Paramount owns these characters and basic format.  This story is not intended to infringe on any copyright.


        THE GIFT

Captain's Log, Stardate 48307.8:  The Enterprise is arriving at Starbase 22 where we have a scheduled 72-hour layover for routine maintenance and computer system back-ups.  The layover should provide the crew with some well deserved rest and leisure opportunities.



"I'm going shopping.  My mother's birthday is coming up soon, and this year I want to get her something truly unusual."   The excitement was apparent in Deanna Troi's voice as she squirmed in her bridge chair.  The huge seat always seemed to dwarf the petite Betazoid.  She could easily sit sideways in it without being uncomfortable.


"Truly unusual.  That will take some thinking.  What to give the woman --- how does the old cliche' go --- who has everything?"  Will Riker was snickering as he replied, his wicked sense of humor already turning to "gift" ideas that would embarrass even the formidable Lwaxana Troi.  Pushing the fun a little farther, he turned to his captain.


Captain Picard, for his part, had been trying to ignore the entire conversation ever since the subject of Ambassador Lwaxana Troi first came up.  Her visits were uncomfortable for Picard, to say the least, and while he never would have confronted Riker on the subject, the Captain suspected his first officer got a perverse joy out of watching him try to dodge the counselor's rather outspoken mother.


"So, Captain," Riker asked innocently, "What would you pick for Mrs. Troi's birthday gift?"


Ignoring the temptation to say "a muzzle" or "a trip in the opposite direction from me"  Picard replied with equally innocent sincerity, "Oh, I'm not sure, Number One.  I understand some of the newer Andorian pottery is quite distinctive."


By this time, the entire bridge crew was tuned into the conversation, trying not to look like they were interested, and fairly creaking under the effort. 


From the tactical station, Lt. Worf broke in.  "Incoming message from Starbase 22, sir."


"On screen" Picard stood, trying to keep the relief out of his voice and making a mental note to thank his Klingon security chief for the "rescue" later.


The image of a fifty year old human female smiled across the viewscreen.  "This is Commander Garlotti of Starbase 22.  On behalf of my entire staff, welcome."


Picard returned her smile.  "Thank you, Commander.  My crew and I are looking forward to some rest and relaxation.  We can begin docking procedures when you are ready."


"Initiate standard docking procedures at your convenience," answered Garlotti.  "Also, Captain, is Commander William Riker available?"


Riker shifted in his seat and rose to stand next to the Captain.  "I am Commander Riker.  Can I help you?"


"I would like to see you in my office as soon as the Enterprise has docked and you are free to disembark.  A situation has arisen that requires your attention."  Commander Garlotti's tone has carefully unstressed and casual.

"Certainly, Commander," Riker replied carefully, the apprehension obvious in his eyes.  "May I ask the nature of this situation?"

"It would be better to take it up in my office," Garlotti assured.  "And you may wish to bring your ship's counselor.  She is female, as I recall?"


"Yes, this is our counselor, Commander Deanna Troi"  Riker indicated Troi with a sweep of his arm.  "I will ask her to accompany me, if you want."


"Thank-you" Garlotti acknowledged Troi's nod, "I'll see you both as soon as you're available."  She turned to Picard.  And thank-you, Captain."


Picard nodded.  "Picard out."


The viewscreen faded and the men returned to their seats.  Riker stared first at Picard, then at Troi.  What the hell could this mean?




Riker shifted in his chair.  More than anything else, he hated waiting.  Especially when he didn't know what he was waiting for.


"Relax, Will" Troi whispered softly.  "Don't expect the worst."  Although they had been seated in Commander Garlotti's office waiting area less than five minutes, Riker was ready to climb the walls.


At that instant, the door slide open and a male civilian escorted a young little brunette girl, maybe nine years old, across the reception area to Garlotti's office.  The girl's eyes were fixed on Riker as she crossed the room.  Commander Garlotti appeared in her office entrance.


"Perhaps it would be best if we saw you first, Counselor," Garlotti suggested.  Troi gave one more reassuring look at Riker, and followed the Starbase commander into the seclusion of her office.


Riker sat, alone, fidgeting.  Waiting with a friend was hard enough.  Alone it was damn near intolerable.  His mind buzzed with possibilities, each more fantastic than the last, but his thoughts kept returning to one explanation:  One little brown haired, blue eyed girl was looking for daddy.  And she just hit the bull's eye.


What had he been doing nine, ten years ago?  The year after he'd left Betazed, the year he'd gone totally crazy, trying to forget and re-adjust to life in space.  The year when he'd decided nothing would stand between him and a ship of his own.  Before the Enterprise, before the Borg, before so many other things that where now a part of who he'd become.  "Mom" could be any one of a dozen women --- he'd never stuck with one woman longer than a year --- okay, never slept with any one woman longer than a year.  Suddenly, Riker found his insides moving from stress to near panic.  Oh, great, he thought.  Deanna meets my kid before I do.


Troi appeared, alone, in the doorway, and Riker started to get up, only to have Troi signal him back down. 


"Will, " she said intently, "I promised we'd take only ten minutes, and you have a lot to decide.  Please listen carefully.  That little girl is your sister."


Riker's emotions swept from shock to relief to fury in less than a second. "Sister?" he stammered.  "Dad.  Why that son of a ----"  Riker's voice trailed off.  Troi's gaze was fixed on him, saying more than any words could.


Riker's shoulders slumped.  "Yeah, I know.  I know what I thought when I first saw the little lady.  And I think I know what you thought."


Troi smiled now, and took his hands in hers.  "Tamara is your father's child, the child of a woman he served with on Rigel Three.  In the records she left, she explained that your father never knew about her pregnancy.  She did not want him to know, because she believed they had no basis for a life together."


"Damn"  Riker breathed.  "He never knew."


"Will," Troi continued, "There's more.  Three weeks ago, Tammy's mother, a Starfleet operations engineer, died in an accident.  Her will names you as temporary guardian of Tammy.  Apparently she had continued in her desire not to involve your father in her daughter's life."


"Temporary guardian?" Riker demanded. "What the hell does that mean?"


"She wanted you to find a good, loving, permanent home for Tammy.  Although she never knew you personally, she and Tammy had kept up on your achievements.  She felt that you were a man of honor and sound judgement," Troi explained. "They maintained records on your career.  One of the first things Tammy said to me was how she wanted to see her brother, "the guy who saved us all from the Borg"."


"Dammit, dammit, dammit," Riker exhaled, "she thinks I'm some superhero."


"Will, you don't have to accept this responsibility.  She has relatives on earth.  One of them could adopt her, or at least find her a stable home."


"Why me?  Why didn't she pick someone who at least knew the girl existed?"


"Tammy has spent her first nine years in space, on ships and space stations," Troi replied.  "Her mother, Allesandra, felt that someone who understood Starfleet life would make the best choices about Tammy's future.  Allesandra thought that the transition to life on earth would be difficult for a child like Tammy, and while we cannot rule out Tammy becoming part of a planetside family, the starbase school counselor, who has been caring for Tammy, thinks placement with a Starfleet family may be more appropriate."


Riker dropped his head into his hands, rubbing his eyes.  "Okay.  What about the mother's family?  Have they been contacted?  Have any of them offered to adopt her?"


"Tammy's mother has an older brother on earth, married, but his children are grown and live away from home," Troi answered. "And Tammy has living grandparents.  Tammy was born when her mother was forty-three.  Both the uncle and the grandparents offered to take Tammy, if you thought that best, but both have raised their families and aren't quite prepared for a nine year old again."


Riker lifted his head and exhaled a long whistle.  "So it's up to me.  Okay, she comes with me on the Enterprise, at least for now."


Troi gently touched his back.  "It will be a complete change of routine for you.  There is no shame in deciding to send her to earth, now.  You don't have to wait for other alternatives.  The starbase counselor is convinced the relatives could provide a good home."


"Yeah, but they don't really want her and her mother wanted her to stay in space somewhere."  Riker stood, shaking his head.  "No, I've got to get her settled somewhere.  And I have to call dad.  He's got to know about this.  Mark my words, he won't take any responsibility, but I'm going make him go through the act of telling me that to my face."


"Will," Troi's voice sounded almost pleading, "think about this.  What will a nine year old do to your life.  Think through your schedule for one week.  How can a child fit in?"


"Hey, what's the matter!?"  Riker was getting genuinely frustrated.  "You've been supportive of Worf as a father."


"This is different.  Tammy is not your child."  Troi chose her words carefully.  "Besides, Worf's ---lifestyle--- didn't pose quite the same problems with parenthood."


Riker was undaunted.  "I'll adapt for as long as I have to.  Come on, lets say hello."  He turned for the door.


Silently, Troi followed him across the room, wondering how she could temper the disaster she felt was sure to follow.  




"Hi, I'm Will" Riker squatted down to address the girl at her level.


"Hi, I'm Tammy."  Her voice sounded tentative but Troi noted that she did look her brother straight in the eye when answering.


"You are going to be coming with me until I can find a new home for you," Riker continued, "I understand you've been on starships before?"


"Why can't I just stay with you?" Tammy replied, hurt innocence in her voice.


I'm sorry, Tammy, Troi found herself thinking.  I'm afraid you're going to have to live with a few shattered dreams.


"I don't think that would be such a good idea." Riker answered slowly.  "But I promise you I'll find a good family."


She's disappointed, disappointed and hurt, Troi thought.

"Yes, I've been on starships before.  Mama and I were on the Crazy Horse when I was little, and then we were on the Gibraltar"  Tammy continued as if she hadn't said and heard the last few lines of conversation.


"Are you packed and ready to go?" Riker asked.  The child nodded.


"Tammy can be ready to transport to the Enterprise within two hours," Garlotti interjected, catching the starbase counselor's nod, "The main question is how long it will take you to get ready for her on the ship."


Good lord, Riker thought, you can estimate the time needed to move a few bulkheads, but how much time would he need to clean up and put ---- everything ---- away?


"Tammy, would you like to come with me for a while?  We could visit the ecology deck on the Enterprise.  That would give Will a chance to get your quarters ready."  Troi offered, making a mental promise to bail Riker out only once in each twenty-four hour timespan.  I'll help, Will, but you have to take the lead here.


"Okay.  Can I call you Deanna?" Tammy's voice was tentative and quiet.  This is going to be hard, Deanna thought.  She is dealing with the heartbreak of losing her mother, and now her hero has failed her.  For the first, but surely not for the last time.  I can't give her stability, but I can give her a friend.


"Come on," Troi smiled and took her hand.  "Let's go."


Completely overwhelmed, Riker watched the two heads of long dark hair depart through the office doors.




As soon as the broad maroon back had disappeared around the corner, Geordi La Forge shook his head and let out a low whistle.  He'd get a crew going right away on reconfiguring the bulkhead arrangements in Commander Riker's quarters, but frankly, he couldn't help but thinking how crazy the whole mess sounded.  With all due respect, the good commander had never impressed him as a family man.  Riker hadn't really even known how he wanted the quarters rearranged --- he seemed like he just wanted Geordi to figure out what he thought was best and do it.  That's trouble, Geordi mused.  If he can't come up with a floorplan, how's he going to do on the really tough stuff, like nightmares, discipline, and finding the kid a home, for pete's sake?


 The hiss of turbolift doors brought Geordi back to reality, and Lt. Commander Data appeared.

"Geordi, are you rearranging Commander Riker's quarters to allow for his sister's needs?" Data queried.


"Yeah, yeah, I am.  Did he tell you about her mother dying and all?"


"No, I have not spoken to Commander Riker," Data replied "My information has been gathered from a variety of sources in Ten Forward."


Geordi smiled.  "News certainly travels fast on a starship."


"May I suggest you take approximately 50 square meters of floor space from the adjacent lounge, and compensate for this loss by moving the lounge wall six meters into the present storage area?  The full capacity of the section nine storage area is seldom utilized."


Geordi turned back to the plans on his padd.  "Yeah, Data, I think you've got it."  He tapped his communicator.  "Lt. Vasques, I think we're ready.  Report with your team to Commander Riker's quarters."




Riker tried to slide up to the Ten Forward bar without being noticed, but, of course, failed totally in the attempt.  He felt sure everyone had been discussing his little problem and quickly dummied up at the site of him.  Stop being paranoid, he cussed to himself.  Neither Deanna or Geordi would have told anyone, and how could anybody else have found out?  Right now, he needed a drink, and a chance to think.  He spotted Worf on the far end of the room, drinking alone, as usual.  Good man.


Worf shook his head in acknowledgement but said nothing as Riker sat down.  Two minutes later, Riker finally made eye contact.


"Being a single parent must be hard at times, isn't it, Worf?"


"Commander, I am available to help you clean your quarters."


Riker snorted, shook his head, stood up, and motioned for his friend to follow him out through the barroom doors.




The two men had been hard at it for a full hour.  Worf, as it turned out, was a great help.  You could always trust a Klingon, Riker thought, to look at --- objects --- that would embarrass most people purple without giving them more that casual, detached disinterest.  After the first few drawers he'd stopped telling Worf what to keep and what to throw away.  Worf's own judgement was extremely sound.


Job finished, Worf scooped up the enormous box of paraphanalia and rumbled "Sir, I shall take this to transporter room two.  It will be particlized promptly."


"Yeah, go ahead.  And Worf, thanks."


Worf nodded and turned to the corridor.  Riker stared at the doors as they slid shut behind him.  All my favorite toys, Riker lamented.  Ashamed, he shook himself to attention.  She's the child, I'm the adult, he reasoned.  Besides, he grinned, He could always have some fun acquiring a new set of "merchandise" later.  Riker checked the time.  Deanna would be back with the girl in less than a half an hour.




Worf placed the box in Lt. Barclay's arms.  "Particalize this immediately, Mr. Barclay.  And do not examine the contents before you do."  Worf turned on his heel and left.


Barclay eyed the box.  He knew he shouldn't, but who'd know?  Slowly, he lifted the lid a tiny bit, and then a bit more.  His eyes went wide.


"Oh, my, oh my g-g-goodness!"




Deanna Troi smiled down at the girl who trotted down the corridor besides her.  She's very intelligent, Troi observed.  That was easy to believe considering her parentage and education.  Tammy had been chattering almost constantly, telling Troi about her mother, their last ship, and, about the furry friend she proudly carried.  I can hardly wait, Troi thought.  I can hardly wait.


Riker answered his door chime.  "Come in."  His mouth fell open.  Tammy trotted in, and in her arms was a large, brown, fluffy cat.


A cat.


A damned cat.


"This is Cocoa" Tammy announced proudly.  "She's my cat."


Desperate, Riker turned to Troi for help.  He wasn't going to get it.  Deanna had her hand over her mouth, and her whole body shook with silent laughter.


"Ah, hi, Tammy"  Riker started, "Are the rest of your things on the way?" 


"Mr. Barclay said they'd be coming real soon.  We'll need a litterbox for Cocoa.  And I think she's hungry."


For the second time in one day, William Riker was damn near highly unaccustomed panic.  A child was one thing.  A cat was a different problem altogether.


"I've got a friend who knows a lot about cats.  Maybe he could give us some ideas on catfood."


"Oh, you mean Mr. Data!" Tammy returned brightly.  "We met him on our way here!  I never had an android friend before!  He told me about his cat, Spot."


Riker tapped his communicator.  "Mr. Data, please report to my, er, our quarters."


Riker shot a look toward Deanna.  She was leaning against his desk, still twittering like a particularly irritating bird.


Data appeared at the door.  "Counselor, Miss Larson.  Can I be of assistance, Commander?"


Does this sound stupid, Riker thought.  "I was wondering if you had some ideas on what Cocoa, here, might want for supper."


"Very well, Commander.  May I have your cat, Miss Larson?"


The child smiled up at the yellow eyes and lifted the cat.  "You can call me Tammy."


"Very well, Tammy."  Data turned to the replicator.  "Feline supplement number 87."  The food appeared and he set it before the animal, who began devouring it.


Just then Tammy sneezed.


"Are you all right?"  Riker tensed up again.


"I've got allergies" she sneezed again.  "Maybe I'm overdo for my hypospray."


"What hypospray?"  Riker was trying to keep the hysteria out of his voice.  He was only partially successful.  "Dr. Crusher, this is Riker!"

"Crusher here.  What can I do for you, Will?"


"Are Tammy's medical records here?  She says she needs a allergy injection."


"Commander Garlotti had her records sent a couple of hours ago, but I haven't got a chance to look at them yet.  I'm pulling them up now.  Yes, she needs a weekly benahaladryll dose for respitory symptoms.  And it's overdue.  Is she with you?  I could bring one right down."


"Fine, fine, thanks, Doctor."  Another glance at Troi.  He was sure he could hear her laughter in his head.


Door chime.  "Come in!"


Beverly walked in, in off-duty clothes, but carrying a hypospray.  "Hi Tammy, I'm Doctor Crusher, but you can call me Beverly.  Which arm do you usually get your shot in?"


"My left" replied the girl, pushing up her left sleeve.


"Left arm.  Left arm."  Riker repeated under his breath.  "She gets the shot once a week. Thursday.  In her left arm."


Having received her injection, Tammy's attention turned back to her cat.  Cocoa was sniffing the corners of the room.  Tammy's voice sounded exasperated.  "Will, I told you she needs a litterbox.  Her own one isn't here yet!"


Riker's mouth dropped open.


"Commander"  Data interjected, "Personal replicators cannot generate such objects.  We will have to have Commander LaForge bring one up from the cargo replicator."


"Geordi!" Riker called "Can you replicate a litterbox, and some litter, and bring to my -- our -- quarters, please, now?" 


Geordi's chuckle came over the communicator.  He cut it off, but could hardly keep from laughing as he replied.  "A litterbox, sir?  As in a cat's --- sanitary facility?"


"That's it, Geordi!"  Riker returned a bit more sharply than he intended.  "Yeah, Geordi, please, right away."


"On my way."


Now Crusher was shaking.  Troi was way beyond that, with tears running down her face.


Tammy turned to Troi.  "Don't worry Deanna, we'll be okay."

Sensing and seeing her concern, Troi smiled and took the girl into her arms.  "I know, Tammy, I know."


Geordi picked that minute to show up with the litterbox.  They were settling it into a corner when the door chime rang again.


"Come!" Riker practically shouted.  He was fast approaching hysteria.


Captain Picard stepped in.  Troi's hand was back over her mouth.  Crusher was clutching her stomach.


"I thought I'd come down and pay my respects to the young lady"  Picard glance around.  "It seems that others had the same idea."


"You're the captain?  Your ship is so big!"  Tammy said, awed.


"I hope you enjoy your stay with us"  Picard answered politely.


"Can I have a tour?  Can I see the bridge, where Will works?"


"Tammy" Will inserted, "We'll see about getting you a look at the ship tomorrow.  Right now, I think we'd better say good night to everybody."


Tammy rushed to hug Troi.  "Good night, Deanna.  Good night, everybody."


Finally, the crowd filed out.  Riker's relief lasted only an instant.  Now What should he do?


"Tammy, what time are you supposed to be in bed?"


She looked unflinchingly into his eyes.  "Mama always made me go to bed by 22 hundred hours."


Riker sized her up.  "That seems a bit late for a little thing like you.  Now tell me the truth."


Tammy looked dejected.  "It was always twenty-one hundred, and twenty-thirty on school nights."


"That's better.  And I should warn you.  I'm a pretty fair poker player.  Bluffing --- lying --- isn't a good idea around here."


"Yes, sir"

Fortunately, she's old enough to take care of a few things for herself, Riker thought as Tammy used the bathroom.  And her belongings have all arrived, intact.  I'll have to make sure she brushes her teeth and such, but hopefully, we'll find her a family soon.  A good one.  She deserves as much.


Unbidden, his thoughts turned back to his own childhood, and how he always felt unwanted, like an inconvenience, a burden to his father.  And all the anger their tortured relationship incubated, anger he carried well into adulthood.  He had to make Tammy feel loved and wanted here and now, and somehow still keep reminding her that this was only temporary.


That night, Will Riker stared up a the ceiling at least two hours before sleep finally came.




Riker shot upright in bed.  She was crying.  Throwing on his robe, he hurried to Tammy's room.  She was huddled under the covers, sobbing into the pillows.  Cocoa nuzzled her arm.


"Why did she have to die?" the child whimpered.


Riker felt a lump in his throat.  She looked so tiny, lost and alone in the expanse of the big bed.  Thirty years ago, this was him, crying for the love of the mother he had never known.  How had the loneliness and pain of his childhood shaped him?  Would he be better able to give love --- committed love --- now if someone had loved him unconditionally as a child?  What lay ahead for Tammy --- a female --- if she didn't get that love now?  When he had cried alone at night, what had he really wanted?  What would have helped him then?  Riker settled onto the bed next to his sister, cuddling her next to him.  "I don't know, Tammy.  Bad things happen.  I just don't know why."


Feeling hopelessly inadequate, Riker did what he could to comfort her, returning to his own room only when the girl's tears had stopped and he was sure she was asleep.




Riker rolled over and stretched.  He wasn't exactly sure what the day would hold, but at least he'd had the sense to have the computer wake him up an hour early.  I wish I was one of those people who didn't need a half an hour to wake up, he cussed to himself.  Slowly, he began his morning routine:  Stagger to the mirror, check yourself out, then a shower.  Trim your beard, get into uniform.  Then back to the mirror to admire what you've created.


The ego trip will have to be a fast one this morning, he concluded.  You've got a kid to get ready.  Riker sighed.  At least he was familiar with the business part of handling children on board a starship.  As executive officer, he had had plenty of chances to see new families settle onboard.  But going through it oneself was bound to hold a surprise or two.  At least the layover a Starbase 22 would give him some slack time when he desperately needed it.


Riker pulled up the "family orientation" file on his computer screen.  The issue of quarters had been pretty much taken care of, so the next issue would be school enrollment.  Riker glanced at the screen's chronometer.  O-seven-hundred hours.  Time to get Tammy up.




"I suppose you're going to make me eat a breakfast that's "nutritionally complete.""   Tammy's outer lip was pouty and her voice filled with dejection.


Riker smiled and shook his finger at her.  "You bet.  I intend to grow you up strong, healthy, intelligent and beautiful."  Tammy smiled, stuck out her tongue at him, and turned to the replicator.  Morning had gone smoothly so far.  She had needed a little advice on what to wear, but no real trouble.  Cocoa gobbled two dishes of supplement 124 and was now busy inspecting (?) one of Riker's ferns.  The cat sure eats enough, Riker thought in passing.



An hour later, Tammy was situated in a classroom alongside a dozen other upper primary students, working over her computer terminal.  Riker and the primary teacher, Ms. Cursato, studied Tammy's class through the glassed wall that divided the schoolroom from the private conference room.


"Do you think she's going to be okay?"  Riker asked.


Cursato smiled softly.  "Tammy is accustomed to attending school on starships, but her recent tragedy and subsequent move will certainly affect her concentration and learning skills.  Fortunately, in this case, her records state that she is a very curious child, and a take-charge, competitive type, almost to the point of being a daredevil."  She turned to Riker.  "Those qualities ---- Commander, why are you snickering?"


Riker leaned back in his chair.  "Sorry.  It's just that she sounds like a kid I knew pretty well about thirty years ago."


Cursato smiled back.  "Yes, Commander, there is something to all this genetic business."  She grew serious.  "How long do you expect her to be with us?"


Riker' face darkened.  "I don't know.  A couple of weeks, maybe a month.  I don't know."




The Tuesday night poker game was in full swing and he was hot.  He was cruising.  He was invincible.  He knew it.  And so did Worf, Geordi, Bev, and Deanna.  Riker had cleared two-thirds of the chips off the table and was scheming to get the rest.  Flashing his famous, wicked grin, he dealt the cards.  "The game is five-card stud, aces and jokers wild."


Tammy had been having great fun all night, skittering around the table and letting the players show her their cards and tell her how they were going get even "in one more hand".  Cocoa, for her part, had introduced herself to each guest and then sacked out in one of the other rooms.  Riker had lost all track of time when he suddenly realized that it was 22:40.  Ten minutes past bedtime.  Riker battled inside himself:   He had to get her off to bed, but how could he leave most of the makings of a full house?


"Deal me out this hand, Doctor."  He turned to Tammy.  "It is past time to get you to bed."  Tammy stuck out her lower lip and did her best to look pathetic.


"How about if I get you off to bed, Tammy?"  Deanna asked softly.


"Okay" Tammy replied, still disgruntled. 


Troi smiled at the rest of the players.  "I'll be back in a hand or two."




Troi gently tucked the covers under Tammy's chin.  She's very apprehensive, Troi thought, and with good reason.  She's just lost her only parent, and she doesn't know how long she'll be here, but she's been told that it is only temporary.  She wants to be close to people, but she doesn't want to deal with loss again.  I feel so sorry for her, and I don't know what else I can do to help.  She such a spirited, alive child, full of energy, creativity, and humor.  Just like her brother.  Maybe that's why I'm so attached to her already, Troi confessed silently.


"Deanna, I'm afraid" Tammy whispered, as if she had been reading and silently confirming Troi's thoughts.  "Why can't I stay here with Will?  I won't be any trouble.  I'll be good.  I promise."


"Tammy, I know you'll try your best.  It just would be very hard for your brother to take good care of you with all the other things he has to do."  Tears appeared in the child's blue eyes, and Troi felt her own grow wet.  "Tammy, I do understand a little of what you're feeling.  My father died when I was only five.  I still had my mother, but I still miss him so much.  And I had a little son, once.  I only had him for a couple of days, but I loved him anyway, and lots of times I wish he was still here."


"My mommy used to sing to me at night.  Would you sing something with me, Deanna?"


Troi drew a deep breath.  She didn't have her father's voice, but she remembered the comfort she took in his bedtime songs so many years ago.  "What do you want to sing, Tammy?"


"I don't care" she cried.  "Just please sing to me."


Troi picked a old sweet song, and began softly singing, stroking Tammy's hair and holding her hand until she was breathing softly in her sleep.


Oblivious to the card game in the next room, Troi sat wet-eyed on the bed, and wished sweet dreams to the girl, over and over and over again.




 Troi broke out of her reverie only when she sensed Riker standing in the door.  They exchanged a soft smile and quietly slipped back into Riker's living room.  The rest of the poker players were gone, but the cards and chips still lay scattered across Riker's round, green cardtable.  Troi lowered herself to the couch.  Riker studied her for a moment, and then began to pace up and down the room.  "You didn't have to take care of her.  She's my responsibility."  Riker's tone was apologetic.


"You were "cleaning up".  You didn't want to leave the game."  There was no accusation in Troi's reply, only knowing, understanding, and compassion.


Riker stopped in his tracks.  His shoulders went limp.  "I feel like an ass.  A total ass!  Hell no, I'm worse than an ass --- I'm acting like my beloved father.  Do you know what he said when I told him?  His basic attitude was this:  I can't handle this, her mother chose you to find her a family; I'll trust your judgement.  Sorry son, got to go."  Riker felt his emotions slide from anger to helplessness.  "She's a bright, pretty little thing.  She needs love, and security.  I know that.  I know how I grew up and I want something better for her.  I feel like an ass for not providing it for her."


"I know you feel guilty, and I understand why.  But the feeling alone isn't going to resolve the situation.  You said you didn't want her growing up like you did.  Right now, you know you'd feel cheated if you had to make the sacrifices that go along with parenthood.  You need to admit that truth to yourself, and start finding her a home and a family.  There's no crime in that.  The real wrong would come if you accepted a role you couldn't handle, truly let yourself become your own father, and then passed that resentment along to Tammy."


Riker's eyes blazed. "Couldn't handle?  Couldn't handle?  Listen, if I can handle the Borg, I can handle this."  He stopped, shook his head and sighed.  "I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to blow up.  But I could learn, couldn't I?  I mean, she's a beautiful little person, couldn't I learn to love her more than the things I'd have  to give up?"


Troi dropped her head to her chest.  When she slowly raised it again, her onyx eyes were wet, and her voice was a pained whisper.  "I think I've heard that line before.  And it didn't work so well the first time."


If he'd felt guilty a minute ago, it held no comparison to the regret and grief he felt now.  He moved to the couch, taking Troi's hands in his.  "Oh, dammit, Deanna, I'm sorry.  And you're right.  But, but, ----- oh, dammit, I just don't know."


Sensing his powerlessness and frustration, Troi gave him a soft, sad smile.  "Perhaps we should start looking for a permanent home for Tammy.  We could start tomorrow.  I'll help."  She felt Riker's arm around her as she nuzzled her cheek against his chest.  "My office, tomorrow, 1400?"


Riker let out one last, long sigh.  "Thanks, counselor."




The next day began just as the one before:  At least an hour too early.  But Tammy got off to school, the necessary personnel and scheduling paperwork got attended to, and the only real frustration had come from Cocoa's decision to "nest" in Riker's uniform while he was in his morning shower.  Riker had made arrangements for Data and Spot to come over and keep an eye on Tammy and Cocoa in the late afternoon so he and Deanna could begin the daunting task of screening the files of potential adoptive families.


Riker tapped the buzzer on the bulkhead outside Troi's office door.




Riker stepped inside and crossed the room to where Troi was sitting.  He gave Troi one of his famous grins.  "Hi there.  Ready to get at it?"  She returned the smile, and then squinted, staring hard.  "What's wrong?" Riker queried.


Troi rose and moved within half a meter of him, her eyes at his chest level.  "Just a minute" she replied, and began plucking brown hairs off the front of his uniform.  "You seem to have missed all this cat hair when you were admiring yourself this morning."


"Deanna!" Riker wailed in frustration, not sure what had embarrassed him the most:  The knowledge that he'd met with three department heads with cat hair all over his uniform, or the fact that Deanna still remembered the intimate details of his morning routine.


"Hold still" she continued matter-of-factly.  "It'll only take a minute more."


Knowing that resistance was futile, Riker bit his lip and waited for Troi to finish picking his jacket clean.




After three hours of checking family files, Troi was ready to pull her hair out, and she didn't need her empathic skills to see that Riker clearly shared her emotions.  They had scanned the files of two dozen families, and given detailed attention to five, but every time she thought she was on to something, Riker found a reason to disqualify the household.  And, Troi admitted to herself, a couple of the families he had advocated were definite nonstarters in her opinion.  "What about Bromwell and M'Turnba?  Tell me, one more time, what you said was the problem with them."  Troi tried to sound logical and methodical, not exasperated and resentful.


"Their children are fourteen and sixteen.  She's used to being an only child.  Two teenagers would push her around too much" Riker declared.


"Now wait" Troi began, "First of all, I'm the psychologist here.  And I think it would be much wiser to introduce Tammy into a family where she'd be the youngest, not the oldest child.  If we put her in a family that has younger children their first will be "dethroned" from the position of oldest child, and that usually leads to frustration and inability to cope on behalf of all family members.  For that reason, I can't support your idea of the Muscoviwitches, even if their child is only four years old."


Riker sucked in a deep breath and laid his hands flat on the desk in front of him.  "I think we've both had enough for today.  I'm booked up tomorrow, maybe we could try again the day after?"


Troi shook her shoulders out and managed a smile.  "Sounds reasonable.  There's got to be a solution to this somewhere that we both can feel comfortable with."  Troi paused.  "How about this:  Give me a half an hour, and then why don't you bring Tammy over to my quarters for dinner?"


"Good idea" Riker replied, grinned, and headed out of her office.


He had barely stepped through the doorway of his quarters when Tammy rushed into his arms, squealing in excitement.


"Cocoa's having kittens!  Mr. Data says we're going to have kittens!


After retrieving his chin from the floor, Riker recovered enough to manage a tentative, "Data?"


"Commander, Tammy's cat is in the later stages of pregnancy.  Judging from my experience with Spot, I believe the kittens should arrive in approximately six days.  I recommend you bring Cocoa to Dr. Crusher for a medical examination as soon as possible."


"Thanks, Data" Riker replied in a voice an octave higher than normal.  He fought to bring it down.  "And thanks for keeping these ladies company."


"You are welcome, sir" Data answered.  Oblivious to Riker's distress, the android scooped up his cat and headed for the door.




"Maybe I'd take a kitten" Troi suggested between mouthfuls of dessert.  "I had a Betazoid kitten once when I was a child, but my mother was allergic to her, so I had to give her up.  But a cat around here might be nice."


"Sure, Deanna" Tammy responded brightly.  "We'd give you first pick.  You could have anyone you want."


Riker leaned back in his chair.  He'd joined in the conversation some, but mostly he had been watching the two females interact and chatter.  Deanna is so good with children, he mused, and the positive influence apparently went both ways:  He couldn't remember the last time he'd seen Deanna actually eat a green vegetable.  Well, he smiled to himself, you said parenthood involved sacrifices.  "Okay, ladies, how about if we get Cocoa and head to sickbay?  Beverly said she'd meet us there at 19:00."


Riker's door opened and Tammy called in "Cocoa!  Cocoa, come here!  We have to go see Beverly!"


No response.


"Come on, Cocoa!  Get out here!"  Riker called, annoyance creeping into his voice.


"Well" Troi sighed.  "It looks like we're going to have to find her."  She crouched down to check under the furniture.  Tammy skipped toward her bedroom.


Riker headed for his own room, and spotted Cocoa on the bed, rolled in the uniform jacket he'd discarded at the end of his shift.  "Cocoa!" he yelled, "Get out of my uniform!"  He grabbed the cat and turned for the exit, only to find Tammy standing in the doorway, her hands on her hips.


"You know, Will," Tammy declared "if you'd hang up your clothes, she'd she wouldn't get into them."


Thoroughly chastised, Riker followed the women to sickbay.




Beverly Crusher ran her gentle, practiced hands over the cat's plump tummy.  "I think Data was right.  It should only be a week, maybe a little less.  Has she been eating okay?  At this point, you should be giving her all she wants."


"She's been eating plenty, to say the least."  Riker continued "Is everything all right?  She's going to be okay, isn't she?"


Crusher smiled, "Most of my experience has been with humanoid births, but it looks like everything is as it should be."  Noticing Riker's expression, she teased "What's this sudden concern, Will?  I thought you hated cats."


Riker gave her a "shut up" look and countered "This is Tammy's cat.  She's important."


Beverly smiled.  Will was so much fun to harass.  And it is satisfying, Crusher concluded, to put dashing, overconfident males flat on their asses occasionally.  Forcing herself back to seriousness, Crusher looked up and faced her friends.  Although she didn't possess Troi's empathy, Crusher could tell something of what each of the other people felt:  Tammy, excitement; Riker, concern and worry; and Troi --- well, sadness somehow.


As the cat-bearing trio left sickbay, Crusher sat alone and contemplated what she had just seen and felt.  You're too attached already, Deanna.  Don't set yourself up to be hurt.  To be hurt again.




Tammy's room was starting to look like her own space, with handsewn wall hangings, a book of maps, and huge lumps of molding clay.  Her toys were there, a runabout race set, a collection of stuffed felines, and, to Riker's horror, a miniature Parrieses Squares uniform.  Been playing since I was six, she had proudly informed him.


Riker was tucking the pink and purple quilt under Tammy's chin when he saw the girl's expression suddenly darken.


"You don't really hate cats, do you?"


The question caught Riker totally off guard.  Yes, no, and I don't know were all unacceptable answers.  "No, not really, Tammy, I don't.  I've just had bad luck with a couple of them.  Like Spot.  I volunteered to feed him when Data was gone once, and he practically clawed my face off."


Tammy contemplated that for a minute, and then volunteered, "You're not getting rid of me because of Cocoa and the kittens, are you?"


Riker wanted nothing more than to simply disappear.  Escape, and give this responsibility to someone who knew how to handle it.  "No, Tammy" he replied gently "you need a home, and a family.  I can't give you these things.  I'm busy.  I'm gone on away missions a lot.  You deserve something better."


Tammy considered this all a bit longer.  "Why aren't you and Deanna married?"


Riker closed his eyes.  How in the hell do I answer that?  Because I'm not at all sure that she loves me anymore?  Because she's sick and tired of waiting around for a coward?  Because I don't want to make a promise I don't think I could keep?  Because I'm waiting for the "right time" whatever that means?  Riker's excuse sounded lame even in his own ears.  "I guess I just don't think I'd make a very good husband --- or father."


Tammy smiled at him and patted his hand encouragingly.  "Will, my mama always used to say "you can do it if you want to".  I think you could take real good care of us if you put your mind to it."




It had been a long day, Deanna Troi sighed.  Ensign Ivanovitch was still having trouble with his supervisor, and the Careroak's marriage was still far from what either of them wanted.  Counselling people from such radically different cultures can certainly be a challenge, Troi mused.  I still have trouble remembering the significance of a Rigellian licking their spouse on the left ear as opposed to the right.


Entering Ten-Forward, she spotted Beverly across the room.  Girl's night out, Troi smiled.  Dinner (minus the broccoli) chocolate, and quality time to talk with a friend.  Ben caught Deanna's smile, flashed her one of his own, and followed her to Bev's table to take their order.


At the next table, Lt. Barclay, Data and LaForge sat together, engrossed in conversation and oblivious to the activity around them.  A flustered Barclay was explaining something to the two senior officers.  "--- and I know I shouldn't have looked the box, Commander --- Commanders, Lt. Worf told me not to; but I d-did, and you wouldn't have believed ---"


"Pretty racy stuff, huh, Barclay?" LaForge interjected.


"Y-yes, sir" Barclay stammered.  "The stuff couldn't have been Lt. Worf's, but where did he get it?  There was one of those big fuzzy Orion things, and a --- whatever-they-call-them from Bajor, I think, and ---"


"Easy Reg," LaForge smirked "this isn't good for your hormones."


Meanwhile, Crusher and Troi were both trying to ignore the bawdy talk behind them, and failing miserably in the attempt.  As the purple color spread across Troi's face, Crusher gave up all pretense of disinterest and giggled like a schoolgirl.


Troi stood up and swung around in one motion.  "Mr. Barclay"  she began firmly "where did you get this box of toys?"


Barclay was mortified.  "L-Lt. Worf g-gave it to me t-to particlize, s-sir."


"I see.  And you examined the contents of the box before destroying them."  Troi continued, looking directly down at the cringing lieutenant.  "Did these objects include a Betazoid celeuti?"


"I d-don't know, s-sir" Barclay managed, and blushed two shades darker.


"Thank-you, lieutenant" Troi replied crisply and returned to her seat.


Barclay hid his face in his hands.


Data glanced from Barclay to Troi and Crusher, to LaForge, back to Barclay, and observed "Intriguing."


Geordi LaForge leaned back in his chair and belly-laughed until he was too sore to breathe.





   A couple of days later, Riker was relaxing at his computer terminal, scanning an article on sanato fishing on Deneb IV.  Tammy was working nearby on her own computer, picking her way through a life science lesson.  At Troi's suggestion, he'd had the techs install her study terminal in the livingroom, rather than in her bedroom.  Troi had pointed out that Tammy had been trying hard, too hard, to please him; it wouldn't be good for the girl if she felt that he wanted her out of his way and in her room all the time.  It would be a little tough to study on poker nights, Riker knew, but they'd work something out. 


The last few days had passed without incidence, the low spot being another long, unproductive family-hunting session with Deanna, and the high points, Riker had to admit, his time spent listening to and talking with Tammy.  Her spirit and charm were weakening his resolve, and more than once he had reminded both himself and Tammy that this situation was definitely temporary.  But every time he broached the subject he felt like he was talking at, not to, the child:  She obviously didn't want to hear what he had to say.  All the more reason to get a move on, Riker decided.  It's just going to get harder the longer she stays here.


Riker continued to focus on his computer screen, as if to hide his thoughts from his sister.  I still feel guilty, but Deanna is right, he concluded.  The real crime would come in accepting something he couldn't cope with and then passing that frustration on to Tammy.  His own father had been forced into single parenthood, but he, himself had a choice.  Troi's initial observations were definitely on-target.          Getting up too early, practically no privacy, endless questions, no let-up:  He couldn't do this for ten more years.

Tammy looked up.  "Will, tomorrow night, could we go do some snow stuff on the holodek?  I love sledding, and you said you grew up in Alaska.  Could we, please?"


Riker smiled.  She did have school the day after tomorrow, but a romp in the snow sounded fun.  "Good idea.  You can help me set up the program."


"Deanna."  Tammy declared emphatically.  "I'd like to ask Deanna to come with us."


"I don't know," Riker answered slowly "she was raised on a warm, tropical planet.  She's never been too much for winter and snow."


"Oh, please, can't I at least ask her?"


Riker's smile spread.  I've never been able to get Deanna to set foot on the holodek unless the temperature was at least twenty degrees above freezing, but how'd she be able to turn down this bright, chubby-faced kid?  Okay, Tammy, lets get her.  "I guess so, but be sure to tell her to bring a hat and mittens."




It was a perfect hill, Riker assessed.  He and Tammy had designed it together, with a clear blue sky, a few scraggly pines along the edges, some long gentle slopes and a set of lovely mogul-like bumps down the middle.  Five inches of powder over a packed, slippery base.  In short, simply perfect.  They had been cruising the hill on Tammy's green saucer sled, sometimes alone, sometimes together, hooting and screaming and blowing up powder all the way.  Tammy had just headed down the hill alone when Riker heard the doors behind him.  He chuckled as Deanna entered the holodek.


It was obvious that she had brought her hat and mittens.  Three pairs, to be exact, and ear muffs to go under the hat.  Plus two sweaters under her parka, she confessed, and three layers of socks.  Looks like a little stuffed meatball, Riker reflected.


Troi's eyelids flew open.  "SAY WHAT?"


"I didn't say anything."


"Little stuffed meatball?"  Troi carefully pronounced each syllable.


"Sorry" Riker quickly apologized.


Spotting Troi with her bother at the hill's top, Tammy skiddered up the slope full speed, and rushed into the counselor's arms.  "Oh, Deanna, thanks so much for coming!  See what I can do!"  Tammy jumped onto her saucer sled, and went swirling down the hillside.


As soon as Tammy was out of earshot, Troi turned her attention back to Riker.  "Will, did you put this crazy notion into that child's head?  I'm going to freeze to death in here!"


"You said parenthood involved sacrifices." Riker taunted.  "Like vegetables and bobsleds."


Disgusted, Troi clutched her arms across her chest and watched Tammy ascend the hill.


"Now you try it, Deanna" Tammy encouraged.  Seeing Troi's apprehension, she added, "you can ride with me.  It's fun."


Troi eyed the round green sled suspiciously.  "I don't know ---" she began tentatively.


"Oh, Deanna, please!"  With Troi's attention still focused down, Tammy winked at her brother.  "We won't go over the bumps."


"Okay" Troi relented.  Grimacing, she pulled on her second pair of mittens, and lowered herself onto the sled.


Tammy settled in in front of her, and pointed at the handles on the saucer's sides.  "Now Deanna, hang onto these, real tight."


"I'll give you a push off" Riker volunteered,  and snapped the sled hard to left and down.  The aim he had practiced as a boy was still perfect:  The sled hit every mogul he and Tammy had built.  As they twirled backwards, Troi let out a screech that Riker was sure they'd hear four decks away.  Finally, the sled and passengers settled to a stop at the bottom of the hill.


Troi struggled to her feet and shook herself all over.  Tammy looked up at her, a bit worried, and apologized, "I'm sorry, Deanna, we just couldn't resist."


Troi forced a smile.  "It's okay."  Tammy grabbed the sled's rope and headed back up the slope.  Troi trudged up behind her, not sure which infuriated her more, the fact that they'd had the nerve to dupe her, or the knowledge that she'd been so concerned with her own predicament that she hadn't sensed the deception.  Forget it, she thought.  It was kind of fun.


When Troi reached the top of the hill, Will Riker was on his knees, laughing so hard that tears ran down his face.



Riker rubbed the back of his neck as he slowly walked down the corridor.  After last evenings exercise and cool, fresh air, he had slept like a rock, and this afternoon's family screening session with Deanna had been constructive, at least; maybe they were both becoming a bit more reasonable.  Deanna had volunteered to help him describe two potential families to Tammy, but they both knew the girl's reaction would be totally negative.  Dreading the talk with his sister, Riker had persuaded Troi to put off the inevitable until after dinner.


Riker and Tammy were just starting dessert when she suddenly looked up, concerned.  "Where's Cocoa?  She's not begging around the table!"


Riker considered her words.  "You're right.  This is the first time she hasn't been clawing my pants legs when I've got food in my mouth."  Louder, "Cocoa!"


Tammy joined in "Cocoa!  Come here!"  She jumped up and headed for her room, calling over her shoulder, "Will, c'mon, she might have gotten out into the corridor or something!"


Disgusted, Riker shook his head.  Can't even finish a meal in peace anymore.  But admit it, you're going to miss both of them.


"Will!" Tammy cried in frustration.


"I'm on it" Riker replied.


He almost missed Cocoa on the floor of his closet.  She was back in the corner, adjusting today's uniform jacket around herself, and nervously licking her belly.  Instantly, Riker understood.  He went to the door, and called just loud enough for Tammy to hear "She's in here --- I think the kittens are coming."


Tammy rushed in and stopped, wide-eyed, staring at her pet through the closet doorway.  "What should we do?" she murmured.


"Nothing" Riker whispered back.  "She'll need quiet, and the best thing we can do is not interfere."


"Can we watch?"  Tammy asked in wonder.


"Yes, but we shouldn't scare her.  No loud talk, sudden movements or such."


Riker dropped to the floor, as awed as the child.  Tammy curled up on his lap, thrilled beyond words.


A half an hour later, Riker knew something was wrong.  Cocoa was panting, struggling, and not getting anywhere.  Even her eyes looked pained.


Just then the door chimed.  That would be Deanna, he realized, coming for their "talk".  "Stay here, Tammy.  I think it's Deanna."


Riker motioned for Troi to be quiet as soon as the doors parted.  "Deanna, I think Cocoa's trying to have the kittens, but nothing's coming --- come here, tell us what you think."


Tammy ran to Troi as soon as the counselor entered Riker's room.  "Deanna, something's wrong.  Will says the kittens should be coming by now."


Troi knelt by the closet door and focused on the animal.  Softly, she whispered, "I agree:  Something is wrong.  She's in a lot of pain, and she's --- confused.  If this were normal, her inborn maternal instincts would be directing her.  I think we should get her to Beverly."


Riker pulled his communicator out of his pocket.  "Riker to Crusher."


"Crusher here."


"Beverly, can you meet us in sickbay?  Cocoa's trying to deliver, but she's straining and nothing's coming."


"How long has she been pushing?" Crusher queried.


"I'm not sure, most of an hour" Riker explained, still eyeing the frightened cat.


"Okay.  Pick her up carefully and bring her to sickbay.  I'll be right there.  Crusher out."  She turned to her dinner companion, who was smiling softly and shaking his bald head.  "I'm sorry, Jean-Luc.  Duty calls."


Riker cautiously lifted Cocoa and uniform jacket, and, for the second time in a week, headed to sickbay with Troi, Tammy and cat.




Engrossed and breathless, Riker, Troi and Tammy stood by and watched Crusher examine the terrified cat.  And for the hundredth time, Troi felt a deep admiration for her friend's healing touch and gentle compassion.  Beverly continued to work, and slowly, a tiny, damp kitten emerged.  Beverly sighed in relief.  "This first kitten was turned around wrong.  Hopefully the rest will come easier."  Troi returned Crusher's glowing smile, and turned who Riker and Tammy, who were beaming like a pair of proud parents.


With the worst stress ended, Cocoa continued to push, and in time produced four more wet, hungry, mewing and helpless kittens.  The four humanoids gathered nearby, lost in time and spellbound by the mystery of new life.




It was nearly midnight before they got Cocoa and offspring home.  Tammy wanted to pet Cocoa, touch the kittens and just watch, but Riker and Troi insisted that she get to bed.  After all, adults, children, cats and kittens all needed rest.  Exhausted, Troi dropped herself on Riker's couch.  Riker collapsed into a chair.


Prying her lids open, Troi eyed Riker and teased "You shouldn't have thrown out all your "toys".  Tammy is old enough not to go through other people's dresser drawers."


Riker's head jerked up.  How'd she find out?  Worf wouldn't have told anyone, particularly a female, but the possibilities remained legion:  The transporter technician might have taken notes in vast and terrible detail and circulated copies in Ten-Forward, for all he knew.  "Okay" Riker sighed "how did you find out?"


"Men talk.  They always have, they always will" Troi replied nonchalantly, broke into a wide, self-assured smile, waved good night, and headed for home and sleep.




Crusher quietly regarded Troi as they left mukbara class.  Deanna was clearly depressed.  She'd gone through her morning exercises without much enthusiasm, and now, walking next to her down the corridor, Troi's distress was even more apparent.  Sympathetically, Crusher asked "Deanna, what's wrong?  It's long past time we talk about it."


"I'm just tired, that's all.  You should be too, Doctor.  We all had a late one last night."


"Deanna," Crusher gently urged "we're friends.  Please be honest with me.  More importantly, be honest with yourself."


Dropping all pretense, Deanna stopped and asked in a tiny, forlorn voice "Bev, could you be my first appointment this morning?"




Beverly Crusher shifted her weight against the back of her couch.  She taken Troi back to her quarters, determined to keep the counselor from shouldering the pain alone, and now, after fifteen minutes, she was still holding the younger woman, and letting Troi cry her eyes out.  Tentatively, Crusher began to push the subject.  "Deanna, it's okay to love her."


Troi breathed in and out, controlling her sobs.  "but she's going away.  Will can't take her for the next ten years.  He's just not equipped to raise a daughter alone."  Troi lowered her head into her hands, rubbing her swollen eyes.  Then suddenly, she realized Crusher's emotions had totally changed:  Anticipation replaced helplessness, fire replaced sorrow.  Confused, Troi looked up and saw Crusher's eyes burning with wisdom and joy.


Beverly's reply came in a low, intense whisper.  "You're right.  Will can't raise a child alone.  But with a little help, I'll bet you could."


Troi considered her friend's words for a moment.  Slowly, her expression changed from despair to determination.  "Yes!" Troi hissed.  Hugging Crusher, she blurted "THANKS, Bev.  Got to go."  She was out the door in a second.


Glowing, Crusher shook her head and muttered "Soft as a rose, tough as duranium."




Riker leaned back from his computer screen.  More scheduling, personnel and timing work.  The combination of computer, late bedtime, and the now-normal early morning was making it tough --- okay, damn near impossible --- to stay awake and functioning.  But at least Tammy got up and off to school on time, and Cocoa was busy feeding and tending a healthy litter of kittens.  He was getting a third cup of coffee when his door buzzed.




Troi rushed in, still wearing her white exercise suit, eyes wet, shoulders squared.  "Will" she announced "I want to adopt Tammy."


"You what?" Riker asked, not sure if he believed what he thought he'd just heard.


"Will, it's like this.  I need something more.  Something I'm not getting.  When you --- left me --- I hurt, so badly that I couldn't look at anyone else.  Not for years.  And when I did, I started making mistakes, because I still loved you, and the strain of loving you, but not really being with you, day after day after day was driving me crazy. 


Oh, at first the mistakes were obvious, and no one worthwhile got hurt except me.  The first was a jerk, a mercenary who served no one but himself.  But then it got worse.  Then came a good man, a man from a closed society, a man who could never share my life, any more than I could share his.  I knew at the time that it was wrong, but I was so starved for that kind of attention that I did it anyway, even those it was totally unprofessional.  Then came someone who looked like you --- someone who was you --- you from a time when you couldn't stand to be away from me for more than three days in a stretch.  And I realized than I hadn't ever given up on you wanting me again, even though I did realize that I couldn't pretend that eight years of my life had never happened.


And then came the worst part, my friend, your best friend, a completely impossible idea of a relationship, me with a Klingon.  I couldn't ever stand to sense you with a cut lip, how could I possibly have a mate from a culture that celebrates pain and makes love by beating each other up?  I don't know, maybe deep down inside I was just trying to make you jealous, to force your hand, to make you do something to keep from losing me.  But how I must have hurt him, and how I could have hurt us all worse, if the Captain --- and, I can hardly say it --- Q --- hadn't intervened.  Did you notice that in Q's future I never did get together with Worf, or anybody, for that matter?  Why?  Because I couldn't let go of the hope of having you.


Will, don't you see?  I need Tammy, as much as she needs you and me.  This may be the only way I ever get to have a child, raise a child, share a child's life --- oh, I can help Worf with Alexander, but I can't raise a Klingon child, especially not that child, not anymore now --- and Tammy needs you, and this would keep her near you" --- Troi was practically screaming through her tears now --- "and this will probably be the best chance I ever get to have at least a piece of the life I need."


Suddenly, Troi pulled away from her own emotions and focused on Riker, who had been quiet through her entire tirade.  He was standing, frozen and wet-eyed, against the far wall of the room.


He began slowly, in a low, still voice.  "We could apply for joint custody.  I'm not ready to be married yet, but I know I could never have with anyone else what I have with you.  I promise I'll be ---" Riker fumbled over the word --- "monogamous.  Would that be enough for you, at least for now?"


Troi stared at him for a minute, letting his words, and all that they implied, sink into her heart and mind.  She stood, still five meters away from him, and quietly replied "We could put a second door in Tammy's room, one that leads into my quarters, and a door directly between my place and yours."


"You get the mornings."  A bit of a smile flickered across Riker's face.


"Four days a week.  On the other three I have mukbara class."


"We won't have much time for --- being together" Riker observed.


"I know" Troi whispered.  At that moment, she wanted nothing more than to rush into his arms, hold him, and make love to him, over and over and over again.  "I have a client in half an hour."


"And I have six people coming here for poker tonight" Riker's voice cracked.


"When can we tell Tammy?" Troi asked softly.


"Today at noon, if you like."


"Good" Troi paused.  "I have to go."


"So do I.  I need to talk to Worf."


Troi glanced down.  "I can tell him, if you want."


"No" Riker answered firmly.  "This is something I must do."


"Will I see you tonight, after poker?"


Riker's eyes crinkled up in that smile that no one else in the galaxy could match.  "Yes, and tomorrow night, too.  See you later."  He turned and was gone.


Troi stood alone in the middle of Riker's livingroom, still assimilating the last two hours of her life.  She looked around the room, slowly taking in the trombone, the lounge chair, the spy glass, card table, and all the other objects that were parts of the man she knew as William T. Riker.  Eventually, her eyes settled on the hor'ghan.


Deanna Troi jumped onto the couch, kicked her legs in the air, and screamed in joy for ten minutes straight.




Riker squared his shoulders and hit his communicator.  "Mr. Worf, could we arrange a half hour or so to talk, as soon as your duties permit?"




Riker drew a long, deep breath.  Predictably, his friend had taken the news with Klingon stoicism, but now Riker needed a response, some acknowledgement, some evidence of understanding.  Forgiveness, maybe.  In the low reddish light of Worf's quarters, Riker scrutinized the security chief's broad back.


Slowly Worf turned to face his would-have-been rival, his commanding officer, his friend.  "If I am to mate again, it must be with a Klingon.  I have always known this."


Riker stared into Worf's dark eyes, and realized, dimly, that he was seeing a part of the man that he had never seen before, a part that perhaps no one had ever known, a man alone, a man removed from his people, a man who had toyed, however briefly, with the impossibility of denying his own nature to ease that loneliness.  Riker clamped his hand onto Worf's shoulder.  A moment later, he felt the Klingon's firm grip on his forearm.


"Years ago" Worf explained, "I researched Betazoid customs, hoping this opportunity would arise.  You will need a talamarini."


Riker tried to swallow the lump in his throat.  Worf was volunteering to be his talamarini --- the Betazoid equivalent of a brother, a best man --- someone to protect his back --- and, Riker shook his head --- his virtue --- until the time came for he and Deanna to be married.  With a mixture of relief, gratitude and deep respect, Riker finally replied "And there is no one I would rather have."




When Troi turned down the classroom corridor, Riker was already waiting by the door, beaming.  The glittering sapphire eyes, humor, courage, never-say-die spirit, is it any wonder I love him?  Troi thought.  And very soon, I won't have to hide that love anymore.  She had hardly been able to contain her joy throughout the morning, but she knew that she must:  Tammy, Worf, Beverly and the captain must hear first, and directly from them.  As she approached, Riker reached out and gently took her hand.


For a moment Troi's eyes lingered on their intertwined fingers.  Imzadi, she thought, were you able to talk to Worf?


"Yes" Riker said aloud.  "And he, like you, is more friend than I deserve.  Worf asked to be my talamarini, and I accepted."

Troi's ebony eyes twinkled.  "I like that.  I suspect he will take the responsibility very seriously.  One look at another woman, and you get the batlith."


"I hope" Riker took a deep breath "he won't see the need to resort to that."  Glancing down, he continued, "I'll need to call dad.  He needs to know that Tammy is going to be a part of the family.  If not a part of his family, then a part of mine."  Riker squared his shoulders resolutely and smiled.  "Let's go tell Tammy."




"So we'll be a family?" Tammy bubbled.  "And we can keep Cocoa, and maybe a kitten or two?"


Riker was squatting at the girl's eye level, with Troi on her knees next to him.  "Yes, we'll be a family, and Cocoa and babies will be part of that family.  But, like I said, Deanna and I aren't getting married, at least not yet."


"That's okay" Tammy replied philosophically.  "My mama always used to say "you gotta start somewhere".  You took a big step today, Will.  I'm proud of you."




The next few weeks were filled with plans, legal arrangements, and gifts from Tammy's new "relatives":  La Forge souped up her race set, Data and Spot volunteered for more child and cat sitting (after which a particularly smiley Troi told Data "thanks so much.  Will and I had a very unforgettable time on the holodek"), and Worf provided some Parrieses Squares pointers, which enabled Tammy to best all but one --- boys included --- of the participants in her age group.  The captain actually let her on the bridge for a five-minute tour, an Riker could hardly contain his amusement when Tammy wanted to sit, not in the "big chair", but at the helm.  Crusher's gift came the closest to Troi's heart, a poem that summed up everything Deanna wanted Tammy to know, a poem that she made into a plaque for the wall of Tammy's room:


Not flesh of my flesh,

Not bone of my bone,

But somehow, mysteriously,

Still my own.


Please remember, Tammy,

In the years that lie ahead

That while you were not born under my heart,

You were born in it.




At last the time came, and Riker, Troi and Tammy took a shuttle to Deep Space 4, where, in an appearance before the Judge Advocate General Officer, Tammy officially became Ms. Tamara Marie Troi Riker Larson.  "So now I'm an adopted person!" she proudly informed the JAG officer at the hearing's close.




Riker scooped up the last mouthful of his blueberry pie, and surveyed the activity in the starbase promenade as Troi and Tammy polished off their last forkfuls of chocolate French Silk.  "Well, we got two hours before we have to get back to the shuttle.  Anybody got any ideas?"


"Shopping" Troi volunteered.  "I still don't have anything for my mother's birthday."


"Can I meet her soon?" Tammy begged.  "Not just on the viewscreen, but for really real?"


"I hope so" Troi smiled. "We'll be in sector BK-5 in three weeks, and maybe then she can get a transport out from Betazed and visit us."


Tammy nodded.  "Sounds good.  Let's go find a birthday present."


"I said two hours" Riker reminded "or I report the two of you as missing cargo."


The two females regarded him suspiciously and whispered to each other, plenty loud enough for Riker to hear.  "I think he's bluffing" Tammy assessed.


"I think you're right, but we'd better get going, just in case.  I don't want to ride back to the Enterprise in the shuttle's cargo bay."  They nodded in agreement and headed away.  Happier than he ever remembered, Riker watched the two heads of long dark hair bounce across the promenade.  Slowly, his grin spread ear to ear.


"Hey, wait!" he called, and plunged into the crowd after them.





I'd like to thank all the people (both fffJF and USS Fitzgerald) who supported me through the disappointments of Next Generation's last season, and to whom I dedicate this story.  Renee, Judi, Louise, Annette, Christie, Jeri, and Marina:  I hope this helps makes it all a little bit better.