths. It rapidly dissipated the
moment she relaxed.

It was futile.

Deanna had no choice but to let go. To accept his emotions and allow
them to quickly pass through her.

His tears had ceased at some point during her attempts to protect
herself. But he didn't pull away. The grip of his hands was looser
now, but still very much there. Her maternal instincts raging out of
control, she leaned down and gently kissed the top of his head,
breathing in his clean, slightly musky scent. Then with a short
turn, her cheek replaced her lips as her head came to rest upon
his. "Oh, Tom, what are we going to do?" She muttered near his ear,
her own sympathetic tears quickly welling, slipping past her cheeks
and dripping into his hair.

Over time, his nearness began to cause a stirring inside that she
fought hard to suppress. It wasn't a maternal instinct she was
feeling at all now. It was something much more dangerous. *This is
Tom, not Will,* she said to herself over and over again, her arms
moving of their own accord to embrace his broad shoulders.


"Sir, I have detected only one source of ganzi energy on the planet
surface. It is emanating from a small, unregistered annex in the
city of Tangelis," Madden informed the tense man pacing the upper
level of the bridge.

Riker came to a halt and bent over the information displayed on the
first officer's computer screen. "Tangelis?" he replied, his voice
edgy with exhaustion and borderline panic. "We were just there two
weeks ago to see…" He abruptly bit back his words, realizing that
the trip to see Silva the Weaver was supposed to be a secret.

Silva. What the hell did she have to do with this? Or was it all
just a coincidence? Will was wise enough though, after having dealt
with Betazoids for half his life, to know that nothing was
coincidental when it came to them.

"Sir?" Madden queried innocently.

"Nothing. I'm beaming down to the planet."

"Will, would you like an away team to accompany you?" Picard cut in
as Riker single-mindedly headed toward the turbolift.

The captain strode quickly up the ramp and intercepted Will before he
reached the doors. "What do you know of this place?" He insisted,
needing reassurance that his overly stressed ex-first officer wasn't
acting without thinking.

Riker sighed and ran a hand through his hair in general
annoyance. "Captain, I'd tell you if I could, but I'm bound by
secrecy not to. All I can say is that I'm not beaming down into a
dangerous situation. There's someone in that clinic that I need to
talk to."

"I see. Well, it still would be wise to take someone with you."

"Captain…" Riker began to protest, but Picard cut him off.

"Look, Will, you may know this person, but if he is involved in the
abduction of a Starfleet officer, he could be more dangerous than you
think." The captain raised an eyebrow to emphasize his
seriousness. "You won't be leaving this ship without some form of

Riker leveled his icy blue gaze at his former commanding
officer. "With all due respect, you don't have the jurisdiction to
prevent me."

"While that may be so, you don't have the jurisdiction to prevent me
from sending a security team to follow your every move."

The threat was softly spoken and quite real. The two distinguished
leaders, each as stubborn as the other, locked eyes in a silent
battle of wills that dated back to their very first meeting at
Farpoint and thousands of other times since then.
Time to play the guilt card. "I would think you would trust me
enough by now not to do that, Jean-Luc."

The aged captain sighed and rubbed his chin with two fingers. It had
its intended effect. "Well played, Will," his lips edged up on one
side into a defeated semi-grin. "I do trust you… with my life." His
shoulders fell back to a relaxed position. "Can I convince you to
wear a tracer at least?"

Will smiled. "You got it. Implant it under my skin if you need to."

Picard turned to glance meaningfully at Beverly. She was already
rising from her seat next to the captain's chair. "I'm on it." She
brushed past them both and entered the turbo lift, holding the door
open for Will.

"Good luck, Captain," Picard said as the doors closed behind them.


The nature of Tom's grasp around Deanna's waist soon began to
change. His hands loosened and traveled slowly along her lower back,
stroking in sensuous circles. He turned his head and placed a gentle
kiss on her belly, his warm breath easily penetrating the thin, silky
fabric of her blouse. Then another kiss, a little higher.

She knew she should stop him. Sirens were screaming in her mind.
But his emotions were so strong. She had no defense against them.
That combined with the effect of stones seemed to be robbing her of
her free will. She was so tired, and his nearness pulled at her with
the strength of a tide. His soft lips gradually moved further up and
came to linger between her breasts. She held her breath in surprise,
then sighed in surrender as his mouth found the bare skin of her
upper chest and tasted her adoringly.

*This isn't right. Stop him!* she scolded herself as a shudder of
pleasure raced down her spine. Now his mouth was hot and tingly at
the center of her neck, his hands worshipping her curves in hungry
caresses of their own.

Deanna gasped aloud and closed her eyes as he found her ear and the
tender spot just below it.


Riker came to a halt in front of Silva's clinic, where the tricorder
insisted at least one ganzi stone resided. The hovel was white and
dome-shaped, sandwiched between numerous other artistic buildings
that lined the pristine side street near the marketplace. The first
rays of dawn peeked through the drowsy night sky, giving Riker a
painful reminder of just how long he had been awake now, as he and
Deanna had done little sleeping the night before they returned home,
mistakenly thinking they could catch up on their rest at the Troi

Will opened the door and went in. He didn't bother to knock. He
could sense that Silva was waiting for him, and was too tired to care
if she wasn't.

It was dark and misty, lit only by a few candles in the far corner of
the small, violet-hued anteroom.

"I thought you'd never get here," came a surprisingly cheerful
feminine voice from behind a curtained area. "Come in, William
Thomas Riker. We have much to discuss."


Thick, long, hazel-brown tresses spilled forward over Deanna's
shoulders as her Imzadi dug his fingers into her satiny hair and
pulled her face closer to his, where instead of meeting her lips as
she was expecting, he placed gentle kisses on her eyelids and
cheeks. This wasn't something the Riker she knew would have done,
and it set her on fire with anticipation of the unknown.


Silva the Weaver wasn't exactly what Will had expected. He wasn't
sure what he had been expecting, but a lovely, middle-aged blind
woman wasn't it. She sat on an overstuffed love seat, her legs
tucked up under her, with delicate bare feet peeking out from under
her long, creamy robe. Her hair was honey gold, piled above her head
in a fashionable swirl that somehow matched the swirls of candlelight
that danced across her smooth cheeks. She gestured with her hand
toward the seat opposite her.

"Please sit down. I'm sure you're wondering where Deanna is."


Releasing her hair, his hands roved slowly downward to her waist,
barely brushing past her breasts on their way. He toyed with the
lower edge of her blouse a moment, then slipped his hands inside and
began a nerve-awakening journey back up. His fingers found their
prize, rising and falling with her quickened breath. But instead of
going for the obvious, he traced the edge of her lacy bra, drawing
teasing circles around her erect nipples without venturing inside the
barrier that separated her tender skin from his searching hands.


"This is going to take a while to explain. I believe you would be
more comfortable sitting down," Silva insisted, her eerie, milky-
white eyes seeming to stare at him with a hint of amusement.

"I don't have a while to spare! Where is Deanna? I need to get to
her now!" Riker balled his fists and clenched them hard at his sides
to maintain control.

Silva laughed. It was like the sound of bells tinkling. "You're so
certain she needs your help right now? Such arrogance! No wonder
they find you Earth men attractive."

This statement abruptly disarmed him. He felt with his hand for the
chair behind him and sat. Then he leaned forward, anxiously, with
his elbows on his knees. The chair smelled of exotic spices and
oils, strong enough that he could taste the fragrance. It wasn't
unpleasant, though. In fact, the aroma was rather soothing. "I'm
listening," he said.

"Let's see, where to begin? Tea?" She reached her long, ring-
faceted fingers to a low, rustic table where two steaming cups of tea
rested. She lifted a sea green cup on a matching saucer and passed
it toward him. He accepted it grudgingly, willing to do anything to
keep her on track with whatever story she was about to deliver. She
then lifted her own cup and blew gently on the cinnamony wisps of

"You're doing this on purpose," Will said in irritation.

"Doing what, my dear Riker?"

"Stalling. Why?"

"Because the time isn't right yet. But it soon will be. Patience,
dear one. You will rescue your Imzadi and all will be well. But
first you must hear what I have to say."

Will drank the tea down in one gulp, because he didn't know what else
to do. He didn't want to hold the delicate thing when he might have
to kill someone soon. He wasn't in the mood. He set the cup and
saucer down on the table as carefully as he could, given how jumpy
his nerves were.

The tea was smooth and warm on the way down, enticing him to take a
calming breath.

"It all started with a little Betazoid girl, an eleven-year-old, who
fell in love with a twelve-year-old boy from Earth. In fact, they
were Imzadi, but they were too young to know it."

Will thought about himself and Deanna, but he was sure he had never
been to Betazed as a child. Who was she talking about?

"The girl's mother, a formidable woman of great power, discovered the
two of them sharing an innocent kiss in the garden and furiously sent
the boy away. Her daughter was meant for bigger and better things
than to marry into an ordinary Starfleet family. Sure, the children
were young, but she sensed their powerful bond and was determined to
squelch it before it got out of hand. The boy left the planet with
his family soon afterwards and the children didn't see each other
again for half a century!"

Definitely not him and Deanna, then. "Silva, I'm sure this is all
very interesting, but…"

"Sha! Quiet! Let me finish!" She scolded, then took another casual
sip of her tea. At last she spoke again. "The one kiss the children
shared was passionate and deep. Deep enough to complete the bond all
by itself."

Riker moved his hand up to cover his eyes in frustration. He rubbed
his forehead and sighed.

"Their broken bond sent everything in their family lines into chaos.
They grew up, married other people, people who they truly loved, and
had children of their own, but always deep inside there was a sense
of loss. They weren't meant to be with anyone other than their
Imzadi, and each of their spouses passed away as part of the cosmic
chain reaction. The Imzadi bond affects far more than you realize,
William Riker. Far more. It is a rare and precious thing. A power
that, when channeled correctly, can create global changes. And it's
an impossible connection to break. Now or ever."

Will rolled his eyes. This was a little too far out there, even for
him. And he had seen a lot in his day.

Silva suddenly sat forward and reached for his hand. Surprised, he
didn't resist her gentle touch. Her expression became quite serious
with the next words she spoke, her sightless eyes blinking
slowly. "The children were Lwaxana of the Fifth House and Kyle Riker
of Earth."


Tom maneuvered his body between Deanna's legs and pulled her tightly
to him with his large hands behind her hips. His desperate lips
captured hers in a kiss so raw and demanding it sent her into a dizzy
haze of semi-consciousness.

This was it. She was going to lose herself completely. Perhaps meld
with him to become one person and never return. It was the end of
all she knew and cared about. It was…

"STOP!" A voice inside of her yelled in a last ditch grasp at sanity.

The word must have made it to her mouth, for he did stop. He pulled
back and stared into her eyes with agonized longing. She pushed
against his chest with both of her hands and stumbled across the room
from him.

"I have to get out of this place! NOW!" She exclaimed with rising
panic, looking around desperately for a transporter device of some

"Deanna? What's wrong?" Tom stood quickly in alarm and tried to
reach her, but she dashed out of his way. He took the hint and froze
in place, his worried eyes watching her as she frantically searched
his belongings. "What are you looking for?"

"Where's the transporter device?" she demanded as her hands continued
their search. "I have to get out of here. Now! Poor Will! He must
be so worried! Mother must have the entire planet searching for me
by now." She took a moment to meet his eyes. "I have to go before
this…this…" she pointed a shaking finger at her head, unable to
articulate what she was experiencing inside, "THIS gets any worse!"

Tom stiffened and slowly shook his head. "No, you're not going
anywhere until you figure out a way to lift the Imzadi curse."

"And how exactly am I supposed to do that?" she yelled, her anger
rising again. But at least it felt better than panic. She was more
in control now.

"A strange lady I met, a mystic named Silva said only you could
release me. She told me to bring you here and keep you in the
presence of the stones."

"Silva? Who's…" The blood rapidly drained from Deanna's face as a
rush of blocked memories came flooding back.


"What's your name?" the boy with the dazzling smile and sun-kissed
hair asked as he cautiously approached her. His white shirt blended
in with the pristine mansion that towered behind him. He had removed
his dress-up jacket and left it somewhere inside the house.

"Don't you know?" she answered coyly.

"No, I can't read minds. I'm not Betazoid."

"That's not what I meant. Don't you recognize me?" She smiled at
his puzzled expression. "I'm the youngest daughter of the Fifth
House, future holder of the sacred chalice of Riix, heir to the Holy
Rings of Betazed. Everyone else knows who I am."

The boy swallowed and took a cautious step backwards. "Oh. You're
one of the daughters? Sorry."

"Why are you sorry?"

His fingers toyed with a long jagged branch of a ginta tree until one
of the feathery pink leaves broke off in his hand. He looked
everywhere but at her as he answered, "I don't know. I'm not royal
or anything."

"That doesn't matter. Your father is a captain, right? Isn't that
considered royalty in Starfleet?"

"Not really." Kyle dropped the leaf so that he could pick up a flat
rock lying at his feet. He sliced it through the air at the large
placid pond before them, and counted the skips. Four. Not bad.

Lwaxana smiled, impressed. She had never seen anyone do that with a
rock before.

The handsome boy paced along the shore searching for another flat
one. He threw a few duds. Lwaxana noticed that he never went
further than ten steps away in any direction before turning back
toward the ornate white bench where she sat, connected to her by an
invisible leash.

"You're nervous," she said at last.

He stopped and looked at her in surprise. "I'm not nervous!"

"Yes you are. You're all fidgety."

"No I'm not. I just like skipping rocks."

"Is that what you call it? Do it again."

Kyle flashed her a lopsided smile and rubbed his thumb over the
smooth surface of the remaining thin, round stone in his hand. He
tossed it in the air once and caught it behind his back, checking her
briefly for approval. He got it. She laughed and clapped her
hands. Then, his tongue pushing against his inner cheek in
concentration, he eyed the water, aimed the rock, and shot it with
all his might.


"That was the most yet!" Lwaxana exclaimed in delight. "Will you
teach me how to do it?" She stood from the bench and slowly
approached him, trying to avoid the muddier spots but failing
miserably. The back of her fluffy, layered yellow dress was longer
than the front, and it dragged several inches before she noticed it.

"Maybe you should go back inside," Kyle said, glancing at her
expensive-looking shoes that were already getting dirty.

Lwaxana shook her head. "I don't want to go back in there. It's
just a party for stuffy plosas who don't know how to have any fun. I
don't know how they can even call that a party."


"Oh, sorry. Grown-ups."

"Yeah, I thought there would be more kids here. We could have
started a ball game or something."

"Want me to show you the other side of the garden? There's a huge
fountain around the back, and we have groves of redin trees. The
fruit is ripe. Have you ever tried it?"


"Well, I can tell you want to, so let's go."

Kyle shrugged and followed her lead. But moments after turning away
from the pond, Lwaxana tripped over the muddy edge of her elegant
gown and fell flat on her stomach. Kyle quickly reached for her arm
and helped her back to her feet, and they both looked down in dismay
at the front of her dress, which was now a lovely shade of brown.

Lwaxana wiped at it with her bare hands, but it was no use. She
looked up at Kyle forlornly. "Well, now we really have a reason to
hide behind the house. Mother's going to have a fit when she sees
this. I wasn't supposed to be anywhere near the pond today. Come
on, let's go!" She grabbed his hand, lifted her cumbersome skirt
with her other hand, and they took off for the cover of the redin

The midday sun was warm and their foreheads were moist with
perspiration as they reached the orange-tinted trees, their branches
thick and heavy with red fruit. A mouth-watering sweetness permeated
the air, enticing them to sample the round, fuzzy delicacies. To
Kyle they tasted like a mix between an apple and a peach. He grinned
at the pretty girl by his side who was using the back of her hand to
wipe away the juice that had dribbled down her chin. But when she
looked up at him, he quickly glanced away.

"These are really good," he said, taking another one from a branch
that partially blocked his way as they strolled through the grove.

"Uh huh."

They walked tranquilly through the trees for what seemed like hours,
talking and laughing until they reached the enormous fountain in the
back that Lwaxana had mentioned earlier. Kyle was appropriately
impressed. It was at least fifteen meters high, with more tiers than
he could count. At each level of the fountain, water was distributed
differently. At one tier it came out as a fine spray of tiny
droplets. At another, the water popped out in neatly clipped tubes
that leaped from place to place. It rained down in sheets in another
spot, and was spouted upwards again by horn-blowing fairies toward
the bottom.

"Wow!" Kyle whistled.

Lwaxana sat on the wide stone ledge of the base and dipped her
fingers into the cool clear pool at the bottom. She rinsed her hands
and splashed water on her face to wash away the sweat that had
accumulated on her brow. Kyle did the same, but took it a step
farther. He stuck his whole face in the water, swished it around,
then whipped his head upwards so that he could splash her with his
wet hair.

Lwaxana squealed in surprise, then laughed. She quickly cupped both
of her hands in the water and splashed him back. Not that it
affected him much. He was already soaked.

He returned the favor by dumping a handful of water on her head.
This quickly turned into a water fight and wrestling match that ended
with Kyle holding Lwaxana over the edge of the pool at the base of
the fountain, threatening to dump her all the way in. She clutched
his upper arms and laughingly, screamingly, begged for him to stop.

Panting from the rush of the fight, their eyes met and she was able
to gaze into his calm blue depths for the first time. What she saw
there was the universe. It was infinity. It was more than any
thought her young mind could wrap itself around.

She knew he saw the same thing in her eyes and he was frightened by
it. He slowly pulled her back to an upright position and gazed at
her with wide-eyed astonishment.

"You want to kiss me," she muttered suddenly.

"Wh…what?" he responded, tearing his gaze away from hers.

"Why don't you just do it?"

He didn't answer, but his blushing cheeks and the images racing
through his mind said plenty.

"You've never kissed a girl before?" She intruded rudely into his

"No," he answered simply.

"But you've wanted to. You've always held back. Why?"

"I don't know. I'm shy, I guess. Have you kissed a boy before?"

"Sure, silly! I've had seven boyfriends so far. Jared was the most
recent one. He and I broke up last week. It just wasn't working

"Seven?! And your mom lets you date guys at your age?"

"Mother? Oh gods, no! I meet with them secretly. At the beach or
while we're on vacation. There was a neighbor boy I used to like but
he moved away. It's not really what you would call dating."

"Wait a minute. How do you get away with that? Can't she read your

"Not if I don't want her to. I know how to block quite well. And
she's not so rude as to invade my thoughts without asking. Well, at
least not usually." She smiled impishly and reached for his hand.

He was trembling. She would never have known that his nerves were on
edge had she not touched his skin at that moment. His face was
perfectly still, his mind lost in fantasy. Images of him running his
fingers through her long brown hair came to the forefront of his
thoughts and now it was her turn to blush.

She slid closer to him on the ledge and raised a hand to his cheek,
gently turning his face so he would have to meet her eyes. "You may
kiss me, Kyle Riker," she whispered just inches from his lips.

Unable to resist such an invitation, he cautiously leaned forward and
briefly touched his mouth to hers, his lips closed and tense, his
eyes wide open. Then he pulled back and searched her expression for
her response.

She grinned.

"See? That wasn't so bad, was it?" She teased. "Now, let me show
you how it's really done."

She reached up and closed his eyes for him with a delicate brush of
her hand. Then she moved her face slowly toward his and, closing her
own eyes, met his lips again. It started out soft, a feathery light
touch as she gently explored the texture and taste of him. Then she
increased the pressure and the kiss deepened. She parted her mouth,
and he followed her lead, opening his lips to her as they breathed
each other's breath. His hands moved up to touch her shiny, damp
hair, then embraced her tightly around the back as her arms wound
their way around his neck and held him to her.

His shaking stopped as he melted into the sweet fragrance of her.
Her bare upper arms rested against his cheeks, cradling him in her
warmth. He gave himself over completely to her surprisingly
experienced lips and relaxed as she stole his soul away with every
passing second.

Hours, weeks, years, millennia soared by as the kiss continued. The
kiss that would seal their fates forever. The kiss that bonded them
to each other as Imzadi and would affect every choice they made for
the rest of their lives. The kiss that…

"What in the name of the dieties are you doing?!" Boomed the
infuriated voice of the matriarch of the Troi house.

Lwaxana and Kyle gasped in shock as they were suddenly pulled apart
by her mother, like a snail being ripped from its shell.

*Oh, god!*

*Oh, gods!*

They thought in unison, hearing each other's silent exclamations as
clearly as they heard their own.

"Get away from my daughter!" she yelled, and the ground shook. "How
dare you?"

The image of her angry mother swirled and then changed suddenly into
something far more hideous.


"Get away from me! How dare you?" Lwaxana screamed, fighting
against her captors with every ounce of her strength. "Stop! What
are you doing? Who the hell are you? You're hurting me! William?


"Get away from me! Stop! You're hurting me!" Deanna screamed,
fighting against captor after captor. "Noooooo!" She cried and
cried but they wouldn't stop. Jev-Will-Shinzon were attacking her
again and again and no amount of fighting could make them stop.


"Lwaxana, wake up! Lwaxana!" A pair of strong hands shook her
shoulders roughly and she slowly came back to reality.

"Kyle?" She stared at him sightlessly for a moment, then the aged
man before her came into full focus and she threw her arms around
him, sobbing. "Oh, Kyle! My daughter! She's getting her memories
back! I shared her dream! We've got to find her before it's too

"Shhhh. It's okay. Take it easy. We'll get to her. I promise,"
Kyle soothed. "The Enterprise is closing in on her location now."

Lwaxana looked around her in confusion. "Where am I? What's going

"You're in your sitting room. You came in here to rest after the
telepaths discovered where Deanna is. Something about the Caves of
Knowing. That was pretty impressive. You said you needed to sit
down and then you fell asleep. I've been in communication with the
Enterprise all night. They say that Will may have the answer to
where the caves are. He's probably on his way to her right now."

"Oh, thank the deities! And thank the gods you're here, Imzadi."
Lwaxana's hand flew to her mouth in shock. "What did I just say?"

"You said `Imzadi'."

"Why in the world did I just say that?"

"Beats me, but I like the sound of it. What does it mean?" He sat
next to her on the wide couch and took her into his arms. She sighed
and leaned her head on his wide chest. She didn't answer him right
away. Instead she was struggling to remember the dream she had
before the nightmare she shared with Deanna. It had been a pleasant
one, something beautiful and very romantic, but that was all she
could recall. It had ended so abruptly and so horribly.

"Why can't you sense Deanna while you're awake?" Kyle changed the
subject after a time.

"I'm not sure. The Caves of Knowing block all telepathic
communication, but perhaps they can't block dream waves. That's
it!" She shot up excitedly. "I'll bet I can communicate with her in
a dream state!"

"It's worth a try," Kyle said with a shrug.

"I'm going to do it. I'll need to be alone, I'm sorry, dear."

Kyle sighed and sat up with a groan. "No problem."

"No, wait." Lwaxana pushed him gently back down with her hands on
his chest. "You get some rest here. I'm going to go to my room.
I'll need to burn some candles and scent the room. Yes, I'm sure I
can do this!" She climbed off the couch excitedly, glad to have
something constructive to do during this crisis.

She kissed him briefly on the lips and quickly departed the room.

Kyle watched her leave and immediately felt empty inside. No one had
ever affected him so quickly and at such a deep level. They had just
met two weeks ago and already she had become the center of his life.

"Imzadi. Hmmmm…" he muttered as he dropped almost instantly off to


The sickening stench of sulfur burned in her nostrils. She couldn't
figure out where the smell was coming from, unless that was what a
smoldering brain naturally smelled like. The repeated assault on her
body, the hands groping, the violating thrusts, the swirling images
of men - those she loved and those she hated, indistinguishable from
each other, was more than she could bear. She could feel her sanity
slipping away moment by moment.

"Help me," was all her lips could utter as her consciousness faded to
a welcome blackness.

Tom watched the scene in horrified bewilderment. One minute Deanna
was asking who Silva was, and the next she was on the floor, writhing
and screaming, fighting off invisible attackers, tears of horror
streaming down her cheeks.

He didn't know what to do. He got to his knees beside her and
repeated her name over and over. He waved his hand in front of her
face. He shook her shoulders and then slapped her across the face as
carefully as he could to wake her up without hurting her. Nothing
worked. She was hyperventilating, her pupils completely dilated as
she fought him off with the fury of a woman struggling for her last
breath of life.

When she at last drifted into unconsciousness, Tom thought for a
moment that she had died of some kind of seizure. He was relieved to
find her still breathing as he listened to her heartbeat through her
chest. With all the gentleness of a father carrying a sleeping
child, Tom lifted her from the floor and laid her out on the bed. He
took her shoes off, but left the rest of her clothes in place, and
covered her with the heavy blanket. Leaning one arm on the wall
above, he stared down at her ashen face, wondering what he had just
done to cause all this.

Shaking his head at yet another failure, Riker grasped Deanna's cold
hand in his and tapped the Emergency Transport Device attached to his
watch. He had programmed it to read his and Deanna's bio-
signatures. It could only transport the two of them from the Troi
house to the Cave of Knowing and back again, but it was all he needed
to get the job done. He had nearly been caught stealing the device
and rigging the coordinates at Betazed Transport Station Three. But
if there was one thing he had learned from his time spent in prison
and working on escape plans, it was stealth and good timing. As long
as they were touching, the ETD would transport them both back to the

He tapped the button and waited. Nothing happened. He pressed it
again. It emitted a loud buzzing sound and then shot out a spark,
searing a red burn across his wrist.

"Shit!" Tom angrily ripped the watch from his arm and examined it.
The device had shorted out! The mechanism was crusted over with
black residue, rendering it completely useless. Why hadn't he
thought to replicate more than one of them?

"Damn it all to hell!" he yelled in overwhelming frustration as he
chucked the watch across the room.

His wrist spasmed with burning pain.

He embraced the sensation. Welcomed the familiarity of it. Pain was
something he knew and had long ago accepted as an extension of
himself. At times it was the only thing real in his life.

He glanced at the replicator, then at his watch on the floor across
the room. *Well, it's worth a try,* he thought, as he moved to
retrieve the wrist unit. He detached the ETD from the watch and,
knowing it was a long shot given how old the replicator was, fed the
ETD into its analyzer anyway. The words that flashed across the
screen moments later were the very ones he hoped he wouldn't see:


He was screwed. How was he going to get her out of here now?


Deanna floated in a dark, soundless void. She had been here before,
had met the Gods here, but now it was different. Darker. Quieter.

Time passed. Or froze. It hardly mattered.

Gradually, a figure materialized in the distance. Soft, swirling
colors blending together to form the shape of a woman in a flowing
pink gown. Her face was elusive and unknowable. Deanna moved toward
the figure that emanated comfort even at this distance.

A pair of motherly arms opened and accepted her into a warm embrace.
Wrapped her up in safety and healing light.

No words were spoken. No thoughts projected. Feelings that only a
parent and a child could share were transmitted between them.

All would be well now.


"It's time to go," Silva said quite suddenly.

Riker stood up so fast, he hit his head on the free-standing lamp by
the chair. "How do you know?" he asked, rubbing the side of his head
with his hand.

She sent him a knowing grin but didn't answer, as she hoisted her
blue shawl about her shoulders and slipped on her moccasin-like
shoes. Walking to a thin, circular table in the corner, she removed
the cloth cover from a glass display case. The case held a single
ganzi stone, pulsing with a violet inner light. She removed the lid
and picked up the stone with her bare fingers, then she slipped it
into a velvety black pouch and pulled the strings to close it tight.

She placed the pouch in one of the wide pockets on the front of her
plain, floor-length gown, and guided Riker to the front door.

As they reached the exit, they were greeted by an enraged Lwaxana
Troi and Kyle Riker.

"You did this!" Lwaxana accused, her finger pointed at Silva.

Silva froze in place, her eyes wide. "Gods, you're good! I was just
on my way to wake you up! Don't know why I didn't sense that you
were already on your way here. Hmmmm… must be losing my edge."

"Don't you play your mind games with me, Weaver! I want to see my
daughter! Her memories are back and she's in a coma!" Lwaxana
wailed. "I was just with her in a dream state. She's lost!
Completely lost and it's all your fault!"

"Now, calm down," Kyle soothed behind her, his hand rubbing her
back. He eyed his son curiously but dared not ask him what he was
doing there. Lwaxana was about to lose it and he needed to stay
focused for her sake.

Will recognized the "we'll-figure-it-out-later" look his father gave
him. He had seen it many times before, and resigned himself to the
most important thing - getting to Deanna. Lwaxana had said that her
daughter was in a coma. The very thought made his stomach flip and
his skin break out in a cold sweat. How could Silva be so casual
about this? If she didn't hurry and get them there, he would be hard-
pressed not to strangle her with his bare hands.

The Weaver sighed. "Quite right, Mr. Riker. You must calm yourself,
Lwaxana. Your daughter is going to be just fine. Now that we're all
together, we can go to her immediately. I will have my assistants
meet us there. Come." Silva gave a melodramatic toss of her shawl
over her shoulder and led the way out of her hovel into the
street. "The transport station is just around the corner."


Tom sat on the edge of the bed and racked his brain. There had to be
a way out of the cave. There had to be a simple solution.

Just then, Silva, Will, Kyle and Lwaxana appeared. It was as if the
angels had answered his prayers, though he had long ago given up
believing in such things.

Kyle's mouth fell open in astonishment, first at the stunning stones
that decorated the cave walls, and then at the visage of his son's

Lwaxana's hands went to cover her mouth as a gasp of reverence
escaped her lips. She was on holy ground and felt that she should
kneel down, but as her eyes caught sight of Deanna on the bed, her
mothering instincts won out and she raced to her daughter instead.

"Oh, thank God!" Tom approached them from the bed, only to be shoved
aside so hard by Will that he hit the floor and rolled several feet.
Then, as if he had never existed, Will dismissed Tom and moved to the
bed containing his wife.

"Back away, please! Give me some room to work!" Silva demanded as
she shoved her way between Lwaxana and Will. They reluctantly parted
to allow her access to Deanna and she quickly put her hands on the
pale woman's temples.

There was a collective holding of breath as Silva concentrated
deeply. Slowly Deanna's color returned and her breathing evened

Silva looked up and smiled, then withdrew her hands. "She'll be
fine. She's asleep now." The mystic moved away from the bed so that
Lwaxana could sit with her daughter and hold her hand.

Will's hand went to cover his heart and he at last released the
breath he had been holding.

Tom pulled himself up from the ground and tried to straighten his
jacket with dignity. "How did you know when to come?" he asked in
confusion, a mixture of relief, embarrassment, and raw humiliation
vying for dominance in his expression.

"You son of a bitch!" Will suddenly flew across the room at Tom and
slammed him back to the floor. He punched his twin hard across the
face. His panic over the kidnapping, his utter exhaustion, his
impatience, and his fierce protectiveness of his wife all compounded
together to form one powerful ball of adrenaline-driven rage. He
struck again before Tom could even move his arms up to defend
himself. His twin's eyes rolled up into the back of his head and he
nearly passed out from the blows as Will raised his arm to make
another pass.

A strong pair of arms suddenly pulled Will up to a hunched, but
standing position from behind. Catching Will completely off guard,
his father had easily gotten him into an arm lock and held him

"Now, now, boys. If you're gonna fight, at least do it like men."
Kyle smirked with annoying casualness.

"Dad?" Tom stood quickly from the floor and used his jacket sleeve
to wipe away the blood that dribbled out the side of his
mouth. "What are you doing here?"

"I don't even know where here is! But I might ask you the same
thing, Son…two." He replied with levity.

"You…you know about me?" Tom said, astonished.

Will shook himself out of his father's hold and straightened up,
still panting from unreleased aggression. "Yeah, I warned him years
ago so that you wouldn't get away with an impersonation of me, in
case you ever tried," he spat.

Ignoring his twin entirely, Tom continued to stare at his aged father
in astonishment. "I thought I'd never see you again. Not that I
wanted to."

Kyle held up his hand impatiently. "Son, we've already been through
the reconciliation once. Sorry you missed it. I don't need to go
through it again. I have the respect of at least one of my sons now
and that in itself is more than I hoped for."

"You never change, do you, old man?" Tom hissed angrily.

Will snarled, "Shut up! You have no right to talk!" He advanced on
Tom again threateningly. This time his twin was ready for him. He
delivered a gut wrenching punch to Will's stomach, knocking the air
out of him.

Will doubled over in pain and gasped for breath.

Just then, six astoundingly beautiful women, dressed all in white,
each carrying a loaded shoulder bag, materialized in the cave,
drawing all attention their way.

"Ah, my priestesses have arrived! We can begin." Silva clapped her
hands in excitement, completely oblivious to the aggression in the
room. Or perhaps acutely aware of it, but refusing to allow it
access to her private world.

"What in the name of the deities is going on, Weaver?" Lwaxana
insisted, at the end of her rope.

"Come, my darlings. All will be explained to you now." Silva
casually walked toward a wall that looked just like all the other
walls in the cave, and promptly vanished inside of it. "Well? Don't
just stand there gawking, follow me!" her voice trilled from the
other side.

The priestesses were the first to follow, each with a confident
flare. Then all the Rikers, with Lwaxana bringing up the rear. They
soon discovered that the wall was an illusion. On the other side was
an enormous chamber with a 15-meter high ceiling and several tunnels
leading off in various directions. The ancient, tribal feel of the
place was unmistakable. Massive floor to ceiling pillars adorned the
walls at four rough corners. They were intricately carved with the
symbols of a language long dead, and the images of extinct creatures,
mystical items and unknown faces.

At the far end of the chamber, a tower of water poured down a hand-
crafted ledge, continually recycling a large but shallow hot spring
below, scintillating with only pink ganzi stones, set so close
together that they almost formed one solid surface along the bottom
and sides of the pool. More ganzi stones of various colors twinkled
behind the curtain of water, appearing and disappearing as the
downpour seemed to showcase them each individually.

In the center of the holy cavern rested a large fire pit, long
dormant. Silva lit the sacred fire and immediately the darkened
chamber sprung to life. The stones began to pulse and hum with a
vitality all their own. The symbols on the pillars began to glow
eerily in the flickering light. The chilly, damp air in the room
abruptly changed as currents of warmth filled the place from all
directions at once.

Silva removed her own violet ganzi stone from the black pouch in her
pocket. She placed the stone above the fire and an unseen energy
grasped the object and held it aloft. It took on a slow clockwise
rotation as it hovered in mid-air. Then, quite suddenly, purple rays
of light shot out from the stone in all directions. The rays
illuminated the farthest reaches of the chamber on all sides, and the
other ganzis sang in welcome.

Silva's appearance rapidly began to change. In their silent
reverence, everyone saw it at once. Her face began to blur, then to
mutate its shape. It grew tall and thin, her hair grew long, white,
and straight to match. When at last her face was in focus again, she
appeared to be wearing an ancient white mask, adorned with chips of
cobalt blue ganzi stones all around the edges. Her plain gown was
now the purest of white as she motioned for her visitors to be seated
around the fire.

It was a simple motion of her long, slender hand, but one which they
all instantly recognized and were powerless to disobey.

They sat.

*Now it is time for truth.* Silva the Weaver sent the thought
directly into their minds, in a new voice. Deep and resonant, yet
still very female… like how Betazed herself would sound if she spoke.

Each member of the circle saw and heard a different message in his or
her mind.

For Lwaxana it was a memory of herself as an eleven-year-old girl who
had just bonded on a very deep level with a twelve-year-old boy. She
saw herself kissing him under the fountain. She saw her mother
arrive in a fury and drag her away. The scene changed and the young
Lwaxana was in Silva's clinic, but the Weaver appeared to be not a
single day younger. The girl was told to sit in a chair and she did
so. Then the Weaver's hands came down to cover her head. Her
memories of the boy were wiped clean. Her mother smiled in

"Imzadi!" Lwaxana whispered, tears quickly gathering in her eyes and
overflowing onto her cheeks. She reached for Kyle's hand. He took
it and squeezed tightly.

For Kyle, it was the image of himself at twelve as his family left
Betazed on his father's ship. He stared back at the planet through
the window of his room as the blue orb quickly receded from view. He
felt completely lost. Frightened but unsure why. The beautiful girl
with the midnight eyes haunted him for years after that, but he never
found his way back to Betazed, and in time she faded to nothing but a
childish dream. Now she was here next to him again, and the
word "Imzadi" finally made sense. His whole life had been a
deviation off course!

Will and Tom saw and heard the same thing. It was like a chronicle
of their lives, starting with the loss of their mother, and later
lying to their classmates about her being alive. They were shown the
time when they first met and bonded with Deanna Troi on Betazed. The
first time she said the word "Imzadi" and how it made them feel.

Then Tom watched as Will's life continued where his had left off for
eight years. Will and Deanna's relationship had been confusing and
disastrous at times. There were days when they almost gave in to
their impulses and fell into each other's arms, but just before it
happened, something always reminded them of duty, interrupted them,
separated them. There had been strange violations, ones that tore at
Will's soul even now. If he and Deanna were Imzadi, why did these
things keep happening to them? It should be so easy…

Tom turned his sympathetic eyes to his twin. So the suffering hadn't
just been his own. They were essentially in the same boat, only at
different ends of it. Will met his gaze, clenched his jaw, and
turned away.

At last, all the members of the circle heard the same message at
once. "The Imzadi bond that was, and was not, shall be whole again.
The wrongs shall be righted here this day."

Then the Weaver began to transform again. Her mask shrank until it
fit her natural face, then absorbed into her skin and disappeared.
The rest of her transformations likewise faded until it was just
Silva again who stood before them.

She shook her head a few times as two of her priestesses hurried to
her side to assist. She regained her composure quickly. Reaching
out to the stone floating above the fire, she retrieved the violet
gem and slipped it back into its bag. Then she smiled.

"Well, now that you have the answers to your questions, we can get on
with this mission."

"Hardly!" Will protested. "Why did you give Tom access to this
place? I assume it was you…"

Lwaxana, wiping away her tears, interrupted quietly, "How could it
have been you who assisted my mother in erasing my memories? You
couldn't have been born yet! And how can you do all the things a
sighted person can do when you have no vision? Are you… a goddess?"

Silva laughed, "Heavens, no! I am merely a vessel."

"Why did you help me find this place?" Tom asked. "What did you
hope I would accomplish in getting Deanna down here?"

"Did you have a hand in erasing my memories too?" Kyle added in
growing annoyance.

Silva sighed loudly. "Trifles! We can deal with those issues
later. Now it's time to eat, sleep, and prepare for the ceremony
that will fix everything."

"Why should we trust you?" Kyle suddenly spat angrily.

"Because you have no choice. You know in your hearts that I am the
only one who holds the key to your eternal happiness."

After what they had just witnessed, they had to admit she was right.


Rated Severe NC-17! Beware! Very erotic and risqué material ahead!

A note from Shannon regarding the rating on this final chapter of
Miriam's story: "Not for the squeamish, the close-minded, the
stuffy, the easily offended, or the incredibly boring. Any who
choose to venture into the creative world of this writer are hereby
forewarned. Very, very adult (aka, hot as hell) material follows.
If you don't like it. Get over it!"

(Thank you, Shannon! LOL!) - Miriam


The priestesses quickly emptied their carry sacks and examined the
items they had brought. Various sacred objects spilled out onto the
floor, along with pillows, oils, incense, drums, candles and specific
foods. They served each person in the circle a special drink that
was thick and fruity, its texture gritty from some kind of protein
powder, its aftertaste that of warm, soothing alcohol. They were all
hungry and they devoured the drink readily.

Next the priestesses placed a small pillow behind each of them and
they were instructed to lie down with their heads on the soft, hand-
woven fabric.

The drink drugged them into a deep sleep within minutes.

Silva smiled. During the next seven hours, she made the rest of the
preparations with her priestesses at a casual pace.

At last all was ready. She moved about the circle of people, laying
her hands atop each of their heads in turn to awaken them from their

Still quite groggy from the drink, none of them protested as the
beautiful young women led each down a separate hallway and into four
distinct bathing chambers. Each bathing room contained its own small
hot spring, a crude toilet (which was more like a hole in the ground
edged with a solid marble seat), and shelves that displayed various
oils, soaps, perfumes, combs and brushes. On the walls were dramatic
murals in aged colors. Pictures of animals in the wilderness, naked
women playing ancient instruments, powerful gods in the sky, mighty

The visitors hardly noticed their surroundings as they were stripped
of their clothing, invited to use the toilet, and then gently led
into the hot spring. The young women removed their robes and,
equipped with bottles of powdery soap, joined their charges in the


Deanna was awakened by a pair of cool, soothing hands stroking her
brow. She slowly opened her eyes and gazed up at the grinning face
of Silva the Weaver.

"How do you feel, dear?" She reached behind Deanna and helped her to
sit up.

"I'm not sure," Troi answered honestly. "What happened?" Glancing
at her surroundings, she was disappointed to realize that it hadn't
been just a dream. She really had been kidnapped by Tom Riker. She
really did have her memories back and they were painfully fresh at
the forefront of her mind.

Tears rapidly rose to the surface again. Silva wiped them away with
all the care of Troi's own mother. "I'm sorry, Deanna. I tried."

"I know you did. It's not your fault that he did this."

"Actually it is my fault. But I'm going to make it RIGHT now."

"What do you mean?"

Silva changed the subject, not wishing to get into it just then. "I
want you to participate in a very ancient and rather unorthodox
ceremony, Deanna. It's the only way to put things right. The only
way you'll live a normal, happy life with your Imzadi. Everyone else
is already preparing for it."

"Who's everyone else?"

"Your mother, all the Rikers, my priestesses…"

"Wait, did you say ALL the Rikers? You mean Will's here?"

"Yes, my dear."

Deanna practically jumped out of the bed. "Where? Where is he?"

The Weaver placed a hand on Troi's chest to keep her from getting all
the way up. "He's preparing for the ritual, just as you should be.
You must be a willing participant in the ceremony, Deanna Troi. Do
you accept this invitation?"

"What does this ritual involve?" she asked nervously.

Silva shook her head and rose from her seat on the bed. "I'm not at
liberty to tell you. All I can say is that your life won't be right
without it. Will you accept the invitation?"

"How is one ritual going to change my life?" Deanna stalled.

The older woman sighed in exasperation. "All the struggles you've
had with Will Riker, all the violations, the splitting apart of one
man into two, none of it was ever meant to happen! We must seal the
bonds that have been left unsealed. And we must do it now! Do you
accept the invitation, Deanna Troi?"

Deanna stared into Silva's urgent gaze and saw only truth there. "I…
I accept the invitation."

"Good!" the Weaver smiled with relief and led Deanna by the arm to
the illusionary wall. Much to Troi's amazement, they passed through
solid rock and entered the Ritual Chamber.

The remaining two priestesses met them as they reached the immense
cavern. The young women each took an arm and led the dazzled
counselor to a bathing room near the entrance.

Before they began the cleansing, they gave Deanna the same fruity
drink they had fed the others, but hers had a different additive.
Its function was to place a woman in a deeply spiritual state, so
that her energy would align more easily with the energy of the
stones. It caused a drowsy euphoria, but didn't induce sleep.

Her stomach rumbling with hunger, Deanna gladly accepted the drink
and consumed it slowly as she examined the murals on the walls, lit
only by candlelight.

"This place is amazing!" she exclaimed, only to find that the
priestesses had left. She shrugged, finished the drink, then
gratefully made use of the rather inconvenient toilet.

A short time later, the priestesses returned, their clothing gone,
their hair bundled atop their heads, carrying a meter-high wooden
stool. They set it near the hot spring and turned toward Deanna.

She was starting to feel a buzz.

It was nice.

The women helped her to undress, though she could easily have done it
herself, and led her into the hot spring. She hadn't been bathed by
others since her Rite of Passage ceremony at thirteen-years-old. It
was a strange experience; hard to give in to at first. She was so
used to being in control of her own body.

Then euphoria set in. The steam rising from the hot spring clouded
her vision as all doubts and attachments rapidly melted away. Every
nerve in her body was brought to a heightened state of awareness as
the women massaged and cleansed her neck, shoulders and arms, her
back, breasts, and stomach. Then they moved to her feet and worked
their way up her legs to her sanctuary of feminine power, where they
spent little time - just enough to cause a stirring inside - an

Lastly they washed her hair with a shampoo that smelled of roses and
apricots. Deanna sighed in pleasure. If this was the ritual, she
could be convinced to do it every day!

When the bathing was complete, they dried her with a towel and had
her sit on the stool. One of them brushed out her long hair while
the other took a box of face paint down from the shelf and proceeded
to mark an elaborate symbol on her forehead. She couldn't see what
the symbol looked like, and hardly cared. Her mind was trapped in a
fog - a misty semi-reality that suited her just fine. She didn't
care to ever wake up.

When the priestess took out a sharp tribal knife from the box and
pricked Deanna's forehead with it, she didn't even flinch. The woman
made three small cuts, then dabbed at the blood until it clotted.
She moved to Troi's upper chest and did the same thing again. Then a
final time at her navel. Deanna felt no pain in any of the places
where this process occurred. It seemed she was only acutely aware of
pleasurable touch, and pain wasn't something her nerves could process.

The other woman finished with her hair and proceeded to rub her body
with a sweet-scented oil.

She was ready for the ceremony. The women left her to herself for
several minutes. She closed her eyes and basked in the sensual
feelings that coursed along her skin.


Some time earlier, Will and Tom were receiving the same treatment in
separate bathrooms, though each only had one priestess doing the
work. Their senses were heightened in a similar fashion. Their
bodies were scrubbed, massaged and pampered, to the point where they
were both extremely aroused.

The woman tending Tom's body in the hot spring touched his hardness
briefly in silent question. He groaned and tilted his head back in
welcome. She began to stroke him with her hands, expertly bringing
him to a climax so powerful it filled his eyes with tears.

When the woman with Will tried to do the same, his hand came up to
stop her. He shook with the effort to contain himself, but he wasn't
about to allow this woman access to something he had reserved only
for Deanna.

Their eyes met and he shook his head.

"You really should release this before the ceremony," the priestess

"I don't think so," Will refused as he disengaged himself from her.

"It will be painful for you if you don't."

"I can't even feel pain right now."

She sighed and stood from the spring. "As you wish."

Will was glad she had left him to recompose himself alone. The
priestess sorted through a selection of oils as Riker tried very hard
to think of anything else besides the erotic images floating through
his mind. He thought of dead kittens, poor starving children, stern
old ladies glaring at him disapprovingly, Worf... He tried
everything, but his arousal was rock solid. There was only one way
to remedy the situation without cheating on his wife.

He got the job done, quickly and efficiently, careless that the
priestess was watching him from behind with amusement.

Both men were soon doused in scented oils, buffed, and ready for the


Nude and in their own state of hazy euphoria, Lwaxana and Kyle were
taken together down a tunnel and into a smaller back chamber filled
with ganzi stones. Nothing else existed in the room. No fire, no
furniture, no hot spring. Only the multitude of twinkling gems
illuminated the black cave walls, like a rainbow of stars in the
velvety blanket of outer space. It was breathtaking.


Tom and Will were led to the hot spring in the giant Ritual Chamber.
They looked everywhere but at each other as they climbed into the
warm, swirling water that was only deep enough to cover them to their
upper thighs.

There was small raised dais, about half a meter high and a meter
wide, made entirely of polished pink ganzi stones, resting in the
center of the whirlpool. Like an obstacle illusion, they were
surprised to find that the platform was only visible from inside the
spring. The priestesses instructed the men to stand next to the
dais, one on each side, facing each other, and wait.

They did, grateful that the room was warm. Perhaps a bit too warm.
They were already beginning to sweat a little.

There was a long, tense few minutes where nothing happened. Though
the two men were only a meter apart, they never met eyes. They
stared distantly at the walls and waited awkwardly, their minds still
foggy and tranquil from the drug.

Bowls of incense placed all around the spring twirled white snakes of
fragrance into the air. A kind of earthy, spicy, mildly sweet
smell. It was pleasant enough, and the tendrils of smoke helped to
cloud their vision, making it easier to leave reality behind. This
was a good thing, as neither man believed in any of this, and might
have protested dramatically had he not been drugged and had all his
senses manipulated by others.

The sound of the fire popping and crackling was soon matched and then
overcome by the sound of drums beating. The drumming echoed eerily
throughout the cavern, making it impossible to locate the source of
the sound. It started out as a simple, slow beating rhythm, like a
heartbeat, then it doubled in tempo and held.

Will and Tom strained to see through the incense-induced haze. At
once their eyes fell on the ethereal form of Deanna Troi.

Wearing nothing but a tall, tribal headdress made of blue feathers
and tiny multi-colored beads, her skin painted at three points with
ancient symbols, she was a vision of the goddess herself as she
slowly approached the spring, her pace matching the drumming.

Both men were shocked and immediately aroused by the image of her
perfect olive-tanned form, edged in gold as the fire reflected off
the oils that moistened her skin. Her large, round breasts rose and
fell in time with the swaying motion of her voluptuous hips. Her
eyes, the darkest midnight, saw straight into their very souls.

She seemed perfectly calm, given the steady rhythm of her breathing
and her relaxed expression, as if she did this kind of thing every
day. When she reached the edge of the hot spring, the men noticed at
once, with an intake of breath, that the markings on her body weren't
just paint. Some of them were slightly swollen cuts, the blood used
as the red color needed to fill in part of each picture.

Will felt a flash of anger at seeing this, but when Deanna gave him a
staggering white smile, he quickly let it go. She didn't seem to be
in any pain at the moment. He desired her so much that when her
loving eyes met his, it was all he could do not to grab hold of her
delicate shoulders and take possession of her right then.

Tom moved forward to help her climb into the spring, but she refused
the help, making a clear motion with her hand that he was not to
touch her.

Wading her way to the center of the ancient whirlpool, Deanna stepped
up onto the raised dais, which put her right at eye-level with her
Imzadis. She turned her body toward Will, and kept her back to Tom,
as Silva had instructed earlier while she was making the final
touches on Deanna's face paint.

Tom didn't like this set-up at all, but he swallowed his pride,
figuring he deserved it. Still, it made him wonder; if he had
completely lost Deanna, why was he even involved in this ceremony? A
familiar tightening sensation in his stomach reassured him that
something good was about to happen. He had learned to trust such
instincts over the years. They rarely led him wrong. One thing was
sure though, he wouldn't be leaving this cavern the same man he was
when he first entered it. He'd either die happy, or experience a
dramatic change. He couldn't settle for anything less. The gods
owed him that much.

His nerves tingling with anticipation, Tom allowed his eyes to travel
appreciatively from Deanna's flowing dark hair down to her slender
back, where beads of water clung to oil-slicked skin. Then further
down to her shapely, inviting bottom. It was right there, only
inches from his fingers. The urge to raise his hands and caress the
perfect cheeks was nearly overwhelming, but he wisely held back.

Grateful that his spectacularly beautiful wife now completely blocked
the view of his twin, Will gazed adoringly into the vast depth of her
eyes, outlined in blue paint to match her headdress. Within those
velvety black orbs he saw something he had never seen before. He saw
the universe. Infinity. It made his head swim with an intense
longing to hold her close to him.

Deanna's eyes traveled hungrily down the length of her husband's
body, at least to the point where the water covered the rest. All of
the important stuff was clearly visible. From his very biteable wide
neck to his strong shoulders, shiny from having been rubbed with oil,
to his broad chest and muscular torso, he had never looked so good.
Their close proximity without being able to touch each other was
absolute torture. She could taste his familiar delicious breath as
his desire for her caused him to pant slightly for air.

It didn't help that she could also feel his twin behind her,
breathing on her shoulders. Tom blew on her back a few times just to
get a shiver out of her. It worked ever time he did it.

Tom leaned forward just a little more so he could breathe in her
scent. There was a new fragrance about her - an indescribable
feminine smell that made his heart race with every inhaled breath.
How long would he have to stand here like this and not touch her?
With Will there, would he ever get to touch her at all? Or was this
the Gods' idea of the perfect purgatory? What did he ever do to
deserve the insane things that always happened to him?

Will slowly reached a hand up toward Deanna's face.

*No, Imzadi. Not yet.* she sent the message directly into his mind.

*When?* It was all he could think to respond. He was desperate to
feel her skin under his fingers. Shaking with need. He also had a
million questions, such as why they had to do this ritual in the
first place. But the only coherent word that he could send back
was "WHEN?"

*I don't know. Silva said we would know when the time was right.*

*When the time is right for what?*

*I don't know.*

*Nice.* Even in his half-drugged euphoria, he still had use of his
sarcasm. He looked down at her hands just inches from his own.
*Can't I just…?*

*No, Imzadi. Not yet.*

The drumming got progressively louder. The cavern vibrated with the
sound. The stones began to pulse in rhythm, flashing bright, then
dimming randomly, like a dance.

The beating went on. A little louder. A little faster. The incense
burned hotter as tiny droplets from the thin waterfall behind them
sizzled in the bowls, causing heady smoke to billow thickly in the

The trio's heartbeats fell in line with the rhythm, their breathing
quickening to keep pace. The drumming reverberated through their
skin, nerves, muscles, bones, through the very cells that composed
their corporeal forms.

Will's hands ached to cup her breasts, to feel along her curves and
stroke the soft down between her legs. To reach behind her back and
pull her to him.

Tom's hands ached to caress her thighs, to slide down between her
legs and find the source of her power over him. To reach around to
her stomach and pull her to him.

Blood rushed to Deanna's face as she clearly saw and felt the erotic
images in the minds of the two men surrounding her. Her nerves
screamed with the desire to be possessed by them. By… both of them.

Quite suddenly a rush of heat burst and spread through her feminine
core, and she gasped. It had to be the oil they had rubbed over her
skin reacting to her arousal. She closed her eyes and allowed
herself to sink into the sensation. It was agonizingly pleasurable
as it spread from her female essence to her trunk and her outer

A fine sheen of perspiration broke out on her body, sending waves of
pheromone-scented heat in all directions. It hit the men so
powerfully, Tom almost lost his balance and Will's eyes grew wide in

"My god," Tom breathed, his senses reeling.


Lwaxana and Kyle were instructed to kneel on the floor of the cave
and face each other with hands clasped. The Weaver bound their
hands together at the wrists with braided ribbon. As she did this,
she chanted ancient words that neither of them recognized.

At last she switched to Federation Standard. "In ancient times there
was one Imzadi pair born to each clan in every generation. Imzadi
infants were easy to identify from the day they arrived into the
world of the living, as they were always born with a red mark on
their torso or chest. This Imzadi pair held the highest position of
leadership in the tribe. Their love was eternal, unbreakable, and
immensely powerful. All of nature seemed to work in harmony as long
as the Imzadi couple remained alive and united. If one of the pair
died, the other usually followed very quickly, one way or another, as
they knew that the rest of their existence in corporeal form would be
empty and meaningless without their mate.

"Occasionally Imzadis were kidnapped by other tribes when the clan's
own pair were lost to some tragedy. A clan without Imzadi was
thought to have endless bad luck until the next generation was born.

"As Betazoids evolved, Imzadi pairs were born less and less
frequently and clans were forced to find other means of electing
tribal leaders.

"Ultimately, the term was reduced to one of a more legendary or
casual meaning, lacking all the power and substance it once had in
ages past.

"So, you see, what the two of you have is very precious. Very rare.
And when the bond was broken, it threw your lives into chaos. Your
children's lives were affected in the same manner.

"With the severity of this commitment in mind, I ask you, Lwaxana
Troi, do you recognize Kyle Riker as your bonded Imzadi, to rule by
your side and love you eternally as your mate in this lifetime and

Lwaxana smiled at Kyle and coughed back the tears quickly collecting
in her eyes. "Yes. Forever."

"Kyle Riker, do you recognize Lwaxana Troi as your bonded Imzadi, to
rule by your side and love you eternally as your mate in this
lifetime and beyond?"

At first there was an annoying sense of doubt nagging at the back of
Kyle's mind. It was the useless protestations of his logical
reasoning. How could he commit to marrying a woman he barely knew?
But did he barely know her? When he looked into her eyes, he still
saw the same thing he had seen as a child. The universe. Infinity.
How could he say "no" to that? Why would he want to? He was happy
with Lwaxana. Truly happy.

"Yes," he replied after a tense silence. "Forever."


*Will…* Deanna whimpered in his mind as the sensations racing through
her body became unbearable.

*Now?* he pleaded.

She didn't answer because she wasn't sure. Her desire to be touched
was all consuming, but there was something she was supposed to wait
for. What could it be?

The drums beat louder. Faster. Rushing blood through their veins at
break-neck speed.

Suddenly, and all at once, the ganzi stones went dark. The only
source of light left in the room was the fire that cast eerie shadows
along the walls and reflected off the smoke from the incense.

Deanna's golden aura stretched out to caress Will's in the darkness.
Then it reached behind toward Tom's white energy and bonded with his
as well. They could actually see the tiny tendrils of light from
their own bodies meeting, weaving together, and pulling.

Will and Tom were about to explode. *Oh, god! Now????* It was from
both of them.

Deanna was unable to say the word. Something held her back, though
both men had inched so close to her by then, their bodies were
radiating heat right back into her pores, their breath leaving traces
of fire on her chest and her back.

Her heart beat so hard and so fast, she was sure it would pop out of
her chest at any moment, as the drumming continued to resound through
the darkness.

Quite suddenly, the hot spring came alive with pink light. It wasn't
a bright light, by any means, or a hot one. It was cool and dusky,
bathing their bodies in magical healing light. The feeling these
stones exuded was all encompassing. Mind-stealing. Body-erupting.

Deanna heard a word in her mind. A sweet, smiling feminine voice
gave her the answer they had all been waiting for.


Will and Tom heard it at the same time and they instantly shot into

Deanna closed her eyes and opened herself up completely. It didn't
matter who was doing what. She just needed them to touch her. And
they did.

The hands and mouths were everywhere at once. Moist lips kissed and
bit her neck, her shoulders, her lips, her chest. Fingers traced
lines of fire all along her arms, tickled down her sides, and up her
thighs. Hands roved across her stomach and up to cup her breasts.
They reveled in her hair, then pulled it aside so they could massage
their way down her back.

A pair of hands slowly moved around her hips and down to rub inside
her folds, as a mouth sucked on the back of her neck and a tongue
tasted her breasts. She arched her body allowing the roaming hands
free access to her hidden essence. Expert fingers glided over the
peak of her womanhood, causing a small cry to escape her mouth.

Her skin, her very mind electrified with hyperawareness. She could
feel herself reaching out through the bond she shared with both men,
their minds slowly merging. While their hands, mouths, and tongues
inflamed her body, their thoughts began to a share a single
consciousness, igniting her mind. She was delirious with the
sensation of their love from every perspective at once. She felt her
own smooth oiled skin beneath Tom's calloused palms, tasted her
feminine musk in Will's mouth. And the primal beat of the drums
reverberated through it all, until everything in her body, her mind,
her soul pulsed to the rhythm they set.

She held on to her sense of self long enough to send out a plea for
release. *Will! Please!* she searched for coherent words through
the waves of insane pleasure coursing through her body. *Make love
to me, Imzadi!*

Will paused for the first time in his frenzy to consume his wife
whole. He looked up at Tom to confirm that his twin had heard the
same thing. Through their haze, they sent a silent communication.

Tom gave him a lopsided grin; the one Will often used himself. It
meant "Go for it. You deserve the honor." It wasn't about them
anymore. It was all about Deanna and what she needed.

Tom wrapped his arms around Deanna's ribs and pulled her back toward
himself, as Will moved forward to merge with her body from the

The drums grew even louder and faster as Will entered his beloved
wife and sealed his mouth over hers. His hands went to grasp her
hips as he thrust himself deeply inside of her, all the way to her

Deanna screamed through their kiss as another wave of exploding heat
shot out from her center and seared through the rest of her body.

Will felt it too and he let out a loud groan of shock.

Tom licked her neck, cupped her breasts and teased her nipples with
his fingers, his own hardness rubbing against her buttocks as Will
thrust over and over again.

With each thrust Deanna's sense of the two men grew. She could feel
Will inside of her, and herself wrapped around him, her back resting
against Tom's broad chest. She could feel Will's throbbing, aching
ecstasy as he reveled within her depths. She could feel Tom's
intoxicated senses reach a fevered pitch as his arms enveloped her,
his chest embracing her shoulders, her ribs, her spine, his pelvis
welding to her backside. The joining of their sprits intensified.
Every sensation between the three was shared.

When at last the climax came, it came for all of them at once and it
was blinding.

Deanna felt the merging of spirits a second before the men did. The
three of them became one person, one mind, one body. They were a
shower of light that filled the room and was no longer a body at
all. They were the universe. They were infinity.


"Lwaxana Troi and Kyle Riker, now that you recognize your true
connection as Imzadi, you shall be bonded forever, as you should have
been in the beginning. Your new lives together begin now. You may
seal your souls as one with a kiss."


Slowly the light receded, the drumming faded, and the mere humanoids
came back to their bodies.

Their bodies… which were very different now.

There were still three of them, but only two adults were left
standing. There was Deanna, the same as she was before; there was
Will, who was now a single entity, completely united with himself,
and there was the miniscule fetus growing inside Deanna's womb.

The voice they heard in their heads earlier resounded through the


Deanna looked at Will with awe. Then she threw her arms around his
neck and hugged him with all the fierce love her heart and soul


Later that day at the Troi Mansion…

"How did the baby get past the inhibitor?" Will asked, still trying
to digest the events of the past 24 hours, particularly the fact that
he would be a father in about 10 months.

He threw his clothes lazily into the suitcase without folding them.

Deanna smiled as she swept her brush, lotion, and deodorant from her
old nightstand into her carry bag. Without looking at Will she
replied playfully, "What inhibitor?"

Will ceased his packing and leveled his eyes at her back. "You mean

"Uh huh."

"For how long?"

"About… a month."

"Why didn't you tell me? On the boat you acted as if you still
weren't sure about having children."

"I was going to tell you. I just… thought I'd let nature decide."

"Well, this baby is anything but a work of nature. Is it going to be
me - born all over again or something?" He shuddered at the

Deanna laughed as a picture of a bearded baby sprang to mind.
Pushing the image aside, she allowed her new hyper-awareness to sink
deep down into her womb. She sensed the baby there, though it was
hardly bigger than her pinky nail. Already the child had a presence
about her…

"I don't think so. It's a girl!"


Lwaxana and Kyle headed up to her… to THEIR bedroom to catch up on
their sleep, as well as fifty years of lost time.

"Not exactly the type of wedding I would have planned," Lwaxana
commented as she shut the door behind them.

"But it'll do," Kyle grinned contentedly, pulling her to him. "You
know, I don't think Silva took my memories after all. They were just
sleeping peacefully inside here." He pointed to his head. "Now that
I recall things a little more clearly, I never did get over the
beautiful girl who gave me my first kiss."


"I think I'm going to need a lot of counseling. This guy's been
through hell. I'm going to have to get used to all these weird
memories that aren't my own," Will complained as he dumped his formal
shoes into the suitcase.

"I don't doubt it. But at least the guilt you've been carrying
around yourself is gone."

"How do you know that?" He stopped packing and stared at her with
genuine curiosity.

"In the very last moments of the merging, THEY told me. Didn't you
hear it too? They said, `the healing is done'."

"That could mean anything!"

"Yes, but didn't you feel your troubles fade away? I clearly
remember all the awful things that have happened to me over the past
several years, but they no longer hold any power over me. I have no
emotions about them one way or the other when I think about it.
Don't you feel the same way?"

Will thought about it for a moment, trying to bring to the surface
the old feeling of self loathing he always had so readily available
to him. What he found was an emotionless documentary of incidents
that occurred in his and Tom's lives as if they had happened to
someone else. "I guess you're right."

"I'm the one who's going to need counseling now!" Deanna sighed.

"And why's that?"

"Because… do you realize that if our parents had bonded when they
were supposed to, you and I would be brother and sister right now?"
Deanna joked, as she removed her shirt to change into another one.

"Damn, my sister's hot!" Will smiled evilly as he pulled her toward
the bed.


Later aboard the Enterprise…

Deanna arrived in Sickbay only to find Beverly unpacking some of her

"So, you're staying, huh? Congratulations! I assume you decided to
accept the captain's proposal," Deanna smirked as she climbed onto
one of the bio-beds. "It seems to be the time for romantic

"Yes, it does! I was so relieved to get your message that you're
safe!" Beverly flashed her a brief grin, but then her face fell when
she saw the giant bandage across her friend's forehead. "Oh, my
god! What happened?"

"Nothing," Deanna scanned the room to make sure no one else was
there, then motioned for the doctor to come closer.

Beverly did so, and Deanna pulled the bandage off. Her friend gasped
at the beautiful drawing on the counselor's forehead and the raised
cuts that accentuated it in places. "I tried to get the paint off,
but it seems to be permanent," Troi whispered.

"Who gave you this?"

"The priestesses in the Cave of Knowing."

"Ooooo! Sounds intriguing!" Beverly said as she moved away to get
her instruments. "Are you going to tell me what happened down there?"

"Sometime, but not today. I still haven't completely processed it

Returning to Deanna's side with a skin regenerator in hand, Beverly
commented, "It's a shame I have to remove this. It's lovely

Troi's lips curled up knowingly as she pulled down the neckline of
her blouse to expose the tattoo on her chest.

The doctor gasped. "How many of these do you have?"

Deanna inched down the waistline of her pants to show her the one
above her navel as well. "This one I think I'll keep," she laughed
quietly. "You can take the other two."

"You did have a good time down there!" Beverly smiled brightly as
she got to work. "You have to at least tell me what happened to
Tom! Is he in custody now?"

Deanna thought for a moment, her hand coming up to touch her lower
belly. "You… might say that."

"And what about your memories? You said in your message that they
came back, but that you're okay now."

"They did come back with a vengeance, but they don't hold any meaning
for me now. There is no emotion behind them. It's like they were
all just bad dreams with no substance. A lot of old wounds were
healed down in that cave."

"Okay, I have to hear more about this. How about tonight at dinner?"

Deanna nodded. "I think I can manage that."

Beverly suddenly threw her arms around her friend. "Oh, I'm going to
miss you so much when we drop you off at the Titan!"

Tears immediately sprung to Troi's eyes, as she raised her arms to
return the hug. "That makes two of us!"


Back in the Cave of Knowing, Silva was trying to get some sleep after
her long and exhausting ordeal.

Memories of herself at her own Rite of Passage ceremony over 30,000
years ago crept back to haunt her dreams. She had been frightened
beyond reason. A slender, awkward thirteen-year-old who didn't want
to participate in the ceremony. She wished she was a boy - they had
it easy in their Rites of Passage. They didn't have to experience
pain. She shuddered with dread. At the last moment, just before she
was to be led into the Ritual Chamber, she had run.

She raced down tunnel after tunnel, where no one would ever find

At the end of her three days of hiding in the Caves of Knowing, weak
from hunger and thirst, she happened to find the fabled violet Matron
Stone that had been lost for over 200 years. The moment she touched
the stone, her life changed. Its light was so powerful, it burned
the vision out of her eyes. Then it yanked her spirit from her body
and she journeyed with the Gods in the Fourth Dimension for a very
long time. They designated her as the keeper of the Matron Stone and
granted her immortality in her humanoid body as long as she used her
powers for the good of Betazed and the preservation of the Imzadi

She became a revered member of her tribe after that. But as it
turned out, she hadn't avoided pain after all. She had to suffer
through the eventual loss of everyone she ever knew and cared about,
until after hundreds of painful losses, she learned not to care so
deeply anymore. Given the alternative, the Rite of Passage didn't
sound so bad.

Silva woke up with a start and sat bolt upright. Then she laid her
head back on the pillow with a sigh.

*I did as you asked,* she sent to the Four Deities.

*You did well,* they responded in unison. *Sleep now. Your efforts
have healed many and Betazed will prosper once again.*