by Kate

RATING: PG-13/R; angst and grief
DISCLAIMER: Paramount and TPTB own everything. No infringement intended.
SETTING: post-Nemesis?

Time it was,
And what a time it was,
It was…
A time of innocence,
A time of confidences.
Long ago…it must be…
I have a photograph.
Preserve your memories,
They're all that's left you.
-Paul Simon

The funeral had been brief and, in the Betazoid tradition, virtually silent. Words of sadness, words of loss, words of eulogies all passed from mind to mind, as a butterfly flits from flower to flower. The only one to speak out loud at the funeral was Gart Xerx, who had known her so long. Even the weeping was with silent tears.

After the ceremony, six pall-bearers had hoisted the crystalline casket gently upon their shoulders and borne it with dignified care to the family mausoleum. Shuffling silently, the bearers bore their precious burden to its spot in the crypt. Gently, as one they bent down to place the casket in its place of permanent repose. Then they slid into the background unobtrusively, to allow the mourners to view the decedent.

Some singly, some clustered in groups of two or more, Betazoids trod slowly past the casket to view the interred individual and to mentally extend final wishes. Some stared as they eyed the naked inhabitant of the casket. Others wept silently. And then they departed, each with a mental wish expressed to the members of the family.

That had been two hours ago. Two hours of numb awareness of her loss. And now she sat in a chair placed near the casket, staring dully at the individual encased in its glassine casing.

It had finally happened, Deanna thought flatly. The long nightmare of her mother's deterioration had finally come to an end. And all Deanna was left with were the contents of that crystalline box in which her mother lay entombed and her memories.

"Is this all there is?" she wondered dully as she stared at her mother. Without emotion, as if looking at a specimen, Deanna's eyes roamed the terrain of her mother's naked body. She felt no embarrassment, for Betazoids had no discomfort with nudity. Instead, an inner commentary ran in her mind, as if provided by a disinterested observer.

"How remarkably young-looking a body…How smooth the skin," Deanna's mind related to herself. "Such dignity and pride in that face…" Deanna paused to look on in silence.

"How still the features…" Deanna resumed her inner monologue. "How quiet…" At that moment, Deanna caught herself expecting a mental brush or, worse, an intrusion from her mother. But her mother's loquaciousness, her boisterous laughter, her lovingly intrusive mind-probes were all stilled. And for the first time since her mother's death, Deanna realized that the voice she had known all her life was gone, to live on only as a fragile memory nursed in the heart of her being.

As Deanna tried to call back the insistent, throaty timbre of her mother's voice, wet orbs of grief spilled down her pale cheeks, leaving glistening trails in their wake. Never again would she hear that voice ring out in her mind as it so often had. Now it would only be a mere echo, one that would grow weaker and weaker with time.

Deanna leaned back, her grief finally bubbling up within her. Her loss poured forth in ragged sobs. She felt as if some vital part of her had been torn away, leaving nothing but a painful wound in its place.

As the tears coursed down her face, memories wafted through her mind as if a hint of a smell on a gentle breeze. One merged into the next, creating a kaleidoscope of images. Images of her seemingly indomitable mother. Images of her father. Images of her with her mother.

And then her mind went back to when it all started. The beginning of the end for her mother, Lwaxana Troi. Instantly, in Deanna's memory, she was back on board the Titan. It was six months ago.


It was mid-morning. Deanna had just finished working with a patient. Smiling, Deanna turned to the padd in her hand to make notes as the patient walked out the door. "Another good session," she nodded to herself with a satisfied smile. "I hope the last two patients are as productive."

She sat back in her chair, kneading her neck to get the kinks out of her taut neck muscles. As her finger tips massaged the tension out of her neck, the comm unit on her desk gave out its customary beep to announce a communication. "Incoming message for Counselor Troi-Riker," the computer intoned mechanically.

"Hmm," she thought herself. "Who could that be? I'm not expecting…" Her sentence remained unfinished as a sudden sense of dread sprang into her heart. "Oh gods, no…," she uttered in a strangled voice. In that moment, she knew with certainty that she would be met with bad news.

She reached over reluctantly to push the "receive" button, her fingers shaking as they pressed it. The monitor screen came alive with the image of someone she'd not seen in a long time: Gart Xerx. His face was a mask of concern.

She planted her hands on the desk to steady herself. Girding herself for the bad news she knew was about to be announced, she took a deep breath. She looked fearfully at Gart and silently waited for him to begin.

"Hello, Deanna," he said gently.

"Hello," she responded in a voice tight with anticipation. Her worry made it nearly impossible for her to look him straight in the eye.

"I can see from your manner, Deanna, that you already know this is not a happy event I'm contacting you about," he continued in a soft voice. She nodded, her eyes riveted to a point somewhere over his shoulder.

"It's my mother, isn't it," she said in a whisper. She knew before he said a word. After a moment, she found the courage to make eye contact. "What happened to her?"

Gart swallowed hard against the lump that had risen in his throat. Taking a deep breath to steady himself, he responded, "She's had a stroke, Deanna."

Deanna slapped her hand over her eyes and tried to fight down the rising tide of grief within her. Shaking her head sadly, she asked, "How bad is she?"

"Her left side has been affected badly, Deanna. Her face, her hand, her leg…all of them are extremely weak. Eating, walking and talking are very difficult for her now," he responded. Deanna nodded dully, now numbed by shock. She couldn't imagine her vital, energetic mother felled by a circulatory mishap. She'd never even had a sick day in her life.

"When…?" she mumbled, her large obsidian eyes staring blankly into space.

"This morning apparently. After breakfast, your mother went upstairs to get dressed. A few minutes later, Mr. Homn heard a thump in your mother's room. When he went in, your mother had collapsed."

Deanna forced herself out of her shocked stupor. "I must come to her," she said quietly. Gart nodded, compassionate understanding written on his features. "Simply notify us when to expect your arrival. We will be here waiting for you, Deanna."

"Very well," she sighed. "And thank you, Gart."

"Always, Deanna." Gart gave a sad but affectionate smile to the woman he had known for so many years. "Xerx out."

Deanna sat in stunned silence. "A stroke? How could my mother have a stroke?" she thought to herself. It was not possible that something as mortal as a stroke had struck down her indomitable mother. She could not begin to imagine her mother not walking independently or speaking clearly.

Deanna reached for her comm badge with a trembling hand. She knew she had to tell Will immediately. He needed to know what had happened to his mother-in-law. Because, despite all of the sparring he'd engaged in with her mother over the years, he had developed an abiding affection for Lwaxana Troi. She had become, in some measure, the mother he never really had.

"Troi to Captain Riker," she said evenly, not wanting her tone of voice to announce to the bridge crew her state of mind.

"Riker here," came back Will's rich baritone.

"Will, I need to see you right now," Deanna said, struggling to keep her shock and sadness out of her voice. "It's very important."

"Can't this wait, Deanna?" he asked, clueless as to the reason his wife wanted to see him.

"No, it cannot," Deanna responded, a note of urgency creeping into her voice. Will did not miss it. "Okay, Deanna. I'm on my way. Riker out."

A short time later, Deanna heard footsteps outside her office door. She knew immediately who had generated them. She had sensed Will's presence through the door.

Knowing the entry code, he let himself in. As he walked in, he found Deanna seated in her chair, slumped over her desk. Her hands were cradling her head.

As he walked closer to the desk, she looked up. Tears had made two glistening trails down her cheeks. Her eyes stared mournfully into his.

"Deanna, what's wrong?" he asked in a voice laced with worry. He rushed to her, knelt by her side and put his solid arm around her shoulders. For a moment, all she could do was to shake her head and weep silently.

"Deanna, tell me. What happened?" he coaxed, his voice now soft. He looked at her, concern written on his features. She turned her reddened eyes to Will's face.

"It's Mother, Will...," she stuttered as she struggled to regain control.

"What happened to her?" Will watched Deanna's face change from a mask of control to one contorted by sadness. She reached out a trembling hand which Will immediately wrapped his large, comforting hand around.

"She…she's had a stroke." Deanna looked down as a fresh set of tears coursed down her cheeks. "The left side of her body is extremely weak…" Will took Deanna into his sheltering embrace. As he gently kissed her forehead, he said, "I can get you to Betazed within a day and a half."

Deanna looked up at Will with thankful eyes. He flashed a comforting grin at her, murmuring, "Consider it done." Then he hugged Deanna close to his chest, sending her the warmth of his love for her.


The thirty hours it took to reach Betazed were difficult ones for Deanna. She fought a constant battle with herself not to withdraw into the sadness and fear that she felt. She had maintained her appointment schedule in an effort to not slip into depressed anxiety. Working with patients provided some distraction and kept her busy. And it helped the hours of the trip to Betazed pass by, one by one.

Still, moments alone were the worst for her, as there was nothing to draw her attention outward. Not knowing how her mother was or her likely outcome was corrosive. At those times, she would feel her chest tighten with panic and tears begin to well in her eyes. Then, she would grab onto anything solid she could grasp and use that sense of physical contact to force her focus back into the world.

Will had made a point of conforming his Bridge duty hours as much as possible with those of Deanna's patient schedule. In this way, he was able to be with her much of the time she was not working. He understood without being told her need for distraction and support. For this, Deanna was deeply grateful.

They spent much of their time together sitting on the couch in their quarters, Deanna curled in Will's comforting embrace and her head resting against his chest. Few words were spoken. Instead, Will opened his mind to her, allowing her to draw on his strength and his love for her to soothe her troubled soul. He made sure that his own worries about Lwaxana's fate remained firmly shielded behind mental barriers. He did not want his concerns to dilute the healing energy he was sending to Deanna.

When it was time to go to bed, Will wordlessly took Deanna by the hand and walked with her into their bedroom. With a gentle smile on his face, he helped her divest herself of her clothing, one piece at a time. And then, after a tender brush of his lips against hers, he stripped down to his boxers. Turning back the bed covers for her, he gently guided her to lie under the sheets. Then he slid under the sheets and molded his frame around hers. Lying with his well-muscled chest against her naked back and his arms wrapped around her waist, he sent waves of soothing energy. And in this way, Will was able to ease Deanna's pain and allow sleep to embrace her.


Deanna transported down to the surface of Betazed shortly after the Titan achieved orbit the next afternoon. Waiting for her as her form shimmered into existence was her childhood friend, Chandra Xerx. She stood on the steps of the imposing Troi mansion, her arms outstretched and her face wearing a mixture of sadness and welcome. As soon as Deanna saw her, she raced to Chandra and fell, weeping, into her comforting embrace.

"I'm so sorry, Deanna," Chandra whispered as she tightened her arms around Deanna's shaking body. Deanna nodded through her tears.

"Come inside, Deanna. She's waiting for you."

Chandra gently guided her beloved childhood friend up the stairs to the massive front door of the house. Mr. Homn wordlessly opened the door and, with a sweeping wave of his arm, gestured towards the elegantly appointed living room.

It was there that Deanna first saw her mother. Lwaxana sat in one of the high-backed, throne-like chairs that Deanna had always disliked for their pretentiousness. But now, the only thought in Deanna's mind was the image of impairment her mother immediately presented.

Lwaxana, dressed in a formal brocaded dressing gown, tilted weakly to her left. Her head lolled onto her left shoulder. The left side of her face visibly sagged from the loss of muscle control. But the spark of vitality that was habitually present in her eyes burned as brightly as ever.

Deanna was momentarily horrified by what she saw. The woman before her was so unlike the healthy, energetic and whole mother she knew. Then, hoping her mother missed her reaction, Deanna quickly erected her mental barriers.

"Hello, Mother," Deanna said, forcing a cheerfulness into her voice that she did not feel.
She immediately went to Lwaxana, leaned down and gave her a gentle kiss on her cheek.
A brief mask of suffering appeared on Lwaxana's face, then disappeared as she reached up to take Deanna's delicate hand into her own.

"Hello, Lil' One," Lwaxana slurred, making no attempt to hide the stroke's impairment of her ability to speak clearly. She sighed, frustrated with the constant feeling of having marbles in her mouth when ever she spoke. Shaking her head, she looked up at her daughter sadly, waiting for Deanna to respond.

"I understand, Mother," Deanna said an artificially bright voice as she took her mother's hand.
<<No you don't! How could you? I can't even speak properly…>> Lwaxana sent angrily.
<<You have no idea what this is like! I can't eat without losing half of each bite. Liquids spill down my chin. I can't walk without assistance. I can't dress myself…>> Lwaxana shot a furious glare at Deanna. Deanna jerked back involuntarily, shocked by the power of her mother's sudden angry onslaught.

"I'm sorry, Mother," Deanna said softly. And she was sorry. She had no right to presume she understood how profoundly her mother's world had changed. Nor had she any right to assume that she could grasp what it was like to live with a sudden disability. She had wanted to give comfort, but at this moment, there was no comfort to be had for her mother. All she could do was to share her love.

Deanna gave Lwaxana's hand an affectionate kiss. While stroking Lwaxana's hand gently with her thumb, Deana turned to Chandra. Deanna spoke out loud to Chandra, as they so often had done with each other over the years; in their younger years, it had been their own form of gentle rebellion against Betazoid norms and had become a comfortable habit between them.

"What does the doctor say?" Deanna asked, her eyes imploring Chandra for a shred of good news.

"He doesn't really know, Deanna. It was a pretty major stroke. But, perhaps with enough of the right kinds of therapies, things will improve," Chandra sighed. Her eyes held no promise of hope. Deana did not miss the message implicit in her friend's expression.

"I see," Deanna said wanly. She took a deep breath, attempting to keep her anxiety and grief at bay. "Well, then, I'll stay for a while."

"What about Will?" Chandra asked. Deanna stared absently for a moment, suddenly needing his sheltering presence desperately. She had a sudden impulse to beam right back up to the ship, seek him out and crawl into his comforting and strong embrace. Then, she snapped herself back into the moment.

"Will told me that the Titan can stay here for a week. He said he'll try to come down as often as he can…," Deanna responded in a sad voice. Again, she felt the need for his presence with excruciating ferocity. Chandra sensed Deanna's feelings immediately. "I'm sure he will, Deanna," she said gently as she looked sympathetically at her childhood friend.

"Well then," Deanna began in a once-again seemingly bright voice. "If I'm going to stay, then I need to unpack." Lwaxana looked at Deanna thankfully. Deanna smiled at her mother lovingly, then turned to Chandra and said, "I could use some company as I get things put away." With that, Chandra draped her arm around Deanna's slim shoulder and together they walked towards the stairs.

A few hours later, Will beamed down to the Troi mansion. He walked into the house unannounced; he had been there many times before and now he was family, so he felt no need to knock. Just as he walked in the door, he saw Deanna and Chandra coming down the stairs towards him. Deanna's face lit up as soon as she spotted him. With a wide smile and outstretched inviting arms, Will drew Deanna into a warm embrace. As he kissed her on top of her head, she sighed, "I'm so glad you are here. You have no idea how much…"

Before she had a chance to finish her sentence, Will whispered into her hair, "Yes, I do know, Imzadi." Then he held her silently with his hands gently wrapped behind her back and head. Deanna stood in his embrace with closed eyes, breathing in his comfortingly familiar smell and soaking in the calm he radiated. His presence was a much needed oasis amidst the turbulence that tumbled within her.

After several minutes, Deanna pulled back from Will's encircling arms and gestured towards Chandra. "You remember Chandra, don't you Will?" she said, attempting to force a note of calm into her voice.

"Of course!" he smiled warmly as he reached out to shake Chandra's hand. "It's good to see you again. I only wish it could have been under happier circumstances." Chandra grinned as she shook Will's hand. "As do I, Will," she said.

"Well," Deanna said after taking a deep breath, "Why don't we go to the dining room. I think it's time for dinner." She looked at Will. "You haven't eaten yet, have you Will?"

"No, I haven't," he grinned. "Well then, you're just in time," Deanna said, with a note of genuine if fleeting happiness in her voice. With that, she hooked her arms on one side with Will's and on the other with Chandra's. And, as a linked trio, they walked down the hallway together.

As soon as they rounded the corner to enter the dining room, they saw Lwaxana seated at the table. Although she was feeding herself, Mr. Homn stood next to her with a napkin to wipe up the inevitable dribble of food or beverage from her weakened mouth. The instant Deanna, who had stepped slightly ahead of her companions, set foot in the dining room, Mr. Homn reached over to wipe off a trickle of liquid from Lwaxana's chin. Lwaxana heard Deanna's shocked intake of air, turned her eyes in Deanna's direction and screamed, "No! Go away!" Mentally, Lwaxana simultaneously sent, <<I will not been seen this way! Do not humiliate me!>>

Deanna reeled from the impact of her mother's angry outburst and fell back against the hallway wall. Will caught Deanna in his arms and asked, "What's going on?"

Deanna took Will and Chandra by the arms and turned them back towards the hallway. She had gone pale and tears welled in her eyes. "It's…it's not a good time for my mother." Will watched her with uncomprehending concern, but Chandra understood immediately what had happened.

"Will," Chandra said softly, "Lwaxana is in the dining room." Will looked at her with questioning eyes. "Yes, I know," he commented.

"Will, her face is partially paralyzed. She cannot close her mouth properly…," she began to explain quietly. His eyes lit up with understanding. "Yes, so eating would be problematic for her," he said. Chandra nodded, watching him intently.

"Yeah, I don't think I'd want to be seen having trouble managing my food either," he sighed. "Deanna, I'm sure we can just eat in the kitchen. We needn't embarrass your mother." Deanna nodded, silent tears coursing down her cheeks. Will looked at Deanna with comforting eyes. Wrapping his arm around Deanna's shoulders, he whispered, "It's alright, Imzadi. This is going to be hard for all of us."

Later, after everyone had eaten, Mr. Homn brought Lwaxana back into the living room. Deanna had made sure that her mother was seated in her chair before they came in to sit with her. She did not want to upset her mother again. Nor did she think she could handle another mental blast from her.

Taking a deep breath to steady herself, she brought Will and Chandra in to visit with Lwaxana. "Mother," Deanna smiled hesitantly, "Look who has come to see you." Sensing that Lwaxana would have difficulty speaking clearly, Will did not wait for a response. He leaned down to plant a friendly kiss on Lwaxana's check, then picked up her right hand and wrapped his large hands around it. Looking into her fiery, dark brown eyes, he smiled warmly and said, "Hello, Lwaxana."

"Hello," she said, not wanting to put her speech impairment on display with more words. The grin she offered in return was lop-sided: half of her mouth turned up in a strong gesture of warmth; the other half drooped expressionless. Despite the shock that filled Will momentarily, he proceeded as if everything was fine. Without missing a beat, he pulled another chair over to Lwaxana's stronger side and sat down next to her.

"The Titan will be in orbit around Betazed for a week," he said as he watched Lwaxana's glittering eyes. The stroke, he thought to himself, had done nothing to dampen her inner fire. He then continued, "Deanna told me that she will be staying with you while we are in orbit." Lwaxana nodded.

"Well, I'd like to stay here for some of the time as well. That is, of course, if it's alright with you," he grinned. Lwaxana raised her right eyebrow in question. "Well, it is your home. But I would like to be able to see my wife too, you know," he chuckled as he gave Lwaxana a mischievous wink. Lwaxana nodded her head and gave another lop-sided smile.

And so they sat with Lwaxana in the living room for several hours, until it was time for bed. They struggled to fill the time with conversation. It was not the same, though, with Lwaxana silent. Normally, she would have enough to say in her usual grandiose manner to dominate the entire time. Now, she simply leaned back in her chair, her head rolled onto her left shoulder, and listened as they moved from one superficial topic to another.

When it was finally time for bed, Mr. Homn wordlessly appeared. With a commanding gesture, he indicated that Will, Chandra and Deanna should leave before Lwaxana did. They nodded with understanding; she would have to be carried up the stairs and did not want to be seen needing so much assistance. While her body was impaired, her sense of dignity was still quite intact.

After they said their goodnights to Lwaxana, they stepped out into the front hall. Turning to Chandra, Deanna caught her friend in a grateful embrace and whispered her thanks. Placing a comforting hand on Deanna's face, Chandra gave her a warm smile. Then, with a friendly wave of her hand to Will, Chandra turned and walked out the front door.

Will wrapped a sheltering arm around Deanna's shoulders, gently wiped away the tears now trickling down her cheeks and guided her to the stairs. Slowly, they mounted the stairs in brooding silence. Will, his arm still holding Deanna by his side, lightly ran his hand up and down Deanna's arm in a soothing motion. And though he was struggling with his own feelings of shock and sadness, he tried hard to send out waves of love to help Deanna.

They readied themselves for bed in silence. Without a word, Will helped Deanna get into bed. Then he knelt by her side of the bed. Training his clear blue eyes on her troubled countenance, he stroked her soft cheek with infinite tenderness. She looked up at him with reddened liquid eyes. He whispered soothingly, "Shh. Sleep now." And he sat that way, stroking her cheek and gently wiping away her tears until the comfort of sleep finally overtook her.


The day after Deanna arrived, speech and physical therapies were begun. Initially, Lwaxana greeted the prospect of being told what to do and how to move with melodramatic scorn. But, after Deanna spent an hour explaining and arguing about the necessity for the therapies, Lwaxana resignedly relented and agreed to try.

The first sessions with the therapists were difficult. Despite her lack of knowledge in either area of expertise, Lwaxana could not resist the urge to order the specialists around. As a result, they spent more time listening to her pompous harangues and trying to convince her to follow directions than rendering therapeutic services. More than once during these first sessions Deanna was called in to smooth the way for them to do their job. Each time, she would leave the room shaking her head in bemused frustration. It would take more than a stroke to break her mother's indomitable spirit.

With the therapies a regular event, daily life quickly fell into a predictable pattern for Lwaxana and Deanna. In the morning, Lwaxana would wake up and, with Mr. Homn's assistance, do a series of light exercises prescribed by the physical therapist. Then she would dress and be brought down to breakfast by Mr. Homn. Deanna would join her after they all had eaten; Lwaxana had lost none of her initial reluctance to be seen having difficulties with her eating.

The morning would be spent with Lwaxana sitting in the living room with Deanna at her side. Because of Lwaxana's impaired articulation, she and Deanna conducted their conversations mentally. Anyone not familiar with Betazoid telepathy who watched these communications would have been totally nonplussed: ever-changing facial expressions, periodic chuckles, expressive gesticulations, all in otherwise total silence.

Lunch and social visits were squeezed in between the speech sessions in the mornings and the physical therapy in the afternoon. Gart Xerx was the most frequent visitor. His visits always managed to end with smiles on both his face and that of Lwaxana. Like those between Deanna and Lwaxana, his discussions with her were conducted in silence.
Only an occasional giggle would punctuate the quiet atmosphere of the living room.

The only caller who did speak out loud was, of course, Will. But even then, to an outside observer, those would have seemed to be one-way conversations. Will spoke verbally with Lwaxana but she would thought-cast in response. And despite his inability to thought-cast with Betazoids other than Deanna, Lwaxana still drank in his company. She found him no less enjoyable because he was not telepathic.

In fact, there was something she found very refreshing about his direct, purposeful and focused manner. His in-your-face brash masculinity was so unlike anything she knew among the men on Betazed. Only one other man in her life had ever had that quality in him: her husband Ian, who had died when Deanna was young. Being confronted with this very human form of masculinity made Lwaxana feel, if only for fleeting moments, as if Ian had come back to her. And so Lwaxana reveled in the very nature of Will's personality without his even being aware of it.

The days of Deanna's week with her mother flowed smoothly one into the next. Little by little, Deanna felt her anxiety and sadness lessen. Her mother's inner being, to Deanna's great relief, had been left unscathed by the stroke. And, with the comfort born of familiarity and routine, Deanna fell into easier acceptance of her mother's newly-imposed deficits. In turn, with Deanna's increasing calm, Lwaxana found she was able to relax more. By the end of Deanna's week with her mother, their relationship regained the contours it had had before the stroke.

Finally, the day of Deanna's return to the Titan dawned. Will had beamed down to collect Deanna and to say goodbye. As he had done each time he had come to visit, he walked in the front door without waiting to be invited in. Once inside the cavernous front hall, he found Mr. Homn standing there. With a silent nod of greeting, Mr. Homn pointed grandly towards the living room. With a smile and a tip of his head, Will turned to enter the living room.

"Good morning, Lwaxana," he beamed. She looked up at him and sent, <<You just can't wait to take Deanna back and be done with me, can you?>> She glared at him.

Taken back by her muted anger, Will said ruefully, "I can't hide anything from you, can I?" At the same time that Will spoke, Deanna vehemently sent to her mother, <<How rude of you, Mother. It's bad enough when you probe me. But to do it to Will, who has no telepathic way to counter you, is unthinkable!"

Will saw that an irate exchange was passing between Deanna and her mother. This most assuredly was not the way he wanted to have himself and Deanna leave Lwaxana. He shook his head for an instant, then said with forced calm, "Lwaxana, I won't lie to you. I've missed my wife. I want her back with me on the Titan." He beamed a wistful and loving smile towards Deanna. "But you are wrong if you think I simply want to wipe my hands clean of you!" he asserted forcefully. "Go ahead, probe me. You know I can't hide a lie from you," he challenged, boring his glittering blue eyes in Lwaxana's depthless dark eyes.

Lwaxana returned the stare and quietly touched Will's mind again. She sighed sadly. "You are right, William," she said in a small, tight voice. She looked down in great embarrassment. After a moment, she looked up again, her eyes brimming with tears.

Before she had a chance to open her mouth, Will was before her, on his knees. He took her fine-boned hand, so much like Deanna's he thought, into his own large hands. Looking at her intently, his face a mask of compassion, he said, "We will be staying in touch, every day if you like. Wherever we are, Lwaxana, you know part of us will remain here," he murmured so quietly only Lwaxana could hear. And then he kissed her hand gently and then released it back to Lwaxana's lap.

<<William, you missed your calling,>> she sighed, a sad grin making its way onto the right side of her face. Then she turned to look up at Deanna, who had come to stand by the right side of her mother's chair. <<Little One, go if you must…,>> Lwaxana began.

<<Mother,>> Deanna sent back, <<You know I have to return now. I have many responsibilities on board the Titan that I can no longer postpone.>>

<<Ah yes, responsibilities. I did give you a strong sense for that, didn't I?>> Lwaxana interjected mentally.

<<Yes, you did, Mother. You taught me well.>> Deanna smiled sweetly at her mother. She leaned over to plant a gentle kiss on Lwaxana's cheek, then paused to drink in her mother's familiar fragrance. Deanna felt for an instant as if she were once again a child seeking comfort from her mother. Then Deanna righted herself and looked lovingly into her mother's eyes. << You know I will be in regular contact. And I want to hear that you are doing what the specialists tell you…>>

<<Little One, please!>> Lwaxana interrupted.

<<Mother! You are to do as the specialists say!>> At that moment, Deanna looked like her mother: her head tilted back with a touch of haughty arrogance, a sparkle of command in her eyes. Lwaxana immediately saw herself reflected in her daughter's posture and chuckled.

<<Very well, Little One. I shall do what I am told…for now,>> she sighed mentally.

"It's time to go now, Mother," Deanna said aloud, mostly for Will's benefit. He had stood, mutely witnessing the obvious mental exchange between the two women. He was relieved to see that they had achieved enough of an understanding to permit him to leave with Deanna.

"Are we ready?" he asked Deanna. She nodded, looking at her mother with a note of warning in her eyes. "I'll be checking in with the Xerxes. I will know if you are behaving, Mother," Deanna cautioned out loud. Will glanced quickly from Deanna to Lwaxana and back, then raised his hands in mock self-defense.

"Are we ready?" he asked once again. Deanna nodded, watching her mother closely the whole time. "Titan, this is Captain Riker. Two to beam up." With that, their bodies began to dissolve into sparkling silhouettes. The last thing Lwaxana saw before Deanna disappeared entirely was her blowing a kiss. Then she was gone.


After arriving back on the Titan, Will and Deanna headed straight to their quarters. Once they had stepped into the living room, he turned to face her. "Please don't tell me you are going to see patients today, Deanna?" he asked. It was really more of a suggestion than a question. She stared into his compassionate blue eyes, and momentarily drank in the calm he was generating.

"In fact, I've already arranged to work with a couple of patients today," she said. As he opened his mouth to begin a protest, she put a fine-boned finger to his lips. "Will, I really think I'm better off getting back into the swing of things. Staying busy has its therapeutic benefits," she smiled at him, appreciative of the concern she felt from him.

Will captured the finger she'd placed on his mouth with his hand and pulled her over. Leaning down to plant a light kiss on her cheek, he whispered, "You're right." Then he rested his hand on her cheek. "As always," he winked at her.

"I'll make sure I'm off Bridge duty at a reasonable hour. How does dinner together sound?" he asked.

"That would be lovely, Will. I could use a quiet dinner." She reached up and draped her arms around Will's solid neck. Pulling herself up, she pressed her lips to his in a gentle kiss. "Thank you, Will," she spoke against his mouth.

Without pulling his mouth from hers, he responded, "For what?" She placed another light kiss on Will's mouth, then said, "For being you, Imzadi."

"You're very welcome. Glad my being me helps," he uttered as his lips smiled against hers. Then he gently pulled her arms from his neck, took her hands in his, and gave her one final kiss on her cheek.

"Until later, then. And if you need me for anything, you know where to find me." With that, he stepped out into the corridor and was gone.

Deanna paused for a moment to collect her thoughts. As she turned inward, she found her mind jumping from image to image and feeling to feeling, desperately trying to integrate the last week's experiences. She felt briefly as if she might drown in the morass of emotions swirling within her. At that moment, she understood that she needed time to deal with what she had just been through. Ruefully, she realized that she probably should not have scheduled patients. But, having done so, she would have to postpone giving herself the time she needed to think things through. Sighing resignedly, she wearily promised herself she would find a quiet time later for herself. And, with that decision, she headed out the door to return to work.


When Will's shift on the Bridge ended, he went directly to their quarters. As he stood outside the door keying in the entry code, he already knew that Deanna was there waiting for him. Her presence lightly tickled his inner being. He smiled as the door slid open.

The first thing he saw when he stepped through the doorway was Deanna reclining on the couch, a pile of padds stacked next to her. Leaning his shoulder against the wall and wearing a bemused grin, he folded his arms across his chest and shook his head.

"Can't leave your office, can you?" he needled gently. Deanna glanced up and smiled sheepishly. "Well, you can't fault me for thoroughness, can you?" she jested in return. She eyed the padds tiredly and sighed, "Those can wait until tomorrow, I suppose."

Will approached the couch. He leaned over and took the padd from her hands. "This will wait until tomorrow," he asserted in a firm but loving voice. He wrapped his hand around hers and gently pulled her up off the couch.

"Come here, Imzadi," he said as he drew her into his embrace. He rested his cheek against the top of her hair, reveling in its soft texture. She laid her head on his chest and readily surrendered herself to the mesmerizing effect of his musky scent combined with the steady sound of his heart beat and the comforting warmth of his body. She closed her eyes and let herself drift in the calm sea of his mind.

"Better?" he whispered softly. She nodded against his chest, her eyes still closed. "Good," he murmured through the kiss he planted on her head.

He unwrapped his arms and took her fine-featured face in his hands. Looking down into her bottomless dark eyes, he said quietly, "Are you ready for some dinner?" She nodded, finding herself lost in the depths of his blue eyes.

"Okay, it's a bit late for home-cooked. What do you say we put the replicator to work? It produces a pretty tasty pasta marinara," he grinned. "Sure," she smiled tiredly.

After a brief passage of time, Will had dinner, hot from the replicator, on the table. In gentlemanly fashion, he held Deanna's chair out for her and pushed it back in once she was seated. His mannered gesture was rewarded with a grateful smile on Deanna's face.

They sat eating the meal in silence. Will stole periodic glances at Deanna while they ate. He could sense that hers was a brooding silence that covered her emotional turmoil. He knew he needed to reach out to her. He put his fork down and pushed the plate away on the table.

"Deanna," he said as he stood up, "Come talk to me." She looked up, her face a mask of sadness. "Let's go to the couch." He took her hand into his, and guided her to the couch. He sat down and, patting the cushion next to him, gestured for her to sit. As soon as she did, Will draped his solid arm around her slim shoulders and placed his other hand lovingly on her cheek.

They sat wordlessly for several minutes. Deanna broke the silence, speaking softly. "I always thought my mother was immortal and indestructible…," she began hesitantly. "I know that is fanciful thinking, and that is what I've told patients who are dealing with loss…"

"But you're not talking about someone else's mother now, Deanna," Will interrupted. "And you are allowed to react as a person to what you're going through. You needn't always be the rational counselor, Deanna." Then Will gently kissed Deanna's soft cheek.

"She's always been such a vital and vibrant woman," she sighed sadly. "It's hard to think of her having lost part of what she was." Will listened quietly as his hand began to make soothing tracks up and down her arm. He tried to reach out to touch her mind with healing thoughts, but found her grief, simmering just beneath the surface, blocking any entrance. He opened his mouth to make a comment.

"My mother may improve, Will," she said, anticipating what Will was about to say. "But her life and mine have been permanently altered. She has had a brush with mortality. She will never truly recover fully." Tears now welled in her eyes, threatening to spill down her contorted face.

"Then all you can do, Deanna, is to hold on to what you and she still have," he counseled gently. "There is still much left to you both." Will ran the side of his thumb lovingly up and down Deanna's jaw line. He felt moisture on his thumb and realized that Deanna's face was wet from silent weeping. "Shh," he murmured as he held her in a tight embrace.

"Don't forget that she is still very much alive," he said, wincing at the memory of Lwaxana's telepathic accusation from that morning. "She may have trouble talking right now, but believe me, there's nothing wrong with her mind!" He shook his head ruefully.

"I know you're right, Will. It is just hard to deal with the reality that my mother has been diminished permanently," she sighed, her silent tears now at an end. Will turned her face to his, then gently wiped the wet evidence of her crying away with his thumb. Deanna leaned her head back against Will's chest.

After a couple of minutes of wordlessly sharing each other's presence, Will stirred. Looking lovingly at Deanna, he asked, "What can I do to help you, Deanna?"

Deanna returned his gaze, drowning momentarily in the love she saw in his eyes. Then, turning to face him, she reached up over his shoulders and clasped her hands behind his neck. Her eyes still locked onto his, she pulled him to her and placed a soft kiss on his lips. His eyebrows went up in surprise. She planted another kiss on his mouth, this time firmer.

Will pulled back a mere centimeter and whispered, "Is this what you want?" She responded with a deep kiss full of need and desperation. Through lips pressed to his, Deanna murmured, "I need to feel life…I want to feel alive. At least for this moment." Then Deanna lay down on the couch, pulling Will down on top of her. "Make me feel whole, Will," she begged, her hands now entwined in the hair at the nape of his neck.

Will needed no further encouragement. Her enticing kisses had stirred his own desire, and he now plundered her mouth with abandon. With a desperation born of emotional turmoil, she pressed into his onslaught, stabbing inside his mouth with her hot tongue and beginning to unzip his uniform. "Gods, I need this, Will," she panted between the wet kisses he trailed down her neck. Their hands scrambled awkwardly to divest each other of their clothing.

With clothes haphazardly thrown about the room, they lay together on the couch. Their hands described sensuous paths of fire over each other's bodies. It never ceased to amaze her that Will knew just how to use his hands to make love, Deanna thought as she lost her self to the throbbing result of his masterful touch. A pleasured moan escaped her mouth as his mouth descended once again on hers for another earth-shattering kiss.

Will wrapped his arms around Deanna's flushed body. Breathing heavily, he poured his passion into the kisses he rained on her breasts. "I hope this is what you wanted," he groaned, "Because I want you so much right now I couldn't stop if I wanted to."

"Don't stop," she begged between ragged breaths. As her hands wildly explored and stimulated Will's hot skin, she felt herself being swallowed into a world wholly of kaleidoscopic sensation. Her skin, her body, her mind were all afire with the tingling heat of her own passion being stoked by Will's.

"Now Will. Please," she begged. At that moment, Will was everywhere: on top of her, inside her, around her, enmeshed in her frantically erotic thoughts. His hot panting tickled her neck as he moved in her. Blinding sensation overtook them both as they reached the explosive pinnacle. Body and soul, they were bonded in that moment by the primal force of passion.

And then it was over. Wordlessly, with closed eyes and bodies pressed tightly together, heart rates and breathing returned to normal. With a satisfied sigh, Deanna pressed her lips to his. "Thank you, Imzadi," she said against his mouth. Will smiled back, his lips waiting for her kiss.

"I needed this," she said quietly. "I know," he said, sparks of love dancing in his eyes. "Life is where you find it, Deanna," he added as he placed a tender kiss on her soft lips.

"Thank you for helping me find it tonight, Imzadi." With that, she closed her eyes and breathed in his intoxicating scent. And for the first time in over a week, she felt at peace.


Deanna was true to her word. Every few days, she sent sub-space messages to Gart Xerx inquiring about her mother. In his responses, he reported news of Lwaxana's intermittently haughty dealings with the therapists. Deanna would shake her head, a bemused smirk on her face as she heard this. "She will never change," Deanna thought to herself with a soft laugh.

Nonetheless, it was clear from Gart's comments that Lwaxana was gradually regaining function. Over the period of the three weeks since her stroke, Lwaxana's speech had improved tremendously and she was now able to eat and drink without difficulty. Additionally, some muscle function had returned to the left side of her face, leaving her expression more balanced and normal. She was even beginning to stand up on her own, with the assistance of a walker.

As the news about her mother continued to be favorable, Deanna slowly felt the weight of sadness lift from her heart. While she still had moments of painful reflection, she found herself having them less and less frequently. Smiles came more readily to her face. And her musical laughter, which had fled for a long time, finally returned.

Will was not the only one to notice. As Deanna's veil of grief lifted, several senior Bridge officers remarked to Will how it was nice to see Deanna smiling again. "That it is," Will would agree, feeling the warmth of her smile in his being.

Once Deanna felt that she had regained her emotional balance, she made an effort to reach out to her half-brother, Barin. While Deanna was planet-side after the stroke, she had only seen Barin very briefly. He had gone to stay with the Xerxes and so was not at home while she was there. They had suggested they take him in both to spare Lwaxana any embarrassment and to avoid having her changed circumstances traumatize him. Barin, as the brother of Chandra's best friend, had already spent so much time at the Xerx home that he felt it to be as much a home as his own. It was not difficult to convince him to stay.

Deanna really did not know her half-brother well. They had a pleasant but superficial relationship. This was a function of the tremendous age difference between them and the fact that she infrequently visited Betazed. But she hoped to use her brief visit with him as a springboard to something closer. They were, after all, family.

So, several weeks after her return to the Titan, she began sending communications to Barin. Being easily awe-struck as children so often are, Barin was not only thrilled but excited to be contacted by his sister, a real starship crew member and the only Betazoid on board the Titan.

Deanna was gently amused by her half-brother's hero-worship and touched by his eagerness to know her better. She was also pleased that she was finally forging a more substantial familial bond with him. Gregarious and plain-spoken like their mother, he was very likeable and easy to get to know. "It's hard to believe such a lovely gift came out of this disaster," she mused to herself as she listened to him prattle on about school and his friends. "What a lovely boy," she smiled to herself.

During one of her communication sessions with her half-brother, Will walked in. She heard her office door slide open, spun around in her desk chair and motioned him to approach the desk. Will came over and stood by her side. For a moment, he watched the conversation unfold: on the monitor screen, a handsome boy with dark Betazoid eyes and wildly gesticulating hands animatedly chattering away. And Deanna watching the screen with a loving smile and a lively sparkle in her eyes.

After a moment more of listening to Barin, Deanna gently interrupted. "Barin, Will is here and would like to say hello." Barin's eyes went wide. "You mean a real starship captain is going to talk to me? Wow!" Will and Deanna chuckled at Barin's innocent excitement.

"Hello, Barin," Will warmly said as he sat in front of the monitor screen. "It's been a long time since I last saw you." Barin nodded solemnly.

"Are you still interested in Starfleet?" Will asked, a gentle smile on his face.

"You bet," Barin answered enthusiastically. "Do you think I could come and stay with you and Deanna on your ship at some point?" he asked with the excitement only seen in those young at heart.

"I'm sure that can be arranged," Will said. "I've got to go now, Barin. You take care of that mother of yours. And your sister, too!" Will gave him a wink.

"Take care of Deanna too? I thought that was your job," Barin said earnestly.

"And so it is, my wise young friend," Will laughed. Looking at Deanna, Will sent, <<He's a great kid, Deanna. You're so lucky to have a great brother like him.>> There was a wistful quality to his thought; he had been an only child and often had longed for a younger brother of his own.

Her mind brushed by both his words and their emotional undertone, she looked at him intently. She gave his hand a quick squeeze as he turned to leave. His eyes locked onto hers for a moment, a current of love and understanding running through the bond between them.

"I'll see you later, Deanna. Enjoy the rest of your visit." He blew her a kiss and then opened the door. As he paused momentarily in the door way, he listened to Deanna chatting merrily with her brother. Will smiled as he heard the warmth and pleasure in her voice. He turned to walk down the corridor to the turbolift, glad to see that there was someone in Deanna's family who could be a source of unadulterated pleasure for her.
And with that, he stepped into the turbolift to return to the Bridge.


With the passage of more time and her mother's continued progress, the stroke faded in Deanna's mind from an excruciating reality to a periodically painful memory. Yet, Deanna found the odd moment when her mother's intimation of mortality would hit her with breath-taking force and suddenness. At those times, her eyes would well up with tears and a sharp stab of sadness would pierce her heart.

Still, much of the time, Deanna felt much like her old self. The once habitual sparkle in her eyes returned. Her gait resumed its energetic bounce. She regained her comfortable ease in being with both patients and other crew members. Happy and warm feelings frequently filled her heart as they had before. And she was glad to be able to feel that way once again.

With Will, she found herself truly enjoying being with him once again. He had been wonderful in his unfailing support for her in the early weeks of her mother's convalescence. Many an evening had been spent wrapped in the safe haven of his embrace, his gentle hands waiting to wipe away tears and his mind reaching out to soothe her troubled soul.

But of late, whether in the evening in their quarters or off-duty elsewhere on the ship, a sense of playfulness had re-emerged between them. As before, they engaged in gentle teasing and the sharing of private jokes. Will once again took to tickling Deanna at odd moments, triggering howls of convulsed laughter from Deanna. And they each took pleasure in once again sending to the other at the most inopportune time incredibly lascivious thoughts and, with wicked smiles, enjoying the ensuing discomfort for the other.

It was the first episode in a long time of Deanna projecting deliciously erotic thoughts to Will while he was on the Bridge that showed him she truly was once again like her old self. He had been sitting in the captain's chair on the Bridge, scanning data on a padd. As was usually the case when she did not have patients to see, she sat in the chair next to him as his adviser. Without warning, she began sending out images of her mouth hungrily devouring his and her fingers brushing sensuous paths along his body. The images immediately infiltrated his mind, sending sudden pulses of animal desire throughout his body. He realized instantly that his body was about to betray him quite publicly. And, knowing the source of his immanent embarrassment, he turned to glower at Deanna's mirthful face. She snickered as he strategically placed the padd across his groin. "I'll see you later, Captain," she said casually as she winked at him and danced off the Bridge.

When Will entered their cabin after the end of his shift, Deanna was sitting on the couch. The barest hint of a smile danced on her lips as she pretended to read a book.
But as soon as Will walked in, he strode right over to her, yanked the book from her hands and said in an annoyed voice, "You think you're really funny, don't you."

Deanna broke into a delighted laugh. "Well, the prospect of your potential embarrassment was quite entertaining," she giggled.

"Entertaining, huh? And you call yourself a counselor? We'll see what happens to counselors who don't mind their boundaries," he said wickedly as he quickly sat next to her on the couch and reached with fingers outstretched. In an instant, he had his hands at the sides of her waist and his fingers busy tickling her.

Between shrieks of laughter, she begged Will to stop. "Not until you get your just desserts, my dear," he muttered, a mischievous glint in his blue eyes. With that, he slid his hands up under her arms and commenced tickling her there. "Oh gods, Will, I can't stand this," she panted between laughs. "You win, you win. I've been a bad girl."

Will relented, but maintained his hold on her arms. Staring intently at her dark eyes so full of simple happiness, he inquired, "Do you promise never to do that again, Counselor?" With mirth dancing in her eyes, she responded, "Not a chance."

"That's what I thought you'd say," he murmured as he brought his mouth to hers. After a moment of luxuriating in the warm interior of her mouth, he pulled back and said, "And that's okay. Welcome back, Imzadi."

"It feels wonderful to be back," she sighed as she pulled him down with her onto the couch. Running her fingers lightly around the edges of his ears and then down his neck, she pulled his lips to hers. As her mouth hungrily consumed his, her hands began to trace paths of fire down his chest, which she had exposed by unzipping his uniform top.

Will pulled Deanna up into a sitting position. His hot tongue forged a sensuous trail between her breasts as he slowly opened Deanna's uniform. Between moans of pleasure, Deanna worked Will's pants off. Then she frantically pulled his face back to hers and, locking her lips to his, lost herself to the animal awareness of heat and wet skin in Will's mouth as their tongues did battle.

As before, hands stroking paths of tingling pleasure opened the door to the passionate joining not only of bodies but also of minds. All at once, he was in her, they were joined hot mouth to hot mouth, their hands busy triggering escalating shivers of throbbing warmth in each other's bodies and their minds stroking each other's with heavy pulses of erotic energy. And in this way, they both reached the blinding crest that sent explosive waves of charged pleasure coursing through their bodies and minds. Time was momentarily suspended as they melded, body and spirit, in the peak of passionate climax.

It was so much as their love-making had been just after Deanna's return from Betazed nearly six weeks before. Just as passionate. Just as loving. But as Will watched Deanna's face, so calm now in the afterglow, he sensed a difference. Deanna looked up, realizing he was gently probing her. "Yes," she murmured as she planted a light kiss on his cheek, "it is different now, Will." And, without further words, he understood that weeks ago she had made love out of the desperation born of tragedy. Now, she did so purely out of the pleasure she felt in being with him. With a smile and love sparkling in his clear blue eyes, he realized that Deanna was once again whole.


Several more weeks passed on board the Titan. Life for Deanna had almost completely resumed its former contours. The only change now was the resumption of contact directly with Lwaxana. To Deanna's great pleasure and relief, two months of speech therapy had given back to her mother nearly normal articulation and facial muscle tone. Only a hint of a droop remained in the left side of her face when she smiled.

The stroke and convalescence had done nothing to mellow Lwaxana's meddlesome tendencies. And so it was that in her renewed direct contacts with her daughter, Lwaxana began to raise again the topic of children. In her none too subtle way, Lwaxana made it clear to Deanna that having a job was all well and good, but it should not get in the way of having children.

"Mother!" Deanna asserted fiercely during the latest such communication with Lwaxana. "You know this is a decision that Will and I will make when we are ready."

"What decision, Little One? You are married. Having children is what you do when you are married," Lwaxana insisted in a voice that suggested Deana didn't know the first thing about marriage. Deanna stared back at her mother, her eyes wide with exasperation. In that moment, she thought that while she was truly happy her mother had made such a good recovery, maybe Lwaxana's convalescent silence had not been such a bad thing.

It was at that moment that Will entered Deanna's office. Seeing the peeved expression on his wife's face, he immediately guessed who she was talking to on the comm system. He gave Deanna a supportive smile as he pulled over a chair to sit next to her.

"Ah, William. How nice to see you again!" Lwaxana proclaimed grandly.

"And you, Lwaxana," he returned pleasantly.

"I was just talking with Deanna about children," Lwaxana began to explain.

"Talking, Mother? You weren't talking with me. You were telling me what to do!" Deanna insisted, her voice full of annoyed frustration. Watching the exchange between the two women, Will sent, <<Well, she certainly has made quite a recovery. Isn't it nice to know some things never change?>> Without diverting her angry eyes from the screen before her, Deanna sent back, <<Isn't that a fact!>>

For a moment, Deanna glared at her mother and Lwaxana stared back haughtily. Then suddenly, Lwaxana slumped in her chair and her eyes glazed over. As soon as Deanna saw this happen, she screamed out, "Mother!" Lwaxana did not respond.

Panic gripped Deanna's heart as she screamed again, "Mother!" Will watched with growing horror the scene unfolding before him. He gripped Deanna's shoulder as together they saw Mr. Homn appear next to Lwaxana.

"Mr. Homn, get medical help. Now!" Will hissed urgently. Deanna stared in silent shock.

Will quickly keyed in the code for a new comm link, this time to the Xerxes. Gart's friendly face appeared on the screen. As soon as he saw the expression of shock on both Will's and Deanna's face, Gart's smile fled.

Before Gart had a chance even to say hello, Will spat out, "Go to Lwaxana, Gart. Now! Something has just happened."

"I'm on my way right now. I'll catch you up as soon as I can. Xerx out." And then the screen went blank.

Deanna sagged heavily in her chair. Tears escaped from under the hand she had placed over her eyes. In a trembling voice she said, "I can't believe this is happening again." Will leaned over from behind and draped his arms lovingly over her shoulders. He whispered into her hair, "I'm so sorry, Deanna." She grabbed his hands and squeezed them desperately, as if holding on for dear life.

"Oh gods," tore out of her mouth as she began to weep audibly. Will gently drew her out of her chair and into his arms. Wordlessly, he sheltered her tightly in his embrace, absorbing her feelings of shock and renewed grief into his own. Then he walked her slowly over to her couch and sat down with her. She crumbled, grief-stricken, against his chest. Will looked down at Deanna's tear-stained face, his blue eyes rich with concern for her. "Deanna, it may be a while before Gart can get back to us with any news," he said softly. "Let me stay here with you." Unresponsive to his words, Deanna wept against his chest.

"Do you have any more patients scheduled today?" he asked quietly. She nodded through her tears. She pointed a shaky finger at a padd on her desk. Will understood immediately that he would find the patients' names written on it. "I'll take care of it, Deanna," he murmured as he gently slid from Deanna's side on the couch.

Deanna watched Will's actions at her desk through tear-blurred eyes. Spotting the names of the yet-to-be-seen patients, Will first contacted one on the ship's internal comm system, then the other. He tersely explained that a family emergency had just arisen and the counselor would not be available to meet that day. He made sure that neither required counseling by a substitute psychologist on board, then signed off with "Counselor Troi will contact you to make a new appointment."

He went back to the couch and sat down again next to Deanna. He clamped his mental shields in place to protect Deanna from the impact of his own shock. Then taking her into his comforting arms, he breathed into her hair, "We will get through this." As she continued to sob, he stroked her wet cheeks tenderly and whispered soothingly, "It's okay." And in this way, they sat together for untold minutes, waiting as if in suspended animation for a communication from Gart Xerx.

Deanna slowly felt her piercing grief fade to dully aching numbness as her weeping subsided. She sat weakly in Will's embrace, staring with vacant eyes at some invisible spot on the wall. Visions of her mother right after the stroke two months ago swam in Deanna's mind. Lwaxana's drooping face. Her slurred speech. The left side of her body so weak that she could neither sit up straight or keep her head up. The memories cascaded one into the next amidst Deanna's swirling thoughts.

Will, too, recalled with sudden clarity the tragic spectacle Lwaxana had presented after her stroke. He was buffeted once again by the shock he'd experienced when he first saw her. He closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath, trying to center himself in order to hold his own sadness behind the mental barriers that threatened to crumble inside his mind.

Suddenly, the heavy silence in the room was broken by the beeping of the comm console.
Will's eyes flew open, and he turned quickly to Deanna. "Would you like me to take this?" she shook her head wearily. "No, Will, I think we both should do this." Will nodded and gently drew her up from the couch as he stood.

Once at Deanna's desk, Will leaned over to press the "receive" button. The words "incoming message from Gart Xerx" appeared on the monitor screen, then Gart's troubled visage materialized on the screen. Will held Deanna by his side with a protective arm.

After a moment of staring mutely at Gart, Deanna whispered, "My mother?"

"She's alive, Deanna. We had her taken to the hospital, where she still is now," Gart said in a tight voice. Boring her dark eyes into Gart's, she asked quietly, "Was it another stroke?" Gart tipped his head in assent.

Though the distance between the Titan and Betazed was too great for Deanna to sense Gart's feelings, she could tell from his tense body language and strained voice that he had yet to tell them the worst of the news. She stared at him intently.

"There's more, isn't there?" she asked.

"Yes, there is Deanna. Are you sure you want to hear this now?" he asked, his tired voice laced with concern. Will trained his brilliantly blue eyes on Deanna. "It's your choice Deanna," he murmured.

She covered her eyes with her hand for a moment, as if to shut out the world. Then she sighed and said, "Yes, tell me now." She took a deep breath and gripped the edge of her desk to steady herself for the bad news she was about to hear.

"With your mother's first stroke, Deanna, the neurologists just chalked it up to the type of infarct typically seen in older Betazoids. But with this second one, they realized that your mother is displaying a condition that stems from her telepathic abilities." Deanna drew in a shocked breath. Will stepped behind her and wrapped his large hands about her shoulders to support her.

"Her telepathic abilities?" she echoed questioningly, her mind suddenly blank to comprehension.

"Deanna," Gart said, struggling to maintain his composure, "Your mother is not only one of the strongest telepaths on Betazed. She is, in fact, one of only a few here with such a high level of telepathic energy." Deanna stared mutely as she struggled to grasp what Gart was saying.

"Go on," Will interjected.

"Well that level of telepathic energy and ability, which she used so successfully as a diplomat, puts an unusually great strain on the entire brain and the circulatory system supporting it. In turn, this makes such a brain highly prone to repeated instances of circulatory blockage…"

"You mean a series of strokes," Will interrupted. Gart nodded somberly.

"And each stroke, unfortunately, will only do more extensive irreparable damage," Gart said in a sad, quiet voice.

"So, what you are telling me is that the very ability that made her such a unique Betazoid is slowly killing her," Deanna whispered tightly.

"Yes," Gart uttered, his sorrowful dark eyes looking away from Deanna and Will. "I'm sorry, Deanna." A lone tear made its way down Gart's cheek. "Come to her, Deanna. She needs you," he implored gently. In a silent question, Deanna turned her eyes to Will's impassive face.

"I'll contact Starfleet promptly to get authorization to alter our current course. I am certain they'll grant it. We should be able to be in orbit around Betazed in three days," Will said with a note of command in his voice as he unconsciously straightened his posture. For that brief moment, he became Captain Riker.

"Very well. We'll be waiting for you, Deanna. And you, too, Will - if you can, of course." Gart attempted a small grin. With the words "Xerx out," the screen went blank.
After which Deanna whispered, "Troi out," and touched her fingertips to the now-black screen.


"Captain's Personal Log. After we received the news yesterday about Deanna's mother, I contacted Starfleet for authorization to change course for Betazed. As I expected, authorization was readily granted. We are now en route to Betazed and should arrive there in two more days.

I have arranged for several ship-board psychologists to take over Deanna's patient load for the near future. She is having a difficult time dealing with her mother's situation, and I know she would not be able to counsel patients capably in her current state of mind. As captain of this ship, I am responsible to ensure the safety and well-being of every crew member on board. This includes Deanna, and it includes her patients.
Riker, William T., out."

Just as Will hit the "save" button on the comm console in their living room, Deanna wandered listlessly out of the bedroom. Pausing silently, a sadly quizzical look stole over her features as she tried to remember what she had come in search of. He shot her a concerned look.

"What can I get for you, Deanna?" he asked gently as he stood up. She looked at Will blankly. "I don't know…," she began hesitantly, her voice heavy with sorrow. "I don't suppose it matters…," she sighed. Then she dropped herself onto the couch and, resting her head on the arm of the couch, began to stare sadly off into space.

Will came over and sat next to her. Placing his large hand over her smaller one, he looked at her suffering face but said nothing. He attempted to gently reach her mind. But his tentative probes ran smack into a wall of sorrow so dense that no coherent thought could pass through it.

Time seemed to be suspended as Will continued to watch Deanna's face. Though her large obsidian eyes were still focused on some invisible spot in the room, sorrow periodically contorted her features and forced lonely tears to course down her cheeks. An occasional sigh would exit her mouth.

Will's mind was blanketed by her sadness. He struggled to claw his way out from under the suffocating weight of her grief to try to comfort her. Taking a cleansing breath, he reached out to take Deanna into his sheltering embrace. But as he wrapped his solid arms around her, she did not melt into him as she usually did. Instead, she maintained a postural rigidity born of the lonely solitude of trauma. Deanna could not be comforted.

Will dropped his arms from her shoulders. Training his concern-filled blue eyes on her sad countenance, he asked softly, "How can I help you, Imzadi." She turned her reddened eyes to his loving face and sighed, "There is nothing to be done, Will." Then she bent her head back along the top of the couch's back, shut her long-lashed eyes and folded her arms across her chest.

"Imzadi," Will murmured. He began to stroke her face tenderly with his finger tips. Tears began to trickle out from under her closed eye lids. After a moment, she raised her head and locked her wet eyes onto Will's face.

"She's dying, Will," she said as she began to cry. Brushing her tears away gently with his thumb, he responded softly, "I know." He gave a heavy sigh that betrayed his own grief.
And though all the typical platitudes ran through his mind instantly, he knew not to utter any of them. Such triteness would be obscene now. And so he remained silent and struggled not to yield to his own feelings of sadness.

After a few minutes of heavy silence, Will stood up. Sighing deeply, he said, "I think I'll replicate something for dinner now. Can I get you something?"

"What ever, Will. I don't care," she responded listlessly.

With a slight nod, Will set about getting a meal assembled from the replicator. But as hungry as he thought he was, when he sat down to eat he found his appetite had fled. Deanna barely ate at all. She rested her head on one arm and pushed the food about with her fork. Soon enough, Will too found himself playing with the food on his plate.

Eventually, he realized that neither of them was going to eat, so he wordlessly removed the plates and placed them in the recycler. Then Deanna wandered from the table back to the couch, moving as if she were solely on autopilot.

Will knew that Deanna was lost amidst the internal minefield of her emotions. He realized that any efforts at conversation would therefore be futile. But he thought that perhaps some music might help her relax at least a little.

"How about some music?" he inquired gently. She languidly turned her sad eyes to him.

"What ever you wish, Will." Shaking his head slightly with concern, he opened his mouth to speak to the computer. "Computer, I would like some music," he ordered.

"Please specify type and time period," the computer responded in its mechanical female voice.

"Uh, late 20th century, New Age Jazz," Will said.

"Please specify composer," the computer intoned.

"Hmm, let's see….how about George Winston?" Will requested. An instant after the words left his mouth, their living room was filled with the calming sound of the requested music. Nodding to himself with a small grin of satisfaction, Will went to sit next to Deanna on the couch. Her posture announced that she was again turned completely inward. Any attempt to touch her either physically or mentally, Will recognized, would be futile. So he simply sat next to her, letting the music weave its way into his thoughts.

Eventually, Will realized the hour had grown late. He stood up and looked at Deanna, who was still lost in her sad reverie. "It's late, Imzadi," he said tenderly. "Come to bed." She jerked her head up and trained her lifeless eyes onto his face. "Maybe later," she whispered sadly. Will did not press her. With a light kiss to the top of her head, he turned to go into their bed room.

Hours later, he awoke from a troubled sleep. The room was dark. He immediately realized that the other half of their bed was empty. Stealing a groggy glance at the time piece on his bedside table, he noticed the ungodly hour. Will then saw the glow of light that stole in from the living room. Will got out of bed and padded quietly into the living room. There on the couch sat Deanna, just as he had left her hours ago. One glance told him that she was still turned inward, traveling some unknown path of grief and sadness. He shook his head sadly and then quietly went back to bed.


The sound of footsteps just outside the family crypt brought Deanna out of her sad reverie. She languidly turned her head to see who was at the entrance. For several minutes she stared blankly at the doorway, not really caring if anyone came in or not. When it became clear that no one was going to walk in, she sighed softly and turned to once again face her mother's smooth-surfaced casket.

Deanna found herself staring yet again at her mother's face. Lwaxana's visage was so calm in repose, Deanna thought. And so without the animating spirit that usually enlivened her mother's features. The spirit that would never again be present in her mother.

Again, Deanna heard the sound of footsteps just outside the mausoleum's doorway. She turned to look again, mild curiosity breaking through the thick fog of her grief. She wondered who kept walking around outside. After all, there was no reason for anyone to be outside at this time; the funeral and viewing had ended well over two and a half hours ago.

After another moment, she had her answer as she observed Will walking in. He immediately spotted Deanna sitting by the coffin. Wordlessly, he came over and knelt down on one knee by her chair. He focused his sad blue eyes on her face and gently placed his hand on hers. He watched her intently as he sent, <<Would you rather be alone now?>>

"It doesn't matter," she said out loud in a small voice. He gave her hand a gentle squeeze and sat down on the floor next to Deanna's chair. "Then I'll stay here," he said quietly as he leaned against the side of the chair. Deanna nodded and trained her dark eyes once again on Lwaxana's glassine casket. And as she stared, her mind again went back to the events leading up to her mother's death…

Two days after they learned of Lwaxana's second stroke and her poor prognosis, the Titan arrived at Betazed. Shortly after entering orbit, Deanna beamed down to the surface. Will accompanied her. He did not want Deanna to have to face this latest tragedy alone.

The two of them walked slowly up the stone steps to the over-sized front door of her mother's house. Deanna paused a moment before turning the handle on the door. In that brief moment of hesitation, a rapid stream of thoughts careened its way through her mind. What would she find? Was her mother able to talk? Would she be paralyzed? Had her cognition been impaired?

Deanna took a deep breath to calm her swirling mind, and then pushed the door open. A large hand reached out from behind the door and pulled it open the rest of the way. The door now ajar, Deanna and Will were met with the imposing form of Mr. Homn. With his eternally impassive expression, he wordlessly gestured towards the living room.

Deanna walked in, each step seeming to get heavier and heavier as she approached the living room. Will walked next to her, his hand supportively wrapped around hers. But before they could turn the corner to enter the living room, Chandra Xerx appeared before them. She immediately enveloped Deanna in a tight affectionate embrace. After a moment, she pulled back and offered her hand to Will.

"It's good you came," Chandra said, her face a mask of sadness and concern. She placed one of her delicate hands on Deanna's arm and the other on Will's. As she spoke, she darted her eyes back and forth between Will's face and Deanna's.

"Before you go in, I want you to know what is going on," she uttered quietly. Deanna stared at her friend intently. Will nodded, encouraging Chandra to continue.

"Some of the weakness she had after the first stroke has returned," Chandra recited. Deanna covered her eyes as if to shield herself from further bad news. Chandra ran her hand comfortingly along Deanna's arm, then took a deep breath. Will watched impassively as he waited for Chandra to continue.

"This stroke has affected her cognitive ability," Chandra said softly. Deanna pulled her hand from her eyes as her head jerked up. With wide eyes, she said in a shocked voice, "Cognitive ability? What does that mean?"

"Deanna, Will," Chandra began to answer as she again glanced back and forth between Will's face and Deanna's. "She slides in and out of coherence. It's unpredictable…," Chandra said as she looked down sadly.

"Oh gods…," left Deanna's mouth as a strangled cry. She pressed her fingers into her forehead as tears began to roll down her cheeks and she began to stagger. Will quickly grabbed her before she fell and held her with his arm hooked around her torso until she could regain her balance.

"Should we be visiting her now?" Will inquired. Chandra nodded ruefully. "This is as good a time as any, Will. When she is lucid, she repeatedly asks for Deanna. So, even if she is not coherent now, we know that she wants to see you. Go to her, Deanna." Chandra looked earnestly at Deanna. Then Chandra, compassion and grief filling her features, placed her hand lightly on Will's arm and looked at him. "Go with her, Will." He nodded solemnly; he did not need to be told how much Deanna needed him in this moment.

Will turned his eyes to Deanna's tear-washed face. "Are you ready to do this now?" he asked gently. Deanna wiped her face with the back of her hand. She took a deep and steadying breath and said, "Let's do it." Then, steeling herself against what she was about to see, she stepped forward into the living room.

The sight that greeted her was deceptively normal. Lwaxana sat in her usual high-backed chair. She was dressed in a flouncy satin outfit, the type she had always favored, and her lips and eyes were tinted with the makeup she usually wore. And unlike after the first stroke, now Lwaxana's torso bent only slightly to her left. Her head was nearly upright instead of tilted over as it had been before. If Deanna hadn't known better, she would have thought nothing had ever happened to her mother.

Deanna was quickly disabused of her perception of normalcy when she attempted a gentle thought-cast greeting. Her obsidian eyes went wide as she realized her probe was met by a gray fog of confusion. A sharp gasp escaped Deanna's mouth and she staggered momentarily. Will quickly caught her in his arms.

Though Deanna's actions had occurred just a few feet away from her mother, Lwaxana didn't react. She just stared with pursed eyebrows as if trying to place a name to the obviously sad person before her. Then she spoke. "Hello there," Lwaxana said with a gentle smile. "Hello Mother," Deanna replied in a shaky voice.

"I'm sorry, do I know you?" Lwaxana asked in a soft voice. A look of utter horror flashed across Deanna's face. Will saw it and, struggling to contain his own shock, wrapped his arm tightly about Deanna's shoulders. Deanna looked down, fighting hard to dam up a new tide of tears. She took a deep breath as she fought to switch into "Counselor Troi" mode and dissociate herself from the shock and grief exploding in her heart.

"Yes, you do," she said, now speaking in a breezy professional manner. "My name is Deanna. I'm your daughter." Deanna watched her mother's face intently. Lwaxana's face revealed no evidence of recognition.

"I had a daughter once," Lwaxana began after a moment. A wistful look entered Lwaxana's eyes as she stared at some invisible point in the room. "Her name was Kestra. But she went away." Deanna's heart began to beat so hard she thought it would burst through her chest.

"Where is Ian?" Lwaxana suddenly asked. Before Deanna or Will could even react, Lwaxana continued, "I must tell Ian we have guests…He does so enjoy visitors, you know." Deanna and Will stared in complete shock. But after a moment, Deanna forced herself to shut off her feelings. Taking another steadying breath, she let go of Will's hand and went to sit at her mother's feet.

"Mother, Ian is not here," she said softly. "No?" Lwaxana asked. "No Mother, Ian went away a long time ago," Deanna murmured as she watched her mother's face. "Just the way Kestra went away." Suddenly, Lwaxana's face filled with confusion. "He went away? Like Kestra?..." she whispered. Deanna nodded, her face not betraying the soul-gripping sadness within herself. She listened as Lwaxana then began to mutter incoherently to herself. All Deanna could hear were the words "not here any more."

Deanna stood up. As she stroked Lwaxana's arm affectionately, Deanna said, "I'll be back later to see you, Mother." As Deanna looked for a sign of lucidity in her mother's eyes, Lwaxana sighed, "You remind me of someone I once knew. But I'm not sure…"

"Goodbye Mother," Deanna said with as much pleasantness as she could force into her voice. Deanna turned around to face Will. And Deanna found she could no longer hold onto her professional demeanor. Her face instantly contorted in a paroxysm of soul-shattering suffering. Will wrapped his arm protectively around Deanna's sagging shoulders. And together, they walked out of the living room.

They were met just outside the door by Chandra. She had been standing at the living room entrance and had witnessed the tragic exchange between Deanna and her mother.
As she drew Deanna into a comforting embrace, she said softly, "I know." Deanna looked up at her dear friend and whispered weakly, "It's so hard." Chandra nodded and said, "I understand." Turning to Will, Chandra said, "I don't think I have to tell you anything, do I?" Will nodded ruefully, "No you don't. I will take care of her."

Chandra took Will's large hand into her smaller one and gave it a friendly squeeze. "It's time for me to go now," Chandra said to both of them. Then she turned and quietly stepped out the door.


They sat in the kitchen that Deanna knew so well as a child. Though neither she nor her mother ever cooked much in that room, it was still the locale of countless hours over the years of laughter, tears and whispered secrets between mother and daughter. Now it had become a temporary refuge for Deanna's shattered heart and battered emotions.

She and Will had watched in numb silence as Mr. Homn brewed up a pot of tea. When the tea was ready, the towering manservant soundlessly brought the pot and two china mugs to the table where they sat. Their heads nodded an equally silent thank you to the ever-loyal servant. Mr. Homn bowed deeply and left the kitchen, leaving them to sit in grief-sodden silence.

For an eternity of minutes, neither spoke nor even attempted to touch each other's minds. They each sat in a solitude built of nostalgic memories and a tragic present. Deanna did not look at Will. Instead, she aimlessly ran her index finger repeatedly around the rim of her mug and stared vacantly at the table. Will watched her, numbly mesmerized by the repetitive action.

Finally, Deanna raised up her glazed eyes. Pouring a universe of pain into the stare she directed at Will's face, she began to speak. Her voice was so soft that Will had to lean across the table to hear her.

"Do you know that's where my mother always sat?" she sighed. Shaking her head sadly, she continued. "Happy or sad, that was always her seat, and I would always sit here." Then her words ceased. Drawing in a sad breath, she stared once again at the table's wooden surface. Sensing that any words now would be a sacrilege, Will simply stretched his hand across the table and touched it tenderly to her arm.

After another timeless span of moments, Deanna once again began to speak. Though her finger had begun anew to trace the rim of her mug idly, her voice took on a collected, professional tone. For a moment, an even-toned Counselor Troi spoke.

"It is not unusual in cases of dementia, for the cognitive impairment to manifest itself transiently. This is true regardless of the cause of the dementia…," she intoned calmly. Will stared at her wide-eyed, taken back by the sudden shift in Deanna's manner. Without another word, she pulled her arm from Will's sheltering hand and hid her face in her hands. For a moment, she shook her head. Then she looked up, her face now contorted in soul-shattering grief.

"She didn't know me, Will. She didn't even know I ever existed," she whispered in a tight voice. A lone tear wandered down her cheek. "As a professional, I should know…" She didn't get the chance to finish the sentence. Will had quickly arisen from his chair and come around the table to pull her into a comforting embrace. "This has nothing to do with being a professional, Imzadi." He held her head against his broad chest and stroked her face gently. "She's your mother, Deanna. You're a person before you are a counselor," he murmured softly.

Deanna pulled back slightly. Looking darkly into his caring eyes, she asked, "Is this how it is going to be? Is she going to go to her grave not knowing the living and only living in a past that died years ago?" Will stared into Deanna's suffering eyes. "You remember what Chandra said, don't you? She said that there will be times when your mother is lucid. You will not always be a stranger to her, Deanna."

Deanna rested her head once again against Will. The lone tear that had traced a path down her face a minute ago was now followed by pairs of tears making their jagged way down her cheeks. Her shoulders shook with silent sobs. Will ran his hands up and down her back soothingly. Blocking off his own gut-turning grief, he opened his mind to her, letting waves of love and understanding radiate for her.

After untold minutes, Will realized that Deanna's weeping had ended. He tilted her face up with a finger under her chin. Looking at her with earnest blue eyes, he said quietly, "We will get through this. Just take it one day at a time - even a moment at a time." She nodded dully. Will placed a light kiss on her hair. Then, taking a deep breath, he suggested, "I think a walk outside would be a good idea now, don't you? That tea is getting rather cold." Deanna nodded, unspoken thanks filling her dark, reddened eyes.

Will offered Deanna a tentative grin. While her facial expression held no sign of acknowledgement, he could feel her gentle appreciation through their bond. With a nod, he offered her his arm. Wordlessly, she entwined her arm through his, and together, they stepped out of the kitchen.


Will and Deanna returned to the Troi mansion after a lengthy walk in her favorite park. It was one that she and Will had visited many times before. Sometimes, they would simply stroll through the grounds. A few times, they had brought picnic dinners to share while they watched the breathtakingly beautiful Betazoid sunset. There had also been a few times when they had searched out the most private spots in the park's luxurious shrubbery for more intimate adventures.

During the stroll they had just taken, there were quietly shared memories of happier days. At several points, the sound of gentle laugher could be heard as humor's warming touch lifted their veil of sadness. And from time to time, a casual observer would have noticed two lovers shyly stealing a gentle kiss. It was a walk filled with renewal.

Upon their return, the massive front door of the house opened before either could reach for the door handle. Beside the opened entrance was the towering Mr. Homn. With a flicker of slight animation to his eyes, he grandly gestured towards the living room. Deanna did not miss the look in Mr. Homn's eyes. She looked back at him with hopeful eyes. But his face betrayed no further emotion. Taking a deep breath, she stepped purposefully into the cavernous front hall and made her way to the living room

Just before she rounded the corner to the living room, a familiar voice sang out, "Little One, where have you been?" Deanna could not believe what she just heard. Before she had time to react further, a familiar nosy probe stole into her mind. <<I know you are there, dear. I can sense you. Now don't be shy. Come in and let me see you!>>

For a moment, Deanna was a prisoner of the wildly swirling mixture of happiness, shock, hesitation and sadness that swam about in her mind. This was such a total change from the way her mother had been earlier. And while part of Deanna welcomed the change with relief, another part staggered from the upset to the equilibrium she has struggled to achieve while in the park. Before her mother had a chance to fully probe these conflicting emotions in Deanna's mind, she quickly slid mental barriers in place.

"Hello Mother," Deanna said with tentative cheer in her voice as she entered the living room. <<Why must you always engage in that inferior Terran practice when it's so much more civilized to speak this way?>> Lwaxana sent in her usual arch manner. Deanna didn't know whether to smile at that so typical attitude from her mother or be angry with her for not speaking out loud. "You ought to be speaking out loud, Mother. Will is here," she admonished gently. With that, Will came into the room.

"Why William! How nice of you to visit. Do come sit down and tell me all about everything," she said as she motioned him further into the room. With a friendly smile, Will walked to a nearby chair and sat down. Deanna found another chair to sit in.

The three of them spent time exchanging pleasantries and catching up on news. The discussion proceeded as if nothing had ever happened to Lwaxana, who indeed looked to be minimally affected by her latest stroke. It seemed that Lwaxana had no awareness of her periods of detachment from reality. She chatted on in her dominating way, ignorant of the fact that Deanna had already visited that very same day.

"Well, you both have your lives settled nicely. And you've been married how long? Am I going to die without grandchildren?" Lwaxana suddenly questioned grandly. Deanna rolled her eyes and Will chuckled softly. Now he knew for sure that Lwaxana was lucid; no conversation between the three of them ever occurred without Lwaxana buttonholing them about having children.

"Mother, that's quite enough!" Deanna hissed. "I've told you repeatedly that it's none of your business." Will looked away, his hand covering a mirthful smile. "Of course it's my business, dear," Lwaxana responded pompously. "What will become of the Fifth House without any grandchildren?" She stared pointedly at Deanna.

"Mother, you know that's just a title now," Deanna said, her dark eyes locking with her mother's. "How can you say such a thing, Little One? I am the holder of the Sacred Chalice of Riix…" she began haughtily.

"Yes, Mother…" Deanna interjected and then continued in a voice that mimicked Lwaxana's, "And heirs to the Holy Rings of Betzed. Yes, I know." Deanna looked at Will, who threw up his hands in defense. He knew this routine well and had learned to keep his opinions, humorous or otherwise, to himself.

Deanna struggled for a moment to master her annoyance. After a moment's pause, she quietly informed her mother, "When we make our decision, you will be the first to know, Mother." She stared intently at Lwaxana, waiting for her response. Realizing that Deanna was not going to yield this time, Lwaxana relented. "Very well, Little One," she said simply. But at the same time, Lwaxana sent, <<Until we discuss this again, of course.>>

"Mother, I heard that!" Deanna said in a voice laced with exasperation. "Oh my," Lwaxana calmly replied, "I must have let my mind wander. Do forgive me, dear." And Lwaxana smiled sweetly.

Once they got past the perennial topics of children and the legacy of the Fifth House, the conversation took on a more congenial air. They chatted pleasantly about various goings-on on Betazed and diplomatic matters of interest in the Federation. Easy laughter punctuated the flow of conversation. And in this way, they partook of each other's company for a lengthy span of time.

Finally, Deanna stood up. "Well, Mother, it's time for us to leave," she said in a tired but pleasant voice. "Surely you can't be leaving. You only just got here," Lwaxana said in surprise. "We'll be back soon, Mother," Deanna said as her eyes stared insistently at her mother's face. "Oh very well, then. Until then," she sighed melodramatically.

Deanna leaned over and placed a light kiss on her mother's cheek. Then Will approached Lwaxana and, shaking her hand, said simply, "Lwaxana." She acknowledged him with a warm smile and a tilt of her head. And with that, Will and Deanna turned to leave.


That night, after Will and Deanna had returned to the Titan, they sat in their quarters. Will sat in one corner of the couch with his long legs stretched off the edge to the floor and his arms loosely crossed across his chest. Deanna sat in the other corner of the couch with her legs curled under her. The distance between them was a companionable one filled with their feelings instead of their bodies.

Deanna cleared her throat to speak. As she did so, Will turned his clear blue eyes to her face. "I've been hit with so much today, I barely know what to say, let alone feel," she said in a bewildered voice. Reaching his hand out to touch her arm which stretched across the top of the couch, he said, "It's not a matter of knowing, Deanna. Just go with what ever you feel, as you feel it. You shouldn't expect to make sense of it all at once." Wrapping her fingers around his outstretched hand, she replied with a gentle smile, "Sometimes, Will, I think you missed your calling."

"No, I don't think so, Deanna. I would never have the patience to listen the way that you do. Operating a ship is more my style, I think," he said with a soft laugh and a wink. Then the smile left his face as he continued, "This must be very tough for you." She covered her eyes with her hand and nodded. "Tell me, Imzadi, what are you feeling right now?" he asked quietly.

"Like I'm on some sort of some sort of vehicle careening wildly out of control…," she began. Will locked his penetrating blue eyes onto her sad dark eyes and gently massaged her hand with his thumb. "One minute she's this blank slate, Will. The next, she's fully aware and as lucid as ever," she sighed. He nodded in agreement. "It's going to take a while to get used to these extremes," she said as she turned her gaze to some invisible spot in the room. "I know it will," Will responded. "But at least there will be times when she will most assuredly be who she always has been…" His voice trailed off as a sudden image of Lwaxana haranguing the two of them about children materialized in his mind. A slightly rueful smile crossed his face.

Will turned to place his now-bent legs on the couch. Leaning towards Deanna, he took her by the hand and pulled him to her. She lay down next to him and leaned her head on his chest. And then the tears came in earnest. "Gods, Will," she cried, "I'm losing her a piece at a time." Will stroked her face and made comforting sounds.

"What's going to be next?"

"I don't know, Imzadi," he murmured, "I don't know." She covered her face with her hands as her sobs shook her body. Will wrapped his arms around her tightly and, choking back his own rising sadness, tried to envelop her with his love.

"All we have is today, Deanna. We can only take what today brings us." Her tears continued to wet his shirt. "You've lost something precious and irreplaceable," he said as his voice thickened with emotion, "but you need to try to stay open to what you have left."

At that, Deanna raised her tear-stained face to look at Will. "Try to hold on to those moments, Deanna, when your mother is still the woman you've always known. Treasure those moments. In the end, they're all that's left you," he said.


Later, after they had retired for the evening, Will and Deanna lay quietly entwined in their bed. Their cabin was dimly lit by the passing stars outside the window. Will had his arms gently wrapped around Deanna's middle and his muscular chest to her back.

"Are you still awake?" Deanna whispered. "Yes Imzadi, I am. What can I do for you?" Will replied softly. Deanna shifted in his arms and turned to face him. With her fine-boned index finger, she lightly traced out the terrain of his rugged features. When her finger reached the corner of his mouth, she leaned in and placed the lightest of kisses on his lips. There was nothing sexual about the kiss. Instead, it was a testament to her gratefulness to Will for being her rock and her safe harbor.

"Have I told you recently how much I love you, Imzadi?" Will said as he brushed his fingertip along the edge of Deanna's chin. "You don't need to say it, Will. Every day I am bathed by your love," she responded as she kissed his finger. "As I am by yours, Deanna," he whispered as he brushed his lips against hers.

Deanna looked into his eyes, nearly violet-colored in the dim light of the cabin. "You know, when I was a little girl," she began in a wistful tone, "My father would sing me to sleep every night he was home…" Will's attentive nod pushed her to continue. "Right now, part of me would like to be that sheltered and protected little girl again," she murmured sadly.

"I can understand that," Will replied. "You're lucky that way, Deanna. After my mother died, I never had any one to care for me that way. Certainly not my father," he mused ruefully.

"I'm sorry I mentioned that," Deanna said as she drew in a pained breath. Will placed his finger across her lips and looked deeply into her onyx eyes. "Don't be sorry, Imzadi. If I hadn't lived the life I did, I never would have been led to you. And that would be the real tragedy for me!" he said in a suddenly husky voice. "I would never have found my Imzadi," he breathed against her mouth as he touched his lips to hers once again.

Deanna smiled sadly. Staring intently into her eyes, Will asked, "I asked you what I could do for you, Deanna…," he began. "You needn't do anything more than you are, Will," she interrupted. "You said you wanted to be sheltered and protected as you once were as a child. How can I do that for you now?" he asked gently.

Deanna looked at him thoughtfully. After a moment's pause, she began to speak. "I know you are an accomplished musician, Will." Will cleared his throat as if embarrassed by her assessment. It was Deanna's turn to put her finger across Will's lips. "Will, could you sing me to sleep? Like my father did when I was a child?" The corners of Will's mouth turned up in a broad smile as he responded, "Sure. I'm not much of a singer, but I'd be happy to." He stroked her face gently.

"What song did you like most for him to sing?" he asked softly. "There was one I especially liked…," she began. "It was an old Earth child's song. It was called…hmm… it was called 'Puff the Magic Dragon.' Do you know it?" Will shook his head. "I'm sorry, Deanna. That's not one I've heard." Disappointment appeared on her face.

"You know, I'll bet the computer has it stored away somewhere. Perhaps we could get the computer to play it for you." Deanna's eyebrows rose in curiosity. "And maybe - just maybe - I'll catch on and actually sing it, too. It's worth a try, don't you think?" Will asked hopefully. "That sounds good," Deanna smiled sleepily.

"Computer, do you have the song "Puff the Magic Dragon" on file?" he asked. Almost instantly, the mechanical voice of the computer replied, "Affirmative." Will smiled and then continued, "Computer, play the song just specified. One-quarter volume. Place on endless loop, until further notice."

Within the space of a moment, the first bars of Deanna's beloved childhood song wafted in the air of their cabin. As the song gently progressed, Deanna turned her back to Will and pressed against his body. Will listened to the song while he perched his head upon his arm and lovingly ran his fingers along the edge of Deanna's cheek. As the song progressed, he caught on to the melody and the chorus. After a few minutes, he found himself softly singing along with the song. He rested his head gently on hers, softly singing into her ear. And, after a few minutes, he heard the sound of quiet snoring. He had sung her to sleep, the way she had asked.


The Titan remained in orbit around Betzed for two more days. During that time, Deanna and Will visited Lwaxana on several more occasions. Some of the time, she was vacant and child-like in her manner. At these times, Deanna invariably found a lump lodging in her throat and fought to keep her mental floodgates tightly closed against the pressure of her turbulent emotions. But, the rest of the time, Lwaxana was like her old self: pompous, overbearing and melodramatic, but with a core of warmth and love underlying those external traits.

Finally the time came for the Titan to leave orbit. Starfleet had only authorized a brief stay. And though Will was tempted to violate orders and extend the stay, he didn't feel that now was the time for him to be pushing Starfleet's good will.

Prior to leaving, Deanna and Will visited Lwaxana one more time. Deanna's nerves were on edge as she walked up the front steps to the Troi mansion. What would she find? Her mother coherent and present? Or the woman who scarcely seemed to know herself, let alone anyone else? Sensing the turmoil in Deanna's mind, Will gave her hand a gentle squeeze and sent, <<However she is, it will be okay.>> She smiled thankfully at him, then turned to open the front door.

Having turned the handle on the door, Deanna watched as the door opened seemingly on its own. Then, as if from thin air, the tall and inscrutable Mr. Homn appeared in the entranceway. As was his way, he silently stretched his arm out and pointed to the living room, thus indicating that Lwaxana was there waiting for them. With an acknowledging nod and a smile, Deanna walked into the living room with Will at her side.

"Ah, Little One…uh, Deanna, how nice to see you. Come sit and visit," Lwaxana said as she patted the couch cushion next to her. Deanna gave an involuntary sigh of relief. She would be able to say goodbye to her mother, not to the vacant and uncomprehending woman her mother now not infrequently became.

Lwaxana had not missed Deanna's slight sigh. <<Deanna, darling, why did you sigh? What is troubling you?>> her mother inquired mentally. Instantly, Deanna realized her slip and closed off her mind to any probing by Lwaxana. Putting on an artificial smile, Deanna responded, <<I'm fine Mother. Nothing's wrong.>> Lwaxana eyed Deanna skeptically for a moment, then sent back, <<I know there's something you're not telling me. Those mental blocks of yours are not there accidentally.>> Deanna simply stared impassively until her mother relented. <<Very well, dear. Have it your way,>> Lwaxana sent as she shot a judgmental glare back at Deanna.

Will had watched the ricocheting stares between his wife and mother-in-law with raised eyebrows. Although he probably could have picked up Deanna's end of the exchange through their bond, he wasn't sure he wanted to. He could see the brewing storm in the rapidly changing facial expressions on both women. And he knew them both well enough to know he didn't want any of that mental conflict directed his way if he could avoid it.

As soon as it appeared that Deanna's sparring match with Lwaxana was over, Will opened his mouth for the first time since entering the house a short time before. "We'll be leaving orbit later today," he said. Lwaxana glared at him. Putting his hands up defensively in front of him, he smiled meekly and said, "I'm sorry, Lwaxana. Those are Starfleet's orders." She sighed melodramatically, "Very well. We can't have you disobeying orders now, can we?" With a nervous smile he replied, "No, we certainly can't."

Deanna quickly interjected, "Don't you remember? The other day, we mentioned that we would be leaving in a matter of days." Lwaxana nodded as the memory popped into her mind. "Ah yes, so you did. How silly of me to forget! Well, then let's enjoy our last visit together, shall we?"

"Did you have anything in mind, Mother?" Deanna inquired. "Well, actually, if you two have the time, a picnic in the park would be lovely," Lwaxana smiled. Deanna looked at Will, an unspoken question in her eyes. Ordinarily, he found spending extended periods of time with his mother-in-law taxing of his tolerance and patience, despite his affection for her. However, he had understood the question in Deanna's dark eyes. He realized that this might be the last time they would be able to do anything like this with her mother. With an agreeable grin, he said, "Well, I don't see why not. The Titan won't break orbit until 1700 hours. We can stay for a while."

"Wonderful!" Lwaxana clapped her hands together joyfully. "I'll just tell Mr. Homn to prepare a little something to take with us to the park," she said as she stood up. Before either Deanna or Will could say another word, Lwaxana had walked out of the room, grandly gesticulating and calling for her ever-loyal manservant.

It took only a short amount of time for Mr. Homn to prepare the picnic basket. He operated with quiet efficiency, largely ignoring Lwaxana's nonstop stream of instructions. He had learned long ago to go about his duties in this quietly independent manner if he wanted to get anything done, let alone done right.

Mr. Homn appeared at the entrance to the living room with a picnic basket on one arm and a blanket rolled up under the other. In this silent way, he announced that it was time to leave for the park. Just as Will and Deanna stepped into the cavernous front hall, they saw Lwaxana wildly gesticulating her way down the hallway from the kitchen. They both turned their faces momentarily back towards the living room so that she would not see the resulting smirks on their faces.

It was a beautiful day outside, a perfect day for a picnic. The sun was bright, the air comfortably warm. A light breeze induced tree and shrub branches to dance gently. A hint of a floral scent floated in the air.

Soon, they found a lovely spot near one of the ponds in the park. In short order, Mr. Homn had the blanket spread out and the food ready. They sat down to eat, with Mr. Homn quietly tending to their dietary needs.

As they ate, the conversation meandered among a variety of pleasant topics. For a while, they talked once again about Federation matters. Then the discussion fluidly shifted to a series of sweet reminiscences of Deanna's childhood and Lwaxana's years with Ian. Finally, their words centered on Betazed's latest society news. The conversations were shared in friendly voices and punctuated with warm laughter.

As they hit a lull in their conversation, Mr. Homn stood up and gestured to the time-piece that he had just pulled from his pocket. "Is it time, Mr. Homn?" Will asked. The towering man-servant nodded. Will nodded, then looked at Lwaxana. "Unfortunately, it is finally time for us to leave, Lwaxana," he announced as he began to stand up. He was gently pulling Deanna up by her arm as Lwaxana replied, "If you must." Will nodded his head. "Well then, don't be such strangers, dear William. I have no doubt that if you simply tell Starfleet who it is you wish to visit on Betazed, they will simply trip over themselves trying to give you permission to come." Will and Deanna both chuckled. "I have no doubt that would be so, Mother," Deanna laughed.

Lwaxana stood up, assisted by Mr. Homn. Deanna turned towards her mother and then drew her into a fierce embrace. "I love you, Mother. Please don't forget that," Deanna whispered as her face contorted in sudden sadness. <<Why Little One, I never knew partings made you so sad!>> Lwaxana sent, not knowing the real reason for her daughter's sudden outburst. Deanna struggled to regain control over her suddenly turbulent emotions. After a deep calming breath, she smiled warmly at her mother and said, "Be well, Mother."

At that moment, Will leaned towards Lwaxana and offered his hand. With genuine pleasure, he said, "This was a wonderful idea, Lwaxana." Then, on impulse, he bent down and placed a gentle kiss on Lwaxana's cheek.

"Why William, I think being a captain has gone to your head! You've never been so familiar with me!" Lwaxana exclaimed.

Echoing his wife's words, Will said, "Be well." Then, with a confident snap of the wrist, he flipped open his communicator. "Titan, this is Captain Riker. Two to beam up." In an instant, Will's and Deanna's bodies dissolved into shimmering silhouettes. And then they were gone.

A minute later, they materialized on the pad in one of the Titan's transporter rooms. Will stepped off first, then offered his hand to Deanna. As she stepped off, Will turned to face her. Training his clear blue eyes onto her large dark eyes, he said in a quiet, loving voice, "No matter what happens now, Imzadi, you will always have your mother as she was today to remember. You have been given a precious gift." Deanna returned the loving gaze of her husband and whispered, "I know, Will. I know."


Late that night, Deanna and Will lay quietly in bed, relaxing in the starlit semidarkness of their cabin. Deanna's fingers ran lazy circles on Will's chest. "I thank whatever gods there are that we were able to have the day we had with my mother," she said softly. Capturing her fingers in his and then intertwining them, he responded, "I know. What a gift." Then, propping himself up on one arm, he continued, "I can't think of a time I more enjoyed being with your mother, Deanna." She giggled softly as she said, "That's quite a compliment coming from you, Will." Then her voice grew more serious. "I know how overwhelming she can be for you, Will… But not today?" Will smiled and answered, "No, Deanna, not today."

A comfortable silence then supplanted their conversation. After several wordless minutes, Will began to speak again. "What are you going to do about tomorrow, Deanna? You needn't return to duty yet. I've got several ship-board psychologists covering your caseload."

After a moment of pensive silence, Deana responded, "I'm not fully sure yet. I do know that I don't want to jump back in completely. I did that two months ago and regretted it."

Will softly traced the edge of Deanna's face with his index finger. "Is there some way you could ease your way back in?" he asked.

"Yes. As a matter of fact, I was just thinking that tomorrow, I could start back by beginning to review some of the case notes that have accumulated during my time off." Will nodded approvingly. "That's fine, Deanna. Just so long as you don't think you have to review all of the notes in one day. Remember, you're still on leave. And you'll stay that way until you are fully ready to return. The only schedule you have to keep to is the one dictated by your mental health," Will asserted firmly.

"Yes sir, Captain Riker, sir!" Deanna giggled. Will smiled warmly at her and said, "It's good to see you laugh, Deanna. Even if is at my expense." Deanna offered a loving smile in return, then kissed her fingertips and placed them on Will's lips.

"Thank you, Imzadi," she whispered in a voice rich with emotion. Her dark eyes were locked onto his eyes, now nearly midnight blue in the dim light. She pressed the palm of her hand against his bearded jaw.

"For what?" Will whispered, afraid that a louder voice would break the spell of intimacy the dim light and closeness of their bodies had cast.

"For being there. For never faltering. For putting my heart back together each time it seemed shattered into a million pieces…," she answered softly as her thumb stroked the edge of his beard. "I don't know how I would have survived without you." A lone tear crawled down her cheek.

Will reached to wipe away the path the tear had left on her cheek. "No words are necessary, Imzadi…," he murmured as he brought his lips mere inches from Deanna's. He cupped her face gently in his hand and stared intently at Deanna's face, waiting for her to signal her readiness for a kiss. Instantly, her thumb moved from the edge of his beard to his lips. Tracing the edge of his lower lip, she then closed the infinitesimal distance between their mouths. Sweetly, gently, full of all the love and appreciation she was capable of conveying, her lips pressed against his.

That gentle kiss was followed by another more needful kiss. Then Will, realizing his body was rapidly responding even to the barest of contact with her mouth, pulled back. In a husky voice, he murmured, "How far do you want this to go?"

"What do you want, Will?" Deanna asked in a thickened voice. "I'm not the only one here with needs and feelings."

"It's not a matter of what I want, Deanna. You've been through a lot and I don't want to push things too fast for you," Will uttered throatily. Though his body was betraying his desire to go further, Deanna sensed that at the same time his mind was fully willing to stop now. She smiled warmly with the recognition that he was willing to forgo his own physical gratification. And though her own psyche felt battered by the events of the past week, the kisses they had just shared awakened her own wants and her need to feel alive.

Deanna wrapped her hands around the back of Will's neck and pulled him back to her mouth. "I think we both need this," she whispered into his mouth. She then pressed her lips to his. In an instant, as if someone had flipped a switch, Deana was hungrily consuming Will's mouth. Kisses now passionate followed one another in rapid succession.

In short order, hands that had been gently caressing one another's faces moved to stroke heated bodies, leaving tingling paths in their wake. What few clothes they had worn to bed were quickly removed. Will greedily explored the contours of Deanna's breasts and more intimate spots on her hungry body. Deanna frantically pleasured Will with her knowledgeable fingers and her expert mouth. Finally, as their passion mounted, they came together in a blinding climax, with waves of charged sensation exploding through each of their bodies.

A few minutes later they lay quietly in the afterglow, still wrapped in each other's arms. Will spoke softly. "I hope this is what you wanted, Deanna," he said with a note of uncertainty in his voice.

"Yes, it is…," she began gently. "I think this last week has taught me to accept the moments of life that are given to me. The picnic today with my mother, that precious time with my mother…Well, our love-making was the coda." With that, she tightened her embrace around Will. He unwrapped one arm to gently trace out her jaw line with his finger.

"You so amaze me, Imzadi. I marvel at you…" He placed a kiss on his finger, then put the finger to her lips. "I fall in love with you all over again nearly every day."

Deanna's expression grew suddenly serious. "Please don't ever leave me, Imzadi. I don't want to live with no one at my side as my mother does." Will embraced her anew.

"I'll be at your side, even when you're old and gray," he sighed lovingly into her hair. A pleasurable moan exited her lips as she nestled her head in the crook of his shoulder. And in that way, as two lovers entwined and basking in the afterglow, they were both drawn into a welcome slumber.


In the days after the Titan left Betazed, life slowly returned to normal for Deanna. As she had told Will the evening of their departure from the planet, she started back by catching up on the case notes that had accumulated while she was on leave. She quickly found that she needed no reminders from Will not to catch up on too much at a time; the notes made for heavy reading, and she found that she had little emotional stamina to deal with the various personal issues each case presented.

It was not until a full week had passed since her last visit on Betazed that she agreed to start back with one patient. And even then, she carefully explored with the psychologists who had stood in for her which one would be the easiest for her to handle. Understanding her need to resume her counseling slowly, they gladly recommended a particular patient, one that Deanna knew well and whose problems were not overwhelming.

She had scheduled this patient for late in the afternoon. She was still busy trying to get caught up in reading the ever-accumulating case histories of the farmed-out patients, and so used much of the time she felt she could handle it assimilating the information in the files. She knew that beyond a certain point in the day, she would be both ready and happy to change gears and talk to a live person instead of staring at a padd or a monitor.

The patient, a young ensign in engineering relatively new to the Titan, entered Deanna's office at the time set for her appointment. As the door whooshed shut behind her, Deanna looked up. Smiling at Ensign Andi Bates, Deanna said, "Ensign Bates, please come sit down." The ensign shyly sat down on the over-stuffed couch.

"Counselor…," Ensign Bates began hesitantly. "Yes?" Deanna asked encouragingly. "I know your mother is not well. I hope she is doing better," Ensign Bates said in a small voice.

A shadow of sadness briefly passed over Deanna's face. For an instant, she was back in her mother's house on Betazed, seeing once again the woman-child her mother had become part of the time. Then she looked up at Ensign Bates, drew in a deep cleansing breath and smiled. "Thank you. She's as well as can be expected. But it was very kind of you to share that thought."

The rest of the appointment passed rapidly for both Deanna and the ensign. It turned out that Ensign Bates' problems stemmed mostly from her shy nature. She was a brilliant engineer, but lacked the confidence to assert herself socially. Deanna had her role-play a couple of situations with her. Then, Deanna gave the ensign a list of several social tasks she should practice between then and the next appointment. And with that, the session drew to a close.

Deanna stood up as Ensign Bates did. Smiling warmly at Ensign Bates, Deanna said, "I want to hear next time that you tried each one at least once." The ensign nodded quietly.
"Until next time, then." Ensign Bates smiled gratefully and then said, "Until next time. And Counselor, I'm glad you're back. I missed you." Then she turned and stepped out into the corridor.

"I'm glad I'm back, too," Deanna whispered to the now closed door.

About an hour after Deanna finished with the ensign, Deanna felt a familiar presence just outside her door. She knew what that odd tickling sensation at the edge of her mind meant. Before the door even opened, she called out, "Come on in, Will."

The door slid open to reveal Will standing there with a bouquet of flowers in his hand. They were a mixture of pastel colored Terran and Betazoid flowers, a combination he knew she loved. A broad smile crept across his face as he stepped into her office.

"Will! What are those for?" she stammered.

"How about welcoming you back to work? That sounds like a great reason to me!" he grinned as he bent his head to place a soft kiss on her cheek.

"They're beautiful, Will," she said as she took them from his hand. "These are my favorite flowers from Betazed. How did you get them?"

"While you were visiting your mother a few days before we left, I obtained them from a nursery near the park. The Arboretum here on the Titan is a bit lacking in Betazoid plantings, and I thought this would be a good time to change that," he explained. And before she could say anything, he added, "And besides, they gave me a great way to impress my wife!" Deanna didn't know at that moment whether to hug him in thanks or to smack him for his annoyingly cocky explanation. Sensing both Deanna's ambivalence and her exasperation, he smiled and threw up his hands defensively.

"You are very lucky I happen to be in love with you, Will Riker. Besides, I thought you had grown beyond that smart-assed young lieutenant you used to be," she returned, eyeing him to make sure her mild barb hit home.

"Oh, you wound me, Deanna," he laughed as he threw his hands melodramatically over his heart.

"I think you'll survive, Will," she snickered in return as she turned to pick some padds off her desk. Will eyed the padds in her hand narrowly.

"Don't tell me you're bringing those home with you. Don't you think you've done enough work for one day?" he said in a questioning tone. Deanna looked at the padds, then back at Will. "You know, you're right," she agreed cheerfully and dropped the padds back onto her desk. And with that, they turned to leave her office, the flowers nestled safely in the crook of her elbow.

Later they sat eating their dinner in their quarters. After a few minutes of companionable silence, Will asked, "So how did it feel to be back at work today, even if it was just one patient?" Deanna looked up from her plate and smiled.

"It felt good, Will. And the session went almost better than I could have expected," she said. "Better for whom, Deanna? You or the patient?" Will rejoined.

"Me. I have to admit I was a bit nervous about how I would handle seeing a patient. But everything went just fine," she said.

"Which crew member did you see?" Will asked. As captain of the ship, Will was responsible for the well being of every single crew member. As such, he was allowed to breach the otherwise inviolable doctor-patient confidentiality that normally prevailed in counseling situations.

"Ensign Bates," Deanna answered between bites of her food.

"Bates…Oh yes, Andi Bates. From Engineering," he said. "Uh-huh, that's the one," Deanna mumbled, her mouth full of the vegetable she was chewing.

"Nice woman, that Bates. Brilliant engineer. Too shy, though. If she can manage her shyness, she should have a brilliant career ahead of her in Starfleet," Will mused as he sat back in his chair. Deanna eyed him oddly, then shook her head.

"What? What did I say?" Will queried nervously. Deanna smiled at him. "This isn't the first time I've thought you missed your calling, Will. You had her profile down to a't'," she laughed.

"Me a counselor?" he asked as a relieved smile spread across his face. "I should think not, Deanna. With my tendency to call things as I see them, I'd end up stirring up a hornet's nest of troubles throughout the ship instead of solving problems. You'd do best to keep me away from that specialty if you want the Titan to remain in one piece." With that last pronouncement, he winked playfully at Deanna.

"Well then, I suppose I'll continue to approve you for leadership duty aboard the Titan," Deanna pronounced with mock-seriousness. "And I guess I'll keep you, my dear, on the duty roster as Ship's Counselor," he harrumphed in return. "So there!" And then they both dissolved into laughter at the pomposity they had just displayed towards each other.

After the laughter had subsided, Will leaned across the able and wrapped his fingers around her hands. Nearly losing himself in the depths of Deanna's large dark eyes, he uttered lovingly, "Welcome back, Counselor Deanna Troi-Riker." Raising his hands to her lips, she murmured, "It's good to be back."


As had happened after Lwaxana's first stroke, life slowly returned to normal for Deanna. As the weeks progressed, she resumed seeing more and more of the patients that had been farmed out during her leave, until she was finally handling her normal caseload. And, when she was not with patients, she once again took up her post seated next to Will on the Bridge as his advisor.

Her return to her normal work schedule was paralleled by a gradual lifting of the cloud of sadness that seemed to hover over her intermittently after the Titan's second stopover at Betazed. Warm, happy smiles slowly became more frequent on Deanna's fine-featured face. Her once-usual social ease became more and more the norm for her again. And, though she still had moments of excruciatingly sharp pangs of grief when she let her mind wander back to thoughts of her mother, such moments found her less and less frequently.

As before, her emergence from under the veil of her intermittent grief was noticed not only by Will, but by nearly everyone else on board the Titan. Many among the crew not only held Deanna in high regard professionally but also were genuinely fond of their vivacious and compassionate counselor. The news of Lwaxana's second stroke flew through the ship quickly. There was hardly a soul that didn't know what had happened, let alone how the tragic event affected Deanna. Thus, her gradual return to her old self was greeted with warm, welcoming smiles and words from many crew members.

It touched Deanna to know how much the crew of the Titan cared for her. For while she had always felt a beloved member of the crew on her prior post, the Enterprise, she initially was not sure what kind of relationships she would develop on board the Titan. After all, unlike on the Enterprise where she was simply one of the senior officers, now she was also the captain's wife. But her gentle friendliness and gifted counseling skills quickly won her the abiding affection of many of the officers on board the Titan.

Things were much as they once had been for Deanna. Except for one thing: the announcement by her comm system of in-coming messages now routinely triggered a sudden charge of fear that would race through her heart. While on Betazed after Lwaxana's second stroke, Deanna had made arrangements to stay in regular contact with not only her mother, but also Chandra Xerx. And though her mother was, all things considered, still in reasonably good health, Deanna could not avoid the momentary panic each time she heard an incoming message from Betazed being announced.

One afternoon, Will had stopped by her office to discuss a particular crew member with her. While they were talking, the comm system intoned its pronouncement of a communication from Chandra Xerx. Deanna froze in mid-sentence. Will eyed her with concern as he observed the spark of fear that filled her eyes briefly.

"Deanna, what is the matter?" he asked softly. Instead of answering him, she held up her hand to request silence. Will nodded his acknowledgement of the gesture. Then she went directly to the comm console on her desk. After a moment of tense hesitation and a sharp intake of air, Deanna pressed the "receive" button. Chandra's smiling face appeared on the screen. Only then did Deanna let out the breath she had drawn in and allow the tension wash out of her body.

Will had watched Deanna intently while she went to her desk. He did not miss her transient anxiety and subsequent relief. And while he could guess the reason for her reaction, he held his counsel until Deanna was finished talking to her childhood friend.

When she had completed her pleasant exchange with Chandra, she turned in her chair to face Will. He looked at Deanna's face knowingly.

"You were afraid, weren't you?" he asked gently.

"Yes, Will, I was. Every time the comm system tells me there's a message from Betazed, I have a momentary vision of disaster," she sighed. "I'm coming to dread the sound of the comm system."

"It must be like waiting for the other shoe to drop," Will commented as he sat on the edge of her desk. "That's an apt way to put it," she agreed. "You know, Will, in so many ways, life has gone back to the way it was," she began. "You mean before your mother's strokes," he interjected. "That's right. Some times, it's almost as if they never happened. And life feels good. But every so often, I'll start remembering and then all the sadness and fear that I felt come crashing back over me."

Will leaned over to take her hand in his, interweaving their fingers. Locking his clear blue eyes onto her troubled dark eyes, he said softly, "It never really ends for you, does it?"

"No, Will, it really doesn't. And sometimes when I think about it and the reality that she will decline further, the grief is so strong it takes my breath away," she uttered in a now-shaky voice. A lone tear meandered down her cheek.

Will stood up and pulled her into his comforting embrace. "Shh, Imzadi," he whispered soothingly into her hair. "We can't control the future. All we can do is live our todays," he commented. She nestled her head against his chest and drew in a ragged breath.

Will placed his hand gently on her cheek and ran the edge of his thumb softly along her cheekbone. "I'm here with you now, Deanna. And I love you. Let that help you now." In that instant, he opened the floodgates of his love for her, creating a reservoir of strength and healing from which she could draw. She drank it into her parched soul, feeling his love warm every interstice of her inner being. And for that moment, she felt whole.


As the weeks passed, even Deanna's moments of panic when she heard the comm system announce messages eased. Where once she would freeze, her heart virtually at a standstill and her body tightly tensed, now the sound engendered no more than a moment's flash of concern. Now, she would simply note the need to check the message and, after taking a deep breath, return readily to whatever she had been doing.

Once in a while, a flood of memories would still suck her way from reality. At those moments, the grief and sadness she had known as daily companions months ago would resume their oppressive grip over her inner being. After wiping away the inevitable tears wetting her face, she would turn inward to center herself and then rejoin the world.

Will had watched his wife's continued return to her old self with great joy. His sense of inner completeness and balance were enhanced by her increasing emotional health. He reveled in being able to lose himself in the waves of calm and gentle love that she now so often exuded.

It was little over a month after the Titan's departure from Betazed that the day came for a very special event: the celebration of Will's elevation to Captain of the Titan. There was nothing in Starfleet protocol that mandated such an observance. Nor, in fact, was such a celebration undertaken routinely on the ships in the fleet. But Will, since taking the captain's seat on board the Titan, had quickly earned the crew's respect as a brilliant tactician and a thoughtful, analytical leader. And, because of his natural warmth and photographic memory for faces and names, he also earned the affection of many among the ship's staff. So, when the anniversary of his captaincy loomed on the horizon, it seemed only natural to many on the Titan to show their appreciation of their captain with a celebration.

Will never had been one for big affairs. Having spent a good part of his childhood in a thinly populated part of Alaska, he was never comfortable with crowds or elaborate celebrations. The only exceptions to this, of course, were his weddings with Deanna on Earth and, later, on Betazed. But otherwise, large, thickly populated celebrations usually found him sneaking off, seeking a more secluded location in which to bide his time.

The proposed captaincy celebration was no different. While he genuinely appreciated the respect and affection the gesture represented, he still viewed the prospect of a crowded room with lots of people milling about with a certain amount of distaste.

He would have vetoed any such special event but for one thing: Deanna. On the eve of his first anniversary as captain of the Titan, several officers came to her with their plans for a party after Will had, amidst words of thanks, rejected the idea. Deanna, on the other hand, thought it was a wonderful idea. And, having grown up around lots of people, she did not share Will's dislike of crowds.

The day of this latest anniversary celebration, crew members throughout the ship took the time to shake Will's hand and offer their congratulations. Whether in a corridor or on the Bridge, everyone he encountered had a kind word for him. He was truly touched by the affection displayed by the crew. And, truth be told, despite his rather generous ego, he was genuinely amazed that he could generate such feelings in so many people.

Late that afternoon, Deanna finished with her last patient. She felt waves of excited energy pulse through her being as she contemplated the evening's events. The prospect of a party, especially one in honor of her beloved husband, made her feel giddy like a young child waiting for some cherished special occurrence.

She forced her attention back to the padd that lay in her hands. Focusing once again on the patient who just left, she completed her patient notes. Once her recording task was completed, she threw the padd haphazardly onto her desk, jumped up out of her chair and danced out of her office.

A few minutes later, Deanna emerged onto the Bridge from the turbolift. She went straight to the captain's chair. Although she could hear Will talking, a quick mental brush told Deana that the matter he was discussing was merely routine.

As she approached Will's seat from behind, she eyed the officers with a smile and a finger placed across her mouth, signaling that no one should acknowledge her presence. She left knowing smiles behind her.

Finally, she was right behind the captain's chair. Leaning over with her hands ready to cover Will's eyes, Will suddenly grabbed her arms in his hands. Spinning his chair around, with merriment twinkling in his bright blue eyes, he said, "Thought you could surprise me, did you?"

"I had hoped that once I might be able to get away with it," she laughed.

"You forget that I can sense your nearness whether I focus on it or not," Will responded, offering a wink to the Bridge crew. His Bridge officers knew there was a special connection that their captain and their counselor shared, though no one really understood it. They enjoyed seeing the affectionate results that sometimes flowed from that tie.

"Well, Captain Riker," she began, stressing the word 'captain' for the amused benefit of the Bridge crew. "You are off duty in five minutes. And you have a social obligation to attend in two hours. I thought I might remind you to allow yourself some time to dress appropriately for the occasion." She scanned the surrounding officers with a broad smile, making sure she had their attention. Smothered snickers assured her she did.

An instant later, she surveyed the crew as she asked, "I don't suppose Starfleet will dock his pay for leaving the Bridge a few minutes early, will they?" Heads shook in gestures of exaggerated concurrence.

"See, Captain, you've been let off the hook. Shall we leave?" Deanna said, with a hint of mischief in her dark eyes. Will threw up his arms in mock despair. "What can I do? The one officer on board who can always out-maneuver me," he sighed, but with humor dancing in his blue eyes.

With that, Will stood up. With a grand sweeping gesture, he pointed to the turbolift. "After you, ma'am?" he said with a chuckle. Deanna tilted her head back and in a haughty manner bested only by her mother said, "Of course, Captain." Then she strode off towards the turbolift without a backward glance, to the sound of laughter spreading across the Bridge.

A few minutes later, Will and Deanna found themselves at the door to their quarters. He punched in their code. Once the door slid open, he pulled Deanna in.

As soon as the door whooshed shut, Will pinned Deanna against the wall of the living room. He eyed her hungrily. "Since when, my dear, does it take me two hours to put on a dress uniform?" he demanded in a voice that betrayed a completely different intention.

"Well," she said as she traced the contour of his face with her index finger, "I wanted to make sure you didn't miss anything. Besides," she said in a sultry voice, "I wanted some help in choosing what I should wear myself." Will's eyes glittered with something more than innocent curiosity.

"Does that mean I get to help you get dressed?" he murmured suggestively. "I'm sure that could be arranged, Captain," she purred. "But perhaps we should start with first things first." Will did not miss her meaning, or the aura of raw desire that she was beginning to radiate. "I see, Counselor," he commented huskily as he held her to the wall with one hand on her shoulder and began to unzip her uniform with the other. In an instant, Will's warm lips replaced his hand on her shoulder.

"Will," she whispered thickly, "We really should shower, you know." As he kissed his way up her neck towards her ear, he responded, "Yeah, we should, shouldn't we." With that, he pulled back enough to allow Deanna to stand free of the wall, take his hands and guide him into the bed room.

Once there, their lips locked as they frantically divested each other of their clothing. Will pulled her tight to his body, his arousal now very evident to Deanna. "I'm not sure we're going to make it to that shower, Imzadi," he whispered huskily into her ear before closing his lips onto it. Barely able to resist having Will take her right there in the middle of their bed room, she forced herself to take a reluctant step towards the shower. As she did so, Will wrapped his solid arms around her waist and followed her lead into the bathroom.

Within a few short moments, they found themselves in the shower, the warm pounding of the water relaxing them and adding to the heat of their hungry bodies. From behind, Will rained hot kisses along the ridges of her shoulders and on her neck. His hands traced paths of tingling heat and pleasured her body. At the same time, Deanna reached behind her and, with deft fingers, ministered to his passionate need. Time slowed and the sound of the raining water blended with their groans as they approached the climax. They hit the crest as powerful pulses of explosive sensation ripped through their bodies and locked their minds.

After a few minutes, normal breathing returned, and they could once again hear the sound of the water. Deanna turned to Will and draped her arms around his neck. "Do you need some help getting washed up, Imzadi?" she asked softly as she lay her face against the wet hair on Will's chest. 'Yeah," he smiled lovingly as he handed her his wash cloth.

They then proceeded to wash each other. Will insisted on washing Deanna's hair for her; he loved having the opportunity to run his fingers through it. And then, at shower's end, they helped each other towel down.

Approaching her closet with a towel wrapped around her torso, Deanna began to flip through the hanging garments she found there. Will reached in over her shoulder and eagerly grabbed at a particular dress. "This one, Deanna. I love how this looks on you," he murmured softly into her ear. "Very well," she sighed pleasantly, "This one it is."

Deanna waited for a short time while Will donned his dress uniform. Once he was dressed, she gave him a seductive once-over. For, despite his advancing middle age, his resplendent appearance in the dress uniform still took her breath away. Drawing in a short ragged breath, she secured his pips and then stood back to admire him.

"My turn, Deanna," he said. He reached over and removed the towel from her torso. "You are the most incredibly beautiful woman I have ever seen, Deanna," he said as he admired her naked body. "Too bad this isn't a Betazed affair where you could go just as you are," he sighed wistfully. She giggled at the thought, then commented, "Yes, but then you'd have to remove that uniform and show every one that traction you have on your chest." They both laughed at the memory of what he had said so many years ago at Chandra Xerx's wedding by way of explanation for the generous amount of hair on his body.

After Deanna donned her underwear, Will helped her step into the dress he had chosen. Then, he stood behind her to zip the dress up. As he did so, he planted light, butterfly kisses along her spine. "Will, we're not going to get to that celebration if you keep carrying on this way," she admonished him. Sighing as he inhaled her intoxicating fragrance once more, he pulled away and finished zipping the dress.

He sat back on their bed as she went over to the mirror to brush and fashion her hair. After she put the hair brush down, Will went to her. Grabbing her hand in his and raising it high, he murmured, "Let's see." She spun around slowly in front of his admiring eyes. "You will be without comparison, Imzadi. You look absolutely stunning."

"As do you, my handsome husband," she returned with a smile.

"Are we ready then?" Will asked. Deanna nodded her head. Will held out his elbow and waited for Deanna to wrap her arm around it. Once she did, the handsome couple were on their way out of their quarters and to the celebratory party.


The party was a massive affair. By prior arrangement, a minimal number of officers had agreed to maintain a skeleton crew on the Bridge and in Engineering. This enabled the vast majority of the crew to attend. As a result, a constant crush of people flowed in and out of the Lounge, the Titan's equivalent to the Enterprise's Ten Forward.

The ship's culinary crew had outdone themselves in preparing a buffet dinner second to none. Will's favorite dishes were represented as were some of Deanna's. Additionally, the chefs had made sure that at least one dish was available for any given race aboard the ship. To accommodate all of these foods, the buffet table spread the vast length of the Lounge.

Will and Deanna entered the Lounge just after his First Officer announced them. The applause and cheers were deafening but also heart-warming. It made Will realize again how lucky he had been to be assigned to work with this crew. As he surveyed the sea of smiling faces, his eyes welled up with tears. Deanna noticed his momentary sentimentality and, applauding him as the crew was, she sent to him, <<This is all for you, Will. And you deserve every bit of it.>>

Soon enough, Deanna and Will were caught up in the crowd, socially moving from one officer to another. The conversations ebbed and flowed. The sound of laughter could be heard periodically, a counterpoint to the buzz of the voices.

After a while, the buffet was pronounced open. Will's First Officer made sure that his Captain and the Ship's Counselor were the first to get their food. Once they had done so, everyone else was invited up to partake of the buffet's offerings.

Will took this opportunity to find a table back far back in a corner of the Lounge. Striding towards it purposefully, Will could only think of the refuge it would offer him from the crush of the crowd in the room. Where Deanna might ordinarily have tried to turn him back, now she let him escape to a more thinly populated portion of the Lounge. She understood his need to find a bit of physical space for himself. Besides, she thought as she surveyed the crowd, they didn't seem to need their captain in the middle of things in order to enjoy themselves.

A short time later, Will's First Officer stood up at a microphone set up near the band stand. In a traditional Terran practice, he tapped his fork against his champagne glass into the microphone to gain everyone's attention. Once the room quieted down, he raised his glass. "We are here tonight to celebrate another year under the expert guidance of our leader, Captain William Riker," he began. A wave of applause and cheers rippled through the room.

"We salute him for his steadfastness, for his total commitment to the welfare of this ship and to his dedication to the mission of Starfleet. May we continue to have many more such years with his hand at the helm. Captain Riker, we salute you." With that, the First Officer raised his glass outward as if to clank it against Will's so far across the room. And to the sounds of "here, here" and "bravo," Will smiled and took the first sip. Then he mouthed the words "thank you" and saluted his Number One.

Not too long after the toast, the band mounted the band stand. The band, which Will normally would have been part of, was made up of various officers who shared an interest in instrumental music. Each person brought a different musical taste to the group which, in turn, meant that the band's repertoire was quite varied. Tonight, they decided they would focus their efforts on Terran jazz classics because they knew of their captain's love for that particular style of music.

The band leader stood at the microphone and announced that the first number was intended for dancing. As such, he said, he invited Will and Deanna up to inaugurate that portion of the evening. Will walked up to the dance floor in the middle of the Lounge, his hand wrapped around Deanna's and a quizzical expression on his face. He had no idea what kind of music to expect. Deanna just waited patiently, a bemused smile on her face.

He needn't have worried. The piece the band members had selected for this first dance was one of his very favorite 20th century jazz songs. Titled, "The Nearness of You," it was one he loved playing on his trombone. It was also a wonderful song for dancing.

The moment the band produced the first bars of the song, Will's face broke into a broad, appreciative smile. Turning his head down to look into Deanna's dark eyes, he murmured, "May I have this dance, Counselor?" As he wrapped his arm around her back and took up her hand with his other hand, she responded in a quiet voice, "Certainly, Captain." And so they began to dance, their bodies moving slowly in tandem to the gentle, sensuous strains of the music.

They made a stunning couple as they danced. Will stood tall and handsome, regal looking in his dress uniform with its shimmering gold trim. Deanna looked almost a fairy princess with her dark, striking eyes and her delicately shimmering, multihued dress. They looked at that moment to be lost in a world inhabited only by themselves. And so they were: as their eyes bore into the other's, the intensity of loving energy that flowed between them precluded any normal awareness of their surroundings. Music, sounds, light, the warmth and scents of one another all merged into a unity of altered awareness.

The rest of the evening passed in a blur of dancing, socializing and eating. As much as his limited tolerance of crowds would permit, Will made periodic efforts to mix with the officers who were present. He had warm words of thanks and a genuine smile for each and every one of them. And in this way, the celebration wound its way to its conclusion, hours after it had begun.

After they had finally been able to tear themselves free of their by-then too appreciative crew, Will and Deanna lay stretched out in their bed. Both of them exhausted by the evening's festivities, they quietly reflected on the affair. They agreed that that first dance, the one to Will's beloved jazz classic, had been one of the high points of the evening.

"It never ceases to amaze me, Imzadi… the way your body molds itself to mine perfectly when we dance, the way you anticipate my every move," Will murmured affectionately.

"It's all because of you, Will. I never danced so well with anyone else," Deanna responded, her fingers tracing lazy paths up and down his arm. Smiling, she turned to nestle her head in his shoulder. At that moment, the comm system beeped.

Deanna sprang up immediately, her eyes wide with sudden worry. While she had finally learned not to panic when messages were announced during the day, this was the first message to come in at night. Deanna was totally unprepared for it.

"Oh gods…," she uttered in a tight voice. Will sat up, eyeing Deanna with concern. "Let me go with you, Deanna." She sped into the living room, with Will following her. She went immediately to the comm system console on the desk. On the screen flashed, "Incoming message for Counselor Troi-Riker from Betazed." She stood frozen, her feet glued to the spot in momentary panic. Will reached over her shoulder and pressed the "receive" button. Chandra Xerx's sad face appeared on the screen.

"Hello Will, Deanna. I know this is coming to you at what must be an ungodly hour for you, but it cannot wait," Chandra said quickly. Deanna stared tensely at Chandra, waiting for what she knew could only be bad news.

"Deanna, your mother just had another stroke an hour and a half ago. Unfortunately, it seems to be the worst one yet, but the doctors say to give her a day before they can determine the severity of the stroke," Chandra explained tensely.

"How bad is it?" Deanna whispered. At that moment, Will put a comforting hand on her shoulder.

"Right now, she isn't talking at all and she seems terribly weakened by the stroke," Chandra responded. Deanna shook her head sadly, then placed her hand over her eyes. With a deep breath, she then looked once again at the monitor screen.

"What about her mind?" Deanna asked so softly she almost couldn't be heard. Chandra shook her head, her face a mask of compassionate concern. "Right now, her mind seems vacant."

"I see," Deanna said as she slumped into the chair by the desk. She leaned forward and buried her head in her hands.

"We are at the edge of your quadrant of space, Chandra," Will interjected. "Our current mission is very routine. I'm sure Starfleet will not object to our making a discretionary stop at Betazed." Will gave Deanna's shoulders a supportive squeeze as he waited for Chandra's response.

"Thanks, Will. How soon can you get here?"

"Within a day if we travel at Warp 6," he answered, unconsciously standing up in a military posture. "We'll initiate the necessary course change in a few minutes."

"Just come as soon as you can," Chandra said in a voice now thick with sadness. "Both of you. Please?"

"We're on our way. Riker out," Will said as he switched the comm system to the ship-wide system. "Riker to Bridge."

"Bridge here," came back the disembodied voice of the First Officer.

"Set course for Betazed," Will ordered tersely.

"Consider it done," the First Officer replied. He did not ask for an explanation. He knew that a sudden detour to Betazed could mean only one thing: another crisis for the Counselor's mother.

Will came around to face Deanna. Grasping her arms gently, he pulled her up. Wordlessly, he walked her back to their bed room and helped her get back into bed. Then he got in beside her. Lying with his chest to her back, he wrapped a comforting arm around her waist.

In an instant, Will felt her shaking gently. Turning her to face him, he saw tears trickling down her cheeks. He attempted to embrace her, but she did not relax into his arms as she ordinarily would have. After so much healing, she was once again a rigid prisoner of inconsolable grief.

Will did not take offense. He knew that Deanna was sinking into a depth of sorrow he could not begin to fathom. He lay looking at her, his head propped up on his arm. He placed his other hand gently on her shoulder. As he had before, he closed off his own feelings of concern and sadness to protect her and sent, instead, the healing warmth of his love.

"It's happening all over again, isn't it?" Deanna whispered raggedly through her tears. Will rubbed his thumb comfortingly on her shoulder. "It's like some crazy roller coaster in an amusement park," she continued in a shaky voice. "I go for a wild emotional ride, then get off and things go back to normal… And then it all begins again." Will watched her intently as she sobbed silently.

"I don't know if I can deal with this again," she said as she covered her eyes with her hands and broke into more audible weeping. "Shhh…," Will softly interjected. "Let me help you….Please lean on me, Imzadi," he whispered compassionately. With that, he wiped away the paths left on her cheeks by her tears.

No more words were spoken. Will lay down, his chest pressed against Deanna's side and his hand resting gently on her chest. As he sent quiet waves of love, he could sense her gradually yield to the welcoming embrace of slumber and, for a brief moment at least, leave her grief behind.


The day it took to reach Betazed seemed to stretch on endlessly. The first thing in the morning, Will took the liberty of transferring her patients to other ship-board psychologists, just as he had done before. Deanna was clearly not in any shape to work with patients. And yet, without patients to distract her, she spent much of her time locked in an internal universe suffused with pain. She sat in their quarters, staring blankly at the wall, her mood swinging wildly from despair to tense anticipation and back again.

Will made a point of checking in on her throughout the day. When he did, he found her sitting in the same spot, her face a mask of suffering. He would attempt to soothe her with emanations of love and warmth, but as before, she would not be comforted. Indeed, she barely acknowledged his presence, let alone the feelings he was sending. A gentle hand on her cheek was the most contact she would accept from him, and even then she did not alter the direction of her mindless stare.

When Will's tour of duty on the Bridge was finally completed for the day, he returned promptly to their quarters. As he stepped into their cabin, he found her still seated on the couch. He went over and sat down. Looking into the depths of her dark, pain-filled eyes, he took her hand and asked softly, "Is there anyone aboard who can help you?" She shook her head, sighing, "No Will. There's no one."

Will moved next to her on the couch. Draping an arm loosely around her shoulders, he murmured, "My poor Deanna. You are so alone in this. Who counsels the counselor?"

His words, so gently spoken, brought new tears to her already reddened eyes. "Go ahead, sweetheart, let it out," he urged softly. But, as new sobbing wracked her body, Will felt totally unable to help her. All he could do was to move even closer to her, gently stroke her hair and hope that some small part of the soothing feelings he was sending worked their way into Deanna's tortured mind.

Later that evening, after they had both gotten ready for bed, Deanna stood at the port in their bedroom. She lost herself in watching the flickering stars speeding past. Quietly, Will joined her at the port. He watched the play of starlight on her fine features. Suddenly, she turned her dark, haunted eyes towards Will.

"This is it, Will," she sighed sadly. He continued to watch her in silence. Recognizing that Deanna was right, that this latest stroke really was Lwaxana's first step towards the grave, there was nothing he could say in response.

"I have spent a good part of this day mourning my mother…," she began in a shaky voice as her eyes threatened to overflow once again. Will opened his mouth to speak, but she put a quivering finger to his lips. "I think that some of the time, I will be continuing to do so until she dies." The simple poignancy of her words caused his heretofore contained feelings of grief to explode in his chest, shattering his heart into a million pieces. Unbidden, tears forged crooked paths down his face. A ragged sigh tore from his mouth.

All at the same time, Deanna felt the brush in her mind of Will's sadness, heard his troubled sigh and saw his tears. Through her own tears, she reached out a trembling hand to touch Will's face.

"Imzadi, you have suffered through this too," she said as love mixed with the suffering in her eyes. "We have both been wounded." Will looked at her with pain-filled eyes.

"How can you do this," he whispered raggedly. Deanna raised her eyebrows in a silent question. "How can you… you who are suffering so much… how can you reach beyond it to me?" He looked down, shaking his head uncomprehendingly.

Only then, for the first time that whole day, did she seek out comfort from him. She rested her head against his warm, well-muscled chest, heedless of the tears that still fell from her eyes. Will instinctively enveloped her in a tight embrace born of his own grief and his love for both his beloved wife and the woman who had become a mother to him.

They stood this way for untold minutes. As the stars slipped by, their shared weeping gradually eased. And then, when Deanna lifted her head up and gently wiped the wet paths from Will's face, he took her by the hand and guided her to their bed. Slipping under the covers, they lay on their backs, waiting for the sweet release of sleep. That release was very slow in coming that night.


When they awoke a few restless hours later, Will and Deanna were informed that the Titan had entered orbit around Betazed. While sipping a cup of tea, the only breakfast she had any taste for, she contacted the hospital that Lwaxana had been taken to a day and a half before. The hospital informed Deanna that her mother was still there and gave Deanna the room number. "Well, at least she's not in Intensive Care," she muttered ruefully to herself.

In short order, Deanna and Will beamed down to the front lobby of the hospital. Chandra Xerx stood there, watching their forms materialize from shimmering silhouettes to solid form. Their transport was barely completed before Chandra approached them. It was clear to both that Chandra was struggling to control her emotions. Deanna held out her arms and pulled her dear friend into a tight, tearful embrace.

"I'm so sorry Deanna," she wept. Deanna pulled her tear-stained face back and whispered raggedly, "She's not going to get better this time, is she?" Chandra's dark Betazoid eyes bored into Deanna's. "No, she isn't," Chandra responded in a sad, tight voice. Then she turned her sorrowful visage to Will and reached out to touch his arm.

"We keep meeting in sad times, Will. I'm sorry…," she said in a shaky voice. Putting his large hand over her petite hand, Will said, "Some day, it will be for happier reasons, I'm sure." He gave her hand a friendly squeeze and gazed sadly into Chandra's dark, depthless eyes so much like Deanna's.

Will wrapped his arm around Deanna's slim shoulders. Looking at her with all the calm he could muster, he murmured, "Are you ready to see her?" Through the fog of her own grief, she could sense the sadness that Will was trying to hide. She knew his apparent calm was only skin deep. "Yes, Will. Are you?" she asked softly, her voice carrying more than the mere words themselves. He took a deep breath and, rubbing his hand gently along Deanna's arm, sighed, "As ready as I'm going to be. Let's go." And with that, they silently made their way to the elevator.

Once they arrived at Lwaxana's room, they were met by her doctors. One, Dr. Badan, had been one of Lwaxana's physicians for years and so had known Deanna for a long time. The other, Dr. Lux, had been the treating neurologist for Lwaxana's prior strokes and was again brought in to assess her neurological status and prognosis.

"Deanna," Dr. Badan said warmly as she shook her hand, "How long has it been?" Managing a small grin in return, Deanna said, "Too long, I'm sure." She watched his eyes travel to Will, who stood next to her. "And you must be Captain Riker," the doctor said as he extended his hand. Will mustered as much pleasantness as he could, saying, "I must be." Shaking Will's hand vigorously, Dr. Badan said, "I've heard so much about you over the years." Will's eyebrows shot up and an amused grin spread across his face. "You have, have you?" Dr. Badan gave Will a friendly wink.

The moment of gentle levity was broken by the somber voice of Dr. Lux. Placing his hand on his colleague's arm to silence him, Dr. Lux started to speak. "Counselor, Captain," he nodded at each one. "Ambassador Troi suffered a massive stroke a day and a half ago. It resulted not only in physical impairment to the side of her body previously affected. It also caused extensive damage to the parts of her brain involved in thought formation, expressive and receptive speech and telepathic ability." Deanna put her hands to her face and fell back against the wall.

Will locked his sad blue eyes on the earnest dark ones of the neurologist. "What does this all mean, Doctor?"

"It means that she will never have the use of her cognitive or telepathic faculties again." As he saw the news of the prognosis contort Will's and Deanna's face into masks of utter shock, he gently placed one of his hands on Will's arm, and the other on Deanna's. "I'm very sorry." Deanna looked up at Dr. Lux with sorrowful eyes and nodded her head in acknowledgement. <<Thank you, Doctor,>> she sent weakly.

Dr. Badan looked at Deanna questioningly. "Would you like to see your mother?"

"Yes," she whispered. Will clutched her hand tightly. "You should know," Dr. Badan began, "that your younger brother is in there. And your mother's valet, Mr. Homn absolutely refuses to leave your mother's side." Deanna peered into her mother's room. "Thank you, Dr. Badan," she said quietly as she walked slowly into the room.

As soon as she stepped in, her brother spotted her. He jumped out of his bedside chair and ran tearfully into Deanna's arms. Wordlessly, she gathered him into a tight comforting embrace. Tears began to course down her cheeks as her brother's weeping wracked his body. "I'm glad you're here, Deanna," he said between sobs. Stroking his curly dark hair lovingly, she whispered, "So am I."

After a moment more of shared tears, Deanna pulled back. Straightening Barin up by his shoulders, she said, "Will is here, too, Barin. Would you like to see him?" Barin nodded his head solemnly, his face still wet from crying. Deanna turned slightly and called for Will.

Will walked directly to Deanna's side. Looking down at the boy affectionately, he said, "Hello, Barin." Barin tilted his head up to look at Will. Realizing he was in the presence of a starship captain, Barin instinctively raised his hand to his brow in a salute. Though Will did not try to hide the sadness in his eyes, he did offer an appreciative smile. And then he took Barin into his arms and hugged him tightly, sending him all that was in his heart: his sadness, his love for Lwaxana and Deanna, his fondness for Barin himself. Barin remained enveloped in Will's arms for a moment, reveling in the flood of affection mixed with the warmth and manly scent of Will's body.

"You know Barin, how about if we go for a short walk together?" Will suggested. He forgot that Barin could sense the intent of his words. "That's not really what you want, is it?" Will shook his head and smiled, "No, it isn't really. I would like to visit with you Barin, but I think that your sister needs a little time alone with your mother now." Barin took Will's hand and said, "I know that. Let's go find some flowers for my mother's room." Shaking his head in mild amusement at the child's plain-spoken manner so much like his mother's, Will walked out of Lwaxana's room hand in hand with Barin.

After they left, Deanna sat down in the chair that Barin had been in. She placed her hand on her mother's forehead and sent, <<Hello, Mother.>> Then she delicately probed her mother's mind. Grief contorted Deanna's face as she realized the truth of the doctor's assessment: there was no volitional thought or conscious reaction left in her mother's mind. All that was left was a thin gray mist. The stroke had taken all that made her mother who she was. A tungsten ball lodged in Deanna's chest as her eyes blurred with tears. With infinite tenderness, she stroked her mother's still handsome face. And then Deanna laid her head on the bed and she wept.

In the midst of her weeping, though she knew her mother could not sense her, Deanna sent her thoughts of how much she had always loved her. How even though she had sought a different path in life, how much she fundamentally respected her. How much she would miss her. Finally, she sent her words in Betazin of farewell.

A short time later, Will and Barin returned from their walk. A bouquet of flowers bursting with vibrant colors filled Barin's arms. As soon as Barin spotted his sister with her head on the mattress, he went over to her. Touching her arm gently, he said, "These are for Mother." Deanna lifted up her head and opened her mouth to speak. "I know she can't see them, Deanna," he said in his youthfully earnest way. "But maybe somewhere in her mind she might be a little aware. Maybe smell them at least…" A lone tear made its way down his cheek.

Deanna smiled lovingly at her soft-hearted younger brother. "Maybe, Barin." Wiping her tears away with the back of her hand, she said, "Let's get a vase for them and put them right here, next to Mother." With that, Mr. Homn stood up from where he had been silently sitting the whole time. Shaking his finger at both Barin and Deanna, he pointed to himself and took the flowers from Barin's hands and left the room. Before Barin could run after him, Deanna grabbed Barin by the arm. "Let him do this, Barin. He needs to do this," she said quietly. Barin nodded his head with understanding.

Soon Mr. Homn returned with the flowers beautifully arranged. He looked at Deanna, awaiting her further instructions. "Thank you, Mr. Homn. Let's let Barin choose where to put them." The towering manservant bent down to present the vase of flowers to Barin. Barin took them and, eyeing the bedside table critically for a moment, decided where to put them.

Will stepped close to the bed. "That is a perfect spot for them, Barin," Will smiled at the boy. Barin smiled sheepishly, secretly thrilled by Will's praise. Then Will turned to Mr. Homn. "Do you think you could bring in two more chairs, so that we can all sit and visit for a while?" Mr. Homn nodded in his inscrutable fashion and disappeared out the door.

A few minutes later, Mr. Homn silently brought in two chairs and placed them near the bed. Deanna sat again in the chair closest to her mother's head. Barin sat in the chair next to her. Will sat on the other side of the bed in the chair formerly occupied by Mr. Homn. In this way, Lwaxana's family was able to sit in close proximity and visit with her.

They sat for an indeterminate amount of time, first chatting quietly with Barin about his schooling and friends. Then the conversation moved to a series of reminiscences. In gentle tones, they recalled both happy and sad memories. Occasional laughter and sudden tears punctuated the conversation. It was a visit rich with affection and full of life.

Finally, Will stole a glance at the chronometer above Lwaxana's bed. Noticing the late hour, he caught Deanna's attention and directed his eyes wordlessly to the time piece.
Understanding his meaning immediately, she nodded. She turned to Barin and placed her hand on his shoulder.

"Well, Barin, I see the hour has grown late. We haven't eaten since this morning, and Will needs to return to the ship," she informed him gently. He stared at her with his penetrating dark eyes. Somehow, though he was not a telepath, he knew that his sister had already said her goodbyes to their mother while he and Will had been away from the room.

"Will I see you again before you leave orbit?" he asked, a hint of panic coloring his voice.

"Of course, Barin," she assured him. "In fact, perhaps you would like to visit us," she smiled at him.

"Me?" he sputtered excitedly. "Visit you? On the Titan?" Will chuckled at Barin's infectious enthusiasm. "We have to leave orbit the day after tomorrow. Deanna, do you think we could arrange a visit for him tomorrow?" Will suggested, already knowing what her answer was going to be.

"Of course we can. I'll just let the Xerxes know when they should expect to have him ready," she replied, beaming at her brother.

"Wow! I get to go on a real starship," Barin mused, awed by the prospect. Will walked over to Barin and looked down at him meaningfully. Barin did not miss the unspoken suggestion to leave and so stood up. Simply saying, "I'll be back in a minute," he walked out of the room.

Will stood with his hand entwined in Deanna's. Staring at Lwaxana's calm mien, he murmured, "I know you can't hear me, Lwaxana." Tears started to well up in his eyes.
In unconscious imitation of Barin's earlier remark, Will continued, "But maybe somewhere, some how you can sense me." Deanna watched Will's sad face intently. "I know we have had our conflicts over the years. But I want you to know that you have been the mother to me than I never had…" He broke into sobs. "I love you." He reached out and gently touched his fingers to her face. "And I will miss you."

Deanna tenderly wiped the wet tracks on Will's face. Then, leaning close to her mother's face, she whispered in Betazin, "I love you, Mother. Every day and twice on Sunday. May the gods of Betazed be beneficent to you as you end your life's journey." Then she placed a light, tender kiss, full of love and sorrow, on her mother's cheek. And then she turned slowly, reluctantly, and walked out the door with Will.


Late that night, Will awoke from a restless sleep. Stretching his arm out towards Deanna's side of the bed, he realized she was no longer there. Looking around through sleep-blurred eyes, he saw the light pouring in from the living room. Quietly, he got out of bed and padded into the living room.

He saw her immediately. She was seated on the couch with a few large books of some sort stacked around her. She was totally absorbed in perusing the contents of the book resting in her lap and did not hear him approach.

He stood quietly by the side of the couch for what seemed an eternity. Gradually, she became aware of his presence though he made no sound. Looking up from the book cradled in her lap, she asked, "How long have you been here, Will?"

Stifling a yawn and running his fingers sleepily through his spiky hair, he responded, "I really don't know. A few minutes at least, I think." He peered over the edge of the couch to try to figure out what the books were. Deanna saw him look at the books stacked by her side.

"They're holo-albums, Will," she commented in response to his unasked question.

"I see," he said as he tried to rub the sleep out of his eyes. "Can I ask…?" he began. Before he finished, Deanna interjected, "I couldn't sleep, Will. You were so dead to the world I didn't want to disturb you." It was Will's turn to interrupt. "Deanna, you should never worry about that. If you need me, I'm always here for you."

"I know you feel that way, Will. But you have a ship to run. You need your sleep," she insisted gently. Will sat down heavily on the unoccupied end of the couch. Leaning his head back along the edge of the couch, he looked over at Deanna and said, "I also have a wife who needs me right now." An appreciative smile briefly lit up Deanna's features.

"You're looking at holo-images of your mother, aren't you?" Will asked softly. Deanna looked up at Will, sadness accentuating the dark circles under her ebony eyes. "Yes," she said in a small voice. She rested her hand on a particular image on the page.

"I was trying to see her fully alive. What I saw today…" She couldn't finish. Will moved the stacked holo-albums to the floor and sat next to her. Staring into her troubled eyes, Will told her, "What you saw today was not the mother you knew." Tears slowly began to make their way down her face. "Your mother is still alive, Deanna." He reached over and put a finger over her heart. "She is living right there, Imzadi. In your heart."

As Deanna's silent tears continued to fall, Will caressed her face gently. At the same time, he fought to break through the sadness that twisted his innards into a tight mass. He wanted nothing more than to help Deanna. But at that moment, he was imprisoned in the jail of his own emotions. He let out an involuntary sigh of frustration.

Deanna turned her dark liquid eyes to Will's face. Gently wrapping her fingers around his hand on her face, she said shakily, "You don't need to ignore your feelings for my sake, Will…" The intensity of her stare burned into him. He nodded, knowing she was right.

Deanna began to run her index finger idly along the edge of one of the holo-images in the album. The movement caught Will's attention. He looked down at the image, trying to identify the individuals in it. Deanna saw him looking quizzically at the image.

"That is a holo-image of my mother and father after their wedding," she said, the sadness easing from her voice. Will's eyebrows shot up in amazement. "Those are your parents? What a stunning couple!" he gasped. He looked at the holo-image for a moment longer. "And you look so much like your father, Deanna."

"That's what people have always said, Will." A small smile crept across her features. Then she turned the page. In the image on the next page were her parents with a young girl Will had never seen before. His eyes questioned Deanna silently.

"Those are my parents with Kestra," Deanna whispered, no longer smiling. Will did not miss her change in mien. "Let's look at something else," he suggested protectively.

"It's alright, Will. Though knowing she died when I was young makes me sad, the truth is I never knew her." Deanna sighed wistfully. "I do wish she hadn't died. I never liked being an only child."

"Yeah, I know how you feel," Will interjected softly. "Maybe if I'd had a sister or brother, my childhood would have been a lot happier," Will added ruefully. Then he reached over to close the holo-album. Deanna did not resist his effort. Will directed a piercing gaze full of all that he was feeling at Deanna.

"It's late, Imzadi. Come to bed." he murmured as he began to pull her up from the couch.
"I need you with me at this moment." He pulled her tightly to his chest. Tilting his head down into her hair, he inhaled deeply of her fragrance. For a moment, its intoxicating effect afforded him a comforting respite from his pain.

Within a few minutes, they had made their way back to their bedroom. As soon as Deanna crawled into bed, Will instinctively wrapped his body around hers. Her fragrant scent and the warmth of her body soothed his troubled mind. And as the weight of his own sadness eased, he was finally able to send to her the feelings of love and protective compassion he had wanted to earlier. As he did so, he felt Deanna's body and mind slowly yield to the welcoming arms of sleep.


Deanna stood in Transporter Room 3 waiting for her half-brother to appear on the pad. As the Transporter Chief finished the sweep of the switch on the transporter control panel, Barin first appeared as a shimmering silhouette. A second later, he was fully materialized.

As soon as he spotted his sister, he sped down the steps off the transporter pad and ran directly into her arms, nearly knocking her off balance. Laughing as she righted herself, Deanna hugged him tightly and said, "Welcome aboard, Barin. It is so good to see you!"

Unformed tears shimmered in Barin's eyes. When Deanna saw them, a momentary touch of sadness washed through her. Her dark eyes locked with Barin's. No words were necessary; they knew they were sharing the same feelings.

After a brief silent moment, Deanna drew in a cleansing breath and then said, "Well, Barin, what would you like to see first?"

"The Bridge!" he squealed enthusiastically. Deanna laughed easily and said, "I might have guessed that! Let's go then." And, locking her arm around her brother's, they left the Transporter Room.

Soon, the doors to the turbolift slid open to reveal the Bridge. Deanna called over to Will who was seated in the captain's chair. Will spun around and, spotting Barin standing there gape-mouthed and wide-eyed, broke into a broad smile.

"Welcome aboard the U.S.S. Titan, Barin." Barin nodded solemnly. "Ordinarily, I don't allow children on the Bridge. But I'll be happy to make an exception for you," Will said warmly. He loved seeing the look of awe that played over Barin's features.

Barin stood still, his feet riveted to the floor. Will arose from his chair and approached Barin. Looking down pleasantly at the boy, Will said, "Don't be shy. Come on in and I'll show you around." Barin stepped out of the turbolift stiffly. Staring all around himself in wide-eyed wonder, he waited for Will to direct him.

Will placed a friendly hand on Barin's shoulder and guided him slowly around the Bridge. At each specialist's station, Will stopped and explained its functions. Barin nodded somberly, attentive to every detail. Finally, they approached the captain's chair.

"Would you like to sit here?" Will asked, his eyes sparkling with pleasure and pride. Barin looked up at Will, totally dumbstruck. "You can sit here if you like," Will said as he gestured towards the chair.

"Me? In the captain's chair?" Barin finally managed to say, pointing to himself in disbelief.

"Yeah, sure. Come on," Will encouraged enthusiastically. Barin stepped hesitantly towards the chair, then looked at Will for his approval. "Go ahead, have a seat," Will said. Barin dropped himself slowly into the chair. Then with wide eyes he surveyed the Bridge from his new vantage point.

"You know, Barin, I was just about to tell the Helm to alter our orbit around Betazed slightly. Would you like to give the command?" Will asked, warming to the task of giving Barin a memorable visit to the Bridge. Barin's jaw dropped.

"Me?" he barely squeaked.

"Sure, I'll simply state the new heading, but then you do the important part." Will winked gaily at Barin.

"What's that?" Barin stammered. Will leaned over and whispered conspiratorially in Barin's ear. "You need to tell the Helm to make it so. Otherwise, the course change doesn't get implemented. Are you ready?"
Barin grabbed the edges of the arm rests on the chair nervously. "Yes, I think so," he murmured almost inaudibly. "Then let's do it," Will said as he announced the new heading to the Helm. Then he turned quickly to see Deanna watching the whole scene with a mixture of pride and amusement on her face.

Will leaned down and put his hand on Barin's shoulder. "Okay, you need to give the order," Will urged gently. Barin looked up at Will questioningly. Will nodded back.

"Okay Helm," Barin's young voice rang out. "Make it so!" The Helm Officer acknowledged the command with an enthusiastic "aye-aye, sir!" and then offered a salute to the boy.

Deanna approached the captain's chair. With mock seriousness, she said, "Will, I see you've gone and spoiled the rest of Barin's visit aboard the Titan. Nothing I can show him now could possibly compete with commanding a starship." She winked at Will as she put a loving hand on her brother's shoulder. Barin scrambled up out of the captain's chair and looked apologetically at his sister.

"No, no, Deanna. There are lots of other things I want to see while I'm here," he said hastily. "Like your office. Like what your quarters are like. Like the Arboretum. Stuff like that." Deanna smiled sweetly at her good-hearted brother.

"Very well, then. Perhaps we should move on if we want to have enough time to see all those things," Deanna said. Draping her arm around Barin's back, she asked Will, "You know, it's nearly time for lunch. Can you join us?" Will nodded agreeably. "Sure," he said, "I'll join you shortly. In the Lounge, right?"

Deanna nodded and began to walk towards the turbolift with her brother. On the way, Barin took one more sweeping glance at the Bridge. Then, as he stepped with Deanna into the turbolift, a sudden wide smile exploded onto his face. He shook fists of victory in the air. "I can't believe I just commanded a starship!" And then, as the turbolift door was sliding shut, Will heard Barin's final word: "Yes!"


Will and Deanna sat in their quarters that night, eating their dinner. Between bites, Deanna recounted the rest of Barin's visit aboard the Titan. She described his reactions to the parts of the ship he saw. He seemed especially interested in the Arboretum; like his mother, he adored flowers and blossoming plants.

"You know, Will," she began, "when he and I were sitting in my office this afternoon, he asked me what was going to become of him." Will raised his eyebrows in curiosity.

"Become of him? What did he mean?" Will asked.

"Will, he knows that he can't live in our house by himself after Mother is gone," she said seriously. "He wanted to know where he would live after her death."

"What did you tell him?" Will inquired quietly. Deanna smiled sadly, shaking her head.

"What?" Will said.

"Will, the first thing Barin said after he asked was that he'd love to come live with us here on the Titan," Deanna answered. She looked down, her eyes troubled momentarily.

"That's really sweet, Deanna. Obviously his visit today made a big impression on him. But you didn't tell him yes, did you?" Will commented, watching Deanna's face intently.

"No, Will, I didn't say yes. As much as I have come to love him dearly, I could not take him away from the only world he knows," she sighed. She slumped down tiredly into her chair.

"So what will he do?" Will asked gently.

"I told him that he could remain with the Xerxes. I said I was certain that would be fine. And I reminded him that he was almost part of the Xerx family anyway, with all the time he has spent at their house."

"How did he seem with that?" Will wanted to know. Deanna shook her head with a hint of a grin tugging at the corners of her mouth.

"That brother of mine amazes me, Will. He said he would be sad about not living in his own home any more. But then, he started to laugh and told me he's left so many belongings over at the Xerxes' it's hard to tell which home really was his. And then he told me that he's slept in their guest room so often that everyone refers to it as his room," she said with a smile.

"It sounds like he should do fine then," Will remarked. "Have you spoken to the Xerxes about it?"

"Yes, I did. Just after Barin left the ship this afternoon. Gart said they would be proud to make a home for a son of the Fifth House."

"That's good, Deanna," he smiled. Then concern took the place of his smile. "You must be absolutely exhausted, Deanna. I know I'm short on sleep, and you slept even less last night." Deanna nodded, making no attempt to stifle her yawn.

"I am, Will. But I don't want to turn in yet. It's too early." She stared at some invisible spot on the table.

"What would you like to do, then?" Will asked. Deanna looked up silently. Then she said, "How about a walk in the Arboretum? I feel the need to be around living things right now."

"Oh, and I'm not living, is that it?" Will teased, his eyes twinkling with humor. Deanna crossed her arms over her chest and stared back in mock-severity. "Now stop that, Will Riker. You know what I meant." Will chuckled, "Of course."

He got up from the table and came to Deanna's chair. "Are you ready to go now?" he asked. "Yes, let's go," she responded. Will pulled her chair out for her, then offered his arm. Deanna stood up and buried her head against his chest. His hands instinctively went up to cradle her head. After a moment of swimming in the calming mixture of his familiar smell, body warmth and his aura of love, Deanna righted her head. Saying, "Let's go," she stepped towards the door to their quarters, Will's fingers entwined with hers.

A few minutes later they arrived at the Arboretum. They walked in to find the lighting simulating the golden glow of sunset. The air moved in imitation of a gentle breeze. A light, floral scent wafted through the space.

They picked a path that would take them to a secluded corner of the Arboretum. They walked at an easy pace, one conducive to conversation. Will spoke first.

"Will you be going down again before we leave orbit tomorrow?"

"No, Will. I won't. I've done all that I can for now," she responded quietly. Will waited quietly for her to continue.

"I said my goodbyes to my mother yesterday, Will," She murmured sadly.

"As did I," Will added, squeezing her hand for comfort. She looked up at the sadness that sat momentarily on his features, then offered her own gentle squeeze back. For a few minutes, they walked in pensive silence.

"What's going to happen to the house, Deanna?" Will suddenly asked. She paused before answering.

"The house will pass to me, Will. It will be mine and, when he's old enough, Barin's. In the mean time, I told Gart to inform Mr. Homn that he is welcome to stay on there and maintain it. I can't really imagine Mr. Homn being anywhere else at this point," she responded.

Will shook his head in mild amazement. "Who would have thought that after all these years I would end up with a home on a planet where I was once stationed? Fate is kind of funny that way, don't you think?"

"Yeah, it is," she responded thoughtfully, "but it may be more a part of your destiny than an accident of fate." Will stopped walking and put his hand on her shoulder. Turning her gently to face him, he trained his piercing blue eyes onto her face.

"Deanna, if having a house on Betazed is part of my destiny, then you must have been also," he said solemnly.

"I know that, Imzadi," she whispered. "As you are of mine." With that, Will leaned down to plant the lighest of kisses on her lips. Deanna placed her hand gently on his cheek and returned his kiss, soft lips to soft lips.

"I thank whatever gods there are that made you my destiny, Imzadi," she murmured into his mouth. With that, their mouths came together in a kiss full of love and comfort and their arms pulled their bodies tightly together.

At that moment, an off-duty officer walked down the path. The view that greeted his eyes stopped him in his tracks: his captain and the ship's counselor locked in their own world of intimacy. Without a word, the smiling officer turned around and walked back the way he had come.


The next day, the Titan left orbit around Betazed as planned. Deanna had spoken once more to her brother before leaving. She promised to stay in regular contact and then, in a big sisterly way, reminded him that she would be checking up on how he was behaving. This reminder, though expressed in stern words, was delivered in a playful tone and brought a hearty laugh out of Barin. And that is when Deanna ended the contact. Because that is the way she wanted to remember him: laughing, with his handsome eyes twinkling with amusement.

Deanna went through the motions of a normal day. As before, she spent time catching up on case histories of the few patients she had transferred out during her few days on leave. She took some time to begin reading a monograph that had been sent from one of the top psychologists at Starfleet Medical. And during all this time, she was so busy with her professional activities that she did not have the opportunity to reflect on the prior two days.

Late that night, long after they had gone to bed, Deanna awoke from a restless slumber. Before any conscious thought had the chance to coalesce in her mind, hot tears began to flood down her cheeks. A tormented cry tore from her lips. She rolled onto her side and wrapped her arms around herself in an ill-fated attempt to comfort herself.

Will was dimly aware of the sound of crying weaving into his sleeping mind. Was it part of a dream? The sound persisted and grew louder as he gradually emerged from the mists of sleep. No, it was no dream. The crying came from beside him. Finally, he was awake and he knew immediately that it was Deanna.
Will turned over towards her. In the starlit dimness of their bedroom, he saw her body shaking with weeping. He reached out to touch her.

"Deanna, what is it?" he asked quietly, his voice full of concern. Deanna turned to Will and buried her head in his chest. He wrapped comforting arms around her slim body.
Gently touching her mind with his, he knew why she was crying.

"Deanna, why now?" he murmured softly. He stroked her back lovingly as he waited for her answer. For untold minutes, she continued to sob, enveloped in Will's sheltering embrace. Finally, her crying began to ease. It was then that she lifted her head from his chest and began to speak.

"You know Will," she began in a trembling voice, "although I said goodbye…" Tears began to fall anew. Will wiped her cheeks tenderly with his thumb. She continued, "I said goodbye while we were with Mother the other day…And then…" She covered her face with her hand and drew in a sharp breath. "I was so busy with Barin yesterday, and with work today…" Will nodded.

"That it didn't really hit you until now," he said quietly. She nodded through her tears.

"It was the finality of leaving orbit, Will. This is really it…," she cried forlornly. Will's eyes began to well up as her words sunk in. "Yeah, it is," he agreed in a tight voice. He made no attempt to block his mournful feelings from Deanna. Instead, he tightened his embrace and wrapped his hands at the back of her head.

"She's not dead yet. But my mother is dead, Will," she whispered into his warm chest.
"I know it's irrational of me, but I hope that there was some part of her somewhere that heard my words to her the other day."

"As do I, Deanna," Will acknowledged sadly.

"I hope she passes peacefully, Will," Deanna said in a voice ragged with emotion.

Will's tears had already begun to roll down his cheeks and wet his beard. Now, he bent his head down onto hers and let out his own cries of loss. Through his sobs, he said, "I need you so much right now, Deanna. And I know you need me…"

Deanna pulled her head back to see the tears coursing down Will's face. With infinite tenderness, she wiped them away. "Just be with me now, Will," she whispered. Will responded in the best Betazin he could manage, "Every day and twice on Sunday, Imzadi."

A seeming eternity passed as they lay there, entwined in an embrace of born of loss and grief, their tears wetting the sheet below them. Gradually, their weeping eased. But sleep did not find them then. Instead, a mood of sweet reminiscence descended upon them. They sat up and spoke of times gone by with Lwaxana. How she had disliked Will as a cocky go-getter when she first met him. How she had hounded both of them for years about getting married. About the time when they were abducted along with Lwaxana by that Ferengi, Daimon Tog. About how tearfully joyous she had been at their wedding on Betazed. These and other memories were shared in gentle tones punctuated with occasional soft laughter.

As they spoke, grief gradually loosened its grip on their hearts. And as their sadness eased, they both felt their wire-tight muscles relax and their minds slow down. And what once had been an embrace born of grief became one conveying love and comfort. Snuggling comfortably in each other's arms, they partook of the calming mixture of their physical warmth, their mingling scents and the love that they had for each other. Only then was sleep able to find them once more. And like a mindful parent checking on a sleeping child, the stars passing by the bedroom port looked in on the finally slumbering inhabitants.


The morning of the Titan's departure from Betazed, Deanna had not only spoken to her brother, but also to Chandra Xerx. Chandra told her that the hospital would be releasing Lwaxana within a day and sending her home. When Deanna inquired as to how things would be managed at home, Chandra assured her that between the ever-vigilant Mr. Homn and a visiting day nurse, her mother would be well cared for. After expressing her thanks for everything the Xerxes had done for them, Deanna assured Chandra that she would be staying in regular contact. Chandra said that would be good and that she was looking forward to hearing from her.

As the weeks passed, Deanna was true to her word. At least once a week, if not more often, either she would contact Chandra or the reverse. The news was always the same: Lwaxana's condition remained unchanged. She had lingering paralysis on the one side of her body, and she had no apparent cognitive function. Even when she was observed to be moving her eyes, a quick mind probe revealed no corresponding mental activity. She was a living shell with an empty interior.

Sometimes after these communications with Chandra, Deanna would break down and grieve anew. She would think of her mother lying insensate in the hospital, and hot tears would spill down her face. Her renewed sense of loss would tear her heart to shreds once again.

There were other times, though, when Deanna did not react at all. In those moments, it was as if someone built a protective wall around her heart, shielding it from further pain. Deanna would simply go about her day as if she hadn't spoken to Chandra about anything of importance.

One evening, Will got off duty late. When he arrived at the door to their quarters, he knew immediately that Deanna was already there. But as soon as he sensed her presence, a frown replaced the smile he had been wearing. Waves of sadness radiated into his mind. He knew immediately that she was upset. Quickly, he keyed in their entry code and let himself in.

She was sitting at their desk, her head propped up on her arms. He went to her. Kneeling beside her, he placed a gentle hand on her arm and asked, "Deanna, what is wrong?" She raised her head heavily from her hands and stared at him with reddened eyes. Will felt a pulse of gut-twisting anxiety grip him as he waited for her answer

"Has something happened to your mother, Deanna?" he asked as he struggled to mask the rising fear within his body. He did not want his own feelings to add to whatever was burdening Deanna at that moment.

Deanna finally opened her mouth to speak. "No, Will, nothing has happened." A wave of relief washed through him and he found himself taking a calming breath. Deanna continued through her tears, "She's unchanged. She has no mind, Will, no core left, but still she goes on... Why?" Burying her wet face in her hands, she sobbed audibly.

Will stood up and pulled Deanna up into his sheltering arms. "It hasn't ended for you, has it?" he inquired softly. Deanna cried into his chest, "Each time I hear about her, hearing that she is still alive but not alive…" She couldn't finish.

"She dies again for you, doesn't she?" Will whispered into her hair. Deanna nodded sadly. Will lovingly stroked her cheekbone with his thumb.

"Come sit down, Deanna," he said as he turned her to walk towards the couch. Once there, he sat down in the corner and had her rest her head in his lap. He spoke as he gently stroked her hair.

"I don't suppose you will really be able to move on until she dies…," he murmured. "It was so hard to see her the way she was in the hospital." Now, Will seemed to be talking only to himself as his mind suddenly went back to the last time he saw Lwaxana. In an instant, he saw again her outstretched form and her vacant, staring eyes. Then the image of Barin running tearfully into his sister's arms sprang into his mind. Finally, his last words to her came back to him.

Realizing that his eyes were welling up, he paused and struggled to rein in his own sorrow. Deanna sat up suddenly as she sensed the sudden intensity of his grief. Wrapping her arms tightly around his neck, she let her tears flow freely. Between her sobs, she said, "It's okay, Will. Be sad with me." She felt his head nod against her shoulder.

They sat together, slowly emptying themselves of their sadness. And as the heaviness of their sorrow lifted, gradually they found themselves discussing happier times. Times of laughter. Times of joy. And in this way, thoughts of living returned to them some of the energy robbed by the burden of grief.

"Will," Deanna said quietly, "you are my anchor." She gave him a gentle smile. Looking back at her with love sparkling in his eyes, he said, "As you are mine, Imzadi." And then he brought his mouth to hers in a gentle brush of love and gratitude. Deanna stared into his clear blue eyes for a moment, greedily soaking up all the love he was emanating. Then she returned the kiss, this one equally as tender and expressive as his.

"Have you eaten yet, Will?" she asked as she traced the contour of his jaw line. "Yeah, I had one of the crew members bring something from the replicator. It was nothing to write home about, but it filled my stomach," he smiled. Deanna smiled back, reveling in the calming affection Will was now exuding. She groaned pleasantly as she nestled her head in his lap once again.

"What was it that your mother said to us after our wedding, Deanna?" Will asked as he began to lose himself in the relaxing warmth of her body against his. Deanna sighed happily and said, "I remember, Will. She said to never let life just happen. She said it was a precious gift that we should not squander." Then she sat up and kissed Will lightly.

"A wise woman, your mother," Will breathed back into Deanna's mouth. "Indeed," she said as she met his lips with hers. Their mouths pressed together, they gently partook of the pleasures their tongues could offer one another. Breaking the kiss, they stared into each other's eyes, crystal clear blue locking with depthless onyx. A bolt of love passed between them. It was then that they realized that rising desire was now pushing their sorrow completely aside.

"Will…," Deanna began, her breathing now heavier. Will whispered huskily, "No need to say anything." He pressed his lips against hers once again, this time seeking entry more aggressively. When she let him in, he greedily plundered her mouth. Entwining his fingers in her hair, he pushed her down gently to the cushions of the couch.

"I hope I'm never so stupid as to squander you, Imzadi," he uttered throatily. And then he began to unzip her uniform top. As he did, he danced his lips sensuously on her exposed skin. Running her fingers lightly around the edge of his ears, she moaned, "Oh gods, I hope not…"

Deanna pulled Will back up to her lips. With desire now setting her body on fire, Deanna consumed his mouth and tongue hungrily. As her tongue was busy dueling with Will's, she quickly unzipped his tunic. She forged paths of liquid heat with her fingers, engendering pleasured groans from Will. At the same time, she heard his breathing change as hers did.

"More space would be a good thing," Deanna murmured between pants. "Yeah," was all Will said as he got up off of her and pulled her to her feet. As they walked to the bedroom, with him following her, he breathed hot kisses along the ridges of her shoulders and cupped her breasts from behind. She stopped and melted backwards into his arms, lost to the pleasantly tense warmth his expert touch was bringing to her breasts.

Once in their bedroom, Will bore Deanna down to the inviting surface of their bed. "You are incredibly beautiful," he breathed into the searing kiss he initiated. Deanna met him thrust for thrust.

In short order clothes were frantically removed and thrown about haphazardly. Throbbing groin pressed to throbbing groin, their hands wildly sought the other's most sensitive spots and ministered to them. When their tongues were not busy dancing their lover's dances, they were used to wetly trigger new charges of pulsating passion in each other's bodies. Their manual and oral pleasurings were punctuated with desperate moans.

Finally, Deanna's body and mind were aflame with the tingling craving for completion. The sensation of his throbbing arousal pressing against her hot body was nearly enough to put her over the edge as she begged him, "Will… oh gods, now!" With that they came together, erotic thoughts and animal passions stoking the intensity of their joining. Swiftly, as their bodies moved in a frenzied dance of carnal hunger, they hit the blinding crest. With eyes tightly closed and bodies rigid with the effort of the ultimate joining, all their senses blurred in that moment of explosive energy.

Slowly their panting and racing pulses yielded to more regular breathing and heart rates. Will began to roll off. "Not yet, Imzadi," Deanna whispered. "You feel so good in me." Will smiled and stroked her face with gentle fingers. "You don't want to squander any of this, do you?" She shook her head and tightened her embrace momentarily. "No Will, I don't." Will sighed contentedly, "I can understand that."

After lying entwined together for a few more minutes in contented silence, Will finally moved off of Deanna. He planted a series of light kisses on her back as he began to curl his frame around her. Hearing her tired but pleasant sigh, he sent to her, <<Your mother knew what she was talking about, didn't she?>> Will sensed her smile as she sent back, <<She did at that.>> With that, he pressed his forehead gently against her neck and closed his eyes. Snuggling comfortably against Will's chest, Deanna closed her eyes also. And then quickly, a peaceful slumber pulled them deep into its comforting depths.


Many weeks passed. The Titan flew from one area of the galaxy to another, executing under Will's able command the non-stop orders that issued from Starfleet. Deanna, in turn, met life's daily challenges with her once-again habitual calm and skill. Life aboard the Titan had yet again resumed its normal contours and pace.

One late evening, long after both Will and Deanna had come off duty, they were sitting together in the living room. They had just shared a lovely dinner. Now they were relaxing and enjoying each other's company.

In the course of their easy conversation, Will told a joke which, though inane, brought a laugh from Deanna. Will was so taken at that moment with the pleasure her laughter gave him that he thought of a mischievous way to prolong it. "That was supposed to be really funny," he complained, though his eyes twinkled with merriment. "I'm sorry," she said with a straight face, "Was I suppose to laugh more?"

"That was the idea, Deanna," he said, still playing the part of a wounded ego.

"You are a very bad actor, Will Riker," Deanna giggled. "Thank goodness you never considered drama as a career."

"Hm, maybe so. But it looks like my bad acting got a laugh out of you," he winked. "But not as much of a laugh as I wanted," he said as he leaned over and shot his fingers to her sides suddenly. "Don't you dare!" she screeched as she tried to avoid his hands. But he was faster than she was, and his hands went to work tickling her. Quickly, he had her shrieking with laughter and begging for him to stop.

"How much is it worth to you to get me to stop?" he chuckled, a hint of a wholly different desire creeping into his eyes. Deanna did not miss the lascivious twinkle in his eyes. "Maybe this?" she said between laughs as she rose to meet his mouth. Her gentle contact with his lips caused him to cease his tickling and put his hands around the back of her neck. He pulled her into a firmer kiss, his lips playing on hers. Grabbing his solid arms, Deanna pulled him down on top of her and initiated a sensuous exploration of his mouth. He groaned pleasurably and gently met her soft tongue with his.

At that moment, the comm system console beeped its announcement of an incoming message. Will and Deanna shot upright out of each other's arms. Sudden fear contorted Deanna's face. Will, concern tightening his gut, walked quickly over to the comm system console and pressed the "receive" button. The monitor screen read "Incoming message from Betazed." As soon as this appeared, Will motioned to Deanna to join him.

An instant later, the sorrow-filled visage of Gart Xerx appeared. Before Gart had a chance to utter a sound, Deanna whispered flatly, "It's my mother, isn't it." Gart nodded sadly. "Deanna, your mother passed away this morning. Mr. Homn had just come in to take her out of bed. He indicated that as he was sitting her up, her heart simply stopped. I'm so very sorry." A lone tear crawled down Gart's sad face.

Deanna fell backwards into the chair, feeling suddenly faint. Covering her eyes tightly with her hand, she felt grief wrap her heart in a merciless vise. Will knelt quickly at her side and took her other hand into his. Wrapping a protective arm around her trembling shoulders, he spoke with Gart. "Was there…," Will began. "No, she went quietly and without pain," Gart said softly, struggling to contain his sorrow.

"What will happen next?" Will questioned, shoving his own grief deep into a place Deanna could not sense. He rubbed Deanna's arm with gentle comforting sweeps of his hand.

"That, I suppose, depends on you," Gart sighed. Will nodded; he understood immediately that the scheduling of the funeral would depend on how soon he could get back to Betazed with Deanna. Fortunately, their current mission had placed the Titan within a day's proximity to Betazed. And Will knew that given Lwaxana Trois's importance as a Federation Ambassador, Starfleet would not require a prior authorization for him to change course and head to Betazed.

"We can be in orbit by this time tomorrow," Will said, glancing now at Deanna. Gart nodded quietly. Deanna raised her head and trained her wet and reddened eyes on Gart.

"And Barin?" she whispered. "He will not leave your house, Deanna. He just sits in your mother's chair, locked into himself," Gart replied sadly.

"Barin…," Deanna whispered as the thought of her grief-stricken brother twisted her heart even tighter. "He needs me… I must be there…," she muttered almost inaudibly.

"We will await your arrival, Deanna. And yours as well, Will," Gart said almost mechanically. "Very well," Will said, "Riker out." Gart's sad face disappeared from the monitor screen.

"I can't believe it," Deanna cried. "She's finally gone. Oh God…" The weeping she had struggled to contain before Gart now flooded out of her. A ragged cry of pain and loss tore from the very depth of her soul. Will pulled her from the chair and onto the floor with him. He held her tightly to him. As her hot tears coursed down her cheeks and wet his shoulder, he found he could not keep his own sorrow locked away any longer. Tears flowed down his cheeks and forged wet paths in his beard.

"I wasn't there…," she sobbed. "She died alone." Will stroked her hair gently and said through his own tears, "Mr. Homn was there with her, just as he always has been, Deanna. Her beloved valet took care of her right up the very end."

"I wasn't there…," she cried into Will's shoulder. "I know," Will whispered in a tight voice," I know." Now he began to rock with her, trying to calm not only her but himself as well. As he did, Deanna grabbed onto his tunic sleeves tightly as if holding on for dear life. Her face was twisted in gut-wrenching sorrow. Will's face was contorted by his sadness and his concern for her.

"I hope that somewhere, in some part of her being, she heard my goodbye, Will," Deanna wept. Will nodded against her shoulder. "I do too, Deanna." He hugged her yet again, still rocking slowly with her.

They sat together on the floor for an eternity of minutes, sharing their grief. Hot tears soaked each other's shoulders. Ragged cries and sorrowful moans filled the room. Sadness and loss coursed through the bond that they shared. They rocked together in a rhythm of comfort, each back-and-forth sweep conveying not just their feelings of loss but also their compassionate love for one another.

Slowly, their weeping eased. Will pulled back and stared at Deanna's tear-soaked face. Wordlessly, he wiped her tears away with the pad of his thumb. Then rubbing his cheeks with the back of his sleeve, he stood up. Gently, he pulled Deanna up and walked her to the couch. He did not sit with her.

"Captain Picard should be notified," Will said in a weak voice. Deanna nodded numbly, training her tear-blurred eyes on some invisible spot on the wall. Will sat down before the comm system console. Taking a deep, steadying breath, he initiated a subspace communication with the Enterprise.

Within a few short minutes, the sleepy face of Jean-Luc Picard appeared on Will's monitor. "I'm sorry to disturb you at this late hour, sir," Will began. Jean-Luc struggled valiantly to stifle a yawn, then said, "I'm sure there is a good reason for you to do so, Will."

"I have some bad news to tell you," Will said in as even a voice as he could manage. Jean-Luc stared for a moment before responding. He had missed neither Will's shaky voice nor his still-reddened eyes.

"What happened, Will?" Jean-Luc asked with genuine concern. Will raked his fingers nervously through his hair. Jean-Luc watched his former first officer intently.

"We've just received word that Lwaxana Troi passed away, sir," Will said. Jean-Luc's eyes widened in shock. "My god, what happened?" he asked. Will then related all that had passed over the last six months.

"I had no idea…," Jean-Luc mused sadly. "How is Deanna doing?" he asked gently.

"About as one might expect," Will sighed sadly.

"I don't suppose this is easy for you either, Will," Jean-Luc said. Will shook his head and fought to contain the new surge of sadness that threatened to pour out of him. "No sir, it's not."

"When is the funeral?" Jean-Luc inquired.

"I'm not sure," Will said tightly, still struggling with his feelings. "I imagine within the next several days." He stared intently at his former captain. "I'm sure that she would want you there, sir."

"I will be there, Will," Jean-Luc said. Suddenly, a small smile lit up his chiseled features. Memories of his encounters with Lwaxana Troi flashed through his mind. Her melodramatic outrageousness. Her efforts to woo him years ago. How she never managed to avoid embarrassing him by making public what he had been thinking. No, he thought, she was truly one of a kind. And he would miss her.

"How soon can you get to Betazed, sir?" Will asked.

"I should think within a day. I'll initiate the course change as soon as I've finished speaking with you," Jean-Luc replied. Will nodded sadly.

"Well, I had better be going then. The hour is late, and I need to get the Enterprise on course for Betazed," Jean-Luc said.

"Very well, sir. We will see you soon. Riker out."

Will stood up and went over to the couch to sit with Deanna. Dropping himself heavily onto the couch, he let out a sad sigh. Deanna turned her grief-filled eyes to Will's sad face and reached up to touch him gently on his cheek. Instantly, he wrapped his hand tightly around her fingers in a gesture of pained desperation and pulled her tightly to him. Deanna leaned her head into the crook of his shoulder and draped her arm across his chest, seeking comfort in the warmth and contours of his body. Will wrapped his arms around her, hoping for the same from her closeness.

They sat that way, entwined in an embrace born of loss. For untold minutes, they did not move. And when sleepiness finally began to mask their sorrow, they made no effort to arise from the couch. Instead, slumber drew the sad couple into its embrace where they sat.


Within 24 hours, the Titan was in orbit around Betazed. And while on ship's time it was late at night, down on the surface it was early in the Betazed afternoon. Despite the fact that adjusting to Betazed time would cost them their usual night's sleep, Will and Deanna beamed down to the planet's surface shortly after the Titan achieved orbit.

Gart Xerx stood on the steps of the Troi mansion, watching them materialize a mere meter away from him. His arm was wrapped around the distraught form of Barin Troi.
As soon as Deanna's body appeared, Barin raced to her. Instantly, Deanna had her younger brother in a tight embrace. His hot tears stained the front of her uniform as waves of pain and loss flowed between them.

Looking momentarily at Barin and Deanna with a brief sad smile, Gart approached Will with his hand outstretched. Will took Gart's hand between his and waited for him to speak.

"Thanks for coming so soon," Gart said in a tired voice. Will nodded, his concern-filled blue eyes locked on Gart's sad visage. "There is really very little that needs to be done…," Gart continued.

"For the funeral," Will softly added. Gart nodded sadly. "Yes, for the funeral. Lwaxana chose a coffin years ago, and it is waiting for her in the family crypt."
"She chose it years ago?" Will asked, his voice full of surprise.

"Yes, Will. She thought that she would just pick it and be done with it. She didn't want to have such a choice occupy any more of her time than necessary." Will nodded in silent admiration of his late mother-in-law.

"She was a very wise woman," Will murmured. A small grin briefly lit up Gart's features.

"That she was…," Gart began thoughtfully. "However she may have seemed…," Gart related while staring pointedly at Will, "she was in her heart an amazingly wise and compassionate woman." Will nodded, sensing in Gart's words a gentle rebuke.

As soon as Gart uttered those words, he caught himself. "I'm sorry Will. I spoke too strongly…" Gart apologized. Will looked at Gart warmly and, giving his hand a friendly squeeze, said, "It's alright."

Gart shook his head in embarrassment. "I know you and she had difficulties… You didn't know her as I did," he stammered.

"No, I didn't," Will said wistfully, "but I did come to love her." Gart looked at Will with eyes full of thankfulness. Once again, Will expressed his forgiveness through a gentle squeeze of Gart's hand.

"What's going to happen?" Will asked as he turned to watch Deanna and her brother. They were still enmeshed in a tearful embrace. Will felt his insides summersault with a sudden wave of sadness.

"The funeral can take place late this afternoon," Gart responded. Will's eyebrows went up in question. "How can that be…?" he began. Gart smiled and said, "You forget that with everyone thought-casting here on Betazed, all those who would want to attend will know within an hour at most."

"But aren't there arrangements to be made?" Will asked. Gart shook his head.

"No, not really, Will. Funerals are a simple affair here on Betazed. Just as we come simply into this world, so we leave it the same way. We will all gather in Lwaxana's gardens near the family crypt. Since I know you will be there, I'll say a few words out loud. Otherwise, it is simply conducted as an opportunity to share thoughts about the decedent rather than spoken words. Once people have had that chance, we will bring Lwaxana to the family crypt to join those who have passed before her. And then those who wish can come view her and express whatever final thoughts they might have."

"I see," Will mused. "I'm glad you'll be speaking out loud, Gart. I'm not the only non-Betazoid who will be there today."

"Oh really?" Gart asked in mild surprise.
"Yes, I contacted Captain Jean-Luc Picard, of the U.S.S. Enterprise. As you may know, he knew her for many years," Will explained.

"Ah yes, of course. Lwaxana spoke so highly of him," Gart said. With that, he turned to Deanna and her brother. Gently placing his hand on her slim shoulder, he sent to her, <<The funeral will be this afternoon at 4. Will you be alright until then?>>

Deanna looked up from her brother. "Yes, I think so. Thank you…" She could not finish. A fresh wave of weeping shook her body once again. <<Rabeem,>> Gart sent back with a face full of compassion. With that, he turned and walked down the pathway towards the street.

Will stepped to Deanna's side. Placing one hand on Deanna's back and the other on Barin's shoulder, he murmured, "Why don't we go inside." Barin turned his sodden eyes to meet Will's concerned gaze. "I'm glad you're here too," Barin whispered raggedly. Will ran his hand affectionately through the boy's thick dark curls. Then Will gently pressed the two of them towards the front steps.

Once inside, they were met by the ever-present Mr. Homn. Mutely questioning with up- stretched hands, he sought out whether they desired anything. A sudden wave of mind-deadening fatigue washed through Deanna and reminded her that her body was used to being asleep at this time. "Some tea would be lovely, Mr. Homn." She looked questioningly at Will and then her brother. "I wouldn't mind something to eat. What about you, Barin?" He just shrugged his shoulders and looked down sadly.

Mr. Homn gestured grandly towards the living room, indicating that they should make themselves comfortable until he brought their food. Deanna acknowledged his invitation with a nod. They turned to walk into the room.

As Deanna entered, she half-expected to find her mother sitting in her usual high-backed chair. When Deanna found it empty, the fact of her mother's death came crashing down upon her once again. She wavered, suddenly faint. Will instinctively reached out to catch her and so she fell into his strong arms instead of onto the floor.

He helped Deanna walk over to the couch. Ever so gently, as if handling something especially fragile, he helped her sit down on the couch. And then he gathered her into his sheltering arms. Deanna turned to bury herself in the comforting warmth of his chest.

Will looked up to see Barin standing before him, the boy's features wearing a mixture of shock and sadness. Will loosened one of his arms and motioned Barin to come sit beside him. Hesitantly, Barin came and seated himself next to Will's imposing form. He looked up, his depthless dark eyes full of unspoken questioning. Will nodded slightly at Barin and wrapped his solid arm tightly around the boy's thin torso. And in this way, enmeshed in a familial embrace of loss but also of comfort, they sat and awaited Mr. Homn's return.

A short time later, Mr. Homn returned with a tray laden with tea, lemonade and finger sandwiches. He put the tray down on the coffee table before the couch. Then, without waiting for so much as a single word, Mr. Homn turned and walked out of the room. It was not his way to wait for words of thanks. Nor did he want anyone to see his profound grief.

The three of them spent the rest of the afternoon sipping their beverages, nibbling disinterestedly on the sandwiches and sharing their thoughts and tears. Their quiet conversation moved from their feelings of loss to gentle remembrances of happier times. Their softly uttered do-you-remembers came to dominate their gentle discourse.

They became so engrossed in their reminiscences that they were unaware of the passage of time. Their quiet reverie was broken by the sound of footfalls on the front steps. As they looked up, Jean-Luc Picard appeared in the entrance way to the living room. Will and Deanna stood up immediately to greet him. Barin stared dully at the captain, not really caring at that moment who the visitor was.

Jean-Luc walked straight to Deanna. Though normally a physically undemonstrative man, he wrapped her in a tight embrace. In a soft voice, he said, "I'm so sorry, Deanna." Unbidden tears once again welled up in Deanna's eyes as she whispered, "Thank you for coming."

Jean-Luc gave her a final hug, then pulled away. He turned to Will and offered his hand. "Will, it's good to see you again. I only wish it could have been under happier circumstances," he said. Taking Jean-Luc's hand into a firm handshake, Will said sadly, "As do I, sir." Jean-Luc shook his head, a wry smile spreading across his face.

"You forget, Will. You needn't call me 'sir' anymore. We are now the same rank." Jean-Luc's hazel eyes, twinkling with warmth, stared into Will's solemn blue eyes. "It's a hard habit to break…Jean-Luc," Will replied somewhat uncertainly.

Jean-Luc's eyes traveled over Barin, who was still sitting forlornly on the couch. Deanna saw her former captain look to the boy. She leaned over and patted his shoulder. Staring encouragingly at her brother, Deanna said, "Barin, come meet someone special. He knew Mother and has come a long way to be here today."

Barin stood up slowly. Staring sadly at Jean-Luc, he waited for his sister to introduce him.

"Barin, this is Captain Jean-Luc Picard, of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Will and I used to serve under him when we were stationed on the Enterprise." At the mention of the word "captain," Barin's eyes went wide. "You mean you're a captain like Will? Of a starship?"

Barin's youthful naiveté brought a broad smile to Jean-Luc's chiseled features. "Yes, I am a starship captain like Will," he chuckled. Barin continued to stare at Jean-Luc, utterly awe-struck.

"You do have a name now, don't you?" Jean-Luc prompted the boy gently. Barin nodded solemnly. "Yes, my name is Barin," he said as he held out his hand. "Barin Troi, son of the Fifth House of Betazed." He puffed his chest out unconsciously as he mentioned his status in the Betazed social hierarchy.

Jean-Luc shook Barin's hand vigorously. "It's nice to meet you, Barin Troi, son of the Fifth House." A spark of gentle amusement danced in Jean-Luc's eyes as he smiled at Barin.

At that moment, another set of footsteps was heard in the hallway. Then, Chandra Xerx appeared in the entrance to the living room. As soon as she saw Deanna, she went swiftly to her and swallowed Deanna in an embrace of love and loss. Deanna held on tightly to her beloved friend as if to absorb her into her own being. No words were necessary at that moment. Their raw grief flooded each other's minds.

For a minute without end, they stood enmeshed in their sorrowful embrace. Then Chandra lifted her head away and said unevenly, "It's time, Deanna." Deanna nodded sadly, tears now trickling down her cheeks. Keeping one arm draped across Chandra's back, Deanna offered her hand to her brother. Barin grabbed onto his sister's hand with a desperate forcefulness that caused Deanna to wince momentarily, but she said nothing. Nodding at Chandra, the three of them walked out into the hallway together to face the final farewell to the woman who had been ripped from their lives forever.


Deanna sat in her chair by her mother's glassine-surfaced casket. "Could it have only been a few hours ago that we were sitting in the living room talking?" she mused. Will, who had been lost in his own thoughts of the funeral and Lwaxana, looked up attentively. "It seems like another time, another universe," she whispered dully.

She thought again of the funeral that had taken place nearly three hours ago…

Quietly, unannounced, guests arrived and assembled wordlessly in the Troi mansion garden that Lwaxana had so loved. Lwaxana's coffin, glistening in the golden late afternoon sunlight, rested on a three foot high platform that was covered in a sparkling, multi-hued fabric.

Gart Xerx stood motionless by the casket. He had burrowed deeply into himself to find the strength and calm to perform this final act for his beloved friend. Gradually, he felt the painful tumult that was in Deanna's and Barin's minds grow stronger, and so Gart knew they were drawing near. He looked up to see them a few meters away, joined by his daughter Chandra, as well as Will Riker and Jean-Luc Picard.

As soon as Deanna and Barin had taken their places facing the platform, Gart gently sent to her, <<Should we begin?>> Deanna nodded sadly, and hugged her brother close to her. Chandra turned to motion Will to stand by Deanna. With a nearly imperceptible nod, Will stepped to Deanna's side and draped a comforting arm around her shoulders which were now bent by grief.

Chandra then turned to face Jean-Luc. Whispering softly in his ear, she directed him to stand next to Will. Jean-Luc solemnly took his place next to his sad-faced former first officer.

Gart looked out across the gathered crowd. Members of the various Houses of Betazed were assembled before him. In addition, numerous former colleagues from the Embassy where she had worked as an ambassador were present. And then there were a few of her very closest friends, like his family, who also were in attendance. Yes, he thought to himself, she would be both pleased and moved to know how many lives she had touched.

Gart cleared his throat to attract everyone's attention. Once he sensed that the guests' minds were focused on him, he began to speak. The sound of his voice brought more than a few wide-eyed stares.

"I see that some of you are surprised to hear the sound of my voice at this time," he commented in a tight voice. "We have been honored with the presence of several Terrans who do not have our gift of telepathy. I wanted them to be able to share as much as possible in this time of farewell," he added. Heads nodded to the sound of whispered I-see's.

"We have gathered here today to bid farewell to a woman known to many. We do so in a place she loved," he said quietly, sweeping his arm across the vista of the brightly-flowered garden, "a place full of life and vibrant colors.

"We all knew her as a brilliant diplomat and a fervently dedicated member of the Fifth House. But some of us had the chance to know her even better than that." A lone tear rolled down Gart's cheek. He continued in a quavering voice. "A more loyal friend one could never find. A brilliant raconteur. A woman ever thirsty for more knowledge. A gifted telepath. A devoted mother." With this, he paused and tipped his head towards Deanna and Barin. A poorly stifled cry escaped from Deanna's mouth as Will stroked her back gently. Barin looked down, his tears soaking the front of his shirt.

Gart felt a lump of sorrow rising in his throat. He made no effort to hide his feelings as he continued. "Yes, she was a most formidable woman." He took a deep breath, trying to steady himself. "We will miss her. And we will remember her. I think what will stay the longest in my heart is the sheer gusto with which she embraced every day of her life. She knew her life was a precious gift that should not be squandered." Deanna and Will jerked their heads up at the same time; they both remembered talking recently about those very same words that Lwaxana had shared with them after their wedding on Betazed. With sad but knowing glances at each other, they then turned their eyes back to Gart.

"Living life to the fullest was not only an idea in her mind but the very force that drove her inner being. I think that is what Lwaxana Troi, daughter of the Fifth House, Holder of the Sacred Chalice of Riix and Heir to the Rings of Betazed would have wanted us to remember most about her.

"The time has come to take our leave of our beloved Lwaxana Troi. Let us share our memories briefly, and then once she is in her place of final repose, express our farewells." Gart looked to his feet, his thoughts turned sadly inward.

For a few minutes only the sound of the crickets could be heard. The late afternoon sun dusted everything with a golden hue and caused the casket to sparkle prismatically. A light breeze softly touched everything in its path and blew a passing farewell against Lwaxana's coffin.

In this gently bucolic setting, memories flitted from one Betazoid mind to the next. Animated faces and active hands corresponded to the inner dialogs being shared. Tears and sad smiles graced many a face.

Deanna and Barin listened tearfully to the many wonderful mental reminiscences, but contributed none of their own. They were too lost in their own universe of gut-twisting grief. It took all their energy just to remain standing.

Finally, Gart looked up. Motioning to his right, six Betazoid men appeared. They were employees from the Embassy who had known Lwaxana in her capacity as ambassador. They stepped quietly towards the casket, three on one side and three on the other. With deft pulls, they removed the fabric that had hidden the handles on the sides of the coffin. Then, in wordless unison, they lifted the vessel and its precious cargo carefully.

As the pall-bearers began their slow march to the family crypt, Deanna reached out a shaking hand to touch her mother's casket. She brought her hand to her lips and kissed her fingers; it was the closest she could come to kissing her mother goodbye. Will watched Deanna, sadness filling his blue eyes with tears, and took her hand in his and brought her fingers to his mouth. It, too, was his farewell kiss. Piercing, aching grief shot through their bond and united them in sorrow.

Barin suddenly ripped himself from his sister's gentle grasp and threw himself towards the casket. A tortured "Mother" tore out of his mouth. The pall-bearers paused briefly to allow Barin to lean against the casket with his arms spread across it in a desperate embrace. Instantly, the cool, smooth surface of the coffin brought the cruel finality of his mother's death home to Barin. Weeping loudly, his body shaken with sobs, he fell to his knees and then melted into a crying heap on the grass.

Deanna shot out of Will's embrace and knelt quickly by her brother. Placing her slim hands on his shoulders, she pulled him into her arms. Sitting there with him, heedless now of all the people walking by on their way to the crypt, she rocked with him back and forth, back and forth in a rhythm dictated by their pain. Will quickly stepped to their side, standing by them to motion on those who were walking to the crypt.

"She's gone, Deanna," Barin cried. Her face contorted by sorrow and her face wet with her tears, she sighed brokenly, "I know, I know."

Deanna once again broke her reverie in the family mausoleum as she heard Will shift his position on the floor next to her chair. She looked blankly at him. Will glanced briefly over his shoulder. Then he began to stand up. Staring at Deanna with loving but sad eyes, Will said, "It's getting late, Deanna. The sun is setting." He gestured towards the doorway, where they could both see the rich oranges, purples and blues of the Betazed sunset.

"We should go back now," Will suggested gently. He offered a hand to Deanna, who took it weakly. Will immediately placed his other hand under her arm to support her as she arose. Once she was on her feet, she put her hand gently on the glassine surface of her mother's coffin. She could not bring herself to bid farewell. Instead, she murmured sadly, "I love you, Mother."

Slowly, she turned to leave the crypt, her hand tightly wound around Will's. They stepped out into the fading light of day. They walked in heavy silence along the path to the house. The only sound was the crunch of the gravel under their feet.

When they were halfway between the house and the crypt, Deanna began to speak softly. "I think I will miss her the most here," she murmured as she pointed to her forehead. "For so long, I was used to having her voice in my head whether I liked it or not." Will nodded, watching her intently. "Now, there is nothing. And there never will be again."

She made no attempt to wipe away the tears now cascading down her face. Will gave her hand a loving squeeze but said nothing. He was as much soaking in her waves of sadness as he was drowning in his own morass of grief. A ponderous silence resumed its reign.

When they finally arrived back at the house, they were met by Chandra. Deanna immediately remembered that Chandra had offered to take Barin back to the house when he refused to enter the crypt. Before Deanna even opened her mouth, Chandra said softly, "He is in your mother's bed, asleep. We'll take him back to our house in the next day or two." Then Chandra noticed the dark circles under Deanna's eyes and said, "You need your sleep too, my friend."

With the mention of sleep, a huge yawn escaped from Will's mouth. "I'm sorry," he said, a flush of embarrassment coloring his face. Chandra placed a comforting hand on his arm.

"My goodness, Will, no apologies are necessary. This is the early morning to you and you and Deanna have had no sleep at all. Go up stairs and sleep. We'll talk in the morning." Neither Will nor Deanna needed much encouragement at that point. With grateful smiles, they thanked Chandra. Then they headed for the stairs.

After a slow, tired climb they finally reached the top of the stairs. Once there, they headed for Lwaxana's room. In the dim light cast by a lamp near the door, they espied Barin. He was twisted in the bed sheets, his head comfortably buried between several over-stuffed pillows. To her great relief, she sensed nothing but calm emanating from her sleeping brother. With a loving smile, she turned back to the hall way with Will and went to her old room.

They walked quietly into the room. As Will flipped the light switch, Deanna wrapped her arms around his solid torso and buried her head against his warm chest. Holding him tightly, she breathed in his familiar, calming scent. Will placed his hands behind her neck and rested his head on top of hers.

"Thank you Will," she murmured, new tears welling up in her eyes.

"For what?" he responded quietly. He was now stroking her back soothingly.

"I could not have gotten through this day without you."

"Nor I without you, Imzadi," he whispered into her hair.

They then went about getting ready for bed. Not having brought night clothes with them, they both stripped down completely. Will helped Deanna get into bed. Then he slid under the covers next to her. Encircling her body from behind, he enveloped her in his strong arms. Then he felt her body shaking.

"Shh, Imzadi," he cooed comfortingly. "Feel it as you need to." His voice suddenly caught in his throat. He added thickly, "But it will get better." She turned in his arms to face him. Her dark reddened eyes boring into him, she said tearfully, "As long as you are with me." Will tenderly wiped the wet paths from her face. "I hope to be with you for a long, long time, Imzadi."


Three weeks had passed since Lwaxana's funeral. Will and Deanna had returned to the Titan the day after the funeral. Before leaving, she had made sure that Barin was settled in with the Xerxes. As she hugged her brother goodbye, he clung to her tightly. Through sad tears, she assured him that she would be in regular contact and would visit whenever possible. And then she sent to him, <<Never forget how much I love you. And if you need me, I'll be there as soon as I can.>>

For ten days after her return from Betazed, she remained on leave. She knew she did not yet have the emotional strength or objectivity to manage the problems of others. Instead, as she felt she could, she busied herself with reading the psychology monographs that had piled up unread for weeks on end. In that way, she could still keep her hand in the professional world while taking the time she needed to begin to heal.

As she had promised, she stayed in frequent contact with her brother. Her first several communications with him were full of sadness and tears. Painful but rich with sweet reminiscences, these contacts further cemented the bond that had begun to solidify months ago.

As time went on, their contacts became less grief-laden. Gradually, laughter and happy smiles began to supplant their tears and sobs. Deanna found happier things to relate to her brother: happenings in her daily life, ship-board occurrences she knew would be of interest to her brother. In turn, Barin was growing increasingly comfortable living in the Xerx home. And the Xerxes were delighted to have a young child living in their home once again. Barin's smooth adjustment to his new living situation helped him begin to move beyond his grief and so sparks of happiness began to return to his daily life and, in turn, his contacts with his sister.

Deanna found that much of the time, she was fine. After her leave of absence ended, she slowly began to resume her counseling work. Keeping busy with her patients helped keep her focused on life. And so long as her attention was directed outward, she was much the same as she had been six months before: compassionate, warm and vivacious. In fact, a number of crew members were surprised how quickly she seemed to bounce back.

Will, however, knew better. He knew that Deanna still struggled with periodic floods of crippling grief. There was not a day that went by when, at some random moment, while on the Bridge, he wouldn't suddenly feel his insides twisted in a spasm of wrenching sorrow. And, knowing that Deanna was at that moment prey to overwhelming feelings of loss, he would quietly center himself and try to send to her waves of love and calm.

The one thing that seemed not to be changing for Deanna was her ever-present burden of fatigue. The first week after her mother's funeral had been filled with nights of restless semi-sleep. Many a time, she had awoken to find her pillow wet with her tears and a strangled cry forcing itself from her mouth. Though his sleep was sounder than hers, her waking would rouse him immediately. He would gently wipe her tears away and draw her into his comforting embrace. And they would both find their way back to the quiet world of slumber.

Still, after that first week of semi-sleeplessness, she had been sleeping more normally. And yet, she felt no more rested. Could it be suppressed feelings that were causing her fatigue, she wondered. After a moment's self-examination, she shook her head. No, she knew what all of her feelings were; there were no secret emotions hijacking her from some hidden place in her heart.

Despite her continuing numbing fatigue, she pushed herself to maintain her schedule with her patients. She had just seen her one patient for that day. The session went well, but Deanna found she had to keep apologizing for her frequent yawns and inattention. The patient was very understanding and gracious about her lapses. Still, Deana realized that she couldn't carry out her duties the way she was feeling.

Once the patient left her office, Deanna thought once again about the possible causes for her current exhaustion. "Hmm," she thought to herself in a professionally objective manner, "Sleep's not too bad now. I'm eating okay. No emotional surprises there… This just doesn't make sense." Shaking her head and staring blankly at the padd in her lap, she suddenly drew in a sharp intake of breath and her dark eyes went wide. "Could it be?" she whispered to herself. Standing up from her couch and taking a deep, calming breath, she said to herself, "There's only one way to find out."

A short trip on the turbolift and through a few corridors found her entering Sick Bay. The doctor looked up, concern on her face.

"Counselor Troi-Riker! What's wrong?"

"I'm a bit concerned. I've been suffering from non-stop fatigue ever since I returned from Betazed," Deanna explained. The doctor got up from her seat and gestured Deanna towards one of the biobeds.

"First, an obvious question, Counselor." Deanna watched the doctor's face intently. "How are you sleeping?"

"The first week was, quite frankly, terrible," Deanna said quietly. "But since then, I've been sleeping much better. And it doesn't seem to be making any difference." The doctor nodded.

"Could it be anything emotional, Counselor? Clearly, certain emotional states can generate tremendous fatigue," the doctor then asked. Deanna shook her head. "No, I don't think so. I'm pretty aware of what is happening in my psyche, and I also know that nothing I'm feeling has been enough to disrupt my sleep very much in the last two weeks."

"And you certainly would know now, wouldn't you. You're the one trained to deal with emotions," the doctor smiled. Deanna smiled back, nodding her head.

"Okay, then. Let's check you out quickly," the doctor said as she turned her tricorder on. She made several up-down sweeps with the instrument. As she watched the readout, first her eyebrows rose and then she smiled broadly.

"Counselor, there's a very good reason for your fatigue," the doctor related. Deanna looked at her with questioning dark eyes. "Is it what I think it may be?" Deanna asked softly.

"It is if you thought you might be pregnant," the doctor beamed. Deanna's features reflected her mixed feelings of surprise and happiness.

"Congratulations, Counselor. You're seven weeks pregnant." The doctor reached out to shake Deanna's hand.

"But my inhibitor…" Deanna began to ask.

"Birth control has come a long way, Counselor. But there are still certain factors that can occasionally render it ineffective. One is excessive stress and emotional difficulty, especially among Betazoids." Deanna opened her mouth to protest. "Even though you are half human, Counselor, you are also half Betazoid. And it's obvious that your Betazoid emotions were powerful enough to overwhelm the efficacy of the inhibitor."

Deanna nodded, suddenly overwhelmed by the realization that a life was growing within her. A baby. Their baby. She knew immediately she needed to tell Will. A powerful surge of excitement pulsed through her as she contemplated how she would tell him. Then she broke her brief reverie and realized the doctor was talking to her.

"Now, of course, I'll want you to start taking prenatal supplements as soon as possible. And I'll want you coming in for regular check ups as well." The doctor smiled warmly at Deanna.

"Thank you. Can I go now?" Deanna asked. The doctor smiled, "Sure. Just don't forget to come by later to get your supplements." Deanna smiled back as she slid off the biobed.

A short time later, Deanna was smiling to herself as she stood in the turbolift. She was scheduled to be on the Bridge as Will's adviser for the rest of the day, since she had no other patients to see. A mischievous twinkle danced in her dark eyes as she contemplated how she would have Will find out the news.

As soon as the turbolift stopped, the doors opened to reveal the Bridge. Deanna stepped out of the turbolift and went straight to her customary seat next to Will. As she sat down next to him, she clamped her mental barriers in place and, at the same time, offered Will a warm smile. Pleased to find his wife in such a happy mood, Will returned the smile.

"Welcome, Counselor," he said in a friendly voice. She acknowledged his greeting with a nod of her head. Then, she asked Will the status of the day's mission. Will explained in some detail the routine nature of the current mission. She nodded absently, staring at the view screen. For a moment, she found herself lost in the mesmerizing movement of the stars as the Titan pushed its way through space. Then, with a nearly imperceptible intake of breath, she brought herself back to the moment.

For a few minutes, she sat quietly at Will's side as the ship's business was transacted around her. Then, she placed her hand casually over her lower abdomen. For no reason he could discern, Will felt compelled to notice where she had placed her hand. Briefly raising his eyebrows in question, he then turned back to the task at hand.

Deanna let a few minutes pass before she caught his attention again. This time, while still resting her hand on her stomach, she thought-cast an image of the two of them passionately entwined with each other. She made sure she also sent a wordless insistence that he notice the location of her hand. Will looked again at Deanna, this time with a bit of annoyed exasperation. He thought she was trying to mentally stimulate him. And though he was pleased with what he thought her efforts to be, he didn't want to be embarrassed when his body betrayed him before the Bridge crew. Deanna merely smiled and shook her head. Will was totally perplexed. He expected a more mischievous response from Deanna.

She waited several more minutes. Having seen that her image of their intimate encounter did not trigger the right association, she thought for a moment about a different way to convey her news to Will. Then, grinning to herself, she sent a new image to Will. This time, she thought-cast not only a wordless prompt to look once again at her stomach, but also an image of a baby.

Will did not miss the intent of Deanna's latest mental communication. As soon as her emanations entered his mind, he understood immediately what she had been trying to tell him. He whirled around in his chair to face her, his eyes wide with excitement. "Are you…," he began breathlessly. Smiling broadly, her eyes twinkling with joy, she murmured, "Yes, Will, I'm pregnant." A proud and loving smile spread across his face as he shot up out of his chair. He pulled Deanna out of her seat and lifted her high into the air. The Bridge crew stared at their captain's sudden happy outburst.

"We are going to have a baby!" Will exulted as he hugged Deanna tightly to his chest. Then, without thinking of where he was, he bent down to place a sensuous and loving kiss on Deanna's soft lips. A sudden round of applause broke out among the officers on the Bridge. Shouts of "congratulations" ricocheted around the room.

Will pulled back from Deanna. With a gentle smile on his face, he said, "You know Deanna, you don't need to stay on the Bridge. This is a very routine mission and I really don't think I'll need any advice." Deanna smiled back, her love for Will filling her eyes. "That's okay, Will," she said softly, "There's no place I'd rather be right now than right here at the side of our child's father." Will gave Deanna a light kiss on her cheek and then murmured, "Very well."

They spent the rest of their scheduled shift for that day on the Bridge. Having had years of practice in the art of keeping their personal feelings out of their professional lives, Will and Deanna found it easy to slip once again into that mode and conduct themselves as befitted a ship's captain and ship's counselor. And busying themselves with their respective duties helped pass the time until they could return to their quarters and properly celebrate their news. And yet, occasionally Will would find himself sneaking a glance at Deanna's stomach and smile exultantly to himself. At other moments, Deanna caught herself gazing at Will's commanding stature and thinking about what kind of father he would be.

Finally, their shifts came to an end. After making sure his first officer was ready to take up command, Will turned to Deanna and linked his arm around hers. Arm in arm, they walked off the Bridge and onto the turbolift.

A short span of time found them at the door to their quarters. Will punched in their entry code. Once the door slid open, he and Deanna walked in. As soon as the door whooshed shut, Will wrapped his arms around Deanna's slim frame and, as he did earlier on the Bridge, lifted her high into the air. A broad, loving smile danced on his handsome face.

"I can't believe this, Deanna. This is incredible news!" he exulted. Then he dropped her to her feet and brought his mouth to hers for a long, tender kiss. As he pulled back, he saw the smile on her face fade. Looking with concern into her depthless onyx eyes, he murmured, "What is it, Imzadi?"

Deanna walked slowly to the couch and sat down. As she drew in a suddenly ragged breath, her eyes welled up with tears. "She'll never know, Will." Will sat down next to Deanna. Taking her chin in his large hand, he gently turned her face towards his. "I think she does know, Deanna," he uttered in a soft, reassuring voice. He stroked her cheek tenderly and then pulled her into his arms. As she lay in the crook of his shoulder, he whispered, "She knows."

They sat together in a quiet embrace for what seemed an eternity. Then Will placed his hand over her lower abdomen. Looking at Deanna admiringly, he asked, "So, what do you think this one will be?" Deanna looked up into Will's lustrous blue eyes and answered, "I am certain this is a girl, Will."

Will pulled his head back to stare at Deanna's face in surprise. "What makes you think it will be a girl, Deanna?" A warm smile broke out on Deanna's fine-featured face. Stroking his beard sensuously, she replied, "Betazoids can sense the sex of their babies from the very beginning." Will started to open his mouth to protest. "Yes, Will, I know. I'm only half-Betazoid. But it seems that I got enough of that half to know that I'm carrying a girl." Will grinned and buried his face momentarily in her hair. For an instant, he was transfixed by her intoxicating scent.

"Your mother would be pleased, Deanna." Deanna nodded wistfully. "She would indeed, Will." Will raised his head and looked once again into her large dark eyes. "You know that your mother will live on in her," he said softly. "Some immeasureable part of your mother lives on in you, Deanna, and will continue to live on in our daughter."

Deanna gazed lovingly into Will's sparkling blue eyes. A sudden smile exploded onto her face. "You've done it again, Will." He raised his eyebrows in concern. "What did I do?" he asked worriedly. She mussed his spiky hair playfully and responded, "You made me think again that you missed your calling. Am I married to a closet counselor?"

Will brought his lips a mere centimeter from hers. "No, Imzadi. Just to the luckiest guy in the universe." With that, he pressed his mouth to her soft lips and initiated a deep, sensuous kiss. "Who's married to the most amazing woman he's ever met," he breathed into her mouth.

Deanna wrapped her slim arms around his solid neck. "Our daughter is lucky to have such a wonderful man for her father. I'll make sure to tell her when she's old enough," Deanna murmured. Then she pressed her lips to Will's and began to consume his mouth greedily.

"Never squander the gift of life. Wasn't that what your mother said?" Will said huskily. "Yes, Imzadi. She said to live everyday to the fullest." Will ran his index finger lightly down Deanna's chest to her abdomen. Stopping at her stomach, he rested the palm of his large hand there and brought his lips to her lower abdomen. "Hello little girl," he whispered softly, then kissed Deanna's stomach.

Deanna smiled tearfully as she watched Will's gentle efforts to communicate with their daughter. Will sensed her tears before he saw them. Leaving his hand cupped over her lower abdomen, Will sat up. He sent waves of his consuming love to her as he said, "I think we're doing a good job living her words, don't you?"

Deanna put her fine-boned hand over his on her stomach. Locking her depthless dark eyes onto his clear blue ones, she said, "Yes, we are Imzadi. That was her legacy to us."

"And that is how she will live on. So long as we live as she taught, Deanna, she will never die. Her spirit will always be with us." Deanna nodded, knowing his words were true. Appreciating each moment as the gift it was would ensure that the essence of Lwaxana Troi would never fade from the world. That was what was left to them. That was her living legacy.