Title: Reunited
Author: Jrgnfly
R/T Rating: Mostly PG-13 (some NC-17)
Timeline: Post Nemesis
Disclaimer: They're not mine but that doesn't stop me.

Chapter One

"Captain, you have a secured communication coming in from Starfleet Command." First Officer Christine Vale's voice piped into the Captain's ready room, interrupting Will Riker's perusal of the upcoming mission specifications. The Titan was in the midst of a survey of the Orion arm and Riker could use a break. Of course a secure communication from Starfleet Command usually heralded bad news more often than not.

"Put it through, Christine." Riker lifted the small viewscreen on his desk and flicked it on. Admiral Kathryn Janeway's face quickly appeared.

"Hello, Captain." Janeway looked exhausted and stern. Starfleet Command had their hands full these days and it seemed that everyone was feeling the strain.

"Admiral." Riker inclined his head in acknowledgment, already guessing that this was not a social call.

Not one to mince words, Janeway quickly got to the point.

"I'll make this brief, Will. After months of delay and backpedaling, the Romulan Praetor has finally agreed to a sit down round table between the High Council of the Star Empire, and the Vulcan High Command along with Federation delegates to discuss the possibility of reunification. Five of our people, including the Vulcans and five of theirs were the final number agreed upon a few hours ago."

"It took seven months just to negotiate a sit down? The Romulans certainly like to take their time." Riker leaned back in his chair and stroked his beard thoughtfully.

"Exactly. Since it has taken them this long just to agree to meeting terms, we're going to push this through before they can come up with any more stalling tactics. The meetings will begin two days from now at Starbase 371 on the border of the Romulan side of the Neutral Zone. We've agreed to their location request in order to proceed swiftly." A note of triumph crept into Janeway's voice and a small smile appeared. "The Federation plans to capitalize on as much of the Romulans' currently agreeable manner as it can."

Riker tented his fingers under his chin and leaned forward. There was nothing the Federation wanted more right now than to put an end to centuries of Romulan strife and he would do whatever he could to assist in the process of reunification between Romulus and Vulcan. He had personally been waiting for progress for months now, as had Janeway and most everyone at Starfleet Command.

"That's certainly good news then, Admiral. What do you need that Titan can assist with?"

Janeway lost her smile and became serious once more. "Starfleet needs its secret weapon, Will."


Counselor Deanna Troi closed her computer screen with a decisive click, leaned back in her chair, closed her eyes and rubbed her temples, trying hard to halt the throbbing in her head. She took two deep breaths, centering herself as she did so. She'd been seeing patients for three hours following an eight hour duty shift. Finally finished inputting session notes, it was time to go home, more than fourteen hours after leaving this morning.

As late as it was, Deanna was not at all hungry. Maybe she'd have a late dinner with Will in a few hours, but for now she just wanted to curl up with a mug of hot chocolate and close her eyes for a while.

"Riker to Troi. Deanna, please meet me in the Ready Room."

Will's tone left no doubt that this was to be a work related visit. She tapped her communicator and responded. "Acknowledged. I'll be right there, Captain." Then she opened her eyes and exhaled a deep breath as she stood. Leaving her office and heading for the turbolift, Troi realized that her day was not quite over yet.

Chapter Two

Will rubbed his hands over his face and allowed Deanna's entrance as the door chimed. Then he looked up at his wife of eight months. She was lovely as always, but already looked weary. Now he had to add yet another burden onto those slim shoulders that often seemed to be propping up an entire ship.

Deanna waited for Will to speak, content to simply look at him while waiting for him to gather his thoughts. She could sense from his earlier tone and see from his demeanor that she had indeed been summoned in an official capacity, rather than because he wanted to see her for a few moments at the end of her day. He didn't look too happy right now either.

Riker picked up a PADD from the stack on his desk and handed it to her as she settled into the chair opposite him. "These are your new orders. You've been temporarily reassigned as a member of the delegation at Starbase 371, assisting with the reunification discussions beginning a few days from now."

Surprise evident on her face, Deanna looked down at the PADD in her hands as her husband continued.

"The higher ups at Starfleet Command personally requested you. Admiral Janeway feels that it will be extremely helpful to have a former member of the Tal Shiar on our side of the negotiation table." A bitter note crept into his voice. "A transport will be arriving at 0900 to escort you and the other delegates to the edge of the Neutral Zone."

Troi didn't have to be an empath to sense Riker's discomfort with her new assignment. She skimmed the report in her hand then looked up into Riker's eyes, deep blue with concern.

"That doesn't give me much time to prepare." She gently brushed his mind, balancing his unease with a sense of calm that she barely felt. It didn't help much.

"I know." He ran his hands through his hair. "Nor did Janeway say how long these meetings are scheduled to last." He stood and crossed to the other side of the desk. Taking the PADD out of her hands, he set it aside then clasped her fingers with his own, tugging her out of her chair.

"Other than Donatra, I don't trust the other four members of the Romulan delegation farther than I can throw them, Deanna. I especially don't like how these meetings are being held so close to Romulus. It puts the fleet at a distinct disadvantage because the delegation will be the only members of the Federation allowed on that side of the Neutral Zone."

Sensing the tension in him, Deanna twined her arms around his waist, trying to alleviate his worries through physical touch. Then she spoke. "The Romulans have vented their hostility towards Vulcan for a long time, Will. Their willingness to sit down and talk bodes well for the future on its own. This certainly won't be easy, but it's a step in the right direction."

Will lowered his chin to the top of her head for a moment, relishing the warmth of her embrace before he let her go; the mask of captaincy slipping back over the visage of a concerned husband. Then he smiled wryly. They tried very hard to keep things in the ready room on a professional rather than personal level.

"Have fun packing." Will's attempt at humor brought a small smile to Deanna's face.

"Thanks." With a brief look back at him, Deanna exited the ready room. She headed for the turbolift, shaking her head slightly at Commander Vale's inquisitive look in her direction. She'd let Will explain this latest mission to his first officer. Christine would be able to find coverage for the Bridge duty shifts she'd be missing later. Right now Deanna had sessions to delegate to the other Counselors aboard, mission notes to review and, yes, some packing to do before her transport arrived in the morning.

Two hours later

Will entered their darkened quarters and nearly tripped over Deanna's bag near the door. It instantly reminded him that she'd be leaving in the morning. Although she loved her position as Diplomatic Officer, lately it seemed to Will that she spent more time off ship than she did aboard. While posted to the Enterprise as First Officer, he more often than not led the away teams but now he spent the majority of his time in the Captain's chair on Titan while his wife was constantly away from his side. Over the past few months Will had gained insight into how Deanna must have felt each time he left the Enterprise while she stayed behind. Concern for her safety and anxiety were his constant companions each time she left on an away team though he tried to suppress these feelings whenever possible. He knew his feelings were healthy and normal but that didn't make having them any easier. Both he and Deanna had known that serving together while married wasn't going to be easy, and eight months in they were still trying to establish a balance between their careers and their personal lives. Now that too had to be put on hold due to her new mission.

Walking softly into the bedroom Will could see that Deanna was already deeply asleep. He had hoped to spend some time with her outside the ready room but it seemed that he had missed his opportunity tonight. It had taken longer than he had thought to brief Commander Vale on the upcoming reunification proceedings and convey the specifications of Titan's new survey mission. Duty had once again taken precedence over his marriage. Riker shook his head and headed for a brief sonic shower, then padded over to the bed. He pulled back the comforter and slid his large body into the bed next to his sleeping wife.

Deanna instinctively curled into his chest, her body conforming to his. Will gently kissed her on the forehead then lay there in the dark, listening to her breathe. He'd be sure to wake up early in the morning so they'd have time to talk over breakfast before the transport arrived. Will nodded off to sleep, contemplating surprising Deanna with her favorite chocolate chip pancakes before she left the ship.

Chapter Three

0600 hours

Will slowly opened his eyes and glanced briefly at the chronometer on the night table. Three short hours was all the time they had before Deanna's transport arrived to take her to the starbase. Right now she was still sleeping beside him, the back of her head resting on his chest. Waking beside her each morning filled him with deep joy and was one of the things he missed most whenever she was off ship. He hesitated to wake her, knowing that she needed as much rest as she could possibly get prior to the mission. Peace negotiations were rarely easy to begin with and throwing Romulans into the mix with their centuries old hostilities towards the Federation and Vulcan in particular would possibly make these negotiations the most difficult in Federation history. Considering the amount of time it took just to get them to agree to sit down to discuss the possibility of reunification, Will felt in his gut that these meetings would be lengthy and difficult, providing of course that the Romulan High Council didn't walk away from the table as soon as they sat down.

Will took a deep cleansing breath and exhaled. He knew that even in sleep Deanna could still sense his emotions so he let all thoughts of the mission drop from his thoughts. But he was too late. Part of Deanna's subconscious mind sensed his wakeful state, if not the context of his thoughts and she curved her satin-clad bottom into his groin, igniting instant arousal. Will sucked in his breath sharply as Deanna sleepily opened her eyes and stretched, rubbing her body more fully against him.

Hearing her laughter in his head, Will grinned. He could play this game as well as she could.

<Good morning, Imzadi> he sent, accompanied by endless erotic flashes of just how good a morning it was about to become.

Deanna smiled and twisted to face him, purposefully brushing as much of her body as she could against his as she turned in his arms. She let her legs fall between his and enjoyed Will's intake of breath as the cool satin of her nightgown slid over his heated skin.

<Morning> she responded, her hand reaching out to caress his bearded cheek. She leaned in to kiss him, not wanting to face the inevitable day before them.

The moment their lips met all thoughts of games ceased. Their bond flared to life and coherent thought fled as Deanna sipped from Will's lips. He was instantly ensnared, craving the feel of her skin against his, needing to be closer. His hands roved up her arms and Deanna gave herself over to the rising passion between them when his tongue slipped inside her mouth. She brought his face closer, kissing him again and again and Will halted his upward motion at her shoulders, flicking down the shoestring straps of her turquoise satin gown. Deanna delved into his mouth, her nails raking through the hair on his chest and Will yanked the nightgown to her hips, heedless of ripping the delicate fabric in his haste as she drove him beyond all reason.

At the first touch of Will's hands on her breasts Deanna broke the kiss, her head falling back against the pillows as her hands pressed flat against his back. Her heavy-lidded eyes gazed up at him; both of them breathing heavily in the subdued morning light of the bedroom. Will's eyes went ocean-dark, pupils fully dilated at he stared hungrily at his wife. Those endless eyes of hers were feverish with desire as he devoured her visually and they brightened further as his hands continued their less than gentle roaming over her breasts.

Deanna's lips were swollen from his kisses and they curved slightly upwards as she moaned softly, sending waves of pure lust across their bond to him. Will shuddered with delight and closed his eyes briefly at the gentle brush of her mind against his. She suffused every part of him and he'd never be able to get enough of her. Will pressed her further back against the pillows; loving the way her heart raced against his; her dark hair a tumbling mass streaming over her shoulders; the heightened pink flush of her cheeks, and he thrilled in the knowledge that he was the cause of it. Every touch from her delicate hands enticed and aroused him anew.

<Imzadi.> The word danced through his soul. Will nipped at the soft skin at the base of Deanna's throat and soft sounds escaped. She ached for him; her hands moving uncontrollably at his back, darting downwards to grasp at his buttocks through the thin cotton of his boxers. She wanted nothing more than to have that thick length of him inside of her and Will chuckled against her breast, feeling her impatience as he received that stray thought. His large hands dropped to her thighs, denying her… for now. With Deanna leaving this morning for who knows how long, he was damn well going to give her a memory to take with her.

"Will…" she trailed off at the fiery touch of his mouth on her breast. He grazed her nipple with the edge of his teeth; his tongue swirling over her skin. Deanna arched her back against the bed and Will inhaled deeply. That unique fragrance of her skin teased his senses and the taste of her on his tongue nearly did him in. She was more than he'd ever dreamed possible, so wonderfully responsive…

He focused completely on his wife's pleasure, distancing himself from the almost painful throbbing in his loins; exceedingly difficult to do when she gasped in his mind. He skimmed his hands down over her hips and between Deanna's thighs, teasing the damp heat of her through the gathered material of her nightgown. The warmth of his hand spread through the satin fabric like wildfire, causing a delicious friction that stole her breath; her thighs parting; her body pleading for more of her husband's touch.

Deanna whispered his name again and slid her hands between their bodies, pushing his boxers down over his hips and lower; he kicked them off and she trailed her aimless fingers through the crisp hair on his powerful legs, travelling upwards to stroke his rock hard flesh with her hands. Will hungrily kissed her again and pushed the gown further up about her hips, needing to feel her skin against his; to taste the sweetness of her on his tongue. Lowering his head, Will sent her an image of what she looked like to him as she writhed against the sheets; passion incarnate; his tongue gliding over the glistening folds of her sex.

Will loved to watch her come apart like this; a goddess in his arms. Deanna's head moved restlessly against the pillows; her eyes gleamed up at him, heavy-lidded and unfocused. Fragmented whispers of her native language brushed his mind, nonsensical; reaching across their bond to caress and stroke his ardor with her own. He could feel her all through him; completely open to him in a way he reveled in. She tightened her grasp on his erection, velvet covered steel in her hands. Will groaned and the vibration against Deanna's slickened flesh caused a whimper to escape from her throat.

"You're killing me, Dee."

His voice was hoarse as he cupped her bottom his hands, drawing her closer to his mouth. Deanna's wicked laugh broke off sharply when Will's bearded chin scraped over her clitoris. Raw need coiled deep inside of her; limbs growing heavier. Unbidden, her hips tilted forward then back again, her hands opening and closing around him in a matching rhythm. Her thumb ran up his length, circling around the drop of moisture at his tip. Feeling that he was close to the edge and not far from it herself, Deanna brought her thumb to her mouth, her tongue darting out to savor the salty taste of him on her finger and closed her eyes.

Will raised his head and licked his lips, knowing she was desperate for release. He slipped one long finger into her, then another, his heated kisses trailing a path up her abdomen and chest. Deanna trembled against him and Will drew her hardened nipple into his mouth again, tugging gently at it before pulling away again.

<Open your eyes, Imzadi.>

She couldn't move, giving in to the sensations rippling through her spirit.

"Open your eyes, Deanna," he said again, clenching his jaw. He removed his fingers from her hidden depths and moved away from her until she complied.

She cried out in frustration at the loss of his touch; with great effort her eyes slowly opened and met his gaze, almost as black as her own. She stared into his soul, utterly lost in him, and shivered from the loss of his warmth. Swiftly Will once again covered her body with his own, fusing his mouth against hers. Slowly, deliberately, he entered her, his hands under her thighs; forcing them further apart as she shuddered against him and gripped him tightly, an inch at a time.

Bodies slick with sweat they strived together to reach the pinnacle. Deanna wrapped her legs tightly against Will's waist, needing to have him as deeply inside as possible. Unable to hold back any longer, Deanna shrieked Will's name and let go; her soul completely wrapped around his; forcing him over the edge to join her in release as he thrust into her over and over.

<Imzadi> they called to each other, hands gripping tightly together as they stilled. His breathing shallow, Will rolled to his side, bringing Deanna with him. He lifted her hair away from her neck, wildly tousled now and damp with moisture. His touch soothing now as tears soaked her cheeks, Will held her still quaking body tightly against him as she calmed and his own rapid pulse began to slow. The intensity of her emotions still caught him off guard, the depth of their love rushing to the surface still new to them after so many years of suppression under the guise of friendship. It was more than they'd hoped for, even in dreams.

Long moments passed as they silently held each other. Neither wished to move right away, still caught up in the aftermath of such endless waves of powerful emotion.

"I wish you weren't leaving." He whispered against her temple, his eyes tightly closed. Deanna tucked her head under his chin and cleared her throat.

"I know. I wish I weren't going either. I have my hands full here. Or at least I did a few minutes ago." She smiled mischievously.

Will acknowledged her innuendo with a brief chuckle then tightened his arms around her, turning serious again. "It's an honor to be included, you know. There are only three non-Vulcan Federation delegates and the other two are an Admiral and an Ambassador."

"Maybe they meant to ask Mother." She laughed and placed her hand on his face, stroking his cheek lightly with the tips of her fingers. "On second thought, we'd probably wind up in an all out war with Romulus if they had."

He held her tighter still. "There's no guarantee that we won't. I wanted to send a Security team with you but it doesn't exactly mesh with the white flag we're supposedly flying these days. I know you can take care of yourself, Deanna but you don't need me to tell you that Romulans aren't the most trustworthy group we've dealt with."

"I know, Will. I'll be alert for anything out of the ordinary. They've become relatively easy to read over the years and I'm sure there will be some sort of security team present at the starbase." She glanced at the chronometer and sighed. "Right now though, I need to be getting ready." She reluctantly pulled out his embrace and stood, tossing the remnants of what used to be her nightgown to the floor, remembering too late why she preferred to sleep nude most of the time.

She headed to the bathroom, pausing in the doorjamb and turning back to toss a side-long glance at her husband lounging atop the rumpled sheets. "Join me in the shower?" She asked invitingly, her voice husky. Admiring her breathtaking nudity and not needing to be asked twice, Will scrambled out of the bed and followed behind her.

His eyes sparkled as he adjusted the temperature of the water to his satisfaction. Left alone, the setting Deanna had chosen would have most likely scalded him.

"You're insatiable, you know that? Maybe it won't be so bad that you're leaving for a bit. I'll finally get some rest."

Will distinctly heard <You have no one to blame but yourself for that, Imzadi> in his head, an image of his wife on her knees while she pleasured him in the shower rushing through him and she laughed at him and stepped into the spray as he stood there, stunned and breathless.

Chapter Four

Will tried his best to keep busy during the first few days of Deanna's absence. He'd taken her suggestion to use this time apart to spend more time with the crew of the Titan. He'd eaten almost every meal in the mess hall, mingling with junior officers and the families of the crew. Each evening was spent in the gym, exhausting him so that he'd be too tired to contemplate the cold, empty bed that awaited him. It hadn't helped much, so he'd resorted to a lot of cold showers as well. He'd even scheduled a poker game to be held in their quarters later this evening and was looking forward to cleaning out his senior staff.

The current survey mission was well underway and on schedule with nothing out of the ordinary occurring… yet. It was finally quiet for a while and Riker often found himself silently cursing Deanna's mission. Now that he had free time available if he wanted it, she was three sectors away.


The first nine days had sped by in a blur, Deanna reflected, staring into a cup of tea. She sat in an empty observation lounge reserved for the Federation delegates to take their meals. Each day was just like the one before. They all started with an informal breakfast meeting at 0700 and concluded with a progress and strategy meeting at 1900. Not much progress was being made as yet, though.

Plus, much to Deanna's chagrin the starbase replicators had not been programmed for chocolate and her delegation was not authorized to make any changes to them. She was slowly rationing the small stash of candy she had brought along, but it was quickly depleting.

She had twice stopped herself from suggesting that these talks be rescheduled for when the Romulans were ready for more than a half-hearted set of discussions, but had bitten her tongue both times, knowing her reasons for doing so were mostly selfish. She wasn't feeling very useful right now; she had patients waiting aboard Titan and damn it, she missed her husband.

As for the meetings themselves, Troi felt like she was beating her head against a brick wall. The Romulan High Councilors, though seemingly interested in the reunification talks, were so noncommittal that she sat up at night wondering why they agreed to hold them in the first place. She sensed no deception in them but at the same time she was almost sure that they felt exactly the same way she did, bored and going through the motions. Two of the Romulan Councillors, Lokesh and Teron, were openly hostile towards her and the Vulcan High Commanders, and at best they were civil to the other Federation delegates. They did not hide their distrust of her empathic abilities and went out of their way to avoid addressing her whenever possible. She hadn't felt so shunned since her childhood on Betazed, where some of her classmates had looked down on the half-human Daughter of the Fifth House and tried to make her feel inferior.

Deanna continued looking into her beverage, searching for some way to conclude the meetings so she could go home. A five minute unsecured message per day was a horrible substitute for being in the arms of Will Riker. And who knows how much of her messages were getting through after being subjected to the Romulan censors. They had insisted on having access to all base-wide communications, and once again the Federation had agreed as a good faith gesture. Deanna sighed and kept staring into her mug wishing it would miraculously turn into hot chocolate when suddenly she sensed a presence behind her and looked up.

"I'm sorry, Deanna. I didn't mean to sneak up on you like that."

Deanna groaned inwardly, not wanting to explain again that it was difficult to sneak up on an empath. Even if she did, there was no guarantee that he would pay attention. Ambassador Nicholas Berin seemed to be there every time Troi turned around; barely leaving her alone from the moment she was introduced to him on the transport by Admiral Daniels and Minister K'Pol, the head of their delegation. Initially she had been flattered by the tall blond man's attention but now she was more than a bit annoyed.

She had almost mistaken him for a covert security officer, considering how closely he shadowed her but she knew that Will couldn't pull those kind of strings on this mission and there was no way he'd assign someone so blatantly interested in her if he could have.

"It's all right, Nick. Is the recess over already?" She glanced at the chronometer on the wall, clearly having lost track of the time.

"Just about. Minister K'Pol wanted a brief word with all of us prior to the afternoon session."

He was hovering again and she was tired of it. She was tired all the time actually. She wanted to go home and sleep in her own bed, not some Romulan retrofitted guest quarters. She hadn't had a good night's sleep in a week.

"I'll be along shortly. Thank you." She looked back down at the drink in her hands, her tone dismissive.

She could feel him lingering and knew that he wanted to escort her to the briefing. Finally sensing his departure Deanna exhaled and stood, placing the mug on the table in front of her. As much as she disliked an awkward working relationship she knew she'd really have to do something to discourage the ambassador's unwanted attention once and for all. Subtlety appeared to be lost on him and the knowledge that she was married hadn't ended his constant advances at all.

Deanna walked into the empty corridor, pondering the best way to handle the situation. She had just rounded the corner when she felt a brief stinging sensation on her left shoulder. She halted to rub at it briefly as pain, then numbness, began to spread through her body. Then she crumpled to the floor, unconscious.

Chapter Five

Four days had passed since Will had received a message from Deanna. He looked forward to those brief moments each evening when he could catch a glimpse of her and hear her voice, though the content had to be trivial due to security issues. He had chuckled at her frustration with the lack of chocolate and saw that she looked exhausted. Much too far away for him to be able to communicate with her through their bond, Will was frustrated and now having no contact for so long had him on edge.

He sat in his ready room, trying to sense her presence though he knew that it'd be futile due to the distance. <Imzadi> he sent, as he had multiple times over the past few days, again with no response. The silence and emptiness echoed in the room.

"Bridge to Riker. Captain, you have a priority one message arriving momentarily."

"Patch it through, Mr. Tuvok." He sat back in his chair and stroked his beard. Priority one. She must have missed him more than he thought. Will smiled broadly; anticipating the moment his wife's beautiful face would fill the viewscreen. But when the Federation logo finally faded the smile dropped from his face and he sat up straight in the chair.

Admiral Janeway greeted him, looking worse than she had two weeks previously if that were possible. The circles under her eyes had grown larger and her skin was stretched tightly over her sharp cheekbones.

"Captain." She cleared her throat. "Three days ago we received word that the Tal Shiar decided that they wished to join the reunification discussions at Starbase 371."

Riker's blue eyes narrowed. "I was under the impression, Admiral, that the Tal Shiar doesn't negotiate."

"They don't. Somehow they infiltrated the starbase and took out the neutral security force that had been previously agreed upon by both sides." She paused briefly, clearing her throat again. "Then they assassinated two members of the Romulan High Council and three of our delegates."

Riker's head jerked up sharply. He would know if she had been killed, wouldn't he? She couldn't be dead…

"We haven't received any confirmation as to the identity of the victims yet, only a message which was sent to Starfleet Command, the Vulcan High Command and the Romulan Praetor. It said that five Tal Shiar operatives will be taking the place of the previous delegates. We've been allowed no contact with our people, and nothing at all in the way of demands. Just the single message and a package containing the communicators of each delegate. We've been examining them to see if perhaps someone was able to get a message out."

Riker sat in his chair, dumbfounded, barely hearing Janeway's voice in the midst of his mind's racing.

"As you are well aware Captain, Romulan disruptors don't leave much in the way of evidence behind. We can assume that either they weren't used on our people or the communicators were stripped from the delegates beforehand."

"I'm so sorry, Will. I'll let you know if and when we get more news." Her professional mask slipped momentarily, revealing the sadness in her eyes. Then she terminated the communication before he had the chance to respond.

Riker sat there staring at the empty screen before him until a voice interrupted through the comm system.

"Keru to Captain Riker. We've just received an anonymous package for you in the Transporter Room. It's been scanned by our sensors and does not appear to contain any hazardous materials. Would you like it beamed to your location?"

"Negative, Commander. I'll be right there. Riker out" He had to get out of this room. Without a backward glance at behind him at the Bridge, Riker headed for the turbolift, leaning his bulk against the smooth wall behind him when the doors closed. A cold sweat had broken out on the back of his neck and he felt like the wind had been knocked out of him by an angry Klingon Targ.


The lift hissed open and Riker strode quickly down the currently empty corridor towards the Transporter Room where the Trill Security Chief awaited him along with Transporter Chief Radowski.

Riker did not speak upon entrance, so Lt. Commander Keru began hesitantly.

"We received this box moments ago from a nearby freighter in the sector, Sir. The packing materials appear to be Romulan in origin, but as I stated earlier there are no signs of chemicals or explosives present. It was addressed to you, Captain, but did not list a sender."

The large Trill watched as his Captain approached the transporter pad with what appeared to be trepidation. Riker bent forward and retrieved a small black box, about the size of his palm; so light in his large hand that it felt empty. He opened the lid, barely breathing and praying that the Tal Shiar hadn't sent him some piece of his wife; knowing their penchant for tormenting the families of their victims with the occasional ear or finger or something much worse.

'Starfleet Command is just sending back her communicator' he told himself, though a reason for doing so eluded him when they were so easily and often replicated. Lifting out a smaller dark green velvet pouch Riker cringed, unaware of the eyes on him from both Lt. Commander Keru and the still silent Lt. Radowski. His heart skipped a beat as he hooked his trembling fingers in the tiny opening.

The other occupants in the room could see what appeared to be something small and glittering in their Captain's hand before Riker clenched it tightly closed around the contents. Exhaling a breath he didn't know he was holding, Riker turned abruptly and left the transporter room, unseeing.

"Sickbay." He spoke harshly, as though there was broken glass at the back of his throat. As the turbolift headed for its destination Riker opened his fist. There in the palm of his hand, crusted with dried blood, sat Deanna's engagement and wedding rings. Will closed his hand around the cold metal again, exhaled, and shut his eyes.

Chapter Six

Riker sat at his desk in the ready room with his First Officer across from him and his Second Officer, Commander Tuvok, beside her. He'd been holding daily meetings to discuss the situation at Starbase 371. Whispers among the 350 crewmates aboard the Titan had begun to fill the ship almost as soon as Riker left Sickbay, where the Chief Medical Officer, Doctor Ree had confirmed that the blood on the rings in Riker's white-knuckled grip belonged to his wife. Human/Betazoid blood was not easy to replicate and upon examination, he had determined that the DNA profile was an exact match to that on file for Counselor Troi.

Will had left Sickbay and gone straight to the Bridge, then called Commanders Vale and Tuvok into the ready room for a briefing, the first of many. He had hoped that the Vulcan officer would have some useful insights into the situation at the starbase but so far they were all grasping at straws. He couldn't bring himself to let go of Deanna's rings; Dr. Ree had scanned them in his hand, and he hadn't cleaned the blood from them either. He was currently wearing them on a fine gold chain beneath his uniform. Two more days had passed since Janeway's message and they hadn't gotten any further information. The waiting was killing him.

Will drummed his fingers along the top of his desk.

"Captain if I may point out, it would be logical to assume that the Tal Shiar had a specific reason for their invasion of the Starbase." Tuvok remained calm, as always, and Commander Vale knew it wasn't helping matters.

On the contrary Tuvok's cool demeanor only seemed to agitate the Captain more. She glanced at him briefly then looked away. Riker seemed to have aged years over the past few days. His blue eyes, usually sparking were flat, lifeless and almost gray. There were dark shadows underneath them which grew larger each day. His lips were pressed into a grim line instead of his usual smile and there appeared to be more gray in his salt and pepper beard than there had been the previous week. Her heart went out to him; the man was obviously suffering greatly.

Twice Vale had turned down the position of First Officer on this ship, in no small part due to her reservations about the Rikers serving together in such senior positions while married. And she'd put those reservations aside, for the most part. Looking at her Captain in this moment, Christine hoped he wouldn't do anything rash such as ordering the ship into Romulan space. She quickly snapped to attention with Riker's harsh response.

"Well, that's just great then, Mr. Tuvok. I'm glad that you believe there's a logical reason for this." His fingers stilled their motion but remained on the dark wood surface of the desk; tense. "I'll be sure to let you explain your theory to Ambassador Troi when she checks in for the fourth time today." His tone was icy, but the Vulcan Officer remained unfazed and tried to reason with his Captain.

"Sir, there has been a lot of change on Romulus since the assassination of the Senate last year. The new Praetor's willingness to discuss reunification must be causing chaos within the Tal Shiar. Some sort of response should have been anticipated."

Riker's fist slammed into the desk and Vale visibly jumped in her chair.

"Let's get one thing clear, Mr. Tuvok. I don't give a shit about the chaos,'" he spat the word, "rippling through the Tal Shiar. They've seized control of a neutral starbase and assassinated at least two Romulan Councilors and three Federation delegates, at least three…" His fingers rubbed the bridge of his nose, eyes stinging.

"Captain, a word please?" Unable to keep silent any longer, Vale interrupted. He was falling apart in front of them and that could not be tolerated.

Riker inclined his head. "You're excused, Commander Tuvok."

Tuvok stood and took his leave, with Vale waiting for the doors to close before she spoke.

"Permission to speak freely, Captain?"

"Granted, as always."

She dove right in, hoping she'd still have a job when she was through.

"Sir, you need to take a break. You haven't slept in days and its starting to affect crew morale. Biting Tuvok's head off will only make things worse." Vale tucked a strand of hair, auburn this month, behind her ear and nervously folded her hands in her lap. She had served alongside Riker and Troi aboard the Enterprise-E and try as they did to deny it, their complete love for each other had been obvious to all aboard. Watching Riker's helpless agony right now filled Christine with a sense of relief that there was no one that dear to her at this moment in time, nor had there ever been.

Will sat back in his chair and a ghost of a smile whispered briefly across his face.

"You're right of course, Number One."

He rubbed one hand over his bearded face and took a deep breath. He had refused to speak with the Counseling staff, not wanting to venture anywhere near Deanna's office and although Counselor Huilan had offered to come by his quarters, Riker had turned him down twice.

"I'll go down to the holodeck for a while. Maybe bash a few heads together to clear mine out. Thank you, Chris."

Pushing her luck, Vale added, "Try to eat something too. When's the last time you had something other than raktajino?"

"Probably too long. I don't really remember." Riker stood and tugged on his jacket, straightening his posture. "Commander Vale, you have the Bridge."

"Aye, Sir." She replied following him out of the room.

Chapter Seven

"Commander Troi, Commander Troi, you must wake up now."

Head pounding, Deanna opened her eyes with great difficulty and looked around. She appeared to be in an office; lying on a couch and her head was killing her. She slowly pulled herself to a sitting position and turned towards the unfamiliar voice calling her name; unable to see or sense exactly where it was coming from.

"I apologize for the sparseness of your accommodations, Commander. I am ProConsul M'Rek of the Tal Shiar." A Romulan male in the standard uniform of the Romulan intelligence agency stepped from the shadows to her left and approached slowly.

Troi's eyes widened slightly and she lifted her left hand to the painful throbbing at the back of her head, surprised when her fingers came away wet with blood.

"Don't worry, Commander. A psionic inhibitor has been temporarily implanted in your paracortex. Though your empathic abilities are no longer functioning you have not been physically harmed."

"Why am I here? Where is the rest of the delegation?" Troi sat up fully and faced the Romulan operative now standing over her.

"Most of them have been… shall we say… dispatched. And unless you do exactly as I say, you will join them shortly Commander." Walking around the table, M'Rek sat beside her on the couch.

"The Tal Shiar is not at all pleased to be left out of the reunification proceedings. So we decided to 'crash' the party, so to speak."

Trying to focus despite the absence of her empathy, Deanna could hear no menace in his tone. He sounded almost pleasant actually, as though he was chatting with a friend, despite his earlier threat.

"The Tal Shiar has a vested interest in reunification between Romulus and Vulcan. Simply put, the Tal Shiar believes it cannot be allowed to take place. Some of your fellow delegates have been 'replaced' by myself and four of my associates in order to achieve a more favorable outcome."

Wincing at the pain in her head, Troi got to her feet.

"I was under the impression that the Tal Shiar never involves itself in negotiations."

"It doesn't." A small smile appeared at the corner of M'Rek's mouth. "But these are unique circumstances and your assistance will be required." The Romulan stood and grabbed Troi by the shoulders, shaking her cruelly and turning her to face him.

"Is that understood… Major Rakal?"

Troi stilled and glared at the ProConsul.

"Relax, Commander. I can assure you that I am the only Romulan on this starbase with knowledge of your prior association with the Tal Shiar. If the others had known, you would have been killed immediately. Well, maybe not immediately." He flashed a sickening smile at her and Troi tasted bile in the back of her throat.

"So why wasn't I killed?" Troi wondered aloud. There was something very wrong here but she could not put her finger on it. She had no sense whatsoever of the emotions of the ProConsul, nor could she feel anything from the rest of the starbase. It was extremely disconcerting but M'Rek didn't seem to be anything at all like most of the Romulans she had come in contact with over the years. In fact, the one he reminded her most of was SubCommander N'Vek, the man who had forced her to masquerade as a Tal Shiar operative almost ten years ago.

"I need your assistance, Commander Troi. And what I am about to tell you could cost you your life and will certainly end mine if this doesn't work." M'Rek released his grasp on her arms and began pacing in front of her.

"There are a select few among us in the Tal Shiar who are covertly working towards reunification."

Troi was unable to prevent her shock; her mouth gaped open.

"Come now, Commander. Despite the reputation that the Tal Shiar has rightfully achieved over the years, not all of us are interested in domination and destruction, at least not all of the time."

Troi closed her mouth and waited for him to continue. Suddenly dizzy, she sat back on the couch, breathing deeply to quell her sense of vertigo.

"Five days ago, the Tal Shiar commandeered this starbase."

"Five days? I've been unconscious for five days?" Her voice rose, confused and pain-filled. She had thought that only a few hours had passed since she had left the lounge.

"Yes. There were some complications due to your hybridized brain which caused you to remain unconscious much longer than I expected. Regrettably, there was no way to avoid the psionic inhibitor surgery. I do need to keep up appearances after all. That I managed to isolate you from the rest of your delegation in order to do so was a combination of sheer luck and careful planning. If you had entered the conference room you would have sensed our intentions and most likely gotten yourself killed along with all the others." M'Rek raised his hands then dropped them, still pacing the floor.

"You said earlier that some of the delegates had been killed." The shock began to fade and Troi felt nausea creeping into her belly.

"All but K'Pol and yourself, Commander." The Vulcan minister is necessary to my plan, though the others are unaware of my reasons. And I've managed to keep you alive by expressing a penchant for alien women and a personal interest in dealing with you myself."

The queasiness intensified; she was definitely going to be sick. Noting what little color she'd regained leaving her face, M'Rek continued.

"Rest assured, Commander. I have not and will not lay a finger on you. You, will, however need to follow my lead when we rejoin the others in a few moments. I had two of the Romulan Councillors dealt with already. The Tal Shiar considered them traitors for attending these negotiations. Especially considering the evidence presented to them that was generated to back up a well placed rumor that they are covertly supporting the reunification movement while posing as its greatest dissenters."

He paused again and tossed Troi a sardonic smile. "There's a wonderful irony in that, don't you think?"

Troi closed her eyes and dropped back onto the couch as the man continued.

"The remaining Romulan Councilors and Commander Donatra will go along with the plans. The Commander has assured me that there is a cloaked vessel not far from here and upon the signal we will all be transported aboard to continue the discussions away from my colleagues. The ship should be arriving shortly. Once aboard, we should be able to come to an agreement and have the treatise signed without delay. Supposing of course, that our plans haven't been detected."

"Of course," she echoed. The man was obviously mad. There was no way they'd be able to pull this off without getting killed.

Chapter Eight

Riker sprawled on a couch in the darkened space of the Captain's quarters, staring at the ceiling. Their home felt much too large and entirely too empty without Deanna's presence there to fill it. He took a deep breath; the scent of Deanna's exotic floral perfume still filled the air, but it was already beginning to fade.

He'd taken Vale's suggestion and gone to the Holodeck for a while but nothing appealed to him except annihilating the Tal Shiar. Fighting the holographic projections only made him feel guilty knowing that his wife was facing the real thing. That is if she was still alive. He punched the bolster pillow behind his head, exhausted. Vale was right; he hadn't slept, not wanting to confront the reality of the empty bedroom. The memory of their last time together in that bed was seared into his brain and he refused to believe that it was going to the last time he'd get to hold her in his arms; make love with her. They'd only been married eight months and it wasn't enough, hell eight lifetimes with her wouldn't be enough for him.

He had given serious thought to taking the Titan to the Neutral Zone but knew that of he did so Vale would be forced to relieve him from command, as she was well aware that they'd been ordered to stay away for now and he couldn't put her in that position. Nor would he prove right all of the Starfleet officials who were against him serving with his wife for reasons just like this. Still, sitting around and waiting for something to happen had never been his preferred method of dealing with uncertainty and the feeling was horrible.

"Imzadi," he breathed into the silence of the room, shutting his eyes and trying his hardest to reach her. Finally, reluctantly, he fell into a troubled sleep.

Troi kept looking for a way to get a message off the starbase but the comm. system was locked down under Tal Shiar control. Plus, she was never left alone. ProConsul M'Rek stayed bruisingly close, and she had to play along or be killed, her stomach churning with disgust and anxiety. She thought back to the previous week when her biggest problem was deflecting Ambassador Berin's harmless attentions. Now she wished he were here to flirt with her again; he'd been murdered along with the others while the Tal Shiar was performing surgery on her a few decks away.

The Vulcan minister K'Pol was the only other member of her delegation left alive, and much to Troi's amazement he was still trying to facilitate some type of agreement with the surviving Romulan Councilors and now the Tal Shiar operatives, two of who kept their disruptors aimed at him at all times. The others occasionally looked her way but for the most part did not threaten her as she was considered the ProConsul's 'property.'

Her trouble focusing was intensifying and she was becoming increasingly dizzy; most likely complications from the surgery they'd performed on her. She'd tried and tried to reach Will through their bond but she was completely blocked. Each attempt only caused her to weaken further and grow ill. Although M'Rek had told her that the food available was safe from poison, she couldn't even look at it without her nausea returning. The conference room had been filled with tachyon explosives and only M'Rek and Major Baresh held the access codes to detonate them.

She'd tried to reach Donatra's eye a few times, hoping to speak with her, but the Federation's one-time ally shook her head slightly and returned her attention to the negotiating table. 'It wasn't time yet' Troi got the message loud and clear. It was frustrating to not be able to sense the emotions of those around her; she was working off pure intuition now and it was telling her that the situation was rapidly destabilizing.

"The Tal Shiar's idea for reunification is to incorporate Vulcan into the Empire as a labor planet and force my people into slavery. Haven't you people learned anything from the Cardassian occupation of Bajor? Of course I will not agree to this and neither will the Federation." K'Pol gestured to the Troi, sitting at one end of the negotiating table with M'Rek beside her, holding her hand in a painful grip. He startled her from her thoughts and she returned her attention to the proposal in front of them.

"He's right," she replied quietly.

They'd both rather be killed then to allow Vulcan to fall into the hands of the Empire in this manner. And they most likely would be. The Romulan fleet was still depleted from the Dominion war; they'd never be able to sustain an invasion force on Vulcan or withstand a military attack on their weakened planet. That's what had brought them to the table in the first place. Troi continued speaking, ignoring the murderous looks being thrown at her by M'Rek. He was so close she couldn't move without brushing against him and it sickened her. The bastard had spent a good hour falsely bragging of his prowess with her to the others and she'd noticed that he'd taken away her wedding rings as well as her communicator while she had been unconscious. Feeling as though death was imminent; she wasn't going to play along any longer.

"You might as well end this now. Neither the Federation nor the Vulcan High Command will stand back and allow the Tal Shiar to let this proposal stand even if we did agree on it. Frankly," she shot another look towards Donatra, " I don't believe that the Romulan Councilors will be a party to this either, knowing that if they did so they'd likely be signing their planet's death warrant."

"We don't have time for this. It's already taken too long." A deep voice cut in and Troi found herself pulled out of her chair by Major Baresh, the initial bruising grasp on her wrist giving way to one of intense pain, the bones crushing under his hand. Troi shrieked in anguish, her dissenting voice effectively silenced. "We'd be better off getting rid of all of them, M'Rek, and starting over."

Major Baresh's cruel green eyes raked over Troi distastefully and he lifted his arm and backhanded her across the face. Troi tasted blood in her mouth and glared at back him hatefully. Without words he threw her to the floor, aiming his disruptor under her chin. M'Rek did nothing to intercede, watching the brutal scene in complete silence. Knowing she was about to die, Troi steeled herself for the blast and heard a loud 'whoosh' from behind her before everything went black.

Chapter Nine

Two days later

Riker was in the midst of another sporadic conference with Admiral Janeway but this time, however, she finally had news.

"Captain, we received confirmation that Starbase 371 has been completely destroyed." Janeway broke the news as quickly as possible and was about to continue before being interrupted by Riker.

"Destroyed?" He echoed, the blood draining from his face. "You sat there and let the Tal Shiar assassinate Federation Ambassadors and decorated Starfleet Officers without even attempting some kind of intercession? What the hell is wrong with you people?"

Janeway raised her hand and her voice to silence him, knowing the communication was being monitored and wanting to stop Riker before he said something to earn him a court martial.

"Shortly after the information was verified Starfleet Command was hailed by a ProConsul M'Rek of the Tal Shiar, currently aboard the Romulan Warbird R'Van. Apparently just prior to the destruction of the starbase a few survivors were picked up by the R'Van. It's a resistance fighter, Captain.'

"A resistance fighter?" He echoed again, confused. Why wasn't she telling him what he needed to know? He didn't give a damn about resistance fighters right now.

"This M'Rek is not only a member of the Tal Shiar but an agent of the former resistance movement as well. Their sole purpose these past few months has been to bring about reunification with Vulcan." She paused again and smiled. "They've done it, Will. A copy of the signed treatise was sent by subspace to the Federation President an hour ago. All three necessary signatures have been verified in order to begin the official process; one each from Vulcan, Romulus and the Federation."

Riker barely acknowledged the momentous accord, staring mutely at his viewscreen with this heart in his throat, waiting for the information that Janeway kept avoiding.

Careful of her words, Janeway spoke again.

"Your new orders are to rendezvous with the R'Van at approximately 1800 hours. The ship has been operating under heavy cloak due to its cargo, so don't be surprised if it appears to sneak up on you. Upon rendezvous, your Sickbay will be taking on casualties from the starbase. Rare as it is, at the request of the Vulcan High Command, there is an actual paper copy of the treatise signed by each delegate. The original signed treatise will be 'hand delivered,'" she stressed the words, "to you at that time. Consider yourself ordered to bring it back to us on Earth."

Riker leaned forward in his chair, trying to read her expression and determine the implication of her words.

Janeway exhaled and relayed the rest of her information, her stern face softening slightly.

"We don't have all of the details yet, Captain, only that there are reports coming in of multiple casualties of all degrees and some fatalities, a few of which we had heard about earlier. ProConsul M'Rek has told us that Commander Troi was instrumental in mediating the discussions and as a surviving member of the Federation delegation, she signed the treatise on its behalf."

Riker's blue eyes lit up with hope for the first time in well over a week then quickly faded as Janeway finished speaking.

"ProConsul M'Rek also said that after the treatise was signed and witnessed, Commander Troi collapsed and has not yet regained consciousness. He was unwilling to divulge the full extent of her injuries. You should prepare yourself, Will."

Chapter Ten

"Doctor, are you telling me that the Tal Shiar performed brain surgery on my wife?"

Riker's voice rose sharply as he stood in the waiting room of Titan's Sickbay. The casualties aboard the R'Van had been beamed directly there once the ship had entered transporter range and Riker had arrived only a few moments later but Deanna had already been rushed into surgery by a medical team. She had been in an operating suite less than five hundred feet away but he had no sense of her and it scared the hell out of him. He had waited for hours now hoping for any word on her condition as he paced the floor, fear eating at his insides.

Titan's Pakwa-thanh Chief Medical Officer rested a reassuring claw on his Captain's arm.

"Calm down, Captain. It sounds much worse than it is. A psionic inhibitor chip had been implanted at the base of Counselor Troi's paracortex. I've seen this Romulan technology used before on a former Vulcan prisoner of the Tal Shiar, and then, like now I removed the chip without causing any permanent damage to the patient.

Riker relaxed his rigid stance slightly as Ree continued, his gentle voice a sharp contrast to his ferocious appearance.

"Due to the remarkable self-healing nature of the Betazoid brain, swelling built up in the Counselor's paracortex as it tried to reject the inhibitor chip. It's this swelling which has caused her current unconscious state. She should awaken with her empathic abilities intact as soon as it abates. Her other injuries are mostly superficial, except for a somewhat complicated wrist fracture which we've begun to repair. Due to the severity of the break, she'll likely be quite sore with limited mobility in that hand for a few days as the bones continue to knit."

Ree's snout aimed upwards as his jaw opened, exposing his mass of long, sharp teeth and he smiled in his way, anticipating Riker's questions and effectively cutting him off.

"You'll be able to see Deanna briefly for a few moments after Nurse Ogawa finishes getting her settled in Recovery. Then I expect that you will leave my Sickbay and get some rest yourself, Captain." The C.M.O's tone allowed for no argument and Riker nodded agreeably, though he had no intention of going along with the doctor's plan.

"Thank you, Doctor." Ree patted his arm once more and with a decisive swish of his tail, turned to check on his other patients. After about ten more minutes of Riker pacing the floor, much less anxious this time, Nurse Alyssa Ogawa appeared from behind a privacy curtain in the Post Operative Care unit of Sickbay and gestured him forward.

"You can come in now, Captain. Don't be alarmed at her appearance though. Counselor Troi has been a bit banged up and she's lost quite a bit of weight during this ordeal. The bruises will heal quickly and a steady diet of chocolate sundaes should take care of the rest in no time at all." Alyssa's calm, compassionate nature put Riker immediately at ease. She waited until he had fully entered the area, then gently closed the curtain behind him on her way out; leaving the Captain alone with his wife.

Will approached the biobed cautiously. Alyssa hadn't been exaggerating. Deanna looked frighteningly fragile. Her wrist was wrapped in heavy gauze and her skin was almost the same shade of white as the bandage on her head. He sat down heavily in the chair beside the bed and lifted her uninjured hand to his lips. She was so still, so cold.

"Imzadi," he whispered, trying to impart some of his warmth into her hand. She was usually much warmer to the touch than he due to her Betazoid core temperature being a full two degrees warmer than a human's. Right now her fingers were icy. Her bare fingers…

Will reached into his pocket and retrieved Deanna's wedding rings, sliding them back onto her third finger where they belonged. They slipped on easily, too easily and Will was struck by just how thin she had gotten since the last time he had seen her, well over an agonizing month ago. He kissed her fingers again and curled his own around them.

"You're going to be just fine once you wake up, Imzadi. Just fine," he repeated, convincing himself aloud. All around them the burbling and hissing of the machines in Sickbay interrupted the silence. His heart in his throat, Will had no intention of leaving until Deanna regained consciousness no matter what Ree had said earlier about a brief visit. With the Bridge safely in the hands of his Exec, he wasn't going anywhere.

An hour later, while checking on her patients for a final time before her duty shift ended, Nurse Ogawa was not at all surprised to find the Captain still in Deanna's room. He was out cold in the chair beside the bed, his large shoulders pitched forward with his head resting in his wife's lap. For many years while serving with both Riker and Troi, Alyssa had come upon a similar scene during her tenure on the Enterprise. Usually it had been Counselor Troi who had been reluctant to leave the side of the then first officer of the Flagship as he recuperated from one injury or another. Though no one she had ever treated had despised Sickbay quite like Will Riker, Alyssa knew there'd be no getting rid of him until Deanna was released. She smiled knowingly at the sleeping couple and silently draped a blanket over the Captain's shoulders before leaving the area to pick up her son from school.

Six hours later

Deanna slowly opened her eyes and blinked rapidly to clear her vision, a sense of relief filling her as she recognized the walls of Titan's Sickbay around her. She attempted to sit up but was thwarted by pressure near her legs. Glancing down at the source of the weight, a soft smile curved her lips upwards and she threaded her fingers into his thick dark hair. She watched Will closely as the frown between his eyes subsided at her touch and realized at the same time that the near blinding pain in her head had eased to a more manageable ache. She could vaguely sense Will, just enough to feel his exhaustion. She shifted her legs slightly and braced both hands against the firm surface of the biobed, gasping aloud at the sharp pain that shot up her arm. The instant the sound escaped her mouth Will's eyes flew open and his head jolted upwards from its place on her lap; once again attuned to her emotions.

Deanna managed a smile for him and sunk back down into the pillows.

"Hi," she said, reaching for him with her good arm.

Will answered her by sitting on the bed beside her and cradling her against his broad chest, the last bits of visible fear fading from those blue eyes she could never seem to look away from.

"Hi," he spoke against her hair. She smelled of the antiseptic instead of perfume but Riker didn't care. "You okay?" The first of a million questions that he wanted to ask her sprung from his lips. He knew that at any moment they'd be interrupted when the medical team descended, having been alerted by the monitor above Deanna's head that their VIP patient was awake. He pulled back to look her over. She was so pale…

"Yes," she answered without hesitation. She thought she was but she wasn't completely certain. Right now she'd say anything to reassure him, to wipe that concerned look from his weary face. Her empathic abilities had returned but seemed muted, as though she were underwater trying to sense the emotions of those on the surface above, but she wasn't going to worry about that now.

Will leaned towards her again and brushed his lips gently against hers, the tension in his body finally giving way. Deanna closed her eyes and deepened the kiss, knowing just how close she had come to never feeling those lips on hers again. A throat cleared once, then again, louder the second time and the two broke apart guiltily. Will was instantly reminded of where they were and he was thrown back into a time when Lwaxana had intruded on a similar situation and responded to it the same way, only mentally, and loud enough to keep his head rattling for an hour.

"Perhaps you could wait until I release Counselor Troi to your quarters, Captain." Dr. Ree chuckled in mirth from the space behind them and Riker backed away from his wife, standing now beside the biobed. He noted that Deanna was blushing slightly, thankful to see the color returning to her cheeks. The Pakwa-thanh Chief Medical Officer approached his patient and activated his medicorder, scanning Deanna slowly from head to toe, then nodding.

"A few hours more and a couple of tests, then you can leave. I know that Starfleet Command is anxious to debrief you, Counselor, but they'll have to wait for a while. The swelling in your paracortex has lessened considerably but it may take as long as a week to fully subside. Your empathic abilities should be completely restored by that time, but don't be surprised if you are shaky until then. Don't try to rush things, let them come naturally."

She nodded, relieved and Dr. Ree turned his attention towards Riker.

"Captain, I can assure you that your wife is in very good hands, even if they aren't your own." He smirked. "You were supposed to have left Sickbay hours ago, Sir. Now please consider yourself temporarily banned from my Sickbay for let's say… three hours. Then you may return and take your wife home with you. For now though… get out."

Riker's eyes widened at the doctor's words and tone then he laughed.

"I know when I'm not wanted. And I never knew you could do that, Doc. I sure wish Beverly Crusher had banned me from her Sickbay years ago." With a devilish smile and defiant look at his C.M.O Will bent his head to kiss Deanna again before straightening and tugging at his uniform jacket. "I'll be back in a little while to take you home."

Deanna nodded and stopped him before he could leave.

"Will, please contact Mother. She must be worried." She gave him a pleading look, one she knew he couldn't resist.

He sighed then agreed. "I will. She won't be satisfied until she speaks with you though."

"I know. I'll check in with her later."

Will nodded again and headed out. He should have enough time to freshen up and spent some time on the Bridge before coming back for her, unless his Mother-in-law decided to occupy him for the entire three hours.

Dr. Ree waited until the Captain had vacated the premises then pulled the curtain closed around them.

"Now my dear Counselor, you and I are going to have a little chat."

Chapter Eleven

The Titan was on its way to Earth with the signed reunification treatise under heavy guard. By the time the R'Van had reached the rendezvous point, ProConsul M'Rek was no longer aboard. Minister K'Pol had arranged to be picked up by a nearby Vulcan-bound transport and the Romulan Councilors had left with Commander Donatra aboard the Valdore. M'Rek's whereabouts were currently unknown, a good thing for him as Riker wanted to put his fist through the Romulan's face for the pain he'd caused them.

Deanna had seemed extremely subdued when he'd returned to Sickbay to bring her home; she hadn't argued at all about the conditions of the medical leave Dr. Ree had ordered, including the proviso of not being left alone for the next twenty-four hours due to the possibility of intracranial bleeding.

Now that they were finally alone together, Will was impatient to speak with her about the events of the mission but Deanna didn't feel like talking. He knew she needed time to settle in and process the events of the last few weeks, so he left her to her bath and began to prepare a light meal for them to share.

Will put the finishing touches on their meal and brought it in to the table near the couch, thinking it'd be more comfortable for Deanna to stretch out and relax. She'd been in the bath for a very long time, and he was about to check on her and make sure that she hadn't fallen asleep in there when the door chimed.

"Come in," he called. Riker was not surprised to find his First Officer hesitating on the other side of the doorway. Aside from their close working relationship, Christine Vale had become a very good friend to both Deanna and himself.

"Come on in, Christine. Are you hungry? As usual I made much too much food."

Vale walked further into the room, still a bit hesitant. She knew she shouldn't be intruding but Deanna had already left Sickbay when she'd stopped by to check on her and there were also a few ongoing security issues regarding the transport of the treatise once they reached Earth that she needed to discuss with Will. She sat down on the chair opposite from him and accepted a cup of coffee, relaxing a bit as she relayed the updated security protocols Starfleet Command had just ordered them to undertake.


It was good to be home, Deanna thought for the tenth time since leaving Sickbay. She was sitting submerged in bubbles to her chin, her injured arm dangling off the side of the oversized tub so as not to get the bandage wet. Unable to center herself due to the still constant ache in her head, and wishing desperately to be clean, she made a beeline for the bath immediately upon her return home, much to Will's dismay.

The events of the past few weeks were still hazy, no doubt due to the surgery she was recuperating from. She hadn't been able to contact Will once they were safely aboard the R'Van. M'Rek had not allowed any subspace communication until the treatise had been signed, fearful of the transmissions being traced. Deanna remembered getting up from the table after the negotiations concluded, the unrelenting pain in her head getting worse with each moment, then a final sharp spike of agony had hit at the back of her skull. After that, there was nothing at all until she opened her eyes in Sickbay earlier today. She still wasn't completely sure what day it was.

Before the water grew too cold, Deanna carefully stepped from the tub and wrapped a dark blue bath sheet around her body. The hot water had soothed away some of the aches, but Troi saw that she was covered in bruises on both arms and out of vanity chose a pair of long pajamas from her closet to cover the worst of them from sight. Unable to wash her hair due to the bandage on her head, she used the sonic shower attachment, no small feat to manage with one arm, and left the now wild curls hanging down her back in a style she hadn't worn since the Academy, deeming it too unprofessional.

Fighting the pain in her head, a wave of dizziness hit abruptly just as she was about to enter the living area of their quarters.

Both Vale and Riker stopped speaking when Deanna finally appeared in the doorjamb. She was looking unbelievably young and frail; wearing ice blue satin pajamas that all but swallowed her and her hair was a mass of tangled curls. She appeared to be more than a little unsteady on her feet and her eyes were glassy. Concern etched on his face, Will quickly jumped to his feet and escorted her to the couch beside him, draping a blanket over her legs after she was settled. She looked at him gratefully and greeted Vale, then gathered the blanket around her, tucking her knees up under her chin and leaning backwards against her husband.

"Welcome home, Deanna. I hope you don't mind my stopping by unannounced. I tried to see you earlier but you'd already left Sickbay." Inwardly, Vale was shocked at Deanna's appearance. She'd rarely seen the Counselor appear anything but perfectly put together, a far cry from the obviously exhausted and slightly dazed woman who sat across from her now, appearing to shrink into Riker's chest before her eyes. And though Will seemed far less on edge than he had been over the past few weeks, Christine couldn't miss the concerned way he kept glancing at Deanna and the way he held her almost too close to him; a far cry from the gentle professionalism Vale had come to expect from them both except for during very informal occasions when they were all off duty.

Feeling again as though she had intruded, Christine tucked a wayward lock of hair behind one ear, a nervous habit which all too often had spoiled her poker game in the past.

"Thank you, Christine. It's good to be home. Unfortunately, Dr. Ree said it'll be a few more days before he'll let me back on the Bridge. I'm sorry to inconvenience the scheduling further." Deanna shook her head slightly when Will reached forward around her body and tried to hand her a plate. She ignored his frown and accepted a mug of hot chocolate instead.

"Don't worry about that Deanna," she answered, surprised that Troi's thoughts had gone so quickly to making her life easier, considering that less than twenty-four hours earlier she had been undergoing brain surgery for the second time in three weeks. The Rikers certainly didn't believe in shirking their duty. If she had been in Troi's place she probably wouldn't have tried to rush back to work right away.

"Keru to Captain Riker." A beep from Will's comm badge put a temporary halt on the conversation.

"Riker here."

"Sir, if you have a few minutes, there are more changes to the security protocols we'll be forced to adhere to once we reach Earth."

Will glanced at Deanna apologetically. When she nodded slightly in response, he tapped his badge again, released her and stood.

"Acknowledged, Mr. Keru. I'll meet you in my Ready Room. But let's make this quick. Riker out." He straightened his jacket and looked at Vale.

"Would you mind sticking around until I get back? Dr. Ree doesn't want Deanna left alone for a while."

"And I'd rather not go back to Sickbay," she finished, flashing a tired smile at them.

"Of course not. We've got plenty to catch up on. Maybe I'll even be able to get some poker tips out of her on how to beat you, Captain." Vale smiled up at him, glad to feel useful.

Riker laughed. "Good luck with that." He bent and kissed the top of Deanna's head tenderly before he left, striding quickly down Titan's corridors towards the turbolift.

Back in their quarters Deanna broke the awkward silence between them and took a small sip of hot chocolate.

"Now, do you want to tell me why you're really here, Christine?"

"I thought you were off duty." Vale shot back, fidgeting in her chair.

"I am. But we're friends and something is clearly bothering you. I know it has nothing at all to do with poker. Since we're alone…" she gestured to the empty room, and Vale averted her eyes.

"Deanna, I owe you an apology. You and Will both," she blurted out before she could help herself. Deanna look at her, surprised. She hadn't been expecting that.

"For what?" She tilted her head against the high back of the sofa, having no idea what Vale was currently feeling. When she tried to focus and sense the younger woman's emotions, the room began to spin around her again.

"For questioning how you and Will would handle your working relationship. I should have realized that serving with you both on this ship wouldn't be much different than when we were on the Enterprise, but the past few weeks have really proved me wrong." She played with the ends of her hair again.

Troi smiled weakly at her, struggling to swallow another mouthful of liquid before setting the mug aside. "That's not necessary, Christine, really. You aren't the only one who's had doubts. I can't say I hadn't wondered about it myself," she confessed, inhaling deeply as her head dropped to her chest.

"Yeah, but still… Are you all right, Deanna? Do you want me to call Sickbay?" One hand was already poised over her comm badge, noting how quickly Deanna's cheeks went from pale to ashen.

Deanna gingerly shook her head no. "I'm okay. There's still some residual swelling making things foggy." She closed her eyes, leaned her head back onto the arm of the couch and was still. When she hadn't moved after a few minutes had past Christine was ready to insist on taking her back to Sickbay, then realized that Deanna had fallen asleep.

No more than five minutes later Will returned from his briefing with his Security Chief, surprised to find Deanna asleep on the couch and Vale sitting at his desk, reviewing the security protocols that Lt. Commander Keru had sent her a little while ago.

Christine looked up from her PADD. "She fell asleep midsentence," she said quietly, answering his questioning glance and rising from the chair.

"Did she now?" His wife, like himself, had a bad habit of pushing too far. He noticed her discarded mug and untouched plate with a frown; she'd barely had anything. "Let's just go through this protocol one more time and call it a day. Hang on a minute. She'll be more comfortable in the other room."

Will walked over to the couch and easily lifted his wife in his arms, blanket and all. He was shocked at how light she felt. Vale uncomfortably averted her gaze as he carried Deanna through the open door into the bedroom and placed her in the center of their bed. He tucked an extra blanket around her slight form before heading back into the living area. Then quietly closing the door behind him with a last lingering look at his Imzadi; he joined Commander Vale for what he hoped would be the last briefing of the day.

Chapter Twelve

Their cabin was dark; the only illumination came from the stars streaking vividly outside the windows. It was finally quiet, ship's night, and Will propped himself on one elbow on the bed, Deanna half-asleep next to him, listening to their plans for the next few days.

"Once we arrive, we'll orbiting Earth for a few days. You'll be debriefed, then there'll be a joint memorial service for the members of the delegations; quite a coup by the way, getting the Romulans to agree to that, but it's a damn shame it took uniting against the Tal Shiar in order to bring them together with Vulcan and the Federation."

Deanna rested the back of her head against his chest; the deep rumble of his voice warm against her back. She said nothing, remembering the colleagues who had not survived. Noting her lack of reply Will pressed on.

"Then there will be a gala a few days later to celebrate the signing of the treatise before the first stage of reunification is implemented. Are you going to be up for all of that?"

Deanna shrugged slightly, tickling his neck with her hair. "I guess I'll have to be."

"Deanna… you scared the hell out of me, you know that?"

"I know. The next time I'm specially selected for a mission in hostile territory remind me to decline the honor." Her tone was dry.

"You're joking about this?" Will turned her to face him. "You almost died; most of your delegation was brutally murdered, and you're joking?"

He was hurt; she'd changed the subject each time he'd tried to talk to her about the mission, and now she was attempting to make light of the danger to him. She'd failed miserably.

"I'm sorry, Will. I didn't mean that the way it sounded." She held him tightly. "I guess I'm still reeling a bit."

"That's understandable. I'd be more concerned if you weren't." He stroked her back soothingly and brushed some of her hair back over her shoulder, enjoying the silken texture in his hands.

He didn't know the half of it. And she couldn't put off telling him any longer. She wished that she could brush his mind right now but she didn't have the strength to deal with accompanying pain she'd been experiencing. She knew Dr. Ree had told her not to push it, but she couldn't help herself. She looked up at him from her place under his chin.

"Will, I spoke to Dr. Ree for a while after you left this morning."

"Is something wrong, Deanna? I thought he said everything was fine." Concern evident on his face, Will carefully searched her dark eyes.

"No. Everything is healing as it should. But he found something else." She gazed at up him and smiled timidly, exhaling a deep breath before she spoke.

"Imzadi, I'm pregnant. It must have happened the morning I left. Dr. Ree thinks that the psionic inhibitor blocked my ability to sense internal emotions as well as those from others around me. Otherwise, I probably would have realized it sooner." She spoke quickly, once beginning the words just spilled out, uncontrolled.

She felt his formerly tense body fully relax against hers in relief. Without warning, his blue eyes filled with tears.

Quickly blinking them away he whispered, "I could have lost both of you… and never even known." His voice broke; stunned.

"Will…" She reached up and placed her hand on his bearded cheek, flinching as he jerked away from her touch.

"Don't, Deanna. Not now."

He pulled away from her completely and shivering from the loss of his warmth, she embraced herself. This was not at all how she'd wanted this conversation to go or how she'd envisioned it in her mind. What little she could sense of his shifting emotions completely dissipated as a wall went up within him; locking her out.

She had spent most of her time since receiving the news reliving the events of the hostage situation; what would have been different in her decisions and behavior if she had known that she was carrying a new life while her own was at stake; thinking of the chances she had taken and the risk involved. Though she was still anxious, Dr. Ree had told her everything was fine; a healthy baby of approximately four and a half weeks of age, and that calmed her a bit. But now Will wouldn't even look at her, let alone talk. He had rolled to the other side of the bed, lost in his thoughts with her unable to share them.

Deanna quietly slipped out of the bed and went into the bathroom. Closing the door behind her, she sank to the floor, crying silent tears. Back in the bedroom Will was staring up at the ceiling.


He was going to be a father. His first thought came with a rush of joy before the fear set in. It wasn't as though he'd had a good role model for fatherhood to base himself on. Kyle Riker had definitely been lacking in the parenthood department. And the man Will looked up to most as a kind of surrogate father, Jean-Luc Picard, was notably uncomfortable around children and had never had any of his own. Deanna, on the other hand, was born to be a mother. He was as certain of this as he was his next breath, remembering her gentle manner with Ian, the alien entity that had impregnated her and acted as her son for a short time, and also Deanna's firm guidance while helping Worf raise Alexander. She would have most likely had children years ago if he hadn't been such an ass for so long. Whatever mistakes he made, and there were sure to be many, Deanna would be there to smooth things over and set them to rights the way she always had.

Still, how could he be a good father when he couldn't even protect his wife? Thinking of her in the hands of the Tal Shiar and the frail image of her in Sickbay sent a jolt of cold fear down his spine. He knew that he'd been unfair to Deanna; pushing her away like that, but he couldn't stop himself from doing it…where was she anyway? She should have returned to bed by now; it'd been almost half an hour.

Will swung his legs off of the bed and grabbed his robe then knocked on the tightly closed door to the bathroom. She'd shut him out as effectively as he'd done to her a little while ago.

"Deanna." He knocked again and again received no answer. "Are you planning on spending the night in there?" His tone was light; he was expecting a sharp retort in return but still she did not respond.

Concerned now at the silent treatment, he knocked insistently on the door a third time and turned the knob with his other hand; swinging the door open into the room. What he found there turned his blood to ice in his veins. Deanna was sprawled on the cold white tile of the floor, unmoving, her cheeks stained with the remnants of dried tears. Will bent down and gently shook her shoulders to wake her. No reaction. Noticing that her breathing appeared shallow and her pulse was racing under his hands he yelled into the room.

"Riker to Sickbay! Requesting emergency site to site transport for two from my quarters!"

Appearing in Sickbay only seconds later, Deanna was instantly pulled from his arms and placed on an anti-grav cart by two medical technicians who rushed behind a curtain. Dr. Ree followed swiftly behind them, his tail swinging rapidly as his normally gentle voice shouted orders.

Chapter Thirteen

For the second time in one day Will Riker found himself wearing the same path in the floor in Sickbay and silently cursing himself over and over. He should have seen that something was the matter earlier. If he hadn't been blocking her he would have known instantly that something was wrong; he would have been with her instead of feeling sorry for himself. Ree had told him of the risks of complications and had warned him not to leave Deanna alone…


Will saw Lieutenant Kershu approaching out of the corner of his eye and swiftly moved toward the Edosian nurse.

"Counselor Troi has gone back into surgery, Sir. It'll likely be a while, if you'd like to change and come back." She gestured to his robe with all three of her arms and Will realized he'd been pacing in bare feet.

"What happened?" He asked, his voice hoarse. "She wouldn't wake up." Will was numb with fear. It was all his fault…

"She began bleeding into her brain due to the previous trauma to her paracortex. Dr. Ree is trying to get it under control now. We'll know more about the Counselor's condition in a little while, Captain. For now she appears to be hanging in there. I'll keep you updated as soon as I hear anything new."

Will nodded. "Thank you, Lieutenant."

Two and a half hours later Deanna finally came out of surgery. Dr. Ree had thankfully been able to stop the bleeding but this time he wanted to keep her in Sickbay for a while longer, cautious of a recurrence.

After returning briefly to their quarters to change into a fresh uniform and checking in with the Bridge, Will arrived in the waiting room and spent the many crawling hours vowing not to upset Deanna again. His head in his hands and still berating himself, Will found himself at her bedside once again, startled when she regained consciousness.

Deanna groaned softly, opened her eyes and looked around slowly. "This feels like déjà vu. Does this mean we get to do today over?"

Will looked up, relieved.

"Yes." He took her left hand in his again, clasping it to his heart. "Deanna…"

"Rabeem, Imzadi." She gifted him with a small smile then wrinkled her nose slightly in a manner he'd always found charming.

"What happened?"

"There was a complication from your earlier surgery. Some bleeding near the incision site but it's stopped now. How do you feel?" He asked, releasing her hand to brush some hair away from her face.

"Like I drank an entire bottle of tequila, passed out and was awoken by Mother… the Betazoid way."

Will winced. "Ouch."

He placed his hands on each side of her head and ever so gently began massaging her temples.

"Any better?"

"Mmmhmm. Thanks." Her eyes closed as the worst of the pain ebbed away under his touch.

"Anything else I can do for you?" He continued the slow pressure of his fingers as he spoke.

"Take me home?" Her eyes opened and she gazed at him hopefully.

He shook his head. Sorry. Doctor's orders. You're stuck here at least until morning."

Deanna sighed, resigned. "I figured. It was worth a try though."

He stopped rubbing her head and caressed her cheek softly. She tilted her head to the side and regarded him lovingly, drinking in the warmth of his presence.

"You're going to get yourself kicked out of here again. Don't you have a ship to run and a crew to boss around, Captain?"

"The ship is running just fine, Counselor. So, I thought I'd take some time to boss around my favorite subordinate." He dropped his hands to her abdomen and smiled at her, blue eyes sparkling. "Or two."

"Imzadi." She placed her hand atop both of his and squeezed lightly.

"Dr. Ree said that everything is as it should be. Any sense yet?"

"No," she replied irritably. "I'm still mostly blocked and what I do sense are vague impressions that I can't sort out."

"Give it time. He said it could take as long as a week before things are back to normal. Of course, I never thought you were normal to begin with… Hey!" He stopped his teasing as she poked him the side. Quickly recovering, he leaned in for a kiss.

"I always thought you were extraordinary," he concluded, winking at her.

"Smooth, Riker, very smooth."

He met her velvety lips again, then stilled, unsurprised to hear the sounds of movement behind him. Without looking over his shoulder, Will spoke.

"You were waiting for that, weren't you, Doc?" The Chief Medical Officer chortled and grinned at them in his way.

"I never have to wait long where you're concerned, Captain. No wonder your wife is back in Sickbay," he joked and clucked his long serpentine tongue. "Let her get some rest."

Deanna laughed, her face coloring slightly at his words. Will squeezed her hand again and stood.

"We'll be approaching Earth in a few hours. I'd better make sure everything is in preparation for our arrival. Get some sleep, will you? This way the good doctor here won't blame me again and will let me bring you home later."

Deanna nodded again and watched him leave, her eyes already starting to close as the events of the incredibly long day fully caught up with her.

Chapter Fourteen

"Ice cream for breakfast? Deanna, really. Isn't that a bit much, even for you?"

"Do you know how long it's been since I've had chocolate ice cream, Will? It's been over a month and that's entirely too long."

He mirrored her pathetic expression with one of his own.

"It's been entirely too long for a few other things too, Imzadi." His breath tickled the back of her neck from where he stood looking down at her behind the sofa, heat in his eyes.

She turned slightly and raised an eyebrow, tossing a knowing glance his way.

"Ice cream first, lover boy. Then we'll talk."

"Talking really didn't figure into my plans, Deanna." She ignored his plaintive tone and looked at him expectantly with her hand out, not saying a word

His shoulders drooping in defeat, Will walked over to the replicator briefly, then handed her the bowl she'd requested.

Deanna immediately began digging in to the thick layer of fudge coating the ice cream. She shut her eyes, savoring the bittersweet flavor on her tongue with Will watching the childlike joy on her face with amusement. So pleased to see her eating something at last he knew that one incredibly unhealthy meal wouldn't do any harm, especially when it was accompanied by that look on her face. The glee had transformed to a look of pure rapture that he hadn't seen in ages. She seductively licked the spoon a final time and set it down in the now empty bowl, sighing with delight.

After pausing by the replicator, Will gave in and fetched a bowl for himself only without fudge. Watching her a moment longer, he brought it over the table and sat in the chair beside the couch.

Feeling much better now, Deanna stretched out languidly. She knew she'd have to prepare herself for the debriefing by Starfleet Command the next day and once again relive those terrifying days. But right now she was home, she was safe, she was… being lifted off the couch.

"Will!" She squealed, squirming as he set her down in his lap and hooked his arms loosely around her waist. He drew her back against his solid chest, planting several soft kisses on the delicate curve where her neck met her shoulder.

"There are plenty of other seats available you know. We're the only ones here." The scent of his cologne filled her nose and she melted into him.

"I know. I thought I'd share."

Her eyes only partially open now, they widened as she spied his untouched ice cream beginning to melt in its bowl. She darted forward, snatching the bowl with one hand.

Just before the spoon reached her mouth, Riker grabbed it away from her.

"You had yours already. Hands off." He took the bowl from her in a motion so smooth she barely followed it, lofting it high above her head and far out of her reach.

Deanna shifted in his lap, facing him and staring at his antics in disbelief. Will ate the spoonful of the rich dessert and licked his lips clean.

"You'll share your seat but not your chocolate?" Her expression was worth more to him than all the gold pressed latinum in the quadrant.

"A guy's gotta have his priorities." He smirked at her, loading up the spoon again and taking another bite.

"What kind of marriage is this?" She grumbled aloud and Will laughed and shook his head.

As soon as the spoon retreated, Deanna pounced. She caught him off guard, pressing her mouth against his in a heated kiss. Teasing his lips open, she tasted the sweet, cold chocolate on his tongue. He groaned into her mouth and twined his fingers in her hair. The bowl dropped on the floor, melted ice cream pouring onto the carpet; forgotten. Time stood still and wrapped around them.

Gods, it had been so long…

Deanna's arms encircled his neck, pulling his face down towards hers. The fog surrounding her empathy continued slowly lifting away until all of her senses were filled with her husband's emotions. His feelings poured over her in a rush, his love for her, his desire, and… she broke the kiss suddenly and stared at him.

"Why are you feeling guilty, Imzadi?"

Chapter Fifteen

"You picked up on that, huh?" When she slowly nodded Will ran his fingers through his hair. "Deanna, I felt so helpless. Starfleet Command had forbidden Titan from going anywhere near the Neutral Zone and no one was doing anything to assist you…"

She raised a finger to his lips, silencing him. "You had your orders, Will. I understand that. We knew that situations like this could arise when you decided to take command of the Titan." She could feel how much this was eating at him and it tore at her heart to see the anguish in his eyes. No matter how many times they had spoken of the possibility of such danger, they couldn't plan for every eventuality.

Certain that they could get past this, she rose from his lap and settled herself back on the sofa, gesturing for him to join her.

"There was nothing you could have done. Any Federation ship approaching would have been destroyed immediately on Major Baresh's orders. The Tal Shiar took out the security force and killed five delegates before anyone on the base had a clue as what was going on. There was no time for preventative measures."

The sadness in her voice turned bitter, the words sour in her mouth as she relayed the frightening events of those days as a hostage.

"Gods, Will, there was so much subterfuge going on at that base; no one was telling anyone the truth and everyone was there for their own reasons. M'Rek was working as a double agent, Donatra was aligned with the Federation, Minister K'Pol was looking out for Vulcan interests, and the two surviving Romulan Councilors couldn't give a damn about how the negotiations ended as long as they were compensated for it."

"And you were caught in the middle." His voice was low, only now understanding the full scope of the impossible situation she had found herself in.

Deanna nodded slowly and linked her fingers with his. Looking down at their entwined hands she took a deep breath and continued. "The situation began to destabilize very quickly. Even without being able to sense their emotions, I could tell that the other four Tal Shiar operatives were getting sick of waiting for Minister K'Pol and I to agree to sign their version of the treatise, which would have assigned Vulcan as a slave planet to the Empire. Baresh had already attempted coercion by torture on K'Pol days before I woke up." She struggled to keep her voice calm, knowing how deeply affected he'd be by this.

"Woke up?" He looked sharply at her and she brushed that recalcitrant lock of hair away from his face, letting her fingers rest on his forehead.

"There was a complication with the surgery they'd performed and I was out cold for five days. Dr. Ree thinks it might have left me more susceptible to the complication that occurred after he removed the psionic inhibitor."

"You were unconscious in the hands of the Tal Shiar for almost a week and they left you alone?" Astonishment filled his voice; this was unheard of.

Deanna nodded at him again then looked at him intently, her dark eyes fixated on his. "Due to his alliance with the resistance, ProConsul M'Rek was aware of my past 'affiliation' with the Tal Shiar. He told me that if I didn't go along with him, he'd turn me over to his colleagues' tender care as a spy. As for them, M'Rek instituted a hands-off policy. As ranking officer over the other operatives, he told them that I'd be easier for him to personally break than Admiral Daniels and Ambassador Berin and reminded them that they needed one Federation delegate left alive for the necessary third signature."

"And then the base exploded." The small sense of relief that had initially settled in Riker's mind now that she was finally talking to him was instantly overwhelmed by the knowledge of just how close he had come to losing her… them.

"And then the base exploded." She affirmed. "The R'Van had been on its way to get us out on Donatra's orders. It arrived moments before Baresh had decided he'd had enough and entered the access codes for the tachyon charges. I guess he thought that they'd get out in time but M'Rek had reconfigured the transporter signals on the starbase. We were beamed to the R'Van just as the first charge went off and the remaining Tal Shiar were trapped in the explosion."

Will whistled under his breath. Her relief had been almost tangible, it resonated through their bond and he could see the echoes of the ordeal she'd experienced on her face. He hadn't fully comprehended just how wrong things could have turned out for all of them until now.

When Deanna had been kidnapped and forced to pose as an agent of the Tal Shiar years earlier, at least she'd had her empathy to rely upon. This time she hadn't even had that to assist her and still she managed to facilitate the greatest peace negotiation in Federation history. His wife was truly a remarkable woman, the bravest soul he'd ever known.

He cocked his head to one side and searched her face, seeing her from a new perspective despite the fact that her face was familiar to him as his own. He'd always been proud of her accomplished career but somehow he compartmentalized it; kept it separate from the woman he'd loved for most of his life. It was an unintentional disservice to her as a Starfleet officer and also as his Imzadi. Finally able to reconcile the two into the one ideal woman she had always been to him, Will reached out with one hand and began tracing the angles of her face as if for the first time. His path started at the delicate slope of her forehead, barely brushing the skin of her nose and down over to the perfect curve of one cheek then the other before his finger rested on her petal soft bottom lip.

Warmth rushed to her cheeks at his scrutiny, her eyes soft and endless as she watched his gaze sweep over her face, concentrating on each minute feature for long moments.

"What?" Her lips curled into a quizzical smile.

"What did I ever do to deserve you, Deanna?" His hand was under her chin now, tilting her head slightly to the side as he studied the fringe of dark lashes on her cheek.

"I can think of a few things." Her smile deepened, became flirtatious. "At the risk of over-inflating your ego, I'll give you some highlights."

"You saved my life from the Sindareen raiders," she began, brushing his hair back with her fingers again.

"And you've saved mine every day since," he responded solemnly, taking her hand in his and running his fingers over her wedding band.

Deanna's eyes misted, the deep emotion behind his words flooding her spirit. She sensed such purity in his love for her; it was beyond anything she'd ever known. It still took her by surprise and stole her breath. Now that her abilities were focused once again, she could also feel the residual apprehension still hovering in his mind due to the danger she had faced.

Blinking back tears, she draped her arms around his neck. Climbing into his lap she wrapped her legs loosely around his torso, surrounding him with the reality of her physical presence. Calling on their bond, she infused his soul with her complete faith in him and the certainty of her love, reassuring him that she wasn't going anywhere.

Will took a deep breath and exhaled. He'd missed this more than words; having a part of her with him all the time. He didn't know how he could have spent so many years without her in him after their souls had touched for the first time then fused into one. He rested his forehead against hers, dropping his hands to her hips and barely touching them with the very tips of his fingers.

"I didn't mean to interrupt," he whispered against her lips before grinning at her mischievously. "You were saying?"

Deanna laughed and a teasing light crept into her eyes. "Well there's always that thing you do with your ----" she stopped abruptly and pulled back from him slightly; her eyes wide. The smile dropped from her face and her mouth gaped open.

"Deanna?" He raised his hands to her shoulders, steadying her. "What's wrong?" Worry filled his voice.

She blinked rapidly. "Noth… Nothing's the matter, Will." The smile returned, luminous now and calming. "Now, where was I?" she murmured to herself and he stared at her, still bit cautious.

"Let's see… oh yes… on top of your numerous achievements… too many to list really, there's one that that absolutely cannot be overlooked." She leaned towards him, cupped his face in her palms and brought his mouth close to hers.

"You've given the Fifth House of Betazed a most precious gift, Imzadi; the first Daughter of a new generation," she breathed into his mouth, her eyes bright with tears.

Understanding lit up his crystal blue eyes with a brilliance brighter than the stars overhead and wonder leapt into his smile. "A daughter…" His vision blurred and his hand slid under the satin of her pajama top, caressing the equally soft skin of her stomach with reverence. "Hello, Little One." Raw emotion filled his voice.

"Will, you didn't just say what I think you did. You know how long it took me to lose that nickname…" She halted, seeing his glistening eyes.

"Imzadi… thank you…" Words failed him but she could feel his joy melding with her own.

"It's not like I did this all by myself, Will." She giggled at his open mouthed stare. "Here, close your eyes for a minute; let me try something." She rested her hand on top of his and closed her eyes, searching deep inside for the tiny presence she had felt for the first time moments earlier. Clearing her mind of all other thoughts and feelings, she nudged it briefly, feeling the small soul chiming in her spirit. Then she gently guided it towards Will.

"Now," she breathed aloud and in his mind, opening her eyes. When Will's eyes flew open moments later and locked with hers in awe, Deanna knew that he had felt her too.

Chapter Sixteen

The Security team was in place, having zealously guarded the original treatise for the past few days. Now they had beamed to Earth's surface and the handoff to Starfleet Command's Security Chief had gone smoothly, much to the relief of Lt. Commander Ranul Keru. Titan's Security Chief had never been in charge of transporting such an important cargo before, and the historical importance of this moment was not lost on him. In deference to Command's wishes regarding the transport of the document, First Officer Christine Vale had accompanied the team to the surface. Her former position as Chief of Security on the Enterprise-E lent an extra layer of experience to the team and greatly assured Lt. Commander Keru.

"Vale to Titan. Captain, our cargo has been delivered as scheduled."

"Acknowledged. Good work team. Riker out."

From his chair on the Bridge, Riker sat back and surveyed the beautiful sight of Earth before him; he hadn't been back since that first wedding ceremony in Alaska last year. He was looking forward to returning, though the circumstances were less than ideal. He'd be joining Deanna for the memorial service in a few hours; she'd beamed down earlier for debriefing.

Will hoped it would be over with soon. He knew from past experience that Starfleet debriefings were all too often closer to interrogations and he'd made her promise to request a break if she felt ill or too tired to continue. He would have preferred to accompany her to Headquarters, mainly to support her but also because he still didn't want to let her out of his sight. The moment he'd suggested it she shot him down, citing professional appearances and the amount of necessary if mundane work he'd let lapse over the past few days.

She'd pleasantly accused him of hovering and kissed him quickly then told him she was planning on meeting Beverly Crusher for lunch if the debriefing concluded in time, and he was most definitely not invited. Guessing he'd be among the topics discussed, he hadn't argued. Still, it had been hard to watch her leave the ship, the memory of her most recent mission's outcome fresh in his mind.

"Mr. Tuvok, didn't you want to be a part of the conveyance team?" Riker addressed his Second Officer and the Vulcan turned slightly from his place at the tactical console, shaking his head.

"No, Sir. It's enough to know that Phase I will be implemented shortly. I have no inclination to visit Earth at this time."

Riker nodded in response, not missing the almost imperceptible expression on the Vulcan's normally stoic face. For a brief moment, Tuvok had almost looked… happy.

Chapter Seventeen

"Deanna, over here!" Troi looked up to find Doctor Beverly Crusher waving her arm exuberantly as she headed towards her. She had been sitting in the bustling café for almost twenty minutes, soaking in the emotions of those around her and trying to put the events of the past few weeks behind her once and for all. Now that the debriefing was finally over with it was time to put it behind her and concentrate on the future. Sensing Beverly's presence before she heard her voice, Deanna set down her cup of hot chocolate and stood just in time be embraced by the fiery redhead.

"How are you? How's Will? It's been ages since we've had more than a few seconds to catch up." Crusher didn't pause for answers. "Thanks for meeting me here instead of my office, Deanna. If I didn't get away from my desk, it'd be flying out the window by now."

Deanna laughed and reclaimed her seat. Beverly threw her long, lean body into the chair opposite her friend and perused the menu.

"I'm fine, Beverly, really. A bit anxious to get back to work, actually. I'll be cleared for duty in another seventy-two hours and I'm afraid to even approach my office."

Crusher shook her head, red hair flying over her shoulders. "In spite of everything you've been through you look fantastic. Marriage obviously agrees with you, Mrs. Riker." She eyed Deanna enviously and keyed her order into the electronic menu. "In fact," she added, her gaze turning speculative, "I'd have to say you're glowing."

A secretive smile crossed Troi's lips and she met Crusher's stare with one of her own. "Is that your 'professional' opinion, Doctor?"

Crusher didn't ask, pulling out her ever ready tricorder and pointing it at her friend.

"Beverly, we're in public, put that thing away!" She couldn't stop the laughter; some things never changed.

"Is that what you say to Will?" Crusher countered. She finished her scan, read the results and raised an eyebrow, shrugging her shoulders. "I guess not."

Deanna stopped laughing long enough to accept congratulations.

Beverly tucked the tricorder away and leaned across the table. She squeezed Deanna's arm lightly. "I've missed this, you know."

"Me too."

Over lunch, Beverly peppered her with questions.

"Have you told your mother yet?"

Deanna smiled at the memory. "We told her last night. She may even be more thrilled than we are, if possible. Believe it or not she and Will are actually getting along fine these days. It could be the thousands of light years between us but whatever it is it's working for now." She toyed with her fork, beaming.

"How about you? Is running Starfleet Medical better this time around?"

"You have no idea. I'm loving every second of it, it's almost like having my own ship. But looking around at all those kids, Deanna. Most of them are younger than Wesley." She shook her head, savored the final bite of her apple pie.

"And so were we, once upon a time." Deanna smiled ruefully, running the spoon over the now empty rim of the chocolate parfait glass.

"I was never that green. At least I hope not." Over Deanna's shoulder Beverly saw Will Riker enter the café. She could see from the smile on her face that Deanna had already known he was approaching. It didn't surprise her; Troi once confided that she could probably feel him from five light years away since they had married.

She made a face. "So much for girl talk. We're getting company."

Deanna turned and followed her friend's line of sight, an affectionate smile on her face. He hadn't found them in the crowded room yet, giving her an opportunity to watch her handsome husband unnoticed as he confidently ambled through the crowd. She never tired of looking at him… of touching him.

When she hadn't turned her attention back to the table after a full minute had passed, Beverly cleared her throat loudly. "Have you told him yet?" Deanna looked like she wanted to have a second helping of dessert. She turned back towards Beverly, not really listening.

"Hmmm? What did you say?"

"Have you told him yet, Deanna?" She repeated, humor filling her voice.

"About the side effects of a Betazoid pregnancy?" Deanna turned her attention back towards Will and licked her lips. "Not yet. There hasn't been time."

Crusher threw her head back and laughed. "I'd love to be a fly on the wall for that conversation. Then again, maybe you should just demonstrate. If I know Will Riker, he'll get the message loud and clear."

Finally spying his wife and her friend, Riker's blue eyes lit up as he approached. Seeing his face transform at the barest glimpse of his wife, Crusher added, "I don't know how you two hid it for so long, Deanna." She sat back in her chair and watched the pair as their eyes met and held, magnetized. Will moved closer to them, not taking his eyes off of Troi for a moment.

"Neither do I," Deanna murmured, still fixated on him.

"And he has no idea what he's in for over the next few months." Crusher laughed wickedly then stopped, knowing now that he was within earshot.

"Hello, Captain." She rose from her chair and hugged him warmly. He returned the affection then released her, resting a large hand on Deanna's slim shoulder. Crusher's smile brightened, watching Deanna lean into his touch happily. They obviously couldn't keep their hands off each other. Sometimes it all worked out in the end.

Chapter Eighteen

The trio walked slowly down the hallway towards the memorial service, and had just about approached the entrance to the amphitheater when Will felt a heavy hand on his shoulder and heard a familiar voice from just behind him.

"Well, well, Will Riker. Why am I not surprised to find you flanked by beautiful women, just like in the old days. I heard Picard finally kicked you off his ship and made you get one of your own."

Riker turned and laughed, a grin spreading over bearded face. "Ryan. I heard you traded your space legs in for a desk job. How long has it been?"

"Longer than it should be. And I've been at in the Elite Security division at headquarters now for about three years. It's not exactly a desk job." The tall auburn haired man appeared to be about the same age and stood just a few inches shorter than Riker and slapped him heartily on the back, then gave each woman a long perusal. Will hadn't been the only ladies man during their service aboard the Hood. Now he raised his eyebrows above bright green eyes and looked them over again, lingering this time. "I'm waiting for an introduction, Captain."

Will was happy to oblige. "Commander Ryan Flannery, Dr. Beverly Crusher, head of Starfleet Medical and Commander Deanna Troi, Diplomatic Officer and Senior Counselor, U.S.S. Titan," he said, pride in his voice. Will was about to continue with less formal introductions when Flannery cut him off.

"The Captain and I served together on the Hood too many years ago to mention. And it's a pleasure to meet you both." He turned towards Will. "Travelling with a doctor and a psychologist, eh Riker? It's good to see you're finally getting the help you need."

All four laughed openly at that until Flannery slipped Crusher's hand into his own then brought it to his lips with an openly admiring glance. "Dr. Crusher, I've heard you've been working miracles over there at Medical. According to the grapevine, the place has never run more smoothly."

Crusher's eyes widened. The man's grin was infectious and she couldn't stop herself from smiling back at him. "Oh? That's very kind, thank you, Commander." She took great pride in her work and it was always nice to get recognition, especially from such a handsome gentleman.

"Not at all." He released her hand and turned towards Troi. The stare he gave her ran a few degrees hotter than simple admiration, and Will arched his brow, recognizing that look. It seemed that the years hadn't changed Flannery's technique. He'd once joked that he gained a new freckle for each woman he had charmed and sure enough, his face was covered in them.

Sensing Will's amusement at his former crewmate and friend's gawking expression, Deanna wasn't offended when Flannery's emotions read just shy of leering. She wasn't prepared though, when he stepped closer and looked directly into her eyes before speaking.

"You're stunning. I've heard wondrous things about Betazoid women and I have to admit I'm curious to find out for myself. Have dinner with me tonight."

Surprised, Deanna flashed him a quick smile and the man stepped back, pretending to be blinded. On the other side of Will, Beverly barely held her laughter in check, her face coloring to match her hair.

Hearing Will's laughter in her head, Deanna's smile turned coy and she shot him a side-long glance out of the corner of her eye.

"I'm not sure that's such a good idea, Commander," she demurred. "I'd have to check with the Captain."

Flannery raised his hands, pleading. "Please, call me Ryan. C'mon, Will. You're not going to tell me you've turned in to one of 'those' Captains that we used to hate, are you? The ones that micromanaged every aspect of their crew, including their social lives."

Beverly couldn't hold back anymore and a peal of laughter erupted as she tried to imagine Jean-Luc Picard trying to dictate 'Will-the Thrill' Riker's active social life aboard the Enterprise. At the sound, Flannery gave her a questioning glance.

Riker chuckled good-naturedly and wrapped an arm around Deanna's waist possessively, drawing her in close to him. Troi was thrilled; she hadn't felt him be this relaxed and content since before she'd left for the mission.

"Not every aspect, Ryan. Only the ones that involve my wife." Blue eyes twinkling, he kissed her breathless then faced his friend's shocked expression.

"Will Riker, married? The shocks just keep on coming." He took a few steps back and clutched at his heart. Then he sighed theatrically. "The most gorgeous woman I've ever seen, and she's married to you? There's no justice in that at all." He shook his head, dejected, and approached Deanna again, leaning forward conspiratorially. Then he whispered loud enough for Riker to overhear, "It's not too late to change your mind."

Deanna smiled at him again and shook her head. "I don't know how Captain DeSoto got anything done with both of you on the same ship."

"Hey! I'm reformed…somewhat." Will dropped his hand to her hip and squeezed lightly.

Crusher snorted and turned away to tap her beeping comm badge. Starfleet Medical waited for no one.

"Seriously Ryan, have dinner with both of us tonight. I'd love to show you around Titan, and I'll even cook. For now though, I think we need to take our seats. The service is about to start.

Chapter Nineteen

It wasn't yet 2100 hours and Deanna was yawning. She was glad that Will had moved dinner with his friend to another night. Her exhaustion had finally caught up with her during the memorial service; grief had filled the room, blended with some still latent hostility from a few of the Federation attendees towards the Romulan contingent and vice versa.

Shielding herself from the intensity of the emotions had emptied the last of her reserves, already low from the three and a half hour debriefing she'd been subject to that morning. As they had gotten up to leave the amphitheater after the service concluded Will had taken one look at her stricken expression and pulled Flannery aside to explain the situation and reschedule.

As soon as they had beamed back aboard Titan and reached their quarters Deanna collapsed into a four hour nap, not even bothering to remove her boots before crashing on the bed. Will had removed them for her and tucked her in before heading back to the Bridge. She had awoken alone and had been trying to catch up on some case notes and the latest psychology journals for the last few hours. Though technically still on medical leave, Deanna knew she'd feel better with a head start before returning to active duty.

She tossed the file she'd been reading aside and stretched, enjoying the rare silence of their quarters. She loved her husband dearly, but she hadn't been completely alone in a very long time and she was determined to enjoy every minute of it.

She rose from the bed and drew a bath in the giant tub, liberally sprinkling the water with bubble powder scented with Andorian roses and lighting the Betazoid meditation candles scattered around before she stripped and climbed in, sighing happily. It was the perfect way to unwind before turning in for the evening. She might be going back to duty soon but right now she didn't want to think past the soothing heat of the water.

She dipped her head under the faucet, so happy to be able to thoroughly wash her hair again now that the incision had healed; she hated sonic showers. After a vigorous shampoo, Deanna held her breath and dunked, swirling her hair leisurely under the water, rinsing it free of soap. She lifted her head; meeting Will's heated gaze when she surfaced. He was leaning against the doorjamb casually, barefoot and dangerously sexy in his uniform; watching her with a lazy grin on his face. She hadn't heard him enter their quarters nor had she sensed him from under the water, but somehow she knew he'd been there for a while.

Chapter Twenty

"Well now, here I expected my wife to be at home and waiting for me in our bed. I never expected to find a mermaid in my bathtub." His voice was low and teasing and those blue eyes of his caressed her bare shoulders as they rose slightly above the scented foamy water. The candlelight reflected off of her already transcendent skin and cast a golden glow on her sleek wet hair. He felt like he had wandered into a fantasy after completing hours of tedious paperwork.

Deanna smiled impishly and swam closer, creating small waves in her wake and giving Will brief tantalizing glimpses of her silhouette as the bubbles shifted around her body. She rested her arms on the edge of the tub and lowered her chin to the top of her folded hands. Lowering her lashes flirtatiously, she gazed upwards, sending him an echo of the powerful need she invoked in him simply by being there. Warmth flooded her body in response and she knew it wasn't from the water.

"I won't tell her if you won't."

Will chuckled and shook his head, walking further into the room. It smelled like a flower garden, soft and mysterious. "You obviously don't know my wife. She knows everything. It's part of her charm. Often, she knows what I'm thinking about before I know myself. At times, she can even read my mind." His desire coursed through her blood and a deep yearning ache settled into her limbs. She hovered beneath the foamy water as he approached, kneeling on the steps of the tub, only inches away from her now.

With the boyish smile that had stolen her heart on Betazed years earlier, he dipped his fingers into the warm water and watched as it rippled slightly around her, stroking her skin as surely as if he'd touched her himself.

"I've always enjoyed fishing. If I catch you, do I get a wish?"

Deanna tilted her head to one side, black eyes shining and appraising as she considered his question.

"Not if I catch you first." She rose partially out of the water and launched herself at him, her arms winding around his neck. Bringing his surprised lips to hers, she eagerly kissed him, completely soaking the front of his uniform jacket as she pressed herself against his chest. The rough fabric teased her breasts and sent a rush of sensation through the taut peaks; her tongue sought his out and slid over it delicately.

Will's hands splayed against the slick small of her back and he groaned into her mouth at the heat radiating from her skin. "The way you feel, Imzadi…" Without bothering to roll up his sleeves he plunged his arms into the water, glided down her body and lifted her behind her knees, drawing her fully out of the bath.

Dripping with bubbles and uncaring, Deanna clung to him and let herself be carried into the bedroom. Her hair lay in sodden curls over her shoulders; her eyes molten pools of dark desire in her delicate face.

Gently depositing his treasure on the bed, Will dashed back into the bathroom, re-emerging with a fluffy blue towel in his hand. She watched him silently, sensing his intent moments before he lifted the sopping mass of her hair off of her neck and wrapped it in the towel.

"I wouldn't want my mermaid to catch a chill." The timbre of his voice resonated deep within her and she shivered as he sat beside her on the bed. She arched her neck in a manner that drove him wild as he rubbed her hair through the cloth and gasped when he pulled her wet, naked body roughly into his lap.

His darkened eyes devoured her lithe form, undeniably erotic as she curved perfectly around him. Though still a bit more slender than she should be due to the hostage situation, Deanna nude was still the most beautiful sight he'd ever seen. He'd thought so the very first time he had seen her at Chandra's wedding many years ago and her figure had somehow gotten more spectacular as she'd matured.

"You seem to have a lot in common with my wife," he said, one hand drifting up the supple skin of her thigh as she struggled to push the soaking jacket off his body.

"Such as?" She asked, finally succeeding. She tossed the jacket to the carpet and reached for the fastener on his tunic, molding her lower body more fully to his. The hard heat of his arousal was evident through his uniform pants, and Deanna couldn't get close enough, twisting against him and wrapping her legs around his waist, only separated by the thin layers of fabric in her way.

"For starters, you don't seem to be able to keep your clothes on. Not that I'm complaining, that is." His touch whispered against the contours of her body though his hand hadn't moved from her leg and Deanna trembled in his arms. His ability to make her physically feel his touch through their bond had grown stronger than she had ever thought it would, and Will delighted in using his newfound knowledge to stimulate her whenever possible. She certainly wasn't going to stop him.

Will's tongue licked at a drop of water on her ear, drawing the tender lobe into his mouth and a bolt of liquid pleasure arced through her spine, centering between her legs. Deanna whimpered and the towel fell from her hair, now tumbling into silken ringlets down her back. Unable to resist, he tangled his hands through them, nipping now at her throat.

"For another, you taste as good as you look." He bent his head, his tongue sweeping droplets of water from her collarbone and tracing their path down between her breasts. Deanna sighed and slipped into his thoughts, urging him to hurry up and help her remove his uniform.

He raised his arms and Deanna nearly ripped the tunic off of him in her impatience. "Also," he said, unfastening his pants, "you make the most wonderful sounds…" He pulled her hard against him and she cried out at the crisp touch of his chest hair against her sensitive breasts. Her hands roved up the thick muscles in his arms and across the smooth skin of his back and shoulders then darted back down, shoving his pants and boxers down his legs. His agile fingers ran up the curve of her hip, holding her still.

His mouth was a trail of fire on her skin, kissing away each bead of water he found there. He flicked a droplet off one rosy nipple then suckled lightly and she jolted in his arms, panting softly. Without releasing her, Will lowered her to the bed, grasping a wrist in each hand and holding them high above her head. She bit her lip hard and arched into his waiting arms, forcing more of her flesh into the heat of his mouth; her legs moving restlessly against his. Each stroke of his tongue drove her higher; stilled her thoughts. Will's desire flooded her senses and coupled with hers, growing stronger every second. Their mouths fused together; lips and tongues seeking that which could only be given by the other.

She shifted against the sheets, hooked her leg over his hip, skillfully flipped him onto his back and straddled him. Looking over her conquest, she triumphantly ran her small hands down his broad chest, delighting in every inch of him. Will sucked in his breath, the muscles of his stomach tensing under her palm.

"My wife does that too," Will told her with a roguish grin, enthralled with the view now above him. His large hands reached up for her breasts; touched them tenderly and he noticed they were slightly fuller than he remembered. He stopped the caress; his smile fading as he looked up at her intently.

"Is this okay now?" He placed a hand low on her belly and Deanna nodded.

"Yes." She leaned forward and brought her chest flush against his, snuggling into his shoulder shyly. "Will, I have a confession to make. Something I should have told you earlier." Her eyes burned into him earnestly.

"Remember when I explained the Phase to you and you laughed and told me it was the icing on the cake?" She sat up, straddling him and sliding down his tightly muscled torso. She wriggled her lower body against him and Will sucked in his breath again as she barely brushed against his aching arousal.

He gritted his teeth and nodded in response, beads of perspiration breaking out on his forehead as he felt her reach between them and began guiding him into her. It was like sliding into molten honey and he could barely breathe as she surrounded him fully. He couldn't stop himself from thrusting into her, infinitely gentle now.

<Consider pregnancy the appetizer.>

His eyes closed at the sensual whisper of her voice in his mind and he shuddered.

<You mean?> His mind raced, trying to remember exactly what she had told him all those years ago about quadrupling her sex drive… or more.

She nodded, then moaned aloud as he withdrew then thrust back into her, more insistently this time.

<More like double or triple.> She rocked her hips against him, sliding further back; craving the full measure of him inside of her. Her head fell back and she sighed his name when he filled her to the hilt.

His eyes widened as endless possibilities raced through his mind and he cupped her bottom in his hands, slowly moving inside her. She rippled and pulsed around him, crying out softly. Will had never been quite so gentle before and Gods it had been so long…

<Imzadi… I missed you so much. Don't ever leave me again.> His eyes burned into hers, searing straight through to her soul.

<I'm right here, Will. I'm not going anywhere.>

His lips met hers and drew her into a softly lingering kiss as she rode him to their mutual completion.

Chapter Twenty One

Completely at ease for the first time in over a month, Deanna collapsed against Will's chest, breathless. He pulled the covers up and over their bodies as she buried her head in his shoulder, stroking her hair and lulling her to sleep.
"Bridge to Captain Riker."

It never failed. Will groaned and slapped at the communicator on the night table with his free hand.

"This had better be good," he muttered under his breath. He tapped the badge. "Riker here."

<I thought it was better than good, Imzadi.> Wide awake again, Deanna mentally giggled, her hand climbing up his leg; teasing.

"Sir, you have a communiqué coming in from Starfleet Command."

"Of course I do," he thought, capturing her hand in his own, stopping its motion so he could concentrate. Aloud he said, "Patch it through to my quarters with a five minute time delay, Mr. Tuvok. Riker out." He slowly extricated himself from Deanna's embrace and rose to grab a fresh uniform from the closet. Deanna propped herself up on the pillows, watching avidly as he dressed.

"Hurry back, Imzadi. I'm not through with you yet."

Will laughed and flashed her a heart-melting grin. She was adorable, all rumpled and flushed with that sensual glow he loved to give her. He hesitated to leave her even for an instant when she looked at him like that. "You'll never be through with me," he declared, walking towards the viewscreen in the office area of their quarters with the sound of her laughter following him out of the room.

But when he returned to the bedroom less than five minutes later Deanna was sprawled across the bed, sound asleep.

The next morning over breakfast Will unhappily relayed the message he had received the previous evening.

"They want you to go to Vulcan. You haven't even returned to active duty and already there are orders for you to ship out again." Worry and anger warred with each other within him. He stood abruptly and began to pace in front of her as Deanna set down her mug of hot chocolate and tightened the belt of her robe around her.

"Is this what your message was about last night?" Will's agitation flared like a beacon in her head. He hadn't even wanted her to beam down to Earth by herself yesterday and now this news had him stalking restlessly through their quarters.

"Yes, damn it. But you're not going." He stopped pacing and leaned his large frame against the desk. "I want you to go on maternity leave, Deanna."

"Maternity leave? Will, it's entirely too early for that. Besides, Dr. Ree has already said that there's no reason for me not resume my duties tomorrow." She knew he was worried, but this was almost irrational.

"I'll give you a reason. You'd be returning to duty light years from this ship and going right back into a potentially dangerous situation that almost got you killed the first time." Hearing how loud his voice had gotten, he lowered it and continued in muted tones. "Do you really think the Tal Shiar is going to give up on their plans so easily, Deanna? You know that they'll do something to disrupt any progress." She could feel his apprehension. He was already envisioning a worst case scenario, and she tried to project a sense of calm to set him at ease. She approached his fears logically while keeping her voice even.

"Will, as Starfleet officers, our lives are filled with dangerous assignments. You're the one who often used to tell me that when you left the Enterprise to lead an away team."

"That was different, Deanna. And we're not talking about me here. You can't honestly believe that I'd let you accept this assignment after what you just went through, especially now that you know you're carrying our child."

"Let me?" Her color was high and her eyes fixed him with an icy stare. Before she could rip into him, Will raised his hands, pleading with her to hear him out.

"Would you really have joined that delegation if you had known about the baby?"

She'd thought of nothing else for days but still didn't have a clear answer. She loved her career and had been thrilled to be a part of the historic accord, but considering all the risks now made her feel like a bat'leth was hovering above her head, poised to drop at any moment.

"I don't know," she answered truthfully. "But Will, you can't keep me in a bubble for the next eight and a half months." She stood and went to him, placing her small hand on his arm.

"No, but I can toss you in the brig for insubordination." The sharp look she gave him was mirrored back to her. "That was a joke, Deanna. Not a very good one, I'll admit, but still a joke."

She raised an eyebrow in that all knowing way of hers and Riker couldn't help but think of how beautiful she was when indignant.

"Okay, it was mostly a joke," he conceded. "Besides, I'd never actually do that. Starfleet banned conjugal visits to prisoners some time ago." He tugged on his jacket then stepped away from the desk, crossing to the other side of the room, his attempt at humor falling flat when she didn't reply. "I can't help wanting to protect you, especially now."

She nodded, sensing how deeply he was struggling. "I know. Let's get all the details first before 'we' make the decision." She tilted her head, eyes narrowing as she remembered the plans over the next few days. "What about the gala tomorrow night?"

Will shook his head. "It's been postponed. No one thought that the Vulcan High Command would want to implement Phase I so quickly, especially considering the way the Romulans had dragged their heels for so many months. I guess they decided it'd be harder for them to back out once resources had been committed." He braced his arms backwards against the table and faced her with a set jaw and an unyielding gaze. "If you do this, Deanna, there will be a security team accompanying you this time. That's non-negotiable."

"We need to get more information from Command before we decide anything," she repeated, walking back towards the table. "After all, I haven't seen my patients in well over a month now and crew evaluations are coming around. It's not fair for the other Counselors to wade through them without my guidance their first time out. I know Christine would agree, considering she's never done them before, either."

"Also, I wouldn't want to shirk my duties to my Captain in any way." She stepped behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist, leaning into his back. Her expression changed the instant she embraced him, warmth rushing through her. She slowly dragged her hand lightly over his stomach, enjoying the way his muscles clenched under her hand before she allowed it to drift further down.

"Deanna!" He turned, shocked. "Did you just grope me?"

"Mmhmmm. You have a problem with that, Captain?" Her arms wound around his neck; fingers tracing small circles on the back of his head. Will visibly shuddered at the delicate touch and attempted to shake it off, losing his train of thought momentarily before remembering their conversation.

"No. But you won't be able to do that from Vulcan." Still massaging his head with one hand, Deanna flicked open the fastener at his neck with an experienced finger.

"Point taken. I'll make sure to consider that…. later." With her palms against his chest she pushed him against the table, jostling the discarded dishes with a loud clang. "You don't have to be on the Bridge for close to an hour, Imzadi." She leaned in closer causing him to bend slightly backwards, and licked his lips; flooding his senses with her amorous intentions.

"You're supposed to be resting, Deanna. You're not even cleared from medical leave until tomorrow." Will's voice came out half-strangled against her mouth as he tried to reason with her with hard won resistance.

"That's okay. I'll let you do all of the work." Her eyes were gleaming as she hooked her index finger into his collar and dragged her helpless husband back into the bedroom.

Chapter Twenty Two

Two days later Deanna left for Vulcan. Will had searched for any reason to keep her aboard Titan but after receiving the mission specifications from Command even he had to agree that they'd be taking every precaution possible. The Federation would be sending along their own Security team to work in concert with one on Vulcan and Riker was relieved to see his former crewmate Commander Flannery's name on the roster. A seasoned Commander, Flannery had more than twenty years experience in Security on a spotless record and Will knew that he'd look after Deanna. Possibly too well, considering his earlier interest in her.

She'd be stationed on Vulcan for at least a week, possibly two. Just long enough for her and Minister K'Pol to advise the special joint committee chosen to take point on the different aspects involved in reunification. Deanna had been offered a place on the committee, but she'd quickly and respectfully declined. She had no inclination to be away from her husband and shuttle back and forth between Vulcan and Romulus for the next sixteen to eighteen months, and her condition wouldn't allow for it. Even if she had wanted to accept the post, Dr. Ree had forbidden it even before Will had a chance to speak up in opposition to the potential assignment.

As it was he'd made her promise to check in at least twice a day and he was trying not to worry so much. It helped that the first team of Romulan envoys wouldn't even be arriving on Vulcan for at least three weeks and Deanna would most likely be home by then.


Troi was exhausted. She'd hardly been released from medical leave when she found herself on a transport headed for Vulcan. She'd slept most of the way there and almost every spare moment since. She's been successfully able to avoid refusing almost all social invitations with the exception of an occasional breakfast with Ryan Flannery. The man simply did not take no for an answer, and Deanna was truly beginning to enjoy herself now that he'd spent the past few mornings regaling her with tales from her husband's youth that Will had probably hoped she'd never hear. She now had plenty of new ammunition to tease him with when she got home and in return she'd promised Flannery that she'd introduce him to a few of her single friends on Betazed who would be more than willing to help him satisfy his curiosity.

She hoped Will wasn't worrying too much about her and that he was getting some much needed rest. She'd barely allowed him any time to sleep prior to her transporting off the ship. Thankfully the hormonal effects on her libido had lessened the farther away from him she had gotten, allowing her the ability to concentrate on her assignment. Due to the strength of the bond between them, proximity was a whole other matter. She'd had to restrain herself from touching him at least a dozen times during the single Bridge shift they'd shared before she'd left and professional decorum had gone right out the airlock when they'd christened the Ready Room's desk, chair and floor after the final security briefing had turned into the best kind of one-on-one. Then Will had flat out refused to be alone in a turbolift with her after they were almost discovered in a very compromising position by two ensigns from Engineering who had taken it upon themselves to resolve the 'malfunction' that held the lift between Decks Six and Seven for more than twenty minutes.

She smiled now at the memory of his flushed face and embarrassed stammer, and how he had given them an impromptu excuse of conducting a random testing of the ship's response systems. The only ones being tested at that point in time had been his and she'd found them to be in perfect working order.

Walking down the long corridor at the Federation Embassy, Troi headed for the cabin she'd been assigned, nodding at the Security personnel stationed close by. Her cabin was large and comfortable and she was looking forward to putting her feet up at the end of another routine day of briefings. She'd been surprised and delighted to find that Will had somehow managed to slip a few boxes of something called chocolate 'kisses' into her bag; no substitute for the real thing but certainly delicious.

Entering the cabin, she immediately sensed that something was wrong; the smile rapidly slipping from her face. ProConsul M'Rek was standing by the sofa. Deanna's hand immediately went to her comm badge, hovering over it but hesitating when he began to speak.

"Don't summon your bodyguards just yet, Commander. I intend you no harm." He raised his arms, showing he had no weapons.

"What are you doing here, M'Rek? And how did you get in?" She walked cautiously into the room; sensing the truth behind his words. Still, she was wary; the memory of their last encounter heavy on her mind. Those long days of pain, the ensuing complications she'd experienced from the surgery he'd forced her into, an along with Will's guilt and anguish were foremost in her thoughts; leaving her shaken.

Seeing how tense she'd become, M'Rek dropped his hands and sat slowly on the sofa without an invitation. "Relax, Commander. Let's just say I was in the neighborhood and decided to drop by. The resistance is keeping a close watch on the happenings here to make certain that Phase I proceeds on schedule." He glanced around the room. "Your federation has certainly increased the security here since my last visit. It was much more difficult to transport here undetected."

"Now that you have you can either leave on your own or wait until I have you thrown out." Her arms folded protectively under her chest; Troi held herself stiffly. M'Rek's flippant manner did nothing at all to put her at ease. His emotions read as relaxed and content; the complete opposite of hers right now.

The Romulan ignored her and continued as though she hadn't said a word. "I'm glad to see you are looking so well, Commander. I trust there were no repercussions from my psionic inhibitor?"

"That's none of your business." Her voice was curt and she barely managed to suppress a shudder of revulsion. "Get out," she repeated; her fingers moving back towards her communicator.

M'Rek stood and inclined his head as though he were taking leave of an old friend instead of a former hostage. "Of course, Commander. Well then, until our next encounter." He tapped a button on his wrist and swiftly faded from view."

Once she could no longer sense his presence, Troi exhaled and relaxed her rigid stance. She desperately hoped there would never be a next time. With her stomach churning, she dashed into the bathroom, making it to the toilet moments before becoming violently ill. Her first impulse was to think that Will was right; she had no business accepting this assignment now. Then she splashed cool water on her face and brushed her teeth as she calmed herself, reason settling in. There were only a few more days until the committee was completely up to speed and the meetings had been relatively simple and stress free. She could see this through then take it easy for the remainder of her pregnancy.

Mind made up, she tapped her comm badge as the adrenaline left her system.

"Troi to Security."

"Flannery here, Deanna. What can I do for you?"

"I need to report an intruder in my quarters. ProConsul M'Rek was here when I got in." Somehow she managed to keep the stress from her voice.

"I'll send a team to check things out, and take a full report."

"He's already gone. Please check any incoming transmissions for a Romulan biosignature and I'll have a full report for you in the morning."

"Acknowledged. I'm posting a detail outside your door in case he returns."

"That's not necessary, Ryan."

"Necessary or not, it's done. Flannery out."
Troi took a deep breath and exhaled as fatigue quickly swept over her again. She headed towards the bedroom to change and turn in for the night, only to be woken by an incoming transmission from the Titan a few short hours later.

Chapter Twenty Three

Rubbing her eyes with her fists, Deanna padded into the other room and flicked the viewscreen on then smiled softly as her husband's handsome face appeared.

"Hello, Will." Gods she missed him. She could see that he was sitting in his Ready Room and she yearned to curl up in his lap and put her arms around him.

"Hello, Deanna. Did I wake you?" He saw that her eyes were bright with the remnants of sleep and her hair was gently pulled back from her face. She was undeniably the loveliest sight he'd ever seen.

"Its okay, Will. You can wake me any time." She pulled a chair closer to the screen and sat down, drinking him in and wishing he were closer than five sectors away.

"Are you feeling all right? What's wrong?" Will searched her eyes carefully, seeing something other than simple tiredness in her expression.

"Just some mild nausea, nothing to get concerned about." She hated to worry him, but she knew that if she didn't tell him, then Flannery would. She had no doubt that Will was getting frequent reports from his friend about the happenings at the embassy. She took a cleansing breath before she spoke. "M'Rek showed up earlier this evening. He wanted to let me know that the resistance is keeping an eye on Phase I."

"What do you mean he 'showed up'? How the devil did he get past Embassy security? I thought the Tal Shiar put a price on his head." She could see the tension begin to build in his shoulders as leaned in closer to the viewscreen. "I don't want that man anywhere near you, Deanna."

"Will, calm down. I'm fine and he's gone now. Somehow he bypassed the transporter filters and was waiting here when the meetings concluded for the day."

"He was in your quarters? Deanna!" Alarm leapt into his heart and his voice rose, strident.

"I'm okay, Will," she repeated. "Security is monitoring all transports in and around the embassy now. There's even a Security detail posted outside my quarters as an extra if unnecessary measure of safety. Only three more days of briefings and then I'll be on my way home." She tried to reassure him, seeing how disturbed this news had made him. Even through the small viewscreen Will's distress came across as clearly as if he were sitting next to her. She wished he was, wanting so to hold him close to her.

Riker exhaled and closed his eyes briefly. He hated her being so far away from him, especially now. "Good. And once you're home, don't go anywhere else for a while, will you? It's been damn lonely here without you."

She flashed him her lovely smile. "I promise to go no further than my office. Of course I may have to move in there for a few days in order to get caught up." She couldn't begin to think about all the work that continued to pile up on her desk while she was away.

"Don't you dare." The sparkle was back in his eyes now. "That's an order, Counselor."

"Aye, Captain." She saluted him in a manner long since retired and stifled a yawn.

"Go back to sleep, Imzadi. You need to take care of yourself and our Little One. I'll talk to you tomorrow. I love you."

"Good night, Will. I love you too." Too tired to continue, she blew him a kiss and lingered by the screen until his image faded from view. She'd take his advice and head back to bed… eventually. But now it was time for something chocolate.

Chapter Twenty Four

From her seat next to the Captain's chair Commander Christine Vale sat back and listened to the uncommon silence on the Bridge. She was itching to get back into the big chair; having been enjoying quite a bit of down time over the past few weeks between a routine mapping mission and a Captain who had become a bit of a workaholic while his wife was on Vulcan. Christine had been stunned that Troi had left the ship again within hours of being cleared from Medical Leave, but it wasn't her place to judge. Deanna apparently hadn't been joking when she said that she bounced back quickly and would be completing her assignment, but Vale didn't know how she managed it; she had seemed so ill just a few days previously. Once again Vale felt a bit chagrined at her doubts over Riker and Troi placing their relationship over the duties of the job but she brushed it away and noticed that Riker didn't seem quite as stressed during this separation. Or if he was, he was also hiding it better. He hadn't needed to be reminded to take some downtime for himself either, having thoroughly kicked her ass in a few rounds of anbo jyitsu two days previously. Vale still had the bruises to prove it and she squirmed slightly as a few of them came to her attention.

Watching her shift uncomfortably in her chair, Riker caught her eye and winked. It felt great to be able to trounce someone almost twenty years younger; she'd beaten him in the past, but not this time. He'd been practicing, spending every evening that he wasn't on the Bridge in the gym again; he needed to make sure he didn't collapse from exhaustion once Deanna returned home.

They'd mutually decided not to announce her pregnancy until the mission concluded; not wanting to draw any additional attention to her while on Vulcan. Fleet Command had been far from happy to have married senior officers on a ship one was captaining to begin with and Will was sure there'd be a fresh round of comments about their growing family that they didn't want to deal with right now. The last thing Deanna needed was any additional stress from headquarters after the ordeal she'd barely recovered from on their behalf.

The brief grim expression on his face was replaced by a small smile that touched the corners of his mouth as his mind drifted towards thoughts of his wife's imminent homecoming. She'd warned him to keep his strength up and rest before she returned; her needs would be growing as the pregnancy progressed and Will was looking forward to every bit of it. There was no way she'd be going anywhere else off ship for a while; he'd see to it even if he had to tie her to the bed to keep her home. Considering the way she'd been acting before she'd shipped out, Deanna would probably enjoy that scenario quite a bit.

Not for the first time Will silently thanked the gods of her home planet. Due to the culture of a Betazoid upbringing Deanna had been raised with virtually no inhibitions and he thanked the heavens daily as the lucky recipient of her boundless creativity. Remembering the way she'd lustfully attacked him in the turbolift he chuckled softly, drawing a quizzical glance from his first officer. Riker immediately cleared his head of those thoughts and turned back to the survey report on the console in front of him. It was time to get back to work.

Forty-five minutes later he straightened in his chair, a broad smile on his face at that first gentle brush of her mind against his again. He swiftly rose and straightened his jacket, turning towards Christine.

"The Bridge is yours, Number One." He headed straight for the turbolift without glancing back to hear her response.

"Aye, Sir." Christine quickly scooted into the abruptly vacated center chair. She was puzzled by his departure mid shift, but he was the Captain after all. An hour later while checking the sensor array Vale received her answer but the time stamp didn't make sense. Somehow Will had left the Bridge a full ten minutes before Deanna's transport had even approached sensor range. Sitting back again in the chair, Vale shrugged slightly. She'd long ago stopped trying to understand that relationship and she didn't think she really wanted to.


Chapter Twenty Five

As soon as Deanna entered their quarters she found herself swept off her feet and directly into a searing kiss. She was surprised; when Will hadn't met her in the transporter room she'd assumed that he was hung up on ship's business and was planning to contact him when she got settled. Instead she dropped her bag to the floor, sighed into her husband's mouth and pulled his face down to hers. Caressing his thoughts with her own of love and joy, she eagerly explored his mouth with her teasing tongue; sending a frisson of delight skittering down his spine. Minutes… possibly hours passed before they broke apart, mouths swollen and expressions more than a little dazed from the passionate reunion.

"Welcome home, Imzadi." One strong arm was braced under her legs and the other supported her back as he spun her around, laughing. Looking into her endless eyes glittering in the subdued light of their home, Will leaned in for another kiss but Deanna pulled back, having sensed why he hadn't greeted her transport.

"You still don't trust me in a turbolift? Afraid I'll embarrass you in front of the crew?" She feigned an insulted tone but couldn't completely keep the laughter from her voice. She was so happy to be home with him again, and Gods was he a sight for sore eyes. The civilian clothes he wore so well sped up her pulse and oh how she loved him in blue…her heart began a rapid beat in her chest as her breaths grew shallow and her cheeks flushed…she licked her lips.

Will laughed at her rapidly changing expression and kissed the tip of her nose. "Deanna, I didn't trust you on the transporter pad." He pressed her back to the wall and pulled her hair free from its confining braid so it hung loose around her shoulders the way he preferred. The simple touch of his hands on her scalp caused her to go limp in his arms; once again struck by how easily the nearness of him could overwhelm her senses.

Her delicate fingers played with the chest hair peeking above the deep vee of his shirt, searching for a way to get him out of his clothes without letting him go.

"Are you going to put me down?" she asked plaintively, not finding any other way to achieve her goal.

"I wasn't planning on it," he mumbled against her neck. His lips pressed ardently against the sensitive hollow of her throat just above the uniform collar and tremors of urgent desire wrapped around him from her carnal projections. The heady scent of her perfume invaded his senses, making him giddy. "This way you can't go anywhere else."

"Just trying to plan the rest of my day. Oh Gods…" Her head fell back on a moan when she picked up on some of the ways in which he planned to keep her from leaving again.

"You're confined to quarters until morning, Counselor. Captain's prerogative. I'm in need of some intensive therapy..." The warmth of his breath tickled her ear and he shifted her weight slightly in his arms, carrying her towards the bedroom. He gently placed her on the bed and removed her boots before joining her there. One large hand wandered cautiously over the flat contour of her stomach, still concealing its precious gift from sight. "Come here, Mrs. Riker. Let's try for twins." He grinned, a wicked light springing to his eyes at the prospect.

She smiled patiently at him, her eyes luminous with love. "It doesn't work that way, you know." She inched closer, savoring every nuance of his thoughts and cupped his face in her palms, kissing him passionately.

<There's a first time for everything> he sent as he pulled her beneath him and covered her body with his own.

Chapter Twenty-Six

Three months later

"Now this takes being out of uniform to a whole new level." Will's surprised delight was evident in his deep voice as he strode through the holodeck in search of his missing wife; not at all expecting the sight he found after overriding the lock on the door.

Deanna lay face down on a blanket on what looked to be the sparkling sands near the Janaran Sea; one of her favorite programs. The ocean crashed loudly in the background and there wasn't a single cloud in the sky. She'd been napping in the sun; a brief respite from the daily grind, but was stirring at his voice. She moved her outstretched arms and folded her hands under her chin, looking up at him from behind dark glasses.

"Then it's a good thing I'm off duty. You're blocking the sun, Will. Either move or sit down." She cocked her head towards the spot next to her and lowered her head again as he settled his large frame beside her.

Feeling slightly awkward about wearing a uniform and boots on the beach, Will's eyes swept over her and took in the dark hair gathered into a high ponytail and the smooth skin of her bare back above the small purple bikini bottoms. Only his wife would sunbathe topless on a holodeck at 1800 hours. But as much as he'd love to join her for some fun in the sun there were other things in his mind.

"Deanna, what are you doing here? We're having dinner with Commander Donatra in less than an hour."

"I'm not going. You can give her my regrets." Her chin hit the blanket again and she shifted slightly, keeping her weight off her growing belly.

"This isn't a social visit, Deanna. She came specifically to seek your counsel. You can't just opt out."

"I just did." She blew air from her mouth and sat up, gathering her floral print sarong close to her body before fastening the clasp between her breasts and covering her swollen stomach. All she wanted was some peace and solitude, hard to find when Will could override all of her access codes. "It's bad enough that everywhere I go the crew stares at me like some kind of oddity…"

"You're imagining that," he interjected, amused. He lifted a hand to shield his eyes from the glare of the holographic sun and leaned towards her.

"No, I'm not. They might as well be selling tickets. 'Come see the captain's pregnant wife as she waddles down the corridor.'"

"That's an exaggeration, Deanna." He placed a hand on her shoulder, hearing the beginnings of irritation in her voice and attempting to calm her before it escalated. "Remember what Dr. Ree said about hormones affecting your empathy."

"I don't need to be an empath to know when people are staring at me, or when you're patronizing me, Will." She lifted her other hand and removed his from her shoulder.

He shook his head. About a week ago she'd stopped trying to rip his clothes every time she saw him and started biting his head off whenever he came near her. He no longer had any idea what to expect with her behavior.

"If the crew is looking at you it's because you're glowing. Have you looked in a mirror lately, Imzadi? You're lighting up half the ship these days."

She saw the love shining in his eyes and felt the truth behind his words. At least he believed them, even if she didn't. "But I can hardly see my feet," she wailed, tears filling her eyes as she struggled to control her emotions.

"They're still there, Deanna," he said wryly. "Now can we please go home and get ready for dinner?" He lifted her feet to his lap and rubbed them soothingly.

She sniffled and removed the sunglasses; looking at him gratefully. "You make a pretty good Counselor, Captain."

"Yeah, well I learned from the best," he responded with a cocky smile. He released her feet and stood, reassured when she didn't argue.

"Don't go quitting your day job just yet." She sighed and awkwardly got to her feet with some assistance. He noticed that she was smiling again.

"I wouldn't dream of it. Did I mention that chocolate mousse is on the menu for dessert?" He bent his head slightly forward and whispered against her ear, watching as her eyes regained their familiar sparkle at his words.

"Why didn't you say that earlier?" He propelled her slightly forward and they headed for the exit. "Computer, end program."

The beach faded into the familiar grid of the empty holodeck and Will chuckled softly as he escorted her out. Some women might be wooed by romantic words, but not his wife. His sweet nothings had to be literal… and always include chocolate.

Captain's Quarters

1900 Hours

"Commander Troi, you'll be pleased to hear that everything on Vulcan and Romulus are still proceeding according to schedule. Other than some minor cultural clashes from both sides that we are doing our best to accommodate, there have been little more than small skirmishes to work through to date." Commander Donatra set down her fork and leaned across the table towards Riker and Troi, lowering her already modulated voice, though they were the only occupants in the room.

"Of course, there's still an issue of great concern that still needs addressing. ProConsul M'Rek has ensconced himself in a wing of the Federation embassy on Vulcan and is requesting permanent asylum once reunification is complete. There have been four attempts on his life in the past three months and he somehow slipped past security again and set up residence there. The asylum proposal is being considered, but it needs to be approved by the task force before the Federation agrees."

Deanna struggled to keep her voice calm. "That sounds familiar." She kept her body from stiffening and Will noticed the slight tremor in her hand as she lifted a glass of water to her lips. He watched her carefully, ready to abruptly end the evening at the slightest hint that her discomfort was growing.

"Will the asylum be granted?" He asked, still looking at his wife. Deanna set the glass down and folded her hands in her lap. His hand reached for hers under the table and she gave it a reassuring squeeze before letting go.

"That's what I wanted to speak to you about. Do you believe that she should be given asylum? For all the brutality of his life as a Tal Shiar operative, M'Rek has seemed sincere in his efforts to aid the reunification effort.

"If you call allowing Federation delegates and Romulan Councilors to be murdered and blowing up a starbase to be signs of sincerity…" Riker began hotly until Deanna placed a restraining hand on his arm, instantly silencing him. His mood had quickly shifted to anger and he needed to calm down and not let his personal feelings color this discussion.

"Of course not, Captain," the Romulan deflected. "But if reunification is to have any chance at success there will have to be a good deal of … how do your people say… burying the hatchet?" At Troi's nod, Donatra continued. "If it was my personal opinion the task force was asking for, I'd tell them to leave him to the Tal Shiar, but I don't think that's quite the answer they're looking for."

"No, I suppose not." Troi attempted a small smile, removing her hand from Riker's arm and reaching for her glass again.

"It pains me to admit this Commander Troi, but I have little experience with diplomatic matters; any insights would be greatly appreciated." She sat back and toyed with her fork again.

Troi responded slowly, formulating her response as she spoke. "From a diplomatic perspective, asylum for M'Rek would certainly send a clear message to the Tal Shiar; however, it may not be one you want. It might open the embassies up as targets for retaliation; assuming, of course that they aren't already." She took another long drink of water, aware that both Donatra and Will were waiting for her to continue.

"Unfortunately, there's no easy answer to this. And if you do agree to grant asylum, don't be surprised if more 'former' operatives follow with asylum requests of their own. The Tal Shiar is well aware of which way the wind is blowing and they will try to capitalize on it wherever possible." Her appetite completely gone now, Troi sat back in her chair, absorbing the somber emotions present at the table.

"You're talking about covert infiltration?" Donatra asked and Troi nodded. "I was afraid of that." She pushed her chair back from the table and rose. Riker and Troi followed suit as she extended her hand.

"Captain Riker, Commander Troi, thank you for your time. There are some very big changes in the works on Romulus right now, and of course not all of them will be easy. I'll keep you posted on the committee's decision."

They shook her hand and said their goodbyes; a shuttle was already waiting to take Donatra back to Romulus.

After she left, Deanna settled herself on the sofa and closed her eyes as Will straightened up from dinner. She'd barely touched her food again, and only tasted the chocolate mousse; too distracted to have an appetite. She rested her hands on her abdomen, feeling the steady kicking that never seemed to cease these days.

"That went better than expected." He cleared the last of the plates away and placed them in the recycler before joining her on the couch.

"Yes, it did. They'll be granting asylum though." She spoke matter-of-factly and her voice was flat.

"You're certain?"

At his wife's slow nod, Will cautiously drew her into his arms. Due to the strong sense of control she had to fight to maintain while on duty, in her spare time Deanna's mood swings were out of control; the constant suppression intensifying their scope whenever she let go. Thankfully she'd agreed to be restricted from away missions for the duration of her pregnancy. Though he didn't want to set her off, right now he needed to hold her. When she didn't immediately yell or pull away, Riker breathed a sigh of relief. Instead she rested her head against his shoulder. Maybe it would be a good night after all.

"For appearances sake, they'll need to. I sensed that Donatra knew that before she came here; she just wanted validation." Deanna shifted sideways against him so that her head was in his lap. Will propped his now bare feet up against the table and stroked her hair lightly, still conscious that she might pull away at any moment.

"Maybe it was her way of giving us a heads up. A bit of friendly courtesy."

The calming motion of his fingers against her head felt wonderful and Deanna sighed happily. "Possibly," she allowed, reaching for his free hand and guiding it to her stomach. "But it isn't really our problem anymore." A sharp quick kick followed her words and Deanna smiled and looked up at Will. "I think our daughter agrees."

Will's eyes lit up at the movement against his hand. He knew Deanna had been feeling kicks all day while on the Bridge; her posture had given it away and it had been hard for him not to frequently check on her or touch her while they were both on duty. Now, given free reign, he rubbed her belly with his palm and was rewarded with two small kicks in quick succession.

"You always had a way with the ladies, Riker." Deanna yawned and closed her eyes. Will laughed softly and bent to press a kiss against her forehead. When she didn't complain he gently brushed his lips over hers.

"Don't do that unless you mean it," she responded drowsily; eyes still closed.

"You're barely awake," he pointed out. "Why don't you go to bed?"

"Mmmmhmm. In a few minutes. Then you can go off and play with your ship."

"I'd rather play with my wife," he answered quietly. His hand crept up her ribcage and settled just under her swollen breasts.

"Don't push it, Captain." Still, she didn't swat at his hand or move away. It was progress.

"Dee?" He asked as her earlier words finally registered.


"Is it really not our problem anymore?"

Her dark eyes fluttered open and she gazed at him from her place in his lap. "That's right. I'm sure that the task force can completely take over from here."

The grin he gave her was blindingly brilliant. "So it's over?" He asked, seeking definitive reassurance.

Deanna reached up for his hand and placed it back on top of her still fluttering stomach. "No, Imzadi. It's only beginning."


Five months later…

Captain William T. Riker never expected to experience love at first sight at all, let alone twice in one lifetime. He was already the luckiest man in the quadrant; he'd somehow gotten Deanna to marry him and he was the captain of a fine starship… truly more than he'd ever thought possible for a boy from Valdez who used to stare at the stars overhead at every opportunity. And right now, sitting beside his beloved wife's biobed in the maternity ward of Titan's Sickbay and gazing down at the small bundle asleep in his arms, Will Riker felt blessed beyond belief.

He closed his eyes and inhaled that unique fragrance known only to infants as torrents of undefined emotion overwhelmed him from the events of the day. Dr. Ree had told them he had never attended an easier birth; Deanna's labor had lasted less than six hours and she hadn't even seemed to be in that much pain for most of it. The entirety of her pregnancy had in fact been remarkably without incident considering the amount of stress she'd been subjected to early on. Thankfully, they'd been able to put the whole experience behind them and move on, though Will would never forget those agonizing moments when he'd thought she might have been killed. Upon discussion, she'd cut down on her Bridge shifts in order to appease him, but continued seeing patients up until last week when Dr. Ree had ordered her off duty.

No one knew quite what to expect with a quarter Betazoid, three quarters Human baby born to an Imzadi couple who had a bond stronger than it had any right to be due to their own mixed heritage. Full blooded Betazoids never gained their telepathic abilities until puberty and Lwaxana had told them that there was a very small chance that the newest Daughter of the Fifth House might grow up to have a slight degree of empathic ability that could eventually manifest when she was older. If not, that was fine too. Will already felt that she was sheer perfection.

He traced a finger down the petal soft curve of one cheek and cuddled the baby closer to him, amazed at the miracle he had helped to create. He saw none of himself in her at all; she was her mother in miniature; from the silky black curls and the shape of her ears to the tips of her tiny fingers. Will's heart jumped into his throat and his eyes grew wet when the perfect rosebud of her mouth opened on a small sigh; the exact sound he often heard when Deanna drifted off to sleep as she had done minutes earlier after nursing their newborn daughter. She had never looked more radiant…

Suddenly the lightest touch of a tiny presence brushed his thoughts and Riker almost jolted out of his seat at the unexpected sensation. His eyes flew open with astonishment and were greeted with a very familiar expression… his own look of curiosity and interest; far too focused from one only a few hours old. She peered up at him from crystal blue eyes and met his startled gaze, staring at him briefly for the first time. Then she yawned and with another soft sound fell right back to sleep against her father's chest.

He chuckled softly and kissed the top of his daughter's downy head, whispering into her hair.

"So you're a firecracker, Little One… just like your mother."

The End.