Falling Toward Destiny


By Felicia Ferguson

Keywords:  Riker/Troi, character death

Spoilers:  Star Trek Nemesis

Timeline:  Occurs after the movie.

Disclaimer:  Unfortunately, I can no more claim to own
TNG than I can claim to be the "mother of fanfiction."
More's the pity, on both counts.

Author's note:  This is my first Next Generation
fanfic and as such comments are
welcome (with the exception of flames).  I've written
in the style of Peter David's Imzadi books since I
like the way he breaks up the timeline.


"IMZADI!" The scream tore through her brain as she
watched the universe slow, watched with increasing
dread as the Romulan disrupter fired point-blank at
his head, watched as he crumpled to the deck.  Her
mind whispered, "Imazadi," a last desperate hope that
he would answer.  They had been separated by hundreds
and sometimes thousands of light years, but she could
always hear him, could always feel him.  Now there was
silence, a mind-numbing, body aching silence.  She
didn't feel her hand pull the phaser from his now lax
grip.  Didn't recognize herself setting the weapon to
its highest level and returning the Romulan's fire.
Instead, as she watched the figure disintegrate before
her, she knew only one thing:  she would never feel

A second later, the universe raced back to its normal
pace leaving the bridge mercifully deserted of enemy
fire.  Deanna closed her eyes a moment, then
recovering her equilibrium darted a quick, appraising
glance about the deck.  "Damage report, Mr. Lohn," she
ordered with brisk efficiency. 

The young ensign, his forehead scraped and caked with
blood, hobbled to his post.  He shook his head,
despair etched into his features.  "Oh, gods," he
murmured.  He was new to the Titan.  Deanna had met
with him during his first week and determined him to
be an eager young officer, if inexperienced in battle.
She prayed to whomever might be listening that he
would now rise to the occasion. 

"Mr. Lohn! Report!" she barked, jolting him from his

"It's bad, Commander.  Multiple casualties coming in
from all decks.  We have a hull breach on decks nine
through twelve.  Shields are down completely.  Weapons
banks are empty.  Warp drive is offline.  Impulse
engines are offline."  He raised his head, his gaze
meeting hers with what her counselor's training
supplied as the beginnings of post-traumatic shock.
"We're dead in the water."

Deanna, having guessed that much on her own, nodded
anyway.  "And the Romulans?"

The fingers that normally danced without hesitation
across the Ops panel now trailed across the undamaged
portions.  "All members from the boarding party are
confirmed dead.  One Warbird destroyed.  One
incapacitated with weapons offline.  And the third..."

Deanna turned to him and pierced him with an impatient
glare.  "Yes, Mr. Lohn, the third?"  She didn't have
time for hesitation.  None of them did.

"It's gone." 

"Care to elaborate, Ensign?"

Lohn gulped.  When he had first met Counselor Deanna
Riker, he had been amazed by her open warmth, her
happy welcome and encouraging smile.  She had asked
about his family, about his future goals, and about
himself.  She had cared. Her dark eyes had absorbed
every minute detail of their conversation.  Lohn had
been certain that she could never be anything but what
she was when he met her.  He now knew differently and
shuddered under the steely gaze that held a deep
abiding sorrow overlaid by a survivor's determination
to live. 

"I can find no trace of the ship, Commander.  There
are no indications that it is cloaked and still in the
area.  There is a warp trail leading off to sector
561, but it's faint."

Deanna nodded and turned back to the viewscreen, her
gaze snagged by the contorted bodies of the first
officer and lieutenant who had recently manned the
conn.  She swallowed her sorrow as she recognized
other casualties, crewmates who lay in various stages
of death.  She couldn't bring herself to look to the
right, to see him again.  Not now, not yet, not when
roughly three hundred people were relying on her to
save them. 

She squared her shoulders then briskly ordered a
secure hailing frequency to be opened.  "This is
Commander Deanna Ri--Troi." She couldn't speak the
name, not when the man who had given it to her now lay
face down, phaser burns blackening his skin,
disfiguring his hands and face.  But it didn't matter
that her eyes didn't recognize him.  Her heart knew
the truth.  She was empty.  Her whispered, "Imzadi,"
went unanswered.  He was dead.

She swallowed the tears that threatened to tear
through her commanding resolve.  There would be time
enough later to grieve.  For now, she had to make
certain that the Titan and the rest of her crew
survived. "I repeat," she continued in a stronger
voice, "this is Commander Deanna Troi of the
Federation starship Titan.  To any Federation ships in
the area, we request your assistance.  We have been
attacked by a renegade group of Romulan Warbirds.  We
have sustained heavy damage and the casualties include
the captain, the first officer and several hundred

Deanna felt an absurd burst of pride that her voice
had not cracked.  Referring to him by his title
allowed her to view his death from a remote portion of
her mind.  Even though nothing about her felt remote.
She was raw, wounded, and dying herself, but to look
at her she was a pillar of strength.  So this was why
Starfleet had balked so long at allowing married
couples to serve together. 

The turbolift doors slid open to reveal several
harried members of the medical team, each with varying
amounts of blood soaked into their uniforms.  Deanna
watched with the impassivity of shell-shock as they
tended to the wounded and removed the bodies of the
dead.  A lieutenant dressed in the blue colors of the
medical corps sucked in a startled gasp as he counted
the number of pips on the collar of one of the
victims.  He glanced to another doctor, then to her. 

Suddenly depleted of all strength, Deanna sunk into
the captain's chair.  Her chair now.  The ship had
been secured, damage assessed, and the enemy
contained.  With nothing left to fight, her adrenaline
deserted her and all she could do was wait.  Wait for
Starfleet to answer, wait for engineering to repair
the ship, wait for the Romulans to return, wait...for
anything to happen.  Because nothing could be worse
than what had already occurred.



The shuttlecraft Calliope landed in the shuttlebay
with a light thump.  The young ensign piloting the new
command crew blushed slightly at the landing.  The
captain raised his eyebrows a fraction, but otherwise
made no comment.  The counselor, his wife, offered the
pilot a reassuring smile.  He blushed again, realizing
that a man could lose himself in her dark eyes.  Her
smile warmed with understanding.  Perhaps that was
what her husband had first thought when they'd met. 

The captain cleared his throat and the ensign jumped,
quickly returning his attention to the control panels.
He didn't hear the captain comment to the counselor,
"Flirting with the junior officers, Commander?"  A
light smile decorated his lips.  He understood the
younger man's reaction and could no more hold it
against him than he could change Earth's orbit.  Will
knew the effect his wife had on men, yet no jealousy
lurked underneath his question.  She was his Imzadi.
She belonged to him alone just as he belonged to her.
To question the bond was laughable.

Deanna raised her gaze to her husband and caressed his
bearded cheek.  "Why would I flirt with junior
officers when I have a captain who takes me to bed?"
Her whispered response, accompanied by the sultry
darkening of her already coffee-colored eyes, sent a
swift wave of longing through him.  Soon, Imzadi.
We do have new quarters to christen.

Will's eyes danced with mirth as she playfully rapped
a data padd against his arm. Opening her mouth to
respond, she closed it as the shuttle doors opened
revealing the Titan's first officer and security
chief. She settled for sending, You are

No, just a man in love. 

The words warmed her just as he'd known they would and
Deanna had to force her brain to focus on the two
officers who waited to greet them.  An Andorian male,
his white shock of hair styled so that it lay flat
between his antennae, bobbed his head in greeting
while the Vulcan female stood with her hands behind
her back.

"Captain, I am Commander Shek Lemoor, your first
officer.  And this is Lieutenant Commander T'Noth,
chief of security.  I apologize that more of command
staff was unable to be present, sir," the Andorian
first officer said as he gestured to the rest of the
deserted shuttle bay. 

Will smiled and shook his head.  "Quite alright,
Number One, I understand that we are under a tight
timeline to get aboard and out to the Romulan Neutral
Zone.  I'd rather have them at their posts and meet
them once we're en route."  He paused then indicated
Deanna who stood on his right.  "This is Commander
Deanna Troi, the new counselor."

"It is an honor to meet you."

"You are empathic," the security chief stated in
matter-of-fact acceptance, her Vulcan eyebrows raised.

Deanna smiled and nodded once.  "I haven't had many
occasions to work with Vulcans.  I would be interested
in exchanging information about your own telepathy

"I look forward to it, Commander," Lieutenant
Commander T'Noth replied. 

As the Vulcan woman turned aside so that Riker and
Troi could pass in front of her behind Lemoor, the
counselor hid a smile.  Deanna had heard reports of
the legendary T'Pol's beauty, but she hadn't
encountered what she would term a ravishing Vulcan of
the female sex.  Until now.  Good.  It was about time
Will met someone impervious to his legendary charm.
He might be a married man, but she knew for certain he
wasn't dead and that was definitely the state a man
would have to be in for him not to notice the lovely

"The rest of the senior staff will meet us at 2100 in
the conference lounge.  Until then, I've arranged for
a tour of the ship."  The Andorian paused to allow
Riker to counter schedule if he wanted to do something
else.  When he made no objection, the first officer
gestured to the shuttle bay area. 

"This is the largest of three shuttle bays and extends
the length of the saucer section of the ship.  It and
the other two bay areas were designed for rapid
deployment and retrieval of shuttles as well as other
small craft as needed.  There are 21 decks in total
with crew quarters on decks five, six and seven."

The doors to the shuttle bay opened revealing the
traditional gray and red hallway.  Lemoor turned left
and nodded to the group of engineers who knelt beside
a computer panel.  The Andorian stopped in midstride
and stood at attention.  "Captain on deck!" he cried,
his loud voice easily booming down the hall.  The
engineers snapped to attention. 

Will, not having expected such a display, blinked then
looked to Deanna.  A slight, proud  smile tinged the
corners of her lips.  Captain.  He was now officially
a captain.  There would be no return to the Enterprise
after a short mission, nor would Picard replace him in
"The Chair."  Captain.  He, Will Riker, was the

Sensing Deanna's unabashed pride, Will squared his
shoulders and nodded to the engineers and other
personnel who had just entered that section of the
hall as the command had been voiced.  Riker drew every
experience he possessed to the fore and, in his most
commanding voice, stated, "At ease.  Return to your
duties.  I'm sure we'll have ample opportunities to
become better acquainted.  Mr. Lemoor, if you would, I
believe we have a tour to finish."

True to his word, the first officer conducted the new
captain and counselor on a thorough tour of the Titan,
emphasizing the important points, such as the fifteen
photon/quantum torpedo banks.  It was a sight that was
relatively reminiscent of a certain Klingon.  But with
the Andorians, being similarly warlike and
appreciative of the finer combative abilities, it was
to be expected.  And Deanna just smiled.  No, it
wasn't the Enterprise, but their new home was shaping
up quite nicely.


"You know, you could have checked my schedule this
morning to see if I had time for this, and you would
have found that I most definitely do not."

The man to whom the complaint was directed looked up
from his medical tricorder and smiled at the Bajoran
woman who sat, quite impatiently, on the biobed.  Lash
Vaden, the chief engineer glared at him.  "The new
captain just came on board and if he finds Engineering
bereft of its chief engineer when he stops by on the
tour Lemoor so precipitously concocted, I'm sure there
will be hell to pay."

The doctor nodded, still reading the results of the
scan.  "And you can blame your absence on the fact
that you have been avoiding your yearly physical and
the chief medical officer finally caught up to you."

"Well," the Bajoran answered, "you might have at least
mentioned this last night.  Or better yet even done it
last night."

"Vaden, last night, a tricorder wasn't even remotely a
consideration.  Besides, I know how much you enjoy
surprise inspections."  His smile warmed as he watched
a blush steal across his wife's cheeks. 

The other medical officers, accustomed to the give and
take that existed between the two, offered amused
glances at the engineer's predicament, but otherwise
offered no assistance.  No doubt Dr. Harper was merely
paying her back for some ordeal she had created for

"What do you think about the new captain, anyway,"
Michael Harper asked, taking pity on his wife and
allowing her a graceful exit from a discussion about
their previous night's activities. 

She shook her dark head and shrugged, her earring
jingling for a moment.  "From what I hear, he's quite
the ladies' man." 

Michael raised a speculative blond brow.  His green
eyes gleamed with consideration. "So are you saying I
should be worried?"

"Hardly," she said, "I wouldn't know what to do with
another man as amorous as you.  Besides, he's married
now.  That fact has been known to tame a few wild

The tricorder beeped, interrupting his amused retort.
"Perfectly health, Commander Lash.  You are fit for

"Like you didn't already know that.  You just wanted
to torment me."  She hopped down from the bed,
considering a site-to-site transport back to
Engineering, and muttered, "Never marry a doctor.
Mother always told me to never marry a doctor.  Gods,
why didn't I listen to her?"

"Because your father told you to marry me," drifted
her husband's light reply.  Vaden refused to dignify
that with an answer. 


The doors to their quarters hissed for a moment,
pausing Deanna as she pulled yet another trinket from
the Starfleet issued transfer container.  How in the
world did one accumulate so much stuff?  Of course, it
was no longer just her "stuff" that had to be
unpacked.  Example number one being the wooden
figurine she now held in her hand.  Shaking her head,
she rose from her knees and sat on the bed.  "I can't
believe you kept this."

Will glanced through the doorarch to their bedroom
then smiled at the object in question.  "I'll have you
know some of my fondest memories are attached to that
Horga'hn.  Picard's expression when he returned from
Risa being at the top of the list."

Deanna stood, fighting the smile that begged to be
released.  "You didn't even forewarn him what it meant
before he transported down to the surface."

"Some things are more fun to find out for yourself.
But I would have given several bars of latinum to see
his face when he was first approached."

She lost the battle with her lips and a full smile
broke through her restraint. 

"And," Will's smile turned sly as a wicked gleam lit
his eyes, "he had a good time, didn't he?" 

Deanna couldn't help but laugh, remembering how rested
Picard had been when he'd returned.  Vash was
certainly a surprise.  No one expected the captain to
find a vacation in itself in one tempestuous human

"But one question that I would like an answer to is,
why are we talking about Picard's romantic escapades
when we should be discussing our own?  We have
quarters to christen if you remember."  Will grabbed
her free hand and pulled her to him, divesting her of
the statue and setting it on a side table.  He placed
a light kiss on her forehead and closed his eyes,
slipping into her mind and mentally began undressing
her.  Eyes widened at the ease with which he had
entered her mind, Deanna pulled back.  Disappointment
tinged their bond as she sighed, "Will, we have a lot
of unpacking to do." 

He glanced around to the myriad of containers still in
various stages of being emptied then turned back,
including Deanna in his appraising look.  Lips pursed,
he paused for a thoughtful moment.  She felt the
tiniest thread of deviousness weave its way between
them before he said, "I think the first thing I want
to unpack is my wife."  Lowering his lips to hers,
Will set about to convince her of the correctness of
his priority list.  Not that she, in truth, needed
much convincing. 

Brush, nibble, lick.  Brush, nibble, lick.  Sensation
streaked through her.  Their bond opened fully,
expanding, flowering, luring them deeper.  Sweet
nectar gushed over them as her tongue slid over his.
Heat pooled within her, weighting her arms, buckling
her knees.  Will banded an arm around her middle
tugging her closer, branding her with the heat of his
touch.  Her fingers drifted of their own accord into
the hair at his nape, threading through it until she
gently cupped his head. 

More desperate for her than breath, Will was
nonetheless forced to pull away.  His broad chest
heaved as if he'd run full distance of the ship.  "You
are so beautiful," he whispered, the words barely
audible in the space between their breaths.  Deanna
raised her fingers to his kiss-bruised lips.  "Shh…"
Imzadi.  Her dark eyes locked with his blue
ones and the universe disappeared.  She could deny him
nothing when they were joined like this. 

Their bond throbbed, aching for completion, urging
them on.  Through the haze, Will's mind focused enough
to realize that they were both still fully clothed, a
state that was definitely not conducive to the
scenario he had in mind.  Deanna smiled as his thought
whispered through her.  Oh, my, and what a scenario it

His hands left her shoulders, rising to pull the
barrette from her hair.  She had chosen a more formal
look for the day, arranging her long dark hair to fall
down her back rather than around her shoulders as she
normally wore it on the Enterprise. Without conscious
thought, Will dropped the intricate Betazoid figure to
the floor leaving his fingers free to bury themselves
in her long, straight tresses.  The intimate sight
mesmerized them both, stirring the heat that pooled
between them. 

Suddenly flooded with his desire as well as hers,
Deanna moistened her throbbing lips then set about to
increase the pace of their lovemaking.  Her lips
trailed kisses along his ear, pausing for a fraction
of a moment to suck the lobe before leaving it with a
light scrape of her teeth.  His heady, musky male
scent enticed her lower.  A low moan escaped him as
she latched onto the vein pulsing in his neck.
Planning to leave a mark, Imzadi?

Deanna's satisfied mental chuckle reverberated through
him.  More than one.  Good thing Beverly examined
you before we left the Enterprise.  Wouldn't want to
shock Dr. Harper.

Will's laugh died as she caught the zipper of his
uniform jacket between her teeth and tugged it down
revealing the cranberry tunic of a command officer.  A
funny thought struck her as she pulled the tunic over
his head.  Will was now very definitely hers to

You're just now figuring that out? He asked
recognizing the raging desire in her eyes as a
companion for his own.  His hot breath caressed her
cheek. Deanna, unable to deny herself, drew one of his
flat nipples between her lips.  Her teeth rasped the
rigid peak. He cried out then sucked in a harsh breath
as her tongue soothed the sweet pain.  Her fingers
molded the muscles of his chest.  Springy chest hair
tickled her fingertips.  She had had lovers before,
but Will Riker was her first and her feminine mind
could not help but compare her husband to the man he
had once been. 

Deanna marveled at the changes as she kissed and
licked her way down the contours of his heavily
muscled chest.  Bypassing his engorged sex, she smiled
at his mental frustrated sigh.  Her smile widened as
her tongue slipped between the twin sacs to trace the
intimate outline of each.  Blood roared through him.
Heated lust hit him in a relentless wave.  She had
pleasured him before, but never had he vibrated with
such intense need.  Will clasped his hands around her
head, tangling his fingers in her dark hair. 

When she finally took him in her mouth, she stole the
remains of his ever-weakening grip on sanity.  Will
grabbed her shoulders and jerked her upward melding
her mouth to his in the space of seconds.  Consuming
her with voracious intent.

A muffled, needy sob whispered across their bond
fanning the blaze that surged between them.  Neither
knew nor cared who thought it.  Lacking finesse and
his famous seductive skills, too raw from the liquid
desire, Will shucked her uniform top, tunic and all,
over her head breaking their lips for mere seconds,
then filled his hands.  He was beyond seduction,
beyond any thought of gentleness.  Part of him was
sorry for it, but she understood, her need had
escalated with his and drove them toward completion. 

Instead of brushing her soft skin, he kneaded.
Instead of tantalizing her pert nipples, he pinched,
rocketing her desire higher.  Twisting her tighter on
their rack of passion.  Dragging his mouth from hers,
he lowered his head and feasted.  He tongued her tips,
aching from his rough sensual play, soothed for a
moment, then sucked hard.  First one, the other.

The universe crashed down around her, rocked through
their bond, engulfing them both in her release.  Will
fought the rush of sensation, the temptation to seek
his own.  To answer her siren's call. Wrestling some
semblance of control from passion's grip, he lifted
her and wrapped her legs about his waist. 

Deanna, replete with satisfaction, still yearned for
the more that danced just out of her reach.  She rose
over his engorged head then sank down, clenching and
releasing at odd intervals to slow her descent.  Will
let her set the tempo knowing from past experience she
would relinquish control soon enough.

But unlike all those years ago, she didn't break when
he expected.  She, too, had matured, had learned how
to prolong passion, the desire for fulfillment.  Will
realized that as his control once again began to slip.
Determined to regain his sanity, he sank to his knees
and lay her back.  He slid out of her keeping the head
at the soft folds of her entrance.  Deanna squirmed
toward him.

Please, Imzadi. Her dark unfocused gaze locked
with his, echoing her mental entreaty.

But Will merely smiled. 

With painstaking care, he slid home on her cry of
pleasure only to repeat the move a moment later,
continuing his sweet torment.  The assault went
unabated; his lips enclosed her nipple engulfing it in
moist heat much as he was now engulfed.

Deanna arched beneath him, pressing her breast against
his mouth, offering him the entire orb to suckle. 

Deanna, my wife, my love, my Imzadi.  My greatest
joy and deepest desire.

Will sent the full gamut of his emotions for her
across their bond.  They mixed melding into their own
creation flooding her, overwhelming him.  A cry of
Imzadi was torn from their lips and their minds
as they were lost, soaring in a world filled with



Deanna sighed as she surveyed the room.  Boxes still
lay at odd intervals around the room, their contents
no further unpacked and in their places than they were
last night.  And it was all Will Riker's fault.  Well,
his and that damned Horga'hn.  Now there were
crewmembers to meet and profiles to build.  She did
not have time to unpack.  Not that Will would
appreciate her predicament.

"Oh, don't be so hard on yourself, Deanna.  Admit it,
my idea for last night's unpacking was much more
interesting and rewarding than yours," Riker called
from their bathroom. 

Deanna sent him a dark look, then picked up a box and
set it on the table beside her morning cocoa.  Taking
a sip of the luscious dark liquid, she pulled an item
out of the container and glanced thoughtfully between
it and the rest of the room.  The Sacred Chalice of
Rixx.  Her mother's most prized possessions -- or at
least most often quoted.  Lwaxana had given it to them
as a wedding gift; the chalice had been cast to honor
the marriage of Emperor Rixx to the mythical goddess
Niiope.  The gesture, if not the symbolism, was
touching.  But now Deanna was forced to find a place
of prominent display for "a moldy old pot." 

"Why don't you put it in your office?  That way you
have a daily reminder of your mother."

Deanna shook her head and sighed.  "I don't need a
daily reminder of my mother, thank you very much.  She
is, as you will admit, quite hard to forget on her own
merits.  But that would be a good place to put it.
I'll think about it."

Will tossed the towel he had been using to dry his
hair over his uniformed shoulder and padded to the
replicator.  His feet were bare, a fact that never
failed to amuse Deanna.  For a man who hated to wear
shoes, he spent most of his day in the black Starfleet
issued boots.  "Two Rigelian eggs, scrambled, one
piece of cinnamon toast."  He glanced around the room,
absorbing the normalcy of the scene.  They were like
an old married couple.

"And just how does an 'old married couple' act?"
Deanna asked as she crossed her arms and raised an
inquisitive eyebrow. 

Will gestured expansively.  "Like this.  Finishing
each other's sentences, knowing each other's likes and
dislikes."  He pulled her into his arms and kissed the
tip of her nose.  "Of course, we do have the advantage
of telepathy and fifteen years of friendship."

Hmmpf, she thought, slightly mollified by his
explanation.  I still take exception to the 'old'

Riker chuckled, lowering his lips to hers for a soft,
loving kiss.

"Commander Lemoor to Captain Riker."

Will stifled a curse as he tapped his comm badge.  "Go
ahead, Number One."

"Captain, communiqué from Admiral Janeway."  Deanna
pulled out of Will's arms to return to her cocoa and

"Why does it seem like we're always getting
interrupted by admirals?" he muttered, regretting the
loss of her warmth.  "Patch her through to my ready
room.  I'm on my way."  With a rueful shake of his
head, he swallowed a forkful of eggs and took a bite
of the toast.  Still chewing, he bussed his wife on
the cheek and turned to go.

Deanna smiled as the doors opened.  "Have a nice day,
dear!" she called after him, but he had already
disappeared down the hall. 

And hopefully and even nicer evening, slipped
through her mind.

He had forgotten.  She was sure of it. Don't forget
we're supposed to meet the doctor and chief engineer
in Ten Forward for dinner.

Ah, damn.  I forgot.

Deanna couldn't help but chuckle at his put-upon tone.
She picked up another of his items from the container
on the table and sent, Welcome to the life of a

He mentally shook his head.  That's not fair.  This
never happened to Kirk.  When given the choice between
his crewmates and a sexy female for company, he always
took the sexy female.

Pleased with his analogy, she promised, And so will
you…after our dinner.

Deanna felt his satisfaction with her schedule for the
evening then the link weakened to its normal state.
She could easily feel him, but the connection was not
as focused.  She was, in fact, amazed at the strength
of their telepathic bond.  She had always been told
that the link between couples grew after the joining
ceremony, but knowing intellectually and knowing
intrinsically were two different things. 

Before their marriage, even after they had rekindled
their relationship, Will's ability to send was still
limited and only occurred within a close proximity to
her, though he could sense much of what she might
broadcast.  Now telepathic communication between them
was a regular occurrence. 

She would have to teach a proper amount of shielding,
especially given the sometimes lascivious nature of
his thoughts about her.  It would not be professional
for the Counselor to blush during a therapy session.
And the same was true for him, as well.  There were
times on the Enterprise when she would watch him issue
orders on the bridge that would send her own mind out
of the professional realm and very definitely into

Deanna shook her head, trying to pull her thoughts
away from that delicious path.  She still had time to
unpack a few more containers before her meetings
began.  Taking a sip of her cocoa, she squared her
shoulders and set herself to the task.


"Seems like Romulus has become a popular place these
days," Riker remarked as he tapped the console.  The
miniature viewscreen rose with a shush, on it the blue
and white Federation logo glowed.  "On screen."

The screen blinked and the logo was replaced by
Admiral Kathryn Janeway, sitting much like Riker
behind her own desk.  "Good morning, Will.  I trust
that you and Deanna have settled in on the Titan."

"We're getting there," he replied with a smile.
"Unpacking is always quite a chore."

Janeway's gravelly chuckle echoed over the comm line.
"You've been cleared by Command to leave as soon as
you've been briefed.  The Romulan Commander Donatra
has confirmed that Shinzon's remaining sympathizers
have been brought under control and from all that I
have come to know about her, I would believe that
statement.  So there should be no problems from that

"An expert on the Romulan culture will be joining you
en route…someone I think Commander Troi might have
dealt with on occasion."

Riker looked curious at this, knowing that the only
two Romulans she had had direct contact with were
dead, one via suicide and the other murdered. 

"A man named M'Ret.  She once helped him and two of
his aides defect.  M'Ret has agreed to act as an
advisor to the negotiations."  She raised a
precautionary hand as she continued, "None of the
Romulans know that he will be aboard and, if I were
you, I would keep it that way.  There's no need to
apprise them of our ace in the hole."

Riker nodded and steepled his fingers before him,
considering the potential ramifications.  "And M'Ret
is fully briefed on the situation?"

Janeway nodded.  "He is prepared to guide you not only
in matters of politics, but also Romulan etiquette."

The captain raised his eyebrows at her words causing
Janeway sit up straighter in her chair.  "This is an
important moment in the history of our relationship
with the Romulans, Will.  The Federation needs this to
work.  If it requires a little Romulan polish, so be
it.  The Hood will rendezvous with you after they pick
up M'Ret from Vulcan.  It seems he's been spending a
good deal of time with his cousins, working in his own
way for reunification."

"Reunification?  Is that to be a parameter of the

The admiral shook her head.  "No, Ambassador Spock
himself stated that should the Romulans wish to
discuss reunification, it should be separate from the
Federation talks.  It seems as though he thinks our
cause is much more likely than his own."  Janeway
paused, then gave her best approving mother smile.
"Good luck, Will, and congratulations on your first
command.  From all I've heard, it's about time you
took Starfleet up on its offer."

Will grinned good-naturedly.  "Who knows, Admiral,
maybe someday one of your colleagues will call Romulus

"I look forward to it.  Janeway out."

Riker sat for a moment more contemplating the now dark
screen.  He had said it in jest, but the reality of
Romulan involvement in Starfleet was now more possible
than fantastic.  How times changed.  Will was certain
Kirk would have felt the same about Klingons serving
as Starfleet officers. 

With an awed shake of his head, Riker rose.  Starfleet
had given the go ahead for them to leave space dock.
They were ready.  A familiar quickening of his blood
gripped him.  He couldn't help but hear, "Space the
final frontier," echo through his mind.  No, it wasn't
the Enterprise, but it was time to boldly go.  Riker
squared his shoulders and walked out of the ready
room.  Taking his seat in the captain's chair, he
directed, "Helm, set a course for the Romulan Neutral
Zone.  Engage."



Newly promoted commander-in-chief Donatra sat on a
stone in the middle of the Valley of Chula
contemplating.  Her recent duties, having included the
forcible removal of all Romulans still loyal to
Shinzon, had not offered her enough time for either a
visit to her favorite childhood place or
contemplation.  The Empire was nothing if not
consistent.  The elevation of a new praetor always
meant destruction of his--or in this case,
her--enemies within the government.  And yet, in its
own way, the Romulan Senate had undergone a
revolution.  Shinzon's coup d'etat had succeeded in
doing what so many others, her father included, had
failed to do with words.  Gone were the old minds who
valued domination over cooperation, war over peace. 

"Could it be possible, Papa?" she asked the silent
night sky.  "Could mine be the generation to instill
peace between the Empire and the Federation?"

Commander Danar had paid the ultimate price for
speaking of peace, of negotiation, between Romulus and
one of her conquered worlds.  When Donatra was nine
she had woken up one morning to find her father gone,
taken in the middle of the night, presumably by the
Tal Shiar.  Her mother, who had slept right next to
him, hadn't heard a sound.  He never returned and
though no reason was ever given, Donatra knew what had
happened.  She would never forget.

The same thing that had happened to so many
dissenters.  The lucky ones defected.  Those who
misplaced their trust in their officials lost their
lives.  Those who kept a tight rein on their tongues
rose in the ranks of the Empire.  Those like Suran,
may his soul rest.  Suran.  He had been father,
mother, and mentor to her from a few days after her
father's disappearance until his own death.  She
missed him.  His wise counsel, his willing ear, his
sharp tongue, all were now gone.  But he had died
defending the Empire.  There was no death more sacred.

He, too, had died before the dream was fully realized.
They, her father, Suran and all the ones who came
before, had left their dreams of peace as her legacy.
Donatra leaned back against the rock and smiled as the
cool wind brushed her face and lifted her dark hair.
The Valley was filled with fond memories of a child
scampering through the stones hearing the voice of her
father, and later Suran,  calling after her to take
care as she crossed the rocky outcroppings.  She had
loved them dearly and would ensure that their dreams
came true.

"Papa, Suran, your fondest wish is but a day away.  Be
with us.  Enjoy your victory even in death."


Deanna stared at the blank space on a cabinet in her
office knowing that it would be the perfect location
for the Sacred Chalice of Rixx and yet also knowing
that she would see it every time she looked up to
welcome an incoming patient.  She rose from her chair
behind the desk and walked around the room, mentally
repositioning the furniture so that the desk, the
chair, anything that she used didn't directly face
that one blank spot. 

Heaving a disgusted sigh, she murmured, "Once again,
Mother, you have to have your way.  Fine."  She
plopped the pot down on the cabinet and shook her
head.  Deanna returned to her seat and admitted,
albeit reluctantly, that the Chalice looked at home.
She could almost feel her mother's satisfaction all
the way from Betazed.

The door chime pulled her from her blackening
thoughts.  "Come."

The doors slid open to reveal the blue figure of Shek
Lemoor.  He paused at the threshold awaiting her
acknowledgment.  "Mr. Lemoor, please come in," she
greeted, rising from the chair and circling around the
desk.  With a slight gesture, she indicated he take a
seat on the couch.

"I am uncertain why I am here, Counselor."  Lemoor
continued to stand, ramrod straight; his discomfort
would be obvious to even a non-empath.  "As you must
know, I passed the psychological evaluations from the
Starfleet psychologists before I was assigned to this

Deanna smiled and inclined her head.  "I understand
your curiosity, but I merely wanted to talk with you."

"Ah," he replied, a slight look of distaste slipping
over his blue features, "a recreational activity."

The counselor smiled and shook her head.  It would
appear that he, like most of his species, subscribed
to the theory that recreational activities were to be
shunned in favor of more productive work.  It never
ceased to amaze her that Andorians, who valued
expression through art, didn't consider art, and the
creation of it, to be a recreational activity. 

It appeared that she would have to couch the visit in
terms he could understand, if not accept.  "No, not
really.  I make it a practice to know everyone on
board a ship.  It helps me to better gauge them in
high-stress situations to determine their emotions and
readiness.  It enhances my abilities to accurately
advise the captain in matters pertaining to the crew."

Lemoor's eyebrows twitched in curiosity.  "And
speaking with you during a time when there is little
to no battle stress will allow you to establish a
baseline for my behavior.  Interesting concept.  I had
not considered that."  His stance relaxed somewhat
even though he continued to stand.  "What do you wish
to discuss?"

Deanna squelched a chuckle.  It was as if, in the
Andorians, the universe had created a perfect mixture
of Vulcan and Klingon.  The species, while highly
logical and proud of its status in the study of the
sciences, was also a skilled military force.  "Would
you like something to drink?  Some srjula tea,
perhaps? In understand that is a favored drink on

"That will not be necessary.  I am not in need of
refreshment at this time."

The counselor nodded and resumed her seat behind her
desk.  The first officer elected to remain standing.
Deanna normally made a practice of cultivating
relationships over a period of months, conducting
regular crew evaluations.  However, with their time
limited to the day of travel to the Romulan Neutral
Zone, she was forced to resort to more immediate

In her years of counseling experience, Deanna had
found that personal questions often elicited the
keenest emotional responses and when pressed for time
she relied on them to create emotional profiles.
Keeping her mind open, she picked up a data padd and
tabbed through the information on the screen.  "I
noticed in your personnel file that you are unmarried.
I didn't think that was typical of your people."

Lemoor shook his head.  "You are correct.  The typical
age of marriage is 23.  I decided to devote my life to
Starfleet after the death of my parents in a shuttle
accident.  It was my way of honoring their memories.
They were descendants of those who originally joined
the Federation as a charter world."

Pride.  Intense familial pride, which wasn't
unexpected given what she knew of the Andorians.  An
underlying sense of…what?  Irritation?
Disgruntlement?  No, it was dissatisfaction.
Starfleet was not his first choice. 

"What did you do before you went to the Academy?" she
asked, building on the emotional thread.

"I was an artist.  Now, I am an officer and I paint in
my spare time.  Have you received enough information,
Counselor?  If so, I would like to return to my

"Yes, and I do look forward to working with you,
Commander Lemoor."


Captain's Personal Log:  We have rendezvoused with
the Hood.  It was good to see Captain DeSoto again. 
The Romulan advisor, M'Ret, will be beaming aboard
shortly.  I am interested in meeting the man who will
be guiding our steps through these negotiations. And
even more interested in his reaction to returning to
Romulus after so many years.


The familiar glow of the transporter flickered around
him.  His nerves raced, skin tingled.  Ambassador
M'Ret (the title was honorary since there was no such
thing as a Romulan ambassador to the Federation--at
least not by the Empire's choice) waited for the
nothingness to overwhelm him.  Most people stated they
never felt it.  Never recognized the brief "death" for
what it was.  But he did.  He hated this part: the
scattering of his atoms across the universe and then
their coalescence once more into his being. 

Unfortunately, there was nothing to be done for it.
The time had come for him to be of service to the
Empire once more and he was not about to delay his
duty.  After all, it was the most expedient method of
transfer and there was no time to act childishly.
M'Ret closed his eyes and sent a silent prayer to the
gods that he would appear again on the other side of
the transporter.

When his consciousness returned to him seconds later,
M'Ret opened his eyes and looked around the transport
room of the Titan.  He breathed in a silent sigh of
relief.  Once again, he had survived. 

"Ambassador," a deep voice greeted, "welcome aboard
the Titan. I'm Captain William Riker and this is
Counselor Deanna Troi."

The Romulan bowed slightly to both of the officers,
his sharp basilisk eyes missing nothing as they
scanned the room.  Although he had been in exile for
years, he was still very much the epitome of an
official of the Romulan Star Empire.  He wore the
traditional robes of the Senate and Riker wondered if
that was merely for comfort or more to reinforce the
origins of their new advisor. 

Deanna, sensing Riker's uneasiness, sent, His
loyalty is with us, though his affection is for his
home.  I sense no ulterior motives.

The captain nodded inconspicuously in acknowledgment
of her assessment.

"I greet you, Captain," M'Ret said, stepping down from
the transporter pad.  He turned to Troi and continued,
"Counselor, I was never given the opportunity to thank
you for the great service performed for me and my
aides.  Let me say now, I am grateful for your help."

The counselor smiled in thanks.  "I'm glad I was able
to.  I only wish that N'Vreth was still alive."

M'Ret nodded, his gaze somber with memory.  "I, also.
I owe him a debt that can never be repaid."

"If we are successful, Ambassador, perhaps his
sacrifice will not be in vain," Riker replied as he
led the trio out of the transporter room to the
turbolift.  "Unfortunately, we must dispense with the
pleasantries since we're on a tight schedule.  If you
are ready, I'd like to go ahead with the briefing."

"That's perfectly fine, Captain."

"Bridge," Riker directed the 'lift.  The observation
lounge had been set up for the debriefing. 

As the turbolift began to move, M'Ret continued, "I
have heard certain rumors through the network. The
Romulan fleet was decimated by Shinzon, that you
already know.  However, the fleet hasn't been rebuilt.
The Empire has been weakened and there are threats
from conquered worlds."

Startled by the information, Troi asked, "Are you
saying this is the reason for the Romulans' sudden
interest in peace with the Federation?"

"No," the Romulan acknowledged, then added with a
grimace, "but it may be a factor."




Ten Forward was packed. But with it being the last night before they reached the Romulan Neutral Zone, Riker couldn't blame his new crew for wanted to blow off a little steam. If the thoroughness of M'Ret's briefing was any indication, none of them would be getting free time until the negotiations were completed.

I was beginning to wonder if you two would ever take a break, Deanna thought as the doors slid open and she felt Riker walk into the room. I ordered you some food and the three of us already started. He nodded to a few people as he scanned the room for Deanna. He already knew where she was, could pinpoint her with his eyes blindfolded thanks to their bond, but there was no need to flaunt the fact in front of a roomful of subordinates.

M'Ret is a perfectionist. And we're only breaking for dinner. We're regrouping in an hour. Aloud he said, "My apologies for the late arrival," as he squeezed Deanna's shoulder, smiling at the other two officers. He took the vacant seat next to his wife, across from the doctor and, looking down at the plate, sent an appreciative thanks to Deanna. Roast beef, thinly sliced and drenched in gravy, and mashed potatoes. I thought you might want something that would last through the night.

Harper shook his head. "Understandable, Captain, no apologies needed."

Riker held up a forestalling hand as a waiter sat a cup of coffee on the table. "Will, please. We're off duty."

"Not him," the chief engineer remarked, nodding to her husband. "Doctor's are never off duty."

Harper chuckled. "Well, I might at least have a chance with this posting. This is the first time I've had another doctor to work with -- even if he is in his final year at Starfleet Medical. This new residency program is an interesting concept."

"I think that was Beverly's doing," Deanna stated raising her glass of Utta Berry juice, the blue liquid swirled and tickled her senses as the tart relative of the human blueberry slid down her throat. "She would always complain that Starfleet didn't fully prepare its doctors for the rigors of life on a starship."

"That's right," the doctor replied, taking a sip of his own drink. "I'd forgotten that you both served with Dr. Crusher on the Enterprise."

Before anyone could begin to respond, Harper's comm badge beeped. "Sickbay to Dr. Harper."

The doctor tapped the badge and, heaving a put-upon sigh at the sound of the resident doctor's voice, answered, "Go ahead, Dr. Vigal."

"Sorry to interrupt, sir, but there's something in the lab you might want to take a look at. I think we've isolated a strain of Wastellian Fever."

Vaden sent her husband a questioning glance, but he only closed his eyes and shook his head with hopelessness. "I'll be right there." He ended the call, sparing an apologetic glance for his wife before turning his attention to the captain. "It's nothing. I promise. One of the side-effects of having a medical degree fresh out of school: you find diseases everywhere you look. Nonetheless, I'm going to go check it out. My apologies, Captain, Counselor. Vaden I'll see you later."

"Not unless I see you first," she shot back cheekily.

Harper's eyes lit with mischievous intent; however he swallowed the words on his tongue. They might be off-duty, but some things were just not proper to say in front of a commanding officer. With a nod to Riker and Troi, he turned and headed for Sickbay.

"M'Ret to Captain Riker." Will's own comm badge beeped. He smiled at his two remaining dinner partners and murmured, "I guess that's my cue to get back to work." He tapped his badge and replied, "I'll meet you back in the Observation Lounge. Riker out." He glanced from Deanna to Lash as he said, "I hate to break up a party, but duty calls. I'll see you later tonight, Deanna. Lash, it was a pleasure."

The engineer nodded and replied, "I hope we can do this again soon, minus the interruptions." The women watched for a moment as their captain left Ten Forward, then chuckled helplessly.

Lash raised her glass and used it to gesture to the door which had closed on the departing figure of Riker. "Since I've been married for ten years, can I give a newlywed some advice?"

Troi raised her glass in an answering salute. "By all means."

"If you're planning on having a quiet dinner alone -- or even with friends -- hide the comm badge."

"Too true," Deanna replied with a sigh. "If today has been a glimpse into my future as the wife of a captain, I think I want to go back to being his girlfriend!" Lash joined Troi in good-natured laugh of feminine commiseration. When they regrouped, Deanna continued, "Speaking of being married. How is it that you've been married for so long and you don't have any children?"

"By choice, actually." The engineer set her drink down, sobering to the topic. "This is actually our first posting together since we've been married. We're both 'fleet brats. His parents were scientists and my mother was in command. My father was Bajoran and he stayed at home. My mother human; they met when she was visiting Bajor as part of a diplomatic team.

"Our parents were never stationed together for any stretch of time so we were both shipped back and forth for visits. Having lived that life as children and with both of us dedicated to our careers, we decided we didn't want to put our children through that." Lash took a sip of her drink, a small smile flitting across her lips. Deanna felt the woman's faded hopes. It was not a decision that was made lightly. "We're fulfilled in other ways. My engines on previous ships always acted like toddlers so why put myself through hell twice?" The light joke and a bright smile banished the questions of 'what if' from her mind. "Are you and the captain planning on having kids?"

"Well," Deanna replied with a slight shrug, "we haven't talked about it, but it remains a possibility. We got through the period you're talking about while we were on the Enterprise. We weren't even together until a few years ago. Now with Will being a captain, I think we've got a little more leeway when it comes to being stationed together. So the issue of custody of the children shouldn't be an issue."


Later that evening, Deanna and Will sat at opposite ends of the couch in the living area of their quarters. Deanna glanced idly around the room, trying to summon more interest in the crew profiles on her data padd. It had taken the better part of the day, but everything was now in its place. Will's trombone stood in one corner of the room, the polished brass gleaming under the dimmed lights.

Will looked up from his mission data padd just as her attention returned to her own padd. "So what did you think of Lemoor? Will he hesitate when the time comes?"

"No," Deanna replied with a slight shake of her head, "he has made his choice to serve Starfleet and is fixed in his decision. He will do what needs to be done." She paused for a moment, remembering their meeting. "The dynamic with him might take a little time, though. Did you know that he has devoted his life to Starfleet, foregoing marriage and family?"

Eyebrows raised in surprise, Will said, "Sounds like someone else we know."

She pursed her lips as she considered his statement. "True, but I don't think Captain Picard consciously made that choice."

"What makes you certain that Lemoor did?" he asked, doubt tingeing his words.

Deanna sat up a little straighter and tucked one leg under the other as she warmed to the topic. "During our meeting when I asked him about his decision, I sensed that he wasn't completely satisfied with it. It was as if he had given up something highly personal in order to do so. I don't think he's petty enough to hold a grudge, but one can never tell with Andorians what they might or might not resent."

Riker nodded, knowing she was better suited to analyzing his crew than he, and returned his attention to the mission data. After a moment of contemplative quiet, he paused in his review of the notes and paged back, surprised by the information.

"With Shinzon and the old guard gone, it looks as if the Empire's worlds may be smelling blood in the water. According to recent intell reports, there are several worlds that are rumored to be arming themselves in preparation for staging a freedom fight."

Deanna's eyebrows raised as she looked at him over her data padd. "I'm surprised the Tal Shiar hasn't silenced those rumors."

"There may not be enough officers to cover the entire area." It was a good and bad thought. Good because it meant the Empire was ripe for change and potentially peace. But bad in that should the other worlds succeed in their own struggles for freedom, they would eliminate a known variable. And all good negotiators understood that the enemy one knew was much better than the enemy one did not.

At length, Will set aside the data padd and scrubbed his hands over his face. Stifling a yawn, he glanced over at Deanna, still engrossed her own data padd. "I enjoyed dinner," he stated rhetorically. "Harper and Lash are good people."

Deanna looked up and smiled into the tired eyes of her husband. Reading his need for a distraction, she, too, laid aside her padd and her raised her bare feet to his lap. He returned the smile, tracing a long line from her heel to the tip of her big toe then alternated trailing his thumbs down her instep. The circular motion lulled her mind, opening it to his tender ministrations.

"Lash is one of Utopia Planetia's top engineers," Deanna answered as she watched the movement of his hands against her foot. "It's good that she's finally gotten billeted to a starship. Beverly had nothing but good things to say about Michael when I talked to her last."

Will pressed her instep for several seconds then released it and repeated the motion; Deanna's breathy moan skated across his nerves coiling them tight. "Oh, how does she like Starfleet Medical?" he asked, his tone nonchalant.

"I think she misses being onboard a ship." Deanna paused having completely forgotten her thought as Will applied steady pressure to her Achilles tendon.

"I imagine so. I would think it would be hard to be stationed planetside after so many years in space. There's something about the earth not moving under your feet."

Will released that foot, allowing her to collect her thoughts before he began to massage the other one. "We received a message from your father."

A few years ago, such a sentence would have made him cringe. Now, he just smiled and waited for her to continue. "It seems he and Kate Pulaski have gotten back together. By luck, she was stationed on the starbase he was contracted to build."

Amusement tinged his blue eyes. "'By luck?'"

Deanna smiled broadly. "Well," she hedged, "she might have pulled a few strings." She sobered a moment later and relaxed into Will's hands as they slowly rotated her ankle. "I was sorry that he wasn't able to make it to the wedding on Earth. I think he would have enjoyed catching up with everyone."

Will nodded, a twinge of disappointment flitted through him. "He had just gotten Starfleet's orders for the refit of Starbase 23. At least our delay allowed him to get time in on those repairs so he could come to the joining ceremony on Betazed."

Deanna snorted at the memory. "And I apologized to him -- profusely -- for mother's behavior."

"Oh, he enjoyed it. And don't let him convince you otherwise. Such a fuss always strokes a man's ego."

Deanna's dark eyes gleamed as a sly smile slipped over her lips. "Is that what you want stroked tonight?"

Hearing the sudden deepening of her voice, the throaty breaths that escaped on her exhales, feeling the sensuous touch of her mind to his, Will raised her foot to his lips, kissing her instep. "Maybe later," he whispered. The moist heat of his tongue a moment later thrilled her senses, elevating her heart rate as it traveled up to circle her big toe. But it was the promise of an even more thrilling night gleaming in his eyes that sent a shiver of delight over her body. Later couldn't come soon enough.




"Damn you, Shinzon," Tal'Aura muttered under her breath as she slammed a data padd down on her desk. His coup d'etat had cost the Empire dearly. Forty Warbirds, a dozen scout ships and the manpower diminished well below their previous levels of glory. The death toll was astonishing. It was expected that Picard's great military mind twisted by abuse and hate could create such damage. Expected, but still astonishing nonetheless.

She realized too late that she was wrong in her assessment of Shinzon, which left Tal'Aura, as the new Praetor, to clean up the mess. All her life she had dreamed of reaching this position, had envisioned leading the legions of followers who supported her. It would be a just revenge against a people who at one time would rather have killed her for her father's traitorous acts.

Even with ambition, she was young and female and there had been no female praetor in a century. Her age did not hurt her as much as her sex, but the elder senators were accustomed to promoting their contemporaries to leadership. It was a form of protection for themselves. They had survived politically for so long in such an unstable environment that there were debts to be paid and favors to be granted in trade for more power.

Tal'Aura had hedged her bets when backing Shinzon. She had never really believed that peace was possible, but she knew (having been put of by Hiren) that she wouldn't rise in power as long as he was in control. So she joined the movement to back Shinzon thinking that he would surround himself with young leaders because they would not be quite so unshakeably loyal to the old ways.

Now, thanks to that equally young Reman/Human, Hiren, the old fool, was dead and she had reached the pinnacle, had received the right to rule her people. But, there had been no election. There had been no ceremony. There was no one else to consider for the position. Tal'Aura was Praetor by default. And she hated that. Her success had been tainted; its long-awaited sweet taste was bilious in her mouth.

To add insult to injury, she had heard rumors from Levaeri V, a planet that had been a colony for centuries. Conquered worlds were banding together, combining resources, their target: the heart of the Romulan Star Empire. They wanted freedom. They wanted peace. It was ironic that the Rihannsu wanted exactly the same thing, if only for themselves.

Tal Shiar agents had been dispatched to assess the threat and their reports were not promising. The Navy commanders were scheduled to meet in two hours. Hopefully, they would bring her good news as to the progress of rebuilding the fleet. Without the fleet, there was no hope of putting off an attack. Shinzon had placed all his faith in one Reman Warbird at the expense of the Romulan Empire thinking himself indestructible. The Universe, in all its incongruousness, had had the last laugh.

She rose and again cursed Shinzon as she paced the length of her office before calming her raging temper. It was pointless to be angry with a dead man. It hadn't worked with her father so it was certain not to do so with the verrool Shinzon. She drew in a deep soothing breath, then reclaimed her seat behind the praetor's desk. Picking up another data padd, she returned to her review of the state of the empire.

A disrupter blast seared the air, its sparks visible in the glass windows that separated her office from the hallway. Startled, she half-rose from the chair just as the doors were opened. She fully expected to see her guards and hear their report as to the nature of the disrupter fire. However, the person who walked in was not a member of the security detail. Blonde hair glinted in the morning sunlight that streamed through the chamber windows. A low, mocking laugh and pleased smile greeted the praetor.

"Security!" Tal'Aura called, having risen fully from the chair.

"They're taking a little nap."

"Sela!" the praetor cursed. "Who released you from the Reman mines?"

The blonde Romulan assumed a surprised expression. "Tsk, tsk, tsk, cousin. I would have thought that surely the new praetor would be current on all the latest gossip. The Remans freed me." Slowly, she walked the width of the room, prowling as it were, stalking her prey. "They had heard about the planned uprisings of the conquered worlds and decided to offer their services to you before siding with them." She nodded to the two Reman warriors who flanked her. Without a sound, the men circled Tal'Aura's desk and shoved her back down into her chair. "And they needed me to help them deliver the message."

A sliver of fear slid down Tal'Aura's spine. Sela was known for her ruthlessness. Her human heritage had not softened any part of her. In fact it had served to strengthen her Romulan warrior side. They had been raised together as children, and though, there had been no affection between them, they weren't adversaries either.

The comm system beeped overhead. "Praetor Tal'Aura, the Federation ship USS Titan has arrived and is hailing."

One of the Reman guards shoved a disrupter into her side in silent warning. Tal'Aura nodded once, then answered, "Understood, however, I am meeting with several senators. I will contact you when I have finished so you can send them the coordinates for transport and bring them to the Senate chambers."

The Reman relaxed his stance as the connection was broken. Sela leaned her hip on the edge of Tal'Aura's desk, one hand rested on the surface. Piercing the praetor with her cold, green eyes, she remarked, "Surely you must realize that this peace the Federation speaks of so highly is not its true aim."

Ignoring the two Remans who maintained a careful watch over their target, Tal'Aura sat up straighter in her chair and folded her hands. "If the Federation does not want peace," she asked, her tone that of mild interest, "why does it send representatives to begin discussions?"

"You are a child, Tal'Aura," Sela said, rising from the desk. She turned and planted her hands on the desk. "They come to reconnoiter. To determine if the rumors they most certainly have heard by now are correct. Peace is nothing but a child's dream."

"You are wrong," the praetor answered with a swift shake of her head. "It was the dream of my father and of many other fathers -- including yours, cousin."

"Have you no Rihannsu pride?" Sela sneered as turned away from Tal'Aura, unable to look at her any longer. "The Federation is nothing but a group of sniveling, whining children. They are nothing compared to the full might of the Rihannsu navy. Take the offer before you, cousin, take the hand of your Reman brethren. Join with us and together we will create an armada that not even the Borg can stop.

"What is peace and compromise with several hundred worlds when we can rule them all through time honored and tested principles? Domination. That is the true spirit of the Rihannsu people." Sela paused to take a breath, to calm the rage that rushed through her blood. Tal'Aura would not be won by intimidation and she was the key to Sela's plan. "You are a politician, cousin; you do not know the ways of the military. Let me be your guide in this matter."

The praetor sat back in her chair, carefully considering the woman before her. After a moment, she answered, "Since it is the will of the people, I will attend the peace talks and determine if this is the correct course of action for the Empire."

Sela smothered her anger, hoping that a 'but' was soon to come. She wasn't forced to wait long.

"If the talks fall through," Tal'Aura continued, "I want you to be ready. Therefore, I am appointing you as head of the Tal Shiar. Take whatever means necessary to rebuild the fleet with ships and personnel. Enlist the Remans if you want. But know this, I must consider the will of the people."

"Consider the will of a people who didn't choose you?" Sela spat as venomous spite poured from her eyes. "What loyalties do you have to them? Had it been up to them when your father defected, you and your mother would have been stoned to death on the Senate floor. Why should you show any sympathies for the will of the people?"

"I show it not for them, but for myself. I lead this Empire, my rule is absolute, but even I recognize its limits." The praetor's lips lifted, their action barely reminiscent of a smile. "As you say, I am the politician, let me be concerned with matters of the Empire." She tapped a screen on the console and ordered, "I will be meeting with the commanders of the Navy. Transmit the coordinates to the Titan when we have finished adding my apologies for the delay."

The praetor waited for the connection to be terminated then returned her attention to Sela. "Go, make your preparations and report back to me when they are complete."

The commander nodded, her eyes gleaming with intent and gestured for the Remans to follow. Before she could reach the door, Tal'Aura stopped her. "And do not show your face here until after the Federation envoy departs. I know of your history with them."


Captain's Personal Log: And so it begins. We have arrived at the Romulan homeworld and I must admit my wife must be rubbing off on me. I felt a foreboding sense of déjà vu as soon as we went into orbit. Thanks to M'Ret, I have been fully prepped for this mission, but when dealing with Romulans, one learns to expect the unexpected. My hope is that the Romulans have been truthful in their desires for peace, unfortunately, based on previous experiences, that hope is waning even before we begin to talk.


It was another damn waiting game.

True, it hadn't been sixteen hours, but any delay at this point was cause for frustration and concern. "It has been two hours since our arrival, Captain, and the Empire has yet to acknowledge our hails," Commander T'Noth reported from her duty station, "such tactics are juvenile and illogical."

Riker flashed an ironic smile as he shifted to a more comfortable position in the captain's chair. "Only illogical in the sense of fair playing. However, with Romulans, strategy is of the utmost importance."

"As is posturing," came the dry reply from Ambassador M'Ret who stood near the door to Riker's ready room. He was prepared to disappear through the doors at the first sign of contact with the Romulan ship that hovered under cloak just off the Titan's starboard bow.

It was with an unexpected sense of relief that T'Noth stated a few minutes later, "We're being hailed, Captain."

Riker rose and unconsciously straightened his uniform. "Let's get this show on the road. On screen."

"Greetings, Captain Riker, on behalf of Praetor Tal'Aura," a young Romulan man said with a slight inclination of his head. "The praetor apologizes for the delay. We are transmitting transporter coordinates and await your arrival." Without another word, he severed the transmission, leaving Riker and several members of the bridge crew surprised at the abrupt nature of the conversation.

Lemoor glanced over at Riker and asked, "What could be more important than talks with the Federation?"

"Nothing," M'Ret replied, re-entering the bridge from the ready room, "but that doesn't mean she didn't want to preserve the image that there actually was a reason."

"Whatever the reason, I'm getting damned tired of this tactic," Riker said with a grimace. "Conn, have the coordinates been received?"

"Yes, sir, I've transmitted them to Transporter Room Two."

The captain nodded, then glanced upward as he ordered, "Counselor Troi, meet me in Transporter Room Two." Without waiting for an acknowledgement, he turned toward M'Ret. "Any last words of advice?"

"If I may, Captain," T'Noth interrupted as she left her station, "I request to be included in Away Team. You require security's presence on this mission since this is a hostile environment."

M'Ret shook his head and replied, "I would not advise it, Captain. The Romulans are very touchy about Vulcans given all of Ambassador Spock's work to slip defectors out of the Empire. It would be imprudent of you to include any Vulcans in the party."

Riker cast an appraising glance toward T'Noth, who stood in silent regard of the ambassador. "Would it be appropriate to include a security officer at all since this is supposed to be a mission of peace?"

The ambassador nodded. "Yes, at least one security officer but no more than two would be an admirable display. The Romulans are not a trusting race and to show similar distrust would keep the two parties on equal footing."

"Does this suit, Commander?" Riker asked the security chief.

T'Noth inclined her head and replied, "It will be acceptable. I will assign Lt. Ramirez, but I must request that a transporter lock is maintained on you and Counselor Troi at all times."

"Fair enough," the captain agreed. "I want you in constant contact with Ramirez while we're planetside. He more than likely will not be allowed to be present in the meeting, but I'll make certain he's at the door." Riker extended his hand to M'Ret and grasped the ambassador's hand. "Now we find out just how real this offer of peace is."

The Romulan nodded as he returned the handshake. "Good luck, Captain. And remember, nothing is ever what it seems with the Rihannsu."


"Jolantru," Commander Donatra greeted the Away Team as they materialized in the antechamber. "Welcome to Ch'Rihan."

"Thank you, Commander. The Federation is looking forward to developing an amicable relationship with the Romulan Empire."

"As are we, Captain. I hope you find this visit to Ch'Rihan more pleasant than the last." She paused and gestured for them to follow her to the senate chambers. "You can be assured that all of Shinzon's supporters have been routed out."

"Yes, I understand you were instrumental in that endeavor," Deanna said as they continued through another antechamber.

Donatra shrugged and walked past a series of doors and another hallway. "Someone had to and it was the least I could do to avenge Suran's death. It was of little comfort to merely know that Shinzon's atoms were scattered across the universe." She stopped in front of an opulent door and smiled at the three officers. "The praetor is waiting for you." Taking note of the security officer, she added, "I'm sorry but you must know that I cannot allow your guard to enter."

"Understandable, Commander, and expected," Riker replied. "Lt. Ramirez is prepared to wait outside the senate chambers."

The Romulan inclined her head. "Then I will leave you to the meeting." She paused once more and, lowering her voice, murmured, "The Rihannsu support this endeavor, Captain; the only matters that are at issue are the means."

Without giving either the captain or the counselor a chance to reply, Donatra disappeared, leaving them alone in front of the doors.

Why am I waiting for the other shoe to drop? Riker asked his wife. His uncertainty floated to her across their bond.

Because it always has? she returned with ironic mirth as she sent soothing thoughts to him.

Her joke lightened his mood just as she had hoped it would and he stepped forward with confidence. The doors opened and the awesomeness of the Romulan Senate was revealed. Riker smothered the urged to gape at the enormous bird of prey that swept down from the ceiling. How had Picard not managed to reveal his awe at this sight?

With great aplomb and dignity, Deanna's mind whispered, and not a little curiosity.

"Greetings, Captain, Counselor," Tal'Aura said, rising from her seat behind the auspicious desk that had been moved to the front of the room. Since the elections were still underway to fill the senate once again with representatives, there was little need for the Advisory Council table. After all, she already knew the wishes of the people. Whether or not they were correct in the long term, she had not yet decided. But, in the interim, and until Sela could convince her otherwise, there was no reason not to entertain the notion of peace.

"Please, come in. The table is prepared and it is with great pleasure that I welcome you to it. Refreshments are here. May I offer you something to drink?" The praetor turned to the side table laden with succulent fruits and hardy meats. Without waiting for an answer, she poured three glasses of a silvery liquid. Tal'Aura offered them to both Riker and Troi then raised her arm. "I believe in the tradition of the Federation a toast is appropriate."

The captain nodded, replying, "It is an Earth custom, but one that has been adopted at many formal gatherings."

"To the dream of peace, may we live to see it in our days."

"To peace," the officers echoed then joined the praetor in taking a sip. The drink was refreshing, yet slightly tart and finished with a nice twist.

Rather like Troi's reading of Tal'Aura herself.

As the praetor took her seat, Deanna sent, She's not exactly lying, but she's not telling the whole truth either. She's hiding something that no one else here knows.

Riker clenched his jaw against the foul curse that hovered on his lips. Remember what I said about the other shoe? He schooled his features into a bland expression so as not to hint at his true reaction, then thought, Do you have any sense what it is?

He didn't have to look at his wife to know that she was frustrated by her limited abilities. It was times like these when she wished she had inherited her mother's psionic capabilities. No, but it's definitely something she wants to keep to herself at all costs.





It was a poker game. Every interaction Riker had had with the Romulans to date resulted in a bluff and a call. Why should the peace talks have been any different? After all, as his grandfather had said, leopards don’t just up and change their spots over night. Still it would have been damned convenient if they did.

“Praetor Tal’Aura, while I appreciate your position, you must understand, the Federation deems this non-negotiable." Riker leaned forward and rested his arms on the oblong meeting table. "We must be assured that any remaining crew members from the Enterprise C are allowed to return to their home planets. If there are none alive, then proof of their deaths must be obtained and verified by a Federation doctor.” The negotiations up until then had been progressing smoothly, but Riker had known this item would be met with great reluctance. As expected, the praetor balked.

"Captain, I must say that I am shocked by your insinuations." Tal'Aura rose, ostensibly to refill her cup of water, but in reality needing the time to gather her thoughts and form plausible excuses. "What evidence do you have that any survivors were brought to Ch’Rihan?"

Riker smothered his derisive snort. "Commander Sela’s existence. She openly admitted that her mother was one of several survivors that were brought to Romulus. Tasha Yar agreed to marry one of your generals -- Sela’s father -- in order to spare the remaining members of the crew from execution. I need no further proof than that."

Sela. Would that blasted woman never leave her alone? Having been caught in the lie, Tal'Aura nonetheless maintained her composure and inclined her head. "Very well, I will agree to look into the matter, but will make no promises as to the outcome. It is very likely that any other survivors are dead -- of course, due to natural causes.”

"Of course," the captain replied, his infamous poker face intact. There would be no records citing any other circumstance beyond death from natural causes, but he was required, and in truth needed, to ask. Sela’s existence had stunned the Enterprise command crew. They had witnessed Tasha's death, had participated in her memorial ceremony, had each said their good-byes to a fallen comrade. Then to discover that somehow she had crossed over from a parallel universe into their own…it was enough to open more than just old wounds.

Tal'Aura glanced at the chronometer in the console. "It is late, Captain, Commander, and I'm certain we could all use some rest. Why don't we reconvene in the morning at 0900?"

"That's an excellent idea, Praetor. I hope by then you have some good news regarding the Enterprise C crew."

"As do I, Captain."

The trio rose from the table and Tal'Aura gestured to the guards through the glass for the doors to be opened. Ramirez stepped into the room, carefully surveying the scene before answering Riker's nod. In low tones, the lieutenant contacted the Titan requesting beam out.

"Oh, Praetor, before we leave," Riker said as Troi moved to join the security officer. "A few years ago, the Enterprise rescued a Romulan admiral by the name of Jarok. He committed suicide when he learned that the information the Empire had leaked to him was false. But, before he died, he wrote a letter to his wife and daughter. At the time, there was no way to send it to Romulus. I'd like to give it to you to pass along; I hope his family may find some comfort in his words."

Tal'Aura took the proffered data padd and scanned through the address. After a moment, she replied, "I knew the family and I'm sorry to report that they died some time ago. I do thank you for returning it, though."

Riker sighed and nodded. "It was worth a try." He turned to Troi and Ramirez then tapped his commbadge. "Titan, three to beam up." The air shimmered a moment later and they were gone.

With a jerk of her head, Tal'Aura dismissed the guards and sank back down into her chair. Her unfocused gaze stared across the room, back in time. Jarok's family had died. But not by the means she had allowed Riker to suppos. When news of Jarok's deception spread to the homeworld, his wife and daughter had fled their home. It was only by the kindness of his wife's clansmen that the two had been allowed to live.

Two more unwitting victims of the desire for peace.

Tal'Aura turned her gaze to the padd, read the words of a dead man and a single tear slipped down her cheek. "Papa."


"Whoever said poker was like life had to have met the Romulans," Riker murmured as the Away Team stepped down from the transporter padd. Ramirez moved immediately to T'Noth, who had been waiting for them in the transporter room.

Deanna smiled, absorbing the analogy, as she paused beside Riker. "It certainly was an interesting game. And to think that Worf was called 'The Ice Man.' I don't think I've ever seen you play the game any cooler. My congratulations, Captain."

Her husband flashed her a brief smile as he watched the security chief debrief the lieutenant. "Must be all that practice on the Enterprise."

"Unfortunately, no matter how well you played the game, I don't think this hand is over yet." The counselor lowered her voice as she continued, "Tal'Aura still isn't telling you everything. It was strange. When you mentioned Commander Sela, the praetor's emotional plane spiked for a moment."

Riker nodded, his mind turning that tidbit of information over and over. "Commander T'Noth, I'd like you to check into something for me."


The door to the praetor's apartments slid open soundlessly. Tal'Aura sat, muttering to herself, on the long couch at one side of the room. A tingle of forewarning skittered up her spine; she knew who had slipped through the securities. It was of little consequence. Tal'Aura was, after all, the praetor and as such, her cousin wouldn't dare do anything untoward. "I thought I told you to stay away from me while the Federation is here."

"No, you said stay away from the Senate," Sela's mocking voice bit through the cool evening air. "There's a difference. Besides, it's not as if they will be interested in who visits you at home. They trust you, remember?"

"Until the talks are over, no place is safe for the two of us to meet." Tal'Aura rose and poured a glass of ale. Without looking at her cousin for confirmation, she emptied the rest of the bottle which resulted in half a glass and held it out. Sela took it and sat down on the couch.

The preator took a sip of her drink and allowed her assessing gaze to fall on the commander. After taking a moment to properly savor the ale, she continued, "I suppose it doesn't really matter, though. This Captain Riker has made no demands that I cannot live with so I think an agreement will be reached soon."

Sela stifled her surprise and managed to look bored. "Truly? Interesting."

"Yes, it appears the people and my father will get what they want."

The idea that it might not be the best thing for the Empire drifted between them, but the thought went unsaid. They both knew the other's view and to rehash it was to waste time. It had always been thus between them, even as children. A silent agreement to disagree. Yet, rather than strengthening their friendship, it made them trust each other even less.

Sela nodded once and set her half-finished drink aside. "Very well then, cousin. It seems I am to commend you." Her lips lifted in a smile that did not warm her green eyes. "Good night."

It was hours after she left before Tal'Aura realized that Sela hadn't reported on the state of the fleet.


The door to Sela's quarters on the Reman Warbird slid silently behind her. Only now did she allow the fullness of her rage to erupt. "Eneh hwau' kllhwnia na imirrhlhhse," she cursed, slamming a fist into the bulkhead. She heard the sickening crunch of bones breaking and relished in the pain that throbbed through her. She harnessed it, lashing it to her anger, bolstering her resolve.

If the talks had fallen through, if Tal'Aura had been stronger. If. If. There was no time for if's now. The time had come to finish Shinzon's work. But not for him. For herself, for her father. Mnhei'sahe, their personal honor, deserved no less.

Sela took in a steadying breath. "Subcommander Raleus, ready the fleet. We launch within the hour on my command." A satisfied smirk slipped over her lips as she sat behind her desk and pulled up a file on the console. The bright blue of a Federation communication code flashed on screen. She had been saving it for a rainy day, and today it was pouring. "Well, Captain Riker, unbeknownst to you, you're about to start a war."




"Captain! Three Romulan…somethings..decloaking off both port and starboard bows.”

"'Somethings,' Mr. Lohn," Riker replied as his gaze shot to the viewscreen. “You have to do better than that.”

“Sorry, Captain, but I can’t. They aren't reading like normal Warbirds."

Riker propelled himself out of the captain's chair and stalked toward the helm. "Shields up! Red alert!" His steely glare pierced the viewscreen. "Commander T'Noth, I want the commander of that ship on screen now."

Unperturbed by the captain's ferocity, T'Noth replied, "The ship is not responding to hails, Captain."

"Then get me Tal'Aura. Someone's going to tell me what the hell is going on!" Within seconds of his order, the viewscreen blinked and the praetor's face replaced the Warbirds. Her somewhat disheveled state made it obvious that she had been pulled from her bed.

"Captain, I had not expected to hear from you until tomorrow."

"You have a lousy way of showing it, Praetor," Riker spat as his eyes narrowed in distaste, "considering three of your ships have me in firing range."

"They are arming phasers and photon torpedoes," T'Noth said, her Vulcan calm allowing through none of the turmoil that threatened her inner serenity.

"I'm not certain I understand, Captain. You think that I ordered three Warbirds to attack you?" The praetor's sleep-fogged brain couldn't quite compute the logic behind Riker's words. Three Warbirds...attacking...Sela. That was why she hadn't said anything about the state of the navy's refit. She had been planning this all along regardless of Tal'Aura's wishes.

The praetor opened her mouth to counter Riker's belief, but was silenced by the disgust evident in his features. "You don't want peace. It seems as though you never did." He cut off the transmission just as the first wave of phaser fire rocked the ship. "T'Noth, return fire!"

As phasers sliced through shields and torpedoes crashed across bulkheads, an incoming subspace message flashed unseen on a console. Labeled urgent, it's destination for the captain's eyes only, no one thought to glance at it. And if they had, they wouldn't have noticed the slight discrepancies between its format and that of other, more recent Starfleet messages.

She had made provisions for everything, up to and including that the message was only text. Unfortunately, through some quirk of the universe, it wasn't delivered until after the firing began. But it didn't matter in the end. The result was the same.




Donatra had lied. Or at the very least mistaken the strength of her grip over the Romulan forces. Having conducted an inquisition worthy of the Spaniards of Earth's history, she believed that all who had any loyal ties to the Reman had been eradicated. The Federation now had proof otherwise. That is, they would if Deanna could contact them.

Which, according to Commander Lash, would be sometime next week considering she had lost half of her engineering crew in the attack. They had used the last residual power to issue the distress signal, and, hoping to spare further drain on life support, begun to shut down any remaining unnecessary systems.

It hadn't taken long.

Donatra had beamed over several doctors and medical supplies, but Deanna was reluctant to allow outside engineers to aid in the repairs. The commander understood, and the offer was available whenever the Titan's new captain changed her mind.

M'Ret...quite simply disappeared. He had been in his quarters when Riker and Troi had returned from the meeting and was ready for the debriefing which had been scheduled to meet an hour later. However, when the firing stopped and the damaged was being assessed, no one could find him. In truth, Deanna didn't have the manpower to spare to look for him and she certainly wasn't going to enlist the aide of the Romulans when M'Ret wasn't supposed to be there in the first place.

Which brought Commander Troi to a scarred door on deck 5. She paused and looked for the door signal in the array of damaged console buttons. Finally giving up, she simply knocked.

No answer.

"Computer, locate Ambassador M'Ret," Troi ordered.

"Ambassador M'Ret is not aboard this vessel."

Startled by the computer's response, Deanna took a step back and asked, "He's not aboard or he's not alive?"

"Ambassador M'Ret is not aboard this vessel."

Deanna blinked at the unexpected reply. Certain she hadn't heard the computer correctly, she opened her mouth to order a security override on the doors then remembered Lash's shut down procedures. She sighed and wedged her fingers between the two doors hoping to pry them apart. After several seconds of struggling, she stepped back, her shoulders heaving with the effort.

Of course, as luck would have it, no one passed through the corridor. Deanna moved to try once more, but out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a shiny piece of metal hanging from the bulkhead. With a quick jerk and an answering whine, the metal tore from the wall. Deanna twirled it around impressed by her ingenuity then shoved the sharp tip between the doors and pushed.

The doors cracked open after a moment, then eased a little further. Within a couple of minutes, Deanna squeezed through the gap and looked around. Having seen the damage to the rest of the ship, she wasn’t surprised to find M'Ret's quarters in such a state of disarray. Chairs were strewn across the room, decorative hangings drooped unceremoniously from the walls, and the glass table top had shattered all over the carpet.

But under the shards of glass lay a data padd. Recognizing it as the one he had used during his meetings with the captain, Deanna picked it up and pressed the display button. What she found astonished her.


I regret to inform you that I will not be returning with you from Ch'Rihan. Thanks to your Starfleet technology, I have purchased a site-to-site transport chip and will beam down to the surface soon. I will endeavor by every effort imaginable to encourage the peace movement between our people; however I could not live in exile from my home planet any longer. I do regret that our association will not be prolonged at this time, but do believe that this is not the last you will see of me.

Kind regards,


The beep of her communicator pulled Deanna away from the letter. "Commander," the chief engineer's voice stated, "short range communications are online."

Troi nodded, lowering the padd. "And long range?"

She heard Lash smother a frustrated sigh. "They'll still be early next week. I figured you would want the short range first."

"Good thinking. What about engines?"

"We should have impulse engines late tomorrow and warp drive in three days."

"Good work and thanks. Keep me informed." Deanna pursed her lips, her gaze returning to the data padd. Her eyes reread the ambassador's last sentence. She didn't have any doubt she would see him again. She only wondered under what circumstances.

Deanna turned and slipped between the doors again. Once more in the corridor, she shook her head. There was nothing she could do about M'Ret, but at least she knew where that Romulan was. Now, with communications back online, it was time to deal with another.


"I want an explanation and I want it now. Where is Praetor Tal'Aura?" Troi's normal saintly patience was being tried to no end. Apparently, while the Titan was incommunicado, Tal'Aura had become unreachable. Deanna had been assured she was on the Senate premises, but told that she was in urgent meetings and not to be disturbed.

"I would hope that some of those urgent meetings include information on an unprovoked attack on my ship," she bit out as she savagely closed the communication link.

Frustration gushed through her, urging her to her feet to pace the length of the ready room. The transporters were still inoperable, so she couldn't just barge in on whatever 'urgent meetings' Tal'Aura was conducting. She couldn't even fire warning phasers just to get her attention. It was possible they had enough power to launch a probe, but if she even contemplated offering that suggestion to the command crew, they would know she'd lost her mind completely. So, she was still waiting. Now she was merely waiting for the red tape to be cut.

She paused, forcing her mind to calm her raging emotions. Calm. Serenity. That was how she would get through these next days. As her pulse slowed and her mind eased, her thoughts drifted to the one place that she didn't want them to go. To him.

With a sad smile, she glanced around the spartan room. They hadn't gotten around to decorating it. A small model of the Titan sat on one corner of the desk. She picked it up and absently traced its grooves and planes. Her mind continued to drift, latching on to the first memory it found.

He had come to her a few hours after he'd received word of his promotion. "Why now, Will? Why this ship?"

Will pulled her into his arms, hearing the confusion, the uncertainty that lurked beneath her words. "For the first time, its right. I have learned more than I could have possibly imagined from Captain Picard and I now feel able to put it into practice."

Deanna shook her head, her cheek brushing against the soft fabric of his off-duty tunic. "Its more than that, I can feel it."

"There's no hiding anything from you, is there?" he asked with a slight chuckle as he readjusted his hold. "But, you're right. It's much more than that. It's you. I couldn't leave you again."

"But you're still leaving me," Deanna replied, shifting so that she could pull out of his arms. She felt a chill creep into her bones. All they had rediscovered was for naught. She couldn't leave her station aboard the Enterprise. Captain Picard relied on her judgment, needed her expertise.

Emotion churned within her and forced her to turn away from his knowing blue eyes. She might be the empathic, but at times like these, she was certain that Will Riker could read her very soul.

He moved behind her, resting his hands on her shoulders and trailing them down her arms to link their fingers together. The chill eased somewhat, warmed by the heat of his touch. "Listen to me, Deanna, don't judge. Just open your mind and listen."

Deanna felt tears sting the back of her eyes. This was it. This was the point where he would say exactly what she had prepared herself to hear for years. But as the hurt cleared from her mind, she realized she was completely and utterly wrong.

Marry me, Imzadi. Make this next step of the journey our first together.

His words hit her with the force of a phaser blast, with much the same consequences. She was stunned, amazed...she was incapable of words. So instead she turned in his arms, willing her courage to the fore. He wouldn't joke about this. Would he?

She lifted her dark eyes to his blue ones and read the truth within the bottomless pools. And her mind formed an answer without thought. Yes.

Deanna woke from the memory with a sob. Tears streaked down her cheeks as she asked, "Gods, Will, what do I do now? This was our journey, not mine alone. What the hell do I do without you?"

Something whispered across her mind, vague, intangible, but somehow soothing.





For all the repairs that had yet to be made, Engineering proper was mercifully silent. Almost like a tomb. Which is what it had become for several of her engineers. Of the thirteen men and women she'd lost, more than half had been on their first ship. The best and brightest, fresh out of the Academy or Jupiter Station.

What a waste. Lash Vaden crouched under a console, hypospanner and tricorder at hand, ostensibly working on the plasma conduits. In reality, she was hiding. After all, who could have confidence in the chief engineer if they found her sitting in the middle of Engineering bawling her eyes out? Shoving a fist in her mouth to stifle her sobs, she let the tears course unchecked down her cheeks.

No one had prepared her for this. Not her parents who had faced similar situations a multitude of times. Not her Academy training which emphasized survival and courage above fear and grief. And especially not Utopia Planetia, which hadn't seen a single person die -- even by accident -- in fifty years. She had been isolated from loss for so much of her life that the realization of its existence had the most crippling of effects.

This was why Starfleet had begun assigning counselors to its ships. But the Titan's counselor was not available. Instead of tending to the crew's emotions, she was forced by circumstance to tend to their safety and lives first as the new captain. Lash and the rest of the crew were on their own, and if they were anything like her, completely unable to deal with the emotional fall-out.

"It's alright, you know," a familiar voice reassured from somewhere above the console.

Lash squeezed her eyes shut, willing the tears to dry faster than she knew they would. She shouldn't cry in front of him. He'd seen so much worse these past few days. She shouldn't burden him with her sorrow. And yet, there was no one else she trusted more to ease the pain. "Gods, Michael, how do you stand it?"

The doctor didn't pretend to misunderstand and instead pulled his wife out of her hiding place and into his arms. Burying his face in her dark hair, he felt the shiver that rippled through her and held her tighter. "I could tell you that it gets easier, but I'd be lying."

"The mercy of it is I don't think any of them knew what happened after the warp plasma conduits blew. But they were all so young."

Harper trailed his fingers through her hair, brushing the tear-dampened strands away from her cheeks. With a sad smile, he murmured, "They knew what they signed on for."

"Did they?" Lash's brow furrowed in doubt as she shook her head. "I don't think so. I know I didn't -- at least not consciously. Back at UP, I had heard about Wolf 359 and all the people who had died in defense of the Federation. I helped resurrect and rebuild ships that were lost in that and several other battles." She paused a moment; her gaze clouded with memory and remorse. "When I accepted this post, it never occurred to me that I could lose friends, people I cared about…you."

Michael pulled her back into his arms, cradling her in their warmth. "You're not going to lose me, Vaden; I won't allow it."

"How can you say that?" Lash asked as she wrenched away from him and walked toward a blinking monitor. "How can you know that Riker didn't make that same promise to Troi and he still died?"

"Shhh…you're right," Michael soothed. He stepped behind her and eased her back against his chest. "I wasn’t thinking." After a moment, he turned her to gaze into her coffee colored eyes. "I can't make any promises about the future, Vaden. I never could. The only thing I can promise is that I love you. And I will continue to do so for as long as we have together. That promise, I'm sure Will made to her and I know he kept it."

Fresh tears spilled over Lash's cheeks as she nodded. He had promised in all faith and she knew it to be true. Still it would be small consolation to a grieving widow. "How is Deanna handling it? I lost crewmates, but she lost her husband."

Michael sighed and shook his head. "I don't think she is just yet."


The door chime rang, pulling the counselor from her despair and back into the present. Jerking herself to an upright position, she tugged her tunic straight and replaced the statue of the Titan on its pedestal at the edge of the desk. She cleared her throat, and ordering her expression into serenity, she called, "Come."

Dr. Harper paused for a moment at the threshold before entering. Glancing at the terminal on the desk and the broken connection to the Romulan Senate, he asked, "Still no word from the praetor?"

Deanna shook her head. "And it appears if she has her way, nor are we like to. Tied up in meetings my ass," she muttered, shutting the console down.

"I've got an update on the casualties, Commander," he said as he handed her the data padd he'd brought with him.

The counselor tabbed through the list, pausing for a brief, but painful, moment as she passed one name. Two hundred and twenty-six dead. Almost half of the crew. Two hundred and twenty-six letters she would have to write home to family members notifying them of their loved one's death. Deanna closed her eyes at the thought, then nodded as she placed the padd on the desk.

"Thank you, Doctor Harper," she replied as she turned to another data padd. After a moment, she glanced up at him, realizing he hadn't left. An unspoken question accompanied by a raised eyebrow lit her dark eyes.

"Take a few days, Deanna," Harper said, his eyes soft with understanding. "You need to grieve."

Troi shoved the chair back and rose, picking up one of the many data padds that lay scattered on a side table. She hadn't heard him, Harper was certain of it. Either that, or she just refused to hear him. He skirted around the desk and grabbed her shoulder. "Don't make me relieve you from duty."

It was obviously the wrong thing to say. Fire lit the counselor's dark eyes. Shrugging away his well-meaning hand, she turned and pierced him with a look that should have slain him where he stood. Her voice shaking with anger, Deanna spat, "Don't presume to tell me what I do and do not need to do, Doctor. I hold a degree in psychology from the most prestigious university in the field. I have counseled hundreds of victims and their families. I will grieve when I am damn well ready to grieve. Is that clear?"

She paused for a moment, catching a breath after her tirade and waited for him to nod. When he did, she inclined her head and stepped away, returning her attention to the data padds. "Now if there are no other grounds on which to base your suggestion, I have work to do. You are dismissed, Doctor."

As the ready room doors closed behind him, Harper murmured to himself, "No, she's not handling it at all."


Counselor's Personal Log: The Merrimack arrived today after hearing our distress signal having been en route to a medical conference on Rigel IV. But more importantly, I think, Beverly is on board, thank the gods. I could use an old friend right now.


"Deanna, I am so sorry," Beverly whispered as she engulfed her friend in a warm hug.

The Betazoid nodded against the doctor's shoulder. "There was no warning at all. They just appeared out of nowhere

"How did you make it all the way to the Neutral Zone?"

"By luck, by chance? Who knows. After the Warbirds began attacking we tried every attack and defense pattern to get rid of them. We must have ended up here somewhere along the way. I can't tell you much more than that. The conn and helm officers are dead and what's left of Engineering hasn't gotten that far in the repairs."

"Commander, sorry to disturb you," Ensign Lohn intoned over the comm link, "but Commander Donatra is hailing."

"Thank you, Ensign, I’ll take it here in the Ready Room." Deanna grimaced. She'd had just about enough of Romulans, friendly or otherwise. Offering an apologetic smile to the doctor, she sat down behind the terminal. "On screen." A second later, Donatra's face replaced the Federation logo. "Commander, to what do I owe this pleasure?"

The Romulan inclined her head and replied, "I wanted to check your status and update you on the missing Warbird. We have continued to patrol the area and there is no sign of it. The crew of the disabled ship wiped their computer system and committed suicide before being boarded. My engineers are working on recovering the deleted files, but there's not much hope of success."

Of course not, that would have been too convenient. Deanna smothered a disappointed sigh. "Thank you for your efforts, Commander. They are appreciated." She paused, her eyes absorbing Donatra's surroundings. "I see that you are down on the planet. If you see Tal'Aura, tell her I am waiting for an explanation as to who ordered the attack and why."

"I understand that the praetor has not contacted you as yet?" At Troi's nod, Donatra continued, "I will make every endeavor to deliver your message and I assure you that you will receive a response soon." The commander pursed her lips. "Please be aware that this attack was not the will of the Rihannsu people, Commander. There is great outrage on the planet for the actions of a few."

It was a comfort, but a small one and Donatra recognized that. Humans were characteristically shy of promises when they had been broken before. It was a trait common to both species. If there was nothing left in the end, perhaps they would have that to build on.

"I am able to send whatever aide you require, Commander. It only awaits your agreement," Donatra said.

Deanna could read the truth of her words in the entire conversation. Donatra truly believed in the peace effort. But Troi wasn't yet ready to open the entire ship for Romulan inspection, regardless of the good intentions.

"I thank you again for the offer, Commander, but reinforcements have arrived and are assisting in repairs. Everything is ahead of schedule."

"Very well, then. I will contact you as soon as I have met with Praetor Tal'Aura. Donatra out."

Troi tapped a button on the console and the screen faded to black then looked up at Beverly, whose skepticism was etched in her features. Deanna shrugged. "No need to let them know just how defenseless we are. Besides, with the Merrimack's arrival, we soon will be ahead of schedule."

The doctor shook her head in awe. "You bluffed her."

Deanna offered her a wan smile. "A wise man once said that dealing with Romulans is the consummate poker game -- or at least something to that effect."

"Let me guess," Beverly murmured with a sad smile of her own, "Will?"

Deanna nodded then turned away, willing away the tears that threatened to fall.

"How are you holding up?" The doctor's soothing tones wrapped around Deanna, comforting her aching heart.

"I'm alright, Beverly," she replied with a slight shake of her head. Seeing her friend's dubious reaction, she continued, "Given the circumstances, I am. When this is all over, we'll see what happens. But for now, I'm alright."

The doctor nodded knowing she wouldn't receive any more information unless Deanna wanted it. Sometimes the woman was more enigmatic than Guinan herself. So instead of pressing her for more, Beverly said, "I'm here for the duration if you need me."

Surprise flickered across Troi's brow. "What about the conference? The Chief of Starfleet Medical can't just not show up."

"Half the reason I was going was to get back in space for a little bit. You've given me an excuse to prolong my stay."

A pleased smile flitted over her lips before it vanished as suddenly as it had appeared. "So I was right, you do miss being on a starship."

"Don't get me wrong, I love my job, but after being out here for so many years, I miss it enough to hitch a ride when I get the opportunity."

Deanna nodded as she rose and walked toward the replicator. Thankfully, the engineering teams had gotten that system up and running a few hours ago. She ordered Earl Grey tea for herself hoping to absorb some of Picard's strength from the tiny tea leaves. When she glanced at Beverly, the doctor shook her head, refusing any offering.

With a nod, Deanna sat back down and blew on the hot liquid before taking a soothing sip. "Have you heard from Wesley?"

"Not since --" she had started to say, 'the wedding' but knew that she couldn't utter the words so instead she said, "not for a while. He's finished his studies at the Academy and decided to forego a commission in Starfleet to continue with the Traveler. He said he thought he owed it to us -- me, Jack, Jean Luc, everyone -- to graduate, but he still felt called to go back out there."

"And how do you feel about that?"

"If you mean, was this the path I would have chosen for him? No, it isn't. I would rather have seen him captaining a starship, married, with several children." Beverly paused, staring into a future that was not to be. "Oh, Deanna, I miss him, but he has to go his own way."


"What in all hell were you thinking, Sela?" Tal'Aura stalked toward her cousin, ignoring the Reman guard who towered behind her. "You said the Empire was decimated. All the reports verified that. Where did these new ships come from so fast?"

Sela shrugged and smiled with pleased irony. "I lied. Well, not really, the Romulan Star Empire is decimated. The Reman Protectorate is not. We just borrowed your ship designs to make it look like a Romulan sanctioned attack." The blonde sat one hip on the edge of the Senate table and absently picked up a data padd. "Combine that with a falsified communiqué from Starfleet ordering the Titan to attack, we created our own little form of negotiations. You even admitted that if it was deemed necessary you would support an attack."

"But it was only to occur if I deemed it necessary, Sela," Tal'Aura shot back jerking the padd from her cousin's hand and tossing it back on the table. "There was no room in my decision for you. The peace talks were progressing rapidly. There was no need to resort to this type of escalation of hostilities!"

Unperturbed by the praetor's ire, Sela stood and helped herself to a glass of the ale which sat in the middle of the table. "Perhaps you did not see the need, but I, being much more forward thinking than you and it seems the rest of the Rihannsu people, did.

"You forced my hand --"

Sela slammed the glass she had been about to fill down on the tabletop. "I forced your hand so that you would do what you know in your heart is right. You have no more love for the people than I do."

"How will we fight the Federation when the people are not with us?" Tal'Aura asked as she raised her hands in helplessness. "It is madness!"

Her cousin smiled and shook her head at Tal'Aura's short-sightedness. Surely she didn't think Sela wouldn't have begun this without the ability to finish it? She had learned countless times over in dealing with the Federation that she had to have the upper hand in order to triumph. "We have developed weapons that you could never imagine, outfitted twenty Warbirds with Shinzon's thalaron device, developed new disruptors that prolong death." She paused, allowing the praetor to absorb her words and all they entailed. After a moment, the understanding Sela had been waiting for appeared in Tal'Aura's dark gaze.

"Yes, I see the spark of interest in your eyes, perhaps you are not immune to the tantalizing promise domination of the Federation brings. These disruptors -- to all medical instruments the victim appears dead, but in reality he continues to live, dying an agonizing, slow death. This is the power that I have harnessed. This was what I wanted to bring to the Empire. Think how these weapons would have trounced the Jem Hadar. The Dominion would be no more. The Federation would be insignificant. We would dominate. Think of our house's glorious rise to the pinnacle of Rihannsu pride."

Tal'Aura felt it, something that no other person had been able achieve. Not Hiren, not Shinzon. It was the promise of familial pride. Restoration of their house to its proper place in the Rihannsu order. No longer forced to curry favor with lecherous old men, relying on her unquenchable ambition to gain her desires. No longer forced to deny her paternity. It wouldn't matter. Together, she and Sela could lift themselves above the petty infighting and create an indomitable empire such that their parents never could have imagined.

It was intriguing. It was seductive. Acceptance danced on the tip of her tongue, the people's desires be damned.


"Commander! You are forbidden to enter!" The young sublieutenant stood up from his chair by the door to the Senate chambers and moved to block Donatra's entrance.

"I think not. I am the Commander of the Rihannsu Navy in its entirety. If there is anyone who has unrestricted access to the praetor, it is I. Now get out of my way!"

Donatra shoved the guard aside. Something was wrong, of that there was little doubt. Troi's frustrations over her inability to contact the praetor had set off a warning light for Donatra, but it was not until she had reached the Senate building itself that the Rihannsu commander begun to be concerned herself. It was typical of those in the position of praetor to zealously guard their affairs, but a display such as the one she had just witnessed was unheard of.

She pushed open the doors to the Senate chambers, then, a moment later, wished she hadn't. Donatra stood face to chest with a Reman soldier. Menacing fangs bared down on her as she wrenched herself out of his death grip, shoved her disruptor into his side and fired. The Reman fell to the floor with a thud and Donatra was left staring aghast.

Sela and Tal'Aura, hands joined in agreement. "A wise decision, cousin," Sela said with a pleased grin, "together we will destroy the Federation."

All of Donatra's dreams shattered as Sela's malevolent gaze settled on her. Stunned by Tal'Aura's duplicity, her disruptor slipped, unfelt, from her hand. "It was you," she murmured with disbelief, "you attacked the Titan. You destroyed the hopes of the Rihannsu people. And you," she continued, her eyes moving to Tal'Aura who had pulled away from Sela. "You lied! To all of us!"

"Stupid child," Sela admonished. "There can be no peace between us and the Federation. We are warriors. It is in our blood, our lineage. Peace would only make us weak."

"Have you no respect for your father, Tal'Aura? He died fighting for the dream of peace with the Federation."

"He was a coward," the praetor returned with undisguised loathing. "Instead of staying and fighting for his beliefs here, he defected leaving my mother and me alone, shunned and defenseless -- all for an ideal. So, yes, he died, but in disgrace, not in glory. He brought shame on our house, such shame that my mother and I were forced to leave our home -- the only home I had ever known -- and move to a place that I never wanted." Tal'Aura stalked toward the table and picked up a data padd. Shaking it, she continued, "These peace negotiations were a means to an end. The ultimate goal was restoration of my house -- our house -- now that can be achieved."

"Not this way," Donatra swore. "Not at the expense of my father, nor other fathers who died for the cause and certainly not at the expense of the people. NEVER!" she screamed as she dove to the floor, scooped up her disruptor and vaporized the praetor. The commander turned, her aim targeting Sela and fired. But the blast merely ripped through the green remnants of a transporter beam.

Donatra slammed her fist against the floor. Cold fury coursed through her as she swore, "Sela, you will die by my hand for this treachery."





Water gushed through the dispenser warming Troi's cold fingers. Closing her eyes, she leaned down and splashed her face. The warmth slid down her cheeks washing away the last traces of the tears that had escaped against her will.

She had to maintain control. There was no time for her give in to the desire of tears. There were many reasons; the first being that the crew needed a source of strength at the moment and, as ranking officer, she was looked upon to provide it. But probably the most important was if she did relent, did allow herself the luxury of crying, she wasn't certain she would ever stop.

Deanna toweled off her face and hands and stared at the reflection in the mirror. Haunted eyes gazed levelly back at her. Dark circles had begun to accent the deep pools. Must be the lack of sleep. It wasn't that she hadn't tried. She had. The action merely had met with disastrous results. A few minutes after she closed her eyes, he would come to her. He would whisper of his love, of their promised future, would compel her to remember and relive every happy moment that they had spent together.

And for a recent widow, it was a nightmare.

But she was so tired. Physically, emotionally, tired. Deanna closed her eyes against the image who stared back at her in the mirror. Closed her eyes against reality, if only for a moment.

Warm hands wrapped around her shoulders, warm breath stole across her cheek. His scent filled the air surrounding her. Imzadi, you need to take better care of yourself.

Deanna jerked, her eyes blinking open. He was not standing behind her. The bath smelled of French vanilla -- the scent wafted from an old fashioned plate of potpourri on the counter. It was a dream. She picked up the towel and scrubbed her face once more. Of course it was. Bourne from exhaustion and grief. He wasn't really there. He couldn't be. He was...gone. After all, she couldn't feel their bond anymore and if the bond was broken, then he was...gone. That was how it worked with Imzadis.

"Gods, Mother, was this how you felt after you lost Daddy?" she asked the vacant room. "Did you still feel him even though you knew he wasn't there?" She had read about phantom limb pains, how a victim would still feel a leg or an arm after it had been cut off. Maybe that was happening to her. She had lived so long with their bond and now that it was gone she was having flashes of sensation.

But what if the flashes spoke the truth? It made absolutely no sense; logic, compounded by the death of their Imzadi bond, spoke to that, but what if he was still there...in some form...and she just wasn't able to recognize it for what it was?

If he were Vulcan she would call it his katra. But he was human, completely, thoroughly, loveably human. It wasn't possible.

However, there was someone who might help her find some answers.


"Commander T'Noth, I apologize for bothering you at such a late hour," Deanna stated as she walked through the open doors to the Vulcan's quarters.

The lieutenant commander inclined her head, her hands poised before her in a gesture of deference. "There is no need for apologies, Commander. My meditations were complete for the evening."

Deanna surveyed the darkened room. T'Noth and the crimson robes she wore seemed to absorb what little illumination the lone candle provided. "I've come to ask you a personal favor. Please don't feel obligated to fulfill it."

T'Noth indicated the counselor should sit on one of the pillows that lay on the floor. "What is it that you wish of me?"

Troi took in a deep breath, preparing herself to tell a highly illogical tale to the most logical of individuals. "I hear Will. Or rather I heard him. In my mind, just now. I can't feel him, but he spoke to me." Deanna paused and pursed her lips. "You are the only other telepath on board and I need to know what's going on."

The Vulcan considered the Betazoid's request for a moment. "If I may, I must ask you some personal questions." She waited for Troi's nod, then continued, "I understand that you and Captain Riker had what is known as an 'Imzadi bond' among your people. What is the true extent of that?"

"It means 'Beloved' and is best described as 'the first.' Not necessarily the first sexual experience." Deanna could feel a blush heat her cheeks and was grateful for the darkness. Although the Betazoids were an open society, it was somewhat awkward explaining one of their integral ideals to an outsider. "It is the first person to touch your soul."

"And this bond results in telepathy?"

"Yes, but its more than that. I don't know how to describe it. My people, for all our research on the brain and psionic powers, haven't looked closely at the Imzadi bond. It's too sacred to most people to tarnish with technicalities. We take its existence on faith because not everyone experiences it."

The Vulcan nodded in understanding. "Then we begin."

Deanna had experienced several types of telepathy in her years in Starfleet, but never had she undergone a Vulcan mind meld. She felt T'Noth's cool finger tips press against her face, heard the Vulcan's whispered, "My mind to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts." Then the universe disappeared, and there was darkness as far as she could see. Calm serenity wrapped around her, pregnant, expectant, but nonetheless soothing, comforting. She felt its safety, recognized T'Noth's clear emotionless logic as its base.

Then in a flash of light, emotion ripped through her. Sadness, guilt, anger, fear. A jumbled collection of images followed. If T'Noth was overwhelmed by the rush of emotions, she did not show it. Her face remained relaxed, patient, waiting for the flood to ease. It was understandable that such a ferocity would exist within the counselor. Not only did she have her own emotions to deal with, since she was Betazoid and an empath, she was subject to those of the rest of the crew as well.

The vision subsided and T'Noth began her search for William Riker.

She was barely holding on to her grief and the sadness was almost overwhelming. Any Vulcan with less mental training would have been caught up in the buffeting emotions. T'Noth maintained her unrelenting grip on her own emotions and took a mental step backward, away from Troi. Having reacquired her bearings, T'Noth proceeded deeper into Deanna's psyche.

Only the drive to track down the Romulan responsible kept the counselor moving forward. The knowledge that the crew depended on her did little to bolster her resolve. Rather, it accentuated the pain that surrounded her. T'Noth passed the surface emotions, categorizing them as expected and healthy for a tragically appointed captain and new widow.

Something glowed in Troi's distant mind. Gold and silver with black scarring, it lay alone in its own void of thought and feeling. Intrigued by the sight, T'Noth moved closer. Certain this was the Imzadi bond Troi spoke of, the Vulcan dug deeper into the counselor's mind, her entire focus on the diminished glow.

Without warning, T'Noth jerked. Something screamed, GO AWAY, into her mind. Startled by the sensation, the Vulcan tried to slip passed the invisible defense. GO NO FURTHER! A searing flash ripped through T'Noth, breaking the meld and physically setting her back on her heels.

"Commander, were you able to find out anything?" Deanna asked, ignoring the curious throbbing in the back of her head.

T'Noth shook her head, her confusion etched into her brow. "No, Counselor, I was not. I was prevented from proceeding."

"Prevented? What do you mean?"

"When I reached a certain depth in your mind, I triggered a defense mechanism within your conscious. It was as if my presence threatened you in some way."

Shock slipped over Deanna's face as recognition dawned. "Oh, gods. T'Noth, you must promise not to share this with anyone."


Cargo Bay 3 had been converted to a temporary morgue due to the high number of casualties. It was there that T'Noth found Drs. Harper and Crusher.

"Commander, is something wrong?" Crusher asked, laying aside a tricorder.

"I must speak with you and Dr. Harper, alone."

Intrigued by the cryptic request both doctors followed the Vulcan to one corner of the cargo bay. The security chief glanced up at the ceiling and ordered, "Computer, initiate privacy shield."

A shimmering blue force field surrounded them a second later. Their privacy secured, T'Noth began. "I made an oath and under normal circumstances would honor my word. However, as the chief of security, I am duty bound to report any threat to the ship or its crew. This would normally be discussed with the captain of the vessel, but as the matter involves the current commander, I must turn to you. Commander Troi is mentally unwell."

Seeing the slight surprised expression of both doctors, T'Noth further explained her meeting with Troi and the results of the mind meld. She ended the summary stating, "I believe I was seeing her Imzadi bond with Captain Riker when I was forced to end the mind meld."

Beverly absorbed the information without comment, her mind drifting back several years to the Cairn delegation. "It is possible that Deanna's meta-conscious mind has blocked her bond with Will to protect her from the psychic trauma of losing him. Her mother, Lwaxana experienced this and nearly died."

"Do you think Deanna's life is threatened by this block?" Harper asked, his concern growing. In the short time they had served together, Michael had developed a genuine fondness for the counselor.

Crusher shook her head. "At least not at this time. Lwaxana's block had been in place for years before it began to negatively impact her psionic skills and affect her daily life." She turned her attention to the security chief. "And you were unable to break through it?"

"That is correct. Perhaps it is the type of melding I must utilize to approach her telepathically."

"That could well be a factor," Beverly agreed. "With her mother's, a third party, a member of the Cairn delegation in fact, had to initiate the bond between Deanna and Lwaxana. And without a third telepath on board either ship, it seems we will have to rely on Deanna herself to work through whatever trauma her meta-conscious mind is blocking.

"What did the bond look like?" Beverly asked her curiosity evident in her voice.

"It glowed." T'Noth replied. She paused as if searching for the correct words. "It was gold and silver, but black appeared over much of the area."

"But not all of it?" Crusher prompted. At T'Noth's negative reply, Beverly continued, "Then the bond isn't dead. If it were, logic would dictate that it would be entirely black, yet it's not."

"So If Deanna's meta-conscious is only blocking her link to Will out of the pain of losing him and yet, according to meld, the bond is still active, could it be possible that he is somehow alive?" Harper asked.

T'Noth inclined her head. "That would be an accurate hypothesis, However, Dr. Harper, you confirmed the time of death."

"I know," Harper nodded as he shot an appealing glance to Crusher, "and maybe I'm grasping at straws here, but before we declare her mentally incompetent, don't you think we should at least investigate her claim?

"I have done so, Doctor, by participating in the mind meld. However, there are other avenues that ought to be explored if we are to follow Dr. Harper's suggestion. I will pursue my investigation and report back to you."

"Thank you, Commander," Beverly said as the force field dissolved. "For everything."

"I'll re-run all the tests on Captain Riker's body while we're waiting for T'Noth. Is there anything that we should do in the meantime to help Deanna and ease the block?" Harper asked as the two doctors watched the Vulcan leave the cargo bay.

"Yes, but I'm sure she won't agree with it."


Hypospray in hand, Beverly stood outside the door to the Ready Room. She was in there. Beverly had been assured of that by the computer; however, the counselor was not answering the door chime. The doctor refused to glance over her shoulder at the curious faces of the bridge crew, a mix of personnel from both the Titan and the Merrimack.

"Come on, Deanna," Beverly muttered under her breath. "Open up." And as if the doctor had uttered a magic phrase, the Ready Room doors opened. She walked into the dimmed room and found the counselor sitting, legs tucked up underneath her, on the couch. Several data padds lay at odd intervals around the room. Deanna herself sat staring at one of them.

"Deanna?" Beverly prompted, her voice tinged with uncertainty.

After a moment, the counselor glanced away from the padd. "Yes, Beverly. How is the cargo bay working out?"

"It will do until we can get back to the nearest starbase." She paused and glanced around the room. "Are you alright?"

Deanna returned her question with a watery smile. "Just writing the letters. I had to do something until I heard back from Donatra and this seemed to be the best use of my time."

"The best use of your time, Commander, would be to get some rest."

Troi shook her head. "There is no one else to do it. If the captain is unavailable, the job falls to the first officer and if he or she is not available, then it falls to the counselor. Either way, I don't have much of a choice, do I?"

Beverly sank down on arm of the couch. "Then at least let me give you a psylo-synine inhibitor. It might make things a little easier."

Again the counselor shook her head. Clutching the data padd to her chest, she sat in silent contemplation.

Crusher sighed, tucked the hypospray into the pocket of her long, blue jacket and raised her hands in helplessness. "Talk to me, Deanna; I've been where you are." When Troi didn't respond, Beverly continued, "Deanna, you're exhausted. I haven't seen you do more than sip a cup of tea in the time I've been here. You're losing weight. You are not doing well."

Troi lips lifted in a wry smile. "Is that your medical opinion, Beverly?"

Before Beverly could respond, comprehension dawned. The padd the counselor held was a medical data padd. This was more than grief. Deanna was...

Deanna read the awareness in her friend's eyes. But if she said the words aloud, that would make it real. And reality, when it came to her personal life, was not something she ready to deal with just yet. "I don't have time for this right now, so don't tell me anything I don't want to know."

But she already knew. The diagnosis stared out at her from the data padd she held in her hand, yet, she had known it before her suspicions had been confirmed. After the mind meld, her thoughts had cleared and had focused in on something she hadn't allowed herself to consider. She felt him, heard his tiny heartbeat echo in her mind. Could calculate the very hour he had been created. But to dwell on his existence brought pain rather than comfort. And pain was something she had even less time for than comfort. What she needed was to feel nothing.

Beverly, reading the unspoken plea for silence in her friend's eyes, reluctantly nodded. "Alright, but please, try to get some sleep and at least something to eat on occasion."

Deanna smiled wanly in thanks and agreed to the doctor's stipulations. "When this is all over, you're the first person I'll come see."

"Fair enough."





"Curious," Commander T'Noth murmured as she perused the sensor logs. A complete check of the ship's computer had revealed nothing to indicate that the Titan had undergone any modifications by the Romulans once they had boarded. However, a strange communiqué had surfaced in a scan of the sensor logs.

"What's that?" Lash asked, her brow furrowing with confusion as she joined the security chief. "Or should I say, how did that get there?"

"Precisely," T'Noth replied. "It would appear that the Titan received orders from Starfleet to discontinue negotiations and attack Romulus."

Lash shook her head in disbelief. "With no support? That can't be right."

"I agree, which is why I cross-referenced the orders with other Starfleet communiqués." She pulled up another text message from Starfleet Command to compare it to the one found in the sensor logs. "There are minute, but discernable differences between the two. I would surmise that the one we received as the attack commenced was forged."

"You think whoever attacked us falsified these orders so that they could cover their butts after the attack was over."

Accustomed to human colloquialisms, the Vulcan didn't even raise an eyebrow at Lash's supposition and instead inclined her head. "That would be a logical assessment. It would also explain why the communiqué had been directed to the sensor logs rather than the communication logs. Whoever sent the message did not possess adequate routing information, something that would certainly exist if the message had been from Starfleet."

Lash shook her head in amazement. "Talk about gall," she murmured, returning her attention to the disrupter that sat on the main engineering console. "Take at look at this, T'Noth."

The Vulcan abandoned her research and moved to the console. "I assume this is the disrupter that was used to kill Captain Riker?"

The chief engineer nodded. Her brown eyes gleamed with satisfaction over her discovery. "Looks like a run-of-the-mill Romulan disrupter, right?" At T'Noth's answering nod, she continued, "However, there's an extra component here -- something I've never seen before." Using a pair of pincers, she removed a red chip from the firing mechanism and held it out for T'Noth to see. "It looks like it was added after the disrupter had been originally assembled."

The security chief peered at the object, noting the tiny filaments that ran the length of the chip. "Do you have a theory as to its use?"

Lash released the chip from the pincers, laying it on the flat surface of the console. Picking up a tricorder, she tapped a few commands and replied, "Well, according to the scans I've been able to perform, it carries in it a molecular code, almost like one of our phaser settings. With one exception: this chip is set to disrupt all of the body's life functions except for the pain sensors."

Eyebrows raised in curiosity, T'Noth asked, "That would result in an agonizing, never-ending death?"

"That's what it looks like." The engineer paused, her gaze trapped by the ominous looking chip. After a moment of thoughtful consideration, she murmured, "So if Deanna says she sensed Will, she very likely might be correct."


Deanna stared out the Ready Room window at the greenish planet below trying to maintain a grip on her emotions. Without thought, her mind reached out to him only to close her eyes against a wave of pain. Would it ever ease? Would she ever be able to sleep again? Or would her mind always search for him, would she always wake in the middle of the night reaching for him?

Counselor, counsel thyself. Would it were that easy. She had counseled hundreds of husbands and wives on how to deal with the loss of a loved one; had encouraged them to accept that the person had died and that he would want his spouse to continue to live. But Deanna wasn't certain she could convince herself of that. Granted, losing any loved one was difficult, however her situation was vastly different from those who she counseled in the traditional sense. They were not telepathic; they were not linked together in any sense other than emotional.

Deanna glanced at the terminal screen, knowing that somewhere in there lurked the psychological database from Betazed. It would be easy to direct the computer to the applicable files and learn for herself what the road to her recovery held. Easy, in one sense, yes, but terrifyingly difficult in another.

She hadn't lied to T'Noth when she had told her that there was little research on the Imzadi bond. That much was, indeed, true. However, the little that existed was based on the psychological profiles of those who had lost their Imzadis in an untimely fashion. She shuddered as she realized that her name could now be added to the annals. After all, there was no definitive proof that she had heard Will. It was more likely that she had heard an echo of him or merely what she wanted to hear him say. She didn't know which fate was worse, never feeling or seeing him again, or hearing him in her mind and knowing that he was gone.

Deanna jerked her thoughts from their ever-deepening dive into self pity. She pulled up all the documentation the Enterprise had gathered on Shinzon and Sela and willed her mind to focus. Know thine enemy was the first rule of counter-attack. Unfortunately, there was little to be done to counter anything that had happened thus far. And the little that could be done was waiting on the report of a certain Romulan Commander. Troi shoved aside the cooling cup of Earl Grey realizing that it had yet to infuse her with any added strength. She had done that on her own.

She had always known she had possessed the skills needed to be a bridge officer, and had fought Will for the right to prove it, but never had she guessed that they would be put to use in such a way. She had been content with her rotating night bridge duty and would have been happy to continue in that fashion. She even welcomed the occasional helm duty. Although the last two times she had been in that seat, the Enterprise had met a disastrous end. Perhaps she was better suited to command than to piloting.

But she mostly was better suited to the role of counselor. A role that she hadn't held for more than two days on the Titan before her life went straight to hell. Once again, the universe was in chaos and it was up to Deanna Troi to bring it to some sort of order. She only wished her track record for saving it had been better.

Troi felt a subtle lift in the depression that hovered just out of sight. Yes, even gallows humor helped. Her mind cleared and, glancing at the chronometer, she decided Donatra had had enough time to track down Tal'Aura.

Tabbing a few buttons on the terminal console, she opened a channel and said in a clear voice, "Troi to the Warbird Valdore."

A slight pause then, "Donatra here," echoed through the Ready Room.

Good, just who she had wanted to reach. Not bothering with niceties, Troi asked, "Were you able to locate Praetor Tal'Aura?"

"I was just about to contact you." Troi could hear the futility that tinged the commander's words. Whatever had happened, it wasn't good. "The praetor is dead. She conspired with Sela to end the peace talks and destroy your ship."

Of course, that was what she had felt at the meeting. Anger bubble up inside her and, careful to maintain some semblance of impassivity over her growing ire, she asked, "Where is Sela now?"

Donatra's frustration leached through the comm channel. She held herself responsible for Sela's disappearance. Had she but aimed first at Sela then at Tal'Aura, there would be no need to search. But Tal'Aura had betrayed the people most. No one expected Sela to ever forward the cause of the Empire. Tal'Aura had held the highest rank in the leadership. Honoring the wishes of the Rihannsu fell to her first and foremost.

"That's what I'm working on. She beamed out before I was able to apprehend her. My ships are following a warp trail to sector 561. It's our best lead thus far in the search." She paused and Deanna felt the swift change in the other woman's emotions. Disbelief and disappointment shot through her as her thoughts turned toward the praetor. "I still cannot believe that Tal'Aura authorized the attack, especially since her father specifically defected in order to ensure that peace was kept between the Empire and the Federation."

Caught off-guard by the Romulan's words, Deanna asked the first question that leapt into her mind. "M'Ret was her father?"

"No, Admiral Jarok," Donatra answered, slightly confused as to why Troi would conclude that the former Vice Proconsul had been Tal'Aura's father. No one had heard from M'Ret in years, and, in truth, he had been presumed dead by those in power.

Deanna nodded with understanding, her mind returning to the letter Will had given to the praetor at the end of the first day of negotiations, before all hell had broken loose. After a moment, she murmured, "Well, at least his last words finally reached her. Even if she had become exactly what he had feared."


"Alright, I am here. Make your presence known," Donatra called out into the pitch black night. Not long after she had severed the comm link with Troi, she had received an anonymous communiqué from a person who claimed to be concerned with the peace talks. Infusing the note with enough information to pique her curiosity, Donatra had succumbed to it and now stood in the appointed meeting place. The Valdore lurked in high orbit overhead awaiting her return to follow the other Warbirds in their hunt for the traitor.

A shadow just ahead shifted and moved closer. "You do not know me, child, but perhaps you know of me."

It was a man and an older one at that. She could tell at least that much without resorting to a scan of the area. Every sense on alert, she clutched her tiny disrupter in the palm of her hand, prepared for anything, and waited for him to continue.

"I, too, long for peace with the Federation and have returned to aide its occurrence." He stepped forward into the pale light of the moon that now flickered through the dense clouds above.

"M'Ret," Donatra breathed. Her father had spoken of him often and in admiring tones. He had said that if anyone could bring peace to the Rihannsu, it would be M'Ret, but the Vice Proconsul had disappeared. Defected right under the noses of the Tal Shiar.

"Yes, child, you are correct."

How had he gotten here? The question perched on her lips, but died as she saw the light twinkle in his amused eyes. Of course, there was only one way after all: the Titan. That explained Commander Troi's sudden query about Tal'Aura's paternity. Her gimlet eyes gleamed. If he had returned, then her father's dream was not dead. Unless M'Ret had other ideas. Her hand twitched on the disrupter. "What do you plan to do?" she asked, taking a step closer.

"Bring peace to the Rihannsu," he replied with firm assurance. He opened his hands wide, a gesture of friendly intent. "I knew of your father, child, and, if you agree, will require your aide in this endeavor."

Overwhelmed by the promise in his words, Donatra could do nothing but nod her head in agreement. Her hand left the disrupter and stretched out to grasp his elbow, a sign of partnership, of understanding.

M'Ret's smile lit up his face as he returned her grip. He had been right to trust Riker's opinion of her, had been right to trust what he had known of her father. Satisfaction filled him. "Good," he whispered as the cool breeze rose to kiss their skin in a benediction, a promise of its own, "but for now, tell no one that you have met me. There are those here who will not see my return as you do."


It was an eerie sight in Sickbay as Captain Will Riker's body was laid out on a biobed. The blackened skin of his face obliterated any recognizable feature. His charred hands lay by his sides; the gold of his wedding band had melted into bone and was covered by the ashy remains of his ring finger. The sections of skin that hadn't been burned by the disrupter fire still held the pinkish tones of life even though no pulse lurked below. Medical scans indicated no active brain wave. Yet even with all those clinically accepted signs of death, a single thread of hope remained.

Michael Harper paused near Riker's side and tapped a series of commands into the monitors. He glanced over to Crusher, who stood near the wall, confirming the read-outs. "Basing the most recent scans on T'Noth and Vaden's information about the disrupter," Harper began as he nodded his thanks to the Vulcan, "I isolated a small part of Riker's brain that controls the pain receptors. It and another section of his brain are just barely registering readings." He programmed another set of commands into the biobed and twin lights began to blink in irregular patterns on the wall console.

Beverly sighed as she turned back to the biobed and allowed her gaze to settle on Will's unmoving form. "It's not much, but it may be why the usual post-mortem scans missed it."

"I'm guessing this other part houses his Imzadi bond with Deanna."

Crusher nodded as she crossed her arms. It was as good a supposition as any, given the lack of hard data on the bond's existence. "Commander T'Noth," Beverly stated after a moment of careful consideration, "this is a long-shot, but it’s the only option we have."

The Vulcan raised her eyebrows in polite questioning.

"Since Deanna is unable to move past the block her meta-conscious has placed over her link with Will, you are the only person who can reach him, if he's reachable at all."

"A mind meld, in this instance, would ascertain the captain's true mental awareness," the Vulcan offered. Her skepticism was obvious to the doctors, but this was their captain and any Starfleet officer held the captain's life in high esteem. "I will try, but there can be no promises."

Beverly nodded. "That's why we haven't said anything to Deanna about this. There's no need to get her hopes up." She picked up a small instrument and attached it to what remained of Will's forehead. "The cortical stimulator will allow us to give him a boost, if you find anything."

"Very well, then," T'Noth stated as she unclasped her hands and placed her fingertips against Riker's cheek. "My mind to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts."


They hadn't found her, but Donatra's ships had located Sela's base and, based on the readings from the Levaeri V moon, more thalaron devices. Fierce satisfaction flooded Donatra as a feral smile lit her lips. Sela's days were numbered.

"Open a channel to the Titan." The bridge was silent for a moment then the warning beep of an open comm line sounded. "Commander Troi, the Valdore has reached Levaeri V. Sela's forces were hidden on the moon's dark side."

Before Deanna could reply, the Valdore rocked wildly against a surprising shockwave. Donatra grabbed the arm rests of the commander's chair and righted herself. "Tactical, report!"

"Sir, the base on the surface has just exploded," the sublieutenant reported as he rechecked the sensor readings.

"Commander! A scout ship is fleeing the base. One life sign aboard. It is half human."

"Sela!" Donatra cursed as she gripped the arm rests tighter. That traitor would not escape from her twice. "Fire phasers and launch photon torpedoes. I want that ship stopped before it gets to warp and I want Sela in my brig. Commander Troi, if you will pardon my sudden ending of our conversation?"

Troi nodded once, then her image blinked away, replaced by the glowing fireball that had erupted from the moon's surface.

A volley of phaser fire lit up the viewscreen, direct hits obvious as they sliced through the scout ships shields. The little ship bucked and careened under the heavy weapons fire.

"Shields are down, Commander," the tactical officer reported, pleased he was able to provide his leader with good news. "I have beamed the only occupant directly to the brig."

"Wonderful," Donatra breathed as she rose in one fluid motion. "Return to Ch'Rihan at top speed, but make sure the other Warbirds stay to scan the area for further life signs and destroy anything that's left on that moon." The turbolift doors opened before her as delight raced through her veins. "I'll be in the brig."


The blonde Romulan paced the length of the cell, furious at herself. She dug a small pill from a hidden pocket in her pants and stared at it. Poison. Fast-acting and painless, it had been used for centuries by the Senate to rid those of their enemies. More recently, her crew had taken it and their loyalty to the grave. It was an option for her. And a viable one given that Donatra would kill her without a second thought. But, was it better to take her own life as a display of her power? Or should she wait for an opening and escape?

She didn’t really want to die, at least not by her own hand, especially if she would later be offered an opportunity for escape. But neither did she want to die in such a useless manner as an execution. It was wasteful and it served no other purpose but to efficiently rid the universe of a thorn in the collective Rihannsu side. And Sela had run for too much of her life. She had reached the end. Her house was in shambles, or would be as soon as word of Tal'Aura's deception leaked. Her own life was worth nothing to anyone but herself. She had little to lose and potentially everything to gain.

She dropped the pill to the floor then ground it under her boot heel. No, she would fight and even if that fight brought her death, at least the universe would know that she had attempted to thwart it.

The brig doors slid open and Sela turned.

"Well, well," Donatra said as she walked into the room, "it seems we meet again."

"If you're going to kill me, do it now."

"In such a hurry to die, Sela?" Donatra asked as she gauged the older woman's demeanor. "We'll get to that soon enough. As a matter of fact, if I had my way, I would have blown you out of the sky, but there are others to consider."

Sela ignored her and dropped to her bunk. Crossing one leg over the other, she stared up at the ceiling.

Donatra smiled at the show. "Not at all curious as to who those others are?" The silence continued from the blonde. "That's alright. I'm sure you already know."


The disrupter in Sela's back shoved her forward and off the transporter padd. The renegade glanced around the room with disgust. Even though the Titan was brand new, it still looked and smelled like the Enterprise. Perhaps it was consistent with the rest of the fleet. If that were so, she didn't know how her mother had lasted, breathing such smells every hour, every minute.

Of course, she was human. It was possible that humans actually liked the stench. She tossed a glare over her shoulder as Donatra shoved her once more. The doors to the transporter room opened and before Sela could be pushed through them, Deanna Troi and several security officers walked in.

Sela hadn't thought that the confrontation would begin in such an unlikely locale, but perhaps it would make her escape easier. Her lips curled in disgust at the sight of the petite commander. The woman looked like all four phases of the Rihannsu hell. Good. It was time that someone other than Sela herself felt the pain of existence.

Troi stood without comment, content to gaze at the younger woman. It was amazing, really, how much she favored her mother. Her ears and the slight crease in her brow were the only physical things that branded her as Romulan. However, even without those, Deanna would have known the reality of Sela's heritage. There, lurking in her eyes, was the cold, unrelenting hardness found in every member of her species.

Deanna had wanted to confront her. Sela, as the daughter of a Federation citizen, had the right to on her own merits, but it was more than that. In all that had happened, and despite all they had learned about the woman's traitorous acts, one question remained. And Deanna wanted to look into Sela's eyes, to be in her mind, when she gave the answer.

"Why?" the Betazoid asked, her lips barely mouthing the query. The sound, for all its whispered tone, echoed across the room.

She hadn't expected Sela's response.

"You're the empath. You tell me."

Troi didn't flinch at the prod. Instead she replied, "No, I want to hear you say it. I want to hear you justify your logic for this."

The Romulan snorted and shook her head. "You don't know. You can't know the stigma I felt as a child after my father had been forced to kill my mother. And to make matters worse, I didn't suffer it alone. He bore the brunt of it because he had been weak. He had given into his desires and taken her as his consort. When she was caught trying to escape with me, he was destroyed. She might have died physically, but it was he who suffered emotionally.

Venom dripped from Sela's words, every scathing piece of evidence lay before them as justification for her crimes. "All my life, I have been forced to live with the knowledge that my mother single-handedly destroyed our house. Our regal, centuries-old family name was shredded by her act of selfishness. By her love for the Federation. You and everyone like you ruined us. Why shouldn't you pay for the crimes you have done to me?"

Deanna shook her head unable to fully comprehend what her mind and empathy swore was true. A scared and traumatized little girl merely wanted revenge against those who she thought had ended her world.

For this two hundred and twenty-six people had died. Deanna hadn't realized she'd spoken aloud until the Romulan laughed.

"For that I would kill thousands more," Sela swore.

Without warning, Sela rushed the nearest security officer, wrenching the phaser from his grip. Before anyone could react, she raised the setting level and fired.

The universe slowed.

Donatra drew her disrupter and returned fire. Sela disappeared into floating molecules. A security officer ordered an emergency medical site-to-site transport.

But to Deanna, none of it mattered.

She didn't feel the phaser blast as it ripped through her torso. Didn't hear the cries of her friends and crewmates as they watched her fall. Didn't fear her fading grip on conscious reality. What she did feel, what she did hear, made her heart sing, her soul rejoice, and brought a smile to her dead lips: Imzadi.




Now (almost a year later)

"Down in the valley...valley so low...hang your head over...hear the wind blow…" the voice sang softly to the newborn infant cradled in her arms. When the lullaby ended and he had snuggled in the crook of her arm, she whispered to him of his parents' lives, of their love for him as he drifted off to sleep.

Almost a year had passed since the Titan had been sent on the peace mission to Romulus. Will Riker and Deanna Troi and countless others had died in the endeavor, along with, at least at the time, Starfleet's hopes of peace with the Romulan Empire. A light blinked on a console in the living area, but the woman ignored it, refusing to allow the outside world to intrude on the solitude. Reality would descend soon enough on their piece of heaven. It could wait a little longer.

The woman looked at the figure asleep on her bed. He had grown so much over the past year, and yet, he still slept with his thumb in his mouth. There would be time enough for him to change the habit and for now she let him sleep, content with the sweet picture he made.

Her thoughts turned to her other child, who was a child no longer, but a wife and mother. It was as if her Little One were Alice and had fallen down the rabbit hole, fallen toward and found her destiny. But it wasn’t a fall that Deanna had enjoyed, that much her mother knew. Her Imzadi killed in action weeks after their wedding, herself in command of his vessel and faced with deteriorating peace talks, a life growing inside her with little to no hope of a peaceful future.

One would have thought that after Fate had conspired to unite them three times, it would have been more concerned with the course of its machinations. Lwaxana still didn't have the full details as to what had transpired between her daughter and that Romulan woman, Sela. In truth, she didn't want to know. She had felt enough pain, had known instantly when her Little One had died. The bond that linked them had ripped in half, doubling Lwaxana over in the middle of a meeting with the president of the UFP.

No sooner had she regained consciousness had she felt what she would have thought of as unthinkable. Their bond had returned. Deanna was alive. Thanks to the combined efforts of Beverly Crusher and the Titan's Michael Harper, Deanna had been brought back to life. Their quick response led to the three hour surgery to replace her daughter's heart and lungs. And, miracle of miracles, they had saved the little boy who had slept in harm's way, right under his mother's heart.

Lwaxana leaned over and kissed her grandson's forehead, sending a silent prayer of thanks to the gods for bringing him to her. The line of the Fifth House would continue. It was a fact which filled her with intense satisfaction, but more than that, she relished in the joy that this child would bring her daughter. Lwaxana remembered the short time Deanna had enjoyed with her son, Ian. Deanna was born to be a mother; her soul craved it, even if she hadn't thought about it until Ian had been conceived. Lwaxana knew because she was the same. For all her eccentricities, Lwaxana Troi was first and foremost a mother and most concerned about her children's lives. If that weren't so, why would she have so often interfered on her daughter's behalf?

Her Little One could now fully know the joys of parenting, in addition to the other duties the Federation had foisted upon her. The Fifth House had been recently honored to add another ambassador to her line, though Lwaxana couldn't understand how Deanna tolerated Romulus -- such a dark, dank world. After Praetor Tal'Aura's duplicity was exposed, the conquered worlds had revolted. Only the agreement that the Federation would send an ambassador to monitor the process of electing a new praetor had calmed the escalating hostilities. Deanna had been appointed soon after at the behest of Commander Donatra. It was an intriguing twist to the political landscape of that world.

The Titan had remained in orbit around Romulus for months while Deanna engaged in diplomatic meetings with various worlds of the Romulan Empire. Growing bigger every day, Lwaxana worried that her grandson would have been born in space, or worse yet, on Romulus. In the last few weeks of her pregnancy, Deanna finally relented and came home for the birth. Of course, Lwaxana had had some help in convincing her head strong daughter of the rightness of having the child in his ancestral home on Betazed.

She sighed as she lifted a curl away from the infant's forehead. He stirred for a moment then relaxed once more. His life thus far had already been difficult; there was no doubt he was exhausted. It had been a difficult pregnancy, quite different from Ian's rapid and painless progression to life. He truly had been kind to her. This child's birth had been an arduous four hours during which Lwaxana was certain she would lose both daughter and grandson. But he was here now, and his mother lay sleeping in the next room. That was all that mattered.

Glancing at the chronometer, Lwaxana rose and padded to the other bedroom, leaving Barin to his dreams. The doctors had requested that she keep a close eye on Deanna for the first day after the birth, just in case any complications arose.

Lwaxana slipped into the open door, her gaze automatically finding Deanna swathed in crisp linen bedsheets. Light streamed through the four windows and beckoned for those inside to go out and enjoy a picnic. It would be a few days before her Little One was up to such an endeavor, but as soon as she was fit, Lwaxana was certain they would introduce the baby to the wonders of his home planet.

After a moment of silent contemplation, her eyes drifted to a man slumped in a chair. Her lips softened into a loving smile at the sight. Deanna's hand cupped in his own, he looked as exhausted as the rest of the members of his little family. He had been adamant that, though he wouldn't leave her side, he would not sleep in her bed yet.

Deanna stirred, eyes blinking against the sun. As her pupils adjusted to the bright light that filled the room, they focused in on her husband. She was careful not to disturb the soft weight of his hand as it cradled her palm. Deanna still pinched herself at the reality of her life. When Sela's phaser fire had hit her, she knew she had died. She had even felt Will's mind as the block from her meta-conscious mind slipped away. In that instant, she knew he was as much alive as she was dead. Or at least about to be dead.

Consciousness surfaced several days later and with it the continued, steady thrum of their Imzadi bond. It was more welcome to her than the sound of her own, now artificial, heartbeat. Unfortunately, merely being alive was just the first step for her husband. The mind meld had brought him out of the deep unconscious state he had existed in, but it wasn't able to heal the burns that covered much of his body. It had taken weeks to regenerate his face and hands and even now, Deanna still wasn’t convinced that his nose was the same.

Will and Beverly both argued that it was in exactly the same place as before, but Deanna knew better. It was strange, the process of dermal reconstruction and regeneration should have been the most painful procedure he underwent, but Will had more difficulty recovering from the mind meld. Days afterward, he often complained of deep-seated headaches that analgesics couldn't relieve.

One of the casualties of the regeneration process was his wedding ring. The gold had melted down to its molecular structure in some places. Will had just laughed and told everyone that she had literally gotten under his skin. Deanna smiled at the memory and the process of replacing his ring. He had been adamant that a replicated copy would be sufficient, but she had decided to return to their original jeweler and request a new band.

Her eyes drifted from his face to the ring in question. The gold glittered in the daylight, sparkling with untold promise. She hadn't expected to find anything in his now sleep-laxed grip and was surprised to see a data padd lying against his abdomen. Squinting her eyes, she tried to read the line that had been highlighted, but the light reflected off the padd's surface obscuring her view.

A light gurgle from the direction of the door pulled Deanna's attention away from her husband. She smiled at her mother who stood cradling the baby. Her son. She was a mother. Though she still felt some residual twinges of pain from the long and pained delivery, Deanna pulled her hand from Will's grip and struggled to sit up. Will woke with a start, ready to pounce into action if the situation warranted such a response. He glanced first to Deanna and then, seeing she was fine, turned his attention to the door. He, too, smiled at the sight.

Lwaxana nodded to the child in her arms and murmured, "The baby's hungry."

Will helped his wife sit up and then eased more pillows behind her. Lwaxana cooed to the infant as she brought him to his mother and with an ease borne not of practice, but of nature, Deanna took the boy tucked him into her breast.

Lwaxana, realizing the intimacy of the moment, nodded to her son-in-law and slipped from the room as quietly as she had entered it. She had her own child to tend to, after all.

Will's eyes lit with awe as he leaned over and stroked the boy's dark head. They had yet to decide on a name. She had already named one child after her father. He had once been the father of a boy named "Jean-Luc." And both shuddered at the thought of using Will's middle name.

He traced the soft line of the baby's round cheek and whispered, "What about David?"

"David," Deanna murmured, tasting the name on her lips, her tongue. After a moment's consideration, she asked, "What does it mean?"

Her husband smiled, love pouring from his gaze. He slipped his fingers under her free hand and kissed her knuckles. "It means, 'beloved.'"

Her eyes filled with tears. How appropriate for their son. A product of their love, their Imzadi bond, he should know he was as important, if not more so, than either of them.

It had been the modified Romulan disrupter that had ended the life they had known. But it was the skill of two doctors and a Vulcan telepath that had given them a second chance and their son life.

The comm light continued to blink on the console next to the bed. After a moment of silence, Will murmured, "He's never going to leave us alone."

"I know," she replied still rocking the child.

He was a man known to them both, a man whom they now considered an ally. With Commander Donatra by his side, M'Ret had risen through the ranks of would-be praetors. His homecoming, albeit in secret, marked a turning point in Romulan history. For the first time, a citizen had resurfaced bringing with him promises of a glorious future, a future filled with peace. They welcomed their prodigal home with open arms, sensing in him a truth. He had returned to help them as a people instead of hoping to serve his own ambition.

Will's lips lifted in mirth-filled irony. "So are you going to answer him?"

Deanna returned his smile with a mischievous one of her own and replied, "Why? You're the captain."

"Yes, but you're the Federation Ambassador."

She chuckled at his response and shook her head, content with her current state. M'Ret could wait. Deanna wanted to savor her life a moment more.

Although the route was not one she would have chosen for herself or for Will, perhaps the gods had known what they were doing after all. Perhaps she truly had found her destiny, not merely as wife and counselor, but as wife, counselor, mother, and ambassador. And like all destinations, it was the journey that had prepared her, had plumbed the depths of her strength and fortitude and rewarded her.

Because in the end, it is the journey, not the destination, that makes a person.