by Kate

Subject: R/T
Rating: angst and grief
Disclaimer: Paramount owns everything. No infringement intended.
Setting: Post-Nemesis
Feedback: Please!

Author's note: This story has a lot of sadness and grief in it, but also a good Imzadi ending. The journey from grief and sadness to happiness is not always a direct or easy one. But the rewards of getting there are worth it, especially if you are Imzadi, as Will and Deanna are. Enjoy the ride.


She sat in a chair, her eyes glazed by shock. On the bio-bed before her lay her husband of nearly two years. He looked as if he was sleeping peacefully. But the continuous beeping of the bio-monitors, the tube exiting from his mouth, the external heart pacemaker and the IV line belied the appearance of normalcy. In fact, he was in a deep coma and on life-support.

She felt a stirring in her abdomen and looked down. Slowly, she placed her hand on her rounded and protruding stomach and looked dully down at it. She felt a movement against her hand but her expression didn't change.

She heard the sickbay doors swoosh open. A blur of movement caught her attention and she looked up impassively.

"Deanna, you've been sitting here for hours. We're monitoring Will carefully. He's stable right now," Beverly said, concern written on her face. "You need to rest. Exhausting yourself will not help you any and it certainly won't help that baby you're carrying."

"I know, Beverly, but I'd rather stay here with Will. I don't think I can face being in our quarters alone…," Deanna responded, looking at Beverly with a pained expression. "I'm just doing here what I'd do there anyway… just sitting."

"Very well, Deanna. You can stay. But I want you sitting quietly."

"I understand," Deanna sighed sadly.

After Beverly left the alcove where Will was, Deanna stood up and went to stand by his bio-bed. She gazed at him. He looked so peaceful. His chest rose and fell. His eyes were closed and his face calm in repose. Except for the surrounding medical paraphernalia, he looked as if nothing was wrong with him physically.

Then she saw once again the dermal patch on his neck that covered his wound. She reached out to touch it and thought about what lay beneath that bandage. Under the covering was a crusted mess of burned skin, which Beverly had only been partially able to repair with the regenerator. Burned skin at the entry point of a weapon's potentially lethal payload. The weapon that had put Will Riker in a coma.

As she touched the patch, memories of the sudden heat and brightness of weapon fire and then Will screaming in pain and falling quickly to the floor raced through her mind. She had been there when it happened. She remembered walking with him and Captain Jean- Luc Picard. One minute they were requesting a beam-out; the next, a Romulan quickly materializing and firing a weapon in their direction. Then, there was the smell of charred flesh. She gasped and shuddered again at the memories.

How could this have happened, she asked herself sadly. Why did this happen? She shook her head uncomprehendingly. She was too overwhelmed by the shock of what she had seen to even know how to react any more.

She sat back down, suddenly feeling light-headed. As she stared at Will as if in a daze, other memories began to enter her mind. Images of her and Will. She sat back and let her mind wander back to those life-filled memories.


She saw Will lying stretched out on his side, asleep in their bed on the Titan. The sheets were twisted about his hips. His hair was tousled and spiked, his arms wrapped about his chest. That made him look boyish and innocent, the more so because his blue eyes so often sparkling with mischief were closed…

The monitors continued their beeping, the oxygen pump rhythmically whooshing with each mechanical breath. Deanna sat, mesmerized by the sounds generated by the equipment keeping her husband alive. Her mind continued to wander.

She put her hand on her pregnant stomach. She remembered the first time she had been pregnant. She and Will had only been married for a few months when they decided to try to start a family. To their great joy, she conceived quickly. But Betazoid and human physiology were not always fully compatible, and any resulting pregnancy had only a moderate chance of a successful outcome. And, two and ½ months into the pregnancy, she began to hemorrhage. The small internal voice she had heard from deep in her womb was stilled forever.

Deanna and Will had been devastated by the loss. She had felt the loss even more keenly than that of Ian so many years before. Then, she had lost a child, which was bad enough. This time, she had lost a child created with her soul-mate, her Imzadi.

Many months passed before either of them thought at all about trying again to have a child. But as Will would lie with her in bed or on the couch in their quarters, sometimes he would unconsciously rest his hand gently on her now flat stomach. Deanna would look at him questioningly and Will would look at her tenderly. Words were not exchanged; none were necessary between those who were Imzadi.

The mechanically-induced rising and falling of Will's chest continued. He lay ever so still in his bio-bed. Deanna wasn't really focusing on what was before her at that moment…

She remembered the night that she became pregnant again. It was a long time after the loss of the first pregnancy before she was ready to make love with Will again. Though it was not rational, in her mind, making love and the loss were inextricably linked.

But that night had begun with a lovely meal that Will had prepared himself. He had seen to every detail: real china, crystal candlesticks, flowers native to Betazed gracing the table, her favorite Earth and Betazed foods presented beautifully. It was almost as if he was courting her all over again.

After insisting she couldn't eat another bite, not even if it was chocolate, she rose and moved to the couch. Will joined her, bringing with him two glasses and a bottle of wine. He poured some into each glass and handed one to Deanna. Then he sat next to her on the couch and wrapped one arm around her shoulders.

They sat like that, sipping their wine in contented silence. Then Will softly kissed Deanna on her cheek as he so often had done. She looked at him lovingly. He reached over, took her glass from her hand and put both hers and his on the table next to the couch.

He leaned over to kiss her again, this time lightly on her mouth. Her kiss back encouraged him to kiss her again, this time with more pressure. And then, without waiting for her response, he teased her lips apart with his tongue. He couldn't hold back any longer; it had been so long since they had made love together.

She pulled away from Will's attempted entry, saying, "I can't Will." Will looked at her with a mixture of love, understanding and pent-up passion written on his handsome features.

"It's alright, Imzadi. I understand…But you can. It's time to move on…," he said as he gently stroked her face.

"Will, I'm so afraid of what might happen," she whispered.

"I know, Deanna. So am I… But gods do I want you. I want you so badly." By this point, his eyes were dilated with passion, his breathing heavier. "Please let me show my love for you. Let me worship your body, Imzadi. Please…"

He did not wait for words to answer him. He found his answer in her acceptance this time when he pushed his tongue into her mouth. A groan escaped her as she touched her tongue to his. Hands at first tenderly touching one another quickly became frantic in their explorations of each other's body. Clothes were stripped and thrown carelessly, landing haphazardly and littering the floor around the couch. Tongues were used to lick, mouths to kiss and suck. And finally, after so many months of avoidance and denial, they came together for an unforgettable and shattering climax.

It was a month after that, their first sexual encounter in a long time, that the pregnancy was confirmed. She had been feeling unusually fatigued and having some transient nausea. Thinking it was stress-related, she thought it sensible to get herself checked out.

She was both overjoyed and frightened when the doctor of the Titan confirmed the pregnancy. Will showed nothing but joy to her when she told him her news. If he felt anything else, he would not let her in to find out. But they both began to breath easier when, after several more months, it became clear that this pregnancy was here to stay.

That was six months ago. Then, they had begun to talk of having their quarters rebuilt to include a nursery. They had even started thinking of names.

"Will this child ever know its father?" Deanna said to herself flatly, as she watched the oxygen pump move up and down as it breathed for Will. She reached out to him with her mind but found almost nothing there. All she could sense was a vague, gray presence, a sense of something barely alive, as if it were a flame about to go out.

Finally, tears that had remained locked inside a shell-shocked heart came. Deanna went over to Will and lay her head on his chest. And she wept.


In the ready room of the Enterprise, a visibly shaken Captain Jean-Luc Picard was pacing. He twisted the crystal paper weight back and forth in his hand, as he often did when upset. The piercingly dark eyes of his chief of security, Worf, and the concerned blue ones of his former chief medical officer, Beverly Crusher, watched the captain in his circuits of the room.

"How could this have happened?" barked the captain. "And what did happen yesterday?"

"We are awaiting the arrival of an investigative team," Worf answered. "Starfleet has dispatched one to assist us getting to the bottom of this. It should be here in 24 hours."

"That investigation begins now!" ordered Jean Luc.

"Very good, sir. It is what Captain Riker would have done, I am certain," agreed Worf.

Jean-Luc sat down tiredly in the chair behind his desk. His hand pressed the call button on his communication unit. "Commander Lefler to the ready room," he said. A woman's voice responded, "Right away sir."

After Commander Robin Lefler arrived in his ready room, Jean Luc asked the assembled officers, "What do we know about what happened yesterday?"
"Sir," Commander Lefler began, "You were leaving the Romulan High Council Chamber. The security field surrounding the Chamber and the entryway had just been deactivated. As you walked out, a Romulan materialized a few feet away, pointed a weapon at you and fired. But sir…"

"Yes, Number One?" And such she become. After having been briefly on the Enterprise so many years before, she had since worked her way up the ranks of the starship-bound crews. Though engineering had always been her first love, she had learned that if she wanted to be posted to a starship of the caliber of the Enterprise, she would have to broaden her experience.

And that's what she did. She became a hotshot officer, tackling each of her ship postings with single-minded dedication, doing whatever was necessary to make her a more attractive addition to a starship crew. Much as the captain of the Titan, now fighting for his life in sickbay, had once done. Her eventual reward was to be called upon to replace Data as Captain Picard's Number One.

"Sir, we have already received security discs from the Romulans."

'Yes. And?"

"Sir, it is clear from the discs that Captain Riker was not the intended target."

"What?" he questioned. "Then who was?"

"Sir, you were." The room was suddenly quiet. Only the constant thrum of the warp engines could be heard. All eyes looked to Commander Lefler.

"Sir, the Romulan was definitely aiming at you. It is only because Captain Riker stepped between the two of you as the weapon discharged that you were not hit."

Jean-Luc shut his eyes in pain. Feelings of sadness and guilt washed over him. "My former first officer is fighting for his life and he wasn't even the target?" he whispered.

Beverly Crusher approached the captain. She could see the look of guilt on his face. She reached out to touch his hand. He looked up at her with a sad face.

"Jean-Luc, don't blame yourself. You did nothing wrong. You didn't have any reason to suspect that something like this might happen," she said in a soothing voice.

As she spoke, the events of the previous day went through his mind. They had been asked by Starfleet to go to Romulus to meet with members of the new High Council. The chambers had been rebuilt and new members installed since Shinzon's thalaron bomb wreaked its destruction two years before.

Starfleet had asked Captains Picard and Riker, as well as Counselor Troi-Riker, to go because they had been the last Federation representatives to actually have met in person with various Romulans before and immediately after Shinzon's death. The Federation had initiated contact with the Romulans a while after Shinzon's death, but only through interspace communication. This visit would be the first person-to-person contact between members of the Federation and the Romulans. It was thought that with the first-hand knowledge the captains and the counselor had, they would be the best situated members of Starfleet to make such a contact with the Romulans on their planet.

They would be meeting their Romulan hosts in a new government building. After Shinzon's thalaron bomb destroyed the old Chamber and its occupants, the Romulans tore down the remains of the building. In its place was a most imposing edifice, bristling with state-of-the-art security devices. This included a new security force field around the chamber and its lobby. The force field remained in place unless deactivated by special code authorization.

The team of the two captains, Counselor Troi, and Commander Worf had beamed down the day before, for the first of several meetings. The meeting had lasted an hour and consisted mostly of pleasantries. Nothing of substance was decided. Still, it had been a seemingly positive experience. The handshakes on both sides had seemed sincere.

They walked out of the Chamber, smiles on their faces. Captain Picard was the first to exit the Chamber. Captain Riker and Counselor Troi were a step behind, and Worf just behind them. Just as a Romulan security officer disabled the force field to allow them to beam out, Riker quickened his step to come along side of Captain Picard and Riker turned slightly to speak to the captain. At that very moment, a weapon discharged. Its payload hit Riker squarely in the neck, millimeters from his spinal chord. With an animal scream of pain, Riker grabbed his hands to his neck and fell to the floor. The stench of scorched flesh filled the air as Romulan guards rushed to grab the perpetrator.

Without even thinking, Picard slapped his comm badge, saying in a panicked voice, "Medical Emergency. We need a point to point beam out to Sick Bay. Now!"


Beverly Crusher had been promoted to Head of Starfleet Medical two years ago. She loved her work there. But she missed being on board a starship. She also did not want to lose her edge as a doctor. So, periodically, she would take a brief leave of absence -usually for two to three weeks - and return to the Enterprise, the ship she had served on for nearly 15 years.

She had beamed aboard the Enterprise in the morning, shortly before the away team went to the surface of Romulus. When she saw Deanna standing in the Transporter room with a smile on her face and a very pregnant stomach, Beverly almost ran off of the transporter platform. As she hugged Deanna affectionately, she said, "When you return from your mission, we've got a date in Ten Forward!" Deanna smiled her assent, and returned the hug. At that time, Beverly had no idea that she would be getting the practice she wanted very soon and there would be no time for that date in Ten Forward.

She had been sitting in Sick Bay, reviewing some patient files on the monitor in front of her. It felt both strange and familiar to be sitting yet again in the chair she had sat in so many times during her 15 years of duty aboard the Enterprise. As she read the information on the screen, she let out a sigh of contentment. She really had missed being aboard the Enterprise.

Suddenly, her communication panel beeped. "Transporter Room to Dr. Crusher."

"Crusher here."

"Medical emergency coming in on a point to point transport from the planet's surface."

"Standing by to receive the patient." A sudden rush of tension and concern went through her. "What happened down there?" she asked herself.

Within a minute, she had her answer. Appearing on the floor of Sick Bay was a collapsed and unconscious Will Riker. He was pale and barely breathing. There was an odor of charred flesh about him and blood was pooling under his neck.

"I need an anti-grav cart here. Now!" yelled Beverly. Nurse Ogawa and another nurse rushed to Will's side, bringing an anti-gravitation cart with them. "We're going to move him to the surgery bay. We need to lift him onto this cart. On my mark," Beverly said quickly. The nurses nodded.

"Okay. One…two…three, now," she said, reaching to grab Will by one of his arms. Nurse Ogawa grabbed Will's other arm and the other nurse one of his thighs. Without waiting to be asked, Worf grabbed Will's other thigh. Within an instant, Will was laid out on the anti-gravitation cart and speeding his way to the surgery bay.

Once in the surgery bay, Beverly and Nurse Ogawa began cutting away Will's tunic. Beverly looked quickly at Will's neck. "He's bleeding here. We've got to stop the bleeding now. I need to pack this wound," she said urgently. The attendant handed Beverly dermal patches to pack the wound. At the same time, Nurse Ogawa turned the bio-monitors on to begin their readouts on Will's vital signs.

Once the wound was packed properly, Beverly grabbed a tricorder. She quickly scanned Will with the instrument. The tricorder reflected much of the same information that was reflected on the bio-monitors: blood pressure at 80/40; shallow respirations; pulse oxygen at an oxygenation level of 80.

It was the additional data reflected on the tricorder's screen that caused Beverly's frown to deepen. "My God, the damage to his spinal chord is extensive…," she said, her voice laced with concern. "I don't know how much we can regenerate…," she added.
"Okay, we need to get as much dead tissue out of this wound as possible," she said to the nurses standing beside her. "There's going to be major swelling, and I don't want that dead tissue to add to the pressure on his spinal chord," she explained. The nurses nodded their understanding.

Beverly and the nurses donned surgical gloves. Then Beverly administered a hypospray of a local anesthetic to Will's neck. After that, she began to remove the packing ever so slowly from the wound. Fortunately, the bleeding had stopped. She used a surgical laser to carefully cut away the charred skin and the dead tissue below it.

As she was finishing removing as much of the dead tissue as she safely could, the bio-monitor started beeping wildly. "Doctor, he's crashing. Heart rate, blood pressure and pulse ox are tanking," said Nurse Ogawa.

"Stay with me Will," Beverly hissed through clenched teeth. "Nurse, I want 100 cc's of epinephrine. Now!" She shot the hypospray into Will's neck. His heart rate and blood pressure stopped their plunge. "Another 100 cc's. Let's get those vital signs back up," she urged. Into his neck went another dose. There was no improvement.

"I don't understand this. He should have responded to the medication," Beverly said. "Okay, we can't wait around to determine the best alternative meds to up his vitals. We've got to put him on life support now, or we'll lose him."

With that, Beverly and the nurses attached an external pacemaker to maintain a proper heart rate. Next, they intubated Will, to allow an oxygen pump to breathe for him. Then, they inserted an IV line into his arm in order to provide him with fluids. Finally, Beverly put a dermal patch over the wound in Will's neck.

A few minutes later, they brought Will back to the Intensive Care cubicle. It was only after his IV fluids were started and the tube hooked up to the oxygen pump imbedded in the wall next to the bio-monitor that Beverly paused to take a deep breath and gather her thoughts. What she had just done was easy in comparison to what she was going to have to do next: talk to Jean-Luc and, especially, to Deanna.

She went to the office in Sick Bay. Deanna, Captain Picard and Commander Worf stood up as Beverly entered. They watched her tensely, not knowing what report they would receive.

"We have Will in Intensive Care right now. We almost lost him during the surgery…," she began. All eyes remained on the doctor.

"How is he?" Deanna asked in a soft voice, fearing the worst.

"He is on full life support right now and unconscious, Deanna," Beverly responded, watching her friend's face closely.

"I see," Deanna said flatly. Beverly and Jean-Luc watched as Deanna shut herself down emotionally, her eyes losing their normal spark of liveliness.

"Deanna…," the captain began.

"Would you like to see Will?" Beverly asked quietly. Deanna nodded her head.

"I think I'll take her to Will now. Perhaps you can see him later," Beverly said to Jean-Luc and Worf, hinting that they should leave now. They noticed Beverly's look, and quietly turned to leave Sick Bay.

Beverly wrapped her arm around the shoulders of her best friend and walked her slowly into Intensive Care. When they entered the cubicle, the first thing Deanna noticed was the tube exiting her husband's mouth. Then she noticed the IV and the external pacemaker. She shook her head, trying to focus instead on Will. She looked at Beverly questioningly.

"You can go to him if you would like, Deanna," Beverly said gently. Deanna nodded dully, then went over to Will's bedside. He was lying flat on his back, with a sheet pulled up to his waist. His chest moved up and down with each whoosh of the oxygen pump.

Deanna reached out to touch his hand. "You can hold his hand if you like, Deanna. It won't hurt anything," suggested Beverly. Deanna took his large hand into her own small hand. She was emotionless as she noticed how warm his hand felt. Some how, she had expected something else.

"Would you like to stay a while?" Beverly asked. Deanna nodded her head slowly. "I'll be in my office if you need anything." Deanna nodded her head and sat down in the chair against the cubicle wall. And so she began her vigil, not knowing if her husband would live or die or if their child would ever know its father.


True to his order earlier that day, Captain Picard made sure the investigation began promptly. He did not want to lose precious time waiting for the Starfleet team to arrive.

He hit the button on the comm unit on his desk. "This is Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the U.S.S. Enterprise," he announced authoritatively. The face that appeared on his monitor was a familiar one, that of Captain Donatra.

"Captain Donatra!" he said with a note of surprise in his voice. "I did not expect to see you on a ground-based comm link."

"Captain Picard, it's been a long time. It is good to see you. I am here because I have been temporarily assigned to Security Command. It is standard practice for us to rotate ship captains through temporary assignments to Security Command."

"I see," commented Jean-Luc. He wasn't sure if he wanted to know just which skills she would be sharpening while in Security Command.

"What can I do for you?" she asked. The question appeared to him to be sincerely asked.

"No doubt you know what happened to a member of our away team yesterday on your planet?" he queried.

"Yes, and I must apologize. For such a tragedy to happen within the very confines of our government building is unacceptable, most especially since you came in peace." She saw Jean-Luc nod. She waited for his next question.

"We are conducting a formal investigation into the matter. We need to know who perpetrated this act, why and with what kind of weapon," he said. "I was hoping that you might be of assistance in this matter."

"I will see what I can do to help, Captain. I can tell you now that we do have the criminal in custody and we are questioning him. We do not yet know what his agenda was, but we have no doubt there was one." Jean-Luc winced at the mention of Romulan 'questioning.' Knowing the aggressive character of the Romulans, he had no doubt that such 'questioning' would be more akin to what the Federation would regard as torture.

"Was the weapon recovered?" he asked.

"Yes, it was," she said.

"May we examine it?" he asked.

"To what end?" she asked, suddenly suspicious.

"Only to aid us in helping Captain Riker in his recovery," he answered sincerely.

"Right now, I will only say that it is a disrupter, the likes of which even we have never seen."

"Very well. I do hope you will continue to be forthcoming with information as you are able to share it," he said hopefully.

"Indeed, Captain. I will do what I can. The High Council will be meeting again soon. This matter will be brought before them for consideration. Donatra out." With that, the image faded from the monitor's screen.

He spent a moment digesting what Donatra had told him. A new sort of weapon. A Romulan criminal with an agenda. Memories of Shinzon and his thalaron bomb sprang to his mind immediately. The thalaron bomb had been a new weapon and was wielded by someone with a profoundly destructive agenda. Could history somehow be repeating itself? Jean-Luc shook his head as a shiver went down his spine.


Later that night, Deanna was still sitting in the chair in Will's Intensive Care cubicle. Beverly poked her head in.

"Deanna, let me bring you something to eat," she said.

"I'm not really that hungry," she responded flatly.

"Deanna, you need to eat for that baby of yours. If you won't do so at my request, then I will make that an order!" she said firmly. As Deanna opened her mouth to begin a new protest, Beverly interjected, "While I am Chief Medical Officer on this ship and you are on board, I have authority over you. So, do I need to make that an order?" she asked firmly.

"No, you don't," Deanna sighed, her voice barely above a whisper.

"Good. Now, we'll replicate something nourishing and I'll have a nurse bring it to you. Oh, and yes, if you want to sleep here, that's fine," she quickly added before Deanna could speak. "But I don't want you sitting in that chair all night. I'll have a cot set up for you against the wall," Beverly smiled. "I haven't forgotten what you said about not wanting to be alone in your quarters. I'll be back later to check on Will. And you too, my friend."

Deanna looked up at Beverly in gratitude. Beverly reached over and gave Deanna's hand a squeeze. "Don't forget that you have friends here who care about you, Deanna." With that, Beverly left.

Shortly after Beverly's departure, a nurse brought a tray of food to Deanna. Deanna nodded her head to acknowledge the presence of the tray. The nurse remained standing at the doorway.

"Yes?" Deanna asked. The nurse looked down at her feet, as if embarrassed to have to speak. "Is there something else?" Deanna prodded.

"Dr. Crusher told me I was to stay here until I saw that you had eaten at least some of the meal. I'm sorry, Counselor. Doctor's orders," the nurse said shyly.

"Very well," Deanna sighed. She picked up her fork and, with an exaggerated gesture, scooped up some food from her plate and put it in her mouth. Then she looked at the nurse to make sure she had noticed. The nurse smiled and nodded her head.

It was several hours later when Beverly returned to check on Will. She observed the data on the bio-monitor and nodded her head. Then she looked at Deanna, who looked shrunken and fragile. Beverly's heart turned over.

"Deanna," she said softly. "Go to bed."

"I don't know if I can sleep now, Beverly," she sighed.

"I'll send a nurse in with something that should help you sleep. It will in no way hurt the baby," Beverly said. Deanna nodded her head.

After the nurse had given her a hypospray of a mild sedative, Deanna finally felt sleep slowly stealing over her. She moved from her chair to the bed and lay down. She fell asleep quickly and slumbered deeply.

Her sleep was filled with images of Will. Will making love to her on Betazed that first time. Will renewing their relationship with a kiss to which she had said, "Yuck." Will's eyes so full of love as he stood before her at both of their weddings. Will looking so very proud as he viewed the bridge of his own ship, the Titan, at the outset of its first mission with him as a newly minted captain. Will's face close to hers, whispering, "Imzadi," as he began to kiss her in their new quarters. And then Will screaming in pain as he fell to the ground, blood beginning to exit his neck beneath the hands he had instinctively placed over the wound.

This last image brought her fully awake to the feeling of tears on her face. She got out of her bed and went over to Will's. Though awkward because of her pregnant stomach and altered center of gravity, she managed to climb onto his bed and stretch out next to him.
She lay her arm across his chest, and tearfully fell back to sleep.


When Beverly entered Will's cubicle in the morning, she found Deanna asleep on the bed with Will. Beverly smiled sadly to herself. She was certain she would not have done any differently if that had been her own husband lying there.

She reached over to Deanna's shoulder and gently shook her. Deanna turned over onto her back and looked at the doctor. Beverly smiled warmly at her.

"When I said you could sleep here, Deanna, I didn't really have this arrangement in mind you know," she chuckled. But before Deanna could make an excuse, Beverly continued, "But I'll let it go… for one night, at least," she said as she winked at Deanna. "Right now, though, I need to have full access to Will so I can assess him. That means out of that bed, my friend!" Beverly reached out to help Deanna get off of Will's bed.

"Okay, let's see what's going on here," she said as she first checked the bio-monitor and then began moving her tricorder along Will's body. As she did so, her smile instantly disappeared, to be replaced by a shocked frown.

"What is it, Beverly?" Deanna asked in a worried voice. For even though Beverly's back was to her, Deanna could sense the sudden shift in her demeanor.

"I don't understand this…," Beverly muttered. "This can't be happening."

"What? What's wrong," Deanna demanded to know.

"The area of spinal chord damage is slowly growing. There is no external cause for this," Beverly hissed in a tense voice. "I've got to find out why this is happening."

Beverly slapped her hand on the comm device on her chest. "Crusher to Captain Picard."

"Picard here."

"Captain, just what sort of weapon did this Romulan use?"

"I take it Will has taken a turn for the worse," Jean-Luc commented.

"Neurologically yes, captain. The area of injury to Will's spinal chord has grown. It's only a slight amount of growth but it is most assuredly there. If we can't halt this growth, Will will surely die," she said with urgency.

"Grown? How can that be, doctor?"

"I do not know, captain. The only thing I can think of that might have had that effect is the weapon itself. But I've never heard of such a weapon," she responded.

"Shinzon," was all Jean-Luc said in reply.

"What?" Beverly said.

"I am beginning to suspect that the thalaron bomb was not the only weapon he had in his arsenal. History seems to be repeating itself a little too closely for comfort. Right now, this is just a hunch, doctor. But I plan on substantiating my suspicions as promptly as I can," Jean-Luc explained. "In the mean time, all I can ask of you is that you try to help Will as best you can for now. When I find out more, I will let you know."

"Very well, captain," she sighed. "Crusher out."

Deanna had heard the entire exchange between the doctor and the captain. She now knew that Will's life hung ever more precariously in the balance. For the first time, the reality of his possible death sunk in. She grew pale and wobbled on her feet. She began to fall as she fainted.

Fortunately, Beverly had been watching Deanna the whole time. As Deanna lost consciousness and began to fall, Beverly was able to catch her in time. While she held Deanna in her arms, she hit the emergency comm button on the wall. Within an instant, two attendants were at Beverly's side.

"I want her on a bio-bed, on her side and monitored. If she doesn't come round in a few minutes, I will want to revive her," she ordered to the attendants. They nodded as they carried Deanna to the nearest bio-bed.


Although Jean-Luc Picard usually spent much of his shift seated in the captain's chair on the Bridge, today he yielded command responsibility to his Number One, Commander Lefler. Without a word from her captain, she knew not to approach him unless the matter urgently required his attention.

He remained in his ready room, waiting for the report from the investigative team. As he stood at the window, watching the planet below, the buzzer of his door sounded.

"Come in," he called out in a flat voice. Beverly entered and approached him.

"No news from the investigative team yet?" she asked. He shook his head silently.

"You know, Jean-Luc, I think now would be a good time to pay Will a visit." He looked at her questioningly. "What?" he said. "What purpose would that serve? He can't hear or see me."

"Yes, but Deanna can. And I think a visit from her husband's former captain would the right thing to do," she urged. "Deanna is feeling very alone and frightened. She needs to know that we truly are there for her," she explained.

"Very well, doctor." He and Beverly left the ready room. As they turned to enter the turbolift, he said to his Number One, "You have the Bridge, Commander. I will be in Sick Bay should I be needed."

"Very good, sir," Commander Lefler responded.

A short ride in the turbolift brought them to the deck on which Sick Bay was situated. Upon entering Sick Bay, Beverly noticed that the bio-bed they had put Deanna on was vacant. "Ah," she thought to herself, "She's come around. Very good."

Beverly took Jean-Luc by the elbow and gently guided him to Will's cubicle in Intensive Care. They both noticed that Deanna had pulled her chair close to his bed and was resting her head beside Will's arm. She raised her head and looked up when she heard them enter.

"Hello, Deanna," said the captain. She stared, waiting for him to continue. He went over to her, bent down and did something he had done only once before: he embraced her. As he sat on the edge of her chair, he hugged her tightly and told her simply, "I'm here." And as he held her, she cried.

"Deanna, I know that Dr. Crusher is doing all she can for Will right now. And we are in the process of trying to find out more about the weapon that inflicted this injury. Perhaps when we do know more, we will be better able to help Will," he said softly.

Deanna nodded sorrowfully, the tears still making their way down her face. All of a sudden, she groaned and grabbed her abdomen.

"Deanna, what's wrong?" Beverly and Jean-Luc asked at nearly the same moment.

"It's beginning…," Deanna panted. Clear liquid began to collect around her on the chair. Beverly noticed the amniotic fluid.

"Your membranes have ruptured. You are going to Labor and Delivery right now, Deanna," Beverly ordered.

"Perhaps I should leave now," Jean-Luc suggested. "No, please don't," Deanna pleaded.

Beverly called for a nurse to accompany Deanna across Sick Bay to Labor and Delivery.
Beverly and Jean-Luc walked behind her. The nurse took Deanna to a bed and had her lie down.

"This could be drawn out or it could be quick, Deanna. It all depends on how Betazoid your birthing physiology is," Beverly said. "In the mean time, I want you to lie back and try to get as comfortable as possible. We'll be monitoring you every step of the way."

Deanna nodded through fresh tears. "Will may never know this child," she cried. Beverly knew that was true, but didn't acknowledge it. As she took Deanna's hand, she simply told her, "You need to save your strength, Deanna. We don't know how long a labor you are going to have."

Jean-Luc took Beverly aside, away from Deanna's bed. "Unless I am needed here, I am going to return to my ready room. I'm tired of waiting for the investigative team to return. I want to see what more information I can gather." Beverly knew how much Jean-Luc disliked being in Sick Bay - almost as much as Will did, in fact. She whispered to him, "I'll let you know if anything changes here, Jean-Luc. Thanks." She gave his hand a quick squeeze.

When he returned to his ready room, the comm unit on his desk beeped. He looked at the screen which read, "Incoming message from Captain Donatra." He pressed the 'receive' button, and the Romulan's face appeared on the screen.

"Captain Donatra! I take it you have news," he said with interest.

"Yes, I do. We have gotten a confession from the criminal. Although your investigative team has been given this information by the High Council, the Council has also has authorized me to share this information with you directly," she said, a serious
but sincere expression on her face.

"Yes? What did you find out?" he asked, trying to keep his rising excitement out of his voice.

"We have learned that he is a guard in Security Command who in fact was a secret follower of Shinzon." Jean-Luc visibly shuddered. "Like his former leader, he had visions of a combined Romulan-Reman Empire reigning supreme over a destroyed Federation. He could not accept the death of Shinzon or the destruction of his dreams of power."

Jean-Luc closed his eyes and, for a moment, bent his head into his hands. As he looked up again, he shook his head. "Please go on," he sighed.

"Very well. As a member of Shinzon's network on our planet, this criminal had access to Shinzon's arsenal of weapons." Jean-Luc's eyebrows went up in surprise. "Yes," she continued, "It seems that the thalaron bomb was not Shinzon's only innovation."

"The disrupter," Jean-Luc said quietly.

"Yes, the disrupter. The perpetrator has informed us that the disrupter was a prototype weapon developed before the thalaron bomb. But, rather than discard it as obsolete, Shinzon realized it might make a good weapon for infiltrators and spies to carry with them. However, in his eagerness to develop the ultimate weapon, he did not bother to manufacture more disrupters. There is only the one," she explained.

"But why was the perpetrator aiming for me?" Jean-Luc asked.

"Because, my dear Captain Picard, he viewed you as the reason Shinzon failed. He could not forgive you for what you had destroyed," she answered quietly. "You took from him his leader, his leader's driving ambition and the means by which to achieve that ambition."

Jean-Luc's mind was reeling from what he was being told. "And the disrupter…What can you tell us specifically about it?" he asked quietly.

"Unfortunately, Captain, what we have learned about the disrupter will not help Captain Riker. This weapon was an early version of the technology that led to the thalaron bomb. Like the bomb, it releases thalaron waves. But unlike the bomb, it does so only in extremely minute amounts. This means that it destroys any living tissue exposed to it, but at a very slow rate. Only gradually does the area of tissue destruction expand outwards from the sight of entry."

"The progressive spinal chord damage…" Jean-Luc began softly.

"Yes. Unfortunately, this is the process your fellow captain is now undergoing. I do not know if the process of tissue decay can be arrested or if the tissue can be regenerated to full health. I am sorry, Captain Picard." He looked at her face and saw true concern reflected there.

"I thank you for your assistance and your report, Captain Donatra."

"You are welcome, Captain Picard. I hope we will meet again under happier circumstances."

"As do I, captain. Picard out." He sat back in his chair and put his hands over his eyes. He tried to process everything that Donatra had just told him. He shook his head and took a deep breath.

After sitting motionless for several minutes, he pressed the button on the comm panel.
"Picard to Crusher," he said.

"Crusher here." Jean-Luc proceeded to tell her all that he had just learned. She remained very quiet as she listened to him. "Jean-Luc," she said, "Donatra may well be right. Once we're done reducing the swelling in and around his spinal chord, then we will see if we can arrest this thing in its tracks."

"Very good. And how are you attempting to deal with the swelling?" he asked.

"We began administering a series of anti-inflammatory drugs shortly after he left the surgery bay. They should bring down the remainder of the swelling soon. Powerful things, those anti-inflammatories. Then I'm going in with a regenerator," she reported.

"And we hope for the best," answered Jean-Luc. "And Deanna?"

"She is in active labor and should be delivering within the hour. It seems her Betazoid genes have control over the speed of her delivery. She has been asking for you, Jean-Luc. Please come to her."

"Very well. I'm on my way." He did not need to be told why she asked for him. He already understood that she wanted a close friend to substitute for Will. As little as he liked being in Sick Bay, he would not deny her that support.


When Jean-Luc arrived in Sick Bay, an attendant immediately took him into Labor and Delivery. Deanna was in a birthing chair, intensely focused on her pain-relieving breathing. He blushed momentarily as he observed her partially nude state; he felt that he should not be seeing another man's wife this way.

Beverly looked up from where she sat at Deanna's feet. "Ah, Captain Picard. You are here just in time. Deanna is ready to push," she said quickly. Jean-Luc just nodded his head, his feet riveted to the spot where he stood.

"Captain…Jean-Luc…standing there is doing us no good. Come sit by Deanna's side," Beverly ordered. He walked over and sat in the chair at Deanna's side. "Captain…," was all Deanna said as she reached out for his hand. He took her petite hand in his and gave her a warm smile.

"Alright now, Deanna, with the next contraction, I want you to push while we count to ten," Beverly said. Deanna nodded. Within a minute, her next contraction hit and she bore down as hard as she could. Her eyes were squeezed shut and her face set in a grimace as she pushed. Jean-Luc and Beverly together counted to ten out loud.

"Wonderful, Deanna. Two more pushes like that and your baby will be here! Now, take some cleansing breaths and get ready for the next contraction," Beverly counseled. Deanna nodded silently, focused now entirely on her body's effort to bring the baby into the world.

Then the next contraction began. Again, Deanna pushed as hard as she could while Beverly and Jean-Luc maintained the count for her. As she pushed, she screamed out in pain.

"You're just about there, Deanna. You can do this! One more push and it will all be over," Beverly said with a note of excitement in her voice. Deanna nodded as she panted. Jean-Luc watched his former ship's counselor in awe. He had never witnessed a birth, and had never appreciated the physical strength required to endure the process.

Once more, Deanna's body shuddered with her efforts to push with her latest contraction.
"That's it, keep going," Beverly encouraged. "Yes, push…PUSH!" Deanna pushed with the last of her strength, screaming as she did so.

"And here's the head. Look at all that dark hair! You can relax," Beverly said as at the same moment, the rest of the baby's body slid out. Deanna put her head back against the head rest for a moment and took a deep breath.

"Deanna, it's a girl, a beautiful little girl," Beverly announced excitedly. She suctioned the baby's nose and then handed her to the nurse so the infant could be weighed and checked over. Deanna, tears streaming down her face, watched the nurse attend to her baby.

As soon as the nurse was done, she wrapped the baby up in a blanket and brought her to Deanna. Deanna took her newborn daughter in her arms and said through her tears, "Hello my beautiful one." Deanna drank in her little features: curly dark Betazoid hair, brilliantly clear blue eyes, a well defined chin with a dimple in it. And then Deanna's silent tears became audible weeping; her baby, she realized with great sadness, looked strikingly like the father she might never know.

"Do you have a name for her?" Beverly asked gently. Deanna nodded her head. "It's Andrea, after my father and after her brother, Ian Andrew. Will…," she said through her tears, "Will wanted to honor the short life of my son."

Beverly nodded, an understanding smile on her face. Jean-Luc, who had remained in awe-struck silence the whole time, finally found his voice. "She's beautiful, Deanna," he said, as he squeezed her shoulder affectionately.

Deanna looked up at Jean-Luc and said softly, "Thank you, Captain… I couldn't have done it without you here." He nodded as he thought sadly to himself that it should have been Will seated next to Deanna, not himself. He gave her a brief smile, then turned to leave Sick Bay.

A few minutes after he left, his voice was heard over the ship-wide communication system. "It gives me great pleasure to announce the arrival of a baby girl, Andrea Riker. She is the daughter of Captain William Riker and Counselor Deanna Troi-Riker. I know you all join me in wishing for Andrea all the best that life has."


"Hello, Little One." Lwaxana Troi's face was visible on the comm unit screen. "I can tell you have news for me, but I'm waiting for you to tell me yourself." Lwaxana was trying very hard not to intrude into her daughter's mind. She knew how much Deanna hated uninvited mind probes.

"Yes, Mother, I do," Deanna said tiredly. She smiled slightly, saying, "You have a granddaughter, Mother. Her name is Andrea, in honor of Father."

"That's wonderful, Little One - uh, Deanna. Your father would have been so pleased."

"I'm sure of that, Mother," Deanna sighed. Lwaxana stared thoughtfully at her daughter's face on the monitor, but Deanna did not offer more.

"Deanna, I know there is more, something you are not telling me. You should be happy, but mostly I sense sadness. Please tell your mother what's wrong," Lwaxana said.
"Mother, it's Will," Deanna said in a shaky voice. With the mention of her husband's name, Deanna began to cry.

"Deanna, what's happened?" Lwaxana asked in a voice full of concern.

"Mother, Will… was shot two days ago… by a renegade Romulan down on Romulus," Deanna said between sobs. "It's very bad…" She looked down as tears rolled down her face.

"I can't believe the Federation would have anything to do with those horrible creatures," Lwaxana said angrily. "Deanna, are you still in orbit around Romulit…," Lwaxana began to ask.

"It's 'Romulus', Mother," Deanna interjected. Even in her upset state, she could not avoid the force of habit, and so corrected her mother automatically.

"Romulit…Romulus, what ever they want to call that nasty planet of theirs. Are you still in orbit there?"

"Yes, Mother," Deanna answered.

"Very good. I am within a day's travel to that part of the galaxy. I shall depart immediately," announced Lwaxana. "You need your mother now, Deana, and I simply must see this lovely young lady who has just joined the world!" Where Deanna might otherwise have objected, now she just nodded her head.

"Very well, Mother. I shall see you in a day," Deanna said softly. "Troi-Riker out."

Deanna picked up her daughter who had been sleeping in a bassinet beside her. She held Andrea tightly and breathed in her wonderful baby scent. "Help me get through this, my beautiful one," she whispered tearfully in her daughter's little ear. With that, she got up from the chair in Beverly's office and walked back to Will's cubicle with Andrea fast asleep on her shoulder.

She walked into Intensive Care and saw Beverly scanning Will with her tricorder. A concerned look was on her face. She looked up when she heard Deanna approaching.

"It's worse, isn't it," Deanna stated flatly. Beverly nodded her head, saying, "The amount of dead tissue has increased minutely. I know there's still a slight amount of swelling, but we can't wait any longer. I'm going to take him to surgery to use the neural regenerator."

"Beverly…," Deanna began. Beverly looked at her inquisitively. "Before you take him back, can I have a moment with him?" she asked. "Certainly," Beverly responded.

"Would you like me to leave?" Deanna shook her head. Still, Beverly quietly stepped back to the entranceway of the cubicle and watched Deanna approach Will's bed. As tears ran down Deanna's face, she placed their daughter on Will's chest and took his hand into hers. "Will…," she began in a voice broken by sobs, "You may never know our beautiful daughter, but I want her to know you… at least a little."

Beverly watched the family meeting unfolding before her with misting eyes. She had seen familial loss many times over the years. But never had she felt it herself as keenly as she did at this moment. And though she knew that time was of the essence in starting the neural regeneration treatment for Will, she hadn't the heart to intrude. So she stepped out and left the Rikers to what shreds of family life they could have.


Will was lying stomach down on the bio-bed in the surgery bay. They had propped him up a bit so as to allow clearance for the external pacemaker affixed to his chest. This also allowed his head to drop face down to the table, flexing his neck.

"Okay folks, let's start with some lidocaine. I know he's in a coma, but I do not know what level of pain awareness he may or may not have." Nurse Ogawa administered a hypospray of lidocaine to Will's neck.

"Now, I'm going to remove his dermal patch," Beverly recited as she removed the bandage. The wound, though slowly healing, still looked raw and crusty. "Some improvement, but we'll need to work on healing the skin here," commented Beverly.

"Now, I want the neural regenerator." One of the nurses present slapped the instrument into Beverly's gloved hand. "Okay, here goes," she said as she turned on the device and slowly moved it back and forth over an area just slightly larger than the wound.

After a few minutes of this, Beverly turned the neural regenerator off. "Tricorder," she ordered as she held out her hand. Once she had the tricorder, she scanned the region of the wound on Will's neck. The nurses waited tensely.

"Damn! His spinal chord and the tissue around it show no improvement. And I won't even know until later if the regenerator even stopped this damned deterioration or not." Beverly slammed the tricorder down on the bio-bed in frustration. The nurses just looked at one another and silently shook their heads.

Deanna was sitting in a chair outside the surgery bay, nursing her daughter. It was one of the few tasks that drew her out of her grief. Deanna looked up when she heard Beverly walk out of the surgery bay. She saw Beverly's face and immediately knew that the procedure had not been successful. Deanna tearfully dropped her head back against the wall, shaking her head. She watched sorrowfully as Will was carted back to his bed.

Beverly came over and pulled up a chair so she could sit next to Deanna. No words were exchanged. Beverly held Deanna's hand. Silent tears fell from both sets of eyes.


A thick silence fell over the crew of the Enterprise as news of the failure of the Will's procedure spread through the crew. For even though he had not been a part of the Enterprise crew for two years, he left a firmly established reputation behind him.
Whether they had known him personally or not, his situation saddened virtually every crew member.

Beverly sat at the desk in her office. Her mind was racing. She was trying to think of alternative treatments that might have some success in healing Will. But each one she could think of she dismissed. She knew that none of them could arrest the progressive tissue degeneration triggered by the thalaron particles in the disrupter beam that struck Will.

She pressed her fists to her forehead. "Think, Beverly…," she ordered herself. Feeling trapped by the limitations of the treatments available to her on board the Enterprise, she realized that the resources of Starfleet Medical would be Will's only hope.

"Okay," she thought to herself, "Starfleet Medical…Who there might offer a possible treatment. Hmm, let me see." She spun her chair around to face her monitor. "Computer, please provide visual data on those physicians at Starfleet Medical who have specialties in neurology."

"Requested data is now on your screen," the ship's computer intoned. On the screen before her appeared a list of 20 physicians with specialties in neurology. Beverly read through the list, quickly deleting a few names. She readily knew their areas of expertise would not provide any treatment more successful than what she had already tried.

"Okay," she said to herself, "Now the real research begins." She scrolled very slowly through the remaining 15 or so listings, reading each one with great care. She shook her head as she realized that each doctor's treatment approach would not, in the end, undo the damage to Will's spinal chord.

Then she read the final entry. She had very mixed emotions as she read that final professional record. She felt an immediate sense of antagonism rise within her, followed by intense curiosity.

The doctor whose record generated such ambivalence in Beverly was one Toby Russell. Doctor Russell was a neurogeneticist who pursued her own research with unequalled passion. However, her single-minded drive to cross new boundaries in knowledge had not infrequently blinded her to the ethical concerns raised by that drive.

Beverly had seen that blindness in action, many years before. Commander Worf had been seriously injured in an accident. As a result, he was rendered paralyzed from the waist down. Feeling that he could no longer function properly as a Klingon, he was prepared to commit ritual suicide.

Dr. Russell was brought on board to treat Worf. She offered a new treatment protocol: genetonic replication to replace Worf's injured spine. However, Beverly had learned that Dr. Russell's testing results for the procedure were decidedly mixed. Moreover, the procedure had never been tried on a humanoid. And, despite the fact that Worf was not in danger of dying and could be aided by assistive technology, Dr. Russell aggressively pushed for its use in his case. Beverly saw this as a clear case of the pursuit of knowledge blinding a physician to its ethical and human ramifications.

Beverly shook her head as she thought about Dr. Russell. According to the entry on the screen, the genetonic replacement procedure itself had not been tried again on another humanoid patient since its nearly fatal results with Worf so long ago. And yet, it was clear from the computer entry for Dr. Russell that the procedure had undergone considerable modification. Was this enough of a change in the approach that it was worth trying on Will? She felt very uncertain, but she knew that this would be Will's only chance. And she knew that the decision did not lie with her.

Beverly stood up and walked across Sick Bay to the Intensive Care Unit. As she entered Will's cubicle, she saw that Deanna had pulled her chair over to Will's bed and was asleep, her head resting on the mattress next to his arm. Andrea was asleep in a bassinet that Deanna had managed to fit into the narrow confines of the cubicle.

Beverly put her hand gently on Deanna's back. Deanna raised her head slowly and blinked at Beverly. "Yes?" she asked slowly.

"Deanna, I just spent the last hour reading through the professional records of some physicians at Starfleet Medical," she said. Deanna watched her impassively. "Deanna, there is nothing else I can do for Will with the treatments I have available here on the Enterprise. But I thought there might be some procedure being used or perhaps even researched at Starfleet Medical that we could try," she explained.

"Did you find anything?" Deanna asked with a note of hope in her voice.

"What I found requires a decision that only you can make," Beverly responded, a somber expression on her face. Deanna raised her eyebrows in a silent question.

"Do you remember when Worf was paralyzed from the waist down years ago?" Deanna nodded.

"Yes, I do remember," Deanna said, as memories of seeing Worf immobile and on his back in Sick Bay came to her. It had been difficult counseling him; he was resistant to
any psychological support and single-minded in his desire to commit ritual suicide.

"A Dr. Toby Russell came aboard to treat him with an unproven protocol that killed him. Do you remember her?" Beverly asked. Deanna again nodded.
"Well, despite her somewhat spotty ethical record, she has managed to remain at Starfleet Medical. In fact, she is the only neurogeneticist currently in active practice there."

"What does this have to do with Will?" Deanna asked.

"She has continued her research in genetonic replication. However, she has yet to try it again on a humanoid," Beverly continued, not answering Deanna's question directly.

Deanna's eyes widened. "You are thinking of having Dr. Russell try that procedure on Will, aren't you?" she asked angrily.

"Deanna, it is the last chance Will has…," Beverly began.

"But what about the fact that she killed Worf? If he didn't have that second spinal chord, he'd still be dead," Deanna said in a tight voice.

"Deanna, listen to me carefully. You know that I am no fan of Dr. Russell. Damn it, I had her privileges suspended on this ship because of her sloppy ethics. But the reality is that Will is going to die if we can't remedy the progressive damage to his spine. And Dr. Russell's genetonic replication procedure offers the only hope, slim though it may be, to save Will's life."

Deanna sighed, shut her eyes and put her face in her hands. After a couple of minutes of calming silence, she said softly, "Contact Dr. Russell."


Beverly Crusher sat before the comm unit monitor on her desk. On the screen before her was the face of Dr. Toby Russsell.

"Well, Dr. Crusher, this is a surprise. I didn't expect to cross paths with you again," Dr. Russell said. "In fact, as I recall, the last time we met…"

"Dr. Russell," Beverly interrupted, "I need to talk to you about your genetonic replication procedure."

"You must be joking, Dr. Crusher," Dr. Russell responded curtly. She wasn't sure she even wanted to talk to her old adversary.

"Unfortunately not, Dr. Russell. Whether I personally approve of your ethics and methodology or not is irrelevant now." Beverly fought hard to keep the antagonism she felt out of her voice. "We have an officer on board the Enterprise who will die unless we can administer the proper intervention. It looks like your procedure is the only remaining option."

"Go ahead. I'm listening," said Dr. Russell, her interest stirred. Beverly proceeded to relate what had happened to Will. Dr. Russell's eyes went wide as Beverly described the thalaron wave and its effects on living tissue. "Incredible!" gasped Dr. Russell.

"Thalaron…hmm," Dr. Russell mused out loud. "That's what destroyed the Romulan government chambers two years ago, isn't it?"

"The one and the same. The only reason Captain Riker has not already gone the same way as those Romulans and their building is that there were only minute amounts of thalaron waves generated by this disrupter."

"I see," said Dr. Russell thoughtfully. "But the thalaron-induced damage is progressing nonetheless and death will be the eventual outcome…" she said softly, almost more to herself than to Beverly.

"Let me be plain with you Dr. Russell. The current status of your procedure sounds good on paper. But, in truth, I have no more reason to trust in it now than I did years ago. And, unlike Commander Worf, Captain Riker has no spinal redundancy to rescue him should the procedure prove fatal again. However, this procedure is Captain Riker's last hope. Will you come on board the Enterprise to try it?"

Dr. Russell paused to think for a moment. Should she accept Dr. Crusher's grudging invitation? She had never forgiven Dr. Crusher for suspending her privileges or for her pointed criticisms of her so-called ethical myopia. And yet, this might be her chance for vindication - of herself and of her work. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, she thought.

"Very well, Dr. Crusher, I will do it. But, it is clear that time is of the essence here, and Earth is a fair distance from Romulus…," Dr. Russell began.

"As Chief of Starfleet Medical, I have some pull at Starfleet. I will contact Starfleet immediately to request a suspension of warp speed limitations. I believe a ship traveling at warp 9 can get you here within two days."

"Very good. I will make preparations to leave immediately. I will await further instructions from Starfleet as to my actual departure. Russell out."

"Two days," Beverly thought to herself tensely. "Can we help him survive for two more days?"


Deanna was asleep in the chair she had placed beside Will's bed. Her dreams were filled with a kaleidoscope of images of Will. Will standing before her at their first wedding, resplendent in his dress uniform. Will walking with her on Betazed. Will collapsed on the floor, blood collecting beneath his neck. Will sitting in a deck chair outside his cabin in Alaska. Will stretched out in his bed in the ICU of the Enterprise, hovering between life and death. And then just Will's face, first with a mischievous grin, next with a loving smile, and finally with closed eyes and a tube exiting his mouth…

Suddenly, she became aware of someone crying. As Deanna slowly awoke, the crying became louder and louder. Once fully awake, Deanna realized it was Andrea.

Silently, Deanna picked up her daughter and exposed her breast to nurse her. Andrea latched on immediately and drank vigorously. Deanna marveled at the incredible life force that was her daughter.

As Deanna nursed her baby, Beverly walked in. Deanna looked up at her, a questioning expression on her face. Beverly nodded.

"Deanna, I've spoken with Dr. Russell. She has agreed to do the procedure."

"But she's on earth. How will she ever get here in time?" Deanna asked, worry written on her features.

"I've already spoken to Starfleet. Given the urgency of the situation, they have allowed a suspension of normal warp speed limits. She will be here in two days."

"Will he be able to survive that long?" Deanna asked.

"I don't know, Deanna. If the progress of tissue degradation can stopped or at least be slowed, then he has a chance… In fact, I came in here to check him." Beverly quickly observed the readouts on the bio-monitor, then opened up her tricorder. Slowly, she scanned Will's bandaged neck. Deanna watched her intently, waiting for Beverly to say something.

"I don't believe this," Beverly said with a slight smile. She repeated the tricorder pass over Will's neck, just to be certain she hadn't misread the results.

"What, Beverly? You aren't frowning, so it can't be that bad," Deanna said, a note of hope in her voice.

"Deanna, I can't be certain, but I think we may be able to help Will hold on until Dr. Russell arrives. What I'm seeing here…" Beverly said.

"Yes? What you're seeing is…?" Deanna interrupted.

"Deanna, the spinal chord deterioration…It hasn't stopped, unfortunately." Deanna looked down, crestfallen. "But, the rate of deterioration has slowed significantly. Slowed enough to suggest that with another treatment with the neural regenerator, we can limit the progress of decay. It's no cure," Beverly said somewhat ruefully, "But it is better than nothing. And it might just enable Will to survive until Dr. Russell arrives."

With that, Deanna stood up to hug Beverly. Tears once again welled up in Deanna's eyes. This time, they were tears born not just of grief but also, for the first time, hope. Beverly hugged her back, embracing Deanna tightly and holding Deanna's head to her chest. No words needed to be expressed. Deanna's embrace conveyed her thanks, Beverly's her affection and desire to support Deanna.

Beverly pulled back and put her hand on Deanna's shoulder. "I'll be back late tonight to check on Will again. In the mean time, I suggest you get something to eat and tend to that lovely daughter of yours. She has a big day ahead of her tomorrow. She's meeting her grandmother for the first time!" Beverly smiled warmly at Deanna.

Deanna, for the first time in days, truly smiled. "I'll do that. We'll both need all our energy for my mother," she said. Beverly gave Deanna a wink and left the ICU.

When Beverly came back to Will's cubicle in the ICU later that night, the sight that greeted her eyes brought a smile to her face and tears to her eyes. On Will's bio-bed was not just Will himself but also Deanna stretched out next to him. And, on his chest, lying on her stomach was their infant daughter. All asleep. All peaceful in posture and repose. All together, as a family should be.


The next day, Lwaxana Troi arrived. She materialized facing the back of the transporter.
"I will never get use to that confounded machine moving my molecules around!" she exclaimed as she turned around. As she did, she saw Deanna standing there with an infant resting on her shoulder.

<<Deanna, >> she sent with a broad smile, << Little One, this must be my granddaughter!>>

"Yes, Mother, it is," Deanna replied verbally, a familiar and none too subtle reminder to her mother to speak out loud when around humans.

Lwaxana approached them, gave Deanna a kiss on the cheek and then looked adoringly at her granddaughter. "She is beautiful, Deanna," she whispered. "And she has your hair. But her face…" Lwaxana hesitated, her eyes wide with shock. "She looks just like Will."

"I know," Deanna said in a voice tinged with sadness. Lwaxana put her arm around Deanna's shoulder. <<It's alright Deanna,>> she sent as she touched her hand to Deanna's face. This time, Deanna did not object to her mother's telepathy.

Lwaxana looked at her daughter. "Please take me to him. Awake or asleep, Deanna, he is my son-in-law. I would like to see him." Deanna nodded in agreement.

They walked to Sick Bay in silence, Lwaxana's arm still wrapped around her daughter's shoulder. She sensed Deanna's desperate need for healing, and so sent to her feelings of strength and love. Deanna's parched soul drank it in.

When they arrived in Sick Bay, Beverly was there to greet them. "Welcome, Ambassador Troi. It's good to see you again," she said. Lwaxana acknowledged her with a warm smile.

"I would like to see my son-in-law."

"Of course. But you should know before you go in that he is on full life-support. He has been intubated so that an oxygen pump can breathe for him. There is an external pacemaker strapped to his chest. He has an IV line in his arm so that he can be given fluids," Beverly warned. Lwaxana nodded slowly.

"Mother, he is over this way," Deanna said as she guided her mother gently by the elbow.
Together, they entered Will's cubicle. Lwaxana went straight to Will. She picked up his large hand and wrapped her own hand around it. Then she closed her eyes. She stood this way silently for several minutes.

"His essence is very weak. It is barely a spark. There is not even enough to try to beckon telepathically," Lwaxana said softly. Deanna looked on, awash yet again in sorrow. "If he is not strengthened soon, his essence will disappear altogether." She looked at Deanna's sad visage. "I am so sorry, Deanna," she said quietly as she took her daughter into her embrace.

"Ambassador Troi, we have found a specialist who may be able to save Will," Beverly said as she touched Lwaxana's shoulder. Lwaxana looked at Beverly with wide, questioning eyes. "She will be here tomorrow. She will be trying an experimental procedure," Beverly explained. Lwaxana nodded, understanding that such a procedure, ordinarily not something that would escape her criticism, now was Will's only chance for life. "Very well," was all she said.

"Well," Lwaxana began after a moment, smiling once again, "I am famished. And you, Little One, need to keep up your strength. Please show me to my quarters so I can get something to eat. Dr. Crusher, you will join us, won't you?"

"I'm sorry but I have work to take care of. Thank you anyway," Beverly smiled. Beverly always found Deanna's mother a bit overwhelming. She was happy to have a legitimate excuse to avoid having to deal with Lwaxana now.

"Well then, Little One, let's go find that room and some food, shall we?" Lwaxana smiled as she turned into the corridor outside Sick Bay.


An odd urge drove Jean-Luc to visit Will in Sick Bay. He felt he had to see him, but he wasn't sure why. Perhaps it was to seek some sort of absolution. Or, to somehow expiate his sense of guilt. He was deeply troubled by the knowledge that he should have been the one lying in Sick Bay near death, not his former first officer. Every time he thought about Will, the life-changing events passed before his mind's eye. The flash of the disrupter. Will's scream as he collapsed. The stench of charred skin. The sight of blood pooling under Will's neck. Jean-Luc was haunted by these memories.

Earlier, Beverly had told him that they would be allowing Dr. Russell to try her genetonic regeneration procedure. She had also told him that the neural regeneration of the day before had been a limited but crucial success. She would be administering another round of neural regeneration today in an attempt to continue to minimize the rate of decay in Will's spine.

He knew all of this, but it did nothing to lessen his sense of guilt. And so he came to Will's cubicle in the ICU, feeling a mixture of guilt and sadness and realizing that this might be all the time that remained for Will. Jean-Luc stopped at the entranceway, closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Then he walked in and sat in the chair so often occupied by his former ship's counselor over the last three days.

He sat silently, at first mesmerized by the rhythmic sounds of the oxygen pump. Then he looked at Will and put his hand on Will's. Looking down now at his own feet, Jean-Luc whispered, "I'm so sorry, Will." Then he laid his head against the edge of the mattress. And he cried.


A short time later, Beverly walked into Sick Bay. It was time to take Will back to the surgery bay for another round of neural regeneration. When she entered the ICU, she noticed that the chair by Will's bio-bed was occupied, but not by the person she expected to find there. Could that really be Jean-Luc leaning over with his head in his hands?

She approached the cubicle quietly. When she came to the chair, she gently placed her hand on his shoulder. He raised his head and looked up at her, his face stained with tears. She was acutely aware of the guilt and grief he was feeling. Without saying a word, she knelt down and drew him into a tight embrace. His sobs shook his body.

How long they remained together that way no one knew. Slowly, his crying eased. He looked up at Beverly with an expression at once both thankful and sad. She nodded in understanding and reached out to wipe the tears away from his cheeks with infinite tenderness. She stood up and brought Jean-Luc to his feet.

"It is time for Will's next round with the neural regenerator," she informed him softly. Jean-Luc simply nodded. She squeezed Jean-Luc's hand quickly, and then he left. The Sick Bay staff, who had discreetly stayed away from that part of the ICU, entered when they saw him leave.

"Let's take Captain Riker back for another round of neural regeneration," Beverly informed the assembled staff. "You all know the routine." They nodded their heads. "Let's get to it then," she ordered.

After Will was moved to the surgery bay, the steps taken the day before were repeated.
He was rolled face down by one nurse. At the same time, another nurse worked a large bolster under Will's torso to elevate his chest and protect the external pacemaker. As before, this caused his head to tip down and his neck to flex slightly. Next, a hypospray of lidocaine was administered. Finally, the dermal patch was removed.

Beverly scrutinized the wound on Will's neck. It still looked too raw to be healed completely by a dermal regenerator, so she administered a hypospray of antibacterial agents directly to the slowly healing tissue. "I hope that helps, Will," she muttered.

She handed the hypospray to one of the nurses and picked up the neural regenerator from the instrument tray next to her. She turned the device on and then slowly moved the instrument over the part of Will's spinal chord that was beneath the wound. When she was done, she put the tool back onto the tray.

One of the nurses offered a tricorder. Beverly shook her head. "The readings at this point would not tell us anything more than they did a few hours ago." She put her hand on his newly bandaged neck. "Let's hope this holds you until Dr. Russell gets here," she muttered tiredly to herself.


It was 1100 hours the next day when Dr. Crusher was notified that Dr. Russell had just arrived in Transporter Room 3. Deanna, with their newborn daughter in her arms, had resumed her silent vigil at Will's side and was joined by her mother. Beverly poked her head in to tell them that Dr. Russell was aboard and would be soon be scheduling the genetonic regeneration procedure for Will. A brief note of hope flitted across Deanna's face. Beverly acknowledged it with a supportive smile.

A few minutes later, the doors to Sick Bay hissed open. In walked Dr. Toby Russell, as brash and aggressive-looking as Beverly had remembered. Dr. Russell spotted her at the opening to Will's cubicle and came over. She tipped her head slightly towards Beverly, saying only, "Dr. Crusher." Beverly acknowledged her merely with a nod. Then Dr. Russell turned to face Deanna and her mother.

"It will take a while for me to set up my equipment in the bio-lab where we will perform Captain Riker's procedure. Before I do, do you have any questions?"

Deanna and Lwaxana shook their heads. While they both in fact shared numerous questions with each other telepathically, they knew that most of them were inane and not worth asking. The serious questions were ones that only the success or failure of the procedure would answer.

"Very well," Dr. Russell smiled. "It will take some time to assemble the replication hardware and calibrate the genetic mechanism in the replicator. I imagine we'll be ready for the captain in about an hour and a half." Turning towards Beverly, Dr. Russell informed her, "He should be prepped and ready by 1300 hours." Then Dr. Russell left Sick Bay.

"Well, she certainly thinks highly of herself," Lwaxana snorted. "And I wouldn't dream of sharing her feelings about you in decent company, Dr. Crusher!"

"What she thinks of me is not important. And quite frankly, I'm sure the sentiment is mutual," Beverly responded. "But what matters now is whether her procedure will heal Will. She's not here to win a popularity contest."

"Indeed," Lwaxana agreed.

There was a lull in the conversation. It was broken by Andrea's mewling sounds. Deanna gazed lovingly at her daughter. "What shall it be first, my beautiful one - a clean diaper or a full stomach?" she murmured. Seeing her daughter's escalating temper, Deanna smiled as she opened her tunic. "It's snack time I see," she said as she put her daughter to breast.

Lwaxana took in the sight before her. She was struck by what she saw: an adult hovering near death and an infant seizing life with great energy. As the next thought began to coalesce in her mind, Lwaxana put up mental blocks; she wanted to ensure that Deanna, still so fragile, was fully shielded from any upsetting thoughts. Then, Lwaxana allowed the idea to form itself in her mind: there should have been no one so near death in a moment so full of life.

Lwaxana touched her hand to her forehead and closed her eyes. "Mother?" Deanna inquired when she noticed her mother's contemplative pose. But Lwaxana did not hear her. At that moment, she was in a place and time far away from the present. A time when another man, a man dear to her, died an untimely death. A handsome man who bequeathed some of his features to his daughter. A man who was Lwaxana's Imzadi.

Lwaxana sighed. As she raised her head, she gave a sad smile. Deanna looked at her questioningly. "It's alright, Little One," Lwaxana said softly. "I was somewhere else for a moment." Deanna nodded, sad understanding on her features. Though her mother had put her barriers up, Deanna could guess what Lwaxana had been thinking about. Deanna knew her mother well. <<Rabeem>> she sent to her mother.


Word quickly spread on the Enterprise that a specialist was on board to treat Captain Riker and that the procedure was set to begin at 1300 hours. Nervous tension hung in the air. Many among the officers and crew found it difficult to carry out their normal duties and activities. More time was spent eyeing the various chronometers on the ship than on the work that need to be done. And time itself seemed to have slowed to a snail's pace.

Shortly before 1300 hours, Dr. Russell informed Sick Bay that she was ready for Will. Beverly assembled the staff of nurses and attendants. "I do not know how long this procedure will take," she began. Her tight voice betrayed her tension and ambivalence about the procedure. "I do not even know if it will be successful. But, we've got to hope that the intervening years have given Dr. Russell the opportunity to improve the outcome…" She paused and then took a deep breath. "Okay, people. Here goes." And with that, Will was taken to the bio-lab.

Once Will was in the bio-lab, Dr. Russell took over. Dr. Crusher stood silently at the door watching everything intently. "Are you ready?" Dr. Russell asked the nurses. They nodded nervously. Dr. Russell sensed their nervousness and told them, "If you do as instructed, everything will be fine." Dr. Russell had lost none of her cockiness over the years.

"Okay, now I want him put on this table face down. Once you've done that, make sure that his head is in the cut-away at the end of the table. This will allow his head to fall forward and flex his neck, which will give me easier access," she instructed. Carefully, the nurses lifted Will's body just enough to slide it onto the table.

"Okay. Now, please move the sheet off of his lower back. His entire spinal column must be accessible." One of the nurses folded the sheet down so it covered only Will's legs.

"Very good. Now I need a hypospray of lidocaine," she ordered. A questioning look accompanied the hypospray that the nurse handed to Dr. Russell. "I need to take a sample of Captain Riker's spinal tissue to use for the replication. I don't know if he has any pain awareness or not. But, let's be on the safe side, shall we?" she responded. The nurse nodded with understanding.

Once the lidocaine was injected into Will's back, Dr. Russell picked up a laser scalpel. She pointed it at a spot midway down Will's spine and turned the scalpel on. A fleeting odor of burnt flesh was perceptible as the scalpel cut its way through Will's back. Dr. Russell ignored it and continued to focus the laser beam as it began to cut its way into Will's spine.

After a few minutes, Dr. Russell turned the instrument off and handed it to a nurse wordlessly. She turned to her assistant who had accompanied her from earth. "Take this sample and initiate the genetonic replication." The assistant took the sample and put it a chamber sitting atop a machine. "Initiating replication," he stated as he typed in a series of commands on his keyboard.

"Okay, we need to move quickly here. Computer, give me a containment field over the patient's entire body. Allow 3 centimeters' clearance between the patient and the field." The ship's computer complied. Instantly, Will was wrapped, cocoon-like, in a shimmering force field.

Dr. Russell then reached for a switch on the underside of the table. As she flipped it, she explained, "This turns on a cooling system that is built into the table. The system will cool down Captain Riker's body to below 32 degrees. In this way, he will be put into insensate stasis. Then I will be able to remove his spinal column and implant the new one." She spoke in a manner that made it clear inquiries were not welcome.

While Will's body was slowly chilling beneath the containment field, the spinal tissue was beginning to undergo genetonic replication in the chamber above Dr. Russell's customized equipment. As everyone watched with growing amazement, what was once a small piece of bone and spinal cord slowly began to grow in size. Then the sample began to take on the form of a single vertebra. Next, the single vertebra slowly expanded, forming the beginnings of two new vertebrae, one on each end. In this fashion, gradually an entire new spinal column was generated in the replication chamber.

It took the same amount of time to adequately chill Will's body to the desired temperature as it did to fully replicate his spine. Once Dr. Russell had satisfied herself that the new spine was fully developed and that Will was in complete stasis, she addressed the computer. "Computer, open up a vertical slit of 13 centimeters in width in the containment field. The opening should be the same length as Captain Riker's spine, from coccyx to the entry point into his skull." The computer complied and a narrow opening running parallel with Will's spine appeared in the shimmering field.

Silently, Dr. Russell picked up the laser scalpel and aimed it just below the edge of Will's skull. Inching her way first down his neck, then his back, she used the laser scalpel to cut open the skin and muscles just above Will's decaying spine. Then she made two slow passes with the instrument, first to the right and then to the left of his now exposed spine, thus severing the tissues, bones and neural connections from each side. Next, with a sure sweep of the laser scalpel, she severed the spine at its entry point into Will's skull and from the tissue anchoring the coccyx. Finally, she reached into the incision, pushing her gloved hand in so she could grab and lift the spin itself. As she did so, she used the laser scalpel to sever the frontal neural pathways and other tissue.

She lifted the spinal column from Will's body. The nurses and Beverly looked on with amazement. The scene before them was surreal: a body stretched out on a table, with someone holding a detached spine in the air. It almost seemed like a scene from a holonovel.

Dr. Russell didn't wait for comments or questions. Immediately, she dropped the old spine into a tray, the bones making a dull pinging sound as they hit the metal of the tray.
"New spine, please," she ordered, as she held her hands out to her assistant. As soon as she had the new structure, she put it carefully into the cavity in Will's back.

"Very good. Okay, initiate genetonic sequencing and connection." She grabbed onto a mechanical arm suspended above that had been pushed off to the side of the table. She placed the working part of the arm over Will's back. Once the mechanism was in place, the assistant pushed several buttons on the console in front of a bank of machinery sitting next to the replication chamber. The equipment hummed for several minutes as it produced the genetonic sequencing and the neural and tissue connections.

Once Dr. Russell was satisfied that the sequencing and connection processes were complete, she instructed the assistant to turn the unit off. Then she requested a conventional neural regenerator. One was handed to her. She made several painstakingly slow passes up and down the region of Will's new spine and its surrounding tissues. Finally, she picked up a laser scalpel to close the incision in Will's back. A faint pink line running down his back was all that remained of the once gaping incision.

Dr. Russell stepped back and took a deep breath. A fleeting look of fear appeared on her face, which Beverly did not miss. "This better work, lady," Beverly thought to herself caustically.

"I'm going to gradually warm the captain back up," she announced, as she turned the cooling unit off and engaged the heating unit. She watched the bio-monitor screen intently. So far, nothing changed in the information displayed on the screen. She nodded silently, a small grin on her face.

After a span of time that seemed like an eternity, Will's body finally came to a normal temperature. "Computer," Dr. Russell said quietly, "Remove the containment field surrounding Captain Riker." There was complete silence in the room as everyone watched the force field suddenly disappear.

Dr. Russell took another breath that betrayed her increasing tension. Beverly noticed both the breath and the look of anxiety that now graced Dr. Russell's features. Beverly wondered wryly if Dr. Russell had any concern at all for Will's well being, or was the visible tension only about the success of her procedure. Beverly looked down and shook her head slightly and then thought to herself, "It doesn't really matter, so long as Will survives."

"I'm going to turn off the external pacemaker now," Dr. Russell said simply. She reached over to turn it off, then stared at the bio-monitor. Will's heart continued to beat normally for one minute, then two, then a third minute. And then the alarm went off on the bio-monitor as his heart rate crashed.

Before anyone even had a chance to think, Dr. Russell yelled, "100 cc's of epinephrine! Now!" Quickly a hypospray appeared in her hand and she injected a dose into Will's neck. His heart now was barely beating.

In an instant, a look of horror mixed with sadness spread among the faces of the various nurses and attendants in the bio-lab. Beverly looked ceiling-ward, shaking her head in bitter disbelief. It was happening all over again, just as it had years ago with Worf. And this time, it would cost the life of one of her dearest friends.

"Another 100 cc's of epinephrine!" Dr. Russell barked. Again, a dose was administered to Will. This time, his heart rate slowly climbed: first from 5 beats per minute to 10, then to 20. Dr. Russell scrutinized the bio-monitor as Will's heart rate continued to increase slowly but steadily. When his heart was finally beating normally, she quickly waved her clenched fist in a gesture of victory. Beverly fell back against the wall behind her, letting out a sigh of relief.

Dr. Russell rubbed the back of her neck in a tension-releasing gesture. Then she turned back to face the table where Will lay. "Let's get him ready for the last step. He needs to be turned over onto his back." she instructed. Two of the nurses turned him carefully onto his back and pulled the sheet up to his waist.

"This is it. Now we turn off the oxygen." She hesitated for a moment; she was worried about what would happen next. If the captain didn't come out of this alive, she knew this would spell the end of her career at Starfleet and of years of research.

The swooshing sound of the oxygen pump stopped. The tube was removed from Will's mouth. The tension in the room was palpable as everyone looked to the bio-monitor, then at Will. There was no evidence of a breathing pattern on the bio-monitor. Everyone shut their eyes and shook their heads in disbelief: Will had come so close to making it.

And then, after a minute, the impossible happened: Will started breathing. Not only did the bio-monitor show a respiration rate but there was a visible up and down movement of Will's chest. Everyone waited wordlessly to see if he would continue to breathe on his own.

Up and down, up and down his chest continued to move. They became mesmerized as they watched the movement of Will's chest. After five minutes, Dr. Russell said softly, "It looks like Captain Riker will be coming back to us." She was too shaken by the near miss of the procedure to gloat at this point. Beverly looked at her, nodded her head in acknowledgment of the miracle just wrought, and smiled. Dr. Russell smiled back, signaling her appreciation of Beverly's unspoken thanks. The surrounding nurses and attendants, in the meantime, broke into excited words of thanks and amazement.

Beverly walked to the side of the table on which Will lay. "Okay people, let's get Captain Riker back to Sick Bay. I want him back in the ICU for observation," she said with a broad smile. "But before we do, there are some people who need to see Captain Riker now."


Deanna and her mother had been sitting in chairs that had been placed in the corridor for them while the procedure was performed. Andrea was asleep on Lwaxana's lap. At first, Deanna and her mother tried to pass the time in conversation, both vocal and telepathic. But they quickly found that the tension they both felt impeded any intelligent conversation and so they ceased trying to talk. Instead, they decided to focus inside themselves, and they sat for the rest of the time in companionable silence.

Lwaxana closed her eyes and took a cleansing breath. She let her mind wander. She remembered Will and Deanna's wedding on Betazed…How happy she was that Deanna was finally marrying her Imzadi….How lovely Deanna looked, with her favorite flowers woven in her hair… How the years had added a mature fullness to Deanna's figure… How Will, though in early middle age, still had a firm and well-muscled body…How enchanting they looked when dancing together later at the reception, Will in his tuxedo and Deanna in the lovely pink gown worn for their Earth wedding…How as much as she wanted she resisted the urge to probe her daughter's mind to share fully in her joy…How Will and Deanna had eyes only for one another and existed at that moment in a world occupied only by themselves…

Lwaxana sighed with contentment as the wash of memories calmed her. In her meditative state, she lost track of time. She sat, totally relaxed by her internal calm, as her granddaughter slept quietly in her lap.

Deanna tried to center herself with a Betazoid meditation exercise she frequently used when tense or upset. But, images of Will kept intruding into her efforts to find internal balance. She realized that meditation would be impossible. Instead, as her mother was doing, Deanna allowed herself to follow her stream of consciousness. Over and over again she saw Will's face…Will with a tube coming out of his mouth, his eyes closed, with a nearby machine breathing for him…Will with laughter in his sparkling blue eyes and a broad smile on his face…Will talking animatedly, his hands gesticulating as he spoke…Will's blue eyes, dark and dilated with erotic passion…Will, his eyes piercing and his bearded jaw set as he commanded his ship, the U.S.S. Titan…

Deanna sat with her thoughts. Unlike the experience her mother was having while turned inward, Deanna did not find comparable peace. Instead, her memories kept her posed in the present, a wave of sadness rising in her chest. She let silent tears roll down her face.
Would she ever see those blue eyes looking at her again? She did not know, and was afraid of what the answer might be.

After what seemed an indeterminate amount of time, Beverly came bursting out of the bio-lab. She had a huge grin on her face. "Deanna, Ambassador Troi, you need to come in here and see this for yourselves!" Deanna jumped up out of her chair but her mother stood up slowly so as not to wake Andrea. Beverly happily guided them into the bio-lab.

"Look at Will," she said as she pointed to him lying on the portable bio-bed next to the surgical table. At first, all Deanna noticed was that he was lying on his back, as he had been doing for the last five days. In the next moment, she and her mother simultaneously noticed the regular up-and-down movement of Will's chest. Only then did they realize that he was breathing unassisted and that the tube and external pacemaker were gone.

"Can it be…?" Deanna whispered through her tears. "Imzadi?"

"Deanna…," Beverly said softly as she put her hand gently on Deanna's shoulder, "He is still unconscious. I don't know when he will wake up. But he is breathing on his own and his heart is beating unassisted." She gave Deanna's shoulder a friendly squeeze.

"What does that mean?" Deanna asked in a small, frightened voice.

"Only time will tell us what that means," Beverly answered softly. "But we need to take things one step at a time. Right now, a man who several hours ago was near death is now alive and breathing on his own. That's a major step by itself, wouldn't you say?" Deanna nodded her head, fear and elation doing battle within her.


Deanna and her mother waited at the entrance to Will's cubicle while the nurses got him settled in his bio-bed and turned on the bio-monitor. Once the readings, all normal, appeared on the monitor screen, the nurses left with satisfied smiles.

After the nurses left, Lwaxana put Andrea in the bassinet that had been left there from before. Deanna looked at her mother. "I need to be alone with Will for a while, Mother. I don't know yet what I will find in Will, but…" Deanna attempted to explain. Lwaxana just placed her hand gently on Deanna's face, gave her an understanding smile and left the cubicle. Lwaxana knew that Deanna needed to try and reach him through their link. Only his Imzadi could do this. Alone.

Deanna turned to her husband. She took his large hand and wrapped her fine-boned fingers around it. Leaning in close to his face with its now shaggy beard, she closed her eyes. She focused her thoughts on the man lying before her and sent, <<Imzadi.>>

She continued to reach out psychically with closed eyes and her hand grasping his. <<Will, Imzadi, come back to me…I'm looking for you… Look for me…>> She sensed only the basic autonomic systems in Will's brain. She struggled not to give in to the despair that began to rise within her.

<<Imzaaaadi…>> she called out through their bond. This time, though she couldn't sense a difference within Will's being, his respiration rate increased ever so slightly. Though her eyes were still closed, she was aware of the slight change in his breathing. Her eyes went wide. "Will?" she questioned in a small voice.

For a moment, she thought while still holding his hand. "Is that the way to do it? Let the bond itself call out to him?" She resumed her closed-eyed posture and sent again, <<Imzaaaadiii…>> This time, not only did his breathing change slightly, but she sensed a hint of something coalescing in the gray fog in his mind that had not been there before.

"Can this really be?" she whispered in a voice tinged with hope. "Are you there, Will? Can I bring you back?"

She took a deep, cleansing breath. Once again, she closed her eyes and sent, <<Imzaaadiii…>> Not waiting to perceive a change, she sent out again, <<Imzaaadiii…>>

Then she opened her mind to Will. What was once an inchoate mist without character in Will's mind now, for the first time in five days, began to generate a weak life force. As his mind's energy began to radiate ever so dimly, tears of joy and relief made glistening trails down Deanna's face.

"Yes, Will…," she cried, then placed a loving kiss on his unshaven, bristly cheek. "You can do this. We can do this…" A sob broke into her words. She unwound her fingers from his hand, gently put his hand down on the mattress and sat back. She sat crying noiselessly, overwhelmed both by the emotional turmoil she had lived with for these last few days and by the reality that slowly, ever so slowly, her Imzadi was coming back to her.

After a few minutes, her crying eased. She wiped the tears from her face. She glanced at Andrea, sleeping peacefully in the bassinet, and said softly, "Daddy's coming home, my beautiful one." Again, Deanna centered herself with a deep breath. She picked up Will's hand once more and called out through their bond, <<Imzaaaadiiii…>>

Will's respiration rate increased. At the same time, Deana could now feel a stronger core of energy in Will's being. Now she knew for certain that each of her calls to him fanned the embers of his inner being to greater radiance.

<<Yes…that's right…Imzaaaadiiii,>> she sent confidently. Deanna felt a faint brush in her mind, a sensation that could only have come from Will. His eyes moved under their closed lids. His hand shifted slightly within Deanna's grasp. These were the first spontaneous movements he had made since slipping into injured unconsciousness days before.

Deanna realized what was happening. She had helped Will come back from a coma. Now instead, he was simply in a deep sleep. She wrapped her arms tightly around Will's neck and pressed her face against his. "You've come back to me, Imzadi…,' she wept.

He stirred slightly in his sleep. She stroked his unkempt, spiky hair and planted loving kisses on his eyelids. Through her tears she whispered, "Sleep now, Imzadi." She placed a tender kiss on his lips, then righted herself. She glanced first at their sleeping daughter, then at her sleeping husband. The sight filled her heart with a swirl of emotions. There was love and thankfulness. But doing battle with those was also her grief for what she had nearly lost, for all that Will had been through and for his missing the birth that he had wanted so much to be a part of.

She made no attempt to erase the trails of tears on her face as she turned to leave the cubicle. Waiting for her outside was Lwaxana. Without saying a word, Lwaxana knew immediately that things had changed. As Lwaxana embraced her, Deanna smiled tearfully and whispered, "Yes."


After Will had been returned to the ICU, Beverly had thought it best to allow Deanna and her mother some privacy with Will. So, instead of coming directly into the ICU to check on Will, she went into her office. She sat down at her desk, fully intending to do some work. But the miraculous events she had just witnessed made her begin to think of how she understood what Deanna was experiencing. She, too, had experienced loss and intense grief. Then, without warning, a vividly detailed recollection of her late husband's face popped into her mind… His kind eyes, twinkling with merriment… The straight nose and full mouth that Wesley had inherited… Those soft lips that could elicit such incredible erotic sensations…

Suddenly she saw it again: Jean-Luc bringing Jack's dead body home to her… Jack's fatal chest wound a black charred mess…His sparkling eyes closed forever…His rich voice never to speak to her again…The intensity of her usually hidden memories snapped her back to the moment. A tear made its way down her cheek. She shook her head mournfully, for unlike Will, nothing could bring Jack back.

She sighed deeply as she wiped her tears away with the back of her hand. She paused a moment to center herself. She pushed herself to recapture the joy she had experienced before when she realized that Will would survive. Then she rose from her desk to go check on Will.

As she approached the ICU, she saw Lwaxana hugging Deanna. Not knowing what this portended, Beverly approached them quietly. She waited off to the side at a discreet distance. Just then, Deanna looked up from her mother's embrace. She smiled thankfully at Beverly. "He's sleeping now…," Deanna said softly. Beverly raised her eyebrows in question, not sure she had heard Deanna correctly. Deanna saw the look on Beverly's face and said, "He is asleep, Beverly, not in a coma."

Without a word, Beverly stepped into Will's cubicle. She was greeted with the sound of soft snoring. She could hardly believe what she was hearing. Then she looked up at the bio-monitor to check his vital signs. All were completely normal. The neural readout reflected a brain pattern consistent with deep sleep. After a moment of processing all that she was seeing, a broad grin spread across her features. "Well, welcome back, Will Riker!" she exclaimed to herself.

Beverly came back out to Deanna and Lwaxana. "Why do I have the feeling that the snoring in that room is not just because of the brilliant medical interventions bestowed upon our patient? When I last saw Will, he was still in a coma…," Beverly began, raising one eyebrow but trying hard to suppress a grin.

Deanna responded softly, "There is something that goes far beyond anything medicine could do for Will… We are Imzadi, Beverly. This allowed me to reach his inner being and help strengthen it, something not possible any other way… Had we not been Imzadi…" Deanna did not finish. Beverly nodded her head. Though she didn't fully understand the bond that Deanna and Will possessed, she did know that it allowed them to connect with each other in ways not understood by conventional medicine. She realized that the bond had helped Will return from his coma, and that was all she needed to know.

"Deanna, it's been a long afternoon. I don't suppose I could tempt you with a visit to Ten Forward?" Beverly inquired. At that moment, a muffled cry emanated from Will's cubicle. Shaking her head but smiling, Deanna responded, "I think right now that someone else has a claim on me."

"Very well," Beverly smiled back. She then gave Deanna a friendly squeeze on her shoulder. "You still owe me, you know!" Beverly called out jokingly as she walked towards the doors to Sick Bay.

Lwaxana sensed that now would be a good time for her to relocate. She knew that Will would be waking soon enough, and that his wife and daughter should be the ones to welcome him back. "Well, Little One, I haven't been on board this ship in ages. I simply must go see what new plantings they have put in the Arboretum," she said in her usual theatrical manner as she made her exit.

Deanna smiled and then went to pick Andrea up from the bassinet in which she was now screaming in hunger. Clucking in mock-annoyance, Deanna picked her up, sat in the chair by Will's bio-bed, and began to nurse their daughter.

Deanna sat quietly as Andrea drank vigorously. Deanna found the sensations of her daughter's nursing on her breast to be quite relaxing. Little by little, exhaustion stole over Deanna, pulling her ever so slowly into the gray world of sleep. She caught herself as she suddenly realized how loose her grip around their daughter had become. Shaking her head in an attempt to wake herself, she switched Andrea over to the other arm. Deanna exposed her other breast for Andrea, who latched on immediately.

Again, Deanna found the rhythmic tugging of her daughter's mouth to be so calming that she slipped readily into a light sleep. In that twilight state, Deanna was only aware of her daughter's nursing mouth and the delicious sensation of restfulness spreading through her body.

Suddenly, the sound of stirring in the bed before her brought Deanna back to reality in an instant. She opened sleep-filled eyes to see Will move his head on his pillow and stretch out the fingers on his hands. She was fully awake now. Quietly, she put Andrea back in the bassinet. Then she held her breath, watching Will intently.

Slowly his eyes fluttered open. With a bewildered look on his face, he tried to make sense of his surroundings. The blinking lights on the bio-monitors and the IV line in his arm told him he must been in a Sick Bay somewhere. But where was this? Where was he? Why was he in Sick Bay? He could feel no injuries to his body. He shook his head in frustrated confusion. Then he turned his head and saw Deanna standing next to the edge of his bed.

She looked at him with large obsidian eyes that threatened to spill their collecting tears. She put her hand gently on his cheek and whispered, "Hello Will…" Before he could utter a word, she leaned over and kissed him lightly on his cracked lips. He still tasted of the rubber tubing that had been in his mouth. She hardly noticed; all she knew was these were the lips she had thought she would never be able to kiss this way again.

"Welcome back, Imzadi…" Her eyes spilled their wet cargo, tears making two trails down her cheeks. He reached out unsteadily to touch her hand. His eyebrows were raised in complete confusion, his expression pleading for clarification.

"Will, you were injured down on the planet…," she said, sobs threatening to break through her words. "Injured…on the planet…," were the first words he uttered in nearly five days. "I …I don't remember…," he whispered.

The counselor in Deanna saw how disoriented Will was and took charge of her turbulent emotions. For a moment, she became Counselor Troi. "Will, it's not unusual that you wouldn't remember…You needn't worry about that now. You need to rest. We'll talk more later."

"Thirsty…," he rasped. "Slowly," she instructed gently as she placed some ice chips into his parched mouth. He nodded his head in thanks. His eyelids began to droop.

Then his eyes went wide once again. "How long…," he began, fighting the fatigue that threatened once again to overtake him. "How long have I been here?"

"Five days, Will…. I can tell you everything that happened, but later Will, later…You should rest now." She hesitated to say anything about their newborn daughter; she didn't want to upset him further. However, it was at that very moment that a quizzical look stole across his face.

"You look different, Deanna," he said softly. "What happened while I was…gone?" Deanna hesitated before attempting to answer him. In that moment of delay, Will heard a baby begin to cry. The sound was close to his head. He craned his neck around to try to see where the sound was coming from. As he spotted the baby in the basinet, his eyes went wide.

"Is this…," he began in wonderment. "Yes, Will, this is your daughter. This is Andrea," she answered cautiously, still concerned about not overwhelming Will.

"But when…?"

"She was born two days ago, Will," she answered. "Would you like to meet her?"

"Andrea Riker…," he whispered. He nodded with wide eyes as if he were a boy cut loose in a candy store back on Earth. Deanna picked their daughter up and carefully handed her to Will. "Andrea, this is your daddy," she said in an unsteady voice. Will took their daughter in his arms ever so gently, as if he was handling something very fragile.

"Hello little one," Will uttered softly, unconsciously mirroring his mother-in-law's practice. He drank in the presence that was his daughter. And then she began to fuss again. He looked at Deanna with a hurt expression on his face.

"It's not you, Will," Deanna chuckled. "She's got a wet diaper." He nodded, still overwhelmed by the reality that his daughter was on his bed before him. He watched Deanna place Andrea on the mattress, deftly exchange a clean diaper for the soiled one and then lay her flat on the mattress again. As he watched the process, he marveled at the perfection of his daughter's little body. Her stunning blue eyes squinting into the light. Her fine but curly black hair. Her softly shaped little arms and legs. He could hardly believe he'd had anything to do with the creation of this perfect being before him.

Then, the realization that he had missed her birth hit him like a ton of bricks. He began to shake with silent sobs, his tears making wet paths in his unkempt beard. "I wasn't there…," he wept. Deanna finished diapering Andrea and placed her on the mattress next to her father. Then Deanna leaned in close to his face and laced her fingers in his tousled hair. Looking at Will with earnest eyes, she said gently, "I know…But you're here now, Will and she is too."

Deanna's petite hand placed his large hand on their daughter. "She's yours…and she needs to know her father," she insisted gently. He sobbed audibly now, the man whose passionate emotions were normally kept in check. He grieved for the stolen opportunity to participate in the miracle of his daughter's birth. It was a bitter fact to wake up to.

"Imzadi…," Deanna whispered as she turned his tear-stained face to hers. "I'm here." With that, she kicked her shoes off, climbed onto the bio-bed and stretched out next to Will. "I missed it…I missed it," Will moaned. "Shhh," Deanna said as she put a finger across his mouth. "Just be here, Will. With me. With our daughter. That's enough for now." With that, she placed their tiny daughter on his well-formed chest. They both watched intently as Andrea was lulled quickly to sleep by the up-and-down movement of his chest and the steady tha-thump of his heart.

Once Deanna knew that Andrea was asleep, she draped her slim arm over their daughter and across his chest. She looked lovingly into those startlingly blue eyes she wasn't sure she'd ever be able to see again. "You need your sleep now, Will," she whispered as she placed a butterfly kiss on the dry skin of his mouth. Gently, she drew his long-lashed eyelids shut with her fingers and nestled her head in his shoulder.

As sleep drew the two of them into its grasp, she groggily remembered the last time she and their daughter had laid together with Will on his bio-bed. Then, it was as a pale imitation of a family; now they were the real thing. She drifted into slumber with a small smile dancing across her face.


Later that evening, Beverly returned to Sick Bay. She was accompanied by Jean-Luc Picard. They had come to check on Will.

Beverly had informed Jean-Luc of Will's miraculous return from near death shortly after it occurred. As Jean-Luc listened to the wondrous news, a broad smile lit up his chiseled features. And then, just as quickly, a more taciturn expression supplanted the smile. He clearly had not shaken his feelings of guilt.

No one on the Bridge had any hint of what had just happened. Their captain, not given to ebullience, often wore a somber or thoughtful expression. However, Beverly noticed the shift in Jean-Luc's affect immediately. And she understood. "Captain Picard, perhaps you could join me in Sick Bay at the end of your shift. I had planned to check on Captain Riker then. This would give you an opportunity to visit him," she stated in a breezy professional manner. He nodded and flashed a thankful look in her direction.

"Very good, Captain. I will see you in Sick Bay at the end of your shift," she said as she turned to enter the turbolift.

Beverly and Jean-Luc walked into Sick Bay together. A dim pastel light bathed the interior of Sick Bay, softening its clinical appearance. The silence of the room was punctuated by an occasional cough from one of the sleeping patients. As they approached the ICU, they began to notice an altogether different sound: the gentle snoring of two adults.

When they stepped to the entranceway to Will's cubicle, Beverly looked at Jean-Luc and quickly put a finger to her mouth in a gesture of silencing. Jean-Luc acknowledged her with a thumbs-up and a slight grin. They both took in the sight before them: Will stretched out with his daughter on his chest and with Deanna lying next to him, her head resting in the crook of his shoulder. All of them in a deep slumber. Beverly brought Jean-Luc closer. With a broad smile, she cupped her ear to indicate to Jean-Luc that he should attend to the sounds emanating from Will and Deanna, the sounds of two very alive people. Jean-Luc nodded and tilted his head.

And then he stepped back out into the ICU. Beverly turned to join him. As she scrutinized his face in the dim light, she could again see his emotional turmoil playing itself out across his patrician features. Gently, she placed her hand behind his elbow and guided him into the Sick Bay. "Come walk and talk with me, Jean-Luc," she whispered.

They walked down the corridor, but did not talk. Silently, she brought him to the Arboretum. The lights inside were dimmed to simulate moonlight, and the air moved as if blown by a gentle breeze. She beckoned him to sit with her on a bench near a tree that had a wind chime singing lightly in the wind.

She looked at him, his hazel eyes darker and the lines on his chiseled features seemingly more deeply etched in the simulated moonlight. "Jean-Luc, do you remember when Odan was placed into Will's body?" she asked.

"Of course I do," he replied.

"Then you must remember a particular conversation we had," she mused.

"I'm not sure which one you have in mind, Beverly," he responded cautiously.

"We were in your ready room, talking with Odan. It was after he and I …well, after…," she started, her words stopped short by a sudden memory of Odan's eyes, glistening with unbridled passion, boring into hers. And then, his hot breath on her neck as he kissed it, triggering an explosion of erotic sensations in her body. And then his tongue dancing a lover's dance with hers…

A gently uttered, "Yes?" from Jean-Luc jolted Beverly back into the moment.

"Sorry…," she said softly, then continued, "Well, it was when Odan insisted that he be removed from Will's body after a few more hours. Do you remember what you said after Odan left your ready room?" she queried softly. Jean-Luc nodded his head somberly as the memory of that moment entered his mind.

"Your words then…let me say them to you now, Jean-Luc. Whatever else I may be to you, I'm your friend. And I'm here for you," she repeated from memory, her luminous concern-filled blue eyes giving an added subtext of meaning. And she wrapped her arms about his shoulders and hugged him in a comforting embrace.

"I keep seeing it happen, Beverly. Over and over again. The disrupter fire, then Will screaming in pain and collapsing. I can't escape it…," he explained in a voice laced with pain.

"I know, Jean-Luc. But you know that there was nothing you could have done differently," she stated firmly.

"But…," he began.

"Jean-Luc, there is not 'but' about it. What happened did not occur due to any negligence on your part. It was the action of a crazed and frustrated individual totally out of your control. Period," she interjected. He looked at her with haunted eyes.

"Jean-Luc, you need to let this go. You can't keep carrying guilt over something that was completely beyond your control." Beverly's voice now had an insistent note to it. "Please leave it behind and come back to me, to us." Her piercingly blue eyes bore into his eyes with an intensity born of conviction. He looked down, somberly considering her words.

Beverly tilted his chin up and said gently, "Let it go…Come back to me. What's in the past belongs in the past." He sighed and whispered, "I suppose you're right…"

"I know I am right," she responded in a soothing voice. Her thumb made an affectionate sweep along his jaw line. He responded by burying his head in her shoulder. He inhaled deeply of her faintly floral scent, finding calm in the aroma.

They sat like that on the bench for an untold amount of time, two friends wrapped in an embrace of understanding and healing. Finally, Jean-Luc looked up into Beverly's intensely blue eyes and said, "Thank you." Then he put his mouth to hers and brushed her lips with infinite tenderness. And then he rose, took her by the hand and pulled her up.

"It's time to leave now," he said quietly, his features now softened by the easing of guilt. She nodded, understanding in her eyes. Once more, he put his lips gently to hers, expressing through his kiss his profound thanks and his great affection for her. And then he left the Arboretum, knowing that a beloved friend had helped him shed his burden of guilt.


Deanna awoke to the sound of escalating whimpers next to her ear and the feel of Will's solid arm wrapped about her. Raising her head up from Will's sheltering shoulder, she smiled at their feisty and very hungry daughter. "What a temper in such a tiny being!" Deanna chuckled softly to herself as she pulled Andrea to rest on the mattress between herself and Will. Quickly, she opened her tunic and offered herself to Andrea. After only an instant, Andrea found what she wanted and began to suck greedily.

Deanna put her head down on the bed and luxuriated in the multiple sensations that were flooding her. The pleasant, rhythmic tug of her daughter's mouth on her breast. The calming sound of Will's gentle breathing. The warmth radiating from both Will's and Andrea's bodies. Will's musky scent, mixed with a vague antiseptic aroma. She sighed as she closed her eyes to drown in the sensual moment.

As she lay there nursing Andrea, Will stretched his long body and opened his eyes. His eyebrows knit in confusion, he scanned his surroundings quickly. Then, as he realized that Deanna was in bed next to him, he remembered. A smile danced across his face as he turned to face her. His expression immediately turned to wide-eyed wonderment as he saw that Deanna was nursing their daughter. He marveled at the utter contentment that he sensed from Deanna, and the mere act of nursing. He found himself mesmerized as he continued to watch.

His mind began to wander…Her breasts…So many times he had suckled them in the heat of passion, her skin warm and soft in his mouth…His ministrations bringing forth moans and heavy breathing from his beloved…

He pulled back from his reverie. He placed his hand lightly on Deanna's arm to let her know he was awake. She opened her eyes sleepily to find Will's sparkling blue eyes trained intently on her.

"Good morning, Imzadi," she whispered softly as she placed a tender kiss on his shoulder.

At that moment, Beverly walked in. "Well good morning to you all!" she beamed at them. Quickly scanning the bio-monitor screen, she inquired," How are you feeling, Will?"

He ran his parched tongue across his chapped lips. "Thirsty…," he whispered. Beverly handed him a cup of water but admonished him to take small sips. "This is the first oral fluid you've had in a number of days, Will. You need to go slow." He nodded as he tilted the cup to take a sip. But his thirst got the better of him and he began to gulp the water down greedily. As soon as Beverly saw this, she grabbed the cup from his hand. "Drink enough this way and it's going to come right back up, Will Riker." He stared at Beverly, aware only that he was still very thirsty.

"Now tell me, how do you feel? Any pain?" He shook his head no.

"Any numbness? Any tingling? Headache? Dizziness?" She asked about as many symptoms she could of that would reveal a post-operative neurological problem. Again he shook his head.

"Very good, Will. Okay, I'm going to take you off of IV fluids and let you start back on a liquid diet. If that sits well for a day, then we can begin to introduce solids," she said.

He put his head back on his pillow. "Liquid diet…I just can't wait," he intoned sarcastically. Then he focused his intense blue eyes on Beverly and asked, "But I still don't know what I'm doing here in Sick Bay, let alone on the Enterprise…This is the Enterprise, isn't it?" Beverly nodded.

"Will, we can talk later. But now I'm going to remove the catheter. This means that soon enough, you're going to feel the need to use the bathroom. But I don't want you trying to get out of bed yourself. When you need to get out of bed, have Deanna help you. Your legs are going to be weak and I don't want you falling over and injuring yourself in my Sick Bay," she instructed firmly. Her no-nonsense expression made it clear that Beverly would brook no variations from her orders.

Deanna got out of the bed. Then she tenderly picked up their daughter, who was using her well-developed lung power to let the world know she was not done nursing. "I'll just sit over here," Deanna said as she pulled the chair away from the bio-bed, "and finish feeding our baby." Beverly gave Deanna a warm smile.

Beverly turned back to Will. She turned back his sheet to his thighs and gently tugged off the dermal patch that stabilized the catheter. "Okay, I'm going to take the catheter out now. One…two…three…," she counted as she quickly pulled the tubing out of Will's member. He winced and gritted his teeth as she pulled. "Geez Doctor…what're you trying to do? Emasculate me?"

"All done," Beverly smiled as she threw the used tubing and the receptacle into which it drained into the recycler. Will hastily pulled the sheet back up to his hips. Beverly chuckled, "Not anything I've never seen before there, Will." His face reddened slightly as he turned his eyes upward in mild embarrassment.

"Are you ready to try sitting up in a chair?" Will contemplated the option of remaining in bed, which was never something he enjoyed doing alone. "A chair sounds good to me," he responded after a moment's consideration. Without further thought, he sat upright and swung his legs over the edge of the bed.

"You might want to consider donning these before you get out of bed," Beverly snickered as she held out a pair of pajama bottoms. "That is, unless you're considering giving the rest of the patients in Sick Bay an anatomy lesson." Deanna found herself laughing heartily at the suggestion. It was the first time she had laughed in days and it felt wonderful.

Will, however, was not amused. "Very funny," he grumbled as he took the proffered clothing. Slowly, he managed to pull the pajama bottoms on without having the bed sheet slip off his midsection. Then he slid the sheet back and once again dangled his legs over the edge of the bed. "Better?" Will inquired impatiently.

"Ah, I see my worst patient has made a reappearance in Sick Bay. Well, isn't it nice to know that some things never change?" Deanna began to laugh again. Will shot Beverly a dirty look. "Okay Will…Sorry," Beverly said, trying to rein in her urge to needle Will just a little bit more. She paused for a moment, one hand over her mouth but with mirth still dancing in her eyes. Then she made a wiping motion across her mouth as if to suggest that the humor had been removed.

"Now Will, I'm going to stand next to you. I want you to put your arm around my shoulder and then slide down off the bed slowly," she instructed. She waited until she felt the weight of his muscular arm settle about her shoulders. She nodded at him. With that, Will slid off the bed and on to his feet.

He stood for a brief moment. Then his knees began to buckle under him. "Whoa there, my friend," Beverly said as his weight nearly pulled her off her feet. "Lean against the bed for a moment to get your balance." He did as he was told, beads of sweat beginning to form on his forehead.

"Who would have thought getting out of bed could be so damned hard?" Will muttered in annoyance.

"Will, lord only knows you've been through this routine enough times before. And each time you do, you forget how weak your legs become when you've been in bed for an extended period of time," Beverly observed. He nodded, his jaw now set with determination.

"Okay, I'll make this easier for you. I'm going to put the other chair right next to you. Then all you have to do is to move sideways to the chair, using the bed to support you. Ready?" He responded, "Yep." She placed the chair a couple of inches to his right. Carefully, he moved one foot, then the other, sliding slowly towards the chair. He looked pleased when he finally found himself sitting in the chair.

"Next time it will be easier. You'll find that in no time, you'll be back on your feet," Beverly said as she patted his shoulder sympathetically. With a smile, she said, "I'll leave you now. I'll have breakfast trays sent to you both momentarily. After that, I imagine you'll want to get cleaned up a bit. I can send a nurse in to help you…" She didn't get to complete her sentence before Will and Deanna, nearly simultaneously said, "We can handle that!"

A few minutes later, an attendant brought their trays in. "I am absolutely famished!" Deanna exclaimed. "This nursing takes a lot out of me." She put Andrea in her basinet, put the tray on her lap and proceeded to consume her cereal voraciously.

Will grinned until he looked at the bowl of unidentifiable liquid masquerading as soup on his tray. "Cream of crud… What a great way to start a day," he grumbled. "It's enough to make me lose my appetite permanently…," he added as he put the first spoonful to his mouth.

They sat eating in hungry silence. Then, before Will had a chance to begin to ask questions again, Deanna offered to help him get cleaned up. "I don't think you've been cleared for the shower yet, Will. So, let me get a washcloth, some soap and a basin for you to use instead." She stood up and stepped out of the cubicle. Within minutes, she returned with the needed items, plus ones not mentioned before: a razor, shaving cream and scissors.

Will took the washcloth, dipped it into the water in the basin, then rubbed some soap onto the cloth. He proceeded to sponge-bathe himself, methodically washing first his face, then his neck, then under his arms and finally his chest. After placing the washcloth and the basin onto the floor next to him, he picked up the razor and shaving cream. But instead of lathering his stubbled cheeks with the cream himself, he paused.

"I'd like you to do this part, Deanna. You did a great job in that hot tub of yours," he chuckled and raised an eyebrow suggestively as he handed her the items. He caught himself in the act of laughing; as Deanna had found earlier, it felt good to laugh again.
Deanna had not missed the momentary leering of her husband. "Well aren't you making a rapid recovery, Will Riker," she said in mock seriousness. "You can't even stand upright yet, and already your libido is going into overdrive." He just snickered.

She picked up the shaving cream and used her hand to apply it to Will's stubbled cheeks above the edge of his shaggy beard. He tilted his head back for her to begin shaving. Carefully, she drew the blade across his cheeks, producing a clean-shaven path in its wake. She repeated the process on his neck.

When she was done, she took the washcloth to wipe off the stray bits of remaining lather. Then she picked up the scissors in one hand, and took a hold of his chin in her other. Slowly she trimmed his beard, snipping a bit here, then a bit there. Eyeing her completed handiwork critically, she sighed, "Not bad if I do say so myself… What a handsome man I found hiding in all that facial hair!" She placed the implements in the recycler.

Instead of returning to her chair, Deanna turned towards the entrance of the ICU cubicle.
She was not yet ready to fill Will in on what had transpired. She knew that the facts would upset him. She wasn't sure she felt strong enough yet to take on the fury of his emotions.

"Where are you going?" he asked sadly. She told him the truth. "I've not bathed in I don't know how long. I feel disgusting. I'm going to find the nearest hot shower and turn myself back into a socially acceptable human being!" Will smiled, then nodded.

"I could understand that. Give my regards to the shower! It may be a while before I get to see the inside of one," he joked. Deanna grinned back, glad that he had accepted her explanation.

As she made her way to the Sick Bay shower, she thought to herself, "The moment of truth comes next." She shook her head at the task that lay ahead of her and, more importantly, Will: coming to terms with what had happened to him.


As soon as the hot water rained down onto her skin, she felt all of her worries wash into the drain below. A temporary but much appreciated reprieve. She closed her eyes to enjoy the sensation of the beads of water massaging her shoulders and back.

As she stood there in the shower, intimate thoughts came unbidden to her mind. Memories of showers shared with Will… His large hands kneading her tense neck muscles… Will standing behind her, his hot tongue making its way along the ridges of her shoulders and his wet beard tickling her back… Frantic hands hungrily stroking skin tingling with desire… Kisses probing deeply, impelled by passion… Moans and sighs mingling with the sound of the water cascading down…

Her mind drifted, drawn further in its reverie by the calming patter of the water against her skin. In that moment, she felt as if she was once again that nubile young woman in the Jalara, drinking in every erotic sensation an equally young Will Riker could produce in her hungry body. She remembered that she had felt the stirrings of Imzadi within her as his soul wrapped itself around hers while they lay passionately entwined on the ground…

She sighed, realizing that she could not stay in the shelter of the shower forever. She set about washing herself. As she did so, she found herself marveling in the fullness of her breasts and their potential to nurture life. This reminded her instantly that she had left Andrea with a parent who was ill-equipped to handle her needs, especially for nourishment. "Oops," she chided herself as she quickly finished washing.

After dressing in an outfit newly replicated for her, she returned to the ICU. Will was waiting for her, holding their screaming daughter on his shoulder in an effort to calm her. He looked frantic. "Gods Deanna, where have you been? She's going to make me go deaf with all this screaming!"

Deanna immediately took Andrea into her arms and sat down to nurse her. "I'm sorry Will, I lost track of time in the shower…" She interrupted herself with a slight smile.

Will didn't miss the smile. "What's so funny," he asked. "Nothing…It's just that it feels so nice to be clean again, that's all," she replied, hoping he didn't sense her slip.

He nodded distractedly, watching his daughter hungrily suck on Deanna's breast. "The time has come, Deanna," he said quietly. "For what?" she asked, feigning ignorance. In fact, she knew exactly what he meant.

"You know what. We need to talk." He stared at her intently.

"I know, Will. But I think we ought to do this in a more private location," she said advisedly.

"Why more private, Deanna? Is there something to be kept secret?" he asked, irritation rising in his voice.

"No, Will. Not at all," she smiled soothingly. "I simply think a more private setting would allow us to talk freely about what happened and about our feelings."

He was not sure he liked what he heard. "Is that my wife speaking to me, or Counselor Troi?" he asked sarcastically. Deanna could see the direction the conversation was going in, the one she had feared it would take. She took a moment to compose herself. Then she reached over to put her hand on his knee.

"Will, we have both been through a great deal the last few days. I feel like my heart has been an open book to everyone on the ship the last few days…" He listened to her, one of his eyebrows raised in genuine curiosity. She continued, "I can't speak for you, Will. But I'd like to take some of those feelings out of the public eye. And if they come out in the course of talking with you, I don't want them to become public property again."

Will nodded his head with understanding." Of course, Deanna. I'm sorry…I don't think I'd want my feelings to be out there for public consumption either… At least, not more so than usual,' Will agreed, acknowledging the fact that his reactive temperament was known to all.

"So where can we do this, Deanna? It's not as if I can go walking about the ship with you just yet," he commented.

"Well, if you think you can handle being in a hoverchair, then perhaps the Arboretum might be a nice place. There some very private benches amidst the shrubbery in the back," she suggested. At the mention of a hoverchair, Will began to glower. The idea made him feel as if he were an invalid - which he most assuredly felt he was not. As he felt his annoyance bubble up inside, he realized that the hoverchair was his only way out of Sick Bay for now. And finding out what had happened to him was more important than his wounded ego. With a sigh, he nodded his acceptance of Deanna's suggestion.

"Good. Let me go get a hoverchair for you. I'll be right back." Deanna put their now sleeping daughter in her bassinet, then disappeared out of the ICU. Will placed his large hand on his slumbering daughter. He stroked her back with gentle, loving sweeps of his thumb. And unbidden tears began to course down his face. His sense of loss and post-operative fatigue were taking their toll.


They entered the Arboretum. The lighting was now set to approximate sunshine on a spring day on Earth. A gentle breeze caused tree branches to dance, their rustling sound their own musical accompaniment.

Though in a hoverchair, Will's spirits began to soar. Deanna had not known of his private moment of grief earlier while she had gone to get the hoverchair. But the simulated sunshine and spring breeze lifted the veil of his sadness quickly. Being outdoors always did that for Will. He had been raised out of doors, and was never comfortable being cooped up inside.

Will closed his eyes and took a deep breath. A delicate floral scent wafted in the air. Like the wild flowers just outside their cabin in Alaska…The cabin he had spent so much time in growing up…The cabin that, though inhabited by father and son, was so devoid of love and acceptance…The cabin that had needed the gentle, calming influence of his late mother…

Will opened his eyes suddenly. "Deanna, we didn't give Andrea a middle name, did we?" he asked urgently. Deanna smiled and said, "No, we didn't. Would you like to?" Deanna knew the answer before Will opened his mouth, but waited for him to speak.

"Yes…I would like the name to be Elizabeth," he stated firmly.

"Ah yes, after your mother. Of course, Will. Your mother would be so pleased to know that she had a beautiful granddaughter named for her." Will nodded, a distant look in his clear blue eyes.

They moved further down the path in the Arboretum. Finally, they found a secluded bench amidst a small stand of fir trees. The trees were thick with green needles. The air was full of their sweet, fresh fragrance. Like Alaska, Will thought. The perfect spot.

Deanna sat down on the bench next to Will's hoverchair. She looked at him tenderly, drinking in his very alive presence.

After a moment, she began to speak. "Where would you like to start, Will?" she asked softly, her eyes trained intently on his.

"Well, I remember we were to meet with members of the High Council on Romulus. I have a vague recollection of actually beaming down to the planet's surface. I think you and the captain were with me. Worf too. Beyond that, I really can't remember."

"What you do remember is completely correct, Will. The meeting itself, though lacking in substance, seemed to go well." He nodded, listening as he watched her face intently.

"After the meeting was over…." She hesitated. "Go on," Will urged. She took a deep breath, then continued to speak.

"We walked out into the lobby. Captain Picard went out first. Then you and I. Then Worf," she related in an increasingly tense voice. Will did not miss the change in her voice. "This must be it," he thought to himself, his own anxiety beginning to rise within him.

"You walked a bit faster to catch up with Captain Picard. When you caught up with him, a Romulan suddenly materialized and shot at you with a disrupter." She paused at the memory, played out so often in her mind, of Will screaming and collapsing.

"Shot at me?"

"Yes, Will. But we found out later that you were not his intended target," she said softly.

"I wasn't the target? Then who…"

"Captain Picard," she answered before the question was fully out of his mouth. Will shook his head as he felt his anger churning within. "I spend five days unconscious in the ICU on a ship that isn't mine and I miss my daughter's birth. And I wasn't even the damned target? Damn it to hell!" he growled angrily as he slammed his clenched fists against the arms of his hoverchair.

Deanna watched him wordlessly. She had anticipated this rage. In fact, though it was hard for her to be sitting directly in the line of fire, she was relieved by the fact that he was reacting normally.

"I'd like to get my hands on that bastard and throttle him!" Will thundered as he punched the air in front of him with his clenched fists.

"Will, that's completely understandable. But you should know that the Romulans are handling him through their own system of so-called justice. And you do know that what ever you could dream up, the punishments they'll be using would outstrip your wildest fantasy of violence," she commented calmly.

"Small comfort," Will grumbled. He sat wordlessly, working his jaw muscles and clenching and unclenching his fists. Seething with barely controlled anger, he asked, "Why did this son of a bitch want to shoot Captain Picard?"

"He was a disgruntled follower of Shinzon who blamed the captain for Shinzon's death," she replied gently. Will slammed his fists down against the chair yet again. "Shinzon again! That bastard sure casts a long shadow," he hissed.

"I can't believe this…What those sons of bitches cost me," he exploded after a moment. Deanna recoiled involuntarily; she was overwhelmed by the intensity of his rage. Still, she knew that it was a step that he needed to take. Quickly, she regained her composure.

"I think I need to be alone now, Deanna," he said through clenched teeth.

"Very well, Will. But don't go wandering far; you haven't a comm badge on. And for goodness sakes, stay in your chair," she admonished him. He nodded, burning fury seething within him.

She left him sitting in the stand of fir trees. When she entered the corridor outside the Arboretum, she found her mother there. Before Deanna even spoke, Lwaxana said, "I know, Little One. He is a very angry man now. He needs to work through this." Deanna nodded.

"What do you say we take this beautiful granddaughter of mine back to my quarters where she can be bathed and we can visit?" Lwaxana brightly suggested. "It sounds like a lovely idea, Mother," answered Deanna as she linked her arm with her mother's.


"Crusher to Deanna Troi." Beverly's voice came across the comm system in Lwaxana's cabin.

"Troi here," Deanna responded, wondering what could be going on.

"Is Will with you?" Beverly asked.

"No, I left him in the Arboretum about twenty minutes ago. I just told him what happened. He was naturally very angry and asked to be left alone."

"Well, he's not there now. I had wanted to check him over and release him to your care in your quarters," Beverly explained.

"Computer," Deanna inquired sharply, "Location of Captain William Riker?"

"His hoverchair is in Holodeck 3. The captain's location is unknown at present," the computer intoned.

"Mother, I have to go. Can you watch Andrea for me?" Deanna said hurriedly.

"Of course. But what should I do if she becomes hungry? I'm a bit beyond nursing, you know," Lwaxana replied.

"Have the replicator make some milk for her. Request that the milk be human in chemical composition and for a newborn. It'll be better for her than any formula the computer could invent." With that, she gave her mother a hurried kiss on the cheek and sped out the door.

A few minutes later found Deanna standing at the entrance to Holodeck 3. Her heart was pounding from the effort she had made to get to the holodeck quickly. She looked at the control panel and noticed the privacy lock was not on. She pushed the "open" button, waited for the sturdy doors to hiss open, then walked in.

At first she didn't see him. All she saw was a hoverchair, floating inches above the floor in the middle of the holodeck. Then she noticed him beyond the hoverchair. He was on the floor, his legs folded beneath him with something on the floor in front of him. She watched as over and over again he pounded his clenched fists on to what ever was in front of him. Quietly, she stepped towards him.

As she drew closer, she could hear the thudding sound of flesh hitting flesh. Up and down went his fists. She came past the hoverchair and then to his side. Then she saw clearly what he had been pummeling: a dead Romulan. Rivulets of blood trickled from the Romulan's mouth and ears. His body was twisted in a paroxysm of frightened death.

Deanna wordlessly looked at Will. His fists and forearms were covered in blood. His chest and face wore a mixture of his own sweat and the blood of the Romulan. Will's beard was stained dark by the tears that continued to run down his face.

Up and down his fists repeatedly pounded. And then he sensed her presence. Looking up to her concerned face, he let his fists drop tiredly to his side. Ragged animal sobs tore out of his mouth. His shoulders shook with his weeping. He shook his head repeatedly, his eyes tightly closed by the grief and anger that poured out of him. 'Bastard' and 'why' were the only words discernable amidst his sobs.

Wordlessly, she knelt beside him. She placed her hand gently on his back. She rubbed her hand softly up and down his broad, muscular back, sending feelings of compassion and understanding. His cries continued to pour out of him, shaking his body with their intensity.

They sat like that for an indeterminate span of time. Slowly, his sobbing eased. He sat hunched over, emptied of his anger and grief. He breathed deeply, then took Deanna's hand and turned to look at her. Her eyebrows were knitted with concern, her eyes pools brimming with compassion.

In a small voice, he began to speak. "I had to do this, Deanna." Taking a deep breath, he continued, "I had to do this… I had to put my anger somewhere…" He paused as a lone tear spilled from his eye. "He took from me so much. Took what I can never get back…"
He looked down tiredly.

Deanna nodded, her throat tightening with emotion. "I understand," she said quietly as she nodded her head. She touched the tips of her fine-boned fingers to his face and, with infinite tenderness, wiped the trails left by his tears. Then she leaned her face close to his and placed a light kiss on his blood-spattered lips.

"Better?" she asked gently.

"I think so," he responded quietly. His eyes conveyed an unspoken thank you. In response, she placed another gentle kiss on his mouth.

"Are you ready to go back now?" she asked. He nodded, his features now softened by the absence of anger. Pushing himself forward onto his knees, he began to try to stand up.

"Let me help you, Will. I don't think Beverly would be too pleased at having to attend to an injury because you lost your balance," said Deanna as she placed his arms around her slim shoulders.

"Yeah, you're right. Help me get to my feet. I think I can manage the few steps to the chair," he replied as he locked his hands behind her shoulders.

Once he was in the chair, Deanna tapped the comm badge on her shirt. "Troi to Dr.Crusher."

"Crusher here."

"Will was in the Holodeck. We are on our way back to Sick Bay now."

"Very well. Is everything alright?" Beverly asked.

'Yes, he's fine. But don't be shocked by his appearance when we arrive. Troi out." She looked at Will with his bloodied body, face and pajama bottoms. She clucked and shook her head in mock judgment. "What is Beverly going to think when she sees you?"

"I really don't care, Deanna…In fact, I'm too damned tired to care."

"You know what Will? I don't care either," she said earnestly.

They left the Holodeck and made their way to Sick Bay. Along the way, eyes went wide and heads turned at the spectacle that crossed their owners' paths: a bloodied senior officer in pajama bottoms, riding in a hoverchair. Will did not even notice. But Deanna knew this would become the main item in the ship-board scuttlebutt for weeks. She snickered to herself at the thought. After all, she considered, everyone needs a little entertainment from time to time.


As soon as Deanna and Will entered Sick Bay, Beverly spotted Will. Her eyebrows rose in surprise. But, before she could utter a sound, Deanna put her finger to her lips in a shushing gesture and shook her head.

"Let's go in my office," Beverly said in a voice that suggested nothing out of the ordinary had just happened. "I'd like to check you out Will, before I release you to your wife's care in your quarters. That is, unless you'd like to continue to enjoy the hospitality of Sick Bay?" she chuckled. Will wordlessly shook his head.

Beverly knew something major had happened with Will. It was not just the blood splattered about his face and body, although that was cause enough for concern. It was also his subdued silence. "Subdued' was not a word that normally came to her mind when she thought about Will Riker. But, she had understood Deanna's gestures and so did not ask Will what had happened.

Once in Beverly's office, Deanna wordlessly handed a wet towel that she had brought with her to Will. He took it from her and proceeded to wipe off first his face, then his arms and finally his chest and abdomen.

As if she hadn't noticed a thing, Beverly said breezily, "Okay, let's take a look at you." She opened up her tricorder and began to move it along the length of Will's body. "Good…good…," she mumbled as she observed Will's vital signs and physical scan data on the tricorder's screen.

"You are in good health, Will. Everything checks out normally," she informed him. He nodded tiredly but Deanna smiled.

"Okay. Now Will, I need you to bend forward." He looked up at her questioningly. "Let your head fall as close to your knees as you comfortably can. Just let your arms hang down."

Will did as she instructed. Beverly pointed to the thin pink line running down his spine. "This has healed well. It was a remarkable job." Deanna nodded quietly, awestruck at what that scar represented.

"You did your usual capable job of healing me, right?" Will asked, still bent over in the hoverchair.

"Not me, Will…," Beverly began.

"What do you mean 'not me'," Will interjected sharply as he sat up.

Beverly looked at Deanna with raised eyebrows. "You mean he doesn't know?"

"Know what?" Will asked, irritation tingeing his voice. "Beverly? Deanna?" he queried, looking quickly from one to the other. "What am I supposed to know, damn it?" he demanded angrily.

"Will…," Deanna began in a quiet voice, "I told you that you were injured by disrupter fire…"

"Yes," he interrupted impatiently.

"Well, I didn't tell you the nature of the injury or how it was remedied," she said. Before she could continue, once again the memory came unbidden…Will, screaming as he collapsed. The smell of singed flesh. Blood pooling underneath Will's neck…Will lying unconscious with a tube exiting his mouth…

Deanna took a deep breath to bring herself back to the moment. Will's piercingly blue eyes were trained on her.

"Will, the disrupter was a prototype designed to deliver thalaron waves."

Will's eyes went wide at the mention of thalaron waves. "Thalaron waves?...," he asked. After a pause, he asked in a tight voice, "It was Shinzon's design, wasn't it?"

"Yes Will, it was," Deanna responded quietly. He put his head in his hands. Memories flooded his mind…Hearing news of the Romulan High Chamber being destroyed by a thalaron bomb…Meeting Shinzon with his deathly pallor…The word "Imzadi" huskily leaving Will's mouth as he lay down to kiss Deanna's inviting lips…Deanna's screams of "No" and "This isn't real" as Shinzon attempted to rape her mentally during her lovemaking with Will, her fists pounding against his shoulders…

Shaking his head, Will sat back up. "What did the thalaron waves do to me?" He stared at some invisible point on the wall, his hands tightly gripping the arms of the hoverchair.

Beverly spoke then. "Will, the weapon's payload hit your neck…" He unconsciously clamped his hand to the back of his neck. "The amount of thalaron waves delivered was minute. So, rather than destroying you instantly, as it did the Romulan High Chamber, it
slowly disintegrated the tissue surrounding the entry point."

"My spine…," he whispered, then shook his head. "Yes, Will. And the progressively destructive effects of the thalaron payload could only be slowed by our neural regenerators, not erased," Beverly explained, watching Will's troubled face intently. "You were very close to death, Will."

As Will listened to Beverly's account, he could feel his fragile sense of calm fading. In its place crept the heavy weight of sadness mixed with anger. His discovery of the injury done to him renewed his aching sense of loss. "Five days more dead than alive…five days stolen from me," he thought to himself ruefully, "…robbed of my daughter's birth…" Two tears made parallel tracks down his cheeks. He sighed heavily and wiped the tears away with the back of his hand.

Beverly placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Are you ready for me to go on?" she asked gently. With sadness written in his features, Will nodded heavily.

"There were no effective treatments available on the Enterprise. I turned to Starfleet Medical in the hopes that one of their physicians with a specialty in neurology might have something to offer. When I examined the professional records in our computer, I came up with 20 names. It turned out that only one of these doctors had anything to offer. But…," Beverly related.

"But what?" Will interjected. Beverly looked at Will hesitantly as her long held antagonism towards Dr. Russell popped into her mind. "But what?" Will repeated, prompting Beverly to continue.

"The only doctor who had a possibility of helping you was Toby Russell."

"Toby Russell…Toby Russell," he mused, trying to remember why her name sounded so familiar. Then it hit him. "You mean the doctor who nearly killed Worf with that untried procedure of hers?" he asked.

"Yes, Will," Beverly answered quietly.

"So, what did she do, this Dr. Russell? Nearly kill me, too?" he questioned sarcastically.

"Unfortunately yes, Will," Beverly responded seriously.

"Don't tell me you let her try that cockamamie procedure on me?" he said incredulously. He looked quickly from Beverly to Deanna and back, hoping to find that this was not the truth. He remembered well that the procedure killed Worf. It was only the Klingon's spinal redundancy that revived him.

"Will, it was our only hope. We had no choice. Now fortunately, she has considerably modified the procedure over the years. Still, we nearly lost you…your heart rate tanked… then your breathing stopped…," Beverly recounted. "But by some miracle, your breathing resumed spontaneously." Beverly let out a tense breath as her mind quickly replayed the events during the replication procedure. "Must be that feisty Riker constitution," she said with a tension-relieving chuckle.

Will pointed over his shoulder towards his spine. "You mean this is all new? The procedure really did work?" Beverly nodded, watching Will intently.

Will felt totally overwhelmed. First nearly dead… Then an unreliable procedure that nearly killed him… A new spine!… They had taken out his spine completely!... He shook his head, then put his hand over his eyes.

Deanna knelt next to him. "Will?'' He didn't respond. Deanna touched her fingers to his cheek. "Will, you need time to deal with this. Don't expect to be able to handle this all a once," she said softly. He looked up at her in painful confusion.

"Will," Beverly began. He looked at her dully. "Would you like to go to your quarters with Deanna?" He nodded, his face reflecting his jumbled feelings of confusion, amazement and sadness. Touching his shoulder gently, Beverly said, "Go home. Let Deanna take care of you. Go enjoy that daughter of yours." With that last statement, Beverly gave Will a supportive smile.

"Thank you, Doctor," Will whispered as he turned his hoverchair to the office's entrance.
He gave Deanna's hand a light kiss, and they left the office together.


Will, exhausted both mentally and physically by the events of the day, sat slumped in the corner of the couch in their quarters. His arm was draped around Deanna's slim shoulders and she sat nestled against his shoulder. Their daughter lay sleeping on the couch next to Deanna.

"A penny for your thoughts," Deanna said quietly. Will sighed deeply. "I really don't even know where to begin, Deanna. I feel so jumbled up inside. And I feel absolutely beat…my body…my mind." He rubbed his eyes tiredly with the fingers of his free hand and shook his head.

"This must all be so overwhelming for you," she sympathized as she stroked his hand softly. For a moment, she looked down at their sleeping daughter and drank in the gentle waves of calm emanating from her. Then Deanna sent <<Rabeem, Imzadi.>> Sensing the tired smile that now crawled across Will's face, she began to send feelings of healing and warmth.

At first, Will sat quietly, drinking in all that Deanna was sending. Then suddenly, he sat bolt upright and said, "Deanna, this is not right."

She jerked back involuntarily, thrown off balance by the abrupt way in which Will had cut her mental ministrations off. "What do you mean this isn't right, Will?" she asked with a note of hurt lacing her voice.

"What you are doing, Deanna," Will said not at all harshly.

"What do you mean, Will? I was just trying to help you." She was confused now. Will's words did not square with the gentle and loving feelings she was now sensing from him.
She looked at him with hurt and questioning eyes.

Will put his hand under Deanna's chin and tilted her face up. His tired eyes stared lovingly into hers. "I know that, Deanna," he began softly. "You're amazing that way. Always helping others… He stroked her cheek tenderly with his thumb.

"But?" she asked, her voice full of uncertainty.

"Deanna, Imzadi…You've been through as much as I have these last few days…" He paused with closed eyes, trying to break through his own mind-deadening fatigue to sense Deanna's inner being. His eyes flew open with the impact of her swirling emotions.

"You need to stop giving for a while, Imzadi, and take for yourself." He placed a gentle kiss on her cheek. "Deanna, you need healing as much as I do."

Deanna's eyes began to fill with tears as she thought about his words. He was right. She, too, had just been through a hellish few days. Days filled with ministering to the needs of a newborn, the constant physical and hormonal changes of her postpartum state, and with worries for Will's survival. Days that had swung her emotions from joy to the depths of grief and sadness and back again like a pendulum on an old-style clock. But she had struggled to keep her feelings under lock and key, focusing instead on the needs of Will and of their daughter.

Now as she listened to her husband's gentle voice, her facade of stability crumbled instantly. Tears began to cascade down her cheeks as a strangled cry tore out of her. She put her hands to her face and wept.

"Will…I almost lost you," she said between sobs. "I couldn't…I couldn't imagine life without you… Our daughter not knowing her father." Will wrapped Deanna in a tight embrace. She shook her head, tears making multiple trails down her face.

"I sat watching…you were almost dead…Almost dead, Will…" She slapped her hand against her forehead. "Gods, I didn't know… Were you going to make it?" Her words tumbled out of her mouth, as if she couldn't get them out fast enough.

"Oh gods, Will…I saw it happen…I saw the disrupter discharge…Your scream…" Will could see she was no longer with him but was instead reliving the experience. How many times had she replayed those events in her mind over the last six days? The thought made Will shudder involuntarily.

Deanna continued to speak, unaware now of Will's presence. "There was blood under you…on the ground where you collapsed….The smell…Oh gods, the smell…burnt flesh." She shook her head as if trying to rid herself of a lingering odor, her face now contorted in anguish.

Will saw the pain written on Deanna's features. He tightened his embrace around her and whispered soothingly, "Shhh, Deanna. It's okay…I'm here." Then, as his own tears, triggered by her torment as well as his own, trickled down to wet his beard, he rocked gently with her. And they wept together, sharing their mutual grief through their tears and supportive embraces of each other.

Slowly, their sobs lessened. Will wiped his wet face with the back of his hand, and then used his thumb to erase the trails Deanna's tears had made down her cheeks. He looked at her tenderly and whispered, "We both need healing, don't we." Deanna smiled weakly and, in a shaky voice, replied, "Yes, we do."

Will stood and pulled Deanna up gently by her hand. "It's late, Imzadi." She nodded and walked into the bedroom with Will, one of her hands around Will's, the other holding Andrea in the crook of her arm.

No other words were said as Will and Deanna readied themselves for bed. None were necessary. Waves of strong emotions were radiating from each of them which the other took in with silent understanding.

Later, after Deanna had nursed their daughter and put her in the bassinet they had replicated for her, Deanna lay in bed with Will. A brief smile crossed her face. Will did not miss it. "What?" he asked quietly, a loving grin on his face.

"This bed, Will," she said. A questioning expression appeared on his face. "Will, this is a real bed. Not a bio-bed. This is the first time in nearly a week that we are sleeping together in a real bed." And then the smile left her face as the memories of the past six days tumbled once again into her mind.

"Imzadi," Will began as he stroked her face tenderly, "We will get through this." He leaned over and brushed his lips lightly against hers. She responded with a gentle kiss, her soft lips barely touching Will's warm mouth. Then, with a loving smile, he whispered, "Goodnight, Imzadi."

He stretched out next to her, his firm chest to her back. He wrapped his arms around her middle and breathed in deeply, finding Deanna's faint floral scent calming. Quickly, they both fell asleep, not only sharing in each other's turbulent emotions, but also sending soothing waves of the deep and abiding love they had for each other. And so their healing began.


A few days later, it was time for Deanna and Will to return to the Titan. Will had regained his strength quickly and was deemed fit to return to duty. And Deanna knew that their emotional healing would only continue if they got back to their normal lives as soon as possible. This meant returning to the Titan sooner rather than later.

The morning of their departure, Will and Deanna were in their quarters, finishing their packing. Finally, everything seemed to be put in one suitcase or another. Will took one final look around, sweeping his gaze across the room to make sure nothing had been left by mistake. His face wore a bitter sweet expression. It had been an exhausting and emotionally draining ten days on board this ship. He had almost died in the Sick Bay. While there, he had also missed his daughter's birth. But it was in these rooms, the rooms of the guest quarters, that they had begun to live as a family - a family now of three. He smiled a grateful but sad smile at the empty quarters in a silent farewell.

"I think we've got everything, Deanna," Will said. "Are you ready?" Deanna nodded as she looked at Andrea, asleep in the carrier wrapped around her chest. "Let's go home then," he said his voice heavy with feeling. He took Deanna's hand firmly in his, and they walked out into the corridor together.

The news of their impending departure had spread about the ship. There was hardly a soul aboard who didn't know when the Rikers were due to leave. So, as Will and Deanna made their way to the Transporter Room, they found crew members along the way wishing them a safe trip home and offering firm but friendly handshakes and warm hugs. Deanna and Will responded gratefully in kind to each and every gesture extended to them. They had not truly known until then how much their welfare had meant to the crew aboard the Enterprise.

When they entered the Transporter Room, they found a veritable farewell committee. Will's eyebrows went up as he saw the crowd in the room. Lwaxana Troi was there chatting in her usual melodramatic manner with Captain Picard. Worf stood near the transporter controls, his height and muscular build making him a commanding presence. Beverly stood near the transporter, her usual loquaciousness muted by the sadness she felt about the Rikers' departure. Commander Lefler had come to the Transporter Room to personally handle the Rikers' beam out herself. And several members of the ship's crew were there waiting to bid farewell to the Rikers as well.

Goodbyes did not come easily to either Will or Deanna. This occasion was no different. Slowly, they made their way from officer to officer, uttering words of thanks and conveying unspoken goodbyes through their wishes of "until later" or "until next time."

Jean-Luc vigorously shook Will's hand. With gratitude written on his face and carried in his voice, Will said," Thank you, Sir." Jean-Luc smiled and said, "That's Jean-Luc, Will. We are both the same rank now, remember?" And Jean-Luc wrapped his arms around Will in a warm embrace. "I owe you, my friend. I hope that from this time on you find a fair wind and a following sea." Will choked back a threatened sob, and returned the hug. "I hope to…Jean-Luc."

Jean Luc turned to Deanna and draped his arm around her shoulder. "I would embrace you if I could, but it seems there is someone making that a bit difficult," he said. Deanna chuckled at his words. Then, looking into Jean-Luc's clear hazel eyes, she whispered, "Thank you for everything." Struggling hard to keep in her feelings under control, she leaned up and placed a thankful kiss on Jean-Luc's cheek. He responded with a warm smile.

Will and Deanna then turned to Lwaxana, who had been standing there remarkably patiently, waiting her turn. Where normally she would have insisted on being spoken to first as befitted her status as a daughter of the Fifth House, this time she knew that such social conventions would be out of place. With a warm smile, she sent to Deanna, <<Things can only get better, Little One. The healing has already begun and Will is a strong man. Your bond will serve you both well.>>

In contrast to Deana's usual insistence on spoken communication, this time she accepted her mother's telepathically sent message with a smile. Deanna smiled through the tears that had finally begun to course down her cheeks. <<You'll have to think of a new name for me. Andrea is now the 'Little One'>> she sent back. Out loud Deana said, "Thank you, Mother," and gave her a kiss.

"Mrs. Troi," Will began as he took her by the hand. "My dear William, please. Lwaxana!" she huffed, but with a warm grin. "Lwaxana, then. Thank you for all that you did for Deanna, for us," he said, his clear blue eyes filled with both sadness and gratitude. "Of course, William. What are mothers for?" she responded in her usual grandiose but friendly manner.

Finally, Deanna and Will turned to Beverly. The woman to whom they both owed so very much. Will encircled Beverly in a bear hug. "For everything…," Will whispered through the tears that finally spilled from his eyes. Pulling back to look at Will's sad countenance, Beverly whispered through her own tears, "Any time…" As she broke out of his embrace, she gave his hands a loving squeeze.

Then Beverly turned to face Deanna. Tears rolled freely down both of their faces. Beverly wrapped Deanna in a gentle embrace. "Deanna…," she began. "Beverly, I can't begin to thank you enough," Deanna interrupted. "I know Deanna…I know you would have done the same for me…," Beverly responded between sobs. Putting her hand in a loving gesture on Deanna's cheek, Beverly gave a sad but sweet smile. "You still owe me that visit to Ten Forward, you know. So until next time…"

Deanna gave Beverly a final hug and a friendly kiss on her cheek. Then she turned to Will, took his hand in hers and together they stepped into the transporter.

"U.S.S. Titan, this is the Enterprise. Three to beam out." An instant later, Will's and Deanna's bodies changed into sparkling silhouettes. And then they were gone.


Once aboard the Titan, Will and Deanna went to their quarters. When they entered the door, they discovered that their quarters had been redesigned. As soon as word had reached the crew of the Titan that Andrea Riker had been born, arrangements were made to reconfigure the Rikers' quarters to include a nursery that opened both off of the bedroom and the living area. The work was completed within just a few days.

Will and Deanna were delighted with the new arrangements. The reconfiguration crew had taken special pains to retain the decorating touches that Deanna had established in the original cabin. So, although the new layout was different, things still seemed familiar and
still had those homey touches that Deanna especially cherished.

They brought Andrea into her new nursery. The reconfiguration crew had replicated a crib and a changing table for her and had ensured that the walls were painted in the soft pastel violet that Deanna seemed to favor in the other parts of their quarters. But, thinking that the Captain and the Counselor would want to complete the room according to their own taste, the reconfiguration crew had done nothing else to the new room.

Will and Deanna spent the rest of the day in their quarters, as neither was due back on duty until the next morning. They busied themselves with unpacking, replicating items for the nursery and clothing for their daughter, and caring for Andrea. It was a chaotic and hectic afternoon, but they were both happy to keep themselves busy and to start to settle into their new family life.

That evening, Andrea had been bathed, fed and put down in her crib. Will and Deanna then sat down quietly on the couch. They were both exhausted and this was the first time that day they had truly been able to stop.

No words were exchanged. None were necessary. They just sat together, Deanna snuggled against Will, letting their thoughts wander and their feelings ebb and flow. From time to time, one of them would sigh or tears would make their way down one of their faces. And it was alright. They both knew that they needed these calm moments of quiet recuperation. And so their healing continued.

After a while, Will stood up. Drawing Deanna up gently by her hand, he said, "It's time for bed, Imzadi." Drowning momentarily in her large dark eyes, Will said, "I need to sleep in my own bed, with my beloved at my side." She responded quietly, "As do I, Imzadi."

Wordlessly, they entered the bedroom. Without waiting for Deanna to begin getting undressed, Will started to remove her tunic. Observing her postpartum figure he whispered, "You are still the most beautiful woman I know." He placed his hand on her now-smaller abdomen and stared at her with wonder in his eyes. "It never ceases to amaze me, the power your body has to give and sustain life," he marveled in a soft voice.

Deanna placed a loving hand on Will's muscular chest. "Never forget that you are part of that, too," she whispered back. Her dark eyes sparkled as she sent feelings of love to Will.

With contented smiles on their faces, they finished getting ready for bed. Once in bed, Will turned to Deanna. Closing his eyes for a moment, he inhaled deeply of her lightly floral scent. As was so often the case, he found it intoxicating.

"Imzadi," he said in a husky voice. He leaned in to press his lips against hers. Pressed together like that, he could sense the soothing waves of her love for him. And she could feel the all-encompassing love he had for her, love she could drown in.

He began to kiss her again. This time, his tongue gently sought entrance to her mouth. When she let him in, he initiated a soft lover's dance with his tongue. They lost themselves in the gentle wrestling of hot tongue to hot tongue.

Ever so tenderly, Will ran his fingers along her collar bone and then down her chest between her breasts. Deanna suddenly put her hand up to stop Will. "I'm still recovering from the delivery, Will," she whispered. "I understand, Imzadi," he said in a soft voice. "I'll make as much or as little love to you as you want," he added with a warm smile that was tinged with desire. "You're here with me, in our bed, in our home. That's all that matters, Imzadi."

With that, Will again began to run his fingers sensuously down her chest, then along her collar bone and up and down each arm. Engaging in another kiss, this one equally as gentle and controlled as the one before, he sent, <<You lead the way, Imzadi. Whatever you want is fine.>> She nodded and smiled into his kiss. She reached up to run her fingers ever so lightly down his face, trailing a delicate path of delicious sensation.
<<Only touching, Imzadi.>> Will nodded, his face radiant with his love for her.

They each let their fingers lightly drag over the other's body. Light strokes up arms, over torsos, down legs, tracing out the contours of one each other's body, leaving a trail of sensuous tingling and lingering love. Fingers rediscovering each other's body anew. Wet tongue to wet tongue, they kissed tenderly as if kissing for the first time.

And so they used their hands, their bodies, their mouths to express their love to one another. No sadness, no grief, no anger entered into the waves of feelings emanating from each. There was only the love of two who were Imzadi.

Wordlessly, they finally ceased their gentle enjoyment of each other's physical and inner beings. Will snuggled around Deanna's small frame, his arms locked around her in a lover's embrace. As he drifted off into a deep and welcoming sleep, Deanna felt nothing from him but love. She smiled to herself and realized that he had finally begun to leave his anger and grief behind. He had finally come back to her.