Story: Once Bitten
Author: Deede
Disclaimer: Paramount owns them.
Rating: PG-13
Timeline: Follows Insurrection
Summary: Rekindling an old flame is easier said than done.
Dedication: To the extremely talented QD, who asked for a fic
with conflict.


There was tension on the bridge, and try as he might Captain
Picard couldn’t help but notice it - couldn’t help but be made
uncomfortable by it. Particularly since it not only involved
two members of his senior staff, but two highly valued friends
as well.  There were no tell-tale signs he could point to, no
action or consequence he could identify or chastise for. In fact
both parties of the would-be conflict had reported to their stations
on time and had performed their duties as always, without falter
or hesitation. So why then did he feel the need to call both
Counselor Troi and Commander Riker into his office and leave
them there until they came out either smiling, or yelling, or
a combination of the two?

Any reaction would have been preferable to what he was currently
faced with. Stony silence. Rigid posture. A refusal for either
officer, one to his left, and one to his right, to make eye contact
over or through him, the way they usually had a habit of doing
through that damned silent communication they were usually so
adept at.

Instead he was dealing with… nothing. The Counselor kept her
gaze either locked forward, or on her hands; her large, luminescent
dark eyes unreadable, and yet oddly devoid of the usual peace
they so keenly portrayed. His first officer remained equally
unmoving, a thinly veiled scowl etching his first officer’s rugged

Indecision filled the Captain’s conscience. His internal debate
arose in whether he should say anything to either of the two,
or whether he even had the right. As their superior officer he
couldn’t reprimand them for simply being stoic, but as their
friend it pained him to see them come to this, especially when
it had taken them so long to get to the point they had been heading
towards for years.

The fact of the matter was that everyone was having a difficult
time adjusting to the after effects of their recent mission to
the Briar Patch. The one bright spot to the turmoil that had
ensued over that particularly trying mission had been the climax
to the Riker/Troi relationship: the ongoing source of a betting
pool for well over twelve years, and the fitting, happy ending
to a match that had been a long time in coming.

The majority of the crew had been more than thrilled to see the
two officers “come to their senses”, as Beverly had put it, the
transition from lovers into best friends into lovers again seemed
like the only natural progression of to a relationship that few
could understand the magnitude or the depth of, but which everyone
was touched by in some romantic form or another. Including Picard

With a sigh he looked from one officer to the next, counting
the minutes until the shift was over and he wouldn’t literally
be caught in the middle of a lover’s spat, his love for both
officers and his desire to see them happy aside.  Although the
current shift seemed to pass more slowly than most, largely due
to the tension thickly palpable in the air, it wasn’t long before
the turbolift doors opened to reveal the replacement officers
for the following shift - to Picard’s internal relief.

Still, it amused him to watch as Counselor Troi nearly leapt
from her seat, swiftly heading to the lift as if to beat the
First Officer to it. And it was almost endearing to see how quickly
Will responded to that, as he stood just as abruptly and called
out her name, affirming that she had little chance of escaping
him without a verbal exchange of some sort.

‘Heading her off at the pass,’ Picard thought with a grin, working
desperately to suppress the small chuckle that welled within
him at the sight of his two most unflappable officers traversing
their way through the turbulent, shaky grounds of rekindling
a romance.

Yet watching them leave the bridge together, however begrudgingly,
the Captain permitted himself a smile.


Reaching out to touch Deanna's arm, Will stopped himself when
her dark eyes flashed in annoyance and settled upon him. 

"Deanna, we need to talk. I understand that you’re upset but
you can’t ignore me forever. You’ve been shutting me out all
morning. Sooner or later we are going to *have* to find the time
to work this out, " he said, caressing her uniform sleeve in
lieu of her hand, if only to reassure himself that she was not
completely untouchable.  A line had been crossed that he both
wanted and needed; that both of them seemed desperate to embrace,
but with it came a flood of unforeseen obstacles:  That he could
want her so desperately; that he could potentially be hurt; that
they might never work through this transition and that both of
them would ultimately be afraid to relinquish their past.

She whirled to face him; her dark eyes wide with untold trepidation.
She could hear her heart racing rapidly as she willed it to slow,
unknowing why it was she felt so frightened, so intimidated,
yet doubtful that she liked it. Being out of control. Opening
herself up. Letting him in through her emotional shields… the
pain of the past, the uncertainty of the future. Allowing herself
to be open, vulnerable. Permitting herself to leave the comforts
and safety of friendship for something far more turbulent and
exhilarating - all of which abated her growing confusion.

What to do? Where to go? Were there even answers out there to
the questions that ran continuously through her mind since the
Briar Patch, or, if she were honest with herself, before that?

“You could have talked to me last night, when we were supposed
to get together to discuss all of this, before you cancelled
on me… for the second night in a row,” she said softly, hurt,
yet uncertain whether she had a right to be. They were both duty
officers, and they both loved their jobs. She had to remind herself
that she was no longer the young, hurt idealist that he could
leave for his career as he had done before… or would he?

But what about her? Surely she valued her own position just as
much as he did his. Did they even stand a chance trying to restart
a romantic relationship when they both were so committed to who
they already were and what they had already built for themselves…
as no more than friends?

“I know, and I’m sorry,” he stated, sincere, willing to try,
wanting to try... even through the rampant insecurity. “You know
how crazy it has been since we left the Ba’ku home world, not
to mention all of the repairs we’ve had to undergo. Something
came up. I had to help Geordi with a problem in engineering.
We’re still not a hundred percent recovered from all of the damage
we sustained from the So’na and the Briar Patch itself.”

She smiled then, painfully, tears welling in her eyes against
the better part of her will. “Of course, there is always something...
always will be. That is the life we lead - the life we chose
for ourselves long ago. It will never change. The past two nights
I’ve done a lot of thinking: about us, about our careers, about
the implications on trying to work out a romantic relationship
while serving together. I can’t help but think that we are setting
ourselves up for disappointment. We are career officers serving
on a Federation vessel, and we were both happy with that. Do
we even know what we are doing? And if so, why did it take the
‘youth inducing radiation’ of the Briar Patch to get us to cross
that line?”

He sighed then, deeply frustrated, alternately longing to take
her in his arms and soothe away her fears until she gave in to
him completely, or shake her until she saw things his way. They
had been working towards this moment for years… or so he had
thought. He had never stopped loving her, wanting her, needing
her… Even through the veil of friendship; even when he had thought
their reconciliation an impossibility and thus tried to block
out those feelings to the best of his ability.

“Because we want to,” he answered instead - simply, directly,
meeting her eyes unblinkingly while refusing to lessen their
hold. “Because, when all is said and done, it comes down to you
and I. Because neither one of us has ever been able to move on
from what we feel for one another. Because the god damned universe
wills it. We’ve known each other for fourteen years, Deanna,
and I can’t get you out of my head… and during all that time
I’ve come to realize that I don’t want to, with or without our

She was on the verge of giving in… of letting her feelings take
control over the better part of her doubts and losing herself
in him the way she longed to. She wanted to love, to be loved
in return. She wanted to bask in the feelings of belonging, of
having something belong to her. Especially if that someone was
Will - the man she had never truly gotten over and never would.
But ever present was the nagging of doubt, and the fear of facing
up to feelings so long repressed. She had only voiced a small
portion of her concerns - had yet to convey the fear she felt
putting her trust in him. Giving up a portion of her acquired
independence by committing herself to him only to get her heart
broken later on due to circumstances they might not even be able
to control. She couldn’t deny those feelings - no matter how
much she wanted to; no matter how much she longed to ignore them.

But that wasn’t a way to start a relationship. She couldn’t jump
into something ignoring her feelings, however irrational and
unwarranted, hoping that they would just disappear along the
way. It was fair to Will, or to herself.

“I need to think,” she replied, an undercurrent of urgency inflicted
in her tone. “This doesn’t mean ‘no’ and it doesn’t mean I’m
going to turn my back on how we feel. It just means I need to
process all of this.”

He stared back at her hopelessly, not wanting to waste any more
precious time, yet recognizing that he would willingly wait for
her… she was worth it.

Yet he didn’t affirm his contention verbally, he didn’t really
know what to say to that, how to respond in way that would let
her know he would give her that time, but that he couldn’t help
but feel it was unwarranted and that he feared the answers she
might come up with. And so he didn’t even try, opting instead
to reach for her hand and raise it to his lips, basking briefly
in the heat that radiated off of her smooth skin as that one
fleeting and tender contact was made.

And then he turned around and left her in the corridor… alone.


Geordie LaForge breathed a sigh of relief when the Counselor
beat her own hasty retreat soon after the disappearance of the
First Officer. Not wanting either party to be privy to the fact
that he and Data had the impeccable, if not unfortunate timing
of walking down the connecting corridor with close enough proximity
to catch the tale end of their confrontation. Already he could
sense the curiosity radiating off of Data and he mentally geared
up for the line of questioning he was sure he was about to receive.

“Commander Riker and Counselor Troi seem to be having a hard
time adjusting to the new parameters of their relationship,”
the android observed, puzzled.

“Yeah, and I don’t envy them or what they have to go through,
but I’m sure it will all work out in the end,” Geordi replied
with a sigh. “Still, it has to be tough.”

"Why?" Data asked, genuinely baffled but desperately longing
to understand. "Counselor Troi and Commander Riker have been
close friends for years. It has been apparent that they share
a deep and intuitive connection that would normally indicate
a highly successful relationship.  And I believe Dr. Crusher
once stated that it was only ‘a matter of time’ before they renewed
their previous romantic endeavors. Surely a sufficient amount
of time has passed for them to make another attempt?"

"It's not that easy, Data," the engineer responded reluctantly,
still trying to figure out the best way to surmise the difficult
situation their friends faced. “It’s just because they’ve been
friends for years that the transition to becoming involved again
is complicated. Before, when they were together, they didn’t
have 12 years of friendship under their belt, therefore they
weren’t putting a friendship in jeopardy by taking the next step.”

He paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts; watching the
confusion that still played across the android’s features before

“Plus, there is a history there that we don’t have all of the
details of,” he added. “One or both of them had to be hurt when
it didn’t work out the first time around. Emotional scars from
ill-fated relationships are sometimes the hardest to recover
from, no matter how much they may love each other now, and have
continued to love each other through the years. And then there
is their working relationship to consider. They are both senior
officers whose positions require them to work together constantly.
By becoming involved again they run the risk of their personal
life affecting their professional duties. Every time they argue,
or if one has to send the other on a dangerous mission, there’s
going to be conflict – all of those things are factors that could
potentially impair their judgment as officers.”

Geordi could practically see the wheels turning in Data’s head
as he processed that information: analyzing it, critiquing it,
comparing it to the wealth of knowledge on the intricate workings
of humanity that he had already collected, or perhaps placing
into a new category all its own. Either way he seemed to come
to a conclusion as he met his friend’s gaze once more, the rampant
confusion gone from his features.

“But wouldn’t it be safe to assume that they have already dealt
with a large portion of those risks by becoming as close as they
already are?” the android asked rhetorically, eager to detail
his hypothesis. “Commander Riker has often stated that Counselor
Troi is his best friend, and yet he has sent her on away missions,
and they have worked together efficiently for years. Their constant
companionship would indicate that their feelings for each other
run very deeply, and have been evident for quite some time. The
forgone conclusion would be that the factors you mentioned as
difficulties are merely contributors to a fear of close involvement,
yet not entirely disabling towards the pursuit of a romantic
relationship. I am sure, given the nature of the Commanders,
that they will be highly successful together as a partnership
once they overcome their fear.”

A grin spread slowly across the engineer’s face as he shook his
head to keep from chuckling, amused at Data’s ability to take
the multiple dimensions of a difficult scenario and break it
down to blunt, straightforward, yet entirely accurate subtext.

“I hope your right, Data,” the engineer stated, patting his friend
on the back. “After all, the Doctor was right, it was only a
matter of time and it would be wonderful to see those two work
it out. They deserve to be happy with each other.”

“I concur,” Data replied earnestly as they resumed their trek
down the corridor to their destination.


Will Riker had been staring at his drink for a while, never sipping
it, although the actual amount of time to pass since he had come
to sit in Ten Forward alluded him. The hustle and bustle of the
mess hall was lost on him as he sat in a far corner, brooding,
worried, anxious that he had just lost the one thing in his life
that meant the most to him. For the first time in a long time
his age caught up with him, and he wondered when it was that
he had crossed the point of believing that there would always
be time in the future to follow his heart, into believing that
it had to be done today. When did he start to realize that too
much time had passed already?

The youth inspiring effects of the Briar Patch had already worn
off, and yet he still felt restless. As if he wasn’t comfortable
in his own skin, or that he wasn’t quite sure how to proceed
with his life; how to go back to the same routine as before when
he felt so entirely at odds with himself and his situation. His
own recent memories were nearly driving him insane with a combination
of fear, and intense longing. Deanna naked against him. The way
her hot skin felt against his: silky and smooth, damp and soft.
The way his heart raced uncontrollably whenever they touched
- anticipation building… growing. The sounds she had made: a
moan, a sigh, a sweet release of air that seemed to continuously
echo in his ears, even now, and the exotic, tangy, sweet scent
of her, of the two of them together, that lingered with him as
he sat there, alone.

Years of watching her laugh, of seeing her smile, of teasing
her as she teased him: of hugs, long talks, unwavering support,
and playful banter. Was there ever a time when he hadn’t had
her there, with him? Was there ever a time when he hadn’t secretly
wanted her under the guise that there would be a time for them
in the future? Was that time right now?

“Is this seat taken?” a feminine voice asked, jolting him out
of his reverie in a way that left him temporarily stunned.

“Go ahead, and help yourself,” Will told the Doctor, not even
attempting to hide his pain behind his usually easy smile.

“You look tired, Will,” Beverly Crusher stated, eyeing her friend
knowingly as she set down across from him.

“I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately,” he responded candidly,
well aware that the doctor knew the reasons why he had been wracked
with insomnia. And almost entirely certain that whatever conversation
they were about to have she had already been through with Deanna
during their daily work out session earlier that morning.

“I know,” she replied sympathetically; straightforwardly, determined
to help or at least lend an ear. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“Do I have a choice?” he asked, his eyes gaining a brief twinkle
before quickly becoming squelched by burden once more.

“No, you don’t,” she teased gently, wondering how to proceed,
how to provide consolation or hope. “I saw Deanna this morning,
she looked just as tired as you do, maybe even more so.”

He wasn’t sure why, but that thought gave him comfort, lifted
his heart slightly, briefly. That she too could be restless,
confused, wanting, longing… not knowing how to proceed or what
exactly to do; as if they were both flying blindly. Yet the ball
was in her court, in a manner of speaking, and Deanna knew exactly
how he felt... what he wanted; what he hoped that she wanted
in turn.

He snorted then, gruffly, ironically, shaking his head to emphasize
his confusion and mild indignance. “She was the one that asked
for time, not me.”

“So you don’t have the slightest trepidation about rekindling
your romance? You don’t have any fears? Any hurts you have to
work through?” the doctor questioned bluntly, refusing to coddle
him in his pain, wanting him to face it all directly, for Deanna’s
sake as well as his own.

The First Officer sighed, his blue eyes troubled at he looked
at and through her. As if he were focusing on some far off destination,
some set idea just out of reach. “I do, but not in the way that
you may think. Mine are feelings of regret, of guilt. For some
reason I had it in my head that when the time was right Deanna
and I would get back together again. Perhaps I took it for granted
that it would happen that way, and that she would be willing
when the time came, and that I would have her. She is the only
woman I’ve ever been with that I knew was right, undeniably so.
The only one I've ever seen a future with. Perhaps that was cocky
of me. I love her enough not to force her into anything she is
not absolutely sure of.”

Beverly smiled, her eyes going soft as she reached over and touched
her friend gently on the hand in comfort. “Well, I’m not a counselor,
but I would recommend that you tell her what you just told me.
Let her know that you have your own doubts too, your own remorse.
It couldn’t hurt, and it may help put you both on the same level.
Assist you to understand each other. Where each of you are coming
from, and how to work through it.”

A small smile tugged at the corners of the First Officer’s mouth
as he eyed his friend, his shoulders straightening for the first
time in what seemed like ages.

“Deanna would say you missed your calling,” he announced, his
eyes lighting with determination and the prospect of hope, as
Crusher laughed in response.

“No thank you, I like being a doctor just fine. Besides, with
patients like the two of you I’d likely go nuts. ”


The padd in front of Deanna was no more than a faceless object:
blurred, murky, shaking gently with the hand that held it; as
if she no longer had the concentration to focus on anything other
than the rapid rhythm of her own heartbeat. In frustration she
gave up the pretense of trying to concentrate, gave up attempting
to convince herself that her mind wasn't elsewhere and that she
could perform her duty as if it were any other day, and life
was comfortable and safe.

In her mind images kept flashing: bright, beautiful, blue eyes,
a devilish grin, a knowing expression. Will laughing along side
her, teasing her, touching her, staring down at her with unmasked
love. And her treacherous body seemed abetted by the continual
play of her thoughts: tense and aching - longing for something
she had only recently rediscovered.

With a groan of frustration she buried her face in her hands.
Taking several shallow breaths in an attempt to regulate her
pulse, or at least stop the slight tremors that wracked her body,
yet to no avail. She couldn't get him out of her head, she wasn't
even sure that she wanted to, yet she couldn't prevent the turmoil
that existed inside her. The desires of her heart: to laugh,
to love, to cry, to be wrapped in strong arms that would hold
her throughout eternity and block her from solitude; at war with
the dawning of fear… Abandonment, career, duty, sacrifice - that
fate could change, that they would change, that she could be
hurt and not have the strength to recover.

Will, her friend. Will, her lover. Imzadi. Beloved… The first
and only person capable of invoking feelings within her that
she couldn't control, couldn't squelch or nurse accordingly -
a fact that was as frightening to her as it was exhilarating.

A beep from the comm caused her to jump, jarring her out of her
thoughts. She shook her head attempting to clear the cobwebs
out of her mind, despite it being an entirely futile maneuver.
Sighing, she answered the signal, steeling herself for a performance
of forced pleasantry that fell into oblivion once she saw who
had contacted her.

"Worf?" she asked, too emotionally frazzled to keep the tone
of surprise from her voice.

"I just got back to Deep Space Nine and remembered that I really
didn't get a chance to talk to you much during our mission in
the Briar Patch. You do not look well. What is wrong?" the baritone
voice of her old lover rang out, strong and fierce, yet controlled,
as if he were exerting his strong will even over that… so uniquely

She fought the urge to laugh at his question, briefly debating
giving an entirely honest answer. ‘What is wrong? Well, I'm confused,
uncertain, dazed… I'm in love, Worf. I'm head over heals in love
and it scares the hell out of me…' A part of her wondered if
he already guessed what she was going through. If he had witnessed,
as the others had, what boldness the intoxicating radiation of
the Ba’ku home world had inspired in a love that had never died…
the rekindling to a romance Worf had hypothesized would happen
years ago, when they, themselves, had split up.

"I'm fine. I've been busy trying to help the crew recover from
the lingering effects of the mission, and I'm in desperate need
of something chocolate, but otherwise good. How are you doing?"
she asked earnestly, remembering that Worf had recently lost
his wife, and feeling that pain on his behalf.

Worf, so newly wed, mourning the loss of a young and vibrant
woman. Deanna had been deeply saddened for him when she had heard
the news, and she remembered pondering at the time how short
life was and how valuable - how easy it was to take so many things
for granted. The thought made her breath catch in her throat
as she contemplated the ideal anew. She and Will. Will and her.
So many years, so much tenderness: as lovers, as friends - an
unending dance of 'what if', 'could be' and 'potentially', when
time was so infinitely precious. The cascade of emotion made
her head spin, and she tried desperately to put it aside, tried
desperately to appear unfazed to the klingon she had once, unwittingly,
hurt. The echoes of a conversation past reverberating through
her mind…

"Will and I are just friends, Worf, nothing more…"

"No you are not, and if you believe that than you are blind.

The two of you are bonded, mated… cowards by ignoring
what you mean to each other. I was a fool to think I could
come between you. You and I - we are not meant to be.
We should go back to being friends."

The sound of Worf's snort through the comm link jolted her out
of her reverie, unsettling her as much as the memories had… That
Worf had been right - that he had seen all along what she had
worked so hard to repress during the time she and he had been
together. He eyed her then with an almost gruffly amused expression,
as if he saw something telling in her countenance that he wanted
to call her on.

"Again you deny your feelings for Commander Riker. That is not
very honorable, Deanna," the Klingon stated knowingly, catching
her off guard by his insight, and his blunt regard to her situation.

"I haven't denied anything, Worf. I'm just trying to be cautious,"
she answered, more defensively than she would have liked, frustrated
that she had been so transparent.

"At this point caution is cowardly. I will tell you the same
thing I told him before I left… You're feelings for him have
remained unchanged since the day I met you. It is fear that is
preventing you from acting on them," he retorted, strongly, firmly,
staring her down through the flattened surface of her comm screen.

"I know," she replied, softly, her voice barely above a whisper.
And she did know - her reactions to the wild, reckless, sweltering
passion that had swirled between her and Will during the Ba’ku
mission. Her conversation with him in the corridor beseeching
for time - all defenses against uncontrollable, and intense feelings
that had nearly consumed her… yet ever so sweetly. To give in
to it, to allow herself to lose control: to feel, to lust, to
love - all took a degree of trust.

More images flashed through her mind. Will holding her whenever
she had hit a rough spot. Will smiling at her smugly from behind
a winning hand of cards or laughing with her as they teased each
other from the bridge on to the mess hall after duty. The earnest
expression he always used when he came to her for advice. The
way his eyes would light up, so crystalline blue, whenever their
gazes met after even the briefest of separations.

Trust and love. Over a decade of friendship, tears, laughter,
pain and happiness: all of it with a man who had forever held
her heart in more ways than one - regardless of careers, missions
or duty.

"I know," she told the screen once more, her voice flooded with
newfound determination.


If he was surprised to find her in his quarters, he didn't show
it, opting instead to eye her with an open myriad of emotion:
longing, need, want, love… caution, hesitancy, an earnest desire
not to crowd her or push her for fear that she might bolt from
his presence.

Her heart contracted at the sight of him, as lost and confused
as she was, but searching; ever seeking, for some form of completion
- some finality to almost two decades worth of knowing, and learning.

Her heart was pounding so loudly in her chest, and for a brief,
insane moment she couldn't breathe. As if fearing that the moment
could shatter, and she might find herself broken hearted yet…
Or worse, that she could hurt him anymore than she already had.
Her fists clutched and released by her sides as she willed herself
to take one shallow breath, then another… seeking her strength,
building her courage - convincing herself to jump into the proverbial
waters head first and ignore her own disabling anxiety.

"I hope you don't mind that I let myself in. I probably should
have contacted you first," she heard her voice announce. Or something
like her voice, though she couldn't remember a time she had sounded
so questioning; so uncertain of what to say, and how to go about
making everything better between them.

"You are more than welcome to come over anytime you want, Deanna.
You know that," he replied softly, sincerely, the corners of
his mouth tugging slighting in a small grin. Her heart somersaulted
once again at the sight of that smile; so familiar, so heart
warming… so Will. Was there ever a time when his smile, his eyes,
and his face hadn't moved her to distraction?

He didn't make a move towards her, didn't crowd her, or invade
her personal space… instead he continued to eye her earnestly,
letting her set the pace; allowing her to develop her own conclusions
and take her own steps.

"I wanted to apologize for being arrogant enough to believe that
one day, when I was ready, you'd just fall back into my arms
without question," he said suddenly, his voice gruff, as if he
were trying to hide the tremors in it. "I shouldn't have made
that kind of assumption… I should have anticipated that there
would be more to it than that and that we, the two of us, would
have a lot to work out first."

She shook her head then: temporarily speechless by his confession,
her own sweltering high of emotions, and how wonderfully dear
he was to her just then, trying with everything in him, just
as she was.

"It wasn't just you, I made that assumption too," she responded
quietly, her voice barely above a whisper while a light sheen
of tears started to glisten in her eyes. "I always thought that
it would be you and I one day. I couldn't see it any other way.
I just didn't think I would get so scared."

"Well, I'm not the psychologist between us, but isn't it okay
to be scared? Isn't that showing that we are doing something
right? This is a life altering decision, Deanna, for both of
us. I would be worried if we weren't scared. But I want you to
know that I do want this, more than anything. I've wanted it
for a very long time," he told her, meeting her gaze directly
and holding her captive by the depth of his feeling.

She wondered then if it was normal to feel as she did in that
instant, to feel so much at once and be nearly dizzy by the force
of it. She loved him. She felt it in the base of her soul: in
her heart, her mind… her body. She felt it in the way he eyed
her, in the way she eyed him; as if he were a focal point of
vivid reality in her world, bright and wondering, brilliant and
shining. And in that moment she realized that nothing else mattered.
Not really, not in any way that should prevent them from allowing
themselves to enjoy each other, to learn from each other… to
love each other.

"I want it too," she said at last, allowing the tears to fall
as a soft sort of peace found its way into her heart: warming
her, comforting her… delighting her.

His small grin became a brilliant smile as he bridged the space
between them, enveloping her in his arms without hesitation,
and with as much strength as he could muster, wanting to pull
her to him, in him, around him… Everywhere all at once - the
way it felt to be with her.

“Then nothing else matters,” he breathed into her hair, crushing
her to him tighter still. “We make the decision here and now
to be together, to make that our priority. Regardless of what
happens, or where we go.”

She pulled back, just slightly: to meet his eyes, to silently
convey all that she was feeling, and how much his words meant
to her. Hope and love swelled powerfully within her, so much
that she was intoxicated by it.

“Yes,” she agreed, simply, directly, yet flocked with so much
meaning: the giving of trust, the solidifying of commitment…
the dawning of the future.

His gaze was unwavering as his face inched closer to hers, less
than a breath away. “I love you,” he announced, his heart in
his eyes.

“I love you too,” she whispered - sure of it, meaning it; releasing
it like a poem from the recesses of her heart as their lips met
and all other communication ceased entirely.

Finally, they were home.

The End!