A Subtle Change

This story was first published in the Orion Press Fanzine "Imzadi" in July, 1999. It is set immediately after the events of "First Contact"


Rating: PG


The brave crew of the Enterprise-E gathered in the Ten-Forward lounge. The Borg invasion of twenty-second century Earth had been averted. The relief of the crew on their return to a beautiful blue-green planet and the twenty-fourth century had been palpable.

What might have been an unrestrained celebration of victory was a rather more sombre affair. The debris of many Starships was visible through the view-ports of the Sovereign Class ship – legacy of the recent battle with the Borg cube. Too many people had been lost or assimilated, too many ships destroyed. Now that the heady experience of participating in the first warp flight in Terran history and the subsequent First Contact was behind them – way behind them – the crew faced an uncertain future and relief was quickly being replaced with grief and anxiety. The Enterprise-E would be space-docked for a long re-fit whilst Starfleet removed and studied the Borg "modifications".

Deanna Troi carefully steered clear of the synthehol being offered. Even the smell of the ethanol-substitute was enough to bring back memories of being unpleasantly drunk. She remembered little of her first meeting with Zephram Cochrane – the ancient scientist had plied her with Tequila – however she had a vague impression of Will gently caring for her even as he tried to save the future of the Earth as they knew it. The headache and nausea the next day were beyond belief however Will had patiently fussed over her and found an appropriate antidote for the ethanol poisoning.

Will. Things had changed in the past twelve months upon this lean, new Battleship. The destruction of the Enterprise-D had led to their first long-term separation in years. She had missed him during that separation and she knew he had missed her, too. It was the first time that either of them had acknowledged in a very long time that they couldn’t just rely on Starfleet to keep them together.

They had been best friends for a long time now – a relationship far more satisfying in many ways than the hungry passion of their youth. The strain of their enforced separation had brought them closer. Deanna had noticed that Will had begun to date only on rare occasions and, for the first time in a long time, Deanna had been finding herself happy to be hearing how each of the "ladies" hadn’t been quite Will’s type.

Watching Will across the room, Deanna wondered if these recent events would change the comfortable bond they had nurtured on the Enterprise- E. Will would inevitably be pushed into a Captain’s chair somewhere – Starfleet was too short of experienced people to let a man with Will’s demonstrated talent for Command hang about HQ for months whilst the refit took place. A horrible thought crossed Deanna’s mind. Would they both find their way back to the Enterprise… and each other?

Mentally Deanna shook herself and began to circulate amongst the crowd. Whatever her personal anxieties it was her job as Ship’s Counsellor to try and help the rest of the crew cope with the recent losses and trepidation over the future.

Her own concerns could wait for now.

Will Riker mingled amongst his crew at the Ten-Forward Bar. Despite his outward smile and good-humoured demeanour Will was deeply troubled. Once again this crew – his crew- were about to be cast across the galaxy.

The loss of the Enterprise-D had been hard enough. He had helped build her crew up – watched the junior staff grow and mature over her time in Service. Trying to post them to suitable positions whilst maintaining a core for the future Enterprise had been difficult enough. Now the crew he had trained and drilled over the past twelve months on the Enterprise-E were to be separated whilst she was repaired.

That was the problem when you worked with the best of the best. When Starfleet was already stretched they couldn’t just sit on a crew of hundreds whilst a ship, even the Flagship, was refitted. Of even greater concern was that Senior Officers were in short supply. Previously he had been offered the chance to Captain a vessel – this time he was sure he would be ordered to do so. Once there he wondered if even Jean-Luc Picard would have enough pull with the Starfleet Brass to have him reassigned back to the Enterprise.

His smile became broader and more genuine as he spotted Deanna across the room. Whilst his mind was flooded with these uncertainties it was all he could do not to bound over to her for the reassurance he always found in her presence. He stopped himself so he could observe the amusing interplay between her and a cocktail waiter – he wasn’t sure he had seen her turn quite that shade of green before!

Almost as quickly as she had dodged the waiter she made a beeline for an obviously troubled crewmember. While some at the party were dancing and celebrating escaping death once more, many others were openly grieving. Will watched as Deanna skillfully put the crewman at ease – listening to him, lessening the load of his recent trauma.

Deanna was the best of the best, too, of course. Her counselling skills would prove invaluable over the ensuing weeks as the crew was allocated their new postings. Those skills would surely leave her Earth-bound helping those with the deepest wounds. Just as Will knew his duty called him back to space he knew just as surely that Deanna could not follow him. It was a situation that Will was not at all happy with.

Will could admit to himself that he wanted more from their relationship than simple friendship. On the Enterprise-D whenever Will had tried to take the relationship to a different level it had always been Deanna who backed away. The time he had spent apart from her during the hurried final stages of construction of the Enterprise-E had driven home to Will exactly how much he cherished her companionship beyond that of anyone else.

Once aboard the new ship things had quickly settled back to their old, comfortable routine. They ate together, laughed together – began to share their lives once again as they had on the early days of the Enterprise-D. Will was initially surprised that the other female companionship on the Enterprise-E was nowhere near the standards of the old ship’s… eventually though he realised that the women had not changed, he had. He had been comparing the unfortunate ladies to Deanna and had inevitably been longing for her company instead.

Deanna moved away from the now cheered crewman. Will had watched for long enough, excusing himself from the cluster of officers surrounding him, he gave into his earlier impulse to cross the room to where she stood. The warmth that greeted him in her beautiful dark eyes encouraged him.

"Care to dance, Counsellor?" He used the full force of his best blue-eyes-a-sparkle smile.

Deanna cheerfully acquiesced, not with words, but with a smooth movement into his arms. It was good to feel his strong, reassuring presence soothing away her fears and anxieties. The future could look after itself. This was here, this was now and it was so real and true that there was nothing in the Universe that could spoil this moment together.

She let herself relax, shielding out the turbulent emotions of the surrounding crew, focussing only on the feelings of warmth and affection emanating from her Imzadi. As the music continued they moved closer and closer – each melting into the other’s touch.

It was during this closeness that Deanna felt something from Will, a certain love and possessiveness that he had not displayed openly for years. Deanna basked in it, examined it and then put it away in a private part of her heart. Shaken, her attention returned back to her earlier concerns – with their separation imminent, now was not the right time to act on these feelings. However, part of her wanted to damn the cool voice of reason and grab onto her Will and never let them be parted again.

The dance inevitably finished with the customary round of applause. The cheerful noise broke their reverie and the grim reality of the immediate future came to the fore for them both. An unspoken pact was communicated as the world invaded their private space.

Both Will and Deanna knew that something had happened that night. Gently, subtly their relationship had once again changed direction. Their love, kept hidden so long for the sake of protocol and propriety, had surfaced during this time of duress. The essence of "Not yet, but soon" hung between them.

No matter the ship. No matter the distance. They would find a way. They were Imzadi.