by Kate

DISCLAIMER: Paramount owns all. No infringement intended, no profit gained.
SETTING: Spans the years; Earth, Betazed, the USS Titan and the USS Enterprise.
FEEDBACK: Always! But no flames, please.

AUTHOR'S COMMENT: In several other stories, I've explored the meaning of a lovely Yiddish word, beshert. As I've mentioned before, it has the meanings of things being meant to happen as well as of people who are fated to be together. Certainly, there are no two people for whom this is truer than Will and Deanna. The story that follows pursues the idea that hints of their Imzadi bond, of being one another's beshert, cropped up earlier in their lives, well before they ever met. It is because of just such hints that we can look back on a string of events in life and recognize them as signposts along the way to our fated destinies.

It should be noted that there are conflicting chronologies concerning when Deanna attended Starfleet Academy and the University of Betazed. Peter David's book, Imzadi, has her at the University first, then the Academy. The chronology presented at StarTrek.com reverses that sequence, and has her at the Academy first and then returning to Betazed for post-graduate study. But in both cases, Will and Deanna meet while she is at the University and he is stationed on Betazed. For the sake of my story, I've opted to blend Peter David's facts with the StarTrek.com chronology. This decision affects some of the events, beginning in chapter V.


The cabin was lit by a series of sweet-smelling candles placed around the room. The light they cast left everything bathed in a flickering soft glow. On the silken bed sheets lay a small but voluptuous woman, her dark hair splayed across the pillows and her naked, hungry body waiting for her beloved to join her. Towards the bed and his waiting lover came a tall, bearded man, his dilated blue eyes and throbbing body begging for union.

He laid down on top of her, locking his burning gaze onto her passion-glazed dark eyes. "Imzadi," he whispered in husky tones as he brought his lips to hers. With a drunken smile she welcomed him into her arms and to her mouth. He locked his lips to hers and began to plunder her mouth with needful desperation.

Tongue wrestled with tongue. Expert fingers stroked tingling paths of escalating desire and caressed heated skin. Moans and broken words of love and passion escaped their mouths. Their inner beings flowed together as one, enhanced by their ravenous enjoyment of each other's bodies. His mind's voice to hers and hers back to him sang that most magical of words: Imzadi. It was the only conscious thought either of them had as their fevered passion drove them over the crest, sealing their orgasmic union with the blessing of completed faith.

And so it always had been when Will and Deanna were together, but most especially when they merged their inner beings in the world of passionate joining. Always, the word "Imzadi" floated from mind to mind, a one-word dialog filled with an encyclopedia of meaning. A one-word dialog linking their souls at that moment and through all moments, everywhere.

Hints of that word had first surfaced in their minds years before they ever met. And when the utterance floated through one mind or the other, it was always accompanied by a vague, barely perceptible spectre of the one who would be Imzadi. An inchoate form seen through the fog of a fate not yet fulfilled.


A girl of seven lay sleeping in her bed. Her long-lashed ebony eyes were closed and her dark hair fanned out across her pillow. Dream world images tumbled fitfully through her mind. Images of her recently deceased father. Her mother bent with grief. Then a man whose features she could not make out. Was it her father? She could not tell. His voice was barely on the periphery of recognition. And as he moved in her slumbering mind, the word 'Imzadi' floated as if a feather on a gentle breeze. It tickled and warmed her being. A gentle smile appeared on her somnolent features.

In the morning, she looked up from her breakfast. Fixing her large dark eyes on the sad visage of her mother, the child asked, "Mommy, can I ask you something?"

A gentle smile appeared on Lwaxana Troi's face. "Of course, Little One. You know you can ask me anything." She placed a loving hand on her daughter's soft cheek and focused her intent gaze on her face.

"Well, I had a dream last night…," Deanna hesitated.

"You've been dreaming a lot lately, haven't you dear?" Lwaxana asked. Deanna nodded her head solemnly. "It's not surprising that you are, considering…," Lwaxana said, then looked down with sad eyes, unable to finish her sentence.

"Should I not talk about it, Mommy?" Deanna asked in a soft voice. She did not want to make her mother feel sad again. Her mother had been so sad since her father died.

"No, Little One," Lwaxana sighed. Though the smile did not return to her face, Lwaxana sought to assure her young daughter that it was alright for her to continue. "You go ahead, Deanna. It's important for you to talk about what's on your mind." She reached out and placed a reassuring hand on her daughter's slim arm.

"Well I dreamed about Daddy again." Lwaxana nodded wistfully. "But then there was some man in my dreams that I think I didn't know." Lwaxana's eyebrows rose in a silent question at these words. Deanna chewed her lower lip in a moment of thought and eyed her mother with uncertainty.

"Come on, Little One. Tell me…I can tell you have more to say," Lwaxana encouraged her.

"Well, when this man appeared, I heard a word over and over again." Deanna shook her head, her curled tresses bouncing as she did so.

"What word was that, Deanna?" Lwaxana asked softly.

"I think it was 'Imzadi'," replied Deanna. Lwaxana's smile fled when she heard her most precious term of endearment for her late husband uttered out loud for the first time in months. "Imzadi?" she whispered, her voice laced with sorrow. Deanna did not miss her mother's sudden upset.

"I'm sorry Mommy. I shouldn't have said it. I see I've made you sad about Daddy again," Deanna said, unshed tears now glistening in her eyes. She stretched her hand to trace away the paths forged down Lwaxana's face by the tears now wetting it.

"It's alright, Deanna…," Lwaxana let out a broken sigh. "I told you to tell me." She locked her dark eyes on the troubled face of her daughter.

"I think your dream was about Daddy," Lwaxana explained in a quiet voice. "We used to call each other Imzadi. It was a special name we had for each other. You must have heard us use that word without realizing it."

"But why couldn't I recognize Daddy when I heard the word in my dream, Mommy?" Deanna asked.

"I don't know, Little One. We don't always see things clearly in our dreams."

"Oh, okay," Deanna said, accepting her mother's words with the simple faith only a child can bring to such things. "Another dream about Daddy," Deanna murmured to herself as she nodded.

Lwaxana looked over to the antique clock on the kitchen wall. It was an heirloom that had been in her late husband's family for generations. He brought it with him from Earth when he married her.

"Finish your breakfast, Little One. It's nearly time for you to go to school," Lwaxana said in a quiet voice, her eyes drifting from the clock to her daughter's face.

A short while later, Deanna left for school. Lwaxana still sat in her chair in the kitchen. "Imzadi…," Lwaxana mused to herself. "Of all the things for her to remember about her father…."


A tall, burly man towered over the young boy who stood before him. The man's face was hardened by intolerant disdain. His harsh blue eyes glared at the child before him.

"Why don't you just suck it up and take it like a man?" Kyle Riker sneered. His eight year old son stared back. The boy's long-lashed blue eyes were filled with tears but his mouth was tightly sealed to keep back the sobs that threatened to pour out.

"What, cat got your tongue, Will?" his father taunted. Will rubbed the back of his hand harshly against his cheeks to wipe away his tears as he shook his head mutely. He struggled to dam in the tide of weeping strangling his throat. He would not give his father the satisfaction of hearing him cry out loud.

Will locked his tortured, sodden eyes on his father's harsh face. "'Night," Will squeaked out, hot tears now flowing freely down his sad face. Without a further word, he turned towards the stairs. Mustering as much dignity as an eight year old child could, Will walked out of the room with his head upright and his posture ramrod straight.

As soon as he came to the stairway, he bounded up the steps as fast as his thin legs could take him. Once at the top of the stairs, he shot into his bedroom, slammed the door and fell onto his bed. The dam that had tenuously held back his sobs finally burst, and broken-hearted wails tumbled out of him. Into the soft bed clothes poured all the hurts that his father heaped upon him with his cold, unyielding attitude.

Poor Will's heart ached for someone who would embrace him and comfort him. Someone like his mother. "Why did you have to die, Mama?" he whispered brokenly between sobs. "Why did you take all the love away with you?"

He slid himself towards the edge of his bed and picked up a small holopic that was on the bedside table. In the image were three people: a younger Kyle Riker standing next to a beautiful dark-haired woman with flashing blue eyes. In her arms was perched a toddler with matching blue eyes and unruly brown hair. Sorrowfully, Will touched the face of the woman, his mother who had died six years before. Then he hugged the holopic close to his chest and rolled onto his back. Tears traced random paths down the sides of his face and soaked into his hair. A tremulous sigh escaped his lips. "Oh Mama, I miss you so much," he cried.

Slowly, a sweet slumber overtook Will, banishing his tears to the world of the waking. His shattered heart and troubled mind gladly gave themselves over to the comforting arms of sleep. And under the gentle ministrations of that gentle slumber, the tension washed out of his body. His relaxed hands let go of the holopic, leaving it resting precariously on his rhythmically rising and falling chest.

Will's mind gradually slipped into a dream world far removed from his troubled existence. He found himself in a place of utter beauty. Above him towered the imposing summits of the Chugach Mountains. Around him danced mountain flowers, brightly colored with their summertime blooms. It was a place filled with the wonders of nature, so awe-inspiring that it took his breath away. A crooked grin spread across his face as he took in the beauty surrounding him. "It's all mine," he murmured to himself. "No one can take this from me."

As he reveled in the majesty of his private place, he heard a faint sound carried on the gentle breeze that tousled his hair. He strained to hear it. A voice. He could make out a voice. A woman's voice, low and sultry. Uttering some barely audible word. That word, though undecipherable, spread a wave of warmth and love throughout his inner being. How could a mere word do that? What word was it? He did not know.

He turned to the direction of the voice. In the distance, as though through a gentle mist, he could just make out the form of a dark-haired woman. Who was she? Could it be his mother?

"Mama? Is that you?" he called out. Did she smile back at him? He could not tell.

"Mama?" he yelled out again, the pain of loss beginning to creep into his voice. "Please come to me Mama." But as he stepped towards her, she faded before his eyes. Yet, a faint echo of that undecipherable word wafted on the gentle breeze. His heart shattered with the loss of that comforting phantom and the frustration of not being able to understand that word that brought him such love.

Will woke up with scalding tears pouring down his face. Strangled sobs forced their way from his throat. "Mama, why can't you come back?" he cried forlornly. Once again he hugged the holopic still balanced precariously on his chest. "Oh Mama…"

Shakily, he rose from his bed and went to the window. He stood at the window, still holding the holopic within his arms. He stared mindlessly at the bucolic scenery outside, all awash in moon-lit muted grays and blacks. In the distance, the Chugash Mountains towered, silent silhouetted sentinels over the surrounding Alaskan wilderness.

Will shifted his stance, now leaning against the window frame. He tilted his sodden eyes upwards, taking in the twinkling filigree of nighttime stars in the inky blackness of the night sky. He drew in a tremulous breath and whispered, "Some day, I'm going to leave all of this sadness. I'll find a better place…somewhere out in those stars."


Deanna stood on the moon-lit front steps to the Troi mansion, a gentle breeze lightly lifting errant tresses of her curly hair. Before her stood the starry-eyed boy of her thirteen year-old dreams, Jeb Trax. Slowly, Jeb brought his mouth to hers. Her long-lashed eyes slid closed as the warm skin of his lips touched hers. In another instant, she felt the soft, wet tip of his tongue tentatively tap her lips. Sudden surprise bolted from her mind into his and he jerked his head back. "What?" he whispered, confusion and hurt radiating from him in waves.

"I'm sorry, Jeb. You just surprised me, that's all…," Deanna explained, a nervous smile gracing her features. He smiled back, his black Betazoid eyes burning with adolescent passion. He haltingly placed his hand on her soft cheek.

"You've never been kissed before, have you?" Jeb murmured. Deanna bowed her head and shook it. And even though he could not see the embarrassed blush now coloring her cheeks, he could feel her unease.

"Do you think another kiss would help make things better?" he asked quietly. In the muted light cast by the Betazed moons, he watched her nod timidly. And though he sensed her lingering ambivalence, he knew that she wanted to kiss him again. Slowly, he tilted his head down and moved closer to Deanna's mouth.

<<Well Little One, it's so good of that nice Jeb Trax to bring you home!>> shot through both their minds at that moment. Their heads jerked up in shock and Deanna let out an exasperated sigh.

"Hello, Mother," Deanna said curtly, turning towards the now-open door. Standing in the doorway, her regal form haloed by the interior lights of the house, was her mother. With her arms crossed across her chest, she stared at the two teenagers standing before her. Jeb did not miss her unspoken message.

"Uh, I was just leaving, Mrs. Troi…I just walked her home from the library," Jeb stammered nervously. He knew there would be hell to pay if he crossed Deanna's mother. One did not casually offend a daughter of the Fifth House.

"I'm sure you were, Jeb. How nice of you to walk her home," Lwaxana huffed pompously. And though there was a semblance of a smile on her mouth, the message in her glaring dark eyes was clear: "Leave now."

Jeb cleared his throat, trying to loosen the knot of tension lodged there. Looking timidly first at Lwaxana and then Deanna, he squeaked out, "Well, I'm glad to have gotten you home safely, Deanna. I'll see you tomorrow at school." Deanna nodded, disappointment mixed with annoyance dancing across her face. "Goodnight Mrs. Troi, Deanna," were his final words as he turned to walk down the stairs to the front walk.

Once Jeb was out of earshot, Deanna wheeled around to face her mother. Placing her hands defiantly on her slim hips, she challenged, "Mother, how could you do such a thing!"

"Come in, Little One," her mother returned, controlled irritation simmering just beneath the surface. Deanna angrily crossed her arms over her chest and stomped in. Once she was through the door, she spun around and locked her smoldering ebony eyes on her mother's.

"Jeb wasn't doing anything wrong, Mother," Deanna spat indignantly.

"Young lady," Lwaxana shot back sternly, "I know exactly what was going on out there." She eyed her daughter pointedly. "You're rather young for that sort of thing."

"Young, Mother? I'm too young? I'm thirteen years old, Mother! I'm not a little girl any more," Deanna insisted angrily. Deanna's pointed reminder that she was no longer so young immediately softened Lwaxana's ire.

"I know that, Deanna," Lwaxana sighed sadly. She slid down on to the lowest step of the stairs leading to the second floor. Looking at her daughter with eyes now softened by love and wistfulness, she patted the stair next to her. "Come sit, Little One." Deanna sat down stiffly next to her mother on the step.

"It's hard for me to see you grow up so fast, Deanna," Lwaxana said, speaking almost more to herself. "You're all I've got, Little One." With these softly spoken words, Deanna felt her anger drain away. She turned to glance at the suddenly sorrowful face of her mother. Lwaxana's sad gaze met her daughter's compassionate one.

"I know you are growing up, Little One," Lwaxana said quietly. She took Deanna's hand into her own. "I know Jeb is a good boy, from a good House. He's very special to you, isn't he?"

"Yes, Mother, he is," Deanna confided. "I've liked him all year. But now it seems more than just liking." Lwaxana smiled warmly and remained uncharacteristically silent.

"Sometimes my mind wanders…I think about him when I should be busy doing other things…And then at night, I've started having a dream that I haven't had in a long time," Deanna related.

"What dream is that, Little One?" Lwaxana asked, her eyes wide with curiosity.

"There is this man…I can't make out his features, so I can't say who it is…And I keep hearing that word you and Daddy used to use for each other…," Deanna related.

"Imzadi," Lwaxana breathed, suddenly awash in a world of memories from long ago.

"Yes, that was it, Mother. Imzadi," Deanna responded. "I don't know. Maybe I'm dreaming that Jeb is my Imzadi…" With that utterance, Lwaxana sat bolt upright. A fire was lit in her dark eyes.

"Do you even know what you are saying, Little One?" Lwaxana snapped. Deanna stared at her mother in shock. What had she said to generate this sudden anger?

"Mother, what do you mean?"

"Do you know what you are saying about Jeb when you use that word?" Lwaxana asked, her voice thickening with annoyance.

"I thought it just was a term of endearment, Mother. Just a nice word you and Daddy used for each other because you loved one another," Deanna replied timidly, taken back by her mother's outburst.

"No, Deanna, it's far more than that," Lwaxana sighed, her irritation disappearing just as suddenly as it had surfaced. Deanna looked at Lwaxana expectantly, knowing an explanation was on its way.

"No, it's far more…," Lwaxana murmured, almost more to herself. "The word means 'beloved', as you know." She grinned and patted Deanna's hand. "But it also means 'intended'…"

Deanna watched her mother intently, waiting for her to continue. "If someone is your Imzadi, Little One, he is the one you are meant to spend your life with. And you will know immediately in your heart that without question he is the one," Lwaxana explained. Deanna acknowledged her words with a nod.

"Tell me, Deanna. Can you really say that Jeb is your intended?" Lwaxana asked pointedly. "Do you know in your heart that he is the one you will be spending the rest of your life with?"

Her direct questions were met with silence. Deanna just stared, dumbstruck with the realization of what the word really meant. Lwaxana smiled knowingly. "I thought not," she said pleasantly. Then she leaned over and gently pulled her daughter into a sheltering embrace.

"There will be time enough for you to find your Imzadi, Deanna. And once you do, you will know when you have met him."


"And just what is this, young man?" Kyle Riker sneered angrily, holding a piece of paper distastefully between his thumb and index finger. He, in fact knew that it was a notice from the counselor at his son's school, expressing her concerns about Will's excessively flirtatious behavior with some of his female classmates. And though he took a certain amount of crude pride in his fourteen year-old son's emerging exploits with the fairer sex, he was annoyed with having to confront Will, let alone talk to him. They did not talk to each other. Shouted at each other in anger, certainly. But otherwise, monosyllabic words and terse sentences uttered sparingly were what passed for communication between father and son in the Riker household.

Will stared defiantly at his father, his sparkling blues smoldering with rebellious anger. And at 5' 8" and still growing, Will did not have to tilt his head much to look his father in the eye.

"I'm waiting for an answer!" Kyle growled. Will shrugged his shoulders insouciantly, his burning eyes never wavering from his father. A moment later, the beginnings of a provocative smirk began to form on Will's face.

"You think this is funny?" Kyle yelled. "Do you think I like hearing from the counselor that you're making trouble?" He shoved the paper into Will's face. "If you'd put your attention where it belongs…"he spat. Will snatched the paper from his father's hand and angrily crumpled it up. Then Will held the balled paper up high and let it drop not an inch from his father's fury-reddened face.

"Put my attention where it belongs?" Will snapped back instantly. "You're a fine one to talk to me to talk to me about putting attention where it belongs…" Will went rigid with furious tension, clenching and unclenching his hands at his sides. "You are hardly ever here long enough to even know I exist! And when you are, you are always on my case. God forbid you should pay attention to anything other than what I do wrong!" Will aimed an accusatory finger at Kyle and screamed, "You don't get off telling me where to put *my* attention."

With those final, bitter words, Will spun on his feet and stomped towards the stairs. "William Thomas Riker, you come back here this instant!" Kyle demanded angrily. But Will just kept walking up the stairs, not once looking back to where his father stood trembling with rage.

Will crossed the threshold of his room and slammed the door shut behind him. He paced the floor angrily, muttering to himself, "Damn him…He's no father…He wouldn't know how to be one if it hit him in the head."

He went over to the window and leaned against the frame. As he stared at the snow-covered mountains in the distance, his anger was slowly replaced with more pleasant thoughts of the girl he'd kissed at school that day. "God she was good," he mused to himself, grinning at the memory. As the memories of her taste, of how her tongue had felt against his, and her momentary shock that he had put his tongue in her mouth tumbled through his mind, he felt an all too familiar stirring in his loins. "Yeah, she was great," he smiled.

Will went over to his bed and let himself flop down onto it. He folded his arms under his head on the pillow and crossed his legs. Sighing pleasantly, he let his mind wander from one of his female conquests to another. Images of lovely young teenage faces floated in his mind's eye. Memories of how they'd each responded to his advances were interspersed with echoes of "Lover boy," the nickname he had picked up at school. In this way, Will left behind the tumultuous world of constant conflict with his father behind.

Gradually, Will felt his body relax. And as he did, slowly sleep crept up on him, drawing him into its comforting embrace. The whispers of slumber induced his eyelids to drop, shielding his blue eyes from the world around him. With a soft sigh, Will turned onto his side and gave himself over completely to the world of dreams.

Spectral girls floated around him, dancing as if feathers on a gentle breeze. A pleasant cacophony of adolescent voices reached his ears. Everywhere he turned, his youthful conquests were waiting to greet him with inviting grins, welcoming arms and waiting mouths. Enthusiastically, he took his time to engage each one of his beauties in a deep, needful kiss. The taste of their mouths, the softness of their tongues, the sweetness of their scents left him awash in a sea of sensual stimulation. Full of a myriad of pleasant sensations, he felt satisfied.

An instant later, he looked away. Something had caught his attention, though he didn't know what it was. He searched in the distance. His private mountainous dream world there beckoned to him somewhere in his inner being. He stepped towards that place, leaving behind the smiling faces and cooing voices of his fantasy harem. And as he did, indescribable warmth filled his heart.

A word floated just beyond his hearing. "Im…aa…iii" was all he could make out. The barely audible word drew him like a magnet. Over and over again, the word echoed softly, a one-word symphony of all that was beautiful. The word reverberated within Will, suffusing his being with love and a feeling of belonging.

"What is that word?" he murmured to himself. "Why can't I make it out?" Where was that word coming from? He had to find out. Step by step, he came closer to his beloved mountainous haven, in search of the word's source.

In the next moment, Will noticed something on the horizon that had not been there before: a dark-haired woman, her hair dancing gently in the breeze. Though he could not make out her features, he knew he had seen her before, in other dreams. He no longer thought that this was his mother, for the mysterious woman never responded to his plaintive calls for his deceased parent. And yet, this enigmatic woman drew him towards her inexplicably. The very sight of her filled him with an ineffable sense of connectedness. Who was she?

He reached out a trembling hand, tearfully seeking to touch her. He knew he wanted to embrace her, to drink deeply of the love that he so craved. But she began to fade before his eyes…

Will woke up suddenly, slightly disoriented and painfully aroused. Instinctively, he began to reach down to pleasure himself. But a sudden memory of the mystery woman from his dreams stopped him. A feeling of guilt shot through him. He couldn't do it with her in his mind. For reasons he couldn't begin to comprehend, it seemed totally wrong to do so. So, with a frustrated sigh, he got up, went to the window and opened it, letting the cold early morning air rush over him and chill his body.

He stared idly out the window and waited for his body to relax. His eyes did not see the still-dark countryside. Instead, his mind was wrapped up in thoughts of that magical word he could hardly hear and that woman he could barely make out. "Who was she?" he asked himself over and over again. "What was that word?"


Nineteen year-old Deanna Troi stepped out of the interplanetary transport and on to the station platform. She paused to scan the crowds, looking for a familiar face. Seeing no one waiting for her, she took slow, disappointed steps towards the station exit. An instant later, a familiar voice rang out in her mind, bringing a broad smile to her fine-featured face.

<<Betazed to Cadet Troi, come in please.>> Deanna chuckled as she scanned for her best friend, Chandra Xerx. With the crowds on the platform and their accompanying mental cacophony, it was difficult to spot her.

<<Surely they taught you better navigation skills than that, Cadet!>> Chandra teased. Deanna wheeled around on her feet just in time to see Chandra striding towards her, her arms spread wide open and ready to embrace her. A moment later, Deanna met up with Chandra. With arms wrapped tightly around one another, they stood there, allowing their feelings of joyous reunion and deep affection to flow sweetly into each other's minds.

Deanna gave Chandra a final loving squeeze and then pulled back. "Well, that's some greeting!" she grinned. Chandra beamed back and thought-cast, <<Nothing but my fullest for my best friend!>> Then she turned and threaded her arm around Deanna's. Arm in arm, they left the station together.

A short while later, they walked up the broad steps to the front door of the Troi mansion. Before Deanna had a chance to reach for the door handle, the massive oaken door opened to reveal her mother. A welcoming smile graced Lwaxana's face as she reached her hands out towards Deanna.

"Come in, come in!" Lwaxana beckoned, drawing them in gesturally. As soon as Deanna crossed the threshold, Lwaxana placed her hands on her daughter's shoulders. "Well look at you, Little One, all decked out in your Starfleet Academy uniform!" Lwaxana exclaimed. <<Not very lady-like…Couldn't they come up with something a little more feminine?>> she let slip mentally as she hugged her daughter.

"Mother!" Deanna sputtered, pushing back sharply from her mother. "You know that femininity is not a relevant criterion for an Academy uniform!"

Chandra watched the unfolding colloquy with great amusement. She couldn't believe how quickly Deanna and her mother slipped right back into their old roles, as if Deanna had not just spent a semester at Starfleet Academy. Still, she did not want to attract the ire of either of the two Troi women, so Chandra wisely clamped her mental barriers in place and slapped a hand over her bemused grin.

"Well, Little One, I see your time at the Academy has done nothing to improve your outlook on what is appropriate for a daughter of the Fifth House," Lwaxana sighed dismissively. Then, putting on her most hospitable smile, she said, "Well, you must come in and make yourself at home, Little One." Looking pleasantly now at Chandra, Lwaxana beamed, "Now do come in, Chandra. You simply must join us for supper."

"Thank you Mrs. Troi," Chandra replied, "I'd be delighted to." With simmering exasperation, Deanna picked up her suitcase and wordlessly headed for the stairs to the second floor. Chandra shrugged her shoulders apologetically at Lwaxana and followed her friend up the stairs.

Once the two young women entered Deanna's room, she slammed the door shut and dropped her suitcase where she stood. Rolling her eyes up in utter mortification, she muttered, "It's so good to know some things in the universe never change!" Chandra giggled and then covered her mouth to hide her smirk. "Sorry!" she snickered.

Deanna shook her head judgmentally and flopped onto her bed. Chandra dropped down next to her on the mattress. One pair of depthless Betazoid eyes locked on the other for a second, and then the two life-long friends crumpled into gales of laughter.

"Gods, Deanna, your mother will never change!" Chandra guffawed. Between howls of merriment, Deanna shook her head and mimicked her mother's attitudes. "Not very lady-like," she parroted. "Could you imagine me doing basic training in a dress?"

Several minutes passed with the two women rolling in fits of laughter. When they finally had laughed themselves out, they let out contented sighs. Then Chandra turned on to her side and put her hand on Deanna's shoulder.

"So, tell me about the Academy," Chandra said softly, an interested smile on her face. "All you ever managed to send were brief messages."

"I know," Deanna responded apologetically. "Between my classes and learning to live with all the mental noise I experienced on Earth, I barely had time to think, let alone sit down and really write anything of substance."

"That can't have been that hard for you, Deanna. You always had your nose buried in your school books," Chandra grinned mischievously.

"Hey, now wait!" Deanna exclaimed as she smacked her friend playfully. "I wasn't *that* bad…" She stared at Chandra, waiting for a response. "Was I?" Deanna asked uncertainly. Seeing that Chandra wasn't going to support her opinion of herself, Deanna sighed in mild defeat, "Oh okay, so you're right. I was always studious."

Chandra nodded her agreement. "And that's why you were always the star student at school, Deanna." Deanna smiled warmly at her friend.

"I could imagine, though," Chandra began after a moment's silence, "that it was hard to deal with all of that mental cacophony." Deanna nodded her head and acknowledged, "Yes, that took some time for me. The first week on Earth, my head ached constantly. But I learned to adjust to it. Fortunately, that first week was merely orientation at the Academy, so it didn't affect my work."

"Always concerned with your school work, Deanna!" Chandra needled gently. Deanna locked her suddenly intense dark eyes on Chandra's relaxed ones. "I have to be, Chandra. I have to prove it to my mother that this is the right path for me and that the one she would have me follow is not," she uttered with quiet conviction.

"What, you have no burning desire to be the Heir to the Holy Rings of Betazed and the holder of the Sacred Chalice of Rixx?" Chandra teased.

"It's a moldy old pot!" Deanna chuckled. Then her expression turned serious once again. "No, that isn't my path, though my mother has yet to accept that." Deanna rolled onto her back and crossed her arms under her head. Staring at the ceiling, she murmured wistfully, "My fate is somewhere out there in space, Chandra. Not here. And I can't help wondering what I will find out there."

"Knowing you, Deanna, you won't stop until you find it," Chandra commented knowingly. "And who knows, maybe you'll even find your Imzadi out there." Deanna turned her head and fixed her eyes sharply on Chandra's friendly face.

"Imzadi?" Deanna whispered. "If there is one out there for me."

"Deanna, I'm certain you are meant to have someone as your Imzadi," Chandra counseled gently. "How many times have you told me about that recurring dream of yours?"

"That dream…Yes, that dream," Deanna mused, suddenly lost in a vivid recollection of what she had experienced in her last dream involving that most magical of Betazoid words. Instantly, she remembered seeing a tall, well-built man walking confidently towards her in the distance. Always he was in the distance…where she couldn't make out his features. And the word "Imzadi,' murmured in an unclear masculine voice, floated about her as if uttered by the very breeze itself. It warmed her soul and beckoned her…To where? To someone who was love and contentment…To someone who would be part of her very soul…

Deanna roused herself from her reverie. "Yes," she said, "if I am to have an Imzadi, out there is where I will find him." She sighed softly. "I will not find him here."


The lights were dimmed in the utilitarian dormitory room. Third-year Starfleet Academy cadet Will Riker had a woman pinned against the wall with his large hands while he devoured her mouth. She was a second-year cadet whom he knew casually from one of his general studies classes. He'd found her in the library that night when he ostensibly went there to study. However, when he espied her sitting near the entrance, he knew immediately that his evening plans no longer involved books and data padds.

With his practiced charm, he lured her away from her books and convinced her that she really didn't want to study. As they walked out of the library, Will casually took her hand into his. When she eyed him questioningly, he gave her a provocative wink. By the time they were halfway between the library and the student housing, he had snaked his arm around her shoulders.

When they arrived at the entrance to his building, he leaned down and pressed his lips hungrily to hers. Then he pulled his head back and locked his passion-filled eyes on her face. "Come upstairs with me, baby," he murmured seductively, running a finger softly down her cheek. Her eyes flickered with hope; maybe this handsome cadet was really interested in her. She had a momentary vision of the two of them together as an item, then nodded her head in silent acknowledgement.

As soon as they entered Will's room, he shoved her against the wall and hovered just over her, his blue eyes burning with stoked desire. She pushed him back, pressing against his muscular chest with both of her hands. "You don't waste time, do you Will?" she murmured in a sultry voice. "Not with someone as sexy as you," he breathed back, leaning in to seal his lips over hers and give free rein to his tongue.

A moment later, he pinned her against the wall with one hand and began to trace a wet path down her neck with his tongue. With his other hand, he slowly unzipped her uniform tunic and reached in to knead her breasts. "Gods Will, where did you learn to do that?" she moaned. "Does this turn you on, baby?" he mumbled, now reaching down into her pants and stroking her womanhood. A guttural moan was her response.

Will pulled his hand from her pants and quickly undid the zipper on his trousers, releasing his large bulging manhood. "Touch it…," he mumbled. "Work some magic on me, baby." With agonizing and provocative slowness, she danced her fingers first under his tunic along his chest and then down his exposed belly and onto his erect member. He dropped his head onto her shoulder and lost himself to the desperate throbbing in his groin. "Is that what you want, Will?" she smiled. His loud moans were her answer.

Suddenly, he yanked her pants down. "Oh gods, I've got to have you now," he groaned as he slid her up the wall with his hands. Without a word, she wrapped her legs loosely around his waist. "Gods, now!" he demanded, pulling her down and sheathing his aroused manhood within her moist folds.

"I'm ready Will…," she moaned. He began to rock his hips back and forth, thrusting repeatedly, and flicked her swollen bud with his fingers. "Will, you are amazing!" she grunted as she felt her pinnacle drawing near. His thrusts came faster and then they both went over the edge, screaming out incomprehensibly in orgasmic ecstasy.

A few moments later, Will let her drop to her feet. Staring at her with cocky confidence, he asked, "So, was that a good lay or what?" His crude question triggered instant anger. She locked her smoldering eyes on Will's bemused face. "Was that all this was to you, Will? Just some momentary feel-good and then you move on?" she snapped.

"Hey," he shrugged, spreading his hands palms up. "What did I do wrong, kiddo?"

"Kiddo? Is that all I am? Some 'kiddo'? Shit, not once this evening have you even said my name!" she spat. Eyeing him furiously, she continued, "Do you even *know* that I have a name?"

"Yeah sure I do…," he began to answer, the brash smile still on his face. But before he could finish his sentence, she cut in. "Not that it even matters to you. Just another name for another one of your fucks-of-the-night, right Riker?"

"Hey, I gave you a good lay. What else do you want?" he retorted, his blue eyes glittering with challenge. She stabbed an accusing index finger into his chest. "What else do I want, Will-the-Thrill?" she sneered. He snickered proudly at the mention of his Academy nickname. "Oh, this is some kind of joke for you?" She stabbed him again, pushing him backward.

"Well, Cadet Riker, here is what Cadet No-name wants." She eyed him dangerously. "How about a little human contact, Cadet? How about you not treating the people around you like just so many conquests to add to your list of Academy achievements? How about you taking just a little time to let someone in behind that smart-ass facade of yours?" Her face was red now with fury, angry tears pooled in her eyes and her hands were fisted tightly at her sides. Will stared at her quietly, the smile suddenly gone from his face.

"Ah, I see I finally got your attention, Cadet William Riker," she snapped, her reddened eyes boring intensely into his blue ones. She leaned back against the wall, never breaking her eye contact with Will. "You need to stop thinking with your head in your damned pants." At this, he self-consciously began to zip his trousers back up. "So you've got this string of awards and conquests. Well, la-de-dah for you, Will Riker." She rubbed errant tears away roughly with the back of her hand. "Those pieces of paper, those recognitions stored in some computer bank somewhere, do they keep you warm at night? Do they hug you when you are sad, buck you up when you are down?" Will's eyes went wide as her painful barbs hit him square in the heart.

She drew in a steadying breath, letting her anger at having been used ease a little. "Will, you're a nice guy when you're not being such an aggravating asshole. But you need to learn that there's more to life than collecting kudos. If you don't let people in, you're going to find some day that all you'll have is all of those fancy awards to keep you company." Will looked at her sadly; she had spoken the truth, and they both knew it. She nodded smugly at him, satisfied that she had now hit her mark.

"You need to let someone in, Will," she said plainly. He shook his head sadly and replied, "Can't do that…" Her eyebrows went up in amazement. "Why is that?" she asked. "Too dangerous," he responded in a small voice, then shook his head again.

"And I don't suppose you're going to tell me why, are you Will?" He stared at her mutely. "I didn't think so," she sighed.

She shook her head resignedly as she pulled up her pants and zipped her tunic. Smiling at him sardonically, she said, "You know, Riker, you're really not such a bad guy, once you let someone get close enough to know you." He offered her a rueful grin.

"It's time for me to go now," she said tersely, trying to retain a scintilla of dignity.

"I guess so," he whispered. She walked to his door and then turned to face him once again. "Oh, for your information, my name is Melinda Wells, Second Year Cadet. Just in case you forgot." And she stepped out the door, allowing it to slam shut behind her.

Will stepped backwards and dropped onto his bed. Burying his face in his hands, he indulged in a rare moment of introspection. He knew she was right. He did keep people at arm's length. And though he did not tell her so, he knew why. His heart, already badly bruised from years of harsh treatment by his father, was shattered to pieces when his father simply abandoned him five years before. Oh, no one called it abandonment, but that's what it was. His father put him in a boarding school and then disappeared. And suddenly, there was no more family left.

Still, something in him drove him to grab at every opportunity to make his heart feel whole, albeit from a distance. Somewhere, his soul knew, he would find that person, that thing that would satisfy his deep craving for communion and happiness. Yet, at the same time, he feared intimacy, for that would leave his heart open to more hurt and pain. And so he moved from accolade to accolade, and from bed to bed, superficially enjoying each experience but always keeping people at a distance. All he gained was temporary pleasure that left his inner being starving painfully.

Except at night when he slept. Then, the dream that had recurred since his childhood visited him. The dream that whispered that barely audible word in soft, feminine tones. That word, oh how that mysterious word soothed and healed his heart. And then that mysterious, dark-haired woman would appear, the very view of whom suffused his soul with love and completion. Only in that gentle fantasy realm buried deep in the world of safe slumber did he find hints of the emotional and spiritual well being he so desperately sought and did not yet have in the waking world.


In dormitory room 1100, two fourth year cadets sat talking in soft, intimate tones. The petite, dark-haired woman leaned heavily against the wall, precariously balancing a cup of valerian root tea on one of her knees. Sitting next to her, with his hand resting gently on her thigh was a tall, sandy-haired and blue eyed man. The atmosphere in the room was filled with the charged energy of barely-suppressed erotic feelings and unresolved conflict.

"Deanna," he murmured, "let me…" He brought his mouth to hers, brushing her lips tenderly. Meeting no resistance, he initiated another soft kiss. Then he pulled back and smiled at her, his blue eyes sparkling with desire. She smiled back apologetically and placed a cautionary hand on his chest.

"John, please…" she began. But before she could say more, John started to nibble sensuously on her neck and unzip her uniform tunic. And though the tingling tension his ministrations triggered in her body was pleasant, Deanna attempted to push him back.

"We mustn't do this," she warned. Without moving his mouth from her neck, he mumbled, "Why is that, Deanna? You find me attractive, don't you?" Deanna wrapped her fingers firmly around his hand to stop him from unzipping her tunic further. With her other hand, she gently pushed his face off of her neck.

"John," she insisted, "we can't do this." John sat up straight, his breathing ragged and his eyes dilated. "Why not, Deanna?" He reached out a trembling finger and traced her jaw line with it. "Gods, I want you…I care for you." His eyes now begged her. "Don't you care for me?"

"I do care for you, John," she replied, her voice softened now by her affection for the handsome man at her side. She touched his face tenderly. "You are one of the best friends I have here at the Academy."

"Is that all I am to you then?" John dropped his hand from her face and dropped back against the cold wall dispiritedly. Deanna placed her hand on his sturdy shoulder and locked her dark eyes on his blue ones. "Your friendship means more to me than I could ever articulate, John. Please don't diminish that."

"But not enough to love me, right?" John drew his legs up and leaned his head sadly against his knees. Deanna ran a loving hand up and down his arm. "I do love you, John," she said ever so softly.

"But not in the way that I love you," he muttered bitterly. Deanna's full lips formed a rueful smile. "No, not in the way that you do," she whispered. After a pregnant pause, she counseled, "But you are still very special to me, John."

"Just like all your other special male friends, Deanna?" John spat. Deanna shook her head sadly. "There are no other special male friends," she stated truthfully, ignoring the anger in John's voice.

"You must be joking!" John's eyes went wide with surprise. "A gorgeous, wonderful woman like you?"

"No, I'm not joking," Deanna replied softly, the hints of a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. "You are the closest male friend I have."

"And you won't let me in all the way," John sighed, almost more to himself. "So, is it me? Is there something wrong with me?" Deanna shook her head thoughtfully. "No, it's not you, it's me…," she murmured. "It's me…" In fact, she knew, it was her heart, her soul. She remembered that long-ago lesson she had learned from her mother about finding her Imzadi: that she would know for certain in her heart when she had met the one destined for her. She had yet to find that man. But there was no way to explain this to John without hurting his feelings further. "No, it's me John," she repeated. "Not you."

"And you can't explain it? You, the top psychology student in the graduating class of 2359? You, the wunderkind that Starfleet is sending back to Betazed for post-graduate studies to prepare for the first-ever ship's counselor position in Starfleet history? I find that really hard to believe," John snorted. Deanna trained her intensely serious ebony eyes on his upset countenance.

"Yes, I can't explain it. Not in a way that you can understand." She offered him a soothing smile. "But no other man in my four years here at the Academy has come close to the affection I have for you, John. Please believe me when I say that." She tapped a reassuring finger against his chest. "No one."

John sighed deeply, making no secret that he was still disappointed. He trained his troubled blue eyes on her face. "Do you know how much I want you right now, Deanna? How often I've thought about having you in my arms, about making love to your magnificent body? Dreamt about being in you, about caressing you and getting lost in that distracting scent of yours?" A slight blush rose in Deanna's cheeks. She let out an embarrassed giggle. John looked down at his hands. "I don't suppose you'd let me make love to you now, would you?"

"No John, I wouldn't," she answered softly. Sudden inspiration lit up his face. "What if I called it just having sex? Take the word 'love' out of the picture?" he asked, looking at her hopefully. She grinned sweetly and shook her head. "No John, that wouldn't change anything for me." John was crestfallen. Again, he stared down at his hands.

An endless moment passed in silence. Then John spoke again. "Why are you holding back, Deanna? What are you waiting for?" Deanna looked at him sharply, then remembered instantly that he was not a mind reader. There was no way he could know that she was waiting for her Imzadi, the only one she could give herself completely to.

Deanna did not answer his question. Instead, she took a cleansing breath and then stood up to put her tea cup on her desk. She turned to face her dispirited friend.

"So," she began brightly, changing the topic, "has your posting been finalized?" John looked at Deanna ruefully, then sighed. In that moment, he realized she was not going to discuss the topic of intimacy in their relationship further, no matter what he said. But, although he was frustrated with her resistance, he cared for her too much to just get up and walk out of her room now. He knew they did not have much time left together before graduation, when they would be pursuing separate paths. He didn't want to squander their remaining chances to be together.

With that decision, he rolled the tension out of his shoulders and put a smile on his face. Deanna did not miss his obvious body language and smiled back reassuringly. He nodded ever so slightly.

"Yeah, it has, Deanna. I had the incredible luck to be posted on the Potemkin," he responded pleasantly.

"Ah, yes," she acknowledged. "What a plum assignment for a newly minted ensign!" She beamed at him with genuine admiration. "And I can't think of anyone more deserving of such an honor!"

"Gee thanks, Deanna," John replied, his face lighting up with appreciation. "Hey," he added after a moment, "you're not such a slouch yourself in the after-graduation department, *Counselor*," John laughed. Deanna bowed her head modestly, her face once again blushing.

"So what exactly will you be doing when you return to Betazed?" he asked with genuine interest.

"I'll enroll in the University of Betazed as a post-graduate student in psychology and languages. I've been told that after a year or two of classes, Starfleet will be placing me on one of the Galaxy-class starships as the first Ship's Counselor."

"Gee, I bow down at the feet of greatness," John laughed as he jokingly bent down in a melodramatic bow. His humorous gesture triggered hysterical giggles from Deanna. This, in turn, escalated John's laughter, so in short order, they were both holding their sides and doubled over in laughter.

After a few moments punctuated by the staccato sounds of their guffaws, their laughter faded to a comfortable silence. Then a thoughtful expression stole over Deanna's face. "You know what's strange about all this?" she asked softly. John eyed her questioningly. "All these years, I have struggled to leave Betazed," she related.

"To get away from your mother," John interjected knowingly. Deanna nodded soberly. "Yes, to get away from my mother. But, more important, to be able to live my own life and pursue my own path," she explained quietly.

"And now?" John asked. Deanna drew in a deep breath. "And now, I'm returning to the very things I left behind." She stared blankly at some invisible spot on the wall. Talking now more to herself, she murmured, "It remains to be seen what I really did leave behind."


He floated effortlessly in the boundless darkness of space. Swirling slowly around him were bright stars, skein-like in their twinkling luminosity. From far away, a harsh voice called out in clipped tones, "Suck it up." Frantically, he struggled to move himself away from that voice. Flailing wildly, he managed to push himself forward. "What have you got to say for yourself?" a bellowed sneer came from behind as if pursuing him. Again, with all the strength he could muster, he tumbled himself forward and further into the inky darkness. Echoes of "You're no son of mine" faded behind him.

Slowly, the gut-searing grief that slammed up into his chest with those heartless, all-too familiar words eased. The empty silence itself soothed his tormented soul. Ahead, sparkling orbs beckoned him with an undefined promise of discovery and affirmation.

After drifting comfortably for an indeterminate span of time, he heard another voice. This, male also, had a quality of military command to it. At first the words were not discernable. But soon, he heard the word "Commander." Raising his eyebrows in a silent question, he waited for the next articulation. "Captain" and "here" drifted into his ears. "My destiny," he smiled to himself, feeling the fullness of satisfied ambition swell within him.

In the very next instant, from somewhere behind, came the dulcet tones of a familiar yet still unrecognizable woman's voice. The very musicality of her voice reached into his innermost soul and caressed it. And once again, that barely decipherable word floated on the wings of her song to the edge of his perception. The word was warmth. It was love. It was communion.

He whipped around to see where that alluring murmur came from, that song that had soothed his heart so many times. Reaching out a trembling hand, he cried out, "Where are you? Why won't you let me find you?" Again, the softest articulation of the barely recognizable syllables crossed the threshold of his hearing. "Please, I need to find you," he called out.

He began to move forward towards her voice. As he did so, clipped soldierly tones came at him from behind. "Commander," the voice intoned. "Ca-a-a-ptain," it beckoned. Again, he spun around to try and spot the location of that voice. No sooner than he had done so, yet again that enticing yet undecipherable set of syllables called to him from the other direction. And then again, the military words came. He wheeled his head towards those words of professional achievement. Then that warming unknown voice and word lapped up against his ears. In short order, the words were warring against one another, holding him in their conflicting grips. Back and forth he twisted his head. His inner soul was rent in two, the words of career drawing his ego with their promise of success and, in opposition, the soft tones and that mysterious but magical word luring his heart with an offer of boundless love and healing communion. Commander…love. Captain…communion. He threw his hands to his head wildly, in utter distress. "Tell me what to do!" he screamed out…

Will thrashed wildly in his sleep. It was clear to his bed partner that he was in the throes of some dream or nightmare. Deftly, she grabbed his muscular arms before they managed to turn her into an incidental target. "Hey Will," she murmured soothingly. "Wake up. It's just a dream." She pinned his arms across his chest and leaned close to his ear. In a louder voice, she teased, "Come in Ensign Baby Face. This is the Pegasus calling."

Slowly, his long-lashed eyes slid open. He looked around, his sleepy eyes reflecting his momentary disorientation. A moment later, reality set in as he realized who was pinning him down. He offered a tentative smile and whispered, "I'm okay now." She grinned back and released his arms from her grasp. Tiredly, he rubbed his hands across his face.

"That must have been some dream you had there, Will," the curvaceous brunette said. Will dragged his fingers through his spiky hair. Letting a large yawn escape, he replied, "I'll say."

"Anything you want to share with me, space cowboy?" she said playfully and mussed his hair.

"Nope," Will responded. "I don't care to have my private thoughts shared with half of your fellow officers in Engineering, thanks." He stared at her pointedly.

"Half of Engineering? Who me?" she snickered, taking on the air of having been offended. Will grabbed her hand and pulled her down onto his broad chest. "Yes, you, Ensign Bradshaw."

"Oh, on formal terms now, are we?" she teased. Then she mumbled, "Ensign Baby Face."

"Hey, I heard that, Ensign Scuttlebutt," Will shot back, now awake. "It was bad enough that Boylen had to give me that nickname…But you and your big mouth had to go spreading it all over Engineering!" She raised herself onto her arms and eyed him provocatively.

"Hey, now wait just a second there, Mis-ter Riker," she huffed. "What's this about my big mouth?" She eyed him wryly. "I thought you rather liked it." Will locked his clear blue eyes on hers and touched his fingers to her lips. "Well, it all depends on what you are doing with it, you know," he murmured suggestively.

"Hmm, I see," she responded. She hovered just above his face and locked her sparkling eyes onto his expectant face. Pressing her lips against his, she whispered, "How about when I'm doing this?" Will wrapped his hands around her head and wove his fingers in her thick tresses. He smiled against her lips and breathed, "Just what do you reckon?" An instant later, he ran his tongue along the contours of her mouth and then teased her lips apart. Groaning into the kiss, they let their wet tongues engage in a familiar sensuous dance.

"Gods, Will," she gasped, "you are an incredible kisser!" Will smiled broadly and pulled her to his mouth again. Sliding his hot tongue into her mouth, he demonstrated yet again what an art form he had turned the act of kissing into. Instantly, they lost themselves to the pleasures of his masterful technique.

"So, is that all I'm incredible at, Leni?" he grinned when they broke the kiss. She smacked him playfully on his chest and shook her head. "Hey, park it for once, Riker," she advised, eyeing him judgmentally. Will snickered and threaded his fingers once again through her luxurious hair. "Park what, baby?" he asked suggestively, his passion-dilated eyes focused on her flushed face.

"I was going to suggest your galaxy-sized ego, fly boy, but something beneath my hips here changed my mind," she murmured. "Didn't you get enough earlier?" Will laughed. "Oh," she replied, running a finger sensually through his chest hair and over his nipples, "that was then…"

"I see," Will acknowledged, moving his hand to caress one of her breasts. Leni smiled provocatively, then slid off of Will to lie by his side. Leaning over his torso, she began to lick her way slowly down his chest, dancing her tongue through his chest hair and around his nipples. Then, with long, languorous sweeps of her tongue, she slid her way down to his erect member. His stimulated groans brought a smile of success on her face and heightened the tense tingling in her own body.

"Gods, Leni, what are you doing to me?" he moaned, reaching blindly for any part of her he could touch. Her own voice began to be punctuated by shallow pants. "Gonna miss this on Betazed, Baby Face?" she breathed brokenly, waiting for his response before she took him in her mouth. "Gods…what do you think?" he gasped as her warm mouth encased him. A moment later, she let his engorged member slide out of her mouth and then she straddled his groin. She sat on him and rocked herself back and forth, pleasuring herself as she further stimulated him.

With all the strength of will he could muster, Will suddenly pulled her forward and flipped her onto her back. "I'm not done with you yet, baby," he growled as he helped himself to her full, firm breasts. Expertly, he caressed and then licked each one, and then kissed his way to her groin. Positioning himself between her legs, he buried his mouth in the soft region of her womanhood. Probing and touching with his tongue, he ravished her swollen bud and the skin around it. Quickly, she was twisting and moaning with passionate abandon.

Will broke contact with her center of delight and slid up her torso. Slipping a knee between her legs, he grunted, "I've got to have you, baby." She nodded and panted, "Go for it, fly boy." With that, he slid himself into her moist folds. Rocking his hips back and forth in an ancient dance of passion, he brought them both to the crest quickly. Screaming out in unfettered lust, they both shuddered as they exploded with orgasmic release.

Will fell heavily onto Leni's heaving body. For untold moments, they laid silently as their pulses slowed to normal. And then Leni began to trace the contour of Will's jaw line. Speaking softly, she said, "So, Ensign Baby Face, you never answered my question…" Will rose up on his arms and replied, "What question was that, Scuttlebutt?"

"The one I asked before we got so distracted," she sighed pleasantly. Will smiled warmly and said, "Yeah, we did get rather distracted didn't we?" And then he placed a light kiss on her lips. "So what question was that?"

"I asked you if you were going to miss this on Betazed."

"Shit, you had to remind me of going planet-side, didn't you?" He shook his head ruefully. "I'd rather they were rotating me onto another ship. Instead, I get to twiddle my thumbs and sit on my ass at the Embassy…"

"You didn't answer the question, fly boy," she chided him. "Besides, you and I know if they told you to go fuck a Romulan, you'd do it if you thought it would advance your career, Riker."

"Fuck a Romulan? I'm not sure I'm that desperate to move ahead…"

"Cut the crap, Baby Face. You and I know you'd do just that," she admonished him. She gave him a skeptical glare. Will nodded resignedly and said, "Scuttlebutt, you know me too well…Now what was the question?" Leni locked her fingers behind his neck and pulled him to her lips. Unleashing her tongue in his mouth, she entranced him with another passionate kiss. "This," she then breathed. "Are you going to miss this on Betazed?"

"Yeah, right, now I remember the question," he snickered. He flashed a winning grin at Leni. "Yeah, of course I'll miss this, Leni. You're a special gal."

"Just how special do you mean?" she queried, suddenly serious. Will looked down awkwardly, suddenly tongue-tied. Then he focused his earnest blue eyes on her somber face. "You're the best friend I've got on board, Leni," he replied softly.

"Friend...Nothing more?" she prodded. Will stared silently. Leni sat up and drew up her knees out from under Will's body. "Even with all that we have," she began morosely, "it's still just friends, is it?" Will turned onto his side and propped himself up on his elbow. Training his now sad eyes onto hers, he sighed, "I'm sorry, Leni. It's the best I can do…"

Leni shook her head uncomprehendingly. Leaning over to touch her index finger to his chest, she commented softly, "Somewhere in there, William Riker, is a wonderful heart. But you've got it so wrapped up in armor that no one can get to it. You open up a chink in it to fuel your ambition, but slam it shut the moment anyone gets remotely near it. You won't let love out, Will, and you won't let love in. And I feel incredibly sad for you. You're going to go through the rest of life shielding yourself from people and end up a lonely old man with nothing but accolades to keep you company." She slid her legs off the mattress and stood up. Gazing down at the handsome man before her, she whispered, "And even if you don't love me, Will, I do love you." A lone tear trickled down Will's cheek.

"I think it's time for me to go now, Will." She bent down to the floor to collect her clothes and then walked into the hygiene unit. Several minutes later, she stepped out, dressed in her uniform. Offering him a mournful glance, she stepped into the corridor. The door slid shut as he whispered brokenly, "You're not the one who can heal my heart…"


It was late at night. The inky darkness of the night sky was punctuated by a sparkling filigree of twinkling stars. The pale light cast by the moons over Betzed bathed everything in subdued tones of gray and purple. The very softness of the dim moonlight bespoke an invitation to relaxing slumber.

In her bedroom in the Troi mansion, Deanna sat by the window, resting her head on her arms, which she had draped over the window sill. Vainly, she searched for a sense of calm that such night views had so often brought her. But in that moment, her mind and soul were bound up in the turbulence of inner turmoil. A myriad of thoughts and feelings tumbled and ricocheted rapidly within her, leaving her feeling overwhelmed. Yet, she knew that she had to impose some semblance of order over her chaotic interior if she was to get any sleep, let alone get up the next day and make it to her classes.

Deanna sat up and turned away from the window. Leaning back in her thickly padded easy chair, she closed her long-lashed eyes. With practiced deliberateness, she focused solely on her breathing. The sound of her breath, rasping in and out of her body, became her sole awareness. As she became one with the rhythm of her respirations, a sense of quiet stole over her. Finally, her thoughts slowed down, permitting her to calmly review the events that had put her mind in such a frenzy.

It had all started at Chandra Xerx's wedding earlier that evening. Chandra had asked her to be her maid of honor, a highly treasured privilege. This meant that Deanna was the one who would call Chandra forth to the place of marriage and walk her over to her husband-to-be. It was a prospect that Deanna had been looking forward to eagerly.

At the appointed time in the ceremony, Deanna, naked and unashamed of her young nubile body, gracefully walked into the thickly garlanded chapel. With practiced grace, she stepped over to the front row of chairs where Chandra was seated and gestured towards her. In her musical voice, Deanna summoned Chandra forth to join with her soon-to-be husband. With a joyously radiant smile, Chandra arose and took Deanna's hand. Together, the two best friends walked over to Teb, Chandra's fiancé, and the clergyman who was to perform the marital rites.

And that is when it all started for Deanna. A moment after she had walked Chandra over to Teb, she felt something totally unfamiliar in her mind. A slight tickle, it was as light as the flapping of a butterfly's wings in the back of her mind. Never before had she experienced anything like it.

The strange sensation drew her attention away from the celebrants before her. As she momentarily contemplated the gentle tingling in her mind, she felt inexplicably compelled to direct her eyes towards the assembled guests. Her gaze settled instantly on one man who was already staring at her. Tall and handsome, his generous chest hair immediately marked him as an off-worlder. His intense and vaguely erotic interest in her was blindingly obvious to her, despite the fact that she should not have been able to sense him in such a sizeable crowd.

His apparent preoccupation with her both pleased and embarrassed Deanna. Still, she watched him, a hint of a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. And then she apprehended his sudden acute embarrassment. He obviously realized that she was looking at him and could probably sense him. And although Deanna did not ordinarily enjoy the discomfort of others, there was something about this stranger's dismay that tickled her fancy. An amused smile spread across her delicate features. The embarrassed bright red blush on his face triggered a bemused snicker from Deanna. And then the sound of the clergyman reading the ancient marital vows in Betazin brought her attention back to the proceedings before her. Deanna turned back to attend to the ceremony. And from that moment on, she was free of her odd awareness of that non-Betazoid man seated in the audience.

Deanna looked momentarily out of the window of her room to the twinkling stars in the dark night sky. Then she found her thoughts centering on the tall off-worlder. What was it about this man that attracted her attention? How was it that she could sense him in the midst of that crowd? Deanna shook her head and stared at some invisible spot on the wall. If she only could figure it out…That man…

She had seen him again later in the evening at the reception. It was then that she realized he was an officer in Starfleet. His uniform gave him away. She smiled to herself as she observed him staring at her again. He wore his hormone-driven emotions like a second skin. Rather like her first adolescent love, Jeb Trax, had so long ago. Still, this was Chandra's celebration, and Deanna was intent in sharing in her best friend's joy. And so Deanna decided on the spot that Chandra would be her sole focus for the rest of the evening…

Deanna smiled as she remembered the mild teasing she and Chandra's other friends had offered the new couple in the toasts that began the meal. It was all done in a spirit of fun, and Chandra and Teb laughed heartily at each gently barbed joke. And then Teb had his revenge with a speech that he laced liberally with awful puns and abundant but gentle needling of his and Chandra's friends.

Then Deanna recalled the end of the reception. Chandra stepped to the center of the dance floor. Wearing a devil-may-care grin, she tossed her gauzy bride's hair band over her right shoulder. Amidst the eager squeals of Chandra's gathered friends, expectant hands shot up to try to catch the accessory. Each one hoped, as Betazoid tradition held, that by catching the item she would know that the great love of her life was there that night. And it was Deanna who caught the hair band.

Chandra saw immediately that her best friend had snagged the prized item. She walked over to Deanna with a broad smile on her face. Wrapping her arms around Deanna in a congratulatory embrace, she whispered, "So he's here tonight, Deanna. Maybe he'll even be your Imzadi."

"Imzadi…," Deanna thought to herself dreamily. "Maybe he was there, in fact…Who could that have been?" She reviewed every eligible male she could think of who was at the reception. As she did so, her mother's words from long ago came back to her: "You will know in your heart that he is the one." Not one man she had seen triggered such a recognition in her heart. "No," she sighed to herself, "it's just another one of those meaningless ideas held over from the past." Then she snickered, "Like that moldy old pot of Mother's…"

Feeling more relaxed now, Deanna arose from her chair and walked over to her bed. She pulled the satin bed sheet back and slid her tired body under the covers. She let herself sink gratefully into the welcoming comfort of the pile of softly scented pillows. With remembered strains of the music at the reception wafting through her mind, slowly she slipped into the realm of slumber. As she did, unbidden images of that handsome, oddly readable Starfleet officer floated before her mind's eye. "Why," her drowsy mind queried, "would I be thinking of him?" It was the last semi-conscious thought she had before drifting across the line between waking and sleeping.

She drifted pleasantly in a familiar realm. The surrounding terrain was awash in the golden tones of a brilliantly sun-lit day. The sun's heat wrapped her in a blanket of calming warmth. The gentle breeze, redolent with floral scents, danced lazily with her thick curls. And then she heard it, that haunting, supremely soulful word, carried lightly on the breeze. A male voice she could not recognize uttered those three magical syllables: "Im-zaaaa-diii."

She turned, hoping to discern the direction of that soothing voice. "Iiim-zaaaa-diii," it called out again, this time from another direction. "Where are you?" she called out. "I want to know who you are." She spun around to scan her surroundings. And then she spotted him, standing on the horizon. As had always been the case in her dreams, she could not make out his features nor discern if he was tall or short. All she could tell was that the indistinct view of him brought a sense of calm and connectedness she felt no where else.

"Come closer," she called out to the phantasm on the horizon. "Please let me know who you are." The man shook his head. "You will know in your heart…," he uttered in an unrecognizable voice, recalling the words of her mother. Then he began to fade. Soon, there was no evidence that he had ever been there. Except the echoes of the word that spoke volumes to her. More softly now, the word came to her, reassuring her heart that the man who matched it was sure to be found.

She sat down on the fragrant grass and looked towards the horizon. "Don't be long in coming," she whispered sadly. Then she let out a broken sigh and wiped an errant tear from her cheek. "Please…"

No sooner than she had uttered these words but she felt a presence. She could not say if it was that of the mysterious man on the horizon. Filled with sudden hope, she spun around where she sat. A charge of disappointment mixed with utter surprise shot through her as she saw who stood near her. It was the tall Starfleet off-worlder she had seen at Chandra's wedding and reception. "Why are *you* here?" she asked, heedless of the rudeness of her manner…

Deanna's eyes flew open and she sat bolt upright in her bed. "Now why was *he* in my dream?" she wondered. "What could that possibly mean?" She rubbed her eyes tiredly. "Gods, could he be the man on the horizon?" she gasped. She clutched her chest as her heart skipped a beat. She took a deep, calming breath and then shook her head. "No, it couldn't be…if it was, I would've known it or at least heard 'Imzadi' again." Falling back onto her pillows, she murmured softly, "It couldn't be…"


It was in the early hours of the morning. The ebony Betazed sky was filled with twinkling orbs of light. The planet's moons cast a dull light, coloring everything in a gray scale of black and white. The somnolent silence was noteworthy, even on a planet where most communication was achieved without the use of oral speech. It was as if every creature, humanoid or other, had left the world of the waking.

Except one, a human male. Will Riker. He was still wide awake, despite the late hour and a full day of activities. But the comfort of slumber was no where to be found. Instead, he tossed and turned restlessly on his bed, caught in the throes of consuming confusion and erotic impulses. Questions and thoughts flew scattershot in his mind. His body was whipped to a frenzy that was far more than just sexual in nature. And none of it did he understand. At least, not yet.

It was all because of one woman. A woman that he'd seen for the first time only a day ago. A vision of perfection that not only had his body ravenous for her but that had also resonated in some hidden place within him.

She had walked into the chapel the day before at Chandra Xerx's wedding, moving with practiced grace towards the front row. The sight of her wondrous beauty nearly stopped his heart on the spot. A moment later, when he had caught his breath, he almost embarrassed himself as he contemplated what he would like to be doing with her slender neck, her lusciously ripe breasts, her rounded buttocks and her hidden womanhood. And though he was no stranger to instant fantasies about erotic enjoyment of a woman, the intensity of his momentary reverie surprised him. Why would he respond more strongly to her appearance than to any other woman's?

A few minutes later, she looked at him and smiled. He died a million deaths in that instant. "Gods," he thought to himself in a panic, "Riker, you're an idiot. The woman knows what you're thinking!" But then he sensed something else in that moment of visual contact. Something that had nothing to do with vision. It was rather the barest echo of a sound that resonated softly within his body and mind. What was that sound? A word? Had he ever heard that softly whispered note before? He didn't think so, but it seemed so familiar and so right…

All of that alone was enough to throw him into a frantic tizzy. Will was normally unflappable when it came to dealing with women, but she clearly wasn't just any woman. And now, as he thought about her, his body was flooded with desire. His chest spasmed with pleasantly tense anticipation and his member began yet again to throb and harden.

But it wasn't just her body that set his senses spinning and his body on fire. It was her voice, so sultry and musical. He had gone to the University to try and meet her in person this morning. He finally managed to find her walking across the campus. His heart had soared briefly with the thought that his winning ways with women would snag this most exotic and intriguing goddess.

His hopes were quickly dashed by her polite but curt directness. He tried every way he could think of to insinuate his way into her good graces, but to no avail. She wouldn't budge. Still, her voice enchanted him with its low throaty tones. Indeed, he found the sound of it intoxicating. It mesmerized him as surely as a Terran snake charmer would transfix a serpent. And though her words were ones of negation, still there was an indescribable come-hither quality to her voice that drew him to her.

And more than all of that, there was a sensation that buzzed lightly in the back of his mind when he was with her. He could neither describe it nor explain it. He had never experienced such an awareness before in his life. All he knew was that he noticed it this morning when he met her at the University and again this evening when he talked to her at the Embassy reception for the Rigelian ambassador. Gods, what he would give to figure out what that strange tickle was…

Deanna Troi. Even her name had an exotic, alluring quality to it. He knew instantly it was a name he would never forget…

Will tossed himself onto his back. His body was on fire with unquenched carnal hunger. Knowing he would never fall asleep in his aroused state, he instinctively pulled his boxer shorts down far enough to release his bulging manhood and wrapped his hand around it to pleasure himself. One delicious downward stroke and then he stopped…For reasons he couldn't even begin to comprehend, it suddenly seemed wrong to satisfy himself while he thought of Deanna Troi. It would somehow be a sacrilege. Never before had he felt that way about a woman or about masturbating while thinking of one.

He ached with a desperate need for release. "Oh shit…I've got to do something," he grumbled to himself. He arose from his bed and walked to the bathroom. "Looks like it's cold shower time, Riker," he groaned.

Once he had the shower going full strength, he stepped in. The chill of the cold water against his heated and flushed skin caused him to shudder. He leaned against the wall of the stall and let the painfully cold water run down his back and shoulders. Slowly, his erection eased and his body let go of its passion-driven tension.

He let his mind wander as the sound of the water pounding down mesmerized him. Again, his thoughts centered on Deanna Troi. But this time, he did so coolly, without a trace of erotic thoughts. The sound of her voice echoed musically in his mind and he saw her dark, alluring eyes again.

He tried to recall his conversation this morning at the University…There was something about that conversation…It was something she said. No, it was something he *thought* she said. And then he remembered that it was her voice, but *inside* his head. "Don't give up" had rolled softly through his consciousness. Now, how was it possible to hear her without her speaking out loud? Will shook his sodden head uncomprehendingly.

He turned off the water and got out of the shower stall. Wrapping a large towel around his waist sarong-style, he stepped back into his room. He walked over to his closet and pulled out a bottle of scotch whiskey. He poured himself half a glass full of the honey-colored liquid and plunked himself down into the easy chair near the window. Taking a swig of the liquor, he swirled it around in his mouth. The scotch burned slightly as it rolled down his throat. With a satisfied sigh, he smiled, "Ah, now that's the real thing for sure. No replicated crap for me."

Propping his feet up on the back of the desk chair, he turned his head and stared at the dark night sky, pregnant with twinkling points of light. "Gods," he whispered wistfully, "that's where I should be. Not here. I'm no good at this planet-side stuff." He took another sip of his drink. "But I'm stuck here, so I might as well make the best of it," he sighed. And then he grinned crookedly. "Well, maybe that isn't so bad, if it means I get more time with Deanna Troi."

With each successive swallow of the scotch, Will found himself finally relaxing. Taking a final swig of his drink, he stood up to walk to his bed. "Maybe now I can get some sleep," he muttered as he slid under the bed sheets. He settled himself into a comfortable position and closed his long-lashed eyes. Soon after, he crossed the line to the realm of slumber. Drawing him in further and further was that familiar yet barely audible set of syllables, floating on the currents of his dreams. And then, a sultry woman's voice beckoned him. "Don't give up," it murmured.


"Imzadi." It was the simplest of words. Three soft syllables that rolled readily off the tongue. A small word pregnant with meaning. "Beloved." "Intended." It conveyed this and so much more.

This was the word that flickered in the minds of two people deep in the Jalara Jungle. In so doing, it signaled the beginning of a bond so deep and strong that two separate souls were melded into one. Careening between the two on invisible tendrils of energy, it ignited a love that would endure over the lives of both, whether tended or not…


It had started for Will just after he rescued Deanna from the clutches of a maniacal Sindareen in the heart of the Jalara Jungle. Deanna sat wrapped in Will's arms for an indeterminate time letting out silent tears of shock. And then the moment he had hoped would happen did: she brought her lips to his and engaged him in a long, sweet kiss.

It was the kiss he'd been waiting for and fantasizing about. Her mouth was every bit as enticing as he had hoped. Still, a nagging small voice in the back of his mind told him that this was wrong, that she was traumatized and probably just acting out of shock. So he pulled back and expressed his reservations.

"Kiss me, Riker," she commanded as she pulled his face close to hers. With those words, all of Will's sense of propriety and professionalism abandoned him, leaving him with his barely controlled hunger and the woman he had craved since coming to Betazed. And from a place within him that he did not quite understand, unleashed love poured out of him for the first time in over two decades.

All around, animals uttered their calls, announcing their presence as unintended witnesses to the act of communion unfolding in their domain. Seemingly unaware of their cacophonous chatter, Will pressed her gently down to the ground. Then, he brought his lips to hers and eagerly sought entry with his tongue. He tasted her mouth, one he had craved exploring. It was sweet in its softness. Instantly, he lost himself to a somehow familiar dance of lovers' tongues. The dance stretched a seeming eternity.

He pulled back at the end of that delicious kiss and stared wordlessly at the vision of beauty lying next to him on the jungle floor. Her ebony eyes, full of passion and wonder, silently invited him to explore her further. A slight nod of her head cemented the permission she tacitly gave to him. He smiled warmly and nodded back, signaling his understanding.

He locked his lips to hers once more. Engaging in another gentle duel of tongues, his finger traced a tingling path down her neck, onto her collarbone and down along the contours of her breasts. She took his hand in hers and guided him in pulling her tunic down off her shoulders. "Please…," she whispered.

At that moment, part of him wanted to rip the clothes off of her instantly. And with any other woman, he probably would have done just that. But this wondrous angel at his side moved his heart, for the first time, to love and worshipfulness. He did not know why, nor did he care. It was enough that he felt that way.

Reverently, he slid her tunic and then her skirt off of her. Then he paused to drink in her beautiful perfection. Eagerly, his senses took in her fine-featured face, her depthless ebony eyes, her luscious curves, her ripe breasts heaving with each breath, her inviting womanhood. Her sweet scent, still barely discernable, blended with the musky smell of her sweat to create a potent aphrodisiac. "You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen," he murmured huskily.

Readying himself to partake in the pleasures of her body, he didn't bother to ask what forms his ministrations should take or where to apply them. Somehow, he already knew exactly what she wanted. And, for the first time in his life, pleasing the woman he was with was paramount in his mind and heart.

Will leaned over and began to nibble lightly on her neck. Deanna moaned softly and languorously draped her arms over his broad shoulders. His nibbles turned into small kisses and light touches of his tongue. Alternating between butterfly kisses and licks of his tongue, Will worked his way down along her collarbone and down towards her breasts. Before his mouth descended on one of her full breasts, he looked at her questioningly. Again, her silent nod gave him the unspoken permission to bring pleasure to her body.

Will's lips closed around one of her breasts. With skillful licks and sucks, he teased it, triggering pulses of tingling warmth within her that Deanna never knew was possible. "Gods…," she breathed brokenly, "Will…" Will released her hardened nipple from his mouth and, putting a silencing finger gently across her lips, sibilantly quieted her. Then, moving over to her other breast, he bestowed the same ministrations on it.

A moment later, Will forged a wet trail down her chest and abdomen. Enjoying every soft inch down to her womanhood, he buried his mouth in her inky curls. He let himself revel in her musky taste, moaning pleasurably. Then, he began to stroke and stimulate her swollen bud with his tongue. She twisted and groaned in response to his attentions.

In that instant, he realized that with any one else, his stimulatory ministrations would have been an act of animal hunger; with Deanna, it was an act of worship. He knew then that he needed to venerate this woman he was with rather than merely ravish her for his own pleasure.

He lifted his head up to gaze into her passion-dilated dark eyes. "Is this what…," he began. She interrupted him with a seductive yet satisfied smile. "Yes, Will…," she murmured huskily. "Please don't stop."

Will slid back up to engage her in another long and passionate kiss. As their tongues dueled lovingly once again, Will ran his fingers lightly up over her breasts and caressed her nipples. This time, Deanna's response was to wrap her hands around his wrists and to gently nudge him over onto his back…


Deanna's path to the forging of that most special bond began at the same time Will's did: after his rescue of her from the crazed Sindareen. Her first reaction had been utter shock.
She had been psychologically brutalized by the angry alien and then had come to within an inch of losing her life. Now, she felt only numbness.

She and Will began the long trek back towards civilization. Slowly, her shock dissipated. Then she found herself completely overtaken by the backlash of her emotions. Silently, tears of fear and anger began to forge liquid trails down her cheeks. Her shoulders began to shake with her contained sobs and her body began to shiver.

Will realized what was happening and pulled her down to the ground to comfort her. He wrapped his strong arms around her and rocked her soothingly. After an indeterminate amount of time, her sobs ceased.

She turned to face him. Slowly, she brought her lips to his and pressed into a kiss of promise and of thankfulness. When they pulled back, Will questioned the rightness of the kiss. But Deanna knew, for the first time without question, that this was utterly right. And so she told him clearly, "Let me put this in words you'll understand…Kiss me, Riker."

She joined her lips to his and let him explore her mouth with his tongue. Then, tentatively, she offered her tongue as a partner to his. Stroking and gently stabbing their tongues together, an intricate choreography took center stage in their mouths. And though she had had little actual experience with this passionate a kiss, somehow she instinctively knew what to do. Into that kiss she poured feelings of love and longing, the source of which she hardly knew.

And then Will began to caress and stimulate her body: her neck, her breasts, her center of pleasure. The sensations his hands and tongue triggered in her body was a whole new universe for her. Warm tingling in her breasts, a pleasant tension in her chest and abdomen, an insistent throbbing in her womanhood were all part of the new dimension Will was delivering her body to.

A moment later, she pushed him over onto his back. She brought her lips to his yet again and unleashed a kiss full of fervor. Tasting his mouth once again, she smiled with the pleasure she now knew she was giving him. His eager moans rumbled out of his throat as their tongues danced together.

At the end of the kiss, Deanna wordlessly unzipped Will's uniform tunic. She paused momentarily to sample his sweaty, musky body smell. It thrilled and stimulated her in a way she never knew possible.

She began to explore Will's body with her tongue. Touching and stroking, her tongue ran sensuous circles around Will's Adam's apple. Then she moved with agonizing slowness down onto his chest. Forging her way through the thick matting of hair on Will's chest, she closed her mouth around one of his nipples and taunted it. A moment later, she moved over to his other nipple and teased that one as well.

As she released his nipple from her oral grip, she thought to herself, "Now how did I know to do that?" For the truth was that she had never been with a man. The only intimate contact she had had before this was kisses. The terrain of a man's body - of Will's body - was thus terra incognito to her. And yet, she knew exactly what to do and what she wanted to do with Will's handsome body.

But what was that feeling that she felt welling up in her chest at that moment? A surge of pure warmth filled her soul. Could that be love? How could that be with a man she barely knew? Shaking her head slightly to dispel her questions, she smiled lovingly at the passion-flushed face of the man who had saved her life. His responding grin mutely invited her to continue.

Deanna brought her mouth down to his body again. This time, she showered his abdomen with wet kisses. Meeting up with the part of the zipper still closed on his uniform, she reached down to caress his bulging arousal from the outside. Then, with a lusty eagerness, she opened the zipper the rest of the way and pulled his boxers down to release his solidly erect member.

Seeing a man's organ was nothing new to her as a native of a planet that valued nudity as an equivalent to purity. But she had never seen one in an aroused state. Still, she felt no embarrassment. Rather, it heightened her desire to shower Will with her emergent love and to experience him even more intimately. Straddling his legs now, she bent down and placed light, tender kisses along his length. His resulting moans announced her success in stimulating him to greater heights of sensual tension.

Deanna slid off of his legs to remove first his boots, then his uniform the rest of the way. Murmuring huskily, she said, "I don't think you'll need these now." Will smiled and mutely shook his head. Then he reached for her arms and pulled her to him once again. "Come here, Deanna," he whispered brokenly. Pressing his lips to hers, he breathed, "You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen." Entwining his fingers in her thick raven locks, he followed his fervently-spoken words with another deep and hungry kiss.

At the end of the kiss, Will gently rolled Deanna over onto her back. Locking his passion-dilated blue eyes on her dark ones, he muttered, "I've wanted women before, but never like this, Deanna." She offered him a drunken smile and responded, "Uh-huh. And?" With his fingers now tracing the edges of her ears, he continued, "I don't know what's happening to me, but I've never wanted someone as much as I want you right now, in this minute." Deanna cupped his face in her hands and eyed him lovingly. "I'm yours."

Will ran his fingers lightly down her chest and then to her womanhood. Gently, he inserted his finger into her, only to find that she was ready for him. Filled with near-awe at the union he was about to join in, he studied her face reverently. And in that instant he knew that for the first time in his life, he would be making love to a woman, not just having intercourse.

Deanna watched the play of love and awe wash across Will's face and was overcome by the sheer weight of those feelings. Her heart thudded in her ears as she offered a silent nod as her invitation to consummation. Will smiled back, warmly acknowledging her acceptance.

Will teased her legs apart with his knee. Gently, he slid himself into her moist folds. Then he looked to her radiant face, waiting to know that she was ready for him. "Yes," was all she sighed. Slowly at first then faster, Will began to rock his hips back and forth.
Instantly, they were bound up in an ancient choreography of love. Skin slapped against skin and heated moans spilled from their lips. Quickly, throbbing tension built within them to explosive proportions. And then they hit the acme of their fevered passion and spilled over into orgasmic delight.

It was in that moment that a word, simple in its sound but infinitely complex in its depth of meaning, crossed the thresholds of their minds and souls. A word that carried the power to bind lovers eternally and to merge their two souls into unity. One that sealed the fate of those two young lovers wrestling in the throes of passionate climax in the heart of the Jalara Jungle. And that word was 'Imzadi'.


In that instant of joining, Will heard the tones of that ancient Betazoid word echo in his heart. Without knowing how he recognized it, he immediately realized that he knew it. The word was warmth and connection. It was love, a kind of love he had barely ever known in his life. It was a priceless gift to his soul. A gift he would share with the beautiful woman in his arms…


As she exploded over the crest of her own orgasm, the word that had haunted her dreams for years floated into her mind. And in that moment, Deanna knew in her heart and soul that her intended, her Imzadi was right there. And she knew it without a doubt, just as her mother had told her so long ago…


In this way, that most magical of words began to weave two souls together. Tendrils of connective energy, born on the waves of communion, reached out from heart to heart and from mind to mind. And on that day, two souls who had been lost began to find that which each had most needed…the all-encompassing love of Imzadi.


Alpha shift had just ended on board the U.S.S. Enterprise. Along with some other crew members, Geordi Laforge headed straight for Ten Forward. He was hungry and hoped for some pleasant companionship.

The doors to the lounge slid open. Weaving his way between tables and easy chairs, the Chief of Engineering approached the one vacant seat that he'd spotted. As he drew nearer, he saw who the occupant of the other seat was: Commander Will Riker. Laforge saw that the Enterprise's second in command was staring out of the view port and seemed to be lost in thought. He hoped his commanding officer would not mind the company.

"Excuse me, Commander," the blind officer said. Will looked at him in question. "Might I join you?" Will smiled pleasantly and nodded. "Of course, have a seat, Geordi." Laforge sat down and gestured to one of the servers. Moments later, the server appeared and took his order.

"Long shift, eh?" Will inquired. Geordi nodded his head vigorously. "Yeah, things were really hopping down in Engineering during Alpha shift." He leaned back and stretched his arms above his head. "Anything happen on the Bridge that I didn't hear about?"

"No, things were pretty routine up in my quadrant," Will responded. In the next moment, he looked down distractedly at the glass of synthehol on the table before him. He began to run an aimless path around the rim of the glass with his finger.

Geordi saw the faraway look on his commanding officer's face. "Would you prefer to be alone, Commander?" Riker jerked his head up and viewed his companion with apologetic eyes.

"I'm sorry, Geordi," Will said. "I'm just lost in thought there." Laforge nodded. At that moment, a server appeared with Geordi's food and beverage. Thanking the server, he then turned his attention back to his commanding officer.

"You certainly are lost somewhere, Commander," Geordi agreed. "Care to talk about it?" Riker drew in a deep breath and then replied softly, "I was just thinking about the aftermath of our time with the Bak'u…"

"What about it?" Laforge asked. Will stroked his clean-shaven chin thoughtfully.

"Well, I was wondering about how long it will take for the effects of the metaphasic radiation to wear off," he answered.

"Well, for me," the sightless chief engineer expounded as he tapped his visor, "it was about 2 ½ or so weeks. Why do you ask?"

A sudden wave of self-consciousness washed through the tall commander. "Well…," he stammered, "I think I'm still affected by the radiation."

"What makes you say that?" Geordi asked, beginning now to guess at what lay beneath his commanding officer's seeming discomfort.

"Well, it's just…I've been having these…these…," he sputtered. "Feelings?" Laforge interjected, a friendly smile spreading across his face.

"Well, yes…," Will faltered. Once again, he began to trace the edge of his glass with his index finger.

"About?" Geordi coaxed. Will stared at his glass in silence. The Chief Engineer let out a soft snicker. "Commander, if I might be so bold to ask, this is probably about the Counselor. Yes?" Will shot a startled look at his colleague.

"How did you know?"

Geordi began to laugh. "I'm sorry Commander, but your feelings for the Counselor are hardly a secret."

"They're not?" Will queried. Laforge offered a knowing smile. "I don't think there's anyone in senior staff who doesn't know just how you two feel about each other." Will shook his head. The visored engineer leaned over the table and added, "And it's not just the radiation, either."

Riker leaned back in his chair and sighed with relief. "Well, to be honest, that's how I do feel." Geordi bobbed his head in agreement.

"You know," Riker continued, "we tried to be discreet about things…" An amused chuckle rumbled out of the blind officer. "I'm sorry Commander, but you weren't very successful. Do you know how many times one of us has had to turn around and walk the other direction or step away from a turbolift because you and Counselor Troi were putting various parts of the ship to new and different uses?"

Will now joined Geordi in his merriment. Laughing heartily, Will queried, "Are we *that* bad?" Laforge nodded . "Pitiful, Commander, if you must know."

"Oh gods, I'll never live this down," Riker moaned, now a little embarrassed. The blind officer gave Will's arm a comforting pat. "Don't worry, Commander. We've all come to expect anything and everything from you."

Will began to stand up. "Before I get myself into any more trouble here, I think I'll beat a quick retreat," he offered. "I'll see you tomorrow, Geordi."

"Very good, Sir," Laforge replied. "Tomorrow then." And with that, Riker turned and walked out of Ten Forward.

Later that evening, Will was sitting in an easy chair in his quarters. He had poured himself a glass of scotch from a private supply he'd obtained from Guinan. He was swirling the contents of the glass around idly as he listened to the soft jazz music he'd requested from the computer.

The combination of the relaxing music and the calming effects of the liquor left Will in a contemplative mood. He thought about what Geordi had said to him earlier in Ten Forward. The officer's words closely echoed those of Commander Worf a month ago before when they left the Bak'u home world. "Yeah," Will sighed pleasantly to himself, "no changes there. This is the real thing."

Riker leaned back in his chair and propped his feet up on the divan before him. He let his mind wander as the gentle strains of the music wove themselves into his thoughts. Quickly, his meandering reverie turned to the one constant source of joy in his life: Deanna Troi. In his mind's eye, he could see her depthless eyes, feel the softness of her full lips, hear her musical laughter. His inner being was warmed and caressed by her love.

"Gods," he murmured to himself, "I love you so much, Deanna Troi. I always have." And he knew then that he had come to a juncture in his life. He recognized that he could just go on as he had, prizing his career above all other things. But if he chose that path, he sensed that he would end up a very lonely old man. Who was it that had tried to point that out to him when he was younger? He couldn't remember.

On the other hand, he could follow the path that seemed most natural to his heart. He could cement his relationship with the one person in the world who meant more to him than life itself. He could ask her to marry him.

A tense knot lodged itself in his throat. He was abundantly aware that the choice he made now would have profound repercussions for the rest of his life. He took a nervous swig from his glass. "Gods, Riker," he admonished himself. "This isn't rocket science here." Then, unbidden, a sudden image of Deanna floated in his mind. He could hear her soft, melodious voice advise him, "What does your heart tell you?"

Upon hearing those words echoing in his mind, the answer came to him easily. His heart, for so long cut off from true love and trust, had found everything it missed and needed in a wondrous woman from Betazed. His heart told him there was only one choice. And that choice was Deanna Troi.

As the decision coalesced in his mind, the tense lump in his throat disappeared. Will smiled to himself, feeling a satisfying sense of closure and knowing that, for the first time in his life, without a doubt he had made the right choice.

Filled with joy, he arose from his easy chair and made his way into his bedroom. He opened his dresser drawer and removed a small velvet box. Solemnly, he opened the box and stared at the item sitting inside. It was a gold ring with a single diamond in the middle. It had been his mother's engagement ring so many years ago. He touched the ring with reverent fingers and mused, "You'd like her, Momma. I just know you would."

A short while later, Will readied himself for bed. He slid his tired body under the sheets and rested his head on the pillow. The pillow still had a faint floral aroma from the last time Deanna had spent the night with him. The scent brought a satisfied smile to his face. "Soon," he murmured in sleepy tones, "this won't be just something occasionally on my pillow."

Within a few minutes after closing his dark-lashed eyes, Will crossed the threshold between the world of the waking and that of the sleeping. Then, the dream that had recurred since his childhood began once more. Again, he found himself in his beloved meadow with the snow-capped Chugach Mountains looming in the distance. A gentle breeze tousled his spikey hair. The fresh scent of outdoors filled his nostrils. Taking in all of these sensations, Will's heart was at peace.

Will began to amble through the meadow. Beautiful wildflowers grew among the stands of thick grass. He smiled as he stooped down to inhale the delicate fragrances of the flowers. So much like those of some beautiful blossoms he'd encountered long ago. Was it on Betazed?

A moment later, the gentle breeze began to carry on it the tones of a sultry female voice. He stood up and looked around, trying to determine the origin of the sounds. In the distance, he discerned a dark-haired woman. He started to walk towards her. Then he called out to her. "Who are you? Please let me finally see you?"

In past dreams, when he attempted to approach her, she would disappear. This time, however, she did not. She remained as present as he was. And the closer he came to her, the clearer her voice became. Who was she? What was that mysterious word she was saying? He had to know.

In short order, he came close enough to be able to make out both her features and the word she was repeating so softly. At last, he saw who had haunted his dreams for all those years. And it was only in that instant that he made out that alluring but barely decipherable word. And when he did, he took off towards her at a run. Speeding to her with arms outstretched and grateful tears making wet paths down his cheeks, he yelled, "Deanna…Imzadi!"

When he met up with her, he bound her up in a tight embrace born of thankfulness and love. "All this time," he wept brokenly, "it was always you…It was always Imzadi." Deanna stroked his tear-stained face with infinite tenderness. "Yes, my love," she crooned. "It was always me. I've been waiting all this time."

Will sobbed raggedly, his little boy's broken heart only now beginning to be mended. In frightened tones, he whispered, "Is it too late?" Deanna shook her head and responded in a kind voice, "No my love. For Imzadi is eternal." With those comforting words, Will raised his liquid blue eyes to her loving countenance. In silence, he reached out a shaking index finger and touched it to her lips. A gnetle smile filled her face.

An instant later, their bodies began to shimmer as if they were in the grips of some magical transporter. Then their forms dissolved into golden sparkling silhouettes. An instant later, with a flash of bright, white light, where there had been two beings there was now only one. One glowing pulse of pure energy. And from that inchoate orb of limitless light wafted a word, sung with utter beauty, announcing the just-completed communion: "Imzadi"…


It was late at night. The dazzling stars outside the view port washed the cabin's interior in muted tones of gray. On the bed, snuggled comfortably under the bed sheets, lay a petite, dark-haired woman who was lost to the world of the waking. Slowly, drawn gently by the welcoming arms of slumber, she crossed the threshold to her dreams…

She found herself in a familiar field. The scenery was awash in the golden tones of a summer day. The sun's radiance brought a warming touch to her skin. All around her, delicate wild flowers danced gaily in the gentle breeze. Smiling happily to herself, she bent down to watch the impromptu choreography taking place around her.

Gradually, she became aware of barely audible syllables wafting towards her on the gentle air currents. Their inviting and soothing tones caressed her heart and suffused her soul with warmth and love. She looked up, expecting to see as she so often did now the author of those melodious notes. In an instant, she spotted him. Tall and handsome, he stood on the horizon waving to her. She stood up and, with a broad smile, waved back.

"Imzadi," she called out as she always had. Expecting no response, she was utterly surprised to see him first walk, then run towards her. "Imzadi," she breathed, now realizing that he would hear her no matter how quietly she uttered that most precious word. For now she knew that he had finally opened his heart to her fully and embraced her essence as his own, his needy half forging a new whole with hers.

She smiled lovingly as she watched him rapidly close the distance between them. Closer and closer he came. She waited with outstretched arms. And then, in a moment of emotional communion, he fell into her welcoming arms. With tears streaming down his face, he acknowledged, "All this time…It was always you…" Brushing gentle fingers across his wet cheeks, she murmured, "Yes my love…"

Deanna woke with a start. Glistening orbs of moisture fell freely from her eyes. And in that instant, she understood the significance of what she had just dreamed. For she knew that no longer was this just her own dream. It was Will's as well. The tendrils of energy and feeling that bound them as Imzadi had allowed her to see that Will had finally embraced their relationship and embraced the love of his soul mate.

With a grateful smile and a full heart, she laid her head back down on her pillow. Crossing her arms under her head, she whispered to herself, "Gods, I love you Will Riker…If you only knew how long I've waited for this…" What shape their relationship would now take, she did not know. But she did know there would be no turning back.


The next morning, Deanna came onto the Bridge for her scheduled shift. As she exited the turbolift doors, she saw that Will was seated in his usual seat but that the captain's chair was vacant. She started to walk down the ramp towards the command chairs, only half expecting to surprise Will. And sure enough, a moment later, he turned to look at her. She chuckled, "I can't have been that loud, Commander!"

"No, Counselor," he responded, "I just knew you were coming." He offered her a broad, welcoming smile.

Deanna walked towards Will. His eyebrows rose in curiosity. "Yes, Counselor?" he inquired. Deanna leaned over close to his ear and whispered, "We need to talk." Will stared at her in question and tried to discern her feelings. He sensed nothing but loving ones filling her being. She smiled to reassure him. Pointing to her head, she murmured, "I heard you in here last night." She then tapped her chest. "And here."

Will swallowed against the sudden tension in his throat. "You heard my dream?" he inquired. She nodded knowingly. "What else did you hear last night?" Deanna picked up immediately on the sudden waves of anxiety rolling off of Will. "Nothing more, Will," she assured him. With a giggle, she added, "I'm not my mother, Will. I don't pry."

"Well, thank goodness for that!" he averred. Deanna trained her large, luminous eyes upon the face of her beloved. "Meet me for lunch?" she asked.

"Sure," Will smiled, relief filling his voice. "My place or yours?" he added, leering suggestively at her. Deanna's smile transformed instantly into a stern expression. "Will Riker, you are incorrigible!" Glaring for the moment at his merry face, she added, "In the interest of having a *conversation*, I would suggest Ten Forward."

"Sounds fine to me, *Counselor*," he agreed. "Are you free, say, at 1300 hours?"

"I'll make a point of being free," Deanna smiled. Then she turned and walked back up the ramp towards the Ready Room. She pressed the door chimes and waited until the baritone voice of their captain called out, "Come in." She stepped in and then the door whooshed shut.

Will leaned back comfortably in his chair. He was actually pleased that she had shared his dream. This meant she knew how he felt about her, about them. This brought a satisfied expression to his face.

Stroking his chin idly, he thought about the ring that sat in the velvet box back in his quarters. With pleasant anticipation swelling in his heart, he looked forward to proposing to her at lunch, in front of his fellow crew members. For, truth be told, though he was thoroughly egalitarian in his professional views of women, he had always been taken with the notion of an old-fashion marriage proposal. He liked the idea of getting down on one knee and asking for her hand in marriage. "Guess there must be a residual gene in me somewhere for male chauvinism," Will grinned to himself.


It was lunchtime in Ten Forward. The lounge was filled with the undulating tones of numerous conversations, punctuated by the clatter of silverware on plates. Most of the seats were already filled with officers and civilians intent on their meals or socializing.

Will entered Ten Forward a few minutes ahead of the time he'd agreed to meet with Deanna. He looked around and scanned the crowd to take a reading on who was there. Off to one side, wrapped up in an animated chat with a companion, was Geordi Laforge. At the bar, Will noticed the hulking form of what could only be Lieutenant Commander Worf. And at another table sat the Chief Medical Officer, Beverly Crusher, talking quietly with her head nurse, Alyssa Ogawa. "Ah," Will smiled to himself, "the perfect crowd for my proposal."

Will made his way over to a far corner of the lounge, hoping to find his favorite table there available. To his great pleasure, it was in fact not in use. With frequent stops to share greetings with various officers, he gradually made his way over to the table. When he arrived at his desired table, he sat down.

A few minutes later, right at 1300, Deanna walked through the doorway to Ten Forward. She saw how crowded the lounge was. "Yep, it's lunch time alright," she noted to herself. Standing on tiptoes, she looked around in an attempt to spot Will. After a moment's perusal of the crowd, she saw him. He happened to look up just as she spotted him and waved a welcoming hand in the air. With a delighted smile, Deanna made her way over to Will's table.

As she approached the table, Will stood up to help her with her chair. Offering him a grateful smile, she sat down. She noticed a small velvet box on the table. Suppressing her natural curiosity, she moved her eyes from the box back to Will. Though Will's smiling face had a calm appearance, waves of nervous anticipation radiated off of him. But all she could discern beneath those surface feelings were undifferentiated thoughts about her. She smiled warmly and reached across the table top to wrap her small hands around Will's large ones.

"Will," she began earnestly, "there is a reason we shared that dream last night. Do you understand why we did?"

"I think it has a lot to do with a decision I made last night," he replied softly.

"About us?" she queried, her luminous dark eyes locked on his clear blue ones. He nodded solemnly.

"And what decision was that?" she asked, guessing already what Will was going to say.
Will closed his eyes momentarily to collect his thoughts, then trained his eyes once again on her delicate features.

"I realized that…well…I uh…," he stammered. Deanna gave his hands a sympathetic squeeze. She touched his mind with calming energy. "Expressing your feelings is hard for you, isn't it Will?"

"Yeah," he acknowledged uncomfortably.

"Will," she smiled warmly, "I could probe for the answer. But I really would rather you told me yourself." Will nodded and slid one of his hands from her grasp. Then he tugged at his collar nervously, finding it suddenly too constricting.

"Deanna, we all experienced a lot under the influence of the metaphasic radiation a month ago," he began. She nodded, silently encouraging him to continue. "Well, what I felt about you a month ago hasn't changed at all." A look of solemn anticipation stole over Deanna's face. "In fact, my feelings for you haven't changed for a long time."

"Then what happened last night?" Deanna murmured, her heart pounding in her ears. Will smiled, suddenly confident of what he wanted to say. "The choice was simple, Deanna," he began. "It was a question of what to put first, my career or you. And as I thought about it, I recalled some advice that was given to me years ago."

"What advice was that?" Deanna asked quietly. Will wrapped both of his hands around hers once again. "I was told that if I didn't learn to give and receive love, I would end up a lonely old man." He pulled her hands to his lips and kissed her fingertips. "The day I met you all those years ago, I knew what I felt for you was different. But I wasn't adult enough to take responsibility for those feelings."

Deanna gazed at the table sadly. Will reached a finger under her chin and lifted her face. "Please look at me, Deanna." He waited until she again focused her eyes on his. "I know I hurt you, but I really had no clue about how to keep a commitment to any person. All I knew then was how to climb the professional ladder in Starfleet. But when we met up again here, on board the Enterprise, that is when I started to learn about how to give from my heart. And you were the one who taught me."

He pulled her fingers once again to his lips for another light kiss. With deep love radiating from his soul and filling his blue eyes, he spoke again. "I realized last night that the only choice I could make, that would be right, would be for us to be together…" And with those words, he stood up. Pulling her gently from her seat and picking up the small velvet box, he murmured, "Come with me."

Deanna walked hand in hand with Will to the center of Ten Forward. Once there, Will yelled, "May I have your attention please?" Slowly, conversations paused, forks were put down, and people turned to gaze curiously at their commanding officer. Will waited patiently until he had everyone's attention.

Once Will was satisfied that everyone was watching, he turned and smiled at Deanna. An instant later, he knelt down on one knee before her. Training his intense blue eyes, brimming with his love for her, on her face, he began to speak.

"Deanna Troi, you have always been not only my better half but my missing half. You have taught me what it means to love and to be loved. You have taught me that what people share together is all that really matters in the end. Best friend, lover, teacher, counselor - you have been all of these to me and more…" Will stared solemnly at Deanna, whose face was now glistening with tears.

"I hope those are happy tears, Deanna," Will said, his face a mask of gentle concern. She offered him a wordless nod. He beamed sweetly at her and then continued. "You would make me the happiest man in the universe if you would say yes to becoming my wife." Deanna smiled through her tears and replied simply, "Yes." A delighted smile spread across Will's face as he rose to his feet. An instant later, he lifted his beloved up in his arms and swung her around with joyous abandon. Applause, whistles and shouts of "Congratulations" and 'It's about time" rippled boisterously through the lounge.

He placed her back on her feet and moved his face close to hers. But before his lips could touch hers, she raised a hand to stop him. Beaming through her tears at Will, Deanna raised her hand to gain attention. "Excuse me," she shouted. Rapidly, silence resumed its reign in the room.

She locked her depthless ebony eyes on his loving face. "On Betazed, it is the custom for proposals of marriage to be mutual and for rings to be exchanged. Usually, a proposal is initiated by the woman, but not always. Which is fortunate," she quipped, "or else I would not have been able to accept Commander Riker's offer!" Guffaws and scattered shouts of "no way" percolated through the crowd.

Deanna's smile broadened as she turned back to Will. "So, in keeping with the ways of my planet, I want now to propose to you." Will bobbed his head, a delighted smile dancing on his features. Deanna paused as she withdrew something from her tunic pocket.
Then, locking her ebony eyes on Will's glowing face, she began to recite something in Betazin. When he heard the word 'Imzadi', his inner being was instantly blanketed with feelings of warmth and completion.

After finishing the recitation in Betazin, she repeated her words but this time in Terran Standard. Speaking slowly, she enunciated each word with great care. "I stand before you this day, William Thomas Riker of Earth, acknowledging the desires of my heart. My heart reaches out to you in love. My soul seeks communion with yours. My bond with you as Imzadi craves completion. You have requested of me that I become one with you in marriage. I freely consented. Now I ask of you that you become one with me in marriage."

Wet orbs of profound gratefulness traced ragged paths down Will's face. Mutely, he nodded his consent to becoming her husband. Deanna took his trembling hand in her own and slipped a ring on his finger. Will stared at it in wonder.

"It was my father's ring. My mother gave it to him when she proposed to him," Deanna explained softly. Will glanced back and forth between her face and the ring. <<Imzadi,>> she sent gently, <<it's your turn.>> Will paused for a moment, not understanding her words. Then, he realized what she meant. Smiling abashedly, he took the velvet box from his pocket. He opened the box and reverently removed the ring. He took Deanna's fine-boned hand in his larger one and slid the gold circlet on her ring finger. "It was my mother's, too," he whispered wistfully. Then, looking again into her depthless long-lashed eyes, he added tenderly, "And now it's yours."

Will smiled at Deanna. Invisible charges of love and desire shot across the tendrils of their bond, linking them intimately in the moment. Will brought his mouth mere centimeters from hers. <<Can I kiss my beloved now?>> he sent lovingly. <<Yes, now, Imzadi. I've been waiting,>> she sent back, echoing the words she had spoken to him in the dream they had shared the night before.

Will cupped her face in his loving hands. He locked his lips to hers in a needful, passionate kiss. Instantly, heedless of the crowd in the room, they lost themselves in the intimate choreography being enacted by their tongues. And as they did, their profound love for one another suffused the bond linking them. Their souls became one, melded by the liquid currents of passion flowing through the conduit of their bond.

Many of those who had stilled their voices to witness the act of communion taking place before them noticed something very odd. Perhaps it was just the lighting, but no one could say for sure. Still, those who spoke of it later commented that as the two commanders lost themselves in their kiss, a barely perceptible glow seemed to emanate from them. It was almost as if the two of them gave off a single emanation of energy that surrounded and encased them as one.

Heard only by the two lovers was the sound of a miraculous word that wafted gently through their thoughts at that moment. Sung in dulcet tones, the word was clear to both of them. And the word was 'Imzadi.'