Title: Misconceptions (R/T)
Author: Jrgnfly Rating: R
Disclaimer: Paramount is God, yadda yadda yadda
Setting: Two months after Generations
All Feedback is appreciated, good, bad, indifferent.

Note: This story was originally written in 1998 and was substantially revised in 2009. Hope you enjoy.

Chapter One

"Computer run program Troi 31Beta." Instantly the yellow gridded space of Holodeck 5 was replaced with a cliff over looking a rambling brook, and a rainbow filled sky. Counselor Deanna Troi walked to the edge of the cliff and sat down on the overhang. She normally didn't like Holodecks because the emotions of those she encountered in them were just that... hollow.

But this was different.....

Troi had programmed one of her favorite places on Betazed into the Holodeck's computer files. It was the Crialin Cliff, on the far side of the tropical planet. She had been coming here since she was a child, either to think about things which were troubling her, or just be at one with nature. Today it was a little of both. It was a difficult climb to the top of the cliff, yet Troi didn't feel as though she had exerted herself at all; she was so used to the jagged rocks that led her to her favorite meditation spot. From the top of the cliff, there was a spectacular view of Lake Cataria, where she had purchased a home years ago in an attempt to have some place that she didn't have to share with her mother. The rainbows in the sky overlapped each other, sparkling off the water below. She closed her eyes and listened to the sounds around her; the birds singing sweetly as they flew through the sky and the whistling of the wind as it struck the mountain she was perched atop.

It had been two months since the crew of the Enterprise-D had received their commissions for the E; almost all of them had returned along with a new crew contingent she was still getting to know. Troi had been busy these past couple of months. She had been trying to talk to those who were still apprehensive after the crash of the previous ship, as well as introduce herself to the latest crew members aboard. She herself was still having some problems dealing with the crash because she had been at the helm of the Enterprise as it went down. She understood that there was nothing she could have done to prevent it and in time she would be able to fully accept that. But that wasn't why she was here now...

Deanna sighed and drew her knees up to her chest wrapping her arms around them. She had spent a lot of time here in the first few months after the crash before she received her new commission. She kept her eyes closed and listened to the wind rushing over the churning water below, letting the most soothing sound she had ever heard help her to relax. Her body swayed back and forth in rhythm with the wind. It wasn't too long before she was in a deep meditative trance. And somewhere inside her mind she heard music, drawing her further away from the conscious state.

Troi remained that way for hours completely unaware of the passage of time, when suddenly her comm badge beeped and startled her.

<Picard to Counselor Troi.> Troi jumped slightly then composed herself.

"Troi here."

<You are needed on the bridge.>

"Acknowledged, on my way Sir. Troi out." She rose. "Computer, end program." The scenic cliff faded away. Troi lingered for a moment in the darkness and left; she'd have to deal with her problem later.

Six hours later...

The last thing Deanna Troi wanted right now was to be with people but she had no desire to go to her quarters either. Finally, after wandering around the corridors for what seemed like hours, she took a turbolift to Deck 6 and walked to the arboretum. She sat on a bench, breathing in the exotic scents that surrounded her. The past two months had been especially tense for her, partly because she'd been overwhelmed with appointments, and also because of another more personal reason. Deanna shook her head, trying to clear it. She had to try and stay focused, keep her mind on her work. And yet, no matter how hard she tried her thoughts kept drifting away to the past. To one night in particular.

There had been a gala the day they all arrived on the new Enterprise, a welcome back of sorts with a promise for the future. Troi had certainly been delighted that she was back, but there were times such as this one when she wished that she had stayed on Betazed.

The gala had started late in the evening, with food, dancing and a group of old friends trying to catch up on the past six months in the lives of everyone aboard. Deanna had had a wonderful time, she and Doctor Beverly Crusher had spent the majority of the evening talking at a table towards the back of the room when unexpectedly, Commander William Riker came up behind them and asked her to dance. Deanna happily agreed and with a quick goodbye to Beverly, took Will's hand and followed him to the dance floor.

Deanna hadn't realized how much she'd missed Will until he put his arms around her and they started dancing. She shivered imperceptibly and laid her head on his shoulder as he drew her close. He leaned down and inhaled the perfumed scent of her hair, breathing in her essence. Although neither would acknowledge it, being separated for the past six months had been agony. Yet at the same time this was just as bad, being so close and yet not being together. Deanna closed her eyes as they moved back and forth in time to the music. She remembered all the years she had longed to feel his arms around her and now here they were, but it didn't mean a thing. Or did it?

Deanna remembered looking up to find Will gazing back at her; his blue eyes darkened ever so slightly. Her arms had instinctively tightened around his neck and Will slowly lowered his head, pausing just as his lips approached hers. They hovered there, so close that she could feel his breath on her skin. As quickly as the moment had come it was gone. Will loosened his hold on her; drew his face away and when the music stopped he thanked her for the dance and walked over to the bar while she stared after him; confused.

Will spoke a few words to the bartender then ordered an Andorian Whiskey. Guinan had not yet rejoined the crew of the Enterprise and the new face at the bar was more than happy to oblige the commander. Riker downed his drink quickly and signaled for another. By the time he turned around about eight minutes later, Riker had consumed two more drinks of a very special nature.

The bartender, having received more requests for alcohol than synthehol began giving the 'real thing' to those who ordered select concoctions. Many of the patrons, however, had no clue as to what they were really drinking.

By this Deanna had wandered back to where Beverly was sitting. She had joined her and the Captain at their table, ordering a Rigellian Black Russian, close to the Terran version, but with added chocolate liquor. The Captain declined a drink, already having a martini in front of him, while the doctor asked for another of the same. They sat chatting amiably about what each of them had done during their six month absence.

When Captain Picard noticed Riker standing by himself at the bar, he gestured for his first officer to come join them. Will approached slowly, the effects of the alcohol not yet noticeable in his demeanor, but he seemed to be somewhat tense. His gaze flickered over the occupants of the table, allowing his gaze to pause on Troi for a long moment. Somewhat resigned he sat down beside her.

Picard leaned towards him, "So tell us Will, how did you spend your time off ship?"

Riker sat back and took another sip of the drink he had brought with him. "Well Sir, I spent the majority of it back in Alaska. I hadn't been there for a long while, so it was a rather... invigorating experience." He launched into a few tales about what he and some old friends had done on a hiking/fishing trip. By this time he had loosened up considerably, as had the others at the table. When he concluded his story, Picard turned to Troi.

"I see. Counselor? You returned to Betazed, if my memory serves me correctly. You had mentioned something about teaching at the University. I hope you were able to take some vacation time."

Troi took the second drink which was brought to her, and idly stirred it. "Actually Captain, I was only on Betazed for about two months. The rest of the time I was off planet."

"Oh, I see. Diplomatic responsibilities?"

"No." she smiled, "Just traveling, visiting some old friends."

Crusher looked intrigued. "Go anywhere interesting, Deanna?

"Yes. Numerous places. What did you do Beverly?" She asked, anxious to turn the subject away from her.

"I spent most of my time moving between Caldos and Starfleet Medical. A perfect mix of vacation and dabbling into the latest surgical advances. But it turned out to be very time consuming. And speaking of traveling, I was able to spend some time with Wesley when he returned from wherever he's been off exploring lately."

"And how is he?" Will asked, slouching back in his usual manner. All at the table smiled at his familiar sitting position.

"Just fine, Commander. He sends his regards." Riker nodded in response, reaching for another drink.

Two hours later, the atmosphere at the party was at an all time high. Beverly had finally managed to get a now mellow Captain out on the dance floor, while Riker and Troi remained at the table. Neither of them noticed the absence of their former companions, nor were they completely sober.

Will sat in silence, looking over at Deanna, drinking in her beauty. For a moment out there on the dance floor he'd had the distinct feeling that she wanted him, but he managed to regain his composure and realized that he was just deluding himself. Lately, he had been indulging in some very vivid fantasies regarding his Imzadi while their new ship was in dry-dock being made space ready. For months he had thought of going to Betazed to try and win her back. Now, after hearing that she hadn't been there, Will was glad that he hadn't gone and made a fool of himself ... again.

Sitting next to Will, Deanna was relaxed. Very relaxed. She found herself a little too at ease to accurately sense his emotions. She glanced at Will from time to time, wondering if she would ever completely get over him. While they were dancing she had actually thought that he was going to kiss her but of course she had been wrong. Why would he want her now, when he didn't want her when they were younger? She mentally chastised herself and smiled tentatively when she saw him gazing at her. He really knew how to unsettle her sometimes. She wondered what he was thinking about and if the temperature of the lounge had really just risen ten degrees in the last five minutes.

Will looked at her speculatively for a little while longer and rose when she stood to leave. He caught her by the elbow to help her regain her balance as she stumbled.

"Sorry." she said, but she wasn't referring to her fall. She began to tremble when he took her hand in his, locking their fingers together. This time, without speaking...he once again led her to the dance floor. This time both were slightly out of step but it didn't matter because a good many of the other couples on the floor were as well. Troi stopped thinking as she was suddenly spun around and brought firmly against Will's muscular body.

They both laughed when her head bumped gently into his chin. Then she felt his strong arms spin her around again and felt a shock of electricity when her body brushed against his. All of the sudden she noticed that the room had not stopped spinning when she had. She broke her hand away from his and he moved back, feeling rejected.

"I'm sorry Will, but I'm getting quite dizzy. Perhaps we could call it a night." For a moment she saw two of him, and couldn't figure out how Tom Riker had gotten aboard the ship, and why he was dressed like Will. Then the thought was gone and her vision cleared. She blinked her eyes several times and became somewhat steadier.

Will flashed her a dazzling smile, causing her knees to weaken. He too, was not sure as to how much longer he could remain on his feet. The room had darkened considerably during their last dance, and he had no idea as to why.

"I understand. I'll walk you back." He wanted to spend as much time as possible with her before he sobered up and realized that he had spent all evening staring at her, wasting another opportunity to get back into her heart... into her soul. He could have sworn that she became more beautiful with every passing moment, alcohol notwithstanding.

Deanna nodded, taking the hand Riker offered her. Once again she felt that spark hit her and wondered if he had as well. They walked, giggling softly, to the turbolift, remarking on the many differences and similarities between this ship and its namesake, but they kept mixing things up. Riker didn't understand why Ten Forward was now on Deck Four, so Troi commented that now it should be Four Forward. This sent them into hysterics, laughing so hard that tears started streaming out of Deanna's eyes. Riker raised his hand, and after missing her face a few times finally wiped the tears from her cheek. He let it linger there, leaning down to brush her lips with his finger, before dropping it down to his side. For a long moment their eyes focused on each other, but then a haze dropped over them again.

The turbolift and hallways were empty except for them; the majority of the crew was still enjoying the festivities. The lift stopped at Deck 9 and Riker remarked on how ironic it was that they had been assigned to the same quarters that they had occupied on the previous Enterprise.

"Coincidence? I think not." Troi said in between laughs, "I can't think of anyone who needs counseling more." She raised her hand at the sad look on his face. "Calm down, Will, I was just kidding." He nodded with a little boy smile on his bearded face, grabbing her hand and raising it devilishly to his lips, as the turbolift opened at their destination.

They approached the door to her quarters and paused. As Deanna turned around she lost her footing Will held out his arm to catch her and somehow wound up wrapping it around her waist. "But who's going to walk you to your quarters?" she asked, confused. He started moving away from her and she followed him to his door. "I will." she said, answering her own question. By this time she was starting to feel slightly funny. She could not understand why, synthehol never had this kind of effect on her before. He turned around to find her following him and walked back in the direction of her quarters again. Holding on to his elbow, she walked back with him once more. Riker shook his head and gestured her forward for the final time. He was feeling no pain except when he looked at her and realized that he never wanted to let her out of his sight.

Deanna looked up and saw him staring at her. She moved closer to hug him goodnight and Will's senses became inflamed, intoxicated by the scent of her perfume and the nearness of her body. Riker looked down at her, his eyes fixated on her lips. Rational thought fled as he pulled her tight against him and lowered his mouth to hers, kissing her the way he had wanted to on the dance floor and so many other times before that.

Knowing that she'd most likely pull away and stop this tidal wave of sensation didn't even cause him to hesitate. He stepped back and looked down into her eyes...half closed and glittering with an emotion he hadn't seen there for years...passion. She hadn't pulled away and wasn't going to. He kissed her again fiercely and her mouth opened for him, allowing him to further claim her lips and tongue. With a deep throaty moan, Deanna's hands slipped down from around his neck to his chest and she pushed him backwards until the door of his quarters opened. The door hissed shut behind them, still drowning in the intensity of their first lover's kiss in over ten years. Deep in the recesses of their minds they acknowledged that it was as it had been so long ago, white hot and intense. An all encompassing fire engulfed them.

Once inside, Will began frantically divesting Deanna of her gown, clumsily undoing the ties on the back in a haste to get her clothes off as quickly as possible. Deanna was moaning in his mind as she struggled to remove his dress uniform, desperate to feel his skin against hers. They kissed each other again, each successive kiss more intense than the one before, taking short shallow breaths between them. Will pressed Deanna against the wall beside the door to his room, gasping at the sensation of her breasts against his chest with so little separating them. He felt nothing but the tantalizing heat radiating from her body as he kissed a warm, wet path across their fullness.

Her hips pressed into his; rocking in small circles against him as she tried to ease the ache he created. He kissed his way down the side of her neck and chest, stopping only when he became encumbered by her bra. Will ripped in two and threw it to the floor, a low groan escaping from his throat as he continued on his path unencumbered. He swiftly brought his hands back to her breasts, hearing her softly cry as he touched her.

"Oh yes.." Deanna breathed in his ear. By the time they actually made it into the bedroom, both were half naked, short gasps of impatience slipping form their throats. Will sank down to the bed, pulling Deanna down on top of him. He groaned again as her skin touched his heated flesh.


They kept kissing, deep and searching, tasting and teasing one another. Deanna rolled her hips against the hardness of his arousal, unable to stop herself; the burning ache of release so near. Without warning, Will wrapped his arms around her and rolled, pressing her deep into the mattress, and grinding his arousal into her. Deanna moaned softly and raked her nails down his back.

"Ah...so you want to torture me eh...remember paybacks???"

Will's voice was low and husky in her ear, his tongue tracing its delicate lobe as he kissed his way along her jaw.

Will fingered one tightening nipple then the other reverently, while his fiery kisses trailed down her stomach. His caresses suddenly became harsh and she shuddered violently, needing to have him even closer to her.

Deanna tangled her fingers in his hair, breathing ~~~Imzadi… please... ~~~raggedly into his mind. The dulcet sound of her voice in his mind drove him to kiss her even more deeply than he had before, his tongue dueling with hers in a passionate dance. Scarcely breathing, Deanna tore herself away to nibble on his neck and ear while his hands wreaked adoring havoc on the sensitive tips of her breasts. A gasp slipped from her lips as his beard scraped its way down her sensitive skin and she cried out as she felt him take her nipple into his mouth.

"Oh please, don't stop...don't let go..." and his whispered response into her chest left her breathless. She felt his tongue stroking her breast and hardened nipple and cried out with
unrestrained desire, pushing her chest up into his mouth and urging him closer. Knowing she was nearing the edge, he kissed his way tenderly down her stomach, dragging the scrap of lace masquerading as her panties down her legs. Unable to hold back, he roughly parted her legs with one of his hands and slid his hands between her thighs then sucked in his breath as she mirrored his movements with some of her own.

Deanna sobbed and arched her back as she felt him stroking the most sensitive place her body possessed, first with his fingers, and then with his mouth and tongue. Will held her hips in his hands as she continued to rock back and forth mindlessly, her rising passion more than evident in her flushed skin and wild cries. Her sultry whispers in his mind drew his face away, kissing his way down the inside of her thighs and calves before running his tongue back up her legs again. She grabbed his face between her palms, drawing him up to kiss her lips again. The rest of his body followed. "Oh Gods please, Will..." she cried letting her knees fall open. Finally, after what seemed like forever she felt his heat pushing at her entrance. She moved her legs up to give him more room to maneuver and wrapped them around his waist. With one quick thrust he slid into her completely, crying out together, "Imzadi."

Will forced himself to still, grasping to the shreds of his control and needing to savor this feeling for as long as possible. He gazed deep into Deanna's eyes, their souls and bodies one. Her hair was tousled from their lovemaking and her eyes gleamed back at him heavy lidded with passion. He was breathless with awe as he watched her beneath him, closing her eyes in an effort to hold him inside her forever.

Ultimately, the demands of their bodies were far greater than those of their minds and he began to thrust, slow at first then faster; her hips eagerly rising to meet him. The heat they created threatened to consume them both as they became one after what felt like a lifetime apart. Will groaned under his breath, uttering, "Deanna," as if it were a prayer, then both collapsed in silence, only the sounds of racing hearts and ragged breaths permeating the stillness of the air. Slowly, they drifted off to sleep curled together; complete for the first time in almost ten years.


Deanna awoke with a soft cry, unaware of her surroundings for the first few seconds. Her head was throbbing and she thought she was going to be sick. Turning over she saw that an arm was wrapped around her waist and a hand was resting on the curve of her bare hip. Then she looked up and saw Will asleep. She was in his bed... his bed! Memory soon followed and her eyes filled with tears. <Oh Gods... what have I done?>

She eased out of Will's embrace, taking care not to wake him up. She slipped quietly from the bed, her head pounding from the hangover and the flooding memory of last night's events. She couldn't deal with this now; she had to get out of here. There was no way that she wanted to see the dismay on his face...to hear him say that this had been a mistake. Deanna gathered up her clothes, making sure that she had gotten all of them and swiftly drew her dress on; running from his quarters to hers. She was crying now, in a complete state of panic, no...not panic...confusion, love, joy, and all right...panic. After spending so many years suppressing her love and desire for Will, how could she have done... what she remembered doing?

<Oh Gods. I was drunk, he was drunk, I wasn't thinking straight.> She tried coming up with as many possible justifications for her actions as she could. Anything but the obvious conclusion. She was in love and for one brief moment had disregarded the repercussions of being with her Imzadi again.

Troi showered quickly then threw herself on the bed, still crying. How could she ever face him again? < He had more to drink than me. Maybe he won't remember. Oh Gods I hope he won't remember.> she repeated, although part of her wanted nothing more for him to show up at her door right now, demanding to know why she had left. And telling her that he was never going to let her go again...

Two and a half hours later...

Will jolted awake and for a moment was surprised to find himself in an empty bed. Then he realized... it was just another dream. How could he have been so stupid as to actually believe that he had held her in his arms and made love to her again. His head was aching beyond belief. <It serves you right. You should know better by now.> And yet, that dream had been so vivid... <No. Forget it Riker, it never happened. No matter how much you wish it had, it was just another fantasy.> He kept repeating this as he slipped back into sleep, only subconsciously recognizing the scent of the perfume which clung to his pillow.

A little while later Will stumbled into the shower, still nauseated and bleary eyed. He slowly stepped underneath the spray, unknowingly washing away the smeared lipstick from his back and neck.

Back in the arboretum...

Troi felt a single tear fall down her cheek. Since the gala, neither of them had ever mentioned that the evening ever happened. She believed it was because Will either had no memory of it like she had hoped or that he thought he had made a mistake and was better off not acknowledging it.

Even when she was close enough to read his emotional state she had no sense of him ever thinking about it. Deanna had resolutely pushed that night to the back of her mind, trying to convince herself that it didn't matter, and would have no effect on her friendship with Will or her professionalism around him. Deanna had at last admitted to herself that it wasn't working. These past two months had been sheer hell. At first it had been easy; she had so many appointments and had many psychology journals to keep up with for the first month of the E's voyage to keep her occupied. But after the excitement of being on the ship again died down, Troi found herself withdrawing and staying away from Will as much as possible. She hadn't participated in a single poker game since being on board and wasn't even meeting Beverly for exercise classes in the mornings.

It was hard for her to be around her best friends now; she was terrified that she would do or say something that would embarrass both her and Will. And she was afraid that Beverly would suddenly guess the truth as to what had happened after they left the party.

She drew her knees up and tucked them under her chin; the sounds of the arboretum not penetrating her thoughts. She knew that she was going to have to talk to Will about what happened soon; she couldn't put it off much longer. While being in the holodeck that morning, Deanna Troi had come to a startling realization: she was two months pregnant.

Chapter Two

Deanna was at a loss to how she had become pregnant until she remembered that she had let her fertility inhibitor lapse during the last few days before boarding the new Enterprise. She thanked the Gods that Beverly had not updated her files recently enough to see that she was overdue, having no desire to see her about this just yet. At least she now knew why she had been so emotionally exhausted lately; her brain must have been working overtime to ready her for sensing the baby's emotions. Deanna's breath caught. A baby, her baby.

Troi mentally shook her head. It wasn't just her baby, though. It was Will's as well. Now she would have to figure out how to tell him. She was sure that she would never survive if Will rejected her again. Especially not after the last time. She'd never forget the way she had felt after walking in on him in bed with Wendy Roper. Her mortification had left her in shock for months. And now, what if when she spoke to Will he brushed it off as being just another of his many one night stands? Deep down Deanna knew she was being irrational, but at the moment she had so many rogue hormones floating around her bloodstream that she couldn't comprehend it on a conscious level.

The ship would be docking at Starbase 378 for a required Federation ball due to the signing of a momentus peace accord between two warring planets tomorrow, and although Troi did not feel in the least like celebrating, she knew that it would be a good time for her to inform Will of his impending fatherhood. With the exception of a few short meetings and a mandatory reception, the crew would technically be off duty for the majority of the week.

"Please don't let him be too angry with me, don't let him hate this child," she whispered aloud, tears streaming down her cheeks. She removed her arms from around her knees and stood, resting a hand on her abdomen. She was exhausted from trying to decide what to do; the stress of last few weeks caught up with her in one afternoon. She walked to the door of the arboretum, and noticing that no one was in the corridor, wiped the tears away and went straight to her quarters.

Will Riker left his quarters at the same moment that Deanna entered hers. He heard the hiss of her door shut just after his opened and wondered if he should ask her to have dinner with him but quickly changed his mind. Deanna had been pulling away from him more and more since they'd arrived on the new ship. Riker was hurt; they'd been friends for so long that he couldn't imagine his life without her in it. Then again, she'd probably been sensing the erotic fantasies he had been having about her lately and withdrawn. Although he kept trying to block them out, they kept occurring, especially as he slept. His mind kept wandering to one fantasy in particular, the one he had experienced after attending the E's inaugural gala. There was something unsettling about that dream but he had yet to figure out what it was. Comprehension came in a blinding flash; for the first time he hadn't been visualizing Deanna as the teenager she had been when they had made love in the jungle, he was now picturing them coming together as the adults they had become. Will wondered what that meant; he sure as hell couldn't ask Counselor Troi for advice on how to interpret it.

Perhaps he could find some way to get through to her while they were at the starbase. Maybe, there still was a chance. He knew that Deanna hadn't been seeing anyone at the time of the crash; her relationship with Worf had been over for quite some time. And she hadn't mentioned meeting anyone while off the ship, so there was always a possibility, if he was willing to take the risk. The question he needed to answer was simple. Could he finally take that risk?

Deanna lay on her couch for a few minutes, tears blurring her eyes as her thoughts reeled. She was racked with nausea both from the pregnancy and the prospect of informing the baby's father of her condition. Just then her computer terminal beeped alerting her of an incoming subspace communication. She resolutely wiped her eyes and walked over to the viewscreen; sitting down at her desk. She sincerely hoped it wasn't her mother. Lwaxana Troi's invasive thought reading was the last thing she needed to deal with right now.

<Hello Déesse.> Troi immediately brightened. The handsome face on the other side of the screen belonged to her childhood friend, Dr. Jakob Thornton. She hadn't seen him since the week before she returned to the Enterprise, though she knew he was somewhere in this sector. She gave him a small smile at the use of the nickname he had given her when they were children.

"Hello, yourself. Where are you Thorny?" Troi asked, hoping he could talk for a while. He had been her shoulder for more times than she could count, and many times she had done the same for him.

<Actually I'm at Starbase 378. I just happened to look at the roster of ships arriving for the week, and guess which ship I found listed?> He ran a hand through the long black hair brushing against his collar.

"Yes, we'll be there tomorrow. But what are you doing there?" Troi was confused. Jake wasn't truly affiliated with Starfleet; most of his time was spent traveling from freighter to freighter in search of anomalies and other strange phenomenon.

<The usual diplomatic mingling. Besides, I promised my father I would go if I were around.>

"Oh, that explains it."

Jake's father, her godfather, had been the Federation Ambassador to Betazed for over twenty years. They had met when she was five and he eight and being two of the few non telepathic children on the planet had made them especially close. The fact that they had lived next door to each other while growing up certainly hadn't hurt either.

<Listen Déesse, there's supposed to be some fancy reception here tomorrow night. A costume party or something like that. Do you have an escort?>

"Was that an offer?" Deanna instantly began to feel better. He always knew just how to cheer her up.

<Only if you say no> he quipped, green eyes twinkling. Deanna felt herself smile in response.

"I'm all yours Thorny. I'll see you there."

<Great. I'll contact you after you arrive. And you will tell me what's bothering you then Déesse. Don't think you can hide it from me because it's not going to work. Thornton out.>

The picture went black and Deanna sighed; she knew she couldn't hide anything from him, he knew her too well. Deanna knew exactly how he was going to respond, berating her foolish behavior for leaving in the first place then not saying anything about it immediately after. That was exactly how part of her felt. The other part, however, was a mix of jumbled emotions; her fear of Will's possible rejection the driving force behind her reluctance to talk to him. "36 hours and then I'll tell him." She said to herself. "36 more hours..." Deanna stood up, went into her bedroom, undressed and got into her bed. She placed her hands on her flat abdomen and craved the feel of Will's arms around her. A short time later she was deeply asleep even though it was only 1900 hours.

Chapter Three

The next morning

"As for responsibilities, after the reception this evening and an informal briefing tomorrow you can all consider yourselves off duty for the following five days." The senior staff of Enterprise-E breathed a collective sigh of relief. They sat scattered around the table in the Starboard Lounge, most of them in their usual seats. The chair Worf usually occupied was empty; he had been transferred to Deep Space 9 shortly after the crash and the new Security Chief position had still not been filled. Troi was not sitting where she previously had, either. She used to sit next to Commander Riker but recently had been sitting next to the chief engineer, Lieutenant Commander Geordi LaForge.

Occasionally Will's blue gaze would flick over her quizzically, wondering what he had done to make her stay so far away from him for the past two months. He knew that she had spent time on her home planet, perhaps her empathy had gotten strong enough to realize that she was always on his mind. Also, maybe she knew just what it was that he had been thinking about lately. He turned away from her but kept her profile in his line of vision as the captain concluded the meeting.

The officers rose and began to exit. On Troi's way out, however, she was stopped by someone pulling on her elbow. She turned and looked into the concerned face of Dr. Beverly Crusher.

"Oh no, you don't. Come with me please." Reluctantly Deanna followed her into the turbolift. They stepped out and Crusher led her straight to sickbay and into her office. "Sit," she commanded. Deanna dutifully did so, looking anywhere but at her friend. She didn't ask why Beverly had taken her here, the expression on the Doctor's face and the emotions she was giving off were a dead giveaway.

"Deanna, what's wrong?"

Troi looked up, startled. "Wrong?" She echoed. "Why would anything be wrong?"

"Deanna, listen to me." She sat down in a chair next to Troi and took the Counselor's cold, trembling hands in hers. "You look exhausted and you've lost weight. Now are you going to tell me what's the matter so I can treat it or am I going to have to put you on medical leave until you get some rest?"

<Treat it?> Troi's mind screamed <How could Beverly treat this?> It was impossible, she couldn't let her know yet. She needed to be persuasive so that Beverly wouldn't order a physical examination.

"Really, Beverly it's nothing. I've just been very busy lately. I guess I've forgotten to eat."

"Deanna, you're not still upset about being at the helm during the crash, are you?" Troi breathed an internal sigh of relief. Her emotions confirmed that Beverly had no idea as to the real reason why Deanna was so upset. She was genuinely concerned and had good reason to be, but for the wrong reason.

"No, of course not." Her voice was filled with conviction as her body began to relax." Seeing the change in posture, Beverly began to relax as well.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, Beverly. I'm positive. I understand that there was nothing I could do, and I've accepted that."

Crusher was immediately contrite. "Deanna, I'm sorry to have jumped to the wrong conclusion, but I've been worried about you. Not just as your doctor, but as your friend as well."

"I understand. Thank you for your concern, but it's really unwarranted. I'm fine. I've just been under a lot of stress. We all have. These next few days will make all the difference in the universe."

Crusher was a little confused as to what Deanna had meant by her last statement, but she agreed. Hopefully the Counselor would be able to catch up on her sleep while they were off duty and be back to her usual personable self as quickly as possible.

"Okay. But take advantage of these days off, Deanna. You really do need some rest and please eat something too. You look as though you are going to pass out at any moment." Deanna smiled weakly in response. She knew that she had to eat, especially now, but the prospect of food was enough to make her sick.

"I will. Thank you, Beverly." Deanna stood quickly, fighting the dizziness threatening to consume her. She steadied herself on the chair. "I'm staying at the base instead of here. I think that the change of scene will be a good way to relax."

Crusher smiled, and stood as well. "I hear you on that one but I have a couple of patients here who I'd like to keep an eye on. I'll be staying on the ship, so I'll see you at the reception tonight. I understand it's a costume ball. Have you decided what you are going to go as yet?"

"No, I have no idea. What about you?"

"I replicated a dress from the ship's catalogue. It's from the Italian Renaissance. But I don't want to say too much now; I'd rather surprise everyone later this evening."

"It sounds wonderful. I can't wait to see it. Now, if you'll excuse me, I suppose that I should pick a costume myself." Troi really couldn't be bothered with costuming right now. She had enough to think about at the moment and would just replicate the first item in the catalogue. "Okay. I'll see you later."


Chapter Four

A few hours later...

Deanna Troi sat in her cabin aboard Starbase 378. She hadn't originally planned on staying here but figured it would be easier when she learned that Will would be remaining aboard the Enterprise. She had thrown a few things together and beamed down to the base; she'd replicate whatever she had forgotten to bring with her. As for a costume for the party later, it had completely slipped her mind. She was trying to come up with the easiest way of talking to Will. <Easy? There is no easy way out of this one, Deanna> she thought as she got up from the chair and began pacing the room. She knew that she was going to tell him tomorrow afternoon after the brief meeting they were required to attend. Then he would have the rest of their stay to think. Right now Deanna wasn't sure whether that was good or not but she resolutely pushed it to the back of her mind and began haphazardly reading the PADD in front of her, looking over the topics that would be discussed at the briefing in the morning. Troi knew she had better research it now; there was no way that her focus would be able to remain clear during the meeting. At that moment, the doors chimed.

"Come in," she replied, not looking up from the PADD.

"You're not dressed yet." It was a statement, not a question. Deanna finally lifted her gaze and sat back, stunned at the sight before her. There he was in living color, or the absence there of. Her best friend, Dr. Jakob Thornton, dressed entirely in black, a mask concealing most of his face but allowing for his green eyes to pierce through. It was tied around the back of his head and his long black hair was pulled into a casual ponytail. She walked towards him and he instantly pulled her to him in a tight hug.

Although she normally didn't see him very often, they were able to spend about four months of her leave together the last time. "How are you, Déesse?" he asked, still not letting her go. She couldn't hide anything from for long.

"I've been better," she looked at his costume a little closer, "Zorro." He guided her over to the chair and sat down opposite her.

"What is it?" Jake was concerned, he hadn't seen her this upset in a while. Not since Thomas Riker. "Oh boy." He leaned forward and placed his elbows on the table. "Talk," he commanded.

Rapidly it all spilled out. She started from the beginning, the night of the party. Her eyes filled with tears as she described her quick exit the following morning, and what had followed since.

Jake's eyes behind the mask brightened with anger. Deanna reached across the table and took his arm. "Thorny, don't be angry with Will. Please, it's not his fault."

"Dee, you've been making excuses for him for over ten years."

"That's not true." Jake gave her a look, which she ignored. He thought differently but knew to keep it to himself. He didn't want to see her get hurt by Will Riker... again. He paused for a moment, reflecting on what she had relayed. Then he quietly spoke.

"Are you sure this baby's his, Deanna?" He kept his emotions tightly guarded from her as he said the words he hated to ask. Neither of them ever really drew attention to that period of time between Deanna's entrance at the Academy and her posting to the Enterprise, when the two of them had been lovers for a prolonged period. They were better off as friends; their physical relationship far too volatile. They had spent much of their time either fighting or making up and Deanna's underlying love for and Imzadi bond with Will Riker had always kept them somewhat separated. But that hadn't kept the occasional sparks from flying every once in a while as they fell back into bed. This baby could have just as easily been his.

The tears that filled her eyes answered him silently before she nodded slowly and Jake drew in a deep breath before exhaling.

"You're planning on telling him aren't you?" Deanna hadn't mentioned what she was going to do next.

"Thorny, I am going to have to tell him." She paused. "Just not tonight."

"Déesse, the longer you put this off..."

"I know. There's a short briefing tomorrow morning and then we're officially on shore leave for the rest of the week." She took a deep cleansing breath. "I'm going to tell him after the meeting."

"Okay…We have to be at that reception in about a half an hour. You say that you aren't going to tell him tonight?"

She nodded and wiped away the remnants of tears from her cheeks.

"Okay. What do you say we try and forget about this for a while and have a good time? If you really don't want to stay, we'll give our greetings and good-byes in close to the same breath. I can always claim the need for an immediate counseling session."

She smiled slightly, always counting on him to either help her solve her problems when she couldn't think objectively or distract her for awhile. "Sounds good to me." Her voice was quiet.

"Do you have a costume yet?" She shook her head. He sighed and pushed his chair away from the table. Then he checked the chronometer. "Go take a shower; I'll come up with something."

Deanna rose from her chair and walked into the bathroom, gently touching his shoulder as she passed by. "You always do, wonder boy, you always do." Then she disappeared into the other room. Jake thought for a moment and then got to work.

Back on the Enterprise...

Will Riker stood before the mirror in his quarters, appraising his costume for the reception. After much careful consideration and debating he had replicated what he believed to be the perfect ensemble. He adjusted the sleeves of his costume and smiled. Sir Lancelot at his best. Now all he needed to do was win his Guinevere. He sighed heavily. Riker had tried to contact Deanna to ask her if she would allow him to escort her to the evening's festivities, but had been unable to locate her aboard the ship.

After running into Beverly Crusher he had learned that she was staying at the starbase. By that time it was apparently too late to ask her; he got no answer when he tried to send a message to her room. She had probably left already and he would just have to see her there. Riker promised himself that he was going to get at least one dance with the Counselor.

Suddenly Will got a vision. Dancing, he and Deanna were dancing. He spun her in his arms and she laughed as she bumped against him. Just as quickly as the image appeared in his mind it was gone. He knew that he must have danced with Deanna the night of the party. He wondered if he had done or said something to offend her when he was inebriated and resolved himself to asking her later that evening. Then he left his quarters and went to the transporter room to beam down to the base.

Starbase 378

"No way, Thorny I am not wearing this!" Troi exclaimed from inside the bathroom. She had just put on the costume Jake had handed her earlier.

"Why not? Doesn't it fit correctly?"

"How can you tell? I don't think this would fit some of my dolls back on Betazed."

"You're over-exaggerating, Déesse."

"No, I'm not." She stalked out of the bathroom and his green eyes widened in appreciation.

"It fits perfectly. You look gorgeous." He handed her a pair of matching shoes. "Now hurry up and put these on. We're already late." He looked at her a moment longer and let loose a whistle. You might want to put on a little more makeup though. You're still kind of pale."

Troi threw one of the shoes back at him as she went back into the bathroom to do as he suggested. It narrowly missed his head. "And work on your aim!" He yelled after her.

Chapter Five

Starbase 378: The Grand Ballroom

Will looked around, somewhat disappointed. He had expected to see that Deanna had already arrived but he couldn't spot her anywhere. The Ballroom was packed; representatives from at least thirteen planets in the Federation were present. Everyone was in costume which would make it even more difficult to recognize the Counselor, although Riker would have sworn that he would know her anywhere, no matter what the circumstances were.

He saw Captain Picard speaking to a delegate from Alpha Centauri IV and walked over to where they were standing. The Captain had chosen to emulate his favorite playwright and was dressed as William Shakespeare. Will was sure that he would be hearing the Captain either quoting passages or speaking in iambic pentameter all evening long. He spun around as he felt a tap on his shoulder, hoping it was Deanna. He tried to hide his dismay as he saw the face of Beverly Crusher.

"Hello, Commander." She noticed the crestfallen look on his face. "Relax Will, I'm sure she'll be here shortly."

"Is it that obvious?" He asked, taking in Beverly's beautiful golden gown. It was appliquéd with lace and seed pearls in the style of the Renaissance and she looked stunning. Will had noticed the Captain's eyes flicking towards her many times in the ten minutes of their conversation earlier. He could not keep his eyes off of her.

Beverly's blue eyes sparkled knowingly. "You've been scanning the room every five seconds. If I didn't know better, I'd assume you were working security."

"It'd be easier if I knew what her costume was. Did she say anything to you?"

"No, when I spoke to her she still hadn't decided on one."

"Oh. Okay." They chatted amiably for a few more minutes about the decorations and such then they too turned in the direction of the entryway as a hush fell over the crowd.

Standing there in the doorway was an undeniably dazzling couple. A tall man, garbed and masked entirely in black, with a sword on his hip and an exquisite woman dressed in a very short red glittered dress with an extremely low neckline. It shimmered down to a good six or seven inches above her knees. Her long legs appeared to be bare, yet sparkled as she walked in four inch matching stiletto heels; her arm firmly ensconced in the crook of her mysterious escort's elbow. Those extraordinary legs were first thing that caught Riker's attention. As his blue eyes slowly traveled up her spectacular figure to her face he gasped aloud.

"Deanna," he breathed. Her raven hair was unbound and curled loosely around her beautiful face, threaded through with strands of red gemstones that sensually cascaded down her bare shoulders and back. When she turned he saw that the back of the dress was cut even lower than the front; coming to a point just above her bottom. The costume was held up by shoestring straps of similar stones. Her luminous onyx eyes were accented with a heavy liner and her lips were painted a deep, dark red. She was absolutely breathtaking.

"Do you know who is she supposed to be?" Beverly asked, astonished at the sight of her friend as if she'd never seen her before.

"An ancient Betazoid Enchantress. Krystallinia, the original Daughter of the First House." Riker's voice was low, almost a whisper. She was ravishing.

"She looks amazing." Beverly remarked, looking from Deanna to Will and back again. Will's eyes were riveted. "Will, are you all right?"

"What? Oh yes, of course." He answered still not tearing his eyes away from the woman he adored.

"Wow, who is he?" a nearby Orion woman asked. "He's definitely humanoid," was the response. "Then he's man enough for me," said another. An attractive Bajoran woman came up behind them, "Don't look now girls, but it appears that he's taken." They all watched in fascination as the dark garbed man led the beautiful woman onto the dance floor.

"People are staring at us," Deanna said as Jake drew her into his arms. They started dancing among the other couples.

"You should be used to making an entrance by now, Dee." He said, twirling her around expertly. Their moves were executed perfectly, mostly because they had learned how to dance in the same classes forced upon them by their parents. After a while they grew to enjoy it and continued dancing often whenever they were together.

"Only when I'm with you," she replied. "You always like to surprise people." They continued to dance, ignoring the crowd around them.

They shared fond memories of a dance class they had both taken while in high school. Jake had been a senior and Deanna a freshman, thinking it would be fun and an easy A while fulfilling a physical education requirement for both. For their final each couple had to be graded on a dance of their choosing. Jake and Deanna had argued for weeks as to which dance to perform, Upon hearing that each couple was trying to outdo the others with the most outrageous dances possible. Chandra and Teb were planning on a foxtrot and Jake had come up with an old Terran dance from South America, known as the Lambada. Deanna had never heard of it before and her eyes had widened in shock as she saw a holo of dancers actually performing those dance steps and was able to instantly understand why it was referred to as 'The Forbidden Dance.'

After much goading and daring, Jake had finally convinced her to perform that dance for their final. They certainly made an entrance that time and were still considered to be somewhat of a legend at the school for it. Both of them laughed, remembering the fun they used to have as children and some of the more recent experiences they shared while traveling a few months ago.

Deanna had decided not to accept the temporary position offered to her at the University of Betazed, choosing instead to go off with Jake in search of various spatial anomalies like she had for the six months before she had entered the academy. Deanna was finally able to relax and get past the crash. Jake was so often able to set her straight, yet he brought out her wild side. She never felt as reckless as she did when she was with him but she never trusted anyone in quite the same way. Even if he was the mastermind of every bit of trouble that had gotten her grounded when they were younger.

He was her oldest friend and no one knew her better. She knew he was worried about her; he knew how completely in love she was with Will Riker. Jake had already left Betazed and gotten married when Will had been posted at the Embassy. If he had been home, Jake never would have allowed the then lieutenant to get anywhere near Deanna, let alone break her heart. Part of him was still blaming himself for that and the other part had wanted nothing more than to kill Riker himself, especially after he returned home to Betazed two months later and saw firsthand how crushed and brokenhearted Deanna was.

Deanna had explained the concept of Imzadi to him, or at least tried to the best she could. Since Jake had lived on Betazed for so long he was able to grasp many of the ideas she had told him about but he was hurt as well.

After they'd both begun to heal, her from Riker's abandonment and he from a marriage that imploded after fifteen months, they'd fallen into a relationship. It took them both by surprise and for a while they were happy. But anytime they were together for prolonged periods of time they were at each other's throats. Thornton had accepted that long ago, wanting only happiness for his best friend, even if he wasn't going to be the permanent man in her life… at least in that way.

As the song ended they went off to the side of the dance floor. Jake whispered something in her ear and she nodded in response as Riker stood on the other side of the room, watching her and speculating as to the man with her was. They had looked very comfortable on the dance floor; a little too close than he would have liked to see. For most of the dance the man's hand had rested on Deanna's lower back and Riker wanted to punch him if it had drifted any lower. Will's eyes had been drawn to them the whole time, seeing their smiles and laughter as he turned down his own offers to dance. He saw the stranger step over to the bar then return to Deanna's side, drinks in hand. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed the Captain and Beverly motioning for him to join them. He wondered how long he had been watching Deanna before he broke his gaze away and walked over to their table.

At the edge of the dance floor Deanna waited until Jake returned. He motioned for Deanna to sit at a secluded table nearby, and quickly joined her there. He held her chair out for her to sit and gently pushed it under the table after she was settled. Then he handed her a glass. She looked at it somewhat suspiciously. He knew she couldn't drink alcohol and this cloudy brown liquid did not look like any kind of synthehol she had ever encountered before.

"Chocolate milk," he clarified, watching her eyes light up in a familiar manner as she heard her favorite word mentioned. Her smile grew wider after she tasted the drink. He leaned back in his chair, sipping his scotch in silence as he looked at her. She was devastating in that costume.

~~~Having a good time?~~~ He asked telepathically. She looked back at him and smiled. Over thirteen years of living on Betazed had taught him well

She mentally sighed.~~~Yes, wonder boy. I still can't believe you got me to wear this... this… whatever this is.~~~

He laughed aloud.~~~Well, it suits you. I remember when we were studying Krystallinia in history class, and how the portrait of her always reminded me of you.~~~


~~~Always. But also the truth.~~~

Deanna smiled back at him and finished her milk. For a few minutes she was almost able to forget about what she had to do tomorrow. Jake saw the sudden look of sadness cloud her delicate features and stretched his arm across the table. She instantly took his hand and held it tight, drawing strength from him. No words were needed.

From Riker's vantage point he couldn't see Deanna's face but he tensed inwardly as he saw her reach for the man's hand. Neither the Captain nor Beverly had any idea as to who he was. In fact, they had assumed that Riker knew his identity; being that he was so close to the Counselor.

"Not anymore," Riker had ruefully replied, then tilted his chair sideways for a better look. He didn't recognize the man who sat across from her nor would he have been able to, even if his features weren't obstructed by the mask. They were sitting in a dark corner, certainly not encouraging socialization and not like Deanna at all. Then again, since they launched the E she had been doing many things unlike her normal behavior and Will found himself wondering just how much of these changes could be attributed to the man sitting across the table from his Imzadi.

"He hasn't taken his eyes off of you all night Déesse." Jake said, startling Deanna from her daydream. Her mind had drifted into a fantasy of dancing with Will, his arms around her as they spun around the floor. Though they had never met, Thornton knew what Riker looked like and had spotted him earlier in the evening.

"What? I'm sorry Jake, what did you say?"

"I said he hasn't stopped looking at you all evening." he repeated. "You were thinking about him again weren't you?"

Deanna looked up at him, her eyes sad. Jake quickly glanced around him and for a fleeting moment directly into Will Riker's piercing blue eyes. Then he turned back towards Deanna and saw her watching him as well.

"Uh oh, Romeo over there really has you right where he wants you Dee." Deanna saw a fleeting image of the two of them together, Will rolling her over into the mattress, and kissing her breasts as she cried his name, then it was gone. She blushed deeply and looked at Will out of the corner of her eye.

"He's supposed to be Lancelot, not Romeo."

"My mistake." He continued to watch Deanna squirm under his gaze. He knew that he was making her uncomfortable but he didn't care. "Are you sure that you aren't going to tell him tonight? If you walked over to him right now and told him that you had to talk to him about something..."

"NO!" she shouted then quickly lowered her voice. Her eyes filled with tears. "Jake, please! I told you, I don't want to do this right now."

"Déesse." He leaned across the table and looked at her. She wouldn't meet his eyes. He repeated more firmly this time, "Deanna." She looked up.

"It's my decision to make. I will tell Will tomorrow." She fought for control as the tears threatened to spill onto her cheeks.

"Okay." He let the subject drop for the moment. They sat there in silence for a few minutes until Jake stood up and offered his hand to Deanna.

"May I have this dance?"

She nodded in agreement and accepted his hand. "One more and then we go, all right?"

He nodded. They walked back onto the floor and began dancing. She laid her head down on Jake's shoulder and closed her eyes, trying to hide.

Jake was worried, he needed to find a way to cheer Deanna up, and quickly. This wasn't like her at all. Then he was struck with an idea as the music changed.

~~~Let's show them how it's really done.~~~

Deanna looked up, surprised.~~~What did you have in mind?~~~

Jake drew her closer and whispered his idea into her ear. After a brief hesitation she nodded and threw her head back, laughing. They waited for the music's rhythm to pick up and followed its heavy Latin beat. Neither was awkward, they slipped back into the dance as if it hadn't been years. Jake spun her outwards then quickly drew her back to him, crushing her against his chest. Deanna's smile was brilliant upon seeing the bemused expression on his face. In the instant they moved fully into each other's arms both ceased to think. Caught up in the beat, their bodies and feet danced as though on autopilot as they whirled around the floor. They were making quite a show of it; many of the couples around them stopped their own dancing to watch. They came closer to the edge of the ballroom floor and Jake turned around, leading Deanna to the doors at the other side of the room. They danced right off the floor and out of the ballroom doors. Deanna nearly collapsed in hysterics as they hissed shut behind them.

They stood in the lobby, laughing for what seemed like hours.

"And you certainly know how to make an exit too, Thorny." She put a hand up against the wall to stop herself from falling down. Jake wrapped an arm around her again and continued spinning her down the hall.

~~~Where to next?~~~

~~~Your quarters. I'm not in the mood to go back to mine.~~~

~~~As you wish.~~~ He stopped spinning her, firmly took hold of her hand and walked her to the nearest turbolift.

Back in the Ballroom...

Will Riker was stunned along with the other companions at the table. Beverly Crusher leaned forward. "I didn't know she could dance... like that," she said quietly.

"Neither did I." Will replied, his jaw tightening. After about fifteen minutes he realized that Deanna and her companion weren't going to come back into the ballroom. He had lost yet another chance with Deanna and now he couldn't dance with her as he had promised himself earlier in the evening. That vivid image of them dancing earlier passed through his head again. He shook his head slightly as if to clear it, and instead was rewarded with a longer image.

He and Deanna were walking hand in hand into a turbolift, laughing their heads off. Then they got out as she said something to him. He didn't remember what she said, but he saw himself frown at her for a moment, then smile as she moved closer to him again. They both wobbled down the corridor. Once again, the image was fleeting, and it left Riker even more confused than he had been before. They were both unsteady on their feet. <Had Deanna been drinking that night, too?> He silently asked himself. <Maybe if I talk to her...> He quickly changed his train of thought. It looked as though Deanna was going to be otherwise occupied for the remainder of this evening. Will continued to wonder who she had arrived and so abruptly left with and whether or not he would be a significant obstacle to winning back his Imzadi. Riker set his mind to the task. There was no way he was going to let her slip through his fingers again, but... <Watch it, Riker. You're going to have to catch her again before you can keep her.> He turned his attention back to the party.

No one paid attention to the man in the corner. He knew exactly who those two were, costumes or not. There was no disguise that could keep him from recognizing either of them and to see them together made him even angrier. Now was the perfect time to exact his revenge, he need only wait until the time was right to set his long awaited plan in motion.

Chapter Six

Jake and Deanna walked down the corridor and stopped outside his quarters. He stepped forward for the doors to open, then gestured her forward courteously, following behind. Deanna kicked her shoes off and threw herself on the couch, certainly not her typical way of sitting, but she hadn't really been feeling much like herself lately. Jake always drew out her restless side. She jumped up again and started walking around the room. Jake sat on the couch and watched her, amused.

"Fidget much?"

"No. This dress wasn't really made for sitting, Thorny. You should know that, you made me wear it."

Jake snorted. "The real reason you wanted to come back to my quarters was to raid my closet."

Deanna smiled. "Of course. You should know that by now." Deanna used to constantly take his clothes when they were growing up on Betazed and whenever they were traveling together. As much as Jake pretended to complain, she knew he really didn't mind; often saying that she looked better in them than he ever could. She walked over to Jake's closet and started rummaging through it for something she knew had to be there.

"Sure, Dee make yourself at home," he said as she moved a bunch of hangers aside.

'Thanks. I will." she replied, pulling a garment off the hanger and walking to the bathroom. The doors closed behind her. Jake sighed and folded his hands behind his head, leaning back into the couch cushions. He knew exactly what she had taken from his closet; it was the sole reason that he had put it there. And his assumption was correct because no more than two minutes later Deanna emerged from the bathroom wearing a favorite sweatshirt.

Baggy and black it hung to Deanna's knees, with huge white letters emblazoned on it. The front read, 'The University of Betazed', and on the back read, 'Department of Astrophysics.' Jake had once jokingly said that in order for her to keep that shirt she'd have to change her major. Her silent response had been to keep it at the Troi mansion for two months before returning it to him.

She sat back on the couch next to him and tucked her bare legs up into the bulk of the shirt. Jake laughed and hooked an arm around her shoulders, reaching into her hair to remove the stones that were still threaded there. Deanna closed her eyes and leaned against him, relaxing as the familiar fingers rubbed her scalp...remembering a time when life was so much simpler.

"You know you really shouldn't be putting this off, Dee. You should have spoken to him today." Deanna stiffened and moved away from him. She ran her fingers through her hair, viciously dislodging the last of the gems. They fell unnoticed to the floor.

"We've already been through this numerous times this evening, Jake."

"My point exactly. Each time we've gone though this tonight, you could have been discussing this with Will."

"I said no."

"I know what you said. I just think you're postponing the inevitable."

"Is that so bad?" She asked, tears in her eyes. "Don't answer that." She quickly added.

"I'm going to chalk your behavior up to hormones, Déesse, but yes I do think you should have already said something." Deanna opened her mouth to protest and Jake raised his hand to silence her. "But, I will respect your decision for now. For now, Deanna. If you don't tell him tomorrow like you said, I will."

"You have no right." She said, anger flushing her cheeks.

"Yes I do. This is upsetting you and it's not healthy. Not for you or the baby."

"Since when have you become the expert?" She retorted.

"I never said I was, but I'd certainly expect you to have told me immediately, Déesse." His voice lowered on the last word; he couldn't stop it, thinking back to a time when he whispered it in the dark ….and it took on a whole different meaning.

Deanna nodded, tears filling her eyes. "Okay. As soon as the meeting tomorrow is over, I will tell him. Really. I will."

"Good." Jake inhaled deeply and drew Deanna back to his chest. Shortly after he realized that she had fallen asleep. <Perfect, just perfect.> He carefully stood, lowering his hand to the couch as Deanna began to slump against him, still not waking. Jake gently picked her up and carried her into the bedroom. He tucked her into the bed then stretched out next to her, watching her sleep. It certainly wasn't the first time she had fallen asleep almost mid-sentence and it wouldn't be the last. Deanna wouldn't be surprised if she woke up in the middle of the night and saw him there; he'd had to put her to bed many times during their travels and they had usually stayed in the same bed, both before and after they had become lovers. He set the alarm on the chrono for 0630 hours, a good hour and a half before her meeting. Then he tucked his hands behind his head again and continued to watch her sleep; he hoped she knew what she was doing. Finally, he followed her into sleep.

Outside the door....

The man stood outside Thornton's guest cabin; it had been easy to wander around the starbase with so many people in costume. He slightly raised his devil's mask and looked scornfully at the closed doors. When asking for the locations of both the astrophysicist and the Enterprise's Counselor, he hadn't been surprised with his result.

<Just as soon as she's alone.> He hoped they would enjoy their night together, it would most certainly be the last. He knew it would be easy to get to them but he didn't realize just how lax Federation security truly was. By this time tomorrow he would have started the most important stage of his plan. Nothing could possibly go wrong, of this he was certain.

0720 hours...

"Gods, Jake how could you let me sleep so late?" Deanna said, realizing that she had to be in the starbase's conference lounge in a little bit more than a half an hour.

"I'm sorry Dee. You didn't wake up with the alarm, so I figured you were still tired." Deanna didn't know what to say. His hands folded behind his head, he watched her frantically scurrying around the bedroom.

"Oh. Thank you, but if I don't hurry up I'm going to be late." Her anger dissipated almost immediately.

"Well then, go ahead." Jake lay back again and closed his eyes. When she emerged from the bathroom fifteen minutes later he opened them again, suddenly serious.

"After you tell him I want you to contact me."

"Jake." Deanna stood at the foot of the bed, having replicated herself a new uniform. She didn't have enough time to go back to her room and change. Jake sat up and regarded her seriously.

"I mean it Dee. I want to make sure that you're okay. Get in touch with me tonight."

She nodded. "Okay. I promise." She leaned over the bed and kissed him quickly. "Goodbye, I've got to go."


Deanna straightened and left the quarters quickly. She had less than five minutes until she had to be at the briefing.

Jake closed his eyes again and sighed. He knew how apprehensive she was and he hoped Riker wouldn't screw this up and hurt her again. Personally he thought that the Commander was an idiot to have let Deanna go the first time, and even more of one for not trying to win her back while aboard the Enterprise D. Then again, if he looked at it like that, he was just as much a fool as Riker. He closed his eyes and drifted back off to sleep, having no plans for the rest of the morning.

Deanna walked quickly to the conference room, her brisk steps echoing in the hallway. She was too much of an emotional wreck right now to be sensing the people around her, so intent was she on what she had to do after the meeting was over. She knew that it would feel interminable, yet at the same time fly by very quickly. These were her exact thoughts as a hand clasped over her mouth and another pressed a hypospray to her neck. She was unconscious immediately and she and her assailant disappeared as he tapped his transporting device. <Yes, it appears that the lovely Counselor is going to be very late indeed.> he thought as they were safely aboard his ship, heading towards their destination.

Chapter Seven

Conference Room 3 Starbase 378

0818 hours

"I don't believe that we should wait any longer." Captain Picard said, somewhat annoyed. Counselor Troi was almost twenty minutes late for their briefing, and Picard knew that the rest of the crew was anxious to be finished in order to enjoy their leave.

Will looked at Beverly, troubled. She shrugged her shoulders. They had tried to contact Deanna in her quarters but had gotten no answer, and the starbase's communications system was not operating correctly, so there was no way to speak with her via her comm badge at the moment.

The rest of the meeting flew by. The Captain outlined many of the events occurring at the base over the next week, all of which were optional but many would be a helpful way to establish better interplanetary relations within the Federation. The Enterprise herself would remain in orbit around the base for the next ten days and although unofficially on leave, the crew was expected to attend at least a few of the many functions. The rest of the time was their own.

"Well, that is all. Dismissed." Picard's conclusion was brief; he was still rather irritated that Troi hadn't shown up. Her behavior of late had not been what he had grown accustomed to but he hadn't thought she would have skipped this mandatory briefing for the senior staff. As much as he disliked the thought; if the Counselor's behavior did not change he would have to put her on report.

"Commander, would you mind staying a moment?" he asked, as Riker rose to leave. He stood hesitantly, straightening his uniform. Will had wanted to leave as soon as possible, so that he could find Deanna and ask her why she missed the meeting. He also wanted to know who that man with her last night had been.

"Certainly, Sir."

"Number One, I know that you and Counselor Troi are close. Perhaps you'll be able to talk to her about this incident." Will nodded.

"Of course Captain." It really had been an unnecessary statement by Picard, but he wanted his XO to realize that he was concerned about this without coming across as too harsh. If Deanna had a problem he wanted to do everything in his power to resolve it so that her personal well being, as well as her career would not be affected.

Will felt very uncomfortable about this. He nodded at Picard and left the conference room, choosing to go see if he could be of any help in repairing the communication systems aboard the Starbase. After standing outside Deanna's door, ringing the chimes for ten minutes this morning, he had concluded that she was not in them. He wondered if his bizarre feeling was due to an actual problem or if he was just feeling jealous about Deanna and that man dancing the previous evening.

The transport ship Xarltin


Deanna Troi awoke frightened. She had no memory of where she was or how she had gotten there. She tried to move but for some reason her limbs didn't appear to want to obey her commands. She tried to scream, but no sound came from her mouth. <Oh Gods, what happened? Where am I?> She tried to calm herself, finding her center. She closed her eyes and mentally searched for balance. Once achieved she tried to focus on the sense she had of Will. He had always been a presence in her mind and she began to panic when she couldn't sense him. She tried to reach him again, ~~~Imzadi, where are you?~~~ It didn't matter that she was still uneasy in his presence, right now she needed to feel him with her.

~~~Oh no, don't you DARE." ~~~ Suddenly a shout rang into her mind. Startled, Deanna looked up and stared into a pair of maddened black Betazoid eyes. A wave of psychic power crashed over her followed by another in quick succession. ~~~ Don't even think about it sweetheart.~~~ Deanna tore her eyes away from his and looked at her captor, terrified. She recognized him immediately and in a split second two thoughts flashed through her mind. The first was that she hoped that she could tell Will about the baby before she died, and the second was a mental scream of pure anguish and concern, which she couldn't stop from trying to send. ~~~JAKE!!!!!!!!!~~~ A hand came up and struck her on the head. She was unconscious instantly, her silent scream cutoff.

Starbase 378

2100 hours.

Jake was starting to get worried, he still hadn't heard from Deanna yet. Hopefully, she and Will were too busy getting everything straight to get in touch with him. He had tried her quarters, but she hadn't answered the door. Then a voice came over the intercom.

<Attention all. The communications on the base will be restored momentarily. I am sorry for all inconveniences this malfunction has caused.> The strident voice of Admiral Violet Ashley filled the base. Jake breathed a sigh of relief.

The communications on the base were back on line about twenty minutes later. Jake immediately went about trying to contact Deanna. When he got no answer he tried a different approach.

"Computer, locate Counselor Deanna Troi of the Starship Enterprise."

<Counselor Deanna Troi is no longer aboard Starbase 378.>

"What time did she beam off the base?"

<Unknown. There is no record of a beam out for Counselor Deanna Troi.>

Jake was confused, he knew how stringently the Federation controlled their transporter
logs. He tried one more thing.

"Computer what time did Commander William Riker of the Starship Enterprise
beam off the base?"

<Commander William Riker transported off the base at 1000 hours.>

"What was his destination?"

<The U.S.S. Enterprise.>

Jake broke the communication. He hoped that was where Deanna was as well but he couldn't help the feeling of unease that had settled into the pit of his stomach.

Just then an incoming message from the Head of Planetary Security on Betazed arrived. Jake scanned it quickly, his emotions rapidly changing from those of unease to ones of intense fear and trepidation. He left his quarters and swiftly set out for the transporter room.

The U.S.S. Enterprise

<Captain, there is a Doctor Jakob Thornton from Starbase 378 requesting permission to beam aboard.> Data said, noticing the incoming transmission from the base.

"I don't recall anyone by that name, but perhaps he was at the reception last night." Trying to be amiable he replied, "Does he list the nature of his request?"

<One moment, Sir.> Data waited a moment and said, <Captain, he says that it is a personal
matter of some urgency. I have accessed the manifest on the starbase. His occupation is listed as an astrophysicist.> Data paused and accessed biographical information through the base's interface. <One of some renown.>

"Very well. Permission granted." Picard ended the communication and turned to his companion.

"Sorry Doctor, but it appears that a Captain is never truly off duty." Noticing the somewhat chagrined expression on her face, he asked, "Well, perhaps this won't take too long. Would you like to accompany me to the transporter room, Beverly?"

"Yes Jean-Luc, I believe I will." He helped her off the couch and they exited his quarters, heading to Transporter Room 3.

Transporter Room 3

As Picard and Crusher arrived in the Transporter Room Thornton materialized there. He walked quickly over to both of them, worry filling his usually smiling face. He recognized both of them, Deanna had often spoken to him about her friends and crewmates but he wasn't surprised that they seemed to have no idea as to who he was. Their relationship was very complicated.

"Captain, Doctor, I'm Jake Thornton. I am very sorry to have come here so unexpectedly but I must speak to a member of your crew. "

"Your communiqué stated that this was a matter of some importance."

"Yes, Captain it is. I need to deliver this to a member of your crew immediately. It could not be sent through subspace." He handed Picard a PADD marked CONFIDENTIAL and URGENT. It was addressed to Counselor Deanna Troi.

"I'm sorry, but Counselor Troi is not aboard the Enterprise at this time. I had thought that she was still aboard the Starbase."

"No Sir. She is not. However, the transport logs on the base do not have a record of her leaving the base. I must find her as soon as possible, she needs to read this."

"I'm sorry, but you look familiar to me. Have we met before?"

"No, Doctor Crusher, we have not. But I have heard a lot about you from Counselor Troi. I'm sorry that we're meeting under such circumstances." Jake did not smile; his mind was focused elsewhere though his diplomatic upbringing was clearly evident in his response. "However, I do remember seeing you at the reception last evening. Your costume was lovely."

"Thank you." Crusher looked him over carefully. Was this the man who had been with Deanna the previous evening? He was about 6'4" and lean with black hair that brushed his collar and bright green eyes. He was also, she noticed, devastatingly handsome in spite of his troubled expression.

"Do you have any other idea as to where Deanna may be?" he asked, looking back at the Captain.

"No. She never showed up at a briefing this morning, and we weren't able to discern as to why. We haven't seen her since last evening at the reception."

"Never showed up?" Jake's head snapped up. "But that's impossible..." the color drained from his face as he looked back down to the PADD in his hand. "Oh my God." Realization dawned on him. He had one hope left but it was fleeting.

"Perhaps Commander Riker has some idea."

"Picard to Commander Riker."

<Riker here.>

"Commander, can you meet us in my Ready Room immediately?"

<Yes, Sir. Riker out.>

Thornton was lost in thought and barely paying attention as they walked in silence to the Ready Room.

When they arrived, Commander Riker was standing on the Bridge just outside the door. Captain Picard made the introductions hastily as they stepped inside, but Will had the feeling that this man already knew who he was. Jake was too distracted to pay attention to the fact that he was finally meeting Riker face to face. They stepped inside, Riker looking him up and down. Picard quickly outlined the situation.

"Will, when was the last time you spoke to Counselor Troi?"

"Not for a couple of days, Captain. She's been busy lately. And I haven't seen her since the party." <Oh boy had he seen her.> Noting the look on the faces of the other occupants of the room he concluded, "So no one has seen her since last night?" with an edge to his voice. Will was getting worried. Picard and Crusher nodded but Thornton shook his head.

"The last time I saw Deanna was around 7:30. She was running late for your briefing when she left my quarters." He responded absently.

"I see. So no one has seen her since this morning." Picard corrected.

Riker drummed his fingers on the table lightly, still looking the man over. His mouth opened as if to say something, but he quickly closed it again. Beverly noticed that Will was looking at Dr. Thornton as if to throttle him and placed a hand on his arm to calm him as Picard started speaking again.

"I'm sorry, Doctor but I'm still a bit puzzled. What exactly is your relationship to our Counselor?"

The tall man looked a bit taken aback at the Captain's blunt question but he quickly regained his composure. Not sure as to the complex layers of Starfleet protocol and security he said a silent prayer that Deanna would forgive him later and gave Picard an answer.

"She's my wife."

"WHAT??" Riker couldn't help the outburst but Thornton ignored him and handed the Captain a small data PADD from his pocket after he accessed a document. Peering across the Captain's desk, Riker saw what appeared to be an official marriage record from Capella IV, dated October 31, 2363, a few months before Troi was posted to the Enterprise.

Picard looked intently at the document before him.

"It's quite legal, I assure you." <At least by Capellan law>

Riker traded a shocked glance with Crusher, who shook her head, eyes wide. She hadn't known anything about this either. Why had Deanna never said anything to them? And how would she have been able to go through with her arranged marriage with Wyatt Miller if she already had a husband?

Picard noted the rising anger on his XO's face and changed the subject quickly. "Have you spoken to the base's chief of security?"

"Yes. No one has seen her there either."

Just then Data's voice burst through the mounting tension in the lounge, allowing no more time for questions.

<Captain, we have an incoming message from Ambassador Troi. She is demanding to speak with the Counselor.>

"On my way." Picard stood, and gestured for the others to follow.

Perhaps Lwaxana could shed some light on Deanna's behavior. They had yet to discuss the contents of the PADD. He didn't notice the somber look on Thornton's face as he exited last from the Ready Room and followed him onto the Bridge.

Chapter Eight

Ambassador Lwaxana Troi's frightened countenance filled the viewscreen. "Captain, I must speak to my daughter immediately."

Picard sighed and stood at the bow of the Bridge. "Ambassador, I'm sorry but at the moment that is not possible."

"Not possible?" She echoed, indignant. Then she easily read the Captain's mind. "Oh Gods, I am too late." She sat heavily into a chair, closed her eyes and opened them again, gazing around the Bridge. Then she spied Thornton, still standing by the door of the Ready Room. "Jakob…darling what are you doing on the Enterprise?" Her gaze flicked from him to Will and back, then settled on the Captain again. Thornton stepped forward so that he was standing directly in back of the Captain.

"Lwaxana we are doing everything we can to find Deanna. How long have you known about this?" He waved the PADD in her face.

"The head of Security, Admiral Rouille, informed me about an hour ago and I've spent all my time since then trying to contact Deanna. Your parents had mentioned that you might be at the starbase but they weren't sure. You really should be in touch with them more often, dear. Anyway, I was going to have Deanna notify you; she always seems to know where you are."

"Yes. Yes, she does. Have there been any other reports?" Jake asked, his voice lowering slightly. Lwaxana knew that he would do everything possible to get Deanna back safely but he needed to have all the facts at his disposal.

"The transport ship Xarltin was stolen yesterday. The warp signature has been traced to the Rigellian sector where the starbase is located."

"Do they know if he has left here yet?" Lwaxana and Thornton continued their conversation, ignoring the looks of everyone else on the Bridge who had no idea what was being discussed.

"No, not yet, but the Admiral will contact me a soon as he gets word." Lwaxana paused and adjusted the voluminous folds of her magenta gown around her. "Of course I should have been notified immediately after the escape."

"We all should have." Thornton's tone was bitter.

"Jean-Luc, I'm sure that you will be able to have my daughter safely aboard the Enterprise quickly. Jakob, you know what he is capable of; please be careful." The image on the viewscreen abruptly cut off.

Captain Picard turned and looked at Jake, completely confused. "Shall we adjourn back to the Ready Room? Doctor, I believe you have a lot of explaining to do." Jake nodded as the four walked back into the room and settled themselves once again. They all looked expectantly at him.

Jake took a deep breath. It was hard for him to keep his emotions in check but outwardly he appeared as stoic as a Vulcan. This was going to be very hard, but he was going to do whatever possible in order to get Deanna back safely. Remembering what she had said to him earlier, he did not mention that she was pregnant and managed to keep it hidden from Lwaxana. If the need arose, he would deal with it in any matter necessary in order to protect her from further harm. He imagined what she must be going through now and shuddered. Then he cleared his throat and began.

"As all of you know, Deanna was a psychology student at the University on Betazed eleven years ago. While she was in her final year of studying, she came in contact with a research program involving some very powerful telepaths."

Picard nodded. "That's where she met Tam Elbrun?"

"Correct. One of patients she was working with was a man by the name of Samar Nesian. He is without a doubt one of the strongest telepaths ever in the history of the planet. He was also highly unstable. "Nesian became fixated on release from the psychiatric ward. Deanna met him shortly after he tried to escape for the third time. Then his obsession switched. Deanna was an enigma to him, she was able to sense his emotions rather than read his mind and he found that comforting, at first.

Apparently Nesian by this time was fed up with all the doctors probing his mind all the time and actually seemed to be getting better. I used to go with her to see him on occasion and his doctors claimed that his obsessive compulsive behavior and massive superiority complex was becoming more controlled. Then one day he snapped. He started acting out until Deanna arrived to calm him down. He started sending her notes, hacking in the computer system at the University to follow her movements, and becoming rather forward during her conversations with him. She tried to chalk his behavior up to a change in medication and refused to stop working with him." Jake took a breath, his voice wavering.

"I remember going to the University to pick her up one day, when Nesian was having one of his fits... he was very violent. When I arrived, I was able to transfer his anger towards me instead of her. The doctors kept him restrained after that incident." He ran a hand through his hair, struggling to control his mounting distress at the memory. He clenched his jaw and continued.

"Two months that restriction was added he somehow managed to escape from the ward. The first thing he did was go after Deanna." He paused and sipped from a glass of water before continuing. "She was walking in the park on her way home from class and he grabbed her. Luckily, people were around and they managed to locate both of them before too much time had past. Nesian was moved to a high security mental facility on the far side of the planet, but not before he killed two security officers and mentally tortured five others. Deanna was hospitalized for almost a week; he had beaten her rather badly. Nesian was charged with two counts of murder, six counts of attempted murder, mental assault, physical assault, sexual assault, and attempted rape. He was sentenced to life in the Institute after being convicted on all counts. And there he remained for nine years, until he escaped four days ago. According to the head of Betazed Security, Nesian hijacked a small transport ship and was headed for this sector. This..." He waved the PADD around, "is a warning from the Ambassador to myself and Deanna. It appears to have arrived too late to be of use." Finished, Jake sat back and released his breath.

"Deanna never mentioned this to anyone." Crusher said incredulously.

Jake nodded and rubbed his forehead. "Lwaxana had her medical records sealed at Deanna's request and kept it out of the media. Captain, Samar Nesian is a very dangerous man. I've seen him destroy people using telepathic power alone. We must find him immediately."

"If he is as dangerous as you said, Doctor, how do we know that he hasn't already killed Counselor Troi." Picard asked, trying to absorb all of this information.

Jake shook his head. "Captain, I know how he operates. I can assure you that Deanna's still alive, at least for now. Lwaxana would have known if she had been killed. Besides, he's waiting."

"For what?" Riker cut in, speaking for the first time since re-entering the ready room. He slouched back in his chair, listening attentively and wondering where Dr. Thornton fit in to Deanna's life. He waltzed on to the ship claiming to be her husband though no one on board had ever heard a word about him. Could he be trusted? Lwaxana seemed sure of it, yet at the same time, Riker couldn't be certain. He could be working for this Nesian and may have orchestrated Deanna's kidnapping. The thought of Deanna missing struck fear in Riker's heart. He remembered Q's version of the future where Deanna died and left him to grow into a bitter old man. He hoped this wasn't the beginning of that future.

"For me." He met Will's gaze head on. "Nesian wants revenge all right, but he wants it against both of us. He's still holding a grudge. I assure you, Commander, he hasn't killed Deanna yet and will not do so before he gets me as well." <It's what he may do before I get there that has me worried.> Jake said a quick prayer for both Deanna and the baby; he couldn't think about what would happen when Nesian realized Deanna was pregnant.

"What do you suggest Doctor?" Picard asked, steepling his fingers under his chin.

"For now we wait." <Agonizingly> "It's been over twelve hours since Deanna disappeared. We'll be hearing from him soon, Captain." No sooner had these words exited Jake's mouth, than Data's voice once again could be heard over the intercom,

<Captain, we are being hailed by the Betazoid Transport Ship Xarltin.>

"Acknowledged Mr. Data. We're on our way."

Chapter Nine

Picard strode out onto the Bridge, his mind still swirling with all of the information he had just received from Dr. Thornton. Behind him was Commander Riker, blue eyes were burning with intensity. Beverly Crusher was watching him worriedly; she knew how concerned Will was about Deanna's safety. She turned her gaze to Dr. Thornton. He too, seemed to be genuinely distressed. She couldn't help wondering as to the extent of their relationship.

Picard turned towards Data. "Have you been able to trace the transmission, Data?"

"Negative, Captain. However I can say with a 43.4% of certainty that it has yet to leave this sector, however there is a block on the transmission receiver."

"I see. Very well, screen on."

"Aye. Sir." The screen filled with the view of the Xarltin's Bridge. A blond man of average height was standing directly in front, smiling cruelly with wild eyes. He looked over the occupants of the Bridge, scanning each and easily reading their thoughts. He stopped when he reached Jake and was faced with a shield that would normally be considered very strong, yet he treated as though it were as fragile as a piece of glass. He quickly tore it away and read practically everything on his mind. He was about to probe deeper when he became distracted by the thoughts of Will Riker, effortlessly reading his love and concern for Deanna Troi and coming to a greater realization... Imzadi.

Nesian was momentarily confused. He looked from Riker to Thornton and rapidly back again. Then he seemed to regain his composure."Captain Jean-Luc Picard. This truly is an honor. I have no need to introduce myself; 'Thorny' over there has already seen fit to tell you all about me, as biased as he may be." His tone was ice-filled in its sarcasm.

"Yes, I'm aware of who you are, as you well know. And since it's obvious that you can read my mind and appear to have no problems in doing so, we should get down to the business at hand. Mr. Nesian, you have kidnapped a member of my crew and I wish to have her returned to this ship immediately." Picard's tone was clipped and his voice rang with authority.

"Now Captain, after all the trouble I have gone to in order to get here and become... reacquainted with my little empath, why would I want to return her so quickly?" His Betazoid eyes glittered with madness and his mouth twisted upwards in a sick imitation of a smile.

"With abilities like yours, Counselor Troi's empathic skills are of no use to you." Riker attempted to keep his voice steady and even. He knew that any sign of weakness could give this man an advantage over them and Deanna.

"Commander, I honestly don't believe that you are that naïve." Scorn and a mocking tone infused his voice. "It's not her empathic abilities I'm interested in." His smile widened and he licked his lips lasciviously.

"Samar, lets arrange a rendezvous and you and I can straighten this out. Leave Deanna out of this."

"Now now, Jake. You know I can't do that. It would completely disrupt my plan. But I never considered that the two of you would give me an added little... bonus so to speak. Very thoughtful of you, by the way."

"Bonus? What are you talking about?"

"Come on... Thornton, you already know what I'm talking about. It's the others who appear to be clueless. Perhaps they would prefer to hear it from your déesse in person."

Nesian walked away from the screen and came back carrying a limp Deanna in his arms. Her uniform was torn in several places and her dark eyes wide and terrified. She scanned the Bridge quickly; focusing briefly on Jake.

~~~He knows.~~~ She sent bleakly. Nesian grasped her by the hair and brutally yanked.

~~~What did I say about telepathy, sweetheart?~~~~ Deanna shuddered violently, her eyes still fixed on Jake. She broke her gaze away, and looked from him to Will, as if to memorize every detail of his face. She met his eyes briefly then looked away; she had no right to draw strength from him. He didn't deserve to have his life ruined like this.

"What do you want me to do?" Jake asked but his question wasn't aimed at Nesian.
Deanna looked back at him. She had no choice, she had to risk this.

~~~Not like this, please Thorny.~~~. She doubled over when hit with the equivalent of mental lightning to her brain. Then she blacked out.

"Do? There is nothing you can do, Thornton. And Captain, you'll have to excuse your Counselor. She is of a somewhat... delicate condition of late." He shook Deanna but she did not regain consciousness.

Jake knew that Nesian was about to find any means necessary to torture them all, starting with Deanna. Jake knew that at any moment Nesian was liable to snap; the knowledge of Deanna's pregnancy must have been a shock to him. He had to act quickly but also respect Deanna's wishes. Jake kept his eyes firmly on the screen, looking the crazed Betazoid directly in the eyes. He had no time to think so he said the first thing that came to mind to distract Nesian.

"Samar, if you harm Deanna or the child, I swear to God, you'll wish you had never been born." All around him the eyes of the others of the Bridge widened in shock at his words and the venom in his voice. Nesian smiled and dropped Deanna on the ground.

"Well, Jake… I suppose that I have two people which are very, very important to you. But the good shipmates of the Enterprise appear stunned. Perhaps your nocturnal... activities have been more discreet than they used to be. I'll be in touch. What a wonderful plan I'll have to come up with in order to bring this quaint little family back together. Screen off." The screen once again went black. Jake leaned against the wall with clenched fists while the others looked at him quizzically. All except Will Riker. He was standing in exactly the same position he had been during the conversation, questions whirling around in his head; his eyes filled with hopelessness and despair.

Now he understood why Deanna had been so withdrawn from him lately. She was pregnant! And the man standing behind him on the Bridge was her husband and the father. Riker felt a fierce surge of anger sweep over him, tempered only by an intense burst of love and concern for Deanna. They would get her back, of that he was sure. But right now he wasn't sure who he'd like to slam through the bulkhead first, Samar Nesian, or Jakob Thornton.

Chapter Ten

"Captain, I'd like to beam back down to the base for a couple of hours. There are some things I'd like to collect from my cabin there and also see if the security officers have any record of Nesian's ship being in the vicinity." Jake said, knowing that although there was a slim chance of that, anything was possible. He refused to give up hope. Picard nodded.

"I'll go with you. I have a few questions for those officers as well." Riker said, his voice brittle. Once again, Picard agreed.

"Dr. Thornton, when you return I have some questions for you regarding Deanna's... current medical situation."

"Of course, Doctor. And please call me Jake." He smiled slightly for the first time since beaming aboard the Enterprise. Deanna had nothing but praise and admiration for her friend the CMO.

"And I'm Beverly."

Jake nodded and he and Riker exited the Bridge and headed to the transporter room.

They walked in silence. Jake wasn't in the mood to strike up any conversation with the man standing next to him. He hadn't shown any concern for Deanna's well-being; doing
nothing and saying little. They walked into the turbolift and Riker called out their destination.

He stood on the far side of the lift watching Thornton from the corner of his eye. Hundreds of questions floated through his head. His easy conversation with Lwaxana for one. What he had been doing at the starbase in the first place, and most importantly, the way Deanna had looked at him during the brief moments she was onscreen. She had looked completely terrified, yet as she looked at the man beside him she seemed to gain hope. The expression of faith and love in her eyes had felt like thousands of bat'leths hacking at Riker's heart when he realized that it wasn't meant for him. This battle over his emotions existed beneath a calm veneer. No one looking at him could have guessed how frightened he was for Deanna's safety or how much he loved her. He was the consummate portrait of a Starfleet officer.

They exited the turbolift and walked to the Transporter Room without speaking. After gaining clearance from the base they beamed down. Jake headed in the direction of his quarters and was slightly surprised to find Riker following behind him. The Commander spoke for the first time since leaving the Enterprise.

"I've brought along a tricorder in case we're be able to trace Nesian's steps. Perhaps if he was looking for you, he broke into your quarters." Riker knew that it wasn't likely, yet he didn't trust Dr. Thornton and was unwilling to let him out of his sight.

"This way, Commander." Jake said, acquiescing though he wasn't happy about it. The two continued on their way. Jake walked into his quarters and began looking around."Any signs of disturbance?" Riker asked, scanning the room for any types of weaponry.

"None, whatsoever."

Riker continued walking around, halting slightly when he saw the fallen red gems on the floor in front of the couch and a pair of glittering red shoes tossed aside. He need not look at their size to know they were Deanna's.

Thornton picked up a few PADDs from the table, a ghost of a smile whispered over his face as he saw a hologram of he and Deanna taken when they were children. He had taken it out to show her last night but she had fallen asleep before he had gotten the chance. He didn't see Riker come up behind him. Will recognized both people in the picture and wondered a little more as to how far back this relationship went. Deanna had never mentioned him before. Riker knew that she had dated other men over the years and was stunned to think Deanna would be party to an open marriage, even though Betazoid society saw nothing wrong with it. He wondered if she had confided in Worf; they'd broken it off awfully quickly and Riker knew that the Klingon's sense of honor would never have allowed him to court another man's wife.

Jake went into the bedroom to gather some of his clothing while Riker did a sweep of the bathroom. The only thing he found was the dress Deanna had been wearing the night before, discarded in a heap on the floor. The scent of her perfume still clung to the air. He cringed slightly; having no doubt as to what had occurred in these rooms the previous evening after the costume ball. The thought of Deanna in the arms of another man ripped through him. Pain and jealousy swept over his heart, stealing his breath. They had both had other relationships over the years but he'd never been confronted with one of hers in such a blatant manner before. He actually staggered for a moment, bracing himself against the wall. He took a deep breath and regained control, leaving the bathroom and heading for the bedroom.

When he entered he saw a tote had been tossed on the floor but there were very few garments in it. Thornton was sitting on the rumpled bed, a black sweatshirt clutched to his chest, and his eyes were closed. He inhaled deeply, trying to capture Deanna's essence before he stood, folding the sweatshirt carefully and throwing it into his bag. It was a striking contrast to the other articles of clothing which had been haphazardly thrown into it. <Damn Nesian to hell. If he hurts her...> he thought fiercely.

"Dr. Thornton?" Riker asked, wondering what was keeping him.

"Yes. I'm finished here." Once again silent, the two walked to the main Security Officer's station.

Two hours later

Will Riker was pacing in his quarters aboard the Enterprise. The meeting with the security officers had turned up nothing. Nobody had seen Nesian on the Starbase, nor had they seen his ship or Deanna's abduction. Will hated feeling helpless but at the moment there was nothing more they could do except wait for that bastard to contact them again and hope to trace the signal. Will was filled with anger and adrenaline. He needed to find a way to release it.

"Computer, which of the Holodecks are not in use?" Hopefully a game of Pareses Squares would clear his head.

<All the Holodecks are currently occupied.>

"Damn." Will kicked a pair of boots in front of him, then turned and looked around his disheveled quarters. They were a sight. Riker realized that he hadn't taken time to straighten them out since he had put his things away a little over two months ago. He quickly got to work, anything to keep his mind off the emotional turmoil he was experiencing...

"What is this?" he said aloud. Riker leaned over to get a closer look at the object which had caught his attention. Tangled in the shirt of a dress uniform was piece of violet lace. Will stared at it, he knew it looked familiar to him but he couldn't recall where he had seen it last. It was at the back of his mind... but he just couldn't seem to grasp it. Riker placed the lace on the top of his dresser, resolving to figure it out later.

A half an hour later and with his quarters much neater, Will sat in front of his desk and switched on his computer terminal.

"Computer, give me any information you can on Doctor Jakob Thornton." <Acknowledged. Dr. Jakob Langford Thornton. Human. Born Vienna, Austria, November 7, 2333. Parents: Dr. Kristopher Thornton, Federation Ambassador to Betazed. Mother: Dr. Ariana Langford, medical doctor. Brother: Dr. James K. Thornton, born December 2, 2330, deceased February 4, 2361. Doctorate: Astrophysics. Youngest doctoral candidate in the history of the University of Betazed. Two time recipient of the Sagan Fellowship. Hawking Scholar. Leading Researcher, Triffid Nebula project. Special convoy to Starfleet as the foremost expert in anomalies, wormholes and astrophysical phenomena. > Marriage: Marielle Dartego: January 16, 2362, dissolved: May 12, 2363. Children: James Ian Thornton, born May 3, 2362. Marriage: Deanna Troi: October 31, 2363.

A visual record appeared on the screen and Riker browsed through it quickly. The pictures although sparse, were definitely of the man Captain Picard had authorized to stay aboard the ship. Riker had shown him to temporary quarters shortly after they had beamed back to the Enterprise; there was no way he was getting near Deanna's until his story checked out.

Riker began reading the captions under the pictures, gazing at them more closely. The picture in the lower left corner caught his attention. He peered at it for a moment longer but still could not see it correctly.

"Computer, increase magnification by 25%." A larger version of the picture appeared. Riker looked closer. Next to a tuxedo-clad Dr. Thornton sat Deanna, resplendent in a deep blue velvet gown. The caption under the picture read, Interplanetary Scientific Research Awards, held on Vulcan. The stardate was a date from four years ago when Deanna had been on shore leave. In all this time she never mentioned this relationship to anyone. Riker stroked his chin thoughtfully. "The questions just keep coming."

In Sickbay...

"I'm sorry to pull you away from your investigation but I have some questions that I have to ask you to ensure that Deanna gets proper medical care when she returns to the ship." Beverly Crusher's face was grave. Jake nodded in response, his eyes solemn.

"I understand. What do you need to know?" Beverly hesitated a moment and then cut right to the chase.

"Deanna Troi is like a sister to me. I'll not sit by and allow her to be hurt, if I can prevent it. But....was what he said true?" Crusher did not specify the 'he' that she was talking about. She didn't have to.

"Yes, and I assure you Doctor, I am the last person who would hurt Deanna." Jake was going to answer her questions as honestly as possible but he would not break his promise.

"How far along is she?" Beverly could see that this man was very concerned about her friend. Although she knew virtually nothing about him, of that she was certain.

"A little more than two months." Jake answered truthfully.

"Can you tell me why she didn't tell anyone about her pregnancy?"

Thornton's voice was noncommittal. "Doctor Crusher, I can't answer for her, except to say that she told me first. Her reasons are her own."

Beverly froze a moment, thinking about his words. "Well, that does make sense, all things considered. Has she mentioned anything else regarding her condition to you?"

"No, I'm sorry that I can't be of more help to you but Deanna only informed me of her pregnancy last night as well." Jake's eyes narrowed as he thought of their last conversation, and he wondered how long it was going to be before they could set this situation to rights.

Deep down he understood that as much as he disliked Will Riker, it wasn't right for him to learn that he was going to be a father while the mother of his child was being tortured before his eyes. Then again, Jake was afraid that prolonging this façade would just make it more difficult for all of them in the long run. Deanna should have told Will before anyone else, himself included...but he knew how stubborn his déesse could be...especially when she felt vulnerable, or trapped. He genuinely liked Crusher and hated any type of deception. He also knew just how much Deanna loved Will Riker, even if she herself couldn't say it out loud. And as much as he hated to admit it Riker most likely loved her as well… couldn't help but love her. He returned from his thoughts to what Crusher was saying.

"I understand. If there's anything I can do, please let me know." Her heart went out to him, but she was very worried about how Will was taking this news.

"Thank you."

She lightly touched his shoulder as he rose to leave then sat back in her chair and sighed, tapping her comm badge.

"Crusher to Commander Riker."

<Riker here.>

"Have you eaten yet?" She easily slipped into the role of concerned friend and doctor, knowing that the last thing on Will's mind right now was food. "Commander, I know that you're worried about Deanna. So are we all, but I am ordering you to eat. And to assure that you do so, I'll be at your quarters in about ten minutes to join you." There was a moment of silence then a heavy sigh could be heard over the comm line.

<Acknowledged. Riker out.> He knew when there was no arguing with her.

The transport Xarltin

Deanna awoke slowly, her head throbbing in pain. "This is a nightmare, Deanna. This is only a nightmare." Deanna slowly opened her eyes, hope blazing in her heart then crashing down into despair when she realized where she was. She had hoped that this was going to be a nightmare but she quickly realized that it was actually happening. She took care to probe herself for the baby, making sure that it was okay. This baby was the only thing she had to live for and she would do whatever she could to protect her unborn child from harm. She looked around her surroundings, and realized that she was lying on a bed and that she was no longer aboard the starbase...or the Enterprise. She was on a ship she didn't recognize. The room was dark except for the stars streaking past the window. Struggling to hold back tears she cupped a hand over her abdomen as a fierce wave of maternal love washed over her. In an instant she realized how much she truly loved this child. She tried to remain centered, and failed miserably...her head pounded and she was queasy... it was so difficult. She didn't know what Nesian had done to her mind, but everything was blurred. "Nesian!" The feel of his name in her mind caused her to tremble in apprehension...he was a madman, and he was obsessed with her.....Troi struggled to clear her head. She felt as though she couldn't move very well, her body was too languid to get out of the bed. Then a shadow moved over her and Deanna gave an involuntary shudder.

~~~Relax, Princess,~~~ blasted in her mind, causing her to try and inch farther away from him. Her father used to call her that and she hated the fact that this man could read her mind. He stepped closer still, and sat on the edge of the bed, leaning forward to stroke her hair, his body pressing over her hips. Deanna shrank farther back, and her head struck the wall. She refused to cry out in pain and stopped the tears which began to fill her eyes as the jolt hit her neck and shoulders.

His hands grabbed her hair roughly and yanked her head upwards. ~~~Maybe this will help.~~~ He forced her face to his and kissed her brutally, recoiling in anger as she bit him and spit his blood back in his face.

"Don't you dare touch me again!" She screamed, trying to throw him off of her. She couldn't move, she was still too weak and her voice swiftly faded.

~~~Dare? Don't ever tell me what to do, Princess. We have a nice long wait before your precious Thorny comes to your rescue. And you'd better behave like the Daughter of the Fifth House you are. What would your exalted mother think of this... lowering yourself so... and with a human! How dare YOU!> Deanna panicked for a moment before she comprehended that Nesian was talking about Jake. Gods how he hated Jake... and her.

~~~Oh no, you've got it all wrong, Princess. I don't hate you. But Thornton has gotten in my way for the last time. You and I and the baby will be much better off once I kill him.~~~ He moved closer and tried to caress her stomach with his hand. Deanna responded by drawing on the remainder of her strength and curling herself into a ball, protecting her child from him.

~~~And if that Imzadi of yours tries to interfere... well let's just say that it won't be a pretty sight. Two humans... I don't know what to do with you. But, you'll see the light, eventually.~~~

Deanna instinctively curled tighter at the mention of Will. The pressure in her head continued to build as Nesian continued to assail her with his thoughts. Finally it got to be too much and she screamed in pure anguish~~~IMZADI~~~~ before passing out. Realizing what she was trying to do, Nesian slapped her across the face repeatedly; his ragged nails ripping open the delicate skin of her cheek. He knew that the anesthetic he injected her with earlier was wearing off, so he engaged a restraining field around the bed so that she wouldn't be able to move when she awoke.

Light years away, aboard the Enterprise...

Will Riker was finishing his dinner with Beverly Crusher, each skirting around the real reason she had come to him this evening. She wanted to make sure he kept his strength up; there would be plenty of time to talk when they were finished eating. Suddenly, Will cried out and slumped in his chair, his blue eyes open but unseeing. His mind was reeling from the psychic shout ~~~IMZADI~~~ and the pain he felt behind it. Will fell forward and Beverly immediately was by his side. "Will, what's the matter?" She asked. He was unresponsive.

<Crusher to sickbay. I need an emergency team in Commander Riker's quarters, right now!>

Just then Riker was hit with an even more powerful mental scream. ~~~NOT TO WORRY YOUR INSIGNIFICANT MIND 'IMZADI'. I"LL MAKE SURE SHE'S BEING VERY WELL TAKEN CARE OF.~~~ Riker raised his hands to his head in agony, he half rose from his chair and reached out grabbing a handful of Beverly's sleeve, as he fell.

"DEANNA!" He screamed, as his mind cried in pain and his world went black.

Chapter 11


Will Riker groaned and opened his eyes. "Deanna..." he breathed, attempting to sit up. The searing pain in his head prohibited any movement and he closed his eyes again.

"No such luck Commander, there has been no further word from the Xarltin." Riker opened his eyes again and saw Thornton standing at the foot of the bed. "I'm sorry to disturb you but I need to know what happened."

Riker looked at him for a moment; wondering why he rather than Captain Picard had been awaiting his awakening. "How long have I been here?"

"About three hours. Now can you tell me what you remember about when you were attacked?"

"What do you think happened?" Riker asked, sitting up fully and gritting his teeth against the pain in his head. His tone was belligerent.

Jake sighed heavily and sat in a chair, looking at his hands. Then he looked up and met Will's eyes. "My guess is that she tried to contact you."

Will nodded. He had never felt Deanna more strongly in his mind then he had at that moment, nor had he ever had a sense of her being more terrified. "You could say that. She only managed one word before our connection broke."

"What did she say?" Jake asked. If Deanna had tried to tell Will about the baby, he needed to know about it.

Riker set his jaw; what right did he have to ask? Then he remembered and shut his eyes against his pain, both physical and emotional. "It's personal. Besides, that... slime interrupted her."

"He must have grown stronger," Jake responded, his voice low. He too remembered what
it was like to be mentally blasted by Nesian.

When Will opened his eyes again, he saw the wry smile on Thornton's face fall into a look of utter despair and something even worse... fear.

"How... dangerous is he?" Will chose his words carefully, knowing that he wouldn't like the response.

"Do you really want to know?" Jake's voice was hoarse. He received no answer to his question, so he went on speaking. "As I said before, when Deanna was in her last year at the University, she was kidnapped on her way home from class. We found them in an abandoned greenhouse on the west side of the campus about ninety minutes later; a professor had been walking by and heard Deanna screaming." Jake took a deep breath and looked at the floor, his eyes glazing over as he relived these events for the second time that day.

"It was very difficult to subdue him. I believe that it took eight officers in order to do so. Only one of them is still alive and in complete control of his mental faculties. But Deanna... Deanna was almost completely gone. All of the muscles in her left shoulder were severely damaged; Nesian had wrenched her shoulder out of place when he grabbed her arm and forced it behind her back. She had deep bruises on her wrist, neck, shoulders and back... her dress was torn in several places and he had shattered her cheekbone with his fist. But the worst of it were her eyes. They were almost devoid of expression. It took almost two months before she was able to talk about what happened. Two months, Commander, after ninety minutes... and he's already had her for over eighteen hours..." Jake trailed off at the thought then pulled himself together.

"Is there anything else you'd like to know?" His voice was icy as he once again met Riker's gaze. Both pairs of eyes were wet.

"Do you know why she never mentioned any of this to the crew? Beverly Crusher isn't just her Doctor; she's her friend, too."

"Commander, I can only speculate as to Deanna's reasons, but my guess is that she wanted to put it behind her. These mental powers of Nesian's are quite strong, as you can now attest to. Deanna once said that it was almost as if he sensed when someone was thinking about him. She probably tried to block it out all together…One day shortly after the kidnapping Deanna went home to find that her room had been broken into. There was nothing missing but there was a very strong psychic imprint left on all of her belongings. She said it was if someone was constantly watching her. I don't know to what extent, but I do know that Deanna never spent another night in that room again."

Beverly Crusher finished with her patient in the ICU and walked over to Riker's biobed. "I'm sorry to interrupt your conversation gentlemen, but Will you are free to go although I want you to stay in your quarters for the next couple of hours. I know that it won't do any good to take you off duty, so just try and take it easy for the next couple of days."

"No promises there, Doc. But, if I need you..."

"I have a biobed with your name on it."
Jake looked around the quarters that had been assigned to him; having come directly here after leaving Commander Riker in sickbay. Talking with Will had made him realize just how important Deanna was to the Commander.

Jake knew that time was running out for all of them to find her. He didn't know how much longer Nesian would wait before seriously harming Deanna and the baby. Something in him said that she was still okay. He would give his life to keep it that way. He sat at the computer terminal at his desk and tried to clear his mind. He needed to figure out where Nesian had taken Deanna. Nesian had been locked up for ten years, so it would make sense that he would take her someplace that he knew... somewhere that was unchanging. Jake snapped his fingers and jumped out of his seat. He practically ran to the turbolift and from there to the Bridge.

"Captain, I believe I know where Nesian is holding Deanna. It makes the most sense that he would be bringing her back to Betazed." "Betazed? Are you certain?" Picard said, disbelieving. It would be so simple...

"Yes, Sir, as certain as I can be. That's where they are." Jake's mind was moving as fast as possible, scanning through all the places on Betazed that had remained the same over the past ten years. It wasn't easy because Betazed hadn't changed much over the years.

"Very well. Mr. Data, plot a course for Betazed and relate the ETA."

"Aye, Sir, at our current speed of Warp 5, we will arrive at Betazed in approximately 4 hours, 36 minutes." Data's hands flew over the console. They had left orbit around the starbase about 3 hours earlier; the Security Headquarters on Betazed having found remnants of the Xarltin's warp signature for the Enterprise to follow. How it hadn't occurred to them that they were being led back to Betazed was puzzling, for that was the exact projected destination.

"Captain... every minute counts." Thornton said, realizing that the ship was capable of traveling much faster than that.

Picard regarded the man standing next to the Counselor's empty chair on his left. He made a quick decision, knowing that he was going to take heat from his superiors for disregarding the environmental constraints on Warp travel.

"Belay that order. Mr. Data, lay in a course for Betazed, Warp 9."

"Aye Sir. Course laid in."

"Engage. Mr. Data, you have the Bridge." Picard got up from the center seat and walked into his Ready Room. He was looking forward to giving his first officer the first promising piece of news he had received since Counselor Troi's absence at the conference earlier that morning.


When Deanna awoke almost an hour later she became aware of two things at once. The first was that the side of her face was covered in partially drying blood, and the other was that she recognized where she was. A greenhouse on the other side of the university. Samar had grabbed her in the park and taken her here against her will. She had lost all sense of time. She didn't understand why she was here; she had been trying to help him. She had thought that she had made progress; he had really opened up to her recently. And now this... Why hadn't Jake found her yet? He was supposed to meet her in the park after her last class. Was she going to be here forever?

It felt as though her wrist was broken, but she tried not to concentrate on her pain. She was tied to a chair, her arms painfully twisted behind her back. Deanna looked down and realized that she was wearing a Starfleet uniform, dirty and torn as it may have been. She didn't understand; she could've sworn that she had put on a blue dress this morning before class. She wasn't even going to be entering the academy for another eight months; how come she was wearing the pips of a full commander? The collar was ripped across her chest, exposing her bra and the deep bruising on her neck and chest. She didn't remember that happening either, why couldn't she remember? The questions made her head throb and a piercing pain hit her in the back of her head.

Nesian had wrenched her head back by her hair, tangling his fingers in it roughly. He
walked around the side of the chair, now standing in front of her, his hands still holding her head. She looked into his eyes and flinched. It was like being hit with pure evil. She wanted to get out of here, graduation was only days away. Then she and Jake would be leaving, if only she could get out of here. Nesian watched her silently, reading her mind as quickly as the thoughts flew through it. He realized that she had regressed back to their last encounter ten years earlier. Good. Now, all he had to do was make her fall in love with him...

The Enterprise...

Will Riker sat in his usual seat on the Bridge, staring at the viewscreen blankly. They would be orbiting Betazed in approximately twenty minutes and he was on pins and needles. They had just finished a strategy meeting. Dr. Thornton believed that Nesian was keeping Deanna in the greenhouse he had previously mentioned to Riker in Sickbay.

"Isn't that thinking a little too simplistic?" Riker had questioned, wanting badly to believe that this was truly where Deanna was.

"Not at all. It's exactly the way he works. Having us running around in circles looking for them, when he has her right under our nose."

"Then why wait till we get there in order to rescue Deanna? Why not just inform Betazed's Security Team and allow them to move forward? You're the one who said that every minute counts." Riker replied angrily. "A little too eager to play hero?"

Thortnton sighed. "Commander, I'm no hero, only a scientist. But I was hoping that we can resolve this with minimal casualties. The last time Betazed Security got involved and they lost numerous officers. You served on Betazed, Commander. You know that their security isn't exactly top-notch. Our best bet is to do this ourselves."

"I agree." Captain Picard stated, ending the discussion while Riker stared at Thornton, surprised that the man knew of his posting on Betazed and wondering just how much he knew. He was also furious; not wanting to wait at all in order to get Deanna back to safety. It didn't matter who got to her as long as she was okay. Yet, at the same time the scientist was right, Betazed had a rather archaic way of handling crime, preferring instead to allow people freedom to feel and using psychological ways to subdue their criminals instead of force. Truth be told, there wasn't much crime on the planet so there really was no need for there to be a major security presence. Betazoids had always been a peace-loving people; they were not used to dealing with men like Nesian. The crew of the Enterprise, however, was accustomed to all types of violence, be it in the form of Borg, Romulan, or your garden variety obsessed psychotic...


Nesian put the finishing touches into effect. He gagged Deanna, not wanting her to scream and give away her whereabouts before he was ready. He pushed her chair against the wall and bolted a hypospray to the wall; poised above her neck. If Deanna attempted to stand or move the chair, it would inject a deadly poison into her skin; killing her instantly. To this mechanism he activated a motion detector. If anyone either than himself approached the chair, the spring attached to the hypo would launch it directly at Deanna.

Then he rigged a password so that only his voice could disengage his contraption. All the while, Deanna stared at him, pleading with her eyes. She was in so much pain, it hurt to breathe. Each breath stung like fire; he must have shattered a few of her ribs when he threw her into the chair. She was losing all the feeling in her arms, slowly going numb. She had no presence of anything in her mind at all... Nesian's thoughts flowing in her head had turned it to ice. Deanna couldn't cry, she didn't know how anymore... she just sat there, lost.

Chapter Twelve

Outside the walls of the University, Jake stiffened. The rescue party consisted of he and Riker, having vetoed any other officers accompanying them, and Picard had reluctantly agreed. Riker did not like that the other man was in charge, but he didn't have much choice. They didn't have a clear view inside the greenhouse yet, but they could easily see two shadows from where they were standing.

Jake moved slowly forward, Will following his lead. He knew it would be useless to try and surprise Nesian; the man was probably already able to sense their presence and read their minds. Jake exhaled and attempted to clear his mind, probing for Deanna. He met with a blank wall, but he knew that she was still alive. Jake suddenly broke into a run, crashing through the doors with such a force that it shattered the glass, momentarily distracting Nesian. He quickly regained his balance but that time was all it took for Riker to slip unnoticed into the back entrance.

"You just love to make an entrance, don't you?"

Jake began to choke as he inhaled the smell of the rotting plants and decayed flowers all around him. He could barely breathe and looked beyond him to where Deanna was sitting so still it was almost impossible to believe that she was still alive. She gazed at him without recognition for a moment and blinked; confused.

Nesian stepped closer to Jake, a dagger in his hand. ~~~SO YOU CAME TO RESCUE THE HALFBREED AFTER ALL.~~~ Jake staggered slightly under this mental blow but did not pass out; his mental control considerably stronger than it once was. Nesian lunged towards him but Jake tried to grab the knife from his hand and the two began to struggle. ~~~IF YOU KILL ME THORNTON YOU'LL NEVER SAVE HER. THERE'S ENOUGH POISON IN THAT HYPO TO KILL US ALL IN FIVE SECONDS~~~

Riker couldn't take waiting anymore. He saw the scientist fall to the floor, his arm still locked around Nesian's wrist, grappling for the knife. Having a clear shot of the Betazoid's back, he set his phaser to maximum stun and fired. Nesian was so driven by his madness that he barely felt it. Jake grabbed the dagger by the hilt and completely disregarding the pain that rushed through his hand as he brushed against the blade, yanked it out of Nesian's hand, throwing the smaller man to the ground.

"Release the code!" Jake screamed, slamming Nesian's head against the floor while Riker tried to figure out what he was talking about. He glanced around and noticed Deanna at the far side of the greenhouse. He froze after getting a good look at her. One side of her face was purple and swollen, congealed blood on her cheek and lip. Her uniform was ripped from collar to shoulder and he could see the slash of a knife wound at her hip. But her eyes... they were devoid of all expression, completely dry and hollow. It was as if there was a mannequin sitting in her place. She had even stopped blinking. The sight caused Riker to stare at her in shock while Thornton continued to hold Nesian at knife point.

"I'LL NEVER LET HER GO!" Nesian yelled, speaking verbally for the first time since they found him. Jake realized that he was speaking the truth; that they would need to find another way to get Deanna away from him. He looked at Riker to see if he had any ideas. The Commander's gaze was still riveted to Deanna, who remained unmoving in the chair.

"Riker to Transporter Room. Beam down Data and Dr. Crusher to my coordinates now!"

<Acknowledged.> About thirty seconds later Crusher and Data arrived on the scene. Beverly immediately moved towards Deanna, medkit in hand.

"No, don't touch her, he has poison set to hit her if she's moved!" Jake yelled, still holding Nesian on the ground. Nesian kicked upwards with his leg and flipped Thornton over beneath him. Still holding the knife he jerked his arm up and stabbed him the chest, unmercifully. "Release the code!" Nesian gasped for breath as Jake held the knife at his throat.

"You'll never get it from me. It will launch the poison then explode. You've lost them both Thornton."

"What is it?" The blade went deeper into Nesian's throat.

"Take a guess."

Thornton slid the knife deeper still.

"Doctor. I can dismantle the device." Data said, moving closer to the prostrate men on the floor.

"Good." Jake said, gritting his teeth. Will and Beverly tried to find a way to get to the immobile Troi without setting off the detector. Nesian mentally blasted Jake again, and Jake forced the blade further, trying to ward off the blow.

Nesian's breath rattled once more in his chest and was silent. Thornton threw the body to the floor and ran over to where the others were standing.

They had not interfered; focused only on helping Troi. "Has she said anything yet?" he asked, getting to his knees on the perimeter of the field around her.

"No, but she's conscious." Beverly said, running a tricorder along the side of the chair. Will moved away and went to check to make sure that Nesian was really dead.

"Deanna, look at me."

Data moved around them, trying to find a way to dismantle to wires attached to the device on the wall.

"You're always getting us into trouble Déesse." Jake muttered under his breath. "C'mon Dee, look at me!" Deanna slowly blinked, looking him in the eyes, but not really seeing him.

"Thorny? I'm sorry I wasn't in the park." She whispered, her eyes closing.

"The park? What are you talking about?" Jake was confused. Her eyes opened again slightly.

"I was supposed to meet you there after Child Psychology today," She murmured.

Then he understood. Deanna's mind had gone back to the student she had been when she first met Nesian. He was supposed to meet her in the park and she'd never showed; that was how they knew that he had taken her before. "That's right, but don't worry about that now."

"Are we still leaving for Pacifica next week?" Jake didn't know what to do. He was afraid that she had permanently lost the last ten years. He had no idea as to how her mind was trying to deal with this trauma.

"Commander Riker, some assistance, please!" he shouted, hoping Riker's presence would bring her back to reality. Will strode over to where they were standing and kneeled beside Jake.

"C'mon Déesse, you know I like adventure but this is ridiculous."

"Déesse?" Will asked, puzzled.

"It's a nickname I stuck on her when we were kids."

Data walked around the chair in rapid circles, seeking out any flaws in the mechanism. "Déesse. Betazin in origin. Literal definition translates most clearly to Goddess in Federation standard…" He continued his analysis.

Thornton coughed and wiped his face. "Lwaxana used to dress her up like a miniature idol in ridiculously frilly dresses. She was quite the mischief maker back then."

Deanna mumbled something, her eyes still closed.

"I couldn't hear you Déesse, what did you say?"

"Talk to her!" He glared at Will.


Slowly her eyes fluttered open. She gazed at him in disbelief and his heart constricted.

"It was you..." She whispered. She had to find a way to tell him...

"Nah, I don't think so Dee, then again I did manage to break your window a couple of times with those rocks." Jake said, knowing what she was trying to do, but knowing that it was not the right time.

"Mr. Homn fixed it before Mother could find out..." She trailed off.

"Tell Commander Riker about it, Dee." He had to find a way to keep her conscious.

"Romeo... Juliet." She whispered.

"That's right, we were reading that in school, and I decided to act out the balcony scene one night, do you remember?"


"So I threw rocks from the ground at your window."

"Shattered it..." Her eyes drifted shut again.

"Right. How old were you? Thirteen?"


"You were just a baby then."

"No I wasn't..." Suddenly, her eyes opened and she looked at both of them clearly for the first time. "Baby. Oh Gods Thorny, the baby..." She looked from him to Will and back, pleading with her eyes.

"Deanna, we're going to get you out of here. The baby is going to be fine. You need to hang on a little bit longer." Jake wished there was some way to get closer to her; he knew that the best way for her to gain strength was from tactile contact.

"I can't." She whispered, losing the battle to keep her eyes open.

"Of course you can. What happened to the little girl who stood on the top branch of the tree and told me that she could do anything?" Jake was grasping at straws now; he had to find a way to keep her conscious.

She opened her eyes and gazed at Will. "I fell..." She said, remembering the time she had stumbled and fallen off the limb.

"And I caught you." He finished. She tried to nod her head but saw the hypo aimed at her neck and remained still.

"And I always will."

"Doctor Thornton, I believe that I have found a way to disengage the detection field."

"Then do it." He rasped, moving away from Deanna. "Stay with her." He barked at Riker, moving over to help Data while Crusher took his place.

Deanna was still staring at Will, tears of helplessness flooding her eyes.

"I'm so sorry..."

"Shh. Don't apologize." Will had no idea what she was sorry for. Was it because she had fallen out of the tree all those years ago? It didn't matter as long as she was still with them. He looked at Beverly, who shook her head. If she didn't get close enough to treat Deanna soon, there was a great chance of infection. Troi was also bleeding internally from a ruptured spleen and if she didn't get to those broken ribs soon a punctured lung would become a very real possibility. Will moved as close as possible and kept talking to her, forgetting about everyone else around them.

"Ready when you are Data."

The android nodded.

"Commander, as soon as the beam fades, grab her!" Riker agreed, frantic by this time to hold Troi in his arms.

Jake fired a beam from Riker's phaser at the detection field while Data stepped towards it. Riker dragged the chair out of the way, pitching it forward in a lightning-quick movement. The chair fell into his arms.

There was a loud beep and a huge explosion, raining glass and debris over all of them. When the smoke cleared, Will shoved aside the rubble and began untying the restraints from Deanna's battered body. She fell forward into his lap, unconscious. His heart thudding in dread, he cradled her in his arms as Beverly began a scan. They had to wait for the residue from the explosives to fade before beaming her back to the ship. In the ground, at the exact place where the chair had been, was the poisoned hypospray; having released its contents into the floor. Data stood and looked at Dr. Thornton, unconscious on the ground, his arm badly burned.

After approximately two minutes, Data nodded at Riker and a very relieved voice could be heard in the Transporter Room.

"Riker to Enterprise. Five to beam directly to Sickbay. He knew that one of them would have to go back for Nesian's body, but for now he just wanted to get Deanna as far away from here as possible.

Chapter 13

Once they all materialized in Sickbay, Beverly motioned for Will to carry Deanna over to the nearest biobed, while Dr. Selar and Nurse Ogawa moved Dr. Thornton to one on the other side. He coughed a few times and woke; attempting to sit up as he searched for Deanna.

"Easy Doctor, she's with Dr. Crusher over there. Now please be still and allow me to treat this burn." Jake nodded, the cool tone of the Vulcan's voice instantly calming him down. He sat up as she injected a hypo in his neck for pain before cutting away the remnants of his tattered shirt. The black fabric had melted into his skin and needed to be removed quickly. Her brow arched slightly at the sight of the lightning tattoo on his shoulder before she began to encourage the healing of the skin surrounding it with a dermal regenerator.

"Will Riker get out of my way." Crusher's voice rang through Sickbay while she tried to work on her friend and patient. It was difficult because the Commander was getting underfoot. She knew that he meant well but he was making it harder for her to do her job.

Will reluctantly broke away from Deanna's side... she was so pale underneath all of those bruises. Her arm was turned at an odd angle and she was covered in blood.

"Riker to Picard." He knew that the Captain was on the Bridge awaiting news.

<I trust that everything has been taken care of.>

"Nesian is dead, Sir."

<And the Counselor?> There was silence. <Number One?> Picard asked again.

"We don't know yet, Sir." Riker's voice broke on the last word.

"I'm on my way." Picard left the Bridge and entered the turbolift.

Data nodded at the Commander and went to assume his place on the Bridge. Just after he left the Captain strode through the main doors of and went directly to Riker."Status report, Number One?"

Riker shook his head. "It doesn't look good."

Jake got up from the biobed, accepted a new shirt and thanked Dr. Selar for her help before heading over to where Picard and Riker were standing.

"How is she?" he asked, wiping some dirt from his forehead and sliding the shirt over his well muscled torso.

Riker's face was grim. "Dr. Crusher hasn't said anything yet." The three began pacing the
floor of sickbay silently, each tracing a different pattern on the ground.

"Alyssa hand me that knitter will you?" Crusher held out her hand. This was even worse than it had appeared to be at first. Luckily, the baby was fine, but she couldn't give Deanna anything for the pain because she was afraid of harming it.

Troi was in bad shape: in addition to the laceration to Deanna's spleen three of her ribs were broken, two others were badly bruised. She had a serious concussion, various cuts and a four inch slash on her right hip cut nearly into the bone. The wound on her cheek was still bleeding; they couldn't find the correct clotting agent to stop it. It was a miracle that she was still alive, and even more of one that the baby remained healthy, especially considering its hybridized DNA. It had been touch and go for over three hours but in that time the baby wasn't once in distress. It was almost as if Deanna's body was moving all of her energy into protecting her unborn child.

Finally, Crusher disposed of her gloves and left her patient to give a report to the three anxious men in the waiting room.

"Is she all right?" Jake was the first to speak, having flashbacks of the last report he had received on Deanna's health, almost ten years earlier. His face was white and his green eyes were sharp though he looked as if he was going to collapse. Crusher gestured for all of them to sit then joined them in a chair.

"Yes, she's going to be fine." There was a simultaneous sigh of relief from the three of them. "But," Crusher cautioned, "I was unable to give her anything for the pain because of her pregnancy. She's going to be in a lot of pain over the next few weeks, and very weak as well. Emotionally and psychologically, I'm not sure." They nodded. It was going to be a long road back to recovery but Deanna had plenty of people who cared about her and would help her get well.

"And the baby?" Jake asked, hopeful for the first time since realizing that she was missing.

"The baby's fine." Beverly smiled. "Deanna will most likely be asleep for the next few hours but I'm sure that she'll want to see you when she wakes up."

'Thank you." He said, standing up and walking over to where Deanna lay sleeping. He took her hand in his and closed his eyes, finally able to breathe again.

Beverly looked at Will, who was still sitting next to Jean-Luc; silent. "Are you all right, Commander?"

He looked towards the biobed and quickly turned his head away. The only place he wanted to be right now was right beside Deanna but someone else had gotten there first. He stood and straightened his uniform brushing off some dirt. "Just fine Doc. Captain, there are still some things that need to be taken care of on the planet. Nesian's body has to be disposed of and have you been able to contact Deanna's mother yet?"

"Yes, I have Number One. She'll be here within the hour. If you would see to the rest?"

Will nodded. He needed to get away from here. "Doctor... please notify me if there is any change."

"Of course, Will."

Riker turned and walked out of Sickbay, his heart breaking with each step.

"I certainly don't envy that man at this moment." Picard said, reaching for Beverly's hand. She squeezed it firmly then released it and stood. Picard did the same.

"Actually, Jean-Luc, I wouldn't want to be Deanna when she wakes up in a couple of hours, either."

Picard nodded his agreement and headed back to the Bridge.


Will Riker looked at the walls of what had been Nesian's cell at the Institute. He was trying to figure out how he had escaped. The staff had been relieved to find out that Deanna was in stable condition; many of them had remembered her coming to visit some of the patients while she was studying for her degree.

Will saw all of the bars on the one small window in the cell. The room also had a small closet and an even smaller dresser. The door to the closet was somewhat ajar. He opened it and gazed inside. There was a panel of wood that didn't seem to fit properly. He pried it off with his hands and started back in shock. He lifted up a flashlight and ventured closer. Inside the panel were thousands of holograms of Deanna from over the years, some of which he recognized, others he didn't, including many candid shots from varying distances. There was even a recent crew photograph of all of them aboard the Enterprise. How Nesian had gotten a hold of these he wasn't sure, but it was obvious that the man had been sickly obsessed. One of the pictures which Riker saw was the one from the file on Thornton, only in this one his part in the picture had been mutilated. Moving closer still Riker touched some of the holos and a violet ribbon of some sort tumbled into his hands. Something about it looked familiar but he couldn't place it. He gathered all of it into a bag as evidence, cringing slightly as he let go of the length of silk in his hands. Bile rose at the back of his throat. Disgusted, he turned and left the Institute.

Moments later he was back on the Enterprise.

In Sickbay...

Lwaxana Troi stood in the waiting room, Thornton by her side. They were waiting for Dr. Crusher to finish examining Deanna. Lwaxana turned and looked at him. "Jakob darling, what is all this about Deanna being pregnant? Why didn't you two tell me that I'm finally going to be a grandmother?" Far from upset; she just wished that she hadn't been left in the dark about Deanna's condition.

"It's a long and rather complicated story. Maybe you should wait for Deanna to explain it to you." Jake said, putting his head in his hands. He released his blocks and let his thoughts flow clearly into her mind.

Lwaxana quickly read his mind and saw the truth.

"Oh dear, this is going to be awkward." She placed a hand on Jake's back while he remained in his current position.

"To say the least," he replied through clenched teeth. She turned and embraced him tightly.
"Thank you."

Jake was confused. "For what? Making an even greater mess out of this?"

"No, Jakob. Thank you for protecting Deanna. I never said anything but I saw the two of you after Ian died…your mother called and said Deanna was with you; I hadn't even known that she snuck out of the house. When I came to collect her I saw the two of you sound asleep together and I knew she'd be just fine eventually. You couldn't have been more than ten, but you always looked out for her and still do. I know that everything you have done was for her; you've always had her best interests at heart."

"Like you," he stated.

"Not exactly dear, but my intent was for the best. I didn't understand that what I wanted for Deanna wasn't necessarily what was best for her. Both of you helped me to realize that." Jake hugged her back; he had always liked Deanna's mother and she had been fond of him from the moment they met. It had been his influence on Deanna that she could've done without.

"Well, perhaps you've been better for her than I had previously thought." Lwaxana said, reading his thoughts again. She knew that Jake genuinely loved her daughter and she knew how much he wanted to see Deanna happy. "If things had gone differently…"

He shook his head to stop her from finishing the sentiment. There was no point in looking backwards. He hugged her to him again.

At that moment Commander Riker walked back into sickbay and saw the two embracing. Riker was instantly uncomfortable; he'd never been one of Lwaxana's favorite people but had thought it was because of his involvement with her daughter. Apparently, the same could not be said of the man before him. All of these thoughts he kept hidden from Deanna's mother under strong mental shields that had grown considerably over the years...using techniques Deanna had taught him.

"Ambassador." He nodded respectfully.

The two released each other and turned to face him. "Commander," she replied, placing her hand on Thornton's arm.

"Doctor, the Captain has requested your presence in the Starboard Lounge." His voice was clipped.

"Fine." Thornton responded with an identical inflection before he turned towards Deanna's mother. "Lwaxana?" he questioned.

"I'll be all right, Jakob. I'll make sure she's not alone if she wakes up. And in the name of the four deities, dear boy, contact your parents. They've been worried sick." She tousled his already messy hair and gently lectured him with affection. "You really should come home more often. And use the door, will you? There's no need to climb in through Deanna's window."

He laughed softly and she scowled at him good naturedly.

"You honestly think I never knew?" She sighed theatrically but quieted as soon as she noticed Riker's furious glare.

"I will. Thank you." Thornton squeezed her hand and kissed her cheek before following a bristling Riker out the doors. "This had better be good." He muttered under his breath; he saw no reason for them to pull him away from Deanna right now. He remembered from past experience how disoriented she would be when she woke up.

The Starboard Lounge...

Jake followed Will inside, irritated that he had to leave Sickbay. His annoyance was obvious to the Captain, who apologized profusely. Jake nodded and took a seat across from Riker at the table. The three were the only people present. Picard wasted no time and began speaking.

"Starfleet has sent an inquiry as to why we left the starbase festivities so quickly. They wish an immediate response, especially considering we are still in orbit around Betazed. The Enterprise can either offer a full release of what happened, or remain completely silent and keep this to ourselves. Doctor, what do you believe we should do?"

"Sir, I think we are going to have to wait until Deanna wakes up. It should be her decision."

"I agree, I'll put them off for the time being. The other matter we need to discuss is that of this." Picard handed the bag containing the items Riker had found to him. With a grim expression, he quickly looked through the items inside.

"Where did you find this?" he asked, recognizing the pictures and items inside. He half-smiled and raised one eyebrow upon seeing the mutilated image of himself. Then he placed everything back in the bag, and handed it back to Picard.

"I found it in the back of a closet in Nesian's cell at the Institute." Riker answered.

"I see."

"You don't sound surprised." Riker remarked, slouching back in his chair. Jake looked directly into his eyes, the blue and green clashing violently.

"Let's get one thing straight, Commander. Nothing about Samar Nesian ever surprised me. I knew exactly what he was capable of and no one was happier to see him dead."

"Yes, Doctor. That brings me to another question. Did you kill Samar Nesian in self defense?" Picard asked, leaning forward and diffusing the tension between the men.

"Yes Captain, but that doesn't make me any less pleased that he's dead." Thornton's voice was calm and even.

"I understand, Doctor and judging from what I've heard about him, I don't blame you."

"Thank you for your understanding. Now if I may?" Thornton rose to leave.

"Of course, I shan't keep you any longer." Noticing that Riker was getting ready to leave as well, he nodded towards his XO. "Keep me apprised of any changes."

"Yes, Sir." Riker followed Jake into the turbolift. "Sickbay."

The lift began to move. "I imagine that there will be more questions as to Nesian's death." Jake said, running his hand through his hair casually.

"You don't sound worried." Riker said, noting his behavior.

"Should I?" He arched a brow. "If it comes to an inquest, I have diplomatic immunity on Betazed. And forgive me, Commander but I have far more important things to be concerned with right now."

"Like the fact that you got her into this situation in the first place?" Jake wasn't sure if Riker was talking about Deanna's kidnapping or her pregnancy. As for the first, Riker's comment was unfounded and he was itching to slap that smug look off Riker's face with the information that Riker was the one responsible for her current condition. He took a deep breath and tried to stay balanced. He knew Deanna would be far from happy if he ripped her Imzadi's head off before he learned the truth but he was tired with Riker constantly shadowing him.

Riker recognized Thornton's mounting frustration and subsequent silence. He wondered just what it was that Deanna saw in him; the man came off as rude and rather impatient. He decided to test his limits.

<Halt turbolift.> he said.

"What do you think you're doing?" Jake asked angrily. He'd already been delayed long enough; there was nothing Picard had said that couldn't have waited until Deanna was well. And now this... Jake decided to get it over with as quickly as possible.

"Okay, Commander what do you want?"

Riker turned and looked at him. "What I want is for Deanna not to be lying in Sickbay right now."

"Yeah, well that makes two of us." He drawled slowly, leaning against the side of the turbolift. He released a breath and closed his eyes.

"Is that all you can say?" Will asked, the tension rising in the lift.

"Listen, Commander if you have a problem with me come out with it. You're severely trying my patience. It's been almost an hour and I'd like to get back to Sickbay."

Riker was fuming. <Who did this guy think he was?> This was Riker's ship, and they'd be stopped as long as he said so.

"Well Doctor, perhaps I do have a problem with you. What do you suggest I do about it?"

"I'd suggest you to talk to Deanna." He replied sarcastically and without thinking.

That did it; Riker couldn't control his anger anymore. He drew back his fist and swung at Thornton, landing a fierce blow to the Doctor's jaw. It was strong enough to knock a Klingon to his knees, but he was only thrown back against the side of the lift and stood his ground, slowly turning his head back towards Riker with darkened eyes and a lethal tone.

"Are you quite finished?" Thornton sighed and ducked as he saw Riker's fist coming towards him once again. <To hell with this> he thought, and put his arm up to defend himself. He grabbed the Commander's hand as it came near his body, and wrenched it upwards. Then he curled his other hand into a fist and breathing heavily, charged at Riker's semi-still form. There was no escape in the confines of the lift and grunting sounds of pain came from both men as skin connected with skin in an intensely brutal battle that left both out of breath. Neither was the victor as they both remained standing, and egos weren't the only bruised parts of them.

"Now that's out of the way, may we proceed to our destination?" Jake asked, leaning once again against the wall.

Finally, Riker straightened his tunic and said, "Resume Turbolift," wiping a single spot of blood from his lip.

Chapter Fourteen


Lwaxana Troi sat in a chair by her daughter's biobed. Deanna hadn't woken, and although Dr. Crusher said that it was for the best, Lwaxana knew that she too was starting to worry. She leaned over the bed and brushed Deanna's hair away from her eyes. She sighed heavily. Her Little One was going to be in a lot of pain when she awoke, but it seemed like she had been asleep for ages. She hoped that even in an unconscious state Deanna would be able to sense her presence and draw comfort from it. Deanna stirred slightly in her sleep then settled down again. She would wake at any time. And when she did, Lwaxana knew that her Little One would have a lot of questions to answer.

The doors of the turbolift hissed open and both occupants exited, turning in different directions. Jake went directly towards Lwaxana while Will paused to talk to Beverly.

Crusher took one look at his disheveled form and sighed, taking him by the elbow and leading him into her office. She quickly ran a regenerator over the broken skin on his lip, shaking her head as she fixed his cut."You know, the last thing Deanna needs right now is for the two of you to be at each others throats every five minutes."

Riker held up his hand to silence her, wincing at the twinge of pain in his shoulder.

"Please, Beverly, I don't need any lectures right now." She continued to shake her head.

"All right. I think you've learned your lesson." She walked back to the other side of the desk and sat down.

"How are you dealing with all of this?" She asked. She was very concerned about him.

"Not too well obviously." He rubbed his still sore lip and changed the subject.

"How's Deanna doing?"

Beverly shook her head. "She's still unconscious, Will. She suffered some severe physical trauma and we won't know the extent of her emotional damage until she awakens. Frankly, I'm worried about her being pregnant. All of her body's strength and energy is being diverted to the baby, leaving little or no reserve energy for her to heal herself." Beverly sighed. "I just hope she wakes up soon."

Lwaxana took one look at Jake's rapidly swelling jaw and grimaced. She should have guessed that the rising tension she'd felt earlier would culminate in an altercation."I don't want to know." She stood up and started pacing around the floor. "Did the two of you have to come to blows? Honestly, why do humans always resort to violence in times of conflict? I thought you would have known better by now, Jakob." She scolded him as though he was still a child.

Jake looked at Deanna's still sleeping form and raised his hands in the air, shrugging his shoulders. "I didn't start this, Lwaxana. But if Riker wants to play rough..."

"I think both of you are being positively ridiculous." Her next statement was cut off by Deanna crying out as she turned restlessly. They both moved towards the bed as if drawn by a powerful magnet. Lwaxana walked to the right of the bed, and Jake to the left. Deanna stirred again and Jake took one of her cold, pale hands in his, kneeling down on the floor as Lwaxana resumed sitting in the chair, pulling it closer to the biobed.

Deanna tossed her head from side to side, mumbling in her sleep, eyelashes fluttering. She blinked several times and her eyes slowly opened before they began to focus.

"Jake?" she questioned, seeing him leaning over her. Then she saw her mother move out of the corner of her eye. "Where...?"

"Shh. Little One, rest. Don't get too excited." Lwaxana said, leaning over the other side of the biobed. "I'll go get Dr. Crusher." She quickly got up and went to Crusher's office.

"Thorny?" she asked again, murmuring sleepily. He grasped her hand tighter in his.

"I'm right here. We've been waiting for you to wake up. You gave us quite a scare for the past few hours."

"Sorry..." She flinched when she tried moving her neck to see him more clearly. "OWWW."

"Deanna, look at me. Don't move just look at me, okay?" He leaned forward and she nodded tentatively, her eyes filling as she began to feel the painful injuries take over her body.

"Hurts, so much..." She said, trying to focus more clearly on him.

"Is everything okay? The baby?"

"The baby's fine, Déesse."

She smiled slightly for the first time then her eyes widened in apprehension.

"What about Will? Please tell me he doesn't know."

Jake couldn't believe this. Deanna must be going through hell right now, yet she was still trying to protect Will Riker.

"Don't worry about him, Dee. He has no idea. In fact, they all think the baby's mine. You'll need to explain things when you're feeling better." He stood and kissed her forehead, allowing his lips to linger on her clammy skin. She nodded again, not having the energy to say anything more.

Dr. Crusher came back over to them followed by Will and Lwaxana. Deanna's mother had entered while she and Will were finishing their conversation but Beverly had a good idea that Lwaxana knew about everything discussed, though she chose to remain silent. When she told them that Deanna was awake Will had nearly overturned the chair in a haste to get to her side as quickly as possible, his gait only slowing upon seeing Thornton kneeling on the floor and leaning forward to kiss her.

Beverly hesitated for a second then strode towards her patient, clearing her throat slightly. Jake quickly moved his head away from Deanna but didn't release her hand. He knew that if he did she might panic. He could tell that she was still disoriented but at least she seemed to know where and when she was.

"Hello, Deanna, how are you feeling?" Crusher smiled to see the color slowly returning to her friend's cheeks. Deanna yawned slowly, and gasped as the pain in her chest asserted itself.

"I've been better." She whispered, every breath causing a sting deep inside.

"That doesn't surprise me. But I can't give you anything for the pain because of the baby."

Troi nodded carefully. "I understand." She closed her eyes as the image of Nesian bending over her and trying to caress her stomach assailed her memory. She cringed both inwardly and outwardly and her mother leaned closer.

"Shh. Little One, that's all over with now. You're safe." Deanna looked at Jake for confirmation and he nodded.

"Is he in the brig?" She asked, hating the thought that he was aboard the same ship as her.... where he could still get her.

"No, Déesse, he's dead."

"Did I kill him?" She asked, remembering striking out against him when he tried to come near her. She couldn't remember much of her time with him and truth be told, she didn't want to.

"No. I did."

She looked him straight in the eyes and neither blinked as they silently spoke.

"RaBeem," she said, gripping his hand tightly in her own.

He flinched and nodded faintly.

"All right, you are all going to have to clear out of here now while I examine Deanna."

Riker, standing at the edge of the bed and far away from the others, didn't budge from his spot. Deanna hadn't even looked his way.

"No!" Deanna protested, and her body joined her voice by screaming in pain as well. She looked at Jake, pleadingly. "Don't... go..." she glanced from him and finally to Will; frightened. She didn't want to be left alone, nor did she want to answer questions from Beverly right now. If she wasn't so scared of what she would do if left with Will she would have wanted nothing more than to crawl into his arms and hide forever. But she knew that she couldn't do that now... that she never could. Instead she clung to Jake.

"Thorny... please... don't leave." Tears threatened but she blinked them back. The sight of her, so pale and fragile, tore at his heart strings and he attempted a smile as his eyes gazed at her sadly.

"I'm not going anywhere, Déesse."

She pulled his hand up to her lips, kissed his fingers and fell back to sleep, too tired to stay awake any longer.

Crusher came forward with a tricorder and Lwaxana moved to the side. Jake begrudgingly dropped Deanna's hand so that his vitals would not throw off the tricorder and immediately picked it up again as soon as she finished.

At the foot of the bed Riker stood silently; observing everyone around him. He saw her reach for the other man in her sleep and tensed. Unable to watch, he turned and left Sickbay unnoticed by all but Beverly. She excused herself for a moment, knowing that Deanna's condition would not change much in the five minutes she would be away and followed Will out of Sickbay.

"Stalking me, Doc?" He saw the crestfallen look on the Doctor's face and was immediately contrite, considering the circumstances. "Sorry, bad choice of words. Why are you following me, shouldn't you be with Deanna?"

Crusher sighed. Even through all the pain he must be feeling, Will's first thought was for Deanna's well-being. She knew this situation was difficult for him and that he needed to talk to someone. "Deanna's resting now. She'll probably go in and out for the rest of the night. But how are you doing, Will?"

"As well as can be expected I suppose. I really dislike that man."

"Do you really? How much of your dislike is based on jealousy, Will? I understand that you must be very angry with both he and Deanna right now, but..."

"No, Beverly, I'm not angry at Deanna. Not at all. Thornton, on the other hand, isn't at the top of my list of friends."

"Be careful, Will. Deanna's one of my best friends but she's certainly not a saint. I know how much you care for her but she is part human and just as fallible as the rest of us. She sometimes make mistakes."

"And you think that's what she's done?"

"Will, it's obvious that you love Deanna. And yes, I think she has made a mistake in not being with you."

"It's not just her you know."

"Yes, I know. In this situation, as well as others... let's just say that more than one person is to blame.

"Believe me, Beverly, I realize that." Will was somber as he thought of Deanna's pregnancy.

"Realizing it and accepting it are two different things, Will." She touched his shoulder gently and went back into Sickbay.

Deanna woke again shortly after, crying out in pain. Both her mother and Jake were instantly by her side.

"Easy, Little One, don't move too quickly." Lwaxana put an arm behind Deanna's back, helping her into a sitting position while Jake moved her pillow. Even though it was soft to the touch, Deanna's battered back felt as though it was lying against shards of glass. She winced noticeably and could not get comfortable, no matter how hard she tried.

Crusher walked back over to the bed and tried to assist as well.

"When do I get to get out of here?" Deanna asked, "No offense, Beverly, but I'd rather be in my quarters."

"None taken. But just the same, I think you are going to have to put up with this place a little bit longer."

"Little One, I'm going to see about canceling my speech on Henalli IV the day after tomorrow. I want to be here for you. And as soon as you feel up to it we'll take you home." Deanna reached out and took her mother's hand, subliminally banishing the pain from her shoulder and sore wrist.

"You are here for me, Mother. But I don't think you should skip that conference; it's too important, and I know that you've been looking forward to going. And there's no need for me to go back to Betazed. My home is here." Deanna's voice kept lowering as she spoke, her bruised lungs protesting with each word.

"But darling..." Lwaxana saw the determined look on her daughter's face and knew that there was no arguing with Deanna, especially not now. She looked from her to Jake, released a sigh and shook her head.

I swear; she gets more stubborn just by being around you, Jakob." She affectionately ruffled his long hair and clucked her tongue.

"No, she doesn't. She's like this all the time. But maybe you should listen to your mother once in a while, 'Little One.'" He smiled tiredly at Lwaxana and sat at the edge of the bed while Deanna shook her head gingerly, mumbling about being ganged up on.

Crusher curiously watched the interaction between the three of them before turning towards Troi once again. "Deanna, I want you to stay here tonight. If your vitals have improved you may go back to your quarters in the morning."

She brightened considerably and nodded slowly, careful of the pain. She looked from Crusher to her mother and Jake, then back again, biting the corner of her lip as she did so.

Sensing that Deanna wanted to be alone with the doctor, Lwaxana took Jake by his free hand and said, "There are some things I brought for Deanna. I could use your help, Jakob."

Jake saw what Lwaxana was trying to do and hesitated, moving only when he saw that Deanna was nodding her assent as well. He kissed the top of her head and let Lwaxana lead him out of Sickbay.

Once they were gone Beverly looked at Deanna quizzically. She closed her eyes briefly before asking, "Beverly, how is Will?"

Beverly considered her response carefully before answering. "He wasn't injured physically if that's what you mean, but seeing you like that hit him hard. We've all been very concerned about you, Deanna."

"I know. I don't remember much." She paused for a moment, regarding the woman standing in front of her in the lab coat. She needed to know that she could trust her with what she had to say next. Beverly saw her hesitating and took the first step.

"Deanna you know that anything you tell me is guarded by doctor/patient confidentiality, don't you?"

Deanna nodded but remained silent. Beverly was wondering if anything had happened to Deanna while she was abducted. There had been no visible sign of sexual abuse, but Crusher wasn't sure about emotional damage. She took a different tactic to get her to open up, she knew that it wasn't healthy for her to keep her emotions bottled up inside. "Besides, being your Doctor, I'm also your friend. You can tell me anything, Deanna." Troi nodded again, trying to gather strength.

"Beverly... about the baby..."

"The baby is fine Deanna, really."

"So you've said, but there is something you need to understand. Beverly, what I'm going to tell you cannot leave this room. Promise me that." Her jet eyes pleaded, and their sadness nearly took the doctor's breath away.

"Of course, Deanna. Whatever you say will stay between the two of us."

Deanna attempted to sit up a little further and looked Beverly in the eyes. She took a deep breath before speaking.

"Beverly, Jake is not the baby's father." Crusher's china blue eyes widened in shock but she remained silent, waiting for Deanna to continue. "Will is."

Beverly stepped back; stunned. She thought she'd prepared herself for whatever Deanna was going to tell her but she hadn't even considered this. "Are you sure?"

Deanna nodded again, her eyes brimming with tears as she tried to control her emotions. It had been so difficult to tell Beverly, but she knew that she had to for her sake and the baby's. But if this was hard, it was going to be excruciating to actually tell Will.

"Does... does he know?" Beverly whispered, noting how distressed her friend was. She wondered if Will was part of the reason why she was so upset.

"No. I haven't told him yet." Deanna couldn't hold back the tears any longer and they began spilling down her cheeks.

"Deanna, how could you keep something like this from him? And why would you hide a marriage?" Beverly's voice raised slightly. "Do you have any idea how much this is hurting him?"

"Yes, but..."

"Deanna! I can't believe you would do this." Beverly looked at her friend. Deanna had fallen against the pillows, gasping in pain. Immediately, Crusher's doctor mode took over. She ran a tricorder over Troi's badly beaten body and stopped as Deanna shrank away from her. She couldn't help it; the tone of Beverly's voice had brought back flashes of Nesian standing over her with a hypospray. She began struggling violently as the CMO approached her, her words ringing in Troi's ears.

"No, please... no. I didn't mean to... oh Gods... so sorry." Deanna whispered. She couldn't stop trembling, tears spilling endlessly from her eyes.

"Deanna, are you okay? Troi, look at me." Deanna still couldn't stop shaking. Crusher did the only thing she could think of and tapped her comm badge.

"Crusher to Riker."

<Riker here>

"Will, I need you to come back to Sickbay NOW!"

<Acknowledged. On my way.> Will didn't ask any questions. Deanna needed him; that was enough.

Less than three minutes later Riker came crashing through the doors. He strode right over to where Deanna was lying, hearing her cries from the moment he entered. She saw him approach her and stared at him with frightened eyes. She couldn't bear to see him angry with her and closed her eyes, the tears still flowing rapidly. "No... go away, please go away."

She began tossing her body around on the biobed, trying throw an invisible person off of her. Daring to open her eyes again she quickly clamped them shut as Will's features changed, transforming into those of Nesian's. In her mind his eyes darkened from that crystal blue to the cruel black of the man who terrified her. He came closer to her and Deanna screamed in panic.

"Keep him away from me... please. Oh Gods..."

Riker backed away from Deanna helplessly while Crusher tried to calm her down.

Returning to Sickbay with Lwaxana in tow, Jake quickly sized up the situation and rushed towards Deanna, catching her as she fell off the side of the biobed. They both sank to the floor, his arms wrapped around her, whispering in her ear. Deanna kept her eyes tightly closed, losing herself in the soft reassuring tone of his voice. She sobbed uncontrollably and Jake comprehended in that instant just how fragile Deanna was even though it hadn't appeared that way when she'd first regained consciousness. He searched her face intently as her emotions finally began to balance out again.

Finally, Deanna quieted and fell asleep, her face still buried in his chest. He carefully lifted her back in his arms and tucked her into the biobed, making sure she didn't stir. Lwaxana, uncharacteristically silent in her worry, sat down in the chair next to her daughter and lightly stroked her face as Thornton turned and faced Riker.

"What did you do to her?" He asked; his voice cool and venomous. Riker glared back.

"Nothing. She was like this when I arrived."

Jake turned to Dr. Crusher. "Doctor, do you have any idea as to what happened to make Deanna so upset?" He asked, his voice losing the harsh tone. He raked his hand through his hair, frustrated.

"We were talking and something I said triggered this. I had no idea she was this sensitive. I'm so sorry." Beverly said, wringing her hands. She'd been too busy berating Deanna's behavior to hear her out and had unknowingly caused a setback. She scanned her again. Aside from an elevated heartbeat and slightly higher blood pressure Deanna was as physically fine as she could be, under the circumstances.

"What did you say to her?" Jake asked. There was no more anger in his voice, just concern.

"I'm afraid, I can't discuss that." Beverly wasn't sure whether or not Jake had knowledge of the baby's paternity, but either way she wasn't going to risk harming her friend any more. She certainly wasn't going to discuss this in front of Riker, especially not now.

Will looked desolate and confused; he couldn't believe Deanna's reaction to his presence. She had been avoiding him lately, but he had never thought that she would be so fearful of him.

Jake abruptly turned away from Crusher and Riker; walking back to Deanna's side. He spoke briefly to Lwaxana, who rose, gently touched his face and headed back to her temporary quarters. Then he sank into the chair and took her hand in his, her fingers instinctively curling tighter into his palm. Crusher motioned for Will to follow her into a deserted corner of the ICU.

"My God Beverly, what happened over there?" Will asked, his mind still reeling. Deanna had been so frightened... of him. He had never felt as awful as he had in that moment.

"I don't know, Will. As soon as Deanna wakes up we can find out, but until then we're just going to have to wait."

"I'm going to go to the Bridge. I don't want to scare her if she wakes up and sees me here." Riker's heart was breaking but he felt that it was best for Deanna if he stayed away from her right now.

"Will..." Beverly knew he must be going crazy inside but there was nothing she could say to help him. She wondered what had happened between him and Deanna to leave her so shaken up and unable to tell him of her pregnancy.

"It's for the best right now." He whispered, and squeezed her hand quickly. Then he turned and left Sickbay, his eyes burning.

Crusher sighed and went back over to where Jake was sitting with Deanna.

"Did she tell you?' Jake asked Beverly, looking up.

"That depends on what you are talking about." Crusher replied, not wanting to give anything away. Thornton exhaled and ran a hand through his long dark hair.

"Did Deanna talk to you at all about the baby?"


"That's all I needed to know." Thornton said, shutting his eyes wearily. He hadn't slept in close to three days.

"Has she spoken to you?" Beverly approached this subject very carefully. She was almost certain that Jake knew the truth about the baby, but just in case she was wrong, she didn't want to breach any confidences.

"Yes. As soon as I saw her at the base."

'Then you've known all along." There was no accusation in Beverly's voice, simply acceptance and understanding.

"Yes, and I'm respecting her wishes."

"Is she planning on saying anything?" Crusher was confused. She didn't know why Deanna had kept this to herself for so long.

"Of course. Deanna never meant to keep this a secret, Doctor. She had been planning on a conversation after your briefing."

"I see." She really didn't, but was unsure as to what to say. It was obvious that this man cared deeply for Deanna but Crusher knew that no one loved her more than Will Riker. She hoped that everything would resolve itself quickly; both Will and Deanna were in enough pain as it was. "If there is anything I can do?"

"Thank you, Doctor. Deanna is lucky to have a friend like you."

Not knowing how to answer, she nodded her head, and went back to her office.

Chapter Fifteen

Deanna screamed in her sleep; struggling wildly. Nesian was in her mind, invading her thoughts and he was so evil... She cried out and Jake woke immediately, having finally dropped off to sleep an hour earlier in the chair beside the bed.

"Hey, Déesse wake up and look at me," he whispered, not wanting to startle her. He brushed his hand lightly over her face, as if to wash away the nightmare image from her mind. Deanna quieted at the touch of his hand.

"The baby?' She asked, disoriented. She was so confused she couldn't sense anything and it scared her.

"The baby is fine. How are you?" Deanna shook her head.

"Hurts... so... much. Make it stop, please." She whispered, trying to block the pain.

"Okay, we are going to try an experiment all right?" Deanna just looked at him.

"Do you remember the meditation techniques you taught me when we were kids?" He asked, trying to distract her.

"Uhuh." She said in a small voice. Her ribs were still too sore to accommodate any loud speaking.

"Well, think back to that lesson in transference. Let's put a spin on it. I want you to look directly into my eyes and breath out as I breath in. And when you exhale, I want you to push the pain out of your body and into mine okay?"

"No. Don't want to hurt you." Jake smiled down at her.

"Don't worry about me Déesse, I can handle it. Now focus."

She looked him right in the eyes, completely unafraid. He inhaled deeply, and she exhaled. They continued, Deanna trying to push the pain from her body to his. At first Jake didn't think it had worked but then he began to feel a dull ache in the back of his head and around his ribcage. The throbbing spread from his arms to his wrist and remained there, intensifying quickly. He blocked it as best he could, knowing that the pain he was feeling was nothing compared to what Deanna must be experiencing. She broke the connection, too weak to hold it for long and Jake sat back, suddenly weak and dizzy. He closed his eyes and exhaled a final time, clearing his mind as he opened them again and saw Deanna lying there smiling at him softly.

Then her smile turned into a look of concern. "Are you okay, Thorny?" She noticed that he was turning pale but he nodded back at her.

"Just fine." He saw color returning back to her cheeks and heard a slightly stronger voice. He let loose a sigh of relief. She appeared strong enough for this conversation.

"So you talked to Beverly."

"Yes. Jake she was so angry with me..."

"No, I think you are mistaken," he replied gently.

"How do you know?" Deanna asked. She was so confused; she couldn't sense anything clearly right now.

"Because I spoke to her." Jake closed his eyes again, warding off a sudden wave of nausea. "So help me Déesse, if you sent me your morning sickness..." Troi laughed quietly and the sound healed some of the pain he was feeling.

"Anyway, Beverly told me that she was sorry she upset you. She didn't understand but I tried to explain it to her." He said, suddenly serious again.

"Oh. Thank you." Then she was silent. "Thorny, what am I going to do?"

"Exactly what you had planned before all of this. You're going to talk to Will."

"I'm so afraid that he is going to hate me..."

"No one could ever hate you. Are you feeling any better?"

"Yes, thank you."

"Stop thanking me already. All I did was make this worse."

"No. You did exactly what I asked you to." She looked him in the eye. "And if it wasn't for you..." She closed her eyes and shuddered.

"Deanna, look at me." Obediently she opened her eyes and looked at him, trusting him implicitly.

"That's all over with okay?"

She nodded.

"Good. Now I want you to go back to sleep."

"I want to get out of here. Please Jake, get me out of here." She grabbed his arm with more strength than she had previously shown.

"I'll see what I can do." He stood and kissed her on the cheek. "And I'll send the doctor in here to check on you, okay?"


"I'll be right back." Jake went to the CMO's office and knocked on the door.

Deck 9

Will Riker sat in his quarters doing absolutely nothing. Something was troubling him but he was unable to pinpoint what it was. He was so worried about Deanna and at the same time was being bombarded with strange images in his mind. He knew that something had happened between he and Deanna the night of the inaugural gala over two months ago but he still couldn't remember what it was. He knew he had been drunk but he couldn't recall anything after that last image of them standing outside the turbolift on Deck 9. He couldn't ask her; she panicked when he approached. Riker closed his eyes and tried to concentrate on what he could remember...

He and Deanna kept walking up and down the corridor; she was following him but he didn't know why. He saw his mouth moving but didn't know what it was he had said. Deanna moved closer and hugged him, and Riker saw himself lifting her head up from his shoulder and kissing her. He remembered thinking that she was going to pull away at any moment and then...

<Picard to Commander Riker> The vision was gone.

"Riker here, go ahead Sir."

<Commander, please meet me in my Ready Room.>

Aye Sir. Riker out."

Back in Sickbay...

Beverly left her office and walked over to Deanna's biobed. Jake winked at his déesse and exited Sickbay. Dr. Crusher was going to release Deanna shortly and he and Lwaxana were going to get her quarters ready for her homecoming before Deanna's mother had to leave for her conference. Beverly stepped forward reluctantly, not knowing exactly what to say.

"Deanna, about before..."

Troi shook her head. "You were right. I should have said something as soon as I knew."

"Deanna, what happened between you and Will?"

Deanna colored slightly and began to talk. The whole story spilled out.

"So why didn't you talk to Will the next day?" Beverly asked, trying to sort through what Troi just told her. She too remembered waking up with quite a headache the morning after the gala.

"Beverly, don't you understand? He never brought it up. Which means... that either it didn't really matter to him or he was too drunk to remember. Either one isn't any basis for a child to come into this world. Then after I realized I was pregnant... it was the morning of the Federation reception. I was going to tell him the next day after the briefing but I never got the chance."

"And Dr. Thornton?" Beverly asked, still unsure where the handsome scientist fit into all of this.

"Jake covered for me. Will didn't deserve to find out by having Nesian tell him, so he protected me."

"Deanna… he said he was your husband. He even had a marriage license."

Troi smiled faintly. "Years ago I went with him to Capella IV for a project he was working on involving topalline deposits. On our first evening there we were invited to partake in the celebration of a marriage by the Teer of the fourth tribe and accepted. We found out later that the marriage being celebrated was ours, though we didn't know it at the time. That was the last time we went anywhere without researching societal customs first." She shrugged slightly and gasped at the pain it triggered before she continued. "The Capellans don't believe in divorce but the marriage wouldn't have been recognized by the Federation so it was never included on my record, though it'll be valid on Capella IV until one of us dies. He's my oldest friend, Beverly. Believe me when I tell you that right now this is for the best right now."

"For the best? Deanna, he and Will nearly killed each other in the turbolift while you were unconscious this morning."

"What? That's not possible." Deanna was confused. Jake hadn't mentioned that he fought with Will. He hated violence as much as she did; something must have happened to set him off. Could all the things she told Jake about Will caused him to dislike her Imzadi so much that he would strike him? And Will...? Had she hurt him so much by trying to protect him that he would lash out at Jake? She had to tell him about the baby... soon.

~~~Are you ready to leave yet Little One?~~~ Deanna heard her mother's voice in her head as she approached Sickbay.

~~~Yes, Mother. Thank you.~~~

Lwaxana came waltzing into Sickbay, Jake right behind her.

"Okay Deanna, you can go home now. But, I want you to stay in bed for a week or so, and no strenuous activity. Consider yourself off duty for at least ten days."

"Ten days! Beverly..." Deanna's voice raised slightly in the quiet of her room.

"Yes, Deanna ten days. Dr. Crusher, I agree wholeheartedly. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth Déesse, at least you've been sprung." Jake said, walking over to Deanna's bedside.

"Sprung? You're making it sound like she's been incarcerated." Crusher's voice sounded indignant but she was smiling. Jake flashed a brilliant smile in return and Beverly was once again struck by how handsome he was.

"Of course not, Beverly. But it will be good to go back to my quarters." Deanna replied, smiling herself. She motioned Thornton closer and motioned with her finger, feeling a bit better.

"Some help, wonder boy?"

He laughed and held out his hand. Deanna grasped it in hers, allowing him to help her out of the biobed. Deanna was a lot weaker than she had previously thought and faltered somewhat as she stood. Jake placed his arm behind her back, steadying her before she could fall.

"Easy now, move a little bit more slowly."

Deanna leaned against him, drawing strength from his body. He placed his other arm gently across her shoulders.

"Deanna, I can get an anti-grav cart, if you want." Beverly said, already knowing what the answer would be. She wasn't surprised when she received an emphatic no from her friend.

"Come now Little One, let's get you out of here. I want to make sure you're settled before I leave for Henalli. And I spoke to Jean-Luc. If you wish, we can keep this quiet." Lwaxana said while trying to hide her concern. She knew that the next few days would not be easy for her daughter either physically or emotionally, not to mention how she would feel until she finally told William the truth about the baby. The last thing she needed was to be interrogated by those silly admirals at Starfleet Command.

"Thank you, Mother. I do."

Lwaxana glanced at Jake, whose arm was still around Deanna's shoulders. He nodded and moved back as she walked behind her daughter and slipped her robe over Deanna's bruised shoulders. Troi flinched slightly when the material touched her then straightened up, catching her breath. Beverly instantly started towards her, pausing when she raised her hand to stop her. "I'm okay, really... or at least I will be." She carefully turned her head to look at Jake.

"That you will." Jake said, replacing his arm gently. The four slowly made their way down the corridor and into the turbolift. Troi closed her eyes and relaxed against Thornton. She couldn't believe she was this unsteady and didn't know if she was going to make it to her quarters.

Seemingly sensing her thoughts, Jake wrapped his arm around her waist. She cautiously leaned farther back into him, relaxing and gathering her strength while trying to ignore the pain streaking up her spine from the movement. Crusher watched them questioningly as they remained in that position for the rest of the turbolift ride. When the lift stopped, Jake released her and they continued on their way.

They walked into the Counselor's quarters and proceeded directly into the bedroom. Lwaxana pulled back the covers and patted the bed while Deanna obediently moved forward; she was too tired to argue at the childlike treatment. Jake helped Deanna remove her robe before she crawled beneath the sheets. He tucked the blankets around her as Crusher gave Deanna one more round with the scanner then stepped back.

"Okay, you're all set. If you need anything, call." She placed Deanna's comm badge on the bedside table as the Counselor nodded sleepily, her eyes already half-closed.

"Get some rest, Little One. I love you, and I'll contact you tomorrow." Lwaxana kissed her daughter on the forehead and hugged Jake, who came closer before settling in the chair in the corner of the room, obviously not leaving soon.

Deanna nodded again, slipping farther into unconsciousness as they left the room.

"Love you, too." Deanna said quietly. "Thorny? Come here." Her eyes opened once again and she looked around sleepily, patting the space beside her.

Right here, Déesse." He sat on the edge of the bed, watching Deanna smile as she heard his voice. Jake moved closer, lay beside her and took her hand in his once again. When she awoke again he was going to make sure she told Riker; it was past time for him to know.

Chapter Sixteen

Later that morning...

Will Riker walked into Sickbay, a bouquet of flowers in hand; hoping to spend some time with Deanna. According to Beverly she was much better but Riker wanted to make sure for himself. He hoped that this time he wouldn't frighten her if that husband of hers even let him near her. The doors opened and Riker strode through, stopping to talk to Beverly. She rose when seeing him at the doorway of her office.

"I'm sorry, Will. She went back to her quarters over three hours ago."

"Three hours ago?" He was planning to offer to help her back to her quarters. Once again, he had missed another chance.

"Yes. We got her settled in and Lwaxana left shortly after for her conference. Deanna is resting now." Beverly said, walking over to Will. She placed her hand on his arm, smiling slightly.

"She's going to be fine." She wanted to find some way to reassure him, but she knew the only person who could do that now was Deanna. "Will, why don't you bring those to Deanna's quarters." she said, gesturing towards the bouquet of roses and orchids in his hand. "Talk to her," she stressed, but Will shook his head.

"No. I'm going to give her a little more time to rest. I'll visit her later," he answered, squaring his shoulders and tugging at his jacket. Beverly sighed. She knew that everyone was going to stay miserable until that was straightened out but it wasn't her place to do that. She released his arm. "If that's what you want, Will. She glanced at her chrono. "I have to check on a patient, if you'll excuse me." She hoped that they got it all sorted out quickly. On his way out of Sickbay, Will dropped the flowers in a nearby recycler and left.

Deck 9

Jake sat in the chair in Deanna's bedroom, waiting for her to awaken while he sorted through some notes. And as soon as she did, they were going to have a talk. He'd gotten about an hour of sleep, not nearly enough but he couldn't rest yet. Deanna kept frowning in her sleep, haunted by nightmares, though at least she seemed to be better when she was conscious. He'd been so worried about her, it had barely mattered to him that he'd killed a man in order to protect her. It frightened him but he wasn't completely surprised. His thoughts were abruptly turned back to the present day when Deanna opened her eyes and looked at him questioningly.

"Still here?" she asked, trying to stretch her arms above her head without having it hurt too badly.

"Come on Déesse, you know you can't get rid of me that easily."

She smiled up at him and attempted to get out of the bed.

"And where do you think you're going?" He asked, trying to stop her from overexerting herself. Dr. Crusher had said that she had to stay in bed and Jake was going to make sure that she obeyed.

"I'm going to take a shower." Deanna declared, tossing the covers off and wincing in pain.

"Oh you are, are you?" Jake asked, getting out of his chair to help her. He was teasing now. Beverly had said that a shower would probably ease some of the soreness in her muscles but he couldn't resist a joke or two.

"Yes. Can you help me into the bathroom, please? She asked. Jake moved closer to the bed, easily lifting her up out of the bed, and gently placing her down on the floor. Holding on to her hand, he guided her into the bathroom then shut the door behind her as she leaned against the sink to gather her strength.

"Are you sure you're up to this?" he shouted through the door, worried that she would slip and fall.

"Mmhhmm," was the reply he received. Moments later he heard the water running. Jake placed an item he had brought with him on the bed, then went out into the other room and began to fill out the report on the kidnapping that Picard had handed to him at their meeting the day before. Jake had been too occupied to look through it before. He hadn't gotten very far when a voice could be heard in the room.

<Dr. Thornton, you have an incoming sub-space communication from the Scientific Research Center on Corrail VII.>

"Initiate a transfer to my quarters. I'll be there shortly to receive it." The Corrailians had recently been witness to unnatural phenomena and random fluctuations in their sun's orbit. It was believed that the planet itself was 'haunted'. Jake had spent the last six weeks trying to find out exactly why this was so and he knew this transmission was important, having left word not be contacted aboard the Enterprise unless there was a dire emergency. Jake didn't want to have to answer this transmission in Deanna's quarters, he couldn't disturb her; she had enough to worry about right now. But, at the same time he did not want to leave Deanna alone.

He was just about to contact Dr. Crusher to stay with her for an hour or so her when the doorchimes rang. "Come in," he said. The door had been set to respond to his voice and biometric entry at Deanna's request. He looked up to see Will Riker standing in the doorway. "Commander... glad you're here. I need to go back to my quarters for a short while. Would you be able to stay here with Deanna?"

"Of course," Will replied. This was better than he had originally planned. Not only would he be able to talk to Deanna, he would be able to see her privately and maybe clear up some of the confusion he had about the night of the party.

"Good. She's in the shower and will be out shortly. I shouldn't be gone for too long. Jake looked at him long and hard as if he was assessing him, then he nodded towards Riker. "Thank you," he said aloud, while thinking <You'd better not screw this up, Buddy.> Jake knew that Deanna always did well when caught off guard, and he hoped that he was presenting her with the perfect opportunity to talk to Riker about the baby.

Jake left the room to go to his quarters and Will sat down on the couch, mentally replaying what he wanted to say to Deanna. He was somewhat nervous; he hoped that she wouldn't be too angry when he talked to her about their kiss that night. He wished he could recall what happened after that. Will cleared his mind and tried to remember...

He saw that kiss again and this time it was a more vivid picture in his mind. He could almost taste her again while sitting on that couch... and feel her arms around him... Her arms around him? He hadn't recalled that before but maybe she hadn't pushed him away when he kissed her. He was so involved in trying to remember that he didn't hear the water turn off.

"Jake?" Suddenly Deanna's voice broke through his reverie, and once again the image was gone after hearing the somewhat fearful tone of her voice. Deanna knew that Jake wouldn't leave her alone, but she couldn't sense him in the room and that terrified her.

"He had to go to his quarters for a few minutes, he asked me to stay with you." Riker was greeted with silence. She leaned against the shower door, her heart pounding. <Oh Gods, he's right outside...>

"Are you all right?" He asked, concerned. She hadn't said anything at all since discovering that it was he and not Jake who was in her quarters, and nearly five minutes had passed.

"Fine." Her voice was strained, belying her response. She glanced around the bathroom wildly, feeling caged, yet afraid to walk out the door.

"Okay. I'll be right out here if you need anything." He said, still afraid of scaring her off. He remembered all too well how she reacted to his presence in Sickbay the day before.

Deanna stood in the shower, shivering and dripping with water. She had been in such a hurry to get beneath the hot water that she had forgotten to bring towels into the bathroom with her. They were on the top shelf of her closet and she knew that she couldn't reach them without standing on a chair and she was too weak to do that right now. She sighed heavily and gasped at the sudden pain in her chest.

"Will?" She asked timidly. She had no other choice.

"Yes?" He questioned, relieved. He needed her to talk to him; this silence between them was so damn awkward.

"I... I forgot my towels. They're... um... at the top of the closet. Could you..." She couldn't finish her statement.

"I'll be right there." He replied. Will got up from the couch and walked into her bedroom. He easily located and took down two fluffy beige towels then walked over to the bathroom door and gently rapped on it.

Slowly, the knob turned and the door opened, a half an inch at a time. Finally, Deanna's delicate bruised wrist could be seen through the opening. Will saw those dark marks on her skin and cringed inwardly at the thought that she was in pain. She reached blindly for the towel and Will placed it in her hand.

"Thank you," she whispered. He couldn't see her face but as she opened the door slightly wider in order to bring the towels through the door, he caught a glimpse of her bare thigh, dripping with water. She quickly shut the door again.

Instantly, Will was bombarded with another image, one of that long leg tangled around his, slick with perspiration. He pushed it out of his mind; now was not the time for fantasies.

"You're welcome," he replied. "I'll be in the sitting room if you need anything else."

"Okay." Deanna waited another five minutes or so before leaving the bathroom, trying to balance her conflicting emotions when it came to Will Riker. Part of her was praying for him to go away and leave her alone; the rest of her wanted nothing more than to throw herself into his arms, whether or not she had a towel. His hand had brushed against hers as he handed her the towels and the touch was electric. At the same time, she both cringed away from him and craved more.

Deanna walked out of the bathroom, dropping the towels on her bed. Turning back around, she gasped as she looked in the mirror for the first time since being beamed back aboard the ship. The usually flawless skin of her neck and shoulders were dark purple with bruises which also covered the majority of her chest and arms. There was still swelling on both wrists and an angry red gash on her left hip, where she had been slashed with the knife.

Beverly had told her that the marks would fade in time but Deanna didn't care, she thought that she would always feel his hands on her, leaving those vicious marks on her skin as he grabbed at her. She thanked the Gods that there had been no injury to her abdomen, and that the baby was okay. She ran her hands over the slight, almost imperceptible bulge that was just beginning to become a visible reminder that she had to talk to Will about the baby... <And he's right outside.> They were only separated physically by a set of doors, but the emotional distance was so thick that Deanna wondered if they'd ever be able to get through it.

Deanna looked down at the bed, noticing that Jake had left her favorite sweatshirt again. She carefully raised her arms in order to put it onto her body and pulled it down so the hem brushed against her knees. She felt much better as the bruises were covered up once again and hidden from view. She took the other towel in her hands and attempted to dry the length of her hair. The pain struck her sore wrists and shoulder, intense and immediate, causing her to drop the towel back onto the bed. She was gasping for breath and wincing at the burst of pain in her lungs. She realized that it was going to be impossible to do this and picked up the towel again, draping it around her neck to catch the falling drops of water from her sodden mass of curls.

That done, she closed her eyes, took a deep breath and centered herself. Before she left the bedroom, Deanna felt her respiration begin to accelerate...she was starting to hyperventilate. She tried to take a deep breath...and felt her head start to throb....She leaned her forehead against the door..."Breathe Deanna, breathe, she chanted to herself." The soft bulky material of the sweatshirt felt as though it were a shield. She drew her hands up into the sleeves, the way she used to when she was a younger. She took another deep breath and went to talk to her Imzadi... the father of her child.

Will was sitting on the couch, still trying to block his fantasy of them making love from his mind. The last thing he wanted to do was be projecting these emotions to Deanna, unaware that she was having problems sensing him right now because of the baby. He took deep cleansing breaths and rose when he saw Deanna walking carefully into the room. She looked so fragile, holding one hand against the wall, leaning against it for support and trying to block the pain which shot through her injured wrist. It felt like miles from the door to the couch, and every step was agony. She took another step forward and stumbled.

Will was quickly there to catch her, helping her over to the couch where she tried to stretch out and relax. It was impossible to do with him standing so close.

"Thank you," she said, leaning against the cushions and feeling like a burden.

Will nodded and walked over to the replicator, "Can I get you anything?" He asked.

Deanna was much too nauseated to have an appetite, but she knew that she had to eat for the baby's sake, if not her own. "Yes, anything would be fine."

Will walked back to the couch, carrying a plate of berries and a mug of hot chocolate. He handed the mug to Deanna and set the berries on the table. She curled icy fingers around the mug, trying to absorb some of its warmth into her hands before she raised it to her lips. She frowned as drops of water from her hair fell directly into the mug and attempted to push her hair back against the towel but it would not stay put.

"Here let me." Will said, figuring out that it hurt too much for her to do it herself. He took the mug out of Deanna's hands and set it back on the table, then reached behind her and carefully lifted the towel under her neck, gently drying her hair. Deanna closed her eyes and calmed down slightly, enjoying the feel of his hands in her hair.

Will inhaled deeply, the scent of her fragrant hair tickling his senses. There were years of memories associated with that perfume... her hair felt like silk slipping through his fingers... how he wanted to bury his face into it.

When her hair was only damp, Will reluctantly stood and replicated a hairbrush. Going back to the couch, he reclaimed his seat and with long, slow strokes, began softly brushing the tangles from her hair. Deanna relaxed in the silence; maybe it wouldn't be as hard to talk to him as she had originally thought.

Will lifted her hair from the back of her neck, trying to gather all of it together in his hands so he could continue brushing it; wanting to draw this out for as long as possible. As he leaned closer, still not speaking, Will gazed at the nape of her neck, wanting desperately to plant a kiss where her head met her spine. He moved the last few strands of hair away from that spot and Deanna felt a twinge of pain as he unknowingly touched one of the very tender bruises he hadn't seen. She jumped slightly and the loose collar of the sweatshirt slipped, exposing her shoulder and revealing the worst of the bruising. Will looked carefully at her shoulder and was shocked that he could actually see finger marks where Nesian had so forcefully grabbed his Imzadi. Seeing those imprints marring her formerly flawless flesh caused a surge of uncontrollable anger to wash over him. <How dare that bastard have harmed Deanna.>

Deanna felt his anger and misinterpreted it as being directed towards her. She scrambled off the couch, so anxious to get up that she disregarded the pain. She believed that he was angry for having to stay with her and help her, she knew that he must have more important things to do than look after a battered half-breed. Oh Gods... she couldn't tell him now...

Will had no idea as to why she was so upset. Could she really not want him to be that close to her, or was she wishing that Thornton was here instead of him?

"I'm sorry. I think I should go back to sleep." Deanna said, not wanting to infringe on his time any longer.

"If that's what you want," he replied, "but I thought you wanted something to eat first."

"Yes." She took a handful of berries from the plate and sat back down as far away from him as possible. Will dropped the brush to the floor and watched her eat. Then he sighed and handed the mug to her once again.

This time the liquid was no longer steaming. Deanna accepted it gratefully and raised it to her lips.

"Thank you," she said again, formally polite.

"You're welcome." he replied once again, hating this distance between them.

"Do you want any?" She asked, hoping to break the ice. Besides, the faster they finished the fruit the faster he could go back to whatever he had to do.

"Sure, thanks," he replied, a little too cheerfully. He grabbed a few pieces of fruit for himself and sat back, watching Deanna. She looked exhausted, but so beautiful... and she looked as though she wanted to say something.

<Crusher to Counselor Troi.>

"Go ahead, Beverly."

<How are you doing?>

"Okay, I guess."

<Let me know if you need anything.>

"Mhhmmm. I will." She yawned and closed her eyes. It was so hard to keep them open any longer...

<Crusher out.> Deanna never heard her. She was already asleep, completely forgetting that Will was there.

Will watched her sleep for a few minutes, then rose abruptly when it looked as though she was going to fall off the side of the couch and hit her head on the table. Will caught her gently in his arms and lifted her up, freezing as her heard her mumble in her sleep at his touch.

"Imzadi..." Will looked down at her in surprise as she curled closer to his chest. She fit perfectly, as though that was where she was made to stay, and Will got a fleeting image of her curling up next to him in a bed... his bed. And she was curving close to him just the way she was now... the way she used to. He carried her into the bedroom and laid her down on the bed. She mumbled under her breath again and he leaned closer to hear as he tucked the blankets around her body.

"Imzadi..." She whispered. "So sorry... don't know why... left..." Then she clutched the pillow to her chest and was silent. Will stood there watching her for a long time, trying to figure out what she meant. He headed towards the other room to wait for her to wake up and on his way out noticed that when he had taken down the towels he had left the closet door slightly ajar. Remembering his own childhood fear of monsters hiding in the closet, especially when he was feeling sick or vulnerable, Will moved towards the door, ready to shut it. Out of the corner of his eye something familiar caught his attention.

Hanging towards the back of the closet was a long violet silk dress. But the front of the dress itself was not what had drawn his eyes to it. The back however, was comprised of many long swathes of violet lace, which met on the sides and tied in the middle. Each piece apparently had a mate, except for one... Towards the bottom of the dress a piece of lace had been torn from the seam. Riker once again flashed back to the night of the inaugural ball.

Yes! He remembered now, Deanna had been wearing that dress... and then Riker had another flash... the two of them, kissing passionately as they walked into his room. He'd untied the bows on the back of the dress, but by the time he had reached the last few, he had gotten impatient and just yanked it to the ground, holding the lace in order to get a grip on it. That must have been how a strip of it became tangled in his dress uniform tunic.

It all came flooding back, their kiss in the corridor, stumbling into his quarters and making love all night long. There were more questions left to answer... Why wasn't Deanna there when he awoke? Why hadn't she spoken to him about it? And how the hell had he forgotten about it? Will carefully closed the door all the way and heard Deanna stirring lightly in the bed behind him. He turned back and gazed at her. She looked as though she was sleeping peacefully.

Will hoped she'd remain asleep for a long time, long enough for him to sort out all of the questions whirling around inside his head; caught in a tornado. Besides, he knew that she really needed to rest; he'd seen just how exhausted she was and how much pain she'd been in although she'd tried hard to hide it. He paused a moment longer in the doorway, unwilling to tear his eyes away from her, wondering how he could have been so stupid to ever let go of her... he would not make that mistake again.

Chapter Seventeen

After what seemed like ages Will left the room, shutting the door softly behind him. He left it slightly ajar, so as to be able to hear Deanna if she cried out or awoke. He recycled the leftover fruit and settled back down to make sense of all the questions in his mind. First and foremost, he had to figure out whether or not Deanna even remembered the two of them spending the night together. It had taken him this long to realize that himself; she might be just as clueless as he was. Maybe she was also having flashbacks and dismissing them as dreams. Then again, perhaps it meant nothing to her whatsoever, especially because of her involvement with Jakob Thornton. It could be the reason Deanna had been avoiding him lately; she didn't quite know how to tell him that she was married and having a child with someone else.

Will was increasingly frustrated. He had thought that he and Deanna had a strong enough friendship that they could talk about other relationships. He recalled numerous times that the two of them had discussed his relationships with other women. True, Deanna had normally reverted into Counselor Troi mode, trying to be as objective as possible, but he had always believed that there was something more below the surface of professional or friendly interest. Why did she have to be so damn enigmatic about her relationships with other men?

Although he hadn't realized it, Worf at one time had asked for his permission to court Deanna but she herself had never even mentioned the prospect dating the Klingon to him. True, that relationship had ended before the start, thank God, but still she had never said a word to him. And now this... Why the hell had she never said anything to him or any of them about this man? She had obviously known him for a very long time, longer than even he had known Deanna. Why should she keep him a secret, especially if they were married?

And why was Deanna calling for him in her sleep? He had distinctly heard her say Imzadi; he was sure of it, the indescribable feeling he received every time she called him that had been present when he had lifted her off the couch... and she had felt so good in his arms again... that was where she belonged, Riker was sure of it. And yet...she had been reluctant to let Thornton out of her sight from the moment they had reached her on Betazed; it was as if he was her lifeline. And they were married…. The thought that he had lost her so long ago without even knowing it cut through him like a knife. He was filled with so many conflicting emotions, he wasn't quite sure which was the strongest then he realized... it was love. His love for Deanna encompassed all other possible feelings. And his desire for her to be happy; if his Imzadi was truly happy with someone else he'd cut all ties with her, as difficult as it would be for him.

Lost in thought, that he didn't register the sound of the doors hissing open; looking up when he saw a shadow standing above him.

"How is she?" Jake asked, dispensing with all formalities. He needed to know whether or not Deanna had spoken to him yet; he had just received some very important news that he needed to share with her as soon as possible.

"Fine. She's sleeping." Will's answer was just as clipped as the question had been.

Jake tersely nodded in response. He was hoping that she had told Will already but know he knew she was going to keep putting it off. Either she was going to tell him, or he was. Jake decided to give her one more chance.

"Commander, thank you for staying with Deanna. I truly appreciate it; I know you have a very important position aboard this ship and you must be swamped with work."

Riker had an impression that he was being dismissed; however, he kept his ground. Will rose and stood stiffly, his arms at his sides.

"Doctor, if you don't mind, there are some things which I have to still have to discuss with Deanna."

Jake looked at him for a moment, perhaps the Commander was more intelligent than he'd first assumed. But he really did need to have a chat with her immediately. "Yes, of course. What Deanna and I have to talk about is rather important, but I'm sure it won't take very long." He replied, checking the chronometer on the table for the second time since his return.

Riker stiffened further. Though he wanted to stay with Deanna, what right did he have to come between a family? "I see. Well then, I'll return in about an hour. Will that be sufficient?" Will asked, heading for the door.

"Yes. Thank you, Commander." Jake was slightly bewildered, he hadn't expected Riker to leave so easily. At least that would make his conversation with Deanna easier. Now all he had to do was wait for her to wake up.

Jake briefly checked on Deanna and sat down at the spot which Riker had just vacated on the couch in the sitting room. He checked the chrono for a third time, removed a microchip from his pocket and tossed it from one hand to another. He was going to have to leave tomorrow and as usual, drew up his itinerary for the following few months and saved them to this chip; the main way in which he and Deanna had kept up with one another for years. If she needed him she knew where to find him.

30 minutes later...

Deanna woke to see Jake standing over her, a tired smile on his handsome face. She was disappointed for a moment; she had hoped that Will was still with her, and she didn't remember falling asleep. All she knew was that they had been sitting on the couch and he had wanted to leave. It was obvious he had. Seeing that Jake was with her brought a great feeling of relief to Deanna's still exhausted psyche.

She smiled in return and became aware of two things at the same time. The first was that it was blisteringly hot in her quarters, and the second was that she desperately needed to use the bathroom. She carefully untucked the blankets from around her body, pausing slightly when she noticed that they smelled somewhat of Will's cologne. Her eyes welled up with tears upon comprehending that Will must have put her to bed... she was such a burden to him as it was... how could she tell him about the baby now?

As if sensing her thoughts, at least the first ones, Jake quickly helped her out of the bed, and handed her a nightgown and robe from the closet. She nodded her thanks, and went into the bathroom. When she got out, she was feeling much better and walked back into the sitting room, looking around almost as if she expected to see Will. Jake followed behind her reluctantly then began to say what he had to, the chip once again in his pocket.

"Listen Déesse. There's been an emergency, and I've been called back to Corrail VII." Deanna sat gingerly on a chair as he walked around the room, running his hands through his hair.

"I knew you couldn't stay forever." She replied calmly, although inside anxiety was already setting in. "When do you leave?"

"In the morning." He looked at his hands uncomfortably, he hated to leave her like this, but he wanted to make sure that she was settled first.

"I see." Deanna's breathing evened out. She knew that she would be okay; she couldn't rely on him forever. And then there was the baby. She had to deal with that, but Jake had his own life to lead.

"You still have some unfinished business to take care of, Deanna. I'm giving you three choices. Either you tell Will about the baby before I leave, or I do. And if you don't like those, I'll give you one more. Your third choice is to leave the ship with me and we'll raise the baby together."

Will Riker's quarters...

Will couldn't sit still, he was filled with nervous energy and feeling like an idiot. How could he have left before, questioning his right to remain by Deanna's side? Of course he had a right. Not only was he a concerned friend, he was also her Imzadi. A bond between he and Deanna, one Thornton had no business interfering with. Will walked over to his dresser and scooped up the scrap of lace which still lay upon it. He rolled it around in his hands, thinking about all of the confusion of the past few months; wondering what he could do to rectify it. He straightened the tunic of his uniform with his free hand and exited his quarters abruptly. This was going to be resolved right now and he wasn't going to let her go without a fight. When he got to Deanna's door he was able to hear semi-raised voices quickly becoming louder coming from inside. He rang the doorchimes.

"What do you think you're doing?" Deanna was livid, she couldn't believe he would deliver an ultimatum like this to her. She stood and steadied herself against the chair.

"Deanna, you've been putting this off far too long. You cannot continue to keep this secret."

Deanna placed her hands protectively on her abdomen. She knew that he was right, but he was so infuriating sometimes. "Don't you think I know that? Believe me; no one knows that better than I. Why are you trying to decide my life? You're beginning to sound just like Mother. Do you really think I would trap you into fatherhood? Especially considering what happened with Jamie?" Deanna gathered all of her strength together in order to remain standing and ripped into him.

"Oh no you don't. I won't let you shift the blame for this onto me. This is completely different than my failed marriage with Marielle, Deanna. And no matter how badly that turned out, I love my son. This may be your choice, but you're not the only one with rights here. Don't you forget that!" Both were arguing too heatedly to hear the doorchimes, slipping back into the old habits that kept them from ever having a permanent relationship.

Riker remained outside, hearing a word here and there but nothing which made any sense to him. He stood patiently then rang the chimes again when it was obvious that they hadn't heard it the first time. And back inside...

"I know that, Jake!"

"You keep saying that, but what have you done about it?"

"You don't understand, Jake. I tried, really I did. If you could have seen how angry he was because he had to stay with me before..."

"What the hell are you talking about?" The doors chimed again and still they paid no attention to it. "You're too deep in denial to see what you're doing to yourself... and to him."

"So now you're a psychologist? You would have failed Psych 101 if I hadn't done your homework." She raised her arms in the air and disregarded the pain it caused before bracing herself against the chair again.

"I'm not saying anything new, Déesse. I've been telling you this for years. But if this is the way you want to go about it, fine. I'll make this choice for you."

Outside the door, Will was worried. He rang the chimes yet again as the voices continued to rise, thinking about overriding the security lock with his access code. Relief flooded over him as the doors finally opened.

"Come in." Deanna had said absently, five seconds earlier upon finally hearing the chimes at the door. Then she promptly forgot about it and went tearing back into Jake.

"The hell you will! This my life, not yours." Her eyes were blazing.

Jake was more aware, he saw that Riker was now standing in the doorway and tried ending the argument. "Of course, Déesse." He tried to placate her; he knew that she didn't want to say something stupid. She still hadn't figured out that they had company.

Will stood there watching them argue. He hadn't ever seen Deanna this angry before. He'd been on the receiving end of her ire on a few occasions over the years, but nothing like this.

"Stop treating me like a child!" She felt as though she couldn't breathe; she hadn't been allowed a minute to herself, everyone was constantly breathing down her neck. First her mother, then Beverly the other day in sickbay and now Jake. She couldn't handle it anymore. She glared at him, her eyes bright with fury and her face flushed with anger. "I'm not a little girl anymore who can be brushed aside because she's too small to understand things. Quit trying to decide my life for me, Jake! I can do it myself."

"I don't think so. It's not like you've done such a great job of it so far. At least I never came close to being bonded to a complete stranger in order to please my mother!" He kept egging her on, unable to stop himself.

"No, you just got yourself trapped in a loveless marriage for over a year instead." She retorted, watching him recoil at her words.

Will stood there frozen in shock. He couldn't believe they were fighting like this in front of him. The tension between them was palpable… and rising. He shifted anxiously on his feet but still remained unnoticed by Deanna.

"C'mon, Deanna. You can lie to yourself, but not to me. I know you too well for that. Now, make up your damn mind!"

Deanna's anger was mounting. She exploded again, repeating, "Stop treating me like I'm a child!"

"Then stop behaving like one." He responded quietly. Jake didn't care that he was angering her, as long as he was able to receive some kind of emotional response. He knew better than anyone that Deanna had to get over the fragility she had been feeling since the kidnapping, and if this was the only way he could do that, so be it. And if that anger was directed at him, so be it. Maybe she wouldn't continue blaming herself for things she had no control over.

Deanna clenched her fists at her sides, for a moment appearing to be the spoiled child she had been accused of being. Still in the doorway Will braced himself; he could see the storm clouds gathering in her opaque eyes. "You have no right," she whispered, her voice cold.

"Don't I, Déesse? I have every right," he paused; laughed bitterly and raised an eyebrow. "Well maybe not every right."

Deanna slapped him. One minute she was shaking while trying to keep her balance against the chair then suddenly she was in Jake's face and had hit him hard. If Riker hadn't seen it with his own eyes, he never would have believed her capable of it.

As soon as her hand struck his face, it flew to her mouth in horror. She gasped and her face crumpled; comprehending what she had just done. All the fight and strength drained from her body. Her legs gave out and sent her to the floor, pain screaming through her battered body. Jake caught her by the elbow and followed her down to cushion the fall. He knew he had crossed a line with her this time; he just couldn't help himself. He never could.

"Gods, Thorny. I'm so sorry." Deanna whispered, looking down. She appeared thoroughly chastised and he nodded slowly, whispering in her ear too softly for Riker to make out the words.

Will was bewildered. The Deanna he knew would never have let anyone talk to her like that. Then again, he'd never even seen someone attempt to. When he had first met her, Deanna had been so stubborn that he could never win an argument with her. And she certainly wouldn't have struck someone in anger.

Thornton kept her cradled in his arms and looked towards Riker for the first time since he entered the room, remembering again that he was there. Deanna followed his line of vision and was startled to see Will standing still in the doorway. She blinked quickly, clearing the tears from her vision and trying to regain her sense of balance. She vaguely remembered answering the doorchimes and was wondering how much he had heard.

After she had calmed down, Jake helped her to her feet. He looked from Will to Deanna and back again. Then she heard in her mind, ~~~You know what you have to do.~~~

Deanna nodded again, "Thank you." Jake stepped forward slightly and kissed her on the forehead. "You know where to find me?" He gestured to the chip on the table and Deanna nodded.

"Yes. I'll talk to you later." Thornton turned and started walking towards the door, forcing the completely confused Riker to move away from it and farther into the room. He had definitely missed something.

Deanna sighed heavily, unable to ignore the fiery pain in her chest as her knees begin to buckle again. She knew that she should be in bed and quickly collapsed onto the couch, weakness setting into her limbs. She closed her eyes for a moment and released her breath, then quickly opened them again. She couldn't hide behind sleep any longer.

"Are you all right?" Will asked quietly, speaking for the first time since entering the room. He walked over to the couch and sat beside her, careful not to touch her.

"Yes, fine," she lied, wrapping her robe more tightly around her now shivering body."How long have you been here?" she asked.

"A couple of minutes."

"Oh." That didn't tell her anything. Her eyes widened in shock as he placed his large hand on the table and left the scrap of violet lace in its place. She recognized it instantly and assumed that he knew everything.


"Why didn't you talk to me?" He asked quietly and his expression broke her heart. "Did you think I didn't want to know?"

"No... I didn't want you to feel obligated."

"Obligated? Deanna…" What was she talking about? He'd jump at any opportunity to have a relationship with her again; he certainly didn't have to be pushed into it. There was nothing more he had wanted for years, not even the Captain's chair.

Deanna misinterpreted the surprise in his voice for anger and quickly tried to set things right.

"I'll understand if you never want to see me again. I'll catch the next transport and go back to Betazed..." She blurted out quickly.

Will was thunderstruck and frightened. No matter what happened between them, he couldn't let her leave. He knew now that he wouldn't be able to survive without her in his life, whether or not she was in love with another man. He was grasping at straws...

"I don't think Dr. Thornton would want you to leave the Enterprise so soon after your ordeal." Deanna looked up, tears burning her eyes. So he did want her to leave...

"It doesn't matter. He's leaving soon. He may not be happy about it, but he won't be able to stop me."

Will was taken aback. Thornton was leaving, and Deanna wasn't going with him? He wasn't going to take responsibility for what he had done to Deanna? Will had to think quickly. "Deanna...I know that things haven't been the greatest between us recently, but I want you to know that whatever you need...anything....whether it's a shoulder to cry on, help changing diapers, or even help raising this child....I'm here for you." He couldn't let her leave the ship.

"Thank you, but that's not necessary. I can take care of both of us myself." Deanna looked at him sadly; she knew he was just saying that because he thought he had to.

"You shouldn't have to. I can't believe you're even suggesting this!"

Deanna looked away, frightened at his tone of voice. She started shrinking farther into the cushions of the couch. Will cursed under his breath and immediately lowered his voice, shocked that once again she was afraid of him. The last thing he wanted to do was scare her away, so he quickly changed to subject.

"Deanna, why aren't you going with him?" Riker thought Thornton an even bigger fool to be abandoning this family.

"Why should I? He's going to help the Corrailians." Deanna was confused. Why was Will bringing Jake back into this conversation?

"He's not going to help you raise this child?"

"I'm sure he would if I asked him to, but this is my responsibility. Jake has a life of his own."

"Don't you think that it'd be best if the baby was raised by both of its parents?"

"Of course... but..."

"But nothing. Deanna, don't worry about it. I won't say anything to Thornton about what happened between us." He cut her off, trying to assuage her fears about their night together. Although Will didn't like the man, he knew it'd ultimately be better for Deanna if Jake wasn't told about that night, but Deanna shook her head.

"He already knows." Fresh tears began streaming down her cheeks. Will kept changing the subject and confusing her. <He must be torn between feeling responsible and wanting to remain uninvolved with anything having to do with me.>

Will looked at her glistening cheeks, thoughts spinning madly through his head. If Thornton already knew that he and Deanna had spent the night together, was that the reason he was abandoning her now? No matter what happened, he would be there for his Imzadi. His mixed emotions were strong enough that she was able to sense them, even in her current condition. Tears continued spilling; she couldn't control them any longer. "Oh Gods... I am so sorry." She kept apologizing in the hopes to stop some of his confusion from turning into anger. The last thing she wanted was for him to resent their baby, it didn't matter if he was angry with her.

"Deanna. You have absolutely nothing to apologize for." He moved closer to her and gently placed his hands on her shoulders, swiftly removing them as she winced in pain from even that small pressure. "I'm sorry if I upset you."

She shook her head. "It's okay." She couldn't believe that he was being so nice to her; she had just destroyed his life. And he was still here...


She looked at him, still fearful. "Yes?"

"Are you sure you're okay?" He was so worried about her, she seemed so frail...

"Uhuh." She pulled away from him and wiped her eyes, suddenly embarrassed. Will stood and started pacing around in front of the table. The silence between them quickly became awkward.

"You could have talked to me before, Deanna." He said, trying to find something to say. He wasn't accusing, he was just trying to find something to say.

"I know, Jake told me that too." She looked at her hands.

"He's one to talk."

Deanna stared at him, baffled. "What do you mean?"

"The way he's leaving like this."

"But why should he stay?" Suddenly, it dawned on Deanna that she and Will had been talking about two different things."Oh Gods..."

"What's wrong?" Will asked, noticing that her already pale face went ashen. She gaped at him, her eyes wide and luminous with still unshed tears.

"Deanna?" He walked back to her and knelt down in front beside the table. Her eyes followed his every movement. He raised his hand and brushed some of her hair back behind her shoulder.

She put her head down then lifted it again and looked him in the eye. It was now or never.

"Will, why do you keep bringing up Jake?" She needed to know what he was thinking before she said anything else.

"I just can't believe you aren't upset with him for leaving you and the baby."

"Why should I be... it isn't his place." That done, Deanna felt as though a huge weight had dropped from her shoulders but she still wasn't sure how he'd react.

"It isn't his place! Why the hell not? He's your... husband… and the baby's father....isn't he?" Will sat back down next to Deanna again, looking perplexed and very unsure of himself. Deanna felt the waves of insecurity flowing from him and stared at the floor.

"I don't under... " Will's eyes widened as he figured out what Deanna had been trying to tell him. "Look at me, Deanna."

When she couldn't meet his eyes, Will moved to kneel before her again. "Damn it look at me!"

Deanna jumped, startled at the anger in his voice. "Yes, Imzadi... it was you." Her voice broke and she began to sob.

"You ... are ... telling me that this is MY baby." Unable to talk, Deanna nodded again. He stood up, raking a hand through his hair then sliding it down to tug on his beard. "Why the hell didn't you tell me right away?"

Deanna looked up at him then, ignoring the pain in her neck. "I don't know...I just panicked."

"YOU don't panic, Deanna. I've never seen you panic, why now?"

"How was I supposed to feel? You didn't even recall that we'd been together...how could I tell you that you'd fathered a child?"

"If you hadn't run out on me that morning we wouldn't be in this situation, would we?" His voice was quiet and filled of suppressed emotion. It cut through Troi like a knife and she was temporarily incapable of responding. Will turned to the viewport, away from her. "And damn it, Deanna, he said he was your husband!"

"I don't have a defense for my actions. I'm sorry. I should have come to you immediately. You're right. I got scared...and panicked. Right or wrong...that's the truth." Deanna's voice was low as she explained the Capellan marriage to him. He turned back to face her with stunned blue eyes as she continued speaking.

"If you're unhappy about this pregnancy, I apologize. At any rate, I won't inconvenience you. I'll put in for a transfer immediately or go home." Will Riker stood there looking down at the devastated face woman he loved more than life, the mother of his firstborn. He was completely overwhelmed.

"Wait a minute. I don't want you to leave the ship! I didn't say that! I just need time to think...to adjust. You must understand that!?"

Deanna nodded. "Yes, just go and think. Take all the time you need."

He turned to leave and the remaining strength went out of Deanna's knees. As the doors hissed shut behind him, she sank back into the couch, fighting the urge to completely collapse. She was still sitting there when Crusher let herself in fifteen minutes later.

"You're supposed to be in bed. Deanna, what happened to you? You look..." Beverly stopped in mid-sentence when Deanna looked up, her eyes wide.

"Will knows the baby's his."

Beverly sighed and sat beside her."I see. He wasn't too happy?"

Deanna shrugged then flinched. "I don't know. He was mostly angry that I hadn't told him immediately."

Crusher patted Troi's hands silently.

"I know. I know, I should have....but it's rather late for that particular recrimination isn't it?"

Crusher nodded. "What did he say before he left?"

"He said if I hadn't left him that first morning we wouldn't be in this situation! And that he needed time to think." Tears slipped from Deanna's eyes; she sniffled, and turned to face Beverly. "What makes me angry is that he's absolutely right! I never should have left that way. I love him dearly but I betrayed his trust!"

Mindful of her injuries, Beverly drew Deanna carefully into a comforting embrace and let her cry. When she finished, Beverly pulled her gently to her feet. "You aren't a terrible person and certainly not the first woman to find herself in this particular situation. You made a mistake. Will loves you! He'll think this through and be thrilled. I believe that with all my heart. Deanna, get some rest. He'll come back in the morning, try not to get yourself overwrought. Have you eaten?"

Deanna's negative head shake pulled a frown over the doctor's features. "I'll replicate something light, then bed, okay?"

Deanna nodded, and wiped her face.

Beverly returned with a steaming bowl of tomato soup and a toasted cheese sandwich. Alongside the soup was a large glass of foamy white milk. At Deanna's raised eyebrows, she grinned.

"This was Nana's 'feel better meal', for whenever things seemed too much to deal with. Always worked for me!" Troi gave her a wan smile and lifted the spoon.

"I'll try anything. Do you think he'll want the baby? Honestly? He was so hurt."

Crusher nodded. "I was afraid that would happen....but yes, I think he'll be happy about the baby, once he gets used to the idea. He loves you, Deanna. You must know that."

Deanna nodded slowly spooning the soup and picking at the sandwich. For some reason, her stomach didn't rebel at the thought of food tonight.

"I've known for some time that he was struggling with his emotions but my own were too strong to separate. I've been so confused. Then after the gala, we were so drunk and the rest, as they say is history."

Beverly nodded, noting that her star patient had finished her soup and sandwich.

"Finish the milk 'Mama' then get to bed."

Troi sighed and nodded.

"All right doctor. I'll try to sleep. Thank you for everything."

Crusher smiled. "Any time, Counselor." Crusher put the dishes into the recycler and headed for her quarters. Deanna brushed her teeth before slipping into a fresh nightgown. She was asleep before her head hit the pillow. After ten minutes of inactivity, the computer extinguished the lights.

The following morning...

The smell of food awakened Deanna the next morning along with a wave of nausea. She slowly eased herself from the bed and headed for the bathroom. A few moments later, she emerged a little paler, wiping her face and hands on a fluffy towel.


She was rewarded by a familiar voice.

"Good morning, Deanna. Feel up to some toast and juice?"

Tears stung her eyes and she sighed. "Good morning, Will. I'll try." Deanna stepped into the living area to find Will Riker in civilian clothes, busily cooking breakfast.

"I'm scrambling eggs and making toast. Beverly said a light menu would be best for your delicate stomach for awhile." He looked up and winked, gesturing for her to sit at the table. Deanna moved carefully, totally at a loss for words.


"Let's eat first then we'll talk. Okay?"

"Okay." Deanna sat quietly while Will filled a small plate for her, then a larger portion for himself.

"Oh, Beverly gave me these to give to you." He handed her a bottle of large yellow pills.

"What are these? They're huge!"

He smiled briefly at the surprised expression on her face. "Prenatal vitamins. The doc still does this the traditional way." He didn't meet her eyes, just ate and watched her attempt to do the same.

When they had finished, Will replicated black coffee for himself. Deanna felt tears start when he reached out and took her hands in his.

"Deanna, I stayed up all night thinking about last night. I was blown away when I realized that your baby is our baby. I got angry and overwhelmed." He squeezed her hands. "I've been trying to tell you how I felt about you and about us for so long. I think now is the right time. I love you, always have...always will. I want you, Imzadi. All of you. By my side on the ship, on Earth, Betazed, anywhere…and most of all in my bed. No more long lonely nights fantasizing about what our life together could be. I want to make it reality." He released her shaking hands and gently pulled her up from the chair and into his embrace. He was never going to let go of her again."I want the baby but I need you too."

"You're not still angry?" She asked timidly. She pulled away slightly and looked at him; troubled.

"I was angry that you hadn't told me, not that you're pregnant."

She looked down. "I was so afraid." She bit her lip.

"Of me? Imzadi..." He lifted one finger and raised her chin so that he was looking into her deep black eyes. Their gaze locked and held. Will, still holding her chin, angled it slightly and brought her lips to his meeting them softly, again and again. Eventually they broke apart and Will helped her over to the couch to lie down. It still hurt too much for her to be standing up for long periods of time.

Will settled himself next to her and raised his hand to her abdomen, "I want to touch our baby, okay?" Deanna nodded and inched closer as he untied the belt of her robe, placing his hand on her stomach and caressing it through the satin of her gown. "Deanna, I want you to think about our being together. I want to get married and raise a family with you."

She nodded. "I'll think about it but if you change your mind, I promise, I won't let this interfere with your life in any way. You can continue to do as you wish. I don't want you to feel like this is something you have to do." She needed to be sure that he knew that.

"When you're ready, if you want to we can make this a family." Finally, he said it. No more miscommunications; she knew exactly what was on his mind.

"Are you sure this is what you want?" She sniffled, still slightly afraid.

"YES. There is nothing I want more. Is this what you want, Deanna?" He had to know if she felt the same way.

"Yes, Imzadi." She pushed her pain and exhaustion aside and carefully went back into his waiting arms. When he held her she felt no pain. She smiled genuinely and took his breath away. He moved closer still and kissed her deeply, taking care not to hurt her as she clung to him with what little strength she had.

~~~Imzadi...~~~ he sent, startling her. She broke the kiss and gazed at him in amazement.

"I didn't know you could still do that." She said, raising her hand to his face and caressing his bearded cheek.

He used a finger to brush away a stray tear from her cheek with a feather-light touch. "Neither did I," he chuckled. "But I guess today has been full of surprises. His hand continued to gently stroke her face as she smiled through still falling tears.

"So... what do we do now?" she asked hesitantly. She was still overwhelmed by everything that had happened and although she was trying not to let it affect her, an aura of apprehension still shrouded her happiness.

Will's other hand rubbed her back soothingly, drawing her more fully into his embrace. He cleared his throat. "Well, we take this one step at a time. And the first thing I have to do... is kiss you again." Deanna smiled and relaxed into the warmth of his body as he kissed the top of her head. He rested his cheek against her silky black hair, closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, her scent encompassing him and wrapping him in a cloak of love and anticipation. He leaned back against the side of the couch, knowing that it must be exhausting for her to be sitting upright for so long. He drew her down against his chest and she stretched out atop him, her eyes-half closed. They lay like that for quite some time, silently reflecting upon how much their lives had changed over the past few days.

Finally Will spoke."I think you need to let Jake down gently, Imzadi." He said, tangling his fingers into the softness of her hair.

"What are you talking about?" She asked, still dazed from the soothing sensation of being in Will's arms again.

"He thinks the baby's his. We're going to have to talk to him," he whispered against her temple and she shivered at the sensations his voice was causing in her body and soul.

"No he doesn't."

"Honestly, Imzadi, I think he does." Will lifted his head and looked at her, surprised.

Deanna shook her head and carefully rolled off of him. "No... I told him when we were at the starbase."

"Do you mean to tell me that he has been letting all of us walking around thinking that…" he trailed off angrily and stood at the viewport, forcing a hand through his hair…"God! Deanna he knew before I did! Why?" Her trepidation began to build slowly as she realized that Will wasn't going to let this go easily. When he turned back, he found Deanna standing behind him. Her face was white; hands fisted and trembling. He immediately exhaled and tried to calm himself, not wanting to upset her.

Deanna raised a silencing finger to his lips. He kissed it gently and listened to her speak.

"Will, please. I didn't want you to find out like that. As for Jake, he knew that something was bothering me as soon as he saw me. He told me to tell you that first night at the base. Actually, he told me several times. I was stubborn and wanted to handle this on my own, in my own way. I was going to tell you after the briefing but…" She involuntarily shuddered as she remembered Nesian clamping his hand over her mouth and injecting a hypospray into her neck.

Will immediately wrapped his arms around her, absorbing her tremulous fear into his large, protective frame.

"Shh, it's okay now, it's over. Deanna closed her eyes and pressed her face into his chest, drenching it with scalding tears. "You're safe now." Slowly, Deanna's shaking began to cease and she looked deep into his eyes as she raised her head once again. She knew that he was right and as long as he held onto her she would remain safe.

"I know." She moved closer still and he guided her back to the couch.

Still sensing that he wasn't quite over his harsh feelings towards Jake she whispered, "He was only trying to protect me."

"From me?" Will asked quietly, wondering just how far Thornton would have gone in order to ensure that he did not hurt Deanna again.

Deanna shook her head then laid it back against his chest. "No... well maybe a little bit."


"Will." She drew herself up and looked directly at him. "You have nothing to be concerned about when it comes to Jake. Trust me, Imzadi."

Will took her hand in his and brushed a soft kiss over her knuckles. Holding her tiny hand tightly, he replied, "Deanna, I know I've hurt you before. But I promise you that I won't make that mistake again. In the past hour you've managed to give me everything I've ever wanted. You and I together, and now our baby." His blue eyes scorched into hers.

"Will..." Deanna stared at him, her eyelashes glistening with moisture, "You say you're certain that this is what you want, but I need to tell you some things so that we'll be able to start over again."

Will touched her face gently with his thumb, tracing the delicate line of her jaw. "You can tell me anything, I hope you realize that."

Deanna nodded and started talking again. "Will, when I left you that morning, I wasn't thinking straight, or perhaps I was, I'm not quite sure. When I woke up and I saw you lying next to me, part of me was filled with so much joy that I could barely comprehend it, but somewhere, in a place which was deep inside of me, I was filled with an intense fear. I was so frightened that you would wake up and tell me that it had been a mistake. I left before you could turn away from me. And then the next day you when you hadn't even mentioned it to me it was as if nothing had happened. I was so foolish not to be able to understand that you would never do something like that to me, intentionally or unintentionally. I'm so sorry for not explaining all of this to you sooner. When I found out that I was pregnant I got scared. Jake told me that I needed to tell you immediately and he was right. By doing what I thought was best I hurt you terribly." Unable to continue, she buried her face in his shoulder and began to sob, her frail body shaking as she released months of sorrow and frustration.

Will cradled her even closer to his body, waiting for her tears to run their course. When she quieted he spoke again; her face still remained hidden from view.

"Deanna, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever for you to apologize. You're right, I did hurt you once before and I've been regretting that day from the moment it happened. But I could never regret the night we spent together, or any other for that matter. I never spoke to you about it because I never truly remembered until a few hours ago. Believe me, if I had known what you were thinking that morning, or had realized afterwards that you had truly been there, I never would have let you leave, and I would have told you then what I'm telling you now. I love you, Deanna Troi. I always have and I always will."

She raised her head and looked at him again, this time no longer fearful. ~~~Imzadi...~~~ she sent, lifting her lips to his.

~~~Imzadi...~~~ He replied, meeting her kiss with an equally passionate response.

Chapter Eighteen

They had fallen into a place where time no longer existed, alone within their own private universe. When they broke their passionate kiss, both were breathless with racing hearts. Will
was the first to break the silence between them.

"I've been thinking..." Will raised his hand from her shoulder to her cheek. The tip of his finger wiped the rest of the tears from the corner of her eyes and continued to stroke the side of her face.

"Are you thinking good thoughts?" Deanna asked, placing her hand on top of his.

"Uhuh. I was thinking... that maybe we could talk to Geordi about altering the bulkheads and connecting our quarters. This way we could make a nursery for the baby when she arrives."

"A girl huh, you sound pretty sure about that." Her tone was playful, happy that Will was excited about the baby.

"Oh, absolutely... and she'll look just like her gorgeous mother." Will pulled her closer, then immediately loosened his grasp as he saw her wince in pain. He moved as if to tap his comm badge but Deanna shook her head.

"I'm okay. Really, Will, I'm fine."

Are you sure?" he asked, resting his arm on the edge of the couch. He hadn't missed the flinch that had accompanied her words.

Deanna sat up and leaned against his arm, closing her eyes and taking shallow breaths until the pain passed.

"Are you sure?" He asked again. She nodded tentatively and moved away from the back of the couch, lowering Will into the cushions of the couch again. Will sighed and wrapped his arms around her in a looser embrace this time.

"And yes, I think that's a wonderful idea. But are you really sure that this is what you want?"

"YES. That way we can have enough room for everything we need. And in a couple of years... when her little brother or sister comes along..." Will trailed off when he saw the look on Deanna's face.

"Am I rushing things? Deanna, I don't want to push you in any way."

"No, you aren't, really. I'm just a little overwhelmed." She lay her head back down on his chest and sighed as she felt him stroke her hair.

"Well then, we'll just take this very slowly so that both of us can catch up, okay?"

"Mhhmm," she replied, shutting her eyes again and yawning slightly. She couldn't help it, she was just so, so tired. Will continued his gentle caresses as Deanna pressed herself as close as possible to his body and completely relaxed for the first time in months. She fell asleep, mumbling "Imzadi" under her breath before falling silent. Will pressed his face down into her hair, his fingers still entwined in the midnight strands. He listened attentively to the even sound of her breath, and after a few moments, allowed the lullaby of her heartbeat to soothe him to sleep for a brief nap. He hadn't had much sleep over the past few days.

An hour later...

Deanna awoke to see Will watching her. Their limbs were still entwined on the couch, and Will's fingers were still in her hair. She smiled slightly and stretched, happy to see that not only was Will still there, but it didn't hurt as much when she stretched this time as it had before.

"Hello." She said, feeling his lips settle atop her head.

"Hello yourself, Imzadi."

She glanced around the room, looking for a chrono.

"Will, what time is it?" She asked, needing to know how long she had been asleep.

As if he had been reading her mind, Riker replied, "You've been asleep for about an hour. It's not late at all."

"Good." She placed her hand on his chest in order to pull herself up, and cringed slightly at the pain. Will sat up and helped move her off of him.

"Good? Why? I was perfectly content to stay like that for the rest of the day, you know." He
brushed a stray curl away from her mouth.

"I know, but Will, I have to go now."

"Go? What do you mean? I thought we agreed that neither of us are going anywhere." Will's voice rose slightly. He'd thought that they'd worked things out, why was she scrambling to leave?

"No. Will, it's all right. I just need to say goodbye to Jake. I'll be back soon, I promise." She said, sensing his fear.

He stood and helped her to her feet. He kissed her softly on the lips and said, "I'm going to hold you to that, Counselor." He looped his arm around her waist and pulled her against him lightly. "Then again, maybe I'll just hold you..." She smiled and moved a fallen lock of hair from his forehead.

"I think I'll have to take you up on that, later." She caressed his cheek and he took her hand and kissed it.

"I look forward to it. Let me know when you get back, all right? The Captain gave me today off."

Deanna nodded and stepped out of his arms, heading towards her closet when he exited her quarters.

She dressed quickly, pulling on a pair of loose fitting pants and matching shirt. She gathered up Jake's shirt to return to him and then made her way to his temporary quarters. She needed to make sure that she caught him before he left. By the time she reached the door, she was exhausted, even though it had only been a two minute walk down the corridor and about a thirty second ride in the turbolift. Leaning against the wall for support, she rang the doorchimes, and practically fell into the room as the doors opened.

"Deanna, what are you doing out of bed? I thought Dr. Crusher said you had to stay there for at least a week." Deanna nodded and rested her back against the wall.

"She did, but I wanted to see you before you left for Corrail VII."

"I would have come to you."

"I know but I needed a change of scenery. May I sit down?" Jake lifted his suitcase off the couch and gestured to her.

"Of course." Deanna sat slowly, handed him back his shirt then looked up at him.

"Have you made up your mind then?" Jake met her gaze anxiously before looking away.

Deanna sighed heavily then closed her eyes for a few seconds. Her ribs were aching and there was a painful fire burning in her chest. She thought she was going to pass out but fought off the dizziness and won.

"You know that I love you, don't you Jake?" She looked directly at him and he flashed a sad half-smile; already figuring out what was coming next.

"Of, course, Déesse. Just as I love you."

"Thorny, you're my oldest friend. No one knows me the way you do but my destiny is here aboard the Enterprise, with the part of me that's been missing for all of these years.

"It's about time you figured that out, Déesse. I've known that for quite a while now."

She nodded. "I know you did, but I had to get here on my own. I couldn't have you or anyone else live my life for me. And I did. I found that I belong right here."

Jake ran his fingers through his hair; tense. Then he looked at her with a somewhat hurt expression on his face. "I never tried to live your life for you, Dee. I just showed you another way you could live your life if you so chose."

"I know that Jake, but you were always trying to steer me into directions I wasn't ready to go yet. I understand that you did that because you love me, but Thorny, you've always had a hard time allowing me to do things at my own pace. I love him Jake. Mind, body, and soul."

"I knew that eventually you would figure out what was right for you." His face fell. "I just thought I'd be it."

Deanna took a deep breath. What she was going to say wouldn't be easy, but she knew it had to be done. "When we were together our lives were chaos. I nearly missed half a semester of classes because we never got out of bed. It was too intense and we almost destroyed each other, you couldn't have forgotten that. Gods, just a few hours ago we were screaming each at each other again."

"We had plenty of good times too." He replied, somewhat defensively. Déesse, weren't you the one who said that we have to take the good along with the bad in order to be complete."

Deanna hesitated for a moment then answered. "Y…Yes…"

"Besides, I wasn't the only one in that bed, you know."

"That isn't fair. I've always been completely honest with you about everything."

"And I you." His eyes flashed at her in an all too familiar manner.

"I don't want to fight with you again, Jake… please."

He moved from his place against the wall and began pacing around the room. "I'm not fighting
with you, Déesse."

Deanna was frustrated; she couldn't understand his behavior and it was so confusing not be able to sense his emotions. Even though the baby prevented her from knowing what he was feeling, she had a good idea that he was blocking her anyway.

"Why are you being so difficult? Are you angry with me?"

"No, of course not." He stopped pacing and stood on the floor right in front of the couch.

"I want you to be happy for me, Thorny."

"I am happy for you. I've always wanted you to be happy. And if that means provoking you once in a while in order for you to grasp the opportunities right in front of you then so be it." He softened his voice.

"I have grasped them, Jake and I told Will everything. He's thrilled about the baby."

"As well he should be." Jake's tone was bitter.

"Jake, don't hate him. He's a wonderful man and he's so good for me. He is … Imzadi, the other half of my soul and the father of my child."

"And what am I to you, Deanna? He seems to have taken just about everything."

Deanna's eyes filled with tears and a lump formed in her throat. "You are my very best friend. My conscience. I'll always love you. You'll always have a very special place in my heart and in my life and I hope you realize that, because it's the truth."

Jake gazed at her, his eyes wet as well.

"Will you come see the baby?"

He threw himself into the chair, placed his elbows on his knees and cradled his chin in his palms. "Are you crazy? I expect to be walking you down the aisle long before that. Am I going
to have to take him aside and ask him his intentions?"

Deanna couldn't stop the tears from falling onto her cheeks. Why couldn't he understand?

"You of all people know what can happen when someone is forced into a marriage due to a child. Thorny, he's trying so hard not to pressure me. He wants to connect our quarters and make a nursery for the baby. We're going to take this one step at a time."

"And how do you feel about that?" He asked quietly, exhaling a deep breath.

"A bit shaky… I'm not sure if I want to get married just yet."

"And Will?"

"I am sure that he loves me...us. He wants us to be a family. He's an amazing man, Thorny."

"So you've said."

Deanna closed her eyes...this was so difficult."I have to go Jake. I don't want to part this way. I wish that you could be happy for me but..." She stood to go, wincing as the aches of her injuries caused her face to whiten. Her heart broke as she looked back at the man she'd known most of her life.

"I am happy for you, Déesse. And I've always wanted happiness for you." He said again, reaching to catch her as she fell. "And I'll always be right behind you, as long as you need me."

" I never thought there'd be this breach between us but I don't want you to take care of me. I can take care of myself. I want you to see me as I am; a strong intelligent woman. You didn't get me here Jake, I did!"

"Congratulations Déesse. It took you long enough to figure that out, and it's about damn time." He smiled widely and began applauding. But Deanna was on a rampage, there was no stopping her now.

"Will Riker is a kind, honest, loving man, who will be an exceptional father, and yes eventually a husband. You don't have to approve, just accept...what? What did you say?"

"You heard me." He stopped clapping but continued to grin.

"No… I don't think I heard you correctly." He walked away from her and leaned casually against the wall again.

"Hmm. I think you did." He raised an eyebrow. Deanna's eyes widened as she realized what he had said.

"I love you, wonder boy."

"And I you."

"Do me a favor then."


She regarded him seriously. "Stay here until tomorrow and talk to Will. It would mean a lot to

Jake didn't look too happy about that, but he agreed anyway. "As you wish," he replied.

"It's very important to me." She tried to convince him further.

"If that's what you want. But, I really have to be getting to Corrail VII."

"I understand that but I want the two of you to talk. I think you'll like him Jake. And he's a lot like you, really."

Jake smiled half-heartedly. "Well, at least he has excellent taste in women."

She glanced at the chrono on the wall. "I have to be going now, though, it's getting late."

"And Will's waiting for you. Contact me tomorrow, Déesse. I'm sure you are going to be busy tonight." His smile was edged with sadness.

Deanna walked unsteadily over to where he was standing on the other side of the room. She slipped her arms around his waist. "Hold me, Jake. I need to know that you understand and support my decision."

Jake reluctantly put his arms around her then pulled back, looking down at her. "I will always support your decisions. RaBeem, Deanna."

Deanna looked up into his eyes, trying to probe his emotions. An overwhelming sense of sadness slipped over her. "You're so sad...why? It's been over between us for years."

"That doesn't make it any easier to let go of you."

"Is there something you're not telling me? "You're saying goodbye, not for a while, but forever, aren't you?" He didn't answer, lowering his arms from her body and clenching his fists at his sides. She looked up at him, her fear increasing with each second of his silence. Her voice raised slightly.

"Jake? You're scaring me!"

"Deanna… A lot has happened in the past three days. I killed a man. Do you realize the magnitude of that?"

"Yes, you killed him… for me. I'll never forget that, Jake."

"Yes, and I'd do it again. But that isn't the point."

"Then what is?" She cried, not wanting him to disappear from her life forever.

"Deanna, I abhor violence. To think that I could do something like that, even for you, raises a lot of questions, and I think I should take some time and answer them. I need to sort out a whole bunch of things."

Deanna gazed at him, her eyes glistening with tears. "I understand."

"I knew you would. I'm just going to knock around for a while, see what's going on out there."

Deanna smiled and reached up to draw his face to hers. She kissed him lightly and tugged at his ponytail briefly then slipped away. "Come back soon?"

He looked at her for a moment longer and considered his answer. "I won't make promises I can't keep. But I'll try."

Deanna placed her hand on Jake's cheek. "She's out there for you. I know it. But I can't be the one you need. I never could."

"I guess you're right. You aren't that little girl anymore." He smiled, remembering chasing after a girl with braids swinging behind her as she turned and stared at him with adoration in her dark eyes.

"I know, but every once in a while. I might make an exception." She removed her hand.

"Sounds fair to me."

She smiled wearily."Jake, I'm about to fall asleep. I should go now."

"Then you'd better leave." He helped her to her feet again and walked her over to the door. "Get some sleep, will you."

Deanna moved to the door. Hitting the release, the doors parted. Jake walked forward, kissed her on the forehead and watched her leave. After she was gone, he did his best to clear his mind and threw himself into his packing.

After exiting his quarters Deanna turned to walk towards the turbolift, staying close to the wall for support. Turning the corner, she collided with the surprised countenance of Dr. Beverly Crusher.

Chapter Nineteen

"And just where do you think you are going?" Beverly Crusher said, catching Deanna's elbow lightly as her friend and patient appeared ready to fall on her.

Deanna was both grateful and chagrined, looking very much like a child who had just been caught breaking curfew.

"To my quarters?" Deanna asked hopefully, praying that Beverly wasn't going to drag her back to Sickbay for getting out of bed without permission.

"You're absolutely right. And you're going to stay there or I'll have security escort you back to Sickbay."

"Security?" Deanna was incredulous.

"Yes, security." Beverly stopped and turned to face Troi, who wobbled beside her.

"Deanna, your present physical condition makes it very dangerous for you to be out of bed before you're fully recovered. You lost a lot of blood and you also have your baby to think about. So, if you won't listen to your friend then listen to your doctor." She stared directly into Deanna's wide eyes. "I'm serious, all kidding aside. This isn't just me being overprotective. You were hurt very badly and you need to rest."

Deanna's eyes filled and she nodded stiffly. "All right Doctor, you've made your point." Crusher made sure Deanna was steady on her feet before they continued on their way down the corridor to the turbolift,

"Deanna, I'm very serious about you staying off your feet for the remainder of the week. If you don't adhere to my orders I'll have to keep you in a restraining biobed."

"I understand, Beverly." Deanna replied, her head low as she wiped her eyes. She was too tired to argue any further.

"Good." They exited the turbolift and paused just outside Deanna's quarters. As the doors opened, Riker out came from his quarters and followed the two women inside. The three of them made their way silently to Deanna's bedroom.

"Now, Deanna stay here!" Beverly said as Troi went into the bathroom to change into a nightgown. After a few minutes she returned and climbed into bed once again.

Crusher turned to Riker, who was looking back at her; concerned, "Commander, your orders are to make sure she doesn't go anywhere."

A broad smile appeared at his new assignment. "And my patient will behave herself, won't she?" Will grinned down at Deanna, who by now was barely able to keep her eyes open.

"Yes, Sir." Deanna looked up at him sleepily. "It looks like you're stuck with babysitting duty now, Commander." She teased him gently, happy that Beverly was allowing him to stay.

He grinned at her as she waved a tired goodbye to Beverly. After she left, Will came forward and sat on the edge of the bed. "So you got caught, huh?" He leaned over her and placed a kiss on both of her fluttering eyelids.

"Uh huh." She struggled to stay awake and reached for his hand. He wrapped his fingers around hers and with his free hand began stroking her hair.

"So, how am I going to keep you here for the next week or so, huh?" he asked; his voice lowering with each word.

"I don't know..." she yawned, "but I have an idea." She brought his hand up to her lips and kissed it then rolled over to make room for him to join her. Quickly getting the idea, Will laid down beside her and waited as she moved quickly into his embrace. Deanna fell asleep immediately, her head cradled against Will's chest, one of her hands still holding his, clasped together against her abdomen.

Will smiled although this wasn't exactly how he had planned to have them spend their day together. He was more than happy to be able to hold her like this, knowing that he wouldn't have to let her go again. He lay there for nearly two hours, completely relaxed and watching her sleep. He couldn't resist the occasional impulse to bend over her and kiss her gently.

She moved even closer to him in her sleep and Will carefully adjusted the blanket which had slipped from her shoulders. Tucking it around both of them he reluctantly closed his eyes. He fell asleep soundly, the week's exhaustion rapidly catching up with him.

0800 hours

Deanna was startled awake from a nightmare and immediately calmed upon seeing Will asleep beside her. She carefully propped herself up on one elbow and watched him for a while. He appeared so young when he unconscious, so boyishly handsome with his hair tousled and creases from the pillowcase on his right cheek. She lay there silently, not wanting to awaken him from his slumber; she knew she hadn't been the only one who hadn't been sleeping well lately.
She didn't know how long she was watching him for but suddenly she collapsed, her still injured shoulder no longer being able to support the weight from her head and elbow. As her arm straightened out beneath her, Deanna's chin struck Will on the shoulder.

He made a noise deep in his throat and partially opened his eyes. He started upon seeing her lying on his shoulder.

"You okay?" He murmured, trying to focus on her more clearly through his exhaustion.

"Uh huh." She whispered, lifting her head and looking directly at him.

He yawned and stretched his arms above his head, wrapping one around her as they returned to the bed."Then why were you hitting me?" He teased, figuring out from her position on the bed what had happened.

"I didn't. I fell." She answered seriously, not knowing that he was joking.

"Well that's okay, I have no problem with women falling all over my body." He smiled, watching her expression of chagrin quickly change to one of indignation.

"Excuse me, Commander? I don't recall falling all over you." She inched closer and stretched out on top of him. "But since you mentioned it…" She brought her face very close to his and just barely brushed his lips with her own. Will's breath caught in his throat as she leaned over him again, and kissed him exactly like that two more times. He groaned under his breath as she tried to kiss him like that again and caught her upper lip between both of his and began to suck on it gently.

Troi pulled away slightly but Riker would not release her lip, so she quickly returned to him, allowing his kiss to draw her back into his arms."And, Commander if I hear of … other women falling all over your body… I'm going to get… oh …very unhappy…" she managed between kisses.

"Well then… Counselor… I'm just going to… have to… keep you… very… very… happy…" he responded; his finger tracing a gentle path down her spine. Deanna wrapped her arms around his neck and twined her fingers into his hair, kissing him again and again.

The door chimes rang and Will sighed and dropped his arm, allowing Deanna to gently roll off of him. He kissed her one more time, and went to answer the door, while Deanna lay there, flushed with happiness, but more than a little bit relieved to have been interrupted when they were. She wasn't sure if she had enough strength to take him up on his offer just yet and she really wanted him to talk to Jake today, too. Deanna remembered that once she and Will got started, they'd never get out of bed.

At the doors Will pressed a button and allowed them to open. They parted, revealing Beverly Crusher standing there with a medical tricorder and impatiently tapping her foot. She took in Will's rumpled clothes and bare feet and figured that he had been successful in keeping
Deanna where she was supposed to be. And, from the look in his eyes, he had been only too happy to do so. Maybe too happy…

"Good morning, Commander. I trust that my patient had a restful night." She stressed, making it perfectly clear to Will that that was all Deanna should be doing at the present moment.

Will smiled easily, getting the message. "Of course, Doctor," he replied smoothly, allowing her to walk in front of him. "I managed to keep her off her feet."

"Yes, I'm sure you did," she replied pleasantly, walking into Deanna's bedroom. Deanna lay beneath the covers, having fallen back into a light sleep.

As Will and Beverly approached she opened her eyes and smiled. "Good morning, Beverly."

"Good morning, Deanna. How are you feeling?"

Deanna sat up slowly, maintaining her smile as she looked at Will, who moved to a chair near her bed.

"Better, I think. I didn't realize you'd resumed the practice of house calls."

"For certain patients." Beverly came closer and turned on the tricorder. "Besides, I know you Deanna Troi, if I called you down to Sickbay, you'd probably stop and visit half the ship on your way there, and I meant it when I said, stay here, Counselor!" Beverly's voice was light but filled with mild irritation.

Deanna tossed off a long since retired salute. "Aye, Sir." Will burst out laughing at her antics and Beverly turned towards him.

"And as for you, Commander…"

Will rose quickly and raised his hands, palms up. "Uh oh, I know when to leave. Deanna, I'll see you later." He winked at Beverly. "Go easy on her Doc." He walked over to Deanna and kissed her gently on the lips, his hand lightly stroking her hair. "Goodbye." He reluctantly left Deanna's side, bent over and scooped up his shoes then left the room.

"So, all is well between you and Will?" Beverly asked, pulling the chair Will had been sitting in closer to the bed, and settling herself in it. She ran the scanner quickly over Deanna's body, and
looking pleased with the results, put it down to continue their conversation. Deanna looked very content, and for the first time in over two months seemed at ease.

"Yes, Beverly everything is wonderful." Deanna sighed, pulling herself up against the pillows.

"And?" Beverly asked, leaning forward conspiratorially."

Deanna's smile grew. "We are very happy."

"Well that much is obvious. So, what happens next?"

Deanna's smile faded. "Why does everyone keep asking me that? First Will then Jake, now you. How am I supposed to know what's going to happen next, Beverly? You won't even let me get out of bed yet."

Beverly was surprised; this was the first time she had heard Deanna complain since as far back as she could remember. "Things are moving pretty fast for you right now, aren't they?" Crusher sympathized completely.

She remembered how dumbfounded she had felt when she was pregnant with Wesley. Still, she and Jack had been married for quite some time at that point.

"That's one way of putting it." Deanna responded, happy to be able to get her fears off her chest. She wasn't sure if Will realized the magnitude of what had happened, He was still too caught up in the concept of being a father, to actually come to grips with what it would entail.

"Feeling a little overwhelmed?"

"Just a little." Deanna smiled again. "And confused."

"That's perfectly normal, Deanna. Even for women who are planning to have a baby."

"I know. But still…"

"It doesn't really help to hear it, but I thought I'd give it a try." Beverly leaned forward and squeezed Deanna's hand.

"Thanks. And it does help." She squeezed Beverly's hand tighter and released it again.

"Good. So… do you have any questions?"

"Oh Gods, I have so many, I can't even think of where to start."

"Okay, we'll take them one at a time."

"Wait, shouldn't Will be here for this?"

"If you want him to be."

"Of course I do.

Why don't we schedule an appointment sometime soon for both of you to be there, then"

"Yes. And Beverly… thank you."

"You're welcome. Any time. Is there anything I can get for you?" She stood up and got ready to leave.

"Yes, Beverly could you ask Will to come back in here please?"

"Is everything all right?"

"Yes, just fine. I'd like to talk to him about something."

"Okay. But just talk Deanna. Even though I told you to stay in bed for a week, that doesn't necessarily mean you should be having company, understand?" Her voice turned serious.

"Yes, Doctor. I hear you."

"Good. I'll go get him." She left Troi's quarters, and rang the doorchimes on Will's next door. He answered them quickly, coming to the door in a fresh uniform and Beverly noted, he was wearing boots.

"Is everything okay?" He asked, seeing her in the corridor.

"Yes, just fine. Deanna wants to talk to you. Try not to worry so much."

"Is it that obvious?"

"Yes, well maybe only to me. Actually it's kind of endearing to see you falling all over yourself every few moments."

Will flashed her his famous grin and she laughed. "Honestly, Will everything is just fine with both Deanna and the baby." As Beverly mentioned the baby, Will's eyes lit up, leaving no doubt in Crusher's mind as to how truly ecstatic Will Riker was to becoming a father.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome. Now don't keep Deanna waiting too long." She scolded, crooking her finger slightly.

"Don't worry, I won't." He walked completely out of his quarters and proceeded next door. Beverly remarked silently, not for the first time, as to how coincidental it was that the Ship's First Officer and Counselor lived next door to each other. As Will was about to enter the access code, Beverly stopped him.


He turned around."Yes?"

"I've already mentioned this to Deanna, but its best that I say something to you as well. I want to make sure that Deanna remains in bed for at least another three to five days to ensure a full recovery and alleviate any stress which could affect the baby. It's imperative that she rest. Rest, Will, no … distractions, understand?"

Will winked in response. He knew exactly what she was talking about.

"Yes, Beverly, I understand you completely."

"Good, now go. You shouldn't keep a pregnant woman waiting you know."

Will finished entering the access code and walked into Deanna's quarters. In the corridor, Beverly Crusher stood shaking her head for a moment before continuing on her way to Sickbay.

Chapter Twenty

Will walked through the living room, stopping to replicate a glass of juice for Deanna in case she was thirsty. He wasn't going to let her get out of bed in order to get it herself and he was planning on taking the doctor's orders very seriously. Glass in hand he walked into Deanna's bedroom. She was propped up against the pillows and gazing at him sleepily. "Hi." She said, smiling as he approached her and sat beside her on the bed. He handed her the glass and kissed her gently on the lips.

"Good morning again, Imzadi."

"Morning." She yawned.

"How are you feeling?"

"Tired still but, much better… now." She took a small sip of juice and attempted to place it on the table near her bed. Then she saw Will glance at her sternly. Obediently, Deanna raised the glass to her lips again and consumed more of the sweet liquid. When the glass was almost completely empty, she set it aside. Will moved closer and stroked her hair.

"Beverly said that you wanted to see me?" He questioned, taking her hand in his.

"Yes. There's something I need you to do for me."

"Is everything all right?" He asked, instantly concerned.

"Yes, just fine."

"Okay. So, what can I do for you?"

"I'd like for you to talk to Jake. I know you have a few hours before you're on duty."

"I thought he left already."

"No. I asked him to stay until today and talk to you. He agreed. Beverly told me what happened between the two of you in the turbolift the other day."

"Deanna…" He realized that his actions towards Thornton were completely out of line and uncalled for.

"You don't have to explain anything to me, Will, but please talk to him. It's very important to me."

"I don't want to leave you alone."

"I'm fine, really. I'm going to try and reach Mother at her conference on Henalli IV. Then…" She raised her hand to silence him, "I'm going to go back to sleep for a little while."

"Sounds like a plan." They laughed for a few moments then Will became somber.

"I'm sure your mother is going to be very pleased that we are having a baby." Will didn't sound too enthusiastic about the prospect of talking to Lwaxana.

"She already knows."

"Deanna… was I the only one who didn't know?" He had to ask.

Deanna shook her head. "Will, I'm so sorry that it took me so long to tell you. I should have said something sooner…" She closed her eyes as Will wrapped his arms around her, rocking back and forth on the bed slowly.

"Shh. You don't have to apologize, not to me, not ever. Do you understand?" He asked softly.

"Yes." She opened her eyes and looked at him.

"Good." Will was struck by the look in her eyes. She looked so lost and vulnerable, two characteristics he would never have attributed to Deanna Troi. He held her tight against him protectively, although he knew that she was strong enough to take care of herself. It was one of the many qualities that made him admire and love her. And now, if she needed his help, he was
going to do anything in his power in order for her to become herself again…even if it meant talking to Jakob Thornton.

"Thank you." He laid his cheek atop her head, reveling in the softness of her hair on his bearded skin.

"Mmhmm. I'll go in a few minutes. But first…" He kissed the top of her head then moved his lips down her forehead and nose, continuing until he reached her lips. Deanna's arms wound around his neck as he pressed her farther back into the mattress. After a lifetime, Will broke the kiss and begrudgingly pulled away.

"I'll be back after my shift." he said, knowing full well that if he didn't leave now, he never would and they'd have a very unhappy Beverly Crusher on their hands.

She nodded her assent, smiling up at him as he rose to leave. "I'll still be here." She jested. She blew a kiss to him when he paused in the doorway and he smiled and sent one in return, then left her quarters.

Deanna sunk back into the mattress, praying that everything would work out between the two most important men in her life.

Jake was putting the last of his things into a bag when the doorchimes rang. Instinctively he stiffened, then straightened up and relaxed, not for the first time praising the Betazoid meditation techniques he was taught as a child.

"Come in." he said, sorting through some PADDs on a nearby table. The doors parted to reveal Will Riker standing in the entrance.

"Commander," he said, with all the formality ingrained in him as the son of a diplomat.

"Doctor." Riker echoed his tone.

"What can I do for you?" Jake asked, figuring that if he was going to get through this, it was going to have to be on his terms.

Riker was momentarily caught off guard. Deanna had told him that she had already talked to Jake about the two of them speaking, wasn't his arrival here obvious? Will hadn't been known what to expect, but it wasn't the casual off-hand manner that the man adopted in spite of his formal welcome moments earlier.

Riker cleared his throat. He might as well get this over with. "I wanted to apologize for my behavior in the turbolift a few days ago. It was uncalled for and rather unprofessional."

Jake smiled sardonically. "But quite understandable, considering the circumstances. Have no fear Commander, you have nothing to apologize for." <At least not to me.> He thought, still uncertain that Riker wasn't going to stop hurting Deanna.

"Just the same… I am sorry."

Jake nodded coolly, placing the PADDs into his bag. He had hoped to be finished with his packing by now but had gotten into a heated debate about the 'haunting' of Corrail VII with their
Premier via subspace communication for the past two hours. They were anxiously awaiting his arrival on the planet and he had spent the majority of the past hour assuring the man that he would be arriving within the next twelve hours… hopefully sooner than that. That is, if he could get through this conversation without decking the man before him. Although Jake couldn't
stand violence, he was considering tossing that aside and truly having it out with Will Riker. An apology for the punch in the turbolift was one thing, but if Riker was going to reconcile with Deanna with a simple 'I'm sorry' that was another thing entirely. He turned around and faced Riker directly.

"I've been acting like a jackass." Riker continued.

Jake smiled. "We all have our moments."

"But you should know that anytime Deanna is involved I tend to lose my self control. I don't always think straight."

"She often has that effect on people. I know exactly what you are talking about, Commander." He gestured for Riker to sit, and Will did so as Jake settled himself in a chair on the other side of the table.

"My fear of losing her to you got in the way of my better judgment."

Jake's green eyes met Will's piercing gaze earnestly. "Believe me, Commander, you have nothing to fear in that regard."

"I don't often discuss my feelings with anyone...except Deanna, but there are some things that you should know about me." Will said, struggling to keep his voice neutral. He didn't like having to explain himself to anyone, but this was necessary in order for Jake to understand his behavior towards Deanna from the time he had first met her on Betazed to their present relationship aboard the Enterprise.

"You owe me no explanations." Jake cut him off.

"No, I don't owe you any but I think it will put some of your fears to rest. I guard what is mine very closely. My family, friends, my career...everything."

"So, you consider her to belong to you?" Jake misinterpreted. "That's the difference between you and me, Commander. I've never tried to possess Deanna." Jake settled his hands on his legs, as Riker patiently stroked his beard and tried to get his point across.

"No, I don't think of her as a possession; far from it. She's simply the best part of me. I'm the man I am today, in part because of her. Deanna is the best thing that ever happened to me," Will repeated.

Jake started to say something, paused for a moment then began again. "I know that feeling too." He said quietly.

"We have that in common, then."

Thornton simply nodded in response, an indescribable look in his green eyes.

"She probably told you how we met."

"Yes. We have no secrets from each other. But I'd like to hear your side."

Riker nodded. "When she and I met all those years ago, I was young, arrogant and a pain in the ass. I was in command mode all of the time, giving little regard to emotions...mine or anyone else's. Deanna scared the hell out of me."

Jake smiled but allowed him to continue.

"She was so mature, so beautiful, and so brain-washed by her mother that it drove me crazy. I had to fix it."

"I tried that too. I eventually gave up. She can be even more stubborn than me. Something I never thought possible."

Riker laughed, breaking the tension between the two men as Thornton continued speaking.

"I met her when she was five years old and I dared her to climb a tree in her fancy dress. I thought Lwaxana was going to take my head off when I took her home with grass stains on her arms and leaves in her hair but Ian calmed her down."

"You knew Deanna's father?" Will asked, taken off guard. He hadn't known they went that far back.

Jake nodded. "He went to school with my father and Steven Miller. She's Dad's goddaughter and Dee and I found out a few months ago that there had been plans to bond Kestra to my brother before she died…She used to talk about you a lot you know." Jake changed the subject abruptly, surprising Will.

"Did she...with you? I guess that's because she trusts you. When she called me Imzadi for the first time I panicked. I couldn't deal with the emotions, especially once her mother got involved."

"Lwaxana can be very persuasive and intimidating." Jake agreed. Then he grinned, a wicked gleam in his eyes. "I'm lucky she adores me."

"We've spent the last several years running away from each other. Me because of my fear of losing her as my best friend if it didn't work out. Deanna because she didn't trust me...with good reason."

"I don't think it was that clear cut. I always thought that she didn't trust herself when she was around you."

"Dr. Thornton...Jake...I love her, I always have...more than life itself." He cocked his head to one side and looked at Jake through narrowed eyes. "You love her too don't you?"

"Since I was eight years old." Jake replied, honestly.

"I didn't realize that she'd known you that long. I was insanely jealous of you. You seemed to be everything she needed...I was worried that she would leave with you without my having had the
chance to tell her how I felt. I'd been wanting to do that for a very long time."

"And I take it that you've told her now." Jake concluded from the smile Riker's face.

"Yes....I have."

"I see." Jake didn't know quite what to say.

"You're uncomfortable." Will stated, noting the sudden stiffness in the man's posture.

Jake became instantly defensive. "Shouldn't I be? No offense Commander, but this hasn't exactly been easy for me, either."

"I imagine it hasn't been. I'm not going to hurt her again. You have my word. I want to be a part of our baby's life and if I'm lucky...a part of Deanna's as well. I want to marry her, Jake. Make a

"Well then, I'm going to have to take you at your word and not chase you with a shotgun," he said, not sounding too happy about it. "Just don't take her to Capella IV; you'll make her a bigamist…" Then he tried to rationalize his response. "From the time we were kids, I've always looked out for Deanna. Not long after we met, a little more than a year later to be precise, her father died. I think she told you how close to him she was."

"Yes, she has."

"And as over-protective as Lwaxana was before Ian's death, she became set on molding Deanna into the model of the perfect child." He remembered fondly, "that's what I changed." He stated it proudly, a smile breaking out over his serious features.

"What was she like as a child?" Will inquired. Deanna never spoke much about her childhood to anyone.

"Very shy, very quiet; the two of us were close, mainly because neither of us were telepaths."

"That's always been a touchy spot for her. Even though she's a very intelligent woman and an extremely gifted empath."

"And part of her will always fear inferior because of it. Children can be cruel when someone is different. Even young emotionally in touch Betazoid children." Jake added bitterly.

"I've seen her hurting, when humans fear her because they think she can read their minds...and on Betazed when full telepaths are around."

"Yes, well as she got older, we were always getting into trouble as a result of one of my brilliant ideas. Every time she got grounded I had something to do with it."

"She has a wild side that very few people have or will ever see, doesn't she?" Will asked, chuckling. "She's a real tease and loves to play practical jokes."

"Yes, that she does. I encouraged that wild side, perhaps too often, but I'll never forget the look on Lwaxana's face and the way she yelled the first time I brought Deanna home on the back of my Harley." He laughed at the memory.

Riker's eyes widened at the thought of the oh so professional Counselor of the Enterprise on a motorcycle. "I would have loved to see that."

"I'll send you a picture. I think Teb took one… and I should never have tried to sneak her off to a rock concert on a planet full of telepaths. Lwaxana's mental shouting is a hell of a lot louder any day. Anyway…I wanted her to realize that there was life outside of just being a Daughter of the Fifth House. And god knows she's picked me up off the floor and tried to clean up my mistakes more times than I can count."

"I encouraged her too, just not as…diplomatically...I guess." Will realized as he remembered taunting a young Deanna Troi about choosing a life of her own, rather than allowing her mother to determine all the decisions in her life for her. Instead of understanding what he was trying to do, she had gotten very angry and stormed away from him.

"But it wasn't until she met you... that she was finally able to understand that." Jake finished.

"I don't understand...when she met me? How so?" Will asked; intrigued.

"Yes. She realized that she could be her own person, have her own dreams. Did you know that Lwaxana kicked her out of the house when Deanna stood up for her relationship with you?"

"She what???" Riker yelled incredulously. She'd never told him that.

"Yes. And Deanna left. I honestly don't think she ever planned to go back. She told me later that she went to tell you what had happened... and you were otherwise occupied at the time. Be very happy that you had already left Betazed, Commander. If you were still there when I got back two months later, I would have bodily thrown you off the planet." Jake said, suddenly deadly serious and working a muscle in his jaw.

Riker rubbed his hands over his face. "That was the worst decision I ever made and hell I don't even remember how it happened. I'd had a fifth of Aldebaran whiskey after leaving Deanna's house. I was devastated. When she told me that it had all been a mistake, I felt like a ten year old again. Like the time my father told me that I wasn't a man because I couldn't survive a weekend on the tundra. Deep down I think I always felt that she was too good for me. I once called her aristocratic."

"It certainly fit her on more than one occasion. But how she must have hated that!" Jake exclaimed.

"Yes she can be, especially when she's angry. And hate it she did." His expression grew very serious. "I think I'm good for her. She's had a phenomenal influence on me; my relationship with my father and my life. I love her very much, and will always do my very best to make her happy and now...she's giving us a child...our child. Something I've never dared to dream would
happen. Sounds corny huh?"

"Not at all. And you have been good for her, more than you'll ever know. I believe you'll continue to do so. You have no idea how much of an impact you've had on her life."

"How so?" Riker wanted to know.

"When I came back to Betazed I found a very different Deanna Troi than the little girl who was there before. She began to make her own choices; talked about entering the academy, and even before that, she left Betazed for the first time, to see what it was like on other planets."

"I'm very fortunate that she did. We probably would have never gotten back together if she hadn't."

"She never came out and said it, but I thought that was one of the reasons she entered Starfleet. She wanted to find you."

"I think I like the sound of that... I know that I would have eventually gone back to Betazed to try again."

"Are you sure about that? It took over seven years of serving together on the same ship before you had been able to come to this stage in your relationship." Jake pointed out.

"Yes, it did take seven years but I think it was for a reason. We had to experience all that went in between, to become the people that we are today." He abruptly changed the topic. "You love her very much don't you." It was a statement, not a question.

"Yes. And I'll continue to do so. I hope you can accept that, Will, because it's not going to change."

"I can accept it, now that I know that Deanna still loves me as well."

"She never stopped, you know."

Riker smiled, slowly. "I know... now."

"Good, it took her long enough to tell you."

"Yes it did. I've finally realized that she has to do things in her own time you can't push her." He checked the chrono on the wall.

I have a shift on the Bridge soon andI know your transport will be here in an hour… until then, can I buy you a drink, perhaps?"

"I think that could be arranged.

"Then let's head to Ten-Forward. Guinan keeps a private supply for special occasions."

Jake stood and smiled. "That sounds good to me," he responded and meant it.

Will rose as well. "And to me." He extended his hand, and the two men shook firmly, each understanding the other much better as they left the doctor's guest quarters.

Chapter 21

An hour later…

Will walked back into Deanna's quarters soundlessly, so he wouldn't wake her. He had just finished an uneventful eight hour shift on the Bridge after escorting Thornton to Transporter Room 2 where he'd had left to beam off the Enterprise in order to catch a shuttle to Corrail VII. Will was mildly surprised that Jake hadn't gone to say goodbye to Deanna before he left, but when he had asked, the astrophysicist had just shaken his head.

"No," he had said. "She's used to me disappearing. Besides, she always knows where to find me. I'll be in touch." Then after nodding at Will, Jake shimmered away.

Will stopped in the doorway of the bedroom, peeking in and fully expecting to find Deanna asleep. He wasn't disappointed and crept into the bedroom, standing at the foot of the bed and watching Deanna as she slept. He was the luckiest man alive… she loved him… That in itself was almost impossible for him to believe, and added to that was the prospect of impending fatherhood. She stirred in her sleep, disappearing further into the nest of blankets as Will walked to the chair by the bed.

He spent the next few hours by her sleeping form, catching up on lapsed crew evaluations and other sorts of paperwork that he had let fall behind during Deanna's kidnapping and subsequent stay in Sickbay. He had just about caught up when Deanna opened her eyes. Will had placed the report he'd finished reading on the floor and looked up to find her watching him, a gentle smile on her delicate face.

"How long have you been awake?" He asked, his face immediately lighting up as he noticed that the majority of color had returned to her cheeks.

"A minute or so." She gingerly sat up in bed, and her smile grew upon feeling that her back wasn't nearly as sore as it had been before.

"How are you feeling?" he asked, already guessing her response from the beautiful smiling expression.

"Actually, I'm hungry." Deanna laughed, somewhat surprised. She hadn't had much of an appetite since before her abduction.

Will was relieved. "That doesn't surprise me. It's past dinnertime."

"It is? How long have I been asleep?" she questioned. Deanna felt as if she had only closed her eyes a few minutes ago.

"It's been almost ten hours from the time you told me that you were going to take a nap."

"Ten hours! Will, why did you let me sleep so long?" Will moved the chair closer to the bed and picked up one of Deanna's hands. He brushed a gentle kiss across her fingertips and she shivered at the touch of his beard over her soft skin.

He smiled at her, amused. "Why, did you have a date this evening?" He asked, blue eyes
twinkling. He knew that Beverly wasn't going to let her star patient out of bed any time soon, but he couldn't resist teasing her.

"Mmhmm. I believe I did. You see, I was told that a certain First Officer was under strict orders to make sure that I remained here."

"Really?" Well then I'll have to contact said First Officer and tell him his services aren't required because I plan to be occupying your time for the remainder of the evening. Were you expecting him anytime soon? I don't wish to have my plans interfered with."

"Don't you now?" She whispered, attempting to sit up more fully. She tossed back the covers and scooted out of bed. Will was on his feet in an instant, catching her gently around the waist and resting his hands on her belly, leading her back to the bed. She resisted, but Will held her firmly
against him.

"What are you up to, Deanna? You know you're supposed to stay in bed."

Deanna turned around to face him, wrapping her arms around his neck. "Relax Will, I'm going to the bathroom to freshen up. As soon as I'm done, I'll go back to bed. Then we can have dinner, okay?"

"Okay. What do you want to eat?"

"I don't care." She gently extracted herself from his embrace and headed towards the bathroom as

Will made his way over to the replicator.

"Oh Will…?" He turned around."Can you get me a glass of chocolate milk, please?"

"Chocolate milk? With dinner? Okay, if that's what you want."

"Yes, it is. And… a pickle… no ummm… an oskoid….no, really a pickle. Thanks." She disappeared into the bathroom and Will smiled to himself, though he felt slightly sick to his stomach. The next eight months were certainly going to be interesting.

By the time Deanna emerged from the bathroom, Will had already replicated the main portion of their meal. He wasn't sure what, if anything, went well with pickles and chocolate milk, but he gave it his best shot and chose turkey sandwiches and potato salad. Personally he couldn't stomach the thought of drinking chocolate milk with his meal, so in lieu of that he called up a twentieth century drink he favored, which was still referred to as cola.

Ten minutes later Will sat laughing, as he watched Deanna happily munching on her pickles and finishing the last of the chocolate milk. She had only picked at the sandwich and completely ignored the potato salad, until he had picked up her fork, and jokingly began feeding it to her. Deanna was so entranced with the look in his eyes that she forgot that she normally hated this kind of food. Will discovered that he could convince Deanna to eat just about anything if he continued to kiss her in between every bite. Her face was flushed and she looked lovelier and healthier than he had seen her in a very long time.

"Are you still hungry?" he asked, as she set aside her glass.

"No. Thanks." Will gathered up the remainder of the dishes and placed them in the recycler. Then he walked back to the bed and sat beside her once again. Deanna shifted forward slightly so that he could stretch out behind her then lay her head down on his chest. Will inclined his head and kissed her temple, brushing strands of her hair away from her face.

"I could definitely get used to this, you know," he whispered into her ear.

"I already am," she replied, reaching down on the bed and holding his hand in hers. Will's other hand was lost in her hair.

"Good." He settled farther back into the bed, moving her backwards along with him. Deanna shut her eyes. "You haven't asked me about my conversation with Jake yet." He pointed out.

Deanna's eyes remained closed. "That's because I know you'll talk about it when you're ready. That and there's probably nothing about Jake that you could tell me that I don't already know. Besides, you haven't asked me about my conversation with Mother yet, either." She remarked.

"You know that he left while you were sleeping, then?" He asked, completely ignoring her last statement for the moment.

"Yes… he always had a habit of doing that. It's good to see that some things haven't changed."

"Is this some kind of segue into the conversation you had with your mother? Don't tell me that she's still not happy about the two of us being together?"

She opened her eyes and turned slightly to face him. "No. On the contrary, Will. Mother is quite thrilled that we we'll finally be making her a grandmother. Perhaps we will be able to put the past behind us then."

"Well, I guess some things have changed for the better. But others never will." He held her tighter, "Like the way I love you, Imzadi. That will never change." He proclaimed as she moved closer to him.

She kissed his cheek, then his lips and he heard in his mind, ~~~The same goes for me, Imzadi.~~~

"I could stay like this forever," he whispered into her mouth, surprised at how easily these words came to his lips after being locked in his heart for so long.

"Fine with me. I'm certainly not stopping you and I can't go anywhere, anyway."

"Can't or won't?" He asked half-seriously, kissing the sensitive hollow of her throat and watching as she shivered with pleasure.

"Well… Beverly says I can't, and you're already here. So, I have no desire to be anywhere but here, Commander."

"Really, Counselor? Since neither of us are planning on going anywhere… why don't you tell me about what it is that you do desire." His warm breath tickled the back of her neck as he grazed her skin with his beard.

"Hmmm. Let's see then…" She replied playfully, rolling over so that she was now on top of his body. She regarded him seriously for several moments, tucking her lower lip between her teeth as she gazed at him. "Actually… I think I'd rather… demonstrate." Will's eyes widened further as she pressed her silk-clad body closer still, brushing soft kisses all over his face and neck as she explored his arms and chest through his uniform tunic.

"Umm… Dee… do you…um… really think this… oh…Imzadi… is a good…mmm… idea… you heard what Beverly said?"

Will could scarcely breathe in between heated kisses from Deanna. She pulled back slightly and began to move off of him, knowing that he was right. Before she completely moved away Will caught her and brought her back, plying her face with kisses. "Oh no, you don't. You aren't going anywhere, remember. I'll gladly take a rain check."

"I think that can be arranged." She smiled shyly, looking deep into his eyes and seeing restrained passion there. She was sure her eyes were mirroring his emotions and couldn't wait until Beverly gave her the all clear sign and they could unleash it. But for now, they'd just have to settle for being together.

The next morning…

Will woke with the sense that something wasn't right. He looked beside him and saw that he was alone in Deanna's bed. He didn't even have time to wonder where she was; he heard sounds of her moving around in the bathroom and sat up waiting for her to return to him. After about ten
minutes of waiting Will began to get worried. He bolted off the bed and walked to the bathroom. She had left the door slightly ajar and Will peered in, finding Deanna kneeling on the floor; her head over the toilet.

"Are you okay?" He asked quietly, not wanting to startle her. Deanna raised her head and looked at him. Will was stunned at how pale she appeared and started towards her, stopping when she raised her hand and smiled wobbly.

"I'm all right, really. It's just morning sickness." Another wave of nausea washed over her and Deanna turned her attention back to the toilet, vomiting violently. Will walked behind her and held Deanna's hair back, noting for the first time in a while the bruises on the back of her neck staring back at him in vivid purple next to the stark whiteness of Deanna's neck. A sudden surge of anger overcame him at the thought of Deanna in the hands of a madman. Will quickly tempered his emotions, not wanting her to be able to sense his feelings and once again think they were directed towards her rather than her abductor. They remained in that position for another ten minutes or so then with Will's help Deanna stood and walked over to the sink to brush her
teeth. Will kept his arms around Deanna's waist in order to support her but mainly because he just wanted to touch her. She looked up from the sink and saw their reflection together in the mirror. Will looked handsome as always and he was gently smiling as he looked into the mirror as well. Deanna, on the other hand felt like she looked…pale and sickly. She broke away from Will and headed back to the bedroom. Will followed behind her, stopping to replicate some
juice. He handed a glass to Deanna and she accepted it gratefully.

"Thank you." She said, taking off her robe. It had gotten hot in the middle of the night so she had quietly gotten out of bed and changed into a lighter weight, more comfortable nightgown. Will started upon seeing all the bruising on Deanna's arms and neck, highlighted by the thin black straps on her gown.

"Those must hurt." He commented, wanting Deanna to know that he wasn't going to let her ignore what had happened to her any longer. She shrank back into the pillows, trying to cover the bruises by bringing the covers over her arms and chest.

"They aren't that bad. Can I have more juice?" She asked, trying to change the subject.

"You haven't finished what's in your glass yet." He reminded her, sitting on the edge of the bed.

"Haven't I?" She asked, laughing nervously and looking at the glass in her hand for the first time. She realized too late that the glass was filled with liquid as some sloshed out and onto the blankets, forcing her to drop the covers as the shock of cold juice hit her now chilled body. She moved over to the other side of the bed, still clutching the glass in her hand as Will attempted to clean up the mess with a sonic sponge and dryer.

"Sorry." She said, attempting once again to hide herself from his view.

"Don't worry, it was an accident."

Deanna didn't answer and Will looked at her in exasperation. He came around the other side of the bed and removed the glass from her trembling fingers. After placing it in the recycler, Will went back to the bed, taking one of Deanna's cold hands in his. "You know, you haven't said anything about what happened to you." Will said, trying to keep his voice neutral, even though it was killing him to see Deanna in so much pain, both physical and emotional.

"There's nothing much to say." She replied, shutting her eyes and allowing her head to fall back against the pillow.

"Oh. I don't believe that." He said, sitting down on the edge of the mattress. Will placed one of his fingers under her chin. "Deanna, look at me." She opened her eyes, and the look that greeted Riker was no longer filled with fear, only extreme sadness. Keeping some form of physical contact at all times, Will carefully moved closer to Deanna, and waited. She remained focused on his blue eyes, searching them for something only she could see. After what seemed to be an eternity of silence, she broke the stare and threw herself into his waiting arms, still not speaking. Will didn't say anything either; he didn't want Deanna to think that he was interrogating her and wanted to convey as much comfort as humanly possible. He cautiously rubbed her back, waiting for her shaking to cease. And when it did she looked up at him with tear-filled eyes, trusting that together they could make everything all right again. Will raised his thumbs to her cheeks, tenderly brushing away that first spill of tears before following their trail with his lips. He brushed the tears away from her cheeks with his fingers, and kissed the corners of her eyes until they stopped falling. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, opened them again and began.

"I don't really remember much, but I think it's because he had such a powerful mind that I shut down during the telepathic communication."

"Like an overload?" Will asked, thankful that she was finally beginning to talk about her abduction. She still seemed hesitant so Will held her hand firmly in his grasp, trying to reassure her.

"Yes, something like that. I remember going in and out of consciousness mainly, and an overwhelming sense of evil, hatred fear and dread. I could no longer sort out where my emotions and feelings began and where he was imprinting his own thoughts onto me. It was… it was terrifying. And I was so frightened that I was going to die before… before I could tell you." Her voice broke and she buried her head in his shoulder again. Then she steadied herself, but kept her face turned away from him. "And I was afraid… that when it was over, if I survived, you wouldn't love me anymore."

Will jerked away abruptly and stared at Deanna with a mixture of shock and amazement.
"Not love you anymore?" He echoed, not being able to believe that these words had come from her mouth. "Deanna, there is absolutely nothing that could ever make me stop loving you. Hell, I can't even remember a time I didn't love you."

Deanna lifted her head and met his gaze. "I know that, now."

"Good." He held her fiercely. "And don't you forget it." She smiled back at him and replaced her arms around his neck.

"Aye, Sir. I take my orders very seriously." Will chuckled and brought his lips to hers. He laughed harder when in the middle of their kiss, Deanna began yawning.

"Well, I guess I know how interesting you find me." He grinned broadly, knowing that Deanna couldn't help being exhausted. She swatted at him playfully, about to protest when she yawned again.

"I can't believe this. I've only been awake for two and a half hours." She said, surprised that she was ready to take a nap.

"Yes, but a lot has happened in the past few hours. Besides, you are still off duty, and I don't have to be on the bridge until 1200 hours, so there is nothing wrong with relaxing for a while, Counselor. Now what do you want for breakfast, or shouldn't I ask?"

"Ummm… hot chocolate and…" Will braced himself. "an Andorian cheese omelet." He relaxed.

"Okay." He got up from the bed and started to leave her room.

"Wait! Will where are you going?" He stopped in the doorway and turned around to face her.

"You didn't actually think I'd use the replicator for an omelet, did you, Deanna? I'm going to my quarters so I can get my special omelet pan." He said the word replicator with distaste.

"Oh. Okay." She lay back on the bed. "Hurry back." He paused again and raised an eyebrow as he looked at her.

"If you are that hungry, why didn't you say something before?"

"It's not that. It's just that… I'll miss you." She blushed.

"I'm only going next door." He complained but there was a smile on his face as he said it. "Ah these demanding pregnant women… I wouldn't have it any other way." He jokingly remarked, heading out the door. This time she didn't stop him. By the time Will returned a little more than three minutes later, Deanna was already asleep. Will sat back in the chair, dropped the pan
at his feet, and smiled, watching her again.

Chapter Twenty-Two

The rest of the week passed in a similar manner. Will and Deanna were closer than ever now that they had finally been able to get their feelings for each other out in the open, and were able to put ten years of misunderstanding and denial behind them. Towards the end of the week, a comfortable routine had been established. Will would go directly to Deanna's quarters when he got off shift and she would spend each day either dozing, or using subspace communication to stay in touch with friends and catching up with the latest psychology papers which often seemed to pile up while she was seeing patients. By the sixth night of Deanna's bed restriction, more and more of Will's possessions had found their way into her quarters.

He had already spoken to Geordi about combining their quarters and the blueprints which the chief engineer had preliminarily designed looked promising. The actual reconstruction wouldn't take place until sometime after Deanna returned to active duty, in another week. Geordi couldn't help but laugh when talking with Will about the baby. The Commander was so excited. The crew had been speculating for years about Riker's relationship with Troi and many a credit had exchanged hands during the past week.

Deanna had stopped complaining about being 'relegated to bed rest' as she called it, but Will knew that she was getting restless. And Will was constantly getting both amused and slightly nauseated upon seeing all of the unusual food combinations his Imzadi had been ingesting lately. He tried to keep his feelings about this to himself because Beverly had said to let Deanna eat
whatever she wanted, and that she needed to gain some weight.

With the exception of her strange food cravings and constant nausea (Will couldn't understand why it was referred to as 'morning sickness' because she was vomiting all the time) it was still somewhat hard to believe that Deanna was actually carrying a child… their child. However, both had been reassured by Dr. Crusher, that in a few months it would become more than apparent. In the meantime, Deanna at eleven weeks pregnant was just as slender as she had always been, and she was positively radiant… if a little subdued. The main reason why she had stopped complaining about being confined to bed wasn't that she was resigned to her fate; she was always tired and that added to her ever-present nausea was enough to keep her quiet.

Towards the end of week she had been so sick that she threatened to sleep in the bathtub, in order to be closer to the toilet. And although the bruises from her abduction had all but faded into barely noticeable marks, the memories behind them continued to linger, though the thoughts did not plague her as much when Will was nearby. The nightmares had ceased for the most part but every so often, a word or an action would transport her back to that time, leaving her shaken and anxious. But she was optimistic; she knew that in time it would fade into the deepest recesses of her mind.

After the last day of mandatory bed rest concluded, Beverly had given permission for Deanna to leave her quarters but she wouldn't be returning to active duty for another week. She was also restricted from serving on away teams for the duration of her pregnancy; for the first trimester due to frequent fainting spells, and later on as her pregnancy progressed, complications which might arise due to the beaming on and off ship constantly associated with away missions. Deanna took this news very well and Will was privately relieved. He was never too happy when the counselor accompanied the away teams as it was, they were so often dangerous and it had been hard enough for him to think of Deanna as just another crew member before. Now it would be almost impossible to keep from protecting her as much as possible. Will had originally been
reluctant to share these fears with Deanna; she had enough on her mind lately but he knew that keeping how he felt from her had been a main part of what had kept them apart for all those years. This time he talked to her, and together they had decided to work through them and others
which would eventually arise between them.

In honor of her first evening being able to be out of her quarters and 'out on the town' so to speak, Will had planned an elaborate outing for the two of them in a holodeck, and was rather surprised and a little disappointed when she said that she would rather stay in. She did, however want to go to his quarters instead of hers, saying that she wanted a change of scene. So Will
chose not to scrap his plans, planning instead to postpone them for another time.

While Deanna went to speak to Captain Picard about her new restrictions and what they would entail, Will began modifying his original plans for their evening. Before she had left, Will had given her strict instructions to not even venture near his quarters until at least 1600 hours, and when she stopped by about an hour and half early, to see how things were going she was greeted with a terse, "If you refuse to follow my orders, I'll see to it that you spend the remainder of the evening in the brig." Deanna knew he was jesting, but still she hightailed it to her quarters in order to get ready for dinner.

While Will was cooking up a storm next door, Deanna took a long soak in a scented floral bubble bath. When she got out she braided the sides of her hair and pinned them up, allowing the rest of the curly jet mass to fall free. Sitting in front of her vanity, Deanna decided not to use much makeup, choosing some liner and mascara. The heat from the bath had brought out the
rosy glow in her cheeks, blush was not necessary. Then she painted to her lips with a natural deep red color which made them appear almost as if there was no lipstick being worn. That done, she spritzed herself with a very special perfume she had found while visiting her mother a little more than six months ago and slipped into her dress. Then she sat back and waited for Will
to contact her, not wanting to incur his wrath as she had done earlier. Just the same, he was so handsome when he was pretending to be angry…

<<Riker to Troi. Deanna, are you planning on gracing me with your presence anytime soon?>>

Her comm badge chirped, and Deanna was started from her thoughts. She could hear the laughter in his voice and thought that perhaps it was time for some humor of her own.

"Hmm. Perhaps I was planning on making you wait a while, let's say for as long as you made me."

<< I wouldn't recommend that Deanna. Your dinner is going to get cold.>> That Deanna couldn't resist, she was starving.

"Acknowledged. I'll be there momentarily. Troi out." After checking her hair in the mirror one final time, Deanna got up from her chair and headed next door.

Upon ringing the chimes, the doors immediately parted, and Will just stood there looking at her in a stunned silence. She was so beautiful, wearing a lavender lace dress that fell about four inches above her knee, and was cut tank style, leaving most of her neck and shoulders bare, save two straps of matching lace which covered them. Will was struck by her beauty and the intense look in his eyes made her dizzy. She smiled at him and their gazes locked, each fixated on the other.

~~~Aren't you going to invite me in?~~~ She asked telepathically, still not breaking either the smile or the stare. He blinked as if coming out of some kind of a trance, and replied verbally,

"Yes, of course. You look… spectacular Deanna." He said, searching for the word to describe her beauty. There were none poignant enough.

"Thank you. You do as well." She gave him a rather obvious once over and he raised an eyebrow at her perusal. He was wearing a midnight blue silk shirt…how she loved him in blue!... and a pair of beige trousers. His hair was slightly tousled, no doubt from his running around in the 'kitchen' he had created and much of it stood up in spikes on top of his head. He was

Will took her hands and led her inside. Deanna looked around in wonder. He had done all of this for her? The lighting was subdued and there were candles aglow everywhere. Soft jazz music was playing in the background. They walked to the table, hands still entwined until Will pulled his hands free in order to pull out her chair. After she was settled, he gently pushed it back under the table, lowering his head as he did so. He buried his head in her hair and after the chair was replaced, bestowed a gentle kiss on the top of her head.

Moving away, he poured them each a glass of sparkling cider and sat down across from her. The table was laden with food and Deanna was so hungry that she didn't know what to eat first. She said as much to Will, and he chuckled.

"Whatever you want, as long as you don't spread the chocolate mousse on the garlic bread." His grin was infectious and Deanna blushed.

"Will! I'm not that bad." Then her eyes widened. "Did I hear you say chocolate mousse?"

Will placed his elbows on the edge of the table, and leaned towards her, staring at her intently. Then he spoke and the low, sensual tone of his voice took her breath away.

"Of course, Imzadi. Would I ever invite you for dinner without including some form of chocolate?" He knew how much she enjoyed it and he had fond recollections of being able to watch her enjoy herself when it came to her favorite food.

Deanna smiled in response, and broke off a small piece of the garlic bread. "So where is the chocolate Will?" At his bemused expression she leaned forward, emulating his pose. She placed the piece of bread in his mouth. Her thumb brushed against his teeth and he licked the butter from it with his tongue, causing Deanna to shiver as she withdrew her thumb from his mouth.

After he chewed and swallowed, he shook his head. "Hey, I'm supposed to be feeding you here remember? Eat."

"Okay." She picked up her fork. Will had created various dishes, both Terran and Betazoid, and the combination of the two was delicious. So enraptured with the sight of the other they never
glanced down at their plates. Deanna was surprised to find her plate empty. For once she had managed to eat everything, including the vegetables, which both surprised and delighted Will. She hadn't had an appetite like this in months.

Deanna rose and picked up her plate. She quickly placed it back down upon seeing the look on Will's face. "Don't you dare. Sit down and relax." He ordered sternly; his eyes twinkling.

"Yes, Sir." Deanna laughed and walked over to the couch, knowing it was futile to protest. She sat down and turned so that she was looking over the high back of the couch, tossing openly admiring glances his way.

"You know if you're trying out your 'chastising father' look on me it's working."

"Good. Something tells me I'm going to need all the help I can get." He placed the last dish in the recycler and joined Deanna on the couch, leaning his head back against the cushions.

"Oh, I'm not too sure about that. I think you'll be a wonderful father, Imzadi." He sat up and turned to face her. She had such faith in him. He was unbelievably blessed. Will smiled and wove an arm around her waist, pulling her closer to him. Deanna went willingly and moved onto his lap, linking her arms around his neck. She inclined her head to the side and lay it down on his shoulder, breathing in the scent of his cologne, mingled with the pure essence of his being.

"Tired?" He asked after she rested her head on him. She quickly lifted it up and shook her head.

"Not at all, for once. I think I'll be able to stay awake past 1900 hours tonight." Will put his hand on her back, smiling up at her. It seemed that more often then not lately, each time he had entered her quarters over the past week she was sound asleep. And somehow she seemed to sense the moment he walked into her room, even in an unconscious state. She'd turn towards
him without wakening and when he would slip underneath the covers, she'd instinctively move into his arms within the space of a heartbeat.
They sat for a while, enjoying the candles, music and each other's company until Will mentioned dessert again and Deanna quickly scrambled off him, anticipating chocolate. Laughing, he
returned to the couch with a large dish and spoon in hand. Placing them both on the table in front of the couch, he gathered Deanna onto his lap again and reached down to pick up the dessert. He dipped the spoon into the homemade confection and brought it to her lips, chuckling again as she followed it when he pulled it away before she could grab it from him. Finally he spooned it into her mouth, thoroughly enjoying the expression of pure bliss on her face and how she closed her eyes with every mouthful.

When there was only one spoonful left, Deanna took it out of Will's hands and fed it to him, purposely leaving a trail of chocolate on his lips. Instead of reaching for a napkin, she moved closer still and licked the chocolate from his lips, slowly teasing his mouth open with her tongue.
Will groaned and opened his mouth, accepting her kiss and tasting the chocolate along with the even sweeter taste of Deanna's mouth. He was completely at her mercy as she pressed another of her heated kisses onto him, her hands roaming down his back.

"Imzadi…" he breathed, rendered almost speechless. She kissed him again, feeling his beard rasp and abrade the skin of her cheeks. Both sets of lips were swollen from the heated kisses.

~~~Imzadi…~~~ she returned, taking his hand and bringing it to her lips. She kissed each of his knuckles before setting his hand down. Will raised it again and ran his fingers through her silky hair. He loosened the pins on the sides and threaded his fingers into the falling braids.

"So soft," he murmured in between kisses, alternately caressing her hair and the back of her neck, sending thousands of shivers all over her body. She pressed her chest against him in an attempt to push him back against the cushions of the couch. Will suddenly stood, causing
Deanna to wrap her legs around his waist so that she would not be toppled to the floor. Her lips clung to his as well, not wanting to lose their grasp on his mouth as she was jostled from her seat.

"Will…" She whispered against his mouth. She closed her eyes and kissed him again, letting him carry her into the bedroom. The heat between them was undeniable… and sizzling. Deanna was burning, she wanted nothing more than to rip their clothes off and allow the flames to consume both of them. Will apparently had other ideas.

He lowered her legs with his hands languidly and gently placed her on her feet at the foot of the bed. Will gazed into her passion-black eyes, made even more opaque by desire, and almost lost himself in them forever.

"You know Will, after being stuck in bed for a full week it's going to be hard to get me back in one." She teased him, resting her hand on his thigh, and letting it travel slowly upwards. Will's breath caught as he firmly trapped that hand under his, ceasing its movement on his leg.

"Oh don't be too sure about that," he said. "Something tells me that I just might be able to manage it…" His eyes twinkled as his remaining words got lost somewhere in Deanna's mouth when her tongue tangled with his.

"You sound sure of yourself." She said, tearing her mouth away from his. If Will was going to keep up this torture by taking his sweet time, Deanna was relatively certain that she could do the same. He released his grip on her hand and she slowly ran it up his leg and stomach, finally
resting it just below the V-shape of his shirt, her finger just barely touching the hair which was rising from his chest with each shallow breath which came from his throat. His heart was racing beneath her palm.

"Moderately." He said between clenched teeth. The last thing he wanted to do was rush this but Deanna was making it very difficult at the present moment. Still he resisted. There was no way he was going to allow this to be like the last time they were together in a drunken frenzy, no way
at all. It was all that he could do not to toss her onto the bed and ravish her. He tried to calm himself but it was an impossibility. He wanted nothing more in the world than to bury himself in Deanna at this very moment. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt Deanna or the baby. Her hand roaming under his shirt and the warmth of her skin against his flesh was undeniably arousing.

"Deanna?" He asked as her other hand settled low on his hip and started curving around his backside. His own hands were still clasped firmly around her waist, molding her lower body against his. Deanna could feel the heat and pressure of his arousal and it excited her more than she had thought possible.

"Mmmhhhmm?" She asked, not really paying attention as she kissed her way around his neck and up to his ear. She stood on her toes and continued kissing him, her hands now ambling around his back under the shirt.

"Never mind." He answered taking his hands away from her waist and using one finger to tilt her face up towards him. Her lips captivated him, they were so lush, so inviting and he could no longer resist He claimed her lips then, plunging his hands into her hair and his tongue into her mouth at precisely the same moment. Deanna gasped and her mouth opened wider as she
attempted to strip the shirt from his body without breaking the kiss. It was almost hopeless. Far from discouraged, Deanna continued her efforts, smiling in triumph when she finally succeeded and the shirt fell to the floor. Her nails raked down his back and Will cursed as he fumbled with the fasteners on the back of her dress.

"I promised myself I wouldn't rip this one." He muttered against her lips, almost to himself as he struggled with the garment.

"I don't care… what… you do… Imzadi… just … do it soon… please…oh gods…Will…now." She couldn't think, she was mindless and almost boneless. She fell against Will in a passionate fury, anxious to have him inside her… now. She didn't think she could wait much longer and was unaware that Will felt exactly the same way.

With his hands suddenly sprouting ten thumbs, Will found he was unable to release the remaining fasteners. Frustrated and painfully aroused, he tried again this time using his teeth. That too failed and Will got impatient. He straightened again and placed his hands on the straps at Deanna's shoulders, holding them firmly in his hands.

"The hell with this."

Deanna stopped him his tracks with a sultry smile, took a step back and bent to grasp the hem. She crossed her arms and lifted the dress over her head. When her face finally emerged she met startled blue eyes. Will lowered his eyes from Deanna's laughing face and stared at her now scantily clad body; she was clothed only in lingerie that set his pulse racing. Her matching bra and panties...what there was of them were made of translucent lace, in the same shade of lavender as her dress. Will's mouth went dry as he stared at her. There was no visible sign of her pregnancy; not that he could discern, and she was more beautiful than he remembered.

She brought his face back to hers for another heart-stopping kiss, trying to hide the fact that she had been shaking as he looked at her. His stare was so intense that one would think that Will Riker had never seen a woman before. She of course, knew that that wasn't the case, but the powerful look in his eyes, one of love, yes, but one filled with something that could only be described as… hunger, as his eyes washed over her was palpable. He hadn't even touched her but it was as if he had, so strong was the desire that she felt radiating off of him and into her soul.

She didn't know how long they had stood there looking at each other but it didn't matter; they had all the time in the world. Kissing his lips softly, then applying more pressure each time her lips met his was driving both of them crazy; still she kept on initiating these kisses. She kept her arms wrapped around his neck and he slowly stroked his way down the sides of her arms, breasts and waist gently as though he was afraid she would either break or disappear before his eyes.

"You… are… so … extraordinary." He praised, each word punctuated by a longer kiss.

"Imzadi…" She answered, looking deep into his eyes and knowing that every word was heart-felt. He was just as much in awe of her as she had always been of him. Everything was perfect in the universe… they were here together and nothing else mattered or would be more important again. … Imzadi.

Deanna lowered her arms and wrapped them around his waist, resting her head on his chest; pressing kisses all over his exposed skin as she slowly removed his trousers. Will groaned as the silk of her hair brushed against his chest when she bent down to slide them to the floor. He was
throbbing so much that he didn't think that he could keep going like this much longer but he was determined to try. Will waited for her to stand again, reached down and caught Deanna by the knees, lifting her up and placing her on the bed, quickly stretching out beside her, his finger
tracing the features of her delicate face. There was no way he was ever going to forget this; her image was permanently engraved in his mind, forever etched in his memory. She rolled closer to him and he gathered her in his arms again so that she was now lying on top of his body, feeling the pulse of his arousal against her.

She rocked her hips against his and Will groaned into her mouth, "Oh god, Dee don't do that." She moved even closer, pressing herself full length against him as he trailed kisses down
her neck to the curve of her shoulder. He slowly lowered the strap of her bra with his tongue, using his teeth to remove it from her arm and leaving a path of moisture in its wake. Then he repeated this action on the other side with agonizing slowness.

"Will… please…" She begged, needing him to touch her before she went insane. She lost her hands in the hair on his chest, trying to get across to him how she needed to be touched, but he already knew… he always did. He nipped at the skin on her neck with his teeth, kissing his way down her chest to the rise of her breasts until his path was obstructed by the lacy material of her bra. Her breasts were heaving with each breath and she knew how flushed her skin must be, but she didn't care. Finally, he caught the hook of her bra between his teeth and gently bit down, the clasp releasing as her breasts fell into his waiting hands. Deanna cried out and Will let her go, instantly alarmed.

"Are you okay?" He asked, his worried eyes meeting hers. He relaxed when she nodded and smiled, twining her fingers into his hair.

"I'm fine. Just a little sensitive, but I hear it goes with the territory. "

Will smiled and his eyes darkened, thinking of the time in the not so distant future when Deanna's flat belly would be rounded with the growth of their child and brought his hands back to her breasts, holding them gently and shaping them with his hands. He ran his thumbs slowly over the tight rosy peaks of each. Deanna moaned and threw her head back, arching her neck as he kissed the hollow of her throat and felt her pulse beating rapidly there against his tongue. He placed tiny kisses all over her collarbone and remembered what was so familiar about the scent of her perfume. She smelled like wild flowers, a mixture of jasmine, orchids and roses if he wasn't mistaken… like the Jalara Jungle. He inhaled deeply, his mind jumbled with images of the first time they had made love and how much things had changed since that time so long ago.

Her hands set him on fire as Deanna began slowly massaging the muscles of his back. Each time she pulled and lengthened the muscles of his back her hands went farther down his spine, until finally she reached into his briefs and cupped his buttocks in her hands. Will groaned and the sound was lost in Deanna's chest as he bent down to kiss her breasts. He could feel her heart beating in nearly the same rhythm as his and wondered how this was possible before he was too caught up in the feel of her skin against his lips to ponder this any further. He marveled in her softness against him, the contrast between them drawing him closer as if her body was
magnetized. Lifting her breasts in his hands, Will tenderly kissed the underside of each then let his tongue trail up to capture her nipple between his teeth, tugging gently as she cried out. The heat from his mouth was scalding, and Deanna trembled as he applied more pressure with his mouth, first on one breast, then the other.

Her impatience increasing, Deanna quickly removed his briefs and threw them to the ground. She could feel him hard, ready and pressing insistently against her thigh. Deanna reached down and stroked him softly and a drawn out breath caught in Will's throat as she firmly wrapped her fingers around his length.

Struggling for control, Will took the element of surprise and quickly rolled over on top of her; removing himself from her grasp and trailing his lips down her chest to her stomach. When he reached her belly he paused and laid his cheek against it, worshipping the delicate skin on her navel. "I'm going to make your mommy the happiest woman alive." He said, looking up at Deanna with tears in his eyes. She brought his face back up to hers and kissed him deeply.

"You already have." She whispered, enfolding her arms around his neck and kissing him again, her tongue slipping into his mouth.

Will held both her hands in his and raised their arms above their heads, pressing her farther back against the pillows. Releasing her hands, he brought his arms back down to her body, which was by this time covered with a fine sheen of perspiration. He ran his hand slowly down her
chest and stomach, her breathing growing shallow as he moved downward.

Slowly and deliberately he ran his hand up and down her thighs, watching her expression intently, his eyes twinkling wickedly in the dim light of the room.

"Will…" she pleaded, shaking her head in extreme frustration. Will looked up, struck by the expression of love and desire on her face.

"Yes, Dee?" he asked, placing his hand on the top of her thigh and moving it slowly inward. She reveled in the feeling of that hand, heavy and hot against her skin but she wanted more. He rubbed his hand in a circle on the inside of her right thigh, barely brushing against her panties with a feather-light touch.

"Please…" she cried, rocking back and forth in an effort to have as much of her highly aroused body come in contact with his hand as possible. Will walked his hand carefully down the inside of her thigh, stopping only when he settled it on the lace panel between her thighs and Deanna relaxed audibly as she sighed into his touch.

Will chuckled and rubbed the palm of his hand more firmly against her, the friction between her legs increasing unbearably as the soaked lace brushed against her sex again and again. Her arms still thrust above her head, Deanna grabbed at the pillows, clenching them in her grasp as Will
inched his finger underneath the lace of her panties, startling her when he plunged that finger deep inside her heated core.

"Oh Gods… Imzadi…" She cried, closing her eyes and trying to close her thighs around his hand.

Understanding what she was trying to do, Will pulled away and slowly dragged off her panties, his eyes darkening as he looked down at her, trying to reconcile his past memories of making love with a teenaged version of this gorgeous woman laying nude before him. He could barely believe his eyes; he never believed that she could become even more perfect in the years
they had been apart. He couldn't help himself. He had to taste her… now.

Will grasped both of her thighs in his hands and pushed them wide apart. Bending his head, he lovingly brushed his beard down over the silky black curls beneath his fingers, eliciting a soft purring noise from deep in Deanna's throat as he continued to lavish affection on the heated folds of her center with his lips and tongue.

Deanna couldn't wait any longer, she lowered her arms and cupped his face in her palms, drawing him back up and begging him to cover her with his body. Happy to oblige, Will quickly wrapped his arms around her again, gasping as she flung her legs around his waist, encouraging him on in words both English and Betazin. He kissed her again and again, this time parting her legs with his thigh and pausing before he did what she asked.

"Oh god, Dee I don't want to hurt you." Gazing deep into her eyes, her stare locked with his, burning deep into his soul.

"You… won't." She panted, claiming his lips again and slipping her tongue deep inside, urging him closer still. She pressed her entire body against him, rolled over and trapped his body against the covers. Finally, he put a hand on each of her thighs, squeezing them around his body and slowly penetrated her. At the first touch of him inside her, Deanna closed her eyes, shuddering in ecstasy.

Beads of sweat broke out on his forehead as Will tried to move as slowly as possible. He concentrated on the flushed skin of Deanna's face as he pushed forward. When he was fully inside of her tightening body, he paused trying to remain still.

~~~Open your eyes, Imzadi.~~~ Feeling him inside of her body and mind at the same time was too much for her to handle. Her head fell back as she concentrated on the sensation of merging both body and soul with her Imzadi again. Her eyes slowly opened and seared into his.

"Will… please…" She cried out as she felt him pulsing inside her. Deanna's eyes fell closed once more as she fell against his body, spasms rocking her uncontrollably. After kissing her again, Will bent down and took the tip of breast into his mouth, suckling fiercely and moaning into her chest. His hands around her waist, Will began lifting Deanna up and down on his straining member.

"Oh... Gods… Imzadi."

"Deanna." He spoke her name as if it was killing him to do so. Feeling his struggle, Deanna forced open her eyes again and simply smiled at him before the haze of desire washed over her once again. Knowing that neither of then could hold on to control, Will maneuvered his body and trapped Deanna beneath him again. Her head was lying on the pillow, her hair a tangled mass of curls falling wildly about her. She was exquisite in her passion, her lips swollen and red and as she bit down on the corner of her bottom lip with her teeth, the tip of her tongue could be seen. She wrapped her arms around Will's neck and crushed him against her, nipping at his shoulder while trying to stifle her cries.

Still, Will was moving inside her, trying to convince himself that this wasn't just another fantasy, it couldn't have been, because nothing had ever felt as real as this. He thrust home one final time and released at the same moment Deanna went over the edge, tightening her legs around him as she cried his name into his mind.

They clung tightly together on top of the rumpled covers, waiting for their pulse to calm and breaths to slow down from their ragged gasping. Taking her hand in his and bringing it up to his lips, Will spoke quietly.

"I told you I would be able to manage getting you back into a bed again." Deanna turned and cuddled closer in his arms.

"Actually I'm on top of the bed so you're only half right." She replied, laying her head down on his chest.

"I think I can deal with that." He said, kissing the top of her head and placing their joined hands on her belly. He looked deep into her eyes, suddenly serious again.

"I love you, Deanna."

~~~ I love you too, Imzadi.~~~ She kissed him softly on the lips and moved more fully into his embrace.

They held each other silently as slumber took them into dreams of their future.

Chapter 23

0900 hours

The next morning Deanna was the first to awaken, surprised at first that she wasn't about to be sick. She sat up gingerly, half expecting the nausea to return, but was instantly relieved when it didn't reappear. Her mind replayed the events of the evening before as she stretched her body with satisfaction. She turned over and propped herself up on her elbow, very happy that it
didn't collapse on her again like it had a few days before and watched Will as he slept. He was adorable, his lips curved into a gentle smile as he slept… <and oh Gods that mouth…> Deanna blushed as she had a flashback as to the exquisite torture that Will had subjected her to last night with his lips and tongue. She leaned forward and brushed a lock of hair from his forehead, letting her fingers trail down his bearded cheek to his mouth, tenderly caressing his bottom lip with her index finger. Will sighed and drew her closer, still not waking.

Finding herself being held bruisingly close to his hard naked body gave Deanna all kinds of deliciously wicked ideas. She took her finger away from his mouth and began slowly tracing a path down the middle of his chest and down his torso with her hand. When she drifted past his navel she felt a large hand suddenly clamp over her wrist, lifting it up and entwining the strong fingers with hers. She looked up to see Will gazing down at her, beautiful blue eyes wet with moisture. He raised her hand to his lips and kissed her palm, delighting in the way she shivered in his arms at that simple touch.

"You're still here." He remarked; his voice quiet as he lowered her hand. He kept a firm grip on it as if to make sure that she wouldn't leave again. Deanna squeezed his fingers to reassure him of her presence… in his bed… in his life.

"I told you before, you're here and there's nowhere else I'd rather be than with you."

"Thank God for that."

"I love you, Imzadi."

"I love you too."

6 weeks later…

Dr. Beverly Crusher and Nurse Alyssa Ogawa were sitting in Ten Forward, completely exhausted and none too sober. The room around them was in shambles. Flowers and decorations were everywhere, empty glasses were strewn around all the tables, along with the remnants of what was once an incredibly decadent chocolate wedding cake. Beverly leaned across the table and sighed, Alyssa's eyes were sparkling with mirth just as much as hers were.

"Wasn't it beautiful?" Alyssa asked, still savoring the memories.

"Oh, yes!" Beverly exclaimed. "It certainly took them long enough but it was absolutely beautiful."

"I'll say. It was definitely worth the wait. That dress was stunning... all that lace. I've never seen anything like it."

"Did you see Commander Riker's face when she stepped through the doors? Where did she find it?"

"I'm not quite sure but I know that her mother was ready to throw a fit when she realized it wasn't going to be a traditional Betazoid wedding. …Still Deanna said her mother was overjoyed that she was finally getting married. I wonder which one of them was crying more when she walked down the aisle..." Beverly paused, lifting up her glass of Picard '45, watching the light reflect off the bubbles in the glass.

"I think it was Commander Riker." Alyssa laughed. "He looked especially dashing in that dress uniform and speaking of dashing, I noticed your eye on the captain during the ceremony, but that certainly isn't new."

Crusher blushed, her cheeks almost the same shade of red as her hair.

"Honestly, Beverly when are you two going to get together, it's crazy to deny what you feel. Haven't Riker and Troi taught you anything?"

Beverly sighed, "Hopefully this wedding will give him an idea, he was so happy to finally be performing this ceremony."

"He certainly looked like a proud father, but maybe he'll start thinking about a relationship for himself and if he doesn't perhaps he can be persuaded." Alyssa smiled and took another sip of the champagne. She got up and brought two more pieces of wedding cake to the table, smoothing down her rose colored gown as she returned to the table.

"Here to keep up your strength." She handed one plate to Beverly, who accepted it gratefully.

"And keep up my weight." They both laughed.

"I see your point...by the way speaking of weight, Deanna seemed awfully concerned that her dress wouldn't fit, didn't she?"

"Deanna looked great, when I was that far along with Wesley, I was huge. She was barely showing."

"I wonder what I'll look like at four months." Alyssa said, stars in her eyes.

"It's different for everyone though."

"Yes it is. If she was that worried now, what will she be like at say...six months?"

"She'll definitely be showing then. Will seems almost anxious for her to start wearing maternity clothes. He's so funny." Beverly recalled, remembering the mock complaints that Deanna had
given her before the wedding.

"I think he's so sweet. It's amazing how he's changed."

"Maybe we just didn't know the real Will Riker."

"Perhaps you're right, but I've never seen him this happy before."

"Actually they both seemed really happy. They're going to be wonderful parents."

"Yes I think so too."

"I can't wait for them to get back."

"Deanna said that they would be spending at least three weeks on Betazed…" Beverly said, once again sipping from her glass.

"That long??? Think Commander Riker can handle her mother that long?"

"…and I think she was happy that her mother would be on Rigel III for at least two of those weeks."

They both laughed. "He must have been thrilled!" Alyssa exclaimed

"Yes, he certainly was."

"They certainly picked the perfect time for a honeymoon, is it nice this time of year on Betazed?" Alyssa wondered aloud.

"Deanna says it's absolutely fabulous, which is good because she mentioned something about the outdoors, I'm sure she wasn't talking about hiking, but she did mention something about a jungle."

"A jungle? How strange."

"Yes, I think that's what she said, she couldn't stop giggling so I'm not sure."

"Deanna doesn't giggle....does she?"

Beverly shrugged. "She has been lately. Maybe it's because of the baby... or Will…or both."

"Maybe that's it. Ooh, don't turn around but the captain just walked in. Damn he looks good in dress whites!

"Mmmmhmmm..." Beverly said, bringing an image of a formally dressed Jean-Luc Picard to her mind, savoring the mental image and adding detail as Alyssa continued speaking.

"His collar is open and he's looking this way."

"Alyssa, stop drooling."

"I'm sorry."

"Then again, there's nothing wrong with looking, Alyssa."

"No of course not but there's nothing wrong with acting, either." She tilted her glass forward for a toast. "Here's to acting."

"Here's to acting," Beverly echoed, turning around to watch the captain walk further into the lounge. "And if you'll excuse me, I'm off to do some acting of my own."

"By all means." Ogawa said as the CMO stood and made her way over to Captain Picard. "Ah, love… how strange and unpredictable." She mused, picking at the leftover cake on her plate.


6 months later…

"Imzadi, this is ridiculous. I can't even remember the last time I saw my feet." Both of Deanna's hands were on her back, trying to support the weight of her enormously pregnant belly. The baby was three days late, and Deanna was becoming not only anxious, but increasingly cranky as well.

"Trust me, Dee, they're still there."

"Swollen to the size of the ship I'm sure."

"Hardly." Will laughed, guiding Deanna to their bed and helping her lay down. He placed her feet in his lap and began rubbing them gently as his wife closed her eyes and attempted to get comfortable. It was impossible.

"Ohh." Will instantly straightened.

"What? Is it time?" They had both been on edge for the past week, Will especially.

"No, your son is too busy playing soccer with my kidneys to go anywhere." She opened her eyes and smiled slightly.

"Ah… you mean she's practicing ballet again." He corrected, resuming his massage of her feet. They had mutually decided to find out the sex of the baby until it arrived and Beverly was guarding the secret under lock and key.

"Trust me, Commander this is definitely not ballet. There is nothing graceful … ooh… about this." She placed her hand on her abdomen and rubbed at a spot on the left side.

"Try to relax." He said, lowering the light beside their bed. It was 2200 hours and they had just returned from sickbay after another false alarm.

"I know. I'm trying." She closed her eyes again and tried to find her center. It was disconcerting because right now her center seemed to be focused on the ever active bulge of her stomach. And it was certainly active tonight.

"You know, I swear that I can actually see him kicking, and I can most certainly feel it." The baby had dropped into position over a week ago, and Beverly had said that it could either be today or two weeks from now before she gave birth. It was hard to pinpoint a due date because they weren't sure quite how much an adjustment in gestation there would be for a baby that was ¾ human ¼ Betazoid, who was being carried by a half Betazoid, half human mother. Deanna couldn't care less about the logistics, she was just anxious for the baby to arrive and she knew that Will felt the same way.

"These aren't those wild pregnancy caused hallucinations again are they, Imzadi?" Will teased, stroking her stomach soothingly, and trying to calm their baby so that Deanna could get some rest.

"Be happy that I'm not sending you in search of… Rigellian chocolate, pretzels and oskoids."

She said, smiling in remembrance of her favorite late night snack for the past two months.

"Oh believe me, I am. But seriously, are you hungry Deanna? Can I get you something?"

"No thanks. I think this is the first time I haven't been hungry in days."

"Okay." Will yawned then stretched his arms in the air before replacing one hand on his wife's belly as she turned to her left side, curving her body to conform to his as much as possible. It was very difficult to do, but somehow she managed.

"Let's just try to get some sleep all right?"

"Easy for you to say, Commander. You haven't swallowed a watermelon."

"Yeah well neither have you Deanna, besides you don't have to be on the Bridge in six hours."

"Whose fault is that? If I was on duty at least I'd be able to do something useful, instead of just sitting around looking at the chronometer."

"Deanna, we have been over this dozens of times. Your due date has come and gone; there's no way you can be on active duty in this condition."

"I know, but there is still no reason why I can't still be seeing patients. Honestly Will, what's wrong with sitting on a couch and helping crew members deal with their problems?"

"Nothing at all. And you are very, very good at what you do, but Beverly told you last week that you should be taking it easy, not counseling half the ship."

"Will. I feel like I've spent the last seven months doing just that. First there was that ridiculous week of bed rest and now this… I feel like I'm being restricted to my quarters again. She might as well have thrown me in the brig till I give birth." Her voice was woeful.

"Deanna, it's not that bad. There's absolutely nothing wrong with being cautious after what happened. Besides you haven't wanted to go anywhere for the past few weeks."

"Well can you blame me? Why would I want to go anywhere looking like this." She stretched her arms wide.

"Imzadi… I have never seen you look more beautiful, as you do now. Nor have I loved you any more." His eyes were loving and filled with sincerity.

"That's because there has never been so much of me before." She sniffled, trying to keep her emotions even and failing miserably. Will moved closer and drew her into his arms, resting a hand on her back as their baby kicked vigorously between them. It didn't take his wife too long
to fall into a deep, exhausted sleep.

As soon as Will felt the change in Deanna's breathing, he carefully disengaged himself from her embrace, went into the adjoining room and began to initiate a subspace communication. He
knew exactly what Deanna needed in order to feel better.

By 1400 hours the next day, Deanna was in the place she had been frequenting the most lately…Sickbay. In between appointments with Beverly and false alarms, she was spending almost half of every day there. This time was different though. She and Beverly were having a late lunch.

"Have you and Will given any thoughts to names for the baby yet? You're cutting it kind of close, Deanna."

"We've been talking about it. Will seems pretty sure that the baby is a girl, but I'm thinking boy."

"Well, even though I know, I'm not telling yet, Mama. You shouldn't have to wait too long to find out."

"Thank Gods for that, this waiting is driving me crazy." As if agreeing with her, Deanna was struck by a fierce kick, which almost caused her to double over in her chair.

"See, I'm not the only impatient one around here." She said, after catching her breath.

<<Riker to Troi. Deanna are you finished in Sickbay?>>

"And speaking of impatient…" She muttered under her breath, eliciting a brief smile from Beverly. <<Yes, Will. I am.>>

<<Good. Can you meet me on Deck 4.?>>

<<Of course. I'll be there shortly. Troi out.>>

"I wonder what that was about." Beverly said, rising from her chair.

"I have no idea, but it sounded urgent. Only… I don't think I'll be able to find out unless… Beverly can you help me get up from this chair, please?"

"Of course." Laughing she lent a hand, then another, helping to hoist Deanna from the chair, her eyes sparkling, hearing Troi grumble expletives in two languages. Finally with a quick embrace, Deanna left Sickbay and went to meet her husband.

As Deanna left the turbolift on Deck 4 she was surprised that Will was nowhere in sight. But then he rounded the corner of the corridor and approached her, striding towards her with a wide smile on his face.

"What are you so happy about, Imzadi?" Deanna asked, accepting the hand he held out to her. Will squeezed her fingers and chuckled.

"You'll see." Deanna didn't need to use her empathy to realize that her husband was excited about something, which was very good because she was unable to sense any emotions other than the baby's at this point in her pregnancy.

She couldn't figure out what it was though, although her mind was churning with possibilities. Nothing could have prepared her for Will leading her into the transporter room.

"Will, what are we doing here?"

"Shh." Will silenced her and nodded to the transporter chief.

"Energize." At Riker's command the transporter beam took effect and moments later the tall, lounging figure of Dr. Jakob Thornton could be seen on the platform. He was wearing all black as usual and a bemused smile and Deanna just stared at him in disbelief; she hadn't seen him since he left the Enterprise and she'd barely heard from him since the wedding, which he'd skipped due to an ion storm that kept him stranded on Bolias and unable to attend.

Nodding at Will, he stepped down from the platform and placed his lone bag beside him. Then he walked over to where they were standing, shook Riker's hand and turned towards Deanna. He looked her up and down, his smile turning into a grin as he realized that she still hadn't moved, nor had she made a sound. She just stood there gaping at him, open mouthed.

"Hey, Déesse, there's something different about you. Did you change your hair from the last time I saw you? I know something's changed but I just can't put my finger on it…" He rubbed his chin thoughtfully, completely taken off guard when Deanna launched herself at him, almost toppling both to the ground. "Miss me did you?" She mock-punched him and he ducked accordingly. "I guess not. See Will, I told you I shouldn't be here." He turned away as if to step back onto the platform and Deanna caught his elbow, tugging him back down the step.

"Don't you dare." She enfolded him in a hug, looking over his shoulder at her husband.

"Will? You knew about this?" Will just grinned back at her in silent acquiescence.

"Know about it? He planned the whole thing. Practically ordered me to get here ASAP. Your Commander can be a very forceful man, Déesse."

"What have you been up to the past few months, I haven't really heard from you."

Jake stepped back and held her at arm's length. "C'mon let's get out of here, I'll tell you all about it. You look good Déesse, real good." He reached down and picked up the battered duffle bag with one hand, hefting it over his shoulder as he walked out of the transporter room with Deanna on his arm. Will walked slightly behind them, glad to have pulled off the surprise and be able to distract Deanna for a while.

They headed towards the turbolift making idle chatter as they went to the Riker's newly renovated quarters. Subtle changes in the bulkheads had connected the two senior quarters to form a suite with an office and a fully decorated nursery, decorated to the hilt and filled with stuffed animals.

Jake looked around him, smiling. He reached into his bag and handed a purple stuffed hippopotamus to Deanna.

"This one's for you. I have another one for the baby." She swatted it at him playfully.

"Thanks." He followed her back into the living room where Will was replicating some food.

"No problem." Will walked back over to them and set a platter of crackers, cheese and fruit on the table. Then he helped his wife settle into the couch. It was no an easy feat, but they had gotten into a steady routine.

Jake just laughed as she sunk into the cushions of the couch. She wagged a finger at him as he sat in the chair opposite the couch.

"Don't say it. Don't you dare. I know what you're thinking, Thorny."

"I thought you weren't a telepath, so cut out the mind-reading Déesse."

"You see what I mean." Will leaned forward and put his hands on his thighs as he lowered his voice conspiratorially.

"Oh absolutely." Jake said, his smile as wide as Riker's as he looked at the expression of indignation on Deanna's face.

"What? What are you talking about?" Deanna asked, not wanting to be left out. Will sat back again, and draped his arm around her shoulder.

"Nothing. Don't worry about it."

"That's right, Déesse. Will was just… remarking to me about your change in behavior lately that's all."

"Oh. So you've been complaining to Jake." Deanna did something then that she rarely did. She pouted. Will was immediately contrite but Jake started laughing.

"That pout stopped working on me when I was ten, Deanna. I guess Will's taking a lot longer to develop immunity to it though."

"No. I was not complaining, I was just… informing Jake that you have been a bit… anxious the past few weeks, that's all." He looked pleadingly at Jake, who just shook his head and raised his hands, palms up, as if warding off Deanna's growing ire.

"Exactly, that's all it was, I swear."

"You two are horrible liars. But I forgive you." She smiled sweetly, leaning against Will's shoulder as she closed her eyes.

"Are you tired?" Will asked, knowing that she usually napped around this time.

"No. Well, maybe just a little. It's okay." She opened her eyes again and rubbed her stomach as the baby delivered a fierce kick to her left side."Yes, Little One I know you're in there. Believe me, I know. Oww! This is getting ridiculous."

"Little One? Fifteen years from now your kid is going to resent that, Dee…" He stopped his teasing when she gestured him closer. He stood up and sat next to Deanna on the other side of the couch. She silently guided his hand to her stomach and no more than ten seconds later, the baby obligingly kicked.

Jake's eyes widened considerably. "Oh wow… Jamie sure as hell never kicked like that. That's no Little One… "

Will laughed and squeezed Deanna's free hand. "The first time I felt that I nearly jumped out of my skin.

Deanna nodded in agreement. "Actually it was more like he came close to hitting the bulkhead." All three of them laughed.

Suddenly Deanna sat up straight. "Oh…" She placed one hand behind her back.

"Was that a fierce one?" Will asked, figuring that the baby was just joining in on their laughter.

"No… I don't think so." She said slowly, as she felt a tightening deep in her stomach. She didn't want to head to Sickbay on another false alarm so she changed the subject, waiting to see if this really was the real thing.

"So, Jake what have you been up to lately? I haven't heard from you much during the past few months."

Will looked at her strangely for a second and Deanna released his hand then relaxed again.

"There isn't that much to tell. The 'haunting' of Corrail VII took longer than expected. Turns out that many of the paranormal disturbances in the sun's orbits were due to a shifting gravitational field due to a change in the electromagnetism of the sun." He shook his head. "Absolutely ridiculous."

"Weren't the planet's sensors able to detect the change in the field?" Will asked. He had heard about the problems on Corrail and had been interested to see how it was resolved.

"No. It turned out that the sensors were the problem. The shifting fields had altered the data being received by the sensors. We were receiving information from three days earlier which threw all current information completely off base."

"How did you come to discover the discrepancy?" Will's earlier thoughts regarding Deanna's behavior were forgotten as he was caught up in the discussion, his eyes snapping with intensity.

"Actually, it was quite simple. There was a slight earthquake near one of the planets many fault lines, and when a crew of surveyors went to check the damage, they noted the differentials within the data. If that hadn't happened, we might still be trying to figure out was causing these problems."

The two men were so drawn into their deepening conversation that neither noticed that Deanna was still sitting in nearly the same position she had been in for the past two hours. And she had barely contributed a word, not wanting to draw attention to herself, and further spark Will's concern. Her arm was braced beneath her back, her knuckles white and she bit into her lower lip to stifle an occasional gasp. She'd been sitting silently, counting the minutes between the pains.

They were about thirty minutes apart so she wasn't planning on saying anything just yet. She knew that this could go on for many more hours and there was no reason to alarm Will at this
point. Finding her center and controlling her breathing, Deanna once again joined the conversation.

"I'm sure that's been keeping you busy, but Thorny, weren't you the one who said you have to play twice as hard as you work?" She put on a cheerful smile, inwardly gasping as another pain hit her in the abdomen… eighteen minutes now…

"Of course. There's always time for that. I've been thinking about taking an extended vacation for a while, And Marielle has relented a bit so next month I'll be taking Jamie home with me for a few weeks before he has to be back on Earth for school."

Your parents will be thrilled. They're always saying that you rarely have time to visit and they never get to spoil their grandson enough."

"Yeah, just my luck. Now I'll have both my parents and your mother trying to marry me off again."

"Hah, now it's your turn to deal with it." She turned towards Will. "That's exactly what I had to deal with every single time I've gone back to Betazed." She cringed slightly, eliciting a questioning glance from her husband. Sixteen minutes…

"Well, at least she can't keep asking us when we are going to make her a grandmother." Will smiled at his wife and Deanna smiled hesitantly in response. She wasn't sure if she should say anything yet and broke her gaze from Will's searching eyes. She placed her hand on his shoulder, and attempted to stand. Jake was on his feet in an instant, as was Will.

~~~Imzadi, are you all right?~~~

~~~Just fine. Don't feel like sitting for so long, that's all. ~~~

By this time, Jake was looking at her somewhat oddly as well, and Deanna quickly erected mental shields. She knew that she could never hide anything from him, or from Will and it was best not to alarm them, at least until she was sure. She walked over to the replicator and ordered a glass of chocolate milk.

"So, I've gotten you hooked on that stuff, huh Déesse."

"Hooked is an understatement; she drinks that with everything." Will winced slightly, remembering the nights filled with chocolate milk and Centaurian olives.

"Not everything." Deanna admonished. "It doesn't go well with Yamok sauce." At that statement both men cringed. Just the thought was enough to make them both slightly ill. Deanna just walked around the perimeter of the room, the smile on her face covering the introverted
expression in her eyes. The tightening continued, varying in intensity, but still bearable. It appeared to be holding steady at thirteen minutes. When it reached ten she resolved that she would tell Will.

Finishing the glass of milk, she walked carefully to the recycler, one hand behind her; trying to support her back. She hated that she could no longer see her feet, and hadn't been able to for almost two weeks. She thought she was waddling now, instead of walking.

~~~Relax, you don't look like a duck.~~~ Deanna looked up, startled. Her shields must have slipped; either that or Jake's ability to sense her thoughts had grown over the past few months. She quickly raised them again, smiling anxiously at Jake.

"So, wonder boy, are you sure you want to take on both your parents and my mother at the same time? It can be a harrowing experience, believe me."

"Oh I think I can handle it. You certainly did." He glanced from Deanna to Will, a wide, mischievous smile on his face and lighting up his bright green eyes. "Of course, you did
eventually cave, you know."

"Cave! Why you…" Deanna looked at him in outrage as Will chuckled in agreement. "Oh Gods not both of you…" She trailed off as she felt a strong squeeze deep inside. She leaned back against the recycler and Will quickly walked to her side and began to lead her back to the couch. Deanna shook her head.

"No, I don't want to sit." Her voice rose slightly and he backed away.


She quickly adjusted her tone."I'd rather walk around."

Jake just sat there watching the two of them interact. It was fascinating how she calmed at his approach but Deanna's behavior still appeared somewhat erratic.

Will went back to the couch and continued to keep an eye on his wife.

"Are you sure you're all right?" He asked again minutes later.

~~~Yes!~~~ She exclaimed then closed her eyes and clenched her fists at her sides. By the time she reopened them again and laid a hand on her stomach, Will was beside her once again.

"Deanna, how long?" His voice was firm as he sat her in a chair then knelt next to it. Jake quickly stood and handed her a glass of water.

"I didn't want to say anything; this is going to take awhile."

"Déesse, this isn't something to keep to yourself."

"You've been saying that a lot lately, you know that?" She scowled at him for interfering but secretly she was glad that he was there.

"And I've been right a lot lately." He shot back, dragging the other chair closer to where Deanna was and plopping himself down in it.

"How long?" Will asked again patiently, ignoring the squabbling.

"Umm… about…eight minutes." She noticed the tensing of his shoulders and rested her hand on his thigh as he continued to look up at her from his position on the floor.

"Eight minutes!"

"Will, please, the last thing I want to do is rush back down to Sickbay again, only to come home again in an hour or two. We've already been through that twice."

"Yeah, well they say the third time's a charm." Jake replied dryly, surprised that Deanna was remaining rational.

"Fine, we'll stay here and contact Beverly, let's see what she says."

Deanna exhaled at the end of the contraction. "Okay."

Jake looked towards them. "Is there anything I can do?"

"Yes… Contact Mother."

"Maybe I shouldn't have volunteered…" At Deanna's sharp glance he quickly changed his tune. "As you wish." Jake dragged himself to his feet and went into the next room, grumbling about the task at hand while Will laughed and flashed his famous grin.


"Yes, Dee?"

"This is the real thing. I'm sure of it." She took his hand in hers. Her fingers were ice cold as they clenched his during another contraction.

"Oh boy…"

She smiled weakly. "So you finally agree with me."


"That he's a boy."

"Very funny, Dee. She's a girl. I can feel it in my bones."

"Oh… Not in my mine…" She placed a hand on her stomach.

"Do you know?"

"What the baby is?"


"No, but something tells me we won't have to wait that long to find out." Her free hand tousled his hair.

"Okay, we can handle this." Will said, with more confidence than he felt. "Relax, Imzadi. Take a deep breath, inhale. Good. Now let it out slowly, and exhale. Slow and easy, that's it, nice and slow." Will was still crouched in his position on the floor. He began rubbing small circles on her belly, breathing with her, their eyes focused on each other.

"Okay,… now what?" Deanna asked, all thoughts of the breathing exercises flying out of her head as the next pain struck, much quickly than the others.

"That feels better." She said, as his hand resumed rubbing her stomach.

"Shh… concentrate."


"What?" His eyes burned into hers, anxious to do anything he could to make her more comfortable.

"I think it's time… to call Beverly.

"What? Oh, okay." He tapped his comm. badge. "Riker to Crusher."

<<Crusher here.>>

"Beverly, we're in labor!"

<<You're certain this time?>>

"Yes, the contractions are… six minutes apart." He turned to Deanna who was breathing through another.

"Make that four." Deanna said, through clenched teeth.

"About four minutes apart now."

"Oh Gods…" Deanna tightened her grip on Will's hand.

<<Has her water broken?>>

"Not yet." Just then Deanna shook her head.

"Oops… Yes!"

<<Just now, Doc.>>

"I'm all wet." She groaned. "Will, help me…"

<<Acknowledged. I'll meet you in Sickbay. Will get her down there... now.>> As the comm line ended, Jake came walking back into the room shaking his head.

"Déesse, your mother is…"

"Hmm… Oww…" Jake looked up and saw Will attempting to lift his wife out of
the chair.

"I can't move, it hurts… wait." Jake quickly joined Will and together they brought Deanna to her feet. The contraction finished and Will and Deanna each took a deep, cleansing breath. "I can't go to sickbay like this, my clothes are soaked."

"Deanna, nobody cares about your clothes," he stated patiently. She glared back at him.

"You would say that, you used to push me in the pool all the time."

"Yup I did, but you gave as good as you got, Déesse."

Deanna smiled slightly, gritting her teeth against the pain. "You're damn right I did."

"Okay, let's settle this, we'll transport to Sickbay. "Riker to Transporter Room. Three to beam directly to Sickbay."

When they materialized in Sickbay Beverly Crusher was waiting for them, tapping her foot and checking her chrono.

"Hi, Beverly." Deanna said, tiredly.

"Hey, we're having a baby."

"Hello, yourself. Nothing like waiting to the last minute, eh Counselor." She wagged her finger. "And yes, Commander I can see that." Then she noticed Jake on Deanna's other side. "Hello Doctor, are you here to observe?"

"Sorry, I didn't want to face another false alarm… no he… isn't!" Her knees beginning to buckle, Will and Jake quickly held her on her feet.

"It's okay, Dee, focus." Will said, turning her face towards his.

"You try focusing during this." Her hand was clenching his shirt.

"Deanna, I know it hurts, but try and breathe through it."

"Doctor, is there anything I can do?" Jake asked, looking ill at ease and completely out of place.

"Yes, try not to look so green."

"C'mon, Deanna look right here… breathe, good, slow down. Pant if you need to." Her eyes once again focused on her husband's, trying to do as he said. It wasn't as hard as she thought; his eyes were burning with intensity, riveting.

~~~You're doing great, Imzadi.~~~

~~~Thank you.~~~

"Okay, let's get you undressed and into a biobed. Unless you want to walk some more."


"Okay, gentlemen if you will give us a few minutes, I'll get her settled, I suspect that we don't have much time. Okay, Deanna?"

"Uhuh…" Beverly took Deanna's elbow and walked her into the labor room, leaving the two men behind looking helpless.

"Nothing like waiting till the last minute, Déesse." Jake's voice rang out in the otherwise quiet of Sickbay.

"SHUT UP, THORNY!" echoed from behind the door, followed by Beverly's laughter.

"She's not herself, forgive her." Will said, trying to make up for Deanna's comment.

"Are you kidding me? She's always been this argumentative." Will laughed and slapped him on the back.

"Did you reach Lwaxana?"

"Yes, she's on the next transport and will meet you by tomorrow afternoon. Good luck."

In the next room, Beverly helped Deanna change into a medical gown, coaching her through a nasty contraction.

"I swear that man is going to drive me crazy." She said, meaning Jake. She grit her teeth again, trying not to cry out.

"It's okay if you need to scream, Deanna." She helped Deanna get into the bed. Beverly felt a wild exhilaration, her best friend's first child… her reverie was shattered by Deanna's voice.

"Good. WILL!!!" Will jumped and all but ran to the door of the labor room.

"What? Deanna, are you all right?"

"Don't leave again, please."

"Okay, I'm here for the duration, I promise." He said, holding her hand in his again.

"Good." she said, squeezing hard.

"These things hurt now don't they." He said, trying to lighten her mood.

"Very astute of you to notice, Commander." He leaned over and kissed her lightly.

"Oh no, sarcastic tonight, huh?"

Beverly's voice chimed in. "Well, Mama you're a little over seven centimeters dilated. Only two and a half to go. And Will don't be alarmed she's bleeding...but that's normal for this stage."

"Okay." Deanna was rocked with another intense pain, and Will was there to coach her through it.

"Damn it, Thorny are you recording this for posterity or something? What the hell are you doing out there, writing a novel?"

Jake's voice could be heard from outside the room. "You talking to me, Déesse? Such nasty language. Actually this doesn't pass for an anomaly... or maybe it does."

"Yeah, well…never mind, stay out there. Oohhhh Gods…Wiillll!."

"I'm right here."

"I know, can you stop squeezing my hand so hard please."

"You're squeezing MINE, Dee."

"Oh…" Will smoothed back her hair and gathered it in a band. Then he wiped her face down with a cool cloth. "I'm thirsty."

"Okay, we have ice chips and a sour apple lollipop, which will it be?"

"What? No chocolate?"


"Okay, ice then."

Beverly shook her head. "Deanna, you are too much." She scanned her again. "Everything's fine. I'll be right in the next room, call me feel the need to push okay."


"Will, you need to change into scrubs."

"No! You said you wouldn't leave."

"I won't be gone for more than a minute, and I'll send Jake in to sit with you, okay?"

"Okay. Oh… another, hurry…"

"Jake, get in here!" He sauntered through the doors, brushing past Will on his way in; saluting to the Commander with a silly smile on his face.

"Hey Déesse, what can I do for you?"

"Oh, Gods, I don't know if I can do this."

"Really. You always told me that you could do anything."

"Yeah well, I was wrong!"

"No I don't think so." He walked beside her, and held onto her hand. "You seem to be doing a good job so far."

"How would you know?"

"Actually I don't. When Marielle was in labor she chased me out of the room. I'm just making this up as I go along."

"Oh Gods…"

Will came back into the room and grabbed a hold of her other hand.

"Will, I think I need to push now!" She panted, gasping with pain on each exhale.

"Call Beverly. Now!"

"I'm right here." She came into the room in a sterilized gown, running the tricorder over Deanna again. "Let's see… Yes, ten centimeters. Okay Mama, push."

"Okay, Dee our baby is coming, one more, just like that."


"Good Deanna. One more. The head is almost out."

"You… already said that."

"Well, I'm saying it again."

"It's okay Dee, let it go." Will rubbed her shoulders soothingly.

"I don't think I can… I'm so tired."

"Don't give me that. You know you can." Jake said, as Deanna attempted to close her eyes.

"Stop… antagonizing me." She felt the urge to push again and went with it, panting and gasping harshly.

"Okay, okay."

Just then, the baby's head emerged fully and Beverly caught it by the shoulders as the rest of the body slid out. The silence in the room was broken by a very loud cry, and Deanna began sobbing.

"Congratulations, it's a boy."

"I… told you." Deanna said, looking triumphant.

"Yes, that you did." Beverly quickly handed him to Nurse Ogawa. "Come on, Deanna you need to push out the placenta. One more strong one okay, then you can rest."

"Okay." She did as Crusher asked and lay back, exhausted.

Alyssa turned back to Deanna. She had cleaned him up and placed the baby in Deanna's arms.

She and Will looked at him in amazement and Jake stood by in wonder at the scene before him."I told you that you could do anything." He said softly, before slipping out of the room to allow the new parents some privacy. Beverly and Alyssa quickly followed.

"He's so beautiful." Will marveled, running his finger down the baby's nose.

"He looks just like you."

"No he doesn't. He has your hands." The baby started crying in his mother's arms, and Deanna sat up with help from Will and began her first attempt with nursing. "And he certainly has your temper… and your appetite." she said just for his ears. Will laughed and bent over to kiss his wife and newborn son.

"I love you, Imzadi."

"I love you too."
The baby pulled away from Deanna's breast and yawned, quickly falling back to sleep.

"I guess we're boring him." Will said, lowering his voice.

"Yes, he's had a tough day you know." She shifted her arms and handed Will the wrapped bundle; the baby's face just barely visible. Will sat in the chair by the bed as his wife drifted off to sleep.

He was certainly a lucky man, all the proof he needed to convince him of that was in the room before him. And as he sat there, he knew that he'd never curse a hangover ever again.

The End.