{No part of Star Trek belongs to me, yadda, yadda, yadda. And as I've said before, if the bearded one did, I sure as hell wouldn't be writing this<eg>}


Fire and ice; the fire of her inner walls gripping him tightly as he pounded into her, the cooling breeze contrasting the sweat on his back. The sweet smell of orchids overridden by the heavy scent of her arousal, her rich moans his only focus, numbing him to the soft sounds of the forest around them.

He felt her body began to contract and tremble, his name slipping from her swollen lips.

"Will," The desperate purr of her voice urged him to pump into her harder, her contractions devouring him, a final thrust sending him over the edge, his body shuddering against hers.

He fell against her, spent, and satisfied, his breathing labored, his heart pounding forcefully against his ribs. He kissed her flushed cheek, and rolled his large body off her, stroking a hand through her silky hair.

Propping himself on his elbow he rested his head in the palm of his hand, silently studying her; thick ebony lashes, delicate skin, her lips, wet and full, drew his mouth to hers. It was a tender kiss, one that would leave her flavor in his mouth, to savor, until the next time they could slip into this special place.

"We really have to stop meeting like this." He whispered, his dark brows raising mischievously.

"I don't think so." She answered, smiling, her voice still coated with the residue of passion.

He pulled her against him, stroking a warm hand against her cooling skin.

"I'm afraid I have to go. My duty shift starts in a couple hours."

She nodded against his chest, he didn't need to see her face to know her disappointment mirrored his own. He placed a final kiss in her hair, inhaling the fragrance, willing the feel and aroma to remain in his memory.

They dressed quickly, both going their separate ways with only a nodded good-bye.


"Deck eight," He ordered as he stepped into the tubolift, straightening his uniform, and running a hand through his tousled hair. He'd probably regret this little interlude later, the negotiations with the Grimalkons were becoming more difficult, keeping Picard on the surface, and leaving him in command of the Enterprise. The E had been hanging in space above this planet for over a week, and from what Picard said would be here for at least a few more. Of course that wasn't what bothered Riker, he'd found this planet to be very stimulating, and these negotiations had allowed him to spend time on some most enjoyable encounters. It was the endless banquets, parties, elaborate balls, and all the pomp and circumstance that surrounded them that made his skin crawl.

The hiss of the turbolift doors opening came simultaneously with the chirping of his communicator, and the steady voice of his captain.

<Picard to Commander Riker.>

"Riker.... what is it Captain?"

It was the wee hours of the morning on Enterprise time, concern naturally slipped into his voice, he stopped in the corridor instead of continuing to his quarters.

<Number one, I'm sorry if I woke you.>

"You didn't Captain, I'm having a hard time sleeping," He lied, "Is something wrong?"

<No, everything is fine, I just wanted to run something by you before the negotiations reconvene today.>

"Of course Captain," He agreed, moving again towards his quarters.

<Thank you Commander, when you've pulled yourself together for your duty shift please meet me in my ready room."


Will took a deep breath before accessing his quarters, the doors opening on his command he paused for a moment in the doorway. His cabin was dark and quiet, he moved inside slowly, passing through the living quarters, into the bedroom, slipping past the bed and into the bathroom.

He tugged his tunic over his head, turned on the water for a shower and stared at his reflection in the mirror. He ran a hand over his beard, noting the additional whiskers on his neck. His blue eyes moved to his shoulder, his fingers stroking fondly over the tiny scratches on top of them, a hungry smile pulled at his mouth, but was instantly jerked away.


Her voice, heavy with sleep, filtered into the bathroom, shattering fantasy with the sledgehammer of reality.

"Deanna, go back to sleep." He answered, poking his head into the dimly lit bedroom.

"Are you all right?"

"Fine, the captain wants to see me before he beams down to the surface. You still have a couple hours before you have to get up, I suggest you use them."

He watched her stretch like a cat beneath the covers, pulling a pillow against herself she looked at him.

"When did you get in last night, I didn't hear you."

Riker never flinched, but lied with the prowess of a gambler.

"You looked so beautiful, and you were sleeping so soundly, I just couldn't bring myself to wake you."

She mumbled something as she pulled the pillow tighter against herself, it sounded vaguely like I love you. Will instinctively returned the words, watching until her eyes drifted shut before stepping into the shower.


Riker rested his arms on his knees, his hands interlaced, his thumbs stroking methodically against each other. He studied his Captain closely, Picard's face held its same composed expression, but the wear and tear of the negotiations had darkened the circles under his eyes, and deepened the lines on his face.

"Are you sure there's not a problem Captain?" Will asked.

Picard shifted, resting his palms on the top of the desk, he cleared his throat, Riker recognized it as a stall.

"Not with the negotiations per say, number one."

"What then?"

Picard's shoulders were too rigid for Riker's taste, and the way he kept moistening his lips, yet another stall that screamed to Riker he wasn't going to like what Picard was going to say.

"As I'm sure you're aware, the federation is not the only faction interested in the chromo-crystals. Recently the Empress has been receiving threats against herself, as well as her planet."

"I can make arrangements to have additional personal sent to the surface for security. And I'm sure once the federation has reached an agreement with the Grimalkons they'll be awarded permanent protection." Riker pressed back in his chair, his glistening blue eyes meeting with Picards muted ones.

"I'm afraid Will, the Empress and her counsel see that as a conflict of interest. They feel if they allow us access to the mines before the proper agreement has been reached, it could very well work against them."

Will narrowed his eyes, blue diluting to gray, "That makes me suspicious Sir, what are they hiding in those mines that they find so vital as to refuse protection."

Picard stroked a pensive hand over his chin, nodding a slow agreement to Riker's suspicions.

"I'll admit that doesn't sit well with me either. But in the hopes of keeping with the mutual trust we wish to establish, I've agreed to their request to allow an uninvolved party to handle security for the mines and the royal family."

The muscles Will had just begun to relax, flexed again at the mention of the royal family.

"Do you really believe the family is in danger?" Will asked, keeping all emotion from his voice.

"I've seen no evidence, but on the side of caution, a private security force is on their way," Picard leaned forward on the desk, "Apparently this group they've hired is quite accomplished at what they do, and they have no hidden agenda."

Will nodded an understanding, "Very good Sir." He began to rise from his seat, Picard's next statement pulling him back down with a thud.

"Will....... I'm afraid it's Blue Defense, Thomas Riker's team."


Chapter 2

Riker massaged the arms of the captain's chair and stared at the two planets that filled the view screen. Grimala, with its deep blue waters and lush green jungles resembled earth; and though from space even the mundane held a certain mystery, his eyes continued to drift to the almost translucent surface of Havana. The planet was over ninety percent water, its occupants living beneath the surface in a world never seen by the federation. Apparently they'd chosen this way of life to shield themselves from the technology of the Grimalkons, but no one would ever know for sure. They spent their entire lives sheltered beneath the icy blue waters, unaware, and uninterested in the fast paced life of the real universe. He figured that was what fascinated him the most, the mystery, the forbidden stirred his imagination and peaked his curiosity. He drew in a deep breath, his thoughts moving to her, his captured memories of her, so vivid, an internal heat blossomed inside him.

"You have the bridge Mister Data." Riker said, lifting from his chair and moving into the captain's ready room.

He flopped into the chair behind the desk, propped his elbow on the table, and stared at the communication screen. He traced his fingers over the controls, wanting to send the communiqué, but knowing if he did it would betray the pact he'd made with her. Nothing about this relationship was aboveboard, it seemed when he'd taken her with the fervor of an over sexed teenager, he'd tossed all rational thoughts out the window. And worse yet, he knew it was wrong, wrong for him, for her, for this mission, and certainly for Deanna. But it felt too right, too consummate, he wasn't sure even if he'd decided to do the right thing, his body, and mind would allow it.

The communication screen sparkled to life, Riker startled and accessed the transmission.


"Number one," Picard smiled, "I see by your expression you're finding the excitement of this mission overwhelming."

"Yes Sir," Riker half smiled, "Although under the circumstance I guess I should be pleased at the eternal quiet."

"Quite true." Picard nodded, "And I'm personally deriving satisfaction from the fact that you're sequestered on the Enterprise, and I'm in the thick of things for a change."

"Payback in spades I assure you Sir," Will answered, a mock frown replacing his earlier grin.

Picard chuckled, and responded, "I've just spoken with Mister Riker, Blue Defense is only an hour from docking and he's asked that you be included in his teams strategy."

<If for no other reason then to annoy me, I'm sure.>> Will thought to himself, verbally agreeing to the Captain.

"Bring your dress uniform Commander, you'll have no time to return to the Enterprise before the gala this evening."

"Yes Sir. I'm on my way."


Riker shimmered into existence, dress uniform draped over his arm, he smiled at Deanna as she came into view.

"You certainly took your time."

"Wouldn't you?" Riker replied, "Spending the afternoon with Riker and his ringers isn't high on my list of titillating tasks."

"Well you can relax, he hasn't arrived yet," She took the uniform from him, draped it over the back of a chair, and guided him down the corridor, "It's been two years since you've seen him, maybe he's mellowed."

He rolled his eyes doubtfully, pausing in the doorway that led to the gardens. His eyes drifted over the perfectly maintained gardens, the smell of the orchids that carried on the cool breeze awakening powerful memories of the night before.

"Commander Riker," Empress Chalar ended her conversation with Picard, and moved slowly and gracefully towards him. Her hair was the color of sable, piled in curls on the top of her head, the wisps that escaped fell over her eyes, amplifying the translucent blue beneath.

Will bowed deep at the waist, as was the custom, and waited for her hand to rest on his shoulder before raising his eyes.

"I'm so glad to have you here."

"Thank you, your highness." Will unthinkingly allowed his eyes to slip behind the Empress, drawing her eyes in the direction.

"Lady Tiara," Will said, reenacting his bow, his heart beating faster as her hand came to rest on his shoulder.

"I didn't think you'd arrive until tonight." She said, her regal stance, and polished persona blemished only by the mischief that glistened in her opulent blue eyes. Her hair was as dark as her mothers, enhanced with tiny gems, it hung in loose curls over her shoulders.

"It seems we have some business to attend to before the festivities."

"That's too bad, I was hoping to show you the garden I've planted. The smell is almost intoxicating."

Will felt his heart quicken again at her disguised promise, "I hope to see it later." He answered, hoping no one but himself had heard the crack in his voice.

Tiara smiled knowingly at Will before excusing herself and disappearing into the gardens.

<Blue Defense has docked, your majesty.>

The announcement came over the intercom, slaying the pleasurable feelings that were pulsing through him.

Chalar and Picard moved towards the entrance, Will started to follow, the pressure Deanna placed on his arm slowing him.


"You might want to cool that Riker charm around Tiara Will, it's obvious she has a crush on you."

"A crush?"

"Take my word for it Will," Deanna replied, patting his arm, "And you are old enough to be her fa....."

"Don't even say it, Deanna." Will intervened, raising a finger of reprimand.

"Ok," Deanna laughed, "Maybe not her father, but her much older brother."

Deanna moved away before he had a chance to make an equally cruel remark, he followed behind, secretly wondering for the first time why she didn't suspect.

Tom Riker and his men entered the gardens, their untamed looks and tattered attire exactly what Will had expected.

"Tom," Chalar's use of his first name, caused both Will and Deanna to share a look, "I see you've returned to your somewhat unacceptable appearance. I hope as before you'll be willing to conform."

"Of course," Tom replied, kissing Chalars hand, not surprisingly throwing protocol out the window. Tom nodded to Picard and turned his attention to Deanna.

"You're as beautiful as ever, I see." He raised a devilish brow before looking behind her at Will.

"And I see you've still found a way to take a perfectly handsome face and screw it up" Tom clasped Will's hand, Will returned his challenging grin, and increased the pressure he was placing on his hand.

"Am I to assume Mister Riker has provided his services for you before." Picard said, vying to break up this battle of strength the brothers appeared to have waged.

"Now Captain," Tom answered smugly, pulling his hand from Wills, " you should know I'm not the kind to kiss and tell."

Tom's remark came as no surprise to Will, he rolled his eyes at Deanna. Chalar laughed, appearing to enjoy Tom's roguish humor, Picard on the contrary shifted uncomfortably.


Tiara's voice sounded from behind them, she moved closer, offering her hand to Tom.

"Tia," Tom responded, waggling his brows before leaning forward and kissing her hand.

Will forced himself not to react, and forced himself not to ask himself why Tiara hadn't told him she knew Tom.

"Tiara, show Tom and his men to their staterooms. They've agreed to clean up for us again."

Chalar's order drew Tom's gaze away from Tiara.

"We'll be ready for this evening." Tom assured them before following Tiara out of the room.


"Your stateroom is the same as before," Tiara said, gesturing to the lift, and sweeping her ebony hair behind her shoulders. Tom nodded to his men and shrugged, "Guess you guys know the way." He said, dismissing his team.

He stepped into the lift, keeping his back to Tiara.

"If my stateroom is the same as before, can I assume your mother still thinks I'm interested in screwing her daughter?"

Her response was what he'd expected, her hands slid around his waist, unhooking the clasp at the top of his pants.

"And aren't you?" She asked, her hand moving roughly over his growing erection. His breathing increased as he allowed her to explore him, but as her hand attempted to move inside, he spun towards her, gripping her wrists with one hand, he pinned them above her head.

His dark eyes held hers, his hand moving under her dress, he smiled at the enthusiasm she'd already generated.

"You wouldn't be playing both sides of the fence now...... would you?" He ask, tracing his now damp fingers over her lips.

"Do you care?"

. He thought about her question as he watched her tongue spiral over his finger, her lips closing around it, pulling it deeply into the velvet heat of her mouth.

"Not at the moment," Escaped against his better judgment on a ragged breath, releasing her wrists, he initiated the lock for the lift.


Chapter 3

Tom paused outside the double doors that led into the ballroom, doing a mental rundown of his teams assignments for the evening. He nodded to himself, satisfied he'd covered all his bases he stepped inside. The party was well underway, he stood away from the crowd, and watched Chalar dancing with the Captain, her ivory gown reflecting the colored lights that danced over the ceiling and floor. Deanna, dressed in a deep burgundy gown, stood alone, she seemed to be studying the crowd as he was. His eyes moved to the stained glass doors that lead into the gardens, one was slightly a jar, he thought he could see Tiara outside. He smiled without realizing it, his instinct to go to her stilled as he watched Will slip out through another of the doors. He tried to see through the tiny opening, Deanna's laughter, and her touch on his arm shifting his attentions.

"It's really not that funny Deanna."

"Oh yes, it is." She answered, her eyes sliding from the top of his head to the tips of his boots.

"I would think you'd like this look." He replied, stroking his hand over his neatly trimmed beard.

"It's not the haircut and the beard, it's the outfit."

He'd known all along what she was referring to, he was hoping she'd drop it, he was uncomfortable enough in the skintight black pants, equally tight shirt, and knee high boots, discussing it was only going to make it worse.

"I personally think this outfit was meant to satisfy one of Chalar's perverse fantasies." He said, joining her in her laughter.

"Are those pants comfortable?" Deanna teased.

"They're not as bad as they appear, just not a lot of growing room, if you know what I mean." He raised a brow, and returned the same measuring look she had given him.

"That must be very difficult for you." She returned sarcastically, nodding her head and moving away from him.

"Where are you going?"

He hurried to step in front of her, chiding himself for his elevated tone and the marked hint of panic in his voice.

"I thought I saw Will go into the garden, I wanted to catch up with him."

"Oh come one," He grinned, regaining his composure, "You can see that jerk anytime, stay and talk to me for awhile. How's your mother?"

"My mother?" She answered, brows raised warily, "Are you sure you're all right .....maybe those pants are tighter then you think."

"Seriously Deanna, I never get to talk to you alone, he's always there, dissecting everything I say." He used his best mental prowess to mask his true motives, and generated a hard practiced look of innocent pity....both seemed to work, her dubious expression gave way to a smile.

"OK, you win," She said, sending a wistful look to the gardens and gently escorting Tom to a chair.

He settled into the seat she'd assigned him, shifting a few times as his pants protested his new position.

"So, What's new?" He asked, cringing inwardly as he realized he had absolutely nothing to say to her.

It had taken him years to get over whatever it was he thought he'd shared with her, to somehow draw the line between himself and Will. But once he had found where he began, and Will ended, he had never been able to find a place for her. His years on Nervala four had given him nothing but time to dwell on her, something he normally would never have done. His fantasies while he was isolated on the planet began to fuse together, the real and the make-believe intertwined so closely in that five year period. ....there were times he had to question if his feelings for her had only grown for lack of anything else to do. He cared about her, he always would, but even their time on Betazed was more like a muted dream, then a lucid reality.

He realized she had finishing answering his question, and he hadn't heard a word she'd said.

"That's good," He said, hoping it was, "I guess you...."

"Mister Riker, Counselor, there's been a new threat sent to the Empress."

"Where is she?" Tom asked Picard, lifting to his feet, his eyes following Picard's gesture.

"Who?.... does she know?"

"I think you'd better speak with her yourself," Picard's solemn expression spoke volumes, and told Tom if he wanted anymore information he'd do as Picard said.


He hadn't expected to see Will hovering over the chancellor's shoulder, his narrowed blue eyes staring at the transmission.

"What does it say?" He asked, stepping beside Will, having to bite his tongue to stop from commenting on his dirt smudged uniform.

"It's written in Havenese." Will answered flatly, giving Tom a look that meant he wasn't buying it.

"And it translates to what?"

Will hit a few buttons on the console, the alien writing obediently shifting to English.

"Nice," Tom said, slowly shaking his head at the graphic threat on the screen.

"Have you tracked it?" Tom directed his question at the Chancellor this time, but was very aware that Will had discretely moved out of the room.

"The signal's scrambled, and it wasn't picked up on any frequencies until it literally showed up on the screen."

"It's obvious who it's from, the language is only used by one species in the quadrant, and most have never even heard of Havana."

Empress Chalar was visibly shaken, more then shaken, her skin was pale, beads of sweat had formed over her brows. Tom rested a hand on her shoulder and massaged it gently.

"It just doesn't make sense Empress, I know you and your daughter suspect them, but they've never given anyone reason to think they have an interest in anyone outside their world."

His words did nothing to ease her concerns, and considering the threat was directed in hideous detail towards Tiara, he could understand why.

"I'll put a patrol in orbit around the planet your highness."

She smiled a weak smile at his words, Tom silently motioning for Deanna to take his place with the Empress.

He moved to the doorway Will had left through, standing quietly until Will ended his communication.

"What's up?" He asked.

He'd expected Will to be skeptical about sharing information, he was pleased when he proved him wrong.

"I've had nothing to do since these negotiations commenced," Will began, sitting down on the bench beside him, "I set the Enterprise scanners on Havana, for the hell of it, just to see if I could find out even one of the secrets the planet holds."


"And nothing, no transmissions have come or gone from Havana since we arrived. As a matter of fact, no transmissions from anywhere have been picked up by the Enterprise."

"So you're thinking what I'm thinking." Tom said, a slow discerning smile crossing his lips.

"Yea," Will replied, "Tell me that's not a scary thought. Almost as scary as those pants you're wearing."

"Screw the pants." Tom snapped.

"You don't stop wearing those pants, and screw may become a thing of the past for you."

Tom refused to award Will a chuckle, but he was inwardly impressed at his relaxed persona, "So what do we do?"

"Beats me, you're security, what do you suggest?"

"Tom, Will, come in here!" It was Deanna's voice, the urgency of it drew both Riker's to their feet.

"What happened to her?" Tom snapped, his eyes moving from the unconscious Empress, to the barrage of people hovering around her.

"We don't know." The chancellor responded and continued to shout orders, not only to his own staff, but Tom's men as well. Picard was attempting to convince the medical team that the Empress should be transported to the Enterprise, the Chancellor seemed more concerned about the location of Tiara.

Tom shared a look with Will, and sidestepped towards him. The glimmer of a transport beam suggested Picard had won his battle, the Empress and her aid shimmering out of sight.

"I say he does know." Tom whispered.

Will nodded, opened his mouth to respond, but was interrupted by one of Tom's men.

"You better get out here Tom."

Tom had known Gus Mattson for two years, and in that time he'd seen emotion show in his harsh features only once.....this made twice, he followed him out the door without question.

He could hear others footsteps behind him, he kept his eyes forward, pushing through the tangle of vines and flowers until Gus stopped.

"Oh God," He said, the color draining from his face, he dropped to his knees beside Tiara's bloodied body. He wasn't afforded time to think, or even to touch her, the chancellor knocked him out of the way, knelt beside her, and shifted his dark eyes over the small crowd of people.

"Who would do this?" He uttered, his voice weak and heavy with grief.

Tom raised narrowed and suspicious eyes to Will, he was met with an identical expression.


Chapter 4

Will and the handful of people that had found Tiara's body shimmered into sickbay in time to hear Beverly Crusher log Empress Chalar's time of death into the ships computer.

"Put her over there!" Beverly's somber expression transformed to a hopeful one as she barked the order, and began scanning Tiara's body. Her hope was short-lived, she shook her head after only one pass of the tricorder.

" How did this happen?"

Her blue eyes shot swiftly between each of the men that had brought her here, her intense looks were met with silence.

"One of my men found her body in the orchid bed." Tom breached the silence, his eyes falling to rest on the Empress.

"Have you found a cause of death for the Empress?" He asked, raking a frustrated hand through his hair.

Beverly shook her head slowly and methodically, "I'd like to do an autopsy," Turning her attentions to the chancellor, the only Grimalkon in the room, she continued, "If that's acceptable? Obviously we know how Lady Tiara was killed, but her mothers death seems to defy explanation. Did she have any medical conditions we should be informed off."

The chancellor shook his head at the doctor, behind his mask of sincerity, his deceit was more then evident.

Picard cleared his throat, "Then an autopsy on the Empress is acceptable?" He asked, his firm, but gentle eyes meeting the Chancellors. Only a few moments of silenced actually passed, but to Will it seemed an eternity. His mind continued to drift to Tiara, averting at all costs the steely blue gaze of his brother, and the deep look of concern he was getting from Deanna.

"An autopsy on the Empress won't be necessary," The Chancellor's voice was subdued, his eyes scanning the room as if he thought someone, or something were about to lunge out at him.

"Clear the room of everyone but you, the doctor, your first officer, and Mister Riker. then I'll will explain how and why the Empress is dead."

"I would like the Counselor to join us," Picard strongly suggested.

"No. I am only allowing Mister Riker and Commander Riker, because I believe one of them is already aware how the Empress died."

Will shared a sidelong look with Tom, Deanna's concerns washing over both of them, so tangibly, both men found themselves looking at her.

"I'm certain you had no intentions of that sounding like an accusation Chancellor." Picard observed, "Keeping that in mind, I suggest we move this conversation into Doctor Crusher's office."


"The attachment between mother and child is established at birth, it is a very sacred process, our people do not believe that a parent should ever have to suffer the death of their child. I'm sure you can understand why we wish to keep this from off worlders." The Chancellor kept his eyes lowered as he betrayed his secret, smoothing his hands over the folds of his robes.

"And once the bond is established it's impossible to severe?" Beverly asked the question, yet her thoughts seemed to be else where. Will had to believe she was thinking about Wesley, and her own maternal instincts. He found himself reflecting on Ian, and Deanna's grief, he wondered if then, in that moment, would Deanna have chosen to give up her life to escape the profound grief.

"The bond is permanent and eternal, when a child is conceived, a mother's soul divides, one can never survive without the other."

"So this belief is the reason your species only has one child?" Beverly noted.

"That's all wonderful and touching," Tom interrupted sharply, "No disrespect intended, but it sounds like a bunch of mythical mumbo jumbo. You'll have to excuse me if I find it hard to believe that when one body shuts down, it shuts down another. You're talking about souls, I'm talking about physical beings."

Will released a low reproving groan, and buried his face in his hands. Tom snapped his head around to look at him, "What? You're not buying this? Maybe a poison of some sort."

Will didn't bother looking up, he heard Picard get up from his chair and move closer to Tom.

"My apologies Chancellor." Picard spoke, resting his hand on the back of Tom's chair, "some people have a difficult time accepting that the spiritual has the capacity to affect the physical."

"Your apology is not necessary." The Chancellors reply was spoken with a forced tolerance, he smiled almost knowingly to Picard, and turned dark eyes on Tom. "I'm quite certain Tiara shared her views on this with you, and with you as well Commander Riker. She was young and vulnerable, she spoke freely to those she trusted."

Will pulled his head from his hand, and met the Chancellors accusing look. "I'm afraid you're mistaken Chancellor, the Lady Tiara never mentioned any of this to me." He turned to Tom, who reiterated Will's words.

"I'm sorry Chancellor," Picard straightened his stance, his voice elevating, "That is the second time you've accused these men, and I'm not certain of what it is you're suggesting. But Commander Riker is my first officer, and I assure you his morals and ethics are above reproach. As for Mr. Riker, Empress Chalar herself trusted him enough to call on his services more then once. Please stop tossing innuendoes at them, and lets work together to find out who is in fact responsible for this murder."

"I believe Mr. Riker was the last to see Lady Tiara alive?" The Chancellor targeted his gaze on Tom.

"That was hours ago when she showed me to my stateroom. I'm sure someone must have seen her since." He moved his eyes to Will, "She must have been at the Gala. Will?"

"I didn't see her there." Will answered, keeping defensiveness out of his tone, "But there were hundreds of people there, someone must have seen her."

"Agreed," Picard intervened, "We have the communiqué, and perhaps an autopsy will help us figure out the time of death...... doctor?"

"I'm afraid I'm not certain Captain." She answered distractedly, her eyes never leaving her tricorder scans.

"Not certain?"

Will understood the surprised tone in his Captain's voice, determining time of death was a fairly simple process with the invention of the tricorder.

She must have felt everyone's eyes on her because she finally raised her head.

"My preliminary findings would suggest she died a little under three hours ago." Her observation drew Tom's eyes to Will, "But it's not consistent with the blood loss."

"Doctor please!"

Will was glad the Captain had snapped, there were times he wanted to throttle Beverly when she spoke so leisurely and calmly.

"She was stabbed several times, but I believe her fatal wound was inflicted over ten hours ago. There's a small puncture wound directly through her heart, the other stab wounds were inflicted well after her death. I won't know for sure until I do the autopsy. But I suspect her body was left to bleed to death in cold water, camouflaging the time of death, just as the stab wounds were meant to camouflage the fatal injury." She massaged her hand thoughtfully over her chin, "I'd like to see the spot where she was allegedly murdered, and it would be helpful Chancellor, if you could tell us how long from the time of her daughters death it would take before this bond took Empress Chalar's life."

She lifted from her chair, "Before you all begin asking questions, I'd like to complete the autopsy on Tiara. And then if it would be possible I'd like all of us to beam to the surface."

"Very good Doctor, I'll ask the Counselor to join us." Picard said, the Chancellor also nodding his approval.

Beverly smiled and moved toward the door, pausing, she looked back over her shoulder.

"Captain.... for now I think it best we keep this just between the five of us." Her question may have been directed at Picard, but her icy stare darted furiously between Tom and Will.


Chapter 5

<"I can't do this.>

<Yes you can, you don't have a choice.>

The two sentences played in repetition in his mind as he paced the corridor outside sickbay. It had been hours since he was ordered out, and not knowing what was going on was driving him nuts. On the other side of the doors he could see the chancellor, arms flailing wildly, face reddened with anger, challenging Doctor Crusher and Captain Picard.

"I gotta get out of here." He offered to no one in particular, and tossed one last look into the medical lab.

"Me too." He heard the mutual agreement, but never afforded his brother a look.


About the time he'd slipped into a chair in ten forward he'd received the call to return to sickbay. He looked through the window before stepping inside, the same three occupants as before sat inside, he tossed a look down the corridor, wondering where Tom had decided to go now.

As he stepped inside, the expressions on each of their faces could be easily read; Picard held his steady, nonjudgmental calm, the chancellors lips were drawn tightly into an accusing sneer, and Beverly Crusher's meager poker face did nothing to hide the sadness and anger that shifted in her blue eyes.

"Sir?" He said, sitting in the chair provided and wiping his damp palms on his pants.

"Number one, I'm sorry to have kept you sequestered for so long, but the Chancellor was quite adamant that we run a few tests on Tiara's body."

"Tests sir?"

"Tests that I normally would have found completely unethical," Picard moved in front of Will, blocking the death hold Doctor Crusher had targeted him with, "But to keep the peace with perspective members of the federation, I reluctantly concurred."

"I understand." Will had to force himself not to shift nervously, he knew too well what they'd found out, he was thankful at least Deanna wouldn't be here.

Beverly stepped forward, her hands buried deeply in her pockets, "It seems the Chancellor believes you were intimate with Tiara, which of course is no one's business but your own."

"I agree Doctor." Will said, matching Beverly's steadfast blue eyes with his own.

"I'm sure you do Commander," Beverly's professional demeanor slipped for an instant, she replaced it quickly, but not before she'd silently made her personal feeling towards him known.

"As I said earlier there were traces of flesh and tissue under Tiara's nails, to appease the Chancellor I ran a DNA test on it, comparing it with your own..... unfortunately they matched perfectly..... And the internal scan we ran also shows your...."

"You'll excuse me if I don't see the relevance doctor. My sexual relations seldom end in murder."

"So you admit to being intimate with her?" The chancellor's voice was smug and accusing.

"I don't think that's what I said Chancellor." The bitter lilt in Will's voice brought Picard into the forefront again.

"I understand your resentment Will. But if you'd just admit to the relationship, we can be through with this vendetta the Chancellor seems set on carrying out."

Will drew in a deep breath and nodded reluctantly, "I'm sorry Sir. I used poor judgment I know."

"You son of a bitch!" Tom's voice boomed through the room, drawing all eyes to the doorway where he stood, "Do you derive some sort of perverse satisfaction from screwing the same women I do? Is that why you killed her, because once I got back she blew you off."

Will rose to his feet, his steps towards the door halted by Picard's firm grip on his arm, "I notice she was very much alive until you came back. Maybe you killed her because you couldn't stand to lose .....AGAIN!"

"Stop it! both of you. Your personal differences have no place here. Sit down!" Picard's heightened tone and order drew the Riker's eyes away from each other only for a second.

"That's an order Commander Riker," Picard added sharply.

"Yes Sir." Will said, taking his seat.

"This throws a bit of ice water on your little theory Chancellor." The inflection in Picard's voice was almost vindictive, "perhaps while your men are sweeping the suite Commander Riker changed in .......they might also want to do the same to Mister Riker's stateroom."

The chancellor nodded, "The flesh fragments could still be helpful, don't you agree captain."

"Not necessarily," Tom spoke up, "I tend to have that effect on woman."

Will shifted in his seat, snapping the captains gaze to him, "Don't move Commander!" He ordered, "And you sir will remain quiet. Is that understood?" He added, returning his angry gaze to Tom.

"Why not." Tom replied tersely, flipping a chair around and straddling it.

"I'm not sure having the Riker's remove their clothes and expose any scratches is going to be proof of any kind," Beverly broke in, "Thomas has a point. overzealous intimacy would more then account for the small fragments of skin under her nails."

"Humor me Doctor." The chancellor said.

"I've got no problem revealing evidence of Tiara's enthusiasm." Tom said, waggling his brows at the doctor.

"I'll try not to swoon," She smirked, "But this won't prove anything."

Tom didn't wait for her to finish, but tugged his shirt over his head.

"That looks like more then enthusiasm Tom." She said, pulling her tricorder from her jacket pocket and scanning the reddened scratches that covered his back.

"I guess she had a lot of it then." Will removed his own shirt, revealing similar marks on his own skin.

Picard eyed them both, "Chancellor inform your authorities that I'll be beaming down my own away team to assist them." Picard darted his eyes between Will and Tom, "I want to see both of you in the doctors office".


"Now," Picard began, closing the door to the office and moving in front of Will and Tom, "Unless I've completely misjudged my first officer......and the character he stems from, I have a hunch you're up to something." He raised questioning brows, his eyes drifting between the Rikers.  "The question is are you willing to share it, or do I throw you both in the brig."

Will looked at Tom, Tom looked at Will, both of them shaking their heads in confusion.

"How did you know Captain?" Will finally asked.

"Let's just say both of you made very wise decisions when you didn't pursue a career in acting."

"We were that obvious?" Tom said, smiling sheepishly at the captain.

"I think you carried the drama a bit far when you both stripped off your shirts, and displayed identical scratches. Although I must say my curiosity is peaked as to how and why they exist, and what on earth could have provoked this rather unlikely alliance."

Will exchanged a look with Tom, Tom nodded at his unspoken question.

"When you ordered us out of sickbay and told us to standby. We didn't exactly stand by sir." Will admitted with an innocent smile.

"We figured you were wasting time hanging around in sickbay waiting for an autopsy." Tom's interjection drew a reproving glare from Will.

"That's not exactly what we thought Sir. We just felt we should be doing something."

"And what did you do.....while we were wasting time?" Picard asked, folding his arms across his chest.

"The evidence you're gathering from the planet now, we already have it."

Tom reached in his pocket, retrieved a tricorder and handed it to Picard. "I think you'll find it neat and tidy, and very, very convenient."

Picard studied the readouts, slowly raising his eyes, a hint of a smile on his lips. "I can see now why you chose to ban together on this. It would appear that whomever has set you both up took great pains to ensure neither of you could ever be convicted."

They both nodded, "That's how we saw it, our identical DNA combined with the perfectly placed evidence suggested not so much that they were trying to set us up, but they wanted to make sure we didn't go anywhere for awhile."

"Mmm," Picard's thoughts seemed miles away, he stroked his chin thoughtfully, "A vast amount of this evidence could have been planted by only one person."

Will leaned forward, resting his arms on his knees, he was pleased Picard hadn't called attention to his indiscretion, but his tryst with Tiara, set up or not was still something he'd be suffering repercussions from for along time.

"Tiara had to have been involved, we know that Sir. She was obviously betrayed by someone with a very different agenda."

"Or someone didn't like hers." Picard noted, "Do you have any evidence of who?"

The small office fell silent, both Riker's eyes fell to their laps.

"No, I'm afraid we don't." Tom finally said, smoothing his hands over his pants, avoiding Picard's stare.

"The brig was not an idle threat gentlemen."

"He's telling the truth Captain," Will looked up, holding his captain's gaze with a marked sincerity, "If we had any idea, I promise we'd tell you."


Chapter 6

"I really think we should have just told him everything." Will waited until his Captain was well out of earshot before voicing his objection to Tom.

"I don't remember threatening you, you lied on your own," Tom interlaced his fingers and slipped his hands behind his neck, a lopsided grin completing his arrogant demeanor, "and quite masterfully I might add. I take that to mean you're not totally against my theory."

"I'd call it a vague possibility, certainly not a theory. Deanna's not a killer, and you know it as well as I do. It's just not in her nature to kill."

"Is it in your nature to boink a woman half your age and sneak around behind Deanna's back? You don't actually believe that your mental skills are so disciplined as to be able to fool her?"

Tom's detached attitude did nothing to fool Will, he knew Tom was just as upset about the strange, almost intoxicating desires Tiara had generated in them as he was. He also knew that they'd both been practically drunk on her not long ago, and since her death neither of them felt the kind of remorse they should.

He opened his mouth to respond to the man behind the blue-gray eyes that seemed determined to yank an agreement from him, Beverly's call to them stilling his answer.

"Were coming Doctor," He called into the other room, "Let's go, maybe they have more evidence to hang us with."

Both men entered the examination room, both men's eyes fell on Tiara's body......The multiple stab wounds that virtually destroyed her chest were more or less repaired.

"I reconstructed the wounds layer by layer," Beverly said, "All the stab wounds, the ones I surmised were inflicted after her death were made with the same type of weapon, a very thin blade with a jagged edge."

"We knew that already." Tom noted, his narrowed eyes alternating between Will, the Chancellor, Picard and Doctor Crusher, "What about the wound to her heart, the one you say was the cause of her death."

Beverly chewed her bottom lip for a moment, displaying an uncertainty that Will seldom saw in her.

"I've analyzed the point of entry for all the wounds, the force used, and the position of the killer......The fatal wound doesn't match, and from the angle of entry, it appears to have been self-inflicted."

"Are you saying she killed herself Doctor?" Piacrd asked, shaking his head in obvious surprise.

"If she took her own life, why did someone feel it necessary to re-kill her?" Tom screwed up his face at his own question.

"I have no idea, unless it was to mask something," She accessed the screen above the biobed, internal scans Will didn't understand flashed to life, "Right here, in the left ventricle of the heart, this blackened area looks almost as if it was burned."

Will rubbed the back of his hand thoughtfully under his chin, the image on the screen magnifying, displaying what looked like a pinprick with a hot needle.

"Have you any idea what this is Chancellor?" Picard asked, a minute trace of dubiousness coating his voice.

The Chancellor shook his head, looking away from Picard's stare.

"I'd like to check my men?"

Tom's sudden announcement drew all eyes to him, Picard nodded, and shared a look with Will before Tom headed for the door.

"You're a suspect in a crime Mr. Riker," The chancellor bellowed, shooting to his feet waving an accusatory finger.

"Whatever," Tom said, meeting the Chancellor accusation with an insolent grin, "but it might be a good idea to pinpoint the crime before you start rounding up suspects."

Will watched Tom disappear out the door before taking his seat, wishing he could be afforded the same luxury.

He studied the seams between the wall and the ceiling, half listening to the obvious choice of questions Picard and Crusher were throwing at the Chancellor ......Has this ever occurred before.......Could Tiara kill herself to somehow get revenge on her mother........If so, who would benefit from covering her intend.

"Commander Riker?"

Will wasn't sure how long the lag between Picard speaking to him and his response was, but by the look on his Captain's face, it appeared it was longer then expected.

"I'm sorry Captain."

"I believe your duty shift is about to begin Commander, perhaps you could excuse yourself and get to the bridge."

Will's mind was still in a fog, he almost corrected the Captain, but fortunately caught himself before he did.

"Yes Sir, you're right." He said, lifting himself from his chair.

The Chancellor's objection, halted him in the doorway, Picard's intervention and firm dismissal releasing him from the room.


Will stepped into the turbo lift, stated his destination and leaned with a thump against the wall. He knew where Tom would go once he finished with his men, and he had every intention of getting to her first. The few hairs they'd found mixed with the planted blood stains in Tom's stateroom and his suite had matched Deanna's DNA. He had no idea what had happened to Tom, who had burned him so badly that he would suspect Deanna of crime so out of character. But he was confident she had nothing to do with it....if he had to wager on a suspect, his bet would be placed on Chancellor Alton. The man had started pointing a finger at he and Tom before any evidence had come in, he had a hunch Picard's thoughts were moving in the same direction.

The turbo lift doors opened, Toms' cursing and Deanna's hair-raising cries resounded through the corridor.

"What's going on!?" He shouted, running down the corridor, reaching Tom in only a few strides.

"It's locked." Tom responded, pounding his fist on the sealed door to Deanna's cabin, her screams, and tortured cries mounting.

"Computer override lock on Counselor Troi's quarters... authorization Riker Alpha."

The computer accommodated, the doors slid open revealing only candlelit darkness.

"Lights!" Will barked, following the screams into the bedroom. The cabin was untouched, everything precisely as it should be. Deanna's cries turned to desperate pleas spoken between intermittent sobs.

He could hear Tom's heavy breathing beside him as he overrode the lock on the bathroom door. That door too opened to darkness, accessing the lights, he exchanged a brief glance with Tom before racing to Deanna. Her body flailed frantically, lashing out at him, kicking and clawing at the two men as if they'd joined her intangible attacker.

"Is she asleep?" Tom asked through clenched teeth as Deanna's fist caught him in the side of the head.

"I think so." Will responded, wrestling Deanna to the floor with more force then he ever thought necessary.

"Call sickbay!" Will ordered.

Tom's eyes darted around the room, looking for the nearest comm, with a ragged breath of frustration he finally pulled Will's from his chest.

"Medical emergency, counselor Troi's quarters!"

"I'm on my way." Beverly reacted without hesitation.

Will watched Deanna struggle, her dark eyes glassy and terrified, her face twisting with apparent pain. Her satin robe slipped off her shoulder as she fought against him, the indigo bruises that covered her chest and shoulders motivating his next move.

"Intruder Alert!"

Tom's shock at what Will had just ordered propelled him to release Deanna's ankles and crawl in front of Will.

"Holy shit, what's happening to her?"

Will shook his head, calling to Deanna, trying to bring her away from wherever she was. Her face jerked to the side, he watched in horror as another deep blue welt rose over her crimsoned cheeks.


Chapter 7

 "Commander Riker?"

A deep, firm voice shook the darkness.....Deanna's body flailing wildly beneath him, he looked to the voice for help.


A softer voice, accompanied by the feeling of warm flesh against him filtered into the dark abyss like a distilled ray of sunlight.


His own voice, loud, and strong shattered his nightmare, his eyes flying open, distorted images looking down on him.

"Will." Deanna's breath blew over his cheek, cooling the sweat that covered it, "Welcome back."

His vision slowly cleared, the terror that had griped him to his soul dissipated, his heart rate slowing, his lungs taking in the air he felt deprived of.

"What happened?" He asked, running a tongue over his dry lips.

"We were hoping you could tell us?" Captain Picard, wearing a rare and welcome smile looked worriedly down on him.

"I had a dream." He answered, searching Deanna's face for reality.

"We're very aware of that," Beverly commented, tricorder in hand, "It must have been a bad one."

"How long have I been here?"

Deanna lifted his hand and held it securely in hers, the gesture itself telling him he wasn't going to like her answer, "Two days." She answered, the added pressure she placed on his hand doing nothing to alleviate his shock.

"Two days!"

"What's the last thing you remember Will?"

He closed his eyes tightly, cutting through the dense almost tactile memories of his dream, to the vague almost unreal whispers of reality.

"Orchids?" He said, gauging their reactions, knowing if he answered wrong sickbay would become his new home.

He saw Picard nod, Deanna smile, and then clenched his teeth as Beverly took a breath and began to ask another question.

"What else?"

"An elaborate party." He saw the reactions and quickly amended his statement, "and when the clock struck midnight my carriage turned into a pumpkin, my horses into mice, and my beautiful gown into rags."

"He seems himself to me Doctor," Picard said, a smile pulling at the corners of his mouth.

"Unfortunately," Beverly agreed, shaking her head.

"What happened to me Beverly, you said I was here for two days......why?"

"We're not sure Will, you may have had a reaction to the Naju herbs you consumed while you were dining with Empress Chalar, and her daughter."

Will nodded, absorbing the information Beverly had just fed him.....he had no memory of the luncheon, but a fuzzy recollection of the negotiations, and a vivid memory that the Empress and her daughter were dead.

"When can I get out of here?" He asked.

"I'd like to run a few more tests Will. Your brain activity still seems a bit erratic."

"But I ......"

Picard silenced his objection with a wave of his hand, "You've been here for over forty eight hours, a few more hours to satisfy Beverly's professional curiosity won't hurt you."

He nodded reluctantly and watched his Captain leave the room before turning his gaze to Deanna. He smiled at her, knowing she was attempting to reach inside him, that his little charade wasn't cutting it with her.

"Could I speak to Deanna alone?" He asked Beverly, she hesitated, but with a look from Deanna agreed.

"What's going on Will?"

He scanned the area, making sure no medical personal heard his confession, "I'm having a hard time remembering ....No," He corrected himself, "I'm having a hard time separating reality from fantasy."

"I wouldn't worry about it Will," She answered, gently brushing his hair away from his forehead, "Clarity will return in time."

He observed her closely, maybe too closely because her eyes continued to drift from his......He'd expected a more insightful answer, a deeper concern....neither was forthcoming.

"Deanna..... is Tom here?"

"Not yet," She said, her reassuring smile falling from her face, "He was detained."

"I shouldn't know Tom's coming.... should I ?"

The breath she inhaled and released was uneasy, she was quiet for a moment then answered him, "Maybe while you were unconscious you heard us discussing it.....There's been threats against the Grimolians....they requested an outside party due to the negotiations."

"Are the threats from Havana?"

"Of course not," She said, her eyes narrowing with concern, "There were two explosions on the surface, both detonators we found were of Cardassian origin."

He saw her eyes search the room, looking for Doctor Crusher, he knew if he continued with his line of questioning he'd never get out of here.

"I'm really tired Deanna," He said, lowering his lids, and raising every mental shield he could muster, "I'd like to rest before Dr. Frankinstien returns."

"Sure," She laughed silently and brushed her lips against his.

He waited until her footfalls fell silent before opening his eyes and trying to reconstruct at least a semblance of reality.


Using every shred of information he'd learned in bullshit 101, he'd managed to get himself released from sickbay with the stipulation he not return to active duty for another forty eight hours. He wondered how long he'd been laying here, shrouded in darkness, staring hypnotically out the view port in his quarters at the icy blue surface of Havana. He threw his arm over his eyes, shielding himself from the spell the planet seemed to have cast on him.

~Will~ His name spoken softly blew into the room on a cool breeze that ruffled his hair and carried the unmistakable smell of orchids. The sensation propelled him to pull his arm away from his eyes, raise the lights and stare into his empty quarters. He rubbed his hands briskly over his beard, an adrenaline like he'd never felt quickened his heart, and increased the restlessness he was already feeling.

"I gotta get out of here." He moved swiftly out of his quarters, picked up his pace and headed for the shuttle bay.


Picard's warning sounded through the shuttle almost simultaneously with his launch.

"Commander Riker, return at once."

"I can't Sir." He accessed the shuttle view screen.

"You can, and you will." Picard ordered, his face stern, his eyes heavy with concern.

"I'm sorry Sir." He severed the communication, punched the thrusters, and reset the emergency transporters. He knew they'd try to beam him out first, when that failed they'd use the tractor beam to stop his descent. He activated the duel transport, the guise that should at least for an instant make the Captain think he'd beamed to the surface of Grimola, instead of his true destination.

He breathed a sigh of relief when his coordinates released him on the tiny patch of land he'd programmed into the transporter. He tossed a look to the sky, and wondered if Picard would violate the prime directive and follow him to the surface of Havana.

"Ever feel like your freedom of choice has been revoked?"

Will snapped his head around, looking behind him, "What the hell are you doing here?"

"I was thirsty." Tom Riker answered, brushing locks of his damp hair behind his shoulders.