"I really don't think this is a good idea, Number One." Picard turned his gaze around the Ten-Forward lounge with trepidation, his usually stoic expression marred with distaste.
"Oh, I don't know," Riker replied with a grin. "I think it adds a touch of... atmosphere to the place."
"The crew *has* already shown a marked rise in morale since beginning this, Captain," Deanna Troi reminded him with a mischievous smile that matched Riker's. "And you yourself said that their efficiency has increased considerably."
Picard straightened his tunic and made an effort to look commanding. "Yes, well..." He eyed the two of them with well-hidden defeat. "Obviously you know what is best for the crew, Counselor. If the two of you agree that this is necessary, and as I seem to be overruled by your *professional* opinions when it comes to these matters..." he sighed, "I suppose I will just have to accept my defeat gracefully. Excuse me." He turned and headed for the door. As it hissed open, he turned back once more, as if to assure himself that it wasn't following him out. Troi and Riker both contained laughter at their Captain's expression as he quickly exited the room, leaving them both examining their handiwork.
"I don't see the problem," Troi said after a while.
Guinan floated up beside them and smiled knowingly - not that she could smile any other way. "The Captain doesn't let his hair down much," she observed serenely. "Perhaps, he just needs some time to adjust."
"Perhaps," the Counselor agreed with a nod. "What do you think, Will?"
The first officer studied the nine-foot Christmas tree sprouting from the middle of the room. It had taken a lot of work to get the Captain to agree to beam it aboard at their last planet-side stop, and his displeasure might have had something to do with the amount of power draining from the ship's internal grid to feed the half-tonne of lights winding their tendrils around it. Trimmed with replicated tinsel and baubles, with various presents scattered at the wide base, it looked quite festive.
"Well," Riker said with a grin, "I like
"It's not that I don't like to be festive at this time of year," Picard said defensively as he relaxed back into his chair. "Or that I want to deny the crew a chance to unwind a little. It's just that, I feel, with so many different races and religions on board, paying undue attention to one festival among so many might... jeopardise morale among other members of the crew."
"But you said Deanna felt morale had *increased* since they started on this project," his companion protested. Beverly Crusher sat on his couch, legs curled up beside her, a cup of steaming tea warming her palms. "And besides, it was *Guinan*'s idea." Picard took a deep breath and slowly nodded.
"Perhaps I am over-sensitising the issue. But we simply do not have the luxury of being able to celebrate each and every festival that applies to a member of this crew."
"No one said anything about that, Jean-Luc," she countered firmly. "Guinan just thought it would help drain some of the tension out of this mission. It is rather tedious, you know," she added with a sparkle in her eyes. "And you know how quickly everyone agrees with Guinan's ideas."
"The exact reason I requested her," Picard agreed wryly. "All right, doctor. I will *try* to get into the festive mood; after all," he conceded, "Will and Deanna have gone to a lot of trouble over this."
Crusher smiled, sipping her tea. "That's the spirit -
and yes, they certainly have, haven't they?"
"Time to get up?"
The bearded first officer raised his head a quarter-inch, glanced at the time readout and dropped back down. "Nope."
"Oh... good." Deanna Troi huddled closer to his side and pulled the covers more tightly around them. "What is the time?"
"Oh-seven-hundred," he answered from beside her. "Why, you have somewhere to be?"
Troi smiled. "I believe right now, Commander, I am where I should be."
Riker grinned down at her and toyed with a strand of errant black hair. "Well, good. I'd hate to detain you from your duties."
"My duties include the welfare of the entire crew," Troi reminded him. "And," she caught hold of the hand that was finding its way across her hip, "right now, I'm assuring to the welfare of one particularly important member of that crew."
"Does that mean I can make you late for your next appointment?" Riker asked teasingly.
"My next appointment is on the bridge," she informed him with only half-feigned resignation. "Or I would gladly let you detain me, Imzadi."
"Your commanding officer might have something to say about that," he quipped.
"Well then, I have an advantage." She smiled. "I have some sway over him." Riker grinned ruefully. "That might be true, but I doubt I have that much control over my commander." He put a light emphasis on the possessive.
"I should hope not," Troi answered sharply: he glanced down at her with a raised eyebrow and she dissolved into laughter. "It *is* a rather... strange... picture," she confessed. Riker scowled, then finally relinquished what was left of his dignity and joined in her amusement.
"I'm sure Beverly can handle that... situation... quite adequately without my help." He drew Troi closer and kissed her in imitation of what he meant. She could hardly resist, nestled in his embrace, and would not have done even if they *had* had to rise at that moment. When they finally parted, content in their intimacy without the need to go further - something they had done quite a lot of in recent nights - Troi smiled knowingly, if a little sadly, and traced a finger over his chest.
"I think you're assuming more than is actually happening, Will." He looked down at her in surprise.
"You mean they're not- Why?"
"I have no idea," Troi answered tiredly. She'd obviously asked herself that same question.
"You must have *some* idea," Riker pressed. "Friendship aside, it should be obvious to you that she loves him." He frowned. "What does the Captain feel?"
Troi matched his frown with her own. "You know I can't tell you that. But," she admitted when he started to protest, "I do think they would make a good couple. And I think he loves her, but they both feel guilty about it - and maybe," she looked pointedly at him and he felt her slipping into his mind to put the thought across, "maybe they just don't think it's the right time."
Riker winced, recognising their familiar excuse. Familiar, until it had come to the point at which they had both decided that it was much easier to accept their feelings for each other than try not to act on them. It had been a while now - three months, three weeks - since he had saved her life from the Sindareen... again. Three months, almost four, during which they had not-all-that-slowly rekindled their relationship and found it as rewarding as the first time. With a laziness born of comfort and contentment, Riker stretched across the pillows and fingered the white hairband he'd made for her, that she'd been wearing almost solidly for three months. Troi turned her head to see what had distracted him and smiled.
"They'll realise, sooner or later," she said with the tone of experience in her voice. "Give them time, Will. After all, they don't have empathy or an Imzati bond to help them." She smiled, but Riker sighed and rolled his eyes.
"Considering how much that helped *us*, we'll be dead and buried by the time they realise what's going on in their hearts." Troi sat up, feigning surprise.
"Why, Commander, I do believe I hear romance in your voice."
Riker grinned and pulled her back down to him. "Not in my mind, Dea?" She smiled at his private name for her; a contraction not only of her name but also of 'Imzadi', that extra and private level to the word.
"Yes," she answered after a moment, "in your mind too, always. You're a very romantic man, really."
"With the right person," Riker added. Troi smiled: the tender moment broke to the sound of a duty alarm. "Damn," he cursed angrily as he swept out of bed, oblivious to Troi's bemusement. When he finally turned and saw her expression, his own was one of surprise. "Is it that amusing that I don't want to leave you?"
"No." She smiled lovingly, rising from the bed to come into his embrace and caress his cheek. "I was just thinking how... opposite all this is. You always said you wanted your career more than anything, more than a committment, and now things are so totally different..." She reached up and kissed him tenderly, sweetly. "I'm glad."
"So am I," he whispered against her kiss. Troi smiled.
"I know. I always know."
"Imzadi," he said in both understanding and affection. Her smile widened slightly and she kissed him once more.
"I'll get breakfast, okay?"
Riker nodded, heading off to the bathroom. She waited for the sound of the sonic shower and then went to arrange breakfast for the two of them. She enjoyed the morning ritual they'd fallen into; it gave them both stability, a chance to center themselves before the day. She couldn't imagine, now, how she had managed without it: without waking up to Will's face every morning, without kissing him goodbye as they headed to their respective duties... without the gentle but solid touch in her thoughts that told her he was there with her, always, a touch that could not be broken.
Surveying the breakfast arrangements, she stood back from the table and stepped back into arms she knew would be there to hold her, surrounding her and pressing her against the warmth of her Imzadi. They stood for a moment in silence before his stomach rumbled in protest against her back. Troi laughed and let him sit down to the hot black coffee and cooked - well, replicated - breakfast that awaited them both. The didn't talk much over breakfast, she'd noticed, but it didn't bother her; it was enough to be together, there. Her cognitive brain wasn't awake enough before she got to her office to conduct much reasoned conversation, anyhow.
Riker snickered at the thought, finishing his coffee and looking slyly at her. "And which part of your brain *is* awake right now, Counselor?"
She flashed him a mischievous smile, her eyes sparkling. *You know full well which part, Imzadi... the part that wants you...* She reached up to kiss him, in his arms without realising she'd stood. They drew closer, eyes closing, minds finding each other.... ...and jerked abruptly away with a sigh as Troi's comm badge chirped.
"*Crusher to Troi. Are you busy right now, Deanna?*"
*Yes,* the empath returned privately to herself. Riker smiled and kissed her forehead, releasing her. She watched as he cleared away the remains of their meal, smiling to herself, and absently answered Crusher's request.
"Of course, Beverly. I'll come by as soon as I can. Troi out." She tapped the badge again and looked up at Riker with a rueful sigh. "It seems I'm on duty earlier than I should be."
"Hey, good." He stepped up to her, sliding his arms around her waist. "That means you can finish earlier too. Meet me in Ten-Forward at the end of your shift?" When she nodded, her crooked a finger under her chin and tilted her head up to kiss her goodbye. "I'll see you later, then." She nodded again and let him go, watching as the door slid shut between them.
*I love you, Imzadi,* she sent after him as he started down the corridor. She felt him stop, concentrate.
*Love you too, Dea,* was his answer.
Troi smiled, satisfied, and turned to make herself ready
for the day.
When she reached sickbay, Troi couldn't help a smile. Beverly Crusher sat at her office desk, oblivious to her friend's entrance and almost completely hidden behind piles of disks and isolinear chips. It looked as if she had had a particularly good streak of poker luck and now wasn't sure what to do with her winnings.
"Beverly?" Troi ventured, trying to keep amusement from her voice.
The doctor looked up, relief crossing her face at the sight of the Counselor. "Deanna! I'm glad you're here, I could use some help. This," she gestured to the work scattered around her, "arrived this morning. An entirely new catalogue of medical specs from the starbase," she explained at Troi's unasked question. "And since Geordi and Data are far to preoccupied with updating the enigneering section, it falls to me to read and load it all. And you," she added with a devious smile that didn't bother to hide itself.
Troi sighed loudly and sat down, making no effort to conceal her irritation at the coercion. Her amusement at Crusher's predicament quickly turned to dread - and, after three hours of working through only half the data, exhaustion. Finally, exasperated with the task at hand, she dropped her latest addition to the crew's psych profiles and pushed back in her chair.
"Beverly, I think we've been at this long enough, and I have an appointment in ten minutes. Why don't we take a break?" Crusher looked up, undecided: she smiled her best professional smile. "It'll help you relax. Walk to my office with me?"
The doctor stood, surveyed the remainder new database and smiled. "Yeah, I suppose so. A few minutes won't hurt, I guess."
Walking down the corridor to the turbolift, Beverly Crusher watched her companion closely. There was something different about Deanna recently; a glow, a lightness in her step that hadn't been there before. It had started... well, she wasn't sure when, really, but it had to have been a while.
She blinked out of her thoughts and looked over at Troi with a smile, about to answer when her comm badge chirped. "Crusher here."
"*Doctor, could you come to engineering?*" Geordi LaForge's voice came through the device. She sighed and tapped it.
"I'll be right there, Geordi. Crusher out." Glancing at Troi, she smiled ruefully. "So much for a little relaxation."
"*Riker to Troi,*" came a second later. "*Are we still on for Ten Forward at the end of your shift?*"
Troi smiled inwardly, knowing he didn't really need to ask her. "Yes, of course. Fourteen-hundred hours."
"*Great. I'll see you later,*" Riker assured her through the comm system. She smiled lightly and nodded.
"Understood." Glancing at Crusher, she raised an eyebrow. "What?" The doctor had the look of someone who had just found the diagnosis for a particularly elusive disease. "Beverly?"
"You and Will have been seeing a lot of each other ever since that Sindareen... incident," she said slowly. Troi smiled enigmatically.
"That could be taken two ways, Beverly," she warned as the lift stopped on the engineering deck. Crusher stepped out, then turned and eyed her friend speculatively.
"And which way do you suggest I take it?"
Troi's eyes sparkled. "Both."
The doors slid shut between them, leaving Crusher staring at what had been Troi's face. She stood for a moment, contemplating; shaking herself out of her surprise, she started down the corridor.
"Deanna and Will?" Much as she knew there was something between them, she hadn't seriously imagined it ever - *really* - happening.
"Deanna - and *Will?*"
It couldn't be.
"Deanna... and Will..."
Troi smiled to herself as the lift doors close between her and her friend. It surprised her that rumors hadn't been circulating over the past months - it usually took only a few days for something to do the rounds on the Enterprise. She got the feeling the Captain knew something was going on, but then he was the Captain and kept such suspicions to himself. Other than that, they'd been careful to keep their private life separate from their duties and let others find out by themselves. So far - so far - it had been successful. However, Beverly had obviously but two and two together so their secret, to all intents and purposes, was probably out.
Reaching her office, she found - to her pleasant surprise - that she was a few minutes early for her first appointment. She tidied the remains of the prevoius day's work into a cabinet, pressing the closure, and turned to survey the room. It was simple but spacious, carefully arranged for the comfort and relaxation of her patients. Smiling, Troi settled into her chair and allowed herself to relax, albeit briefly until Ensign Bradly, her first patient of the day, arrived. He was always a little late, she reminded herself, which gave her time before his session began. Rising, she went to the replicator and ordered herself a hot chocolate. She sipped it as she called up Bradly's record, but her mind wasn't on either the drink or the text. Unconsciously, she sought out the familiar and soothing sense of Will Riker. It was amazing how quickly they had both readjusted to being lovers, she mused with a half-smile. But then, once it had been decided, they hadn't seen much point in taking it slowly - *Gods,* she thought with a shrug, *we've been doing that for over ten years.* They were happier as lovers than friends, they'd found with only a measure of surprise. Deep down, they had both known they always would be; they had just never had the courage to confirm that knowledge.
Noticing the time, Troi smiled and put her mug aside just
as Bradly entered her office. Thoughts of Will would have to wait until later...
but only a little later.
Ten Forward was crowded. Most of the attention was centered on the tree, but it was nearing the change of watch and most of the tables were full. Despite the amount of minds surrounding her, however, as soon as she entered Troi unerringly found her way to the table Riker had secured for them. They didn't need to greet each other verbally, but Troi couldn't help the habit.
"Hi, Will." She slid into the chair opposite him with a smile. "It's really caught on, hasn't it?" She turned toward the tree, unable to gesture as Riker now held both of her hands in his. "Perhaps we should do this every year." She turned back to him with a shy smile, glancing around. "Will, people are watching us."
"And?" He grinned. "It's Christmas time, Deanna. We're two friends, *close* friends," he emphasised the word and she blushed slightly, "enjoying a drink together. Speaking of which," he raised a hand to call Ben, their usual waiter, over. "Could we have two coffees, please?" He glanced at her. "You want anything to eat?"
"No, that's all. Thank you," she smiled at the dark-skinned waiter, turning back to Riker when he left. "I think they can tell we're enjoying ourselves, Will. As for being friends, even close friends..." she looked around, quick enough to see the occupants of various tables look away. "I think it's gotten around that we're a little more than that." Riker followed her gaze, looking back at her with a smile.
"People were going to find out eventually, Dea." He moved closer, squeezed her fingers. "It isn't as if we're the first officers in Starfleet to have a relationship. Hell, Deanna, there are couples on this ship who've done it. It's not against regulations to love someone you work with, you know."
"I know. I've had to convince patients of that quite a few times," she admitted.
"But we're different, Will!"
He smiled. "We always have been, Imzadi. That doesn't make it wrong for us, just special." Troi smiled in admission, nodding, and looked down. She studied the coffee Guinan had slipped onto their table at some point, stirring it a little as she raised her eyes to regard him.
"You are the most hopeless romantic, Will Riker," she informed him.
He grinned. "Only for you, Deanna."
"Just me," she returned disbelievingly. Riker shrugged and took a sip of coffee. She placed her own back on the saucer and sat up a little, studying him. As he met her gaze she returned her attention to her cup, slowly shaking her head. Riker frowned, dipping his head to try and look at her face.
"What?" He took her hands, confused. "What?"
She smiled and looked up. "I was just thinking how different things have turned out between us. You, saying all these things about how easy it is to have a relationship on board a starship when you were always so obsessed with your career-"
"I was not obsessed!"
He glared at her, but it melted under her honest gaze. "Yeah, I guess I was. But that was back then, Deanna, years ago. I didn't know what I had," he added softly, in a boyish tone that made her smile. She reached over and stroked his cheek with the back of her fingers.
"Neither did I."
"Think we should join them?" Geordi La Forge watched from the bar, sipping his drink thoughtfully, as the Counselor drew her fingertips across Riker's beard.
"I don't think they need our company," Beverly Crusher answered with a smile.
"They look like they're doing pretty good on their own," Miles O'Brien agreed. "Reminds me of me and Keiko when we were first..." he trailed off and coughed. "Well, you know."
Geordi grinned. "Yeah, we know."
"Never thought they'd really get it together, did you?"
The engineer shrugged. "Must be the Christmas
Standing outside Will Riker's quarters, Jean-Luc Picard was beginning to grow distinctly less than comfortable. He pressed the buzzer for the third time, about to turn and leave when the door hissed open.
"Captain." His first officer grinned brightly at him from beside the couch, holding his trombone and obviously having just been playing. Troi sat innocently on the couch behind him, her hands clasped on her knee, making no pretense of ever having been anywhere else. "What can I do for you, sir?"
"I... just came by to ensure you were attending tonight, Will. As the Captain, it bequeaths me to put in an appearance and I would be... grateful for your presence. You too, Counselor," he added quickly to Troi. She smiled and inclined her head.
"Of course, Captain. We were planning on going anyway, weren't we, Will?"
"Of course," Riker echoed confidently. "It was our idea, after all. Brighten up a dull mission, it being this time of year."
Picard, now acutely aware that that something in the room was going straight over his head, made an effort to regain control. "I hope *you* don't consider this mission to be dull, Number One."
If Riker was phased by the sharp tone, he didn't show it. "Not at all, sir."
Picard tugged at his tunic and nodded. "Good. Because that is not an attitude befitting the first officer of this ship. Is that understood?"
Riker purposefully did not look round. Behind him, Troi made a great show of studying the couch. "Yes, sir."
"Yes, well. Good." Picard straightened his tunic again and raised his chin. "Tonight, then. Good day, Number One. Counselor." He nodded slightly to her and left at something close to the speed of sound.
"Well, that went a little better than I expected," Troi admitted as her companion set down his instrument and settled beside her.
"Better?" Riker whistled as he put one arm around her. "You must have been expecting something pretty bad."
Troi smiled as she nestled into his shoulder. "He wasn't *that* awful, Will." She reached up and drew him down for a light kiss. "You know he didn't mean anything by what he said. He's just uncomfortable around us right now." She smiled reassuringly. "The Captain isn't used to us having this kind of relationship. He'll get used to it."
"Eventually," Riker finished ruefully.
"Eventually," she admitted in a despairing voice. He laughed.
"Poor Jean-Luc. He really needs to loosen up a little more."
Troi laughed, shoving him playfully to one side. "You shouldn't let anyone else hear you saying that."
Riker grinned and pulled her close. "Ah, but you're not going to tell on your Imzadi, are you?" He shrugged, murmuring into her hair, "besides, he does need to loosen up." Troi smiled enigmatically.
"I'll see what Beverly can do."
"Of course I'm going," Beverly Crusher announced, with a smile she didn't wholly agree with, for what seemed like the fourth time in as many minutes. "I'll see you there." Alyssa Ogawa smiled in satisfaction and left the CMO's office for her off-duty period. "Is there anyone around here who *isn't* interested in my plans for tonight?" she muttered to herself. The door slid open again and she looked up to see Deanna Troi seat herself in the opposite chair.
Crusher sighed. "I suppose you're here to find out whether I'm coming to this dance of yours tonight as well."
Troi smiled in that way she had and leant back in her chair. "Actually, I was wondering if you'd finished that database yet. I need some information for one of my patients." Her smile widened. "But now that you mention it, I presume you are going to attend." Crusher sighed and then smiled at her friend.
"And as I mentioned it, I can hardly be mad at you for pestering me, now can I?" Troi just smiled. "Okay, you win: yes, I am coming tonight."
"Accompanying someone, I hope?"
Crusher frowned; after a moment her face took on a suspicious expression. "You're up to something, Deanna. Out with it."
Trying not to look guilty, Troi shrugged noncommitantly. "It was just something Will said, that's all."
"Something *Will* said? Well now," she raised an eyebrow and her eyes gleamed, "I'm always interested in what Will has to say to you."
The remark hit home and Troi blushed. "You know, then."
"If I were the other side of the galaxy I'd still be able to tell," Crusher returned with a smile. "Congratulations."
"Thank you," Troi answered demurely. She paused, as if weighing up her next words. Crusher frowned.
"It's just a pity," Troi said slowly, a smile creeping into her eyes, "that I can't say the same to you." She stood abruptly. "We'll see you later, Beverly."
She was gone before the doctor could answer, leaving her speechless and staring after her friend.
"Who said," she murmured to herself after a
time, "that I wouldn't be due for some congratulations?"
Jean-Luc Picard straightened his dress uniform, watching his reflection in the full-length mirror, and nodded. The image looking back at him was more than adequate. He would be just on time for the celebrations-
The sound of his door chime startled him out of his preparatory thoughts.
"Yes?" He turned in time to see Beverly Crusher cross the threshold, allowing himself a smile. "I thought you might be attending tonight, Doctor."
Crusher returned the smile. "I intended to go on my own: however, Deanna informed me, in a rather roundabout way, that I should have a date." She held out her arm. "Seeing that it's such short notice, and Will and Deanna would probably make life hell for us both if we didn't, I was going to suggest..."
"You were going to suggest we attend together." He coughed uncomfortably and looked back at her. She was stunning, he had to admit that. "It does seem to be the best idea, doesn't it?" He allowed his smile to widen, taking her arm. "Besides, I would not want to upset my first officer."
Crusher laughed. "I think Deanna's the one we should
be more careful of." She stopped as they headed for the door, running her
gaze over his attire. "Jean-Luc, this is an informal occasion. Go put on
something a bit more... *informal*." She gave him a shove toward the
bedroom, ignoring his protests. "We wouldn't want you to be the odd one
out, now, would we?"
"Deanna?" Riker tapped in the access code to his lover's quarters and stepped inside, looking around. "Deanna?"
*Wait out there,* came the rather piqued answer in his head. Riker bowed gracefully to her will and grinned, seating himself in the nearest chair.
"We'll be late," he warned teasingly.
Troi made a rude noise back at him. "I'm coming, all right?" He looked up as she entered the room, an approving smile immediately lighting his face. "Imzadi, you look wonderful."
"I'm glad you think so." She held out her hands and her took them in his, pulling her closer. She wore a long, dark violet dress that was almost black and cut to reveal a modest cleavage. The skirt was straight, falling to her ankles and slit to mid-thigh on the left; dark velvet shoes matched the dress, and her hair was fastened up in a clasp of the same material, falling loose down her bare back and losing the severity of the style. He greeted her with a lingering kiss, one that she eagerly returned.
After a moment Troi stepped back to regard him, smiling her own approval at his attire. A dark blue silk shirt and black pants, his hair swept back in a loose style, made him look relaxed and even more charming than usual.
"Are we ready?" She looked up at his question and nodded, tucking her arm into his as they left the room. Several crew members - not all too discreetly - watched as they walked down the corridor, but both Riker and Troi chose not to notice until they reached the turbolift; which was, mercifully for anyone else, empty. "Deck eleven," Riker ordered, and the lift began to move obediently downwards. "We haven't done this for a while," he observed, looking down at her with a smile. "Not since that fiasco with your mother and Q."
"Hopefully this will go a little better," Troi replied with a grimace.
The lift stopped a short way down the corridor from the holodeck where the Enterprise's Christmas Eve celebrations were being held. It was mainly the command staff, with security, medical and engineering filling up the largest holodeck. The lower deck staff, mostly science who had very little contact with the usual runnings of the ship, had organised their own Christmas party in one of the smaller holodecks. Ten-Forward was probably crowded as well, Troi thought to herself as they entered the already large gathering. The holodeck had been programmed to look like a typical Earth-style reception hall, but with a distinctively festive feel. A fir tree much larger than that in Ten-Forward took up most of one corner, flashing lights reflecting from the mile-long multi-coloured tinsel threaded through its branches. Tinsel and sparkling material hung in drapes around the overlooking balcony, suitably over-the-top decorations covering most of the walls. A twirling silver ball adorned the centre of the ceiling, casting droplets of silver light on the dancers beneath it. Music came from a mixture of the ship's own band playing contemporary and the computer archives, randomly selecting 'seasonal' tracks from its memory.
"Feel like a dance?" Riker asked with a mischievous grin. "I'm sure we both remember how." Troi smiled and jabbed him in the side with her elbow. "Hey!"
"Don't tease," she reprimanded firmly, taking
his hand and heading for the one of the many table scattered around the outside
of the room. Riker grinned and followed her. "Yessir!"
"Don't tell me. People are watching us." He pulled back to look at his dance partner, who was at that moment following his lead in a waltz. "I thought we went through this, Deanna."
Troi looked away for a moment; a wry smile tugging at her lips, she looked back at him. "We did. But I just thought you might want to know who was watching us." She tilted her head imperceptibly toward the far corner of the room. Riker expertly reversed their positions to get a discreet look.
"No." She moved forward again and rested her head on his shoulder, her voice a whisper in his ear. "Tyiman." He shifted his gaze a little to the left and winced, quick to cover the expression for the lieutenant was looking straight at them. He'd met Steffa Tyiman through a mission briefing and, true to form, within two weeks they'd started up a 'relationship'. It had been stormy to say the least, and she was too young - barely in her twenties - to look for anything but some fleeting fun and the chance to perhaps influence the First Officer. Riker was older and wiser, not to mention possessing of more scruples, than she and once it had become clear that there was no advantage to filling the position of Riker's consort, she had quickly lost most of her interest in the affair. *Obviously not all,* Riker thought ruefully at the look on her face. Evidently she still considered him her territory... at least from the black looks she was giving Troi.
"Is she bothering you?" he turned his head to ask. "Can you sense her?"
"I'm trying not to," she replied, with a light smile when his face hardened. "I can block it out, Will. She's trying to upset me, I think, but she's not very good at it." Laughter lit up her eyes. "I've met Klingons who were better at focusing their emotions."
Riker laughed, making a point to avoid the young lientenant's non-too-piercing gaze. "So long as it's not a problem. I don't want you to-"
She tilted her head and kissed him gently, slowly, on the mouth. After a moment of centuries, she pulled away with an amused smile, her eyes sparkling. "No problem."
Riker grinned. "Okay. But..."
Troi sighed. "What?" His grin melted into mischief.
"You might want to convince me some more..."
Watching from the table they'd acquired during the early evening, Deanna Troi couldn't help admiring her partner. He was held up in a queue - well, a crush - for drinks. Guinan had spared a few of her staff to perform the necessary duties at the celebrations, but Troi made a mental note to ask for twice as many the next time they did this. She was concentrating on the logistics - and, if she was honest, Will Riker - when the CMO slipped into the next seat.
Not having noticed her and trying not to show her surprise, Troi turned to the doctor. "So, Beverly."
Crusher blew air through thinned lips. "That was a cue," she explained with exaggerated patience, "for you to start talking."
Troi hid a smile. "About what?" she asked innocently.
"You *know* about what. You and Will!"
"What about us?"
Crusher growled under her breath. "What's going on, for Heaven's sake! And I want details!"
Troi regarded her friend with a worried expression. "Beverly, maybe you should have one of your staff to a checkup on your eyes. You don't seem to be seeing too well tonight."
Crusher rolled her eyes. "Oh, please. Deanna, are you deliberately avoiding answering me or are you just in a let's-annoy-Beverly mood?"
Holding up her hands in surrender, Troi was about to give a serious answer when a shadow fell over the table. She looked up to find Jean-Luc Picard standing in front of her and smiled, gesturing to a seat. "Captain! Please, sit down. Would you like a drink?" Picard cast a glance across at the refreshment table, completely obscured by officers, and sighed.
"I don't think you would have much luck, Counselor, but thank you for the offer. A drink would go down nicely right now."
*Will?* Searching out the consciousness on the other end of their link, Troi was inordinately pleased when he answered he almost immediately. His voice was strong and clear, a testament to the growth in their relationship.
*Yes? I'm just a little distracted right now - hey!* Troi smiled inwardly as she heard the echo of the offending ensign's apology when he discovered who he had run into. *Extra orders?*
*Beverly and the Captain would like drinks, if it's not too much trouble,* she asked in the most pleadingly innocent voice she could adopt.
*I've got half a mind to let you get them yourself,* he sent back, a lightness to his tone softening the annoyance. She sent an image of her face, a 'puppy-dog' expression directed at him, and felt him weaken. *What do they want?*
Troi smiled triumphantly, blinking out of the conversation for a moment. *Whatever we're having,* she answered a moment later.
*No trouble. After all, we're command staff. We should be top priority!*
*Tell that to the other officers,* Troi retorted with a smile.
"Counselor?" Picard lent across the table and touched her arm. "Are you all right?" He looked concerned; so did Beverly.
"Fine." She smiled reassuringly. "Will's bringing them. The drinks." At their confused faces she raised her eyebrows. "You both asked for a drink?"
"Uh, yes." Crusher looked at Picard, exchanging glances. "Two synthehols."
"Four, actually," Riker's deep voice corrected from a few yards away. He straightened the tray in his grasp and slid it onto their table. "Neat trick, huh? Learnt it when I was stationed on Betazed." He sat down across from Troi, grinning. She caught his gaze, held it for a moment and then looked down, shaking her head in amazement.
"You have no *idea* how long it took me to teach him that," she confided to the others. Riker frowned slightly, unconvinced.
"Actually, I learnt on my own, as I recall." *You're not afraid of me anymore,* he sent at her to jog her memory. Troi's head shot up; immediately she relaxed and smiled sheepishly.
"Yes, well. I... refined the talent somewhat, then. With your help," she admitted with a melodramatic sigh. "All right, so you could do it to begin with. Forget I said anything."
There was a moment of silence, comfortable between Troi and Riker; confused between their companions. Picard cleared his throat.
"Would someone mind letting me in on whatever is going on here?"
Troi glanced up at Riker with a 'should we really?' expression on her face. Crusher saw it, scowling in warning. "Deanna..."
"Okay, okay." She extended a hand to her
partner, sipping her drink with a smirk. "Would you like to start?"
It was late into the night shift when the four of them finally left the continuing celebrations. There was a constant hum of movement on a starship, with shifts working in rotation rather than 'day' and 'night' being absolute. As a result, the holodeck was filling with off-duty crew at around the the same time as it was emptying of those about to catch some sleep before their own duty periods. Nevertheless, the four senior staff managed to move through the rush of inward traffic and out into the corridor. All their quarters were on the same deck, Riker reminded himself when he wondered why Picard and Crusher hadn't gone their separate ways from he and Deanna. The other couple, if they were a couple, were a little less obvious than he and Troi; Picard stood in the centre of the turbolift, relaxed but still reserved, while Crusher lent up against the opposite wall, her head tilted as if she were asleep. Troi, on the other hand, was almost asleep, her head resting on his shoulder and his arm around her waist supporting her body. Riker glanced tenderly down at her, nudging her mind to keep her awake. The lift opened on their deck, and as they stepped out he noted with chagrin that Deanna's quarters would be the first they passed, his straight after as they were next door to each other. There was no way he was going to play pretend for Picard's sake, but it would be the first time the Captain had come unavoidably close to the physical aspect of the relationship between his Counselor and First Officer.
"Deanna." She lifted her head wearily; the emotions of the night, although mostly celebratory, had tired her out. "Your place or mine?"
In front, Crusher snickered slightly as Picard overheard. Riker hid a grin; Troi smiled, gauging the Captain's reaction better than either of them could, and shrugged.
"I don't mind. In fact, I don't care." She closed her eyes with finality and let him propel her along.
Riker tightened his arm around her to keep her upright. "Yours, then. It's closer."
"Hm. So long as it has a bed." He couldn't look at Picard then, unsure whether Troi had said those exact words on purpose or if she was just too tired to think about the connotations. Crusher dropped back to say goodnight, but Picard only slowed a little as they reached the door of Troi's quarters.
"Goodnight, Captain," Riker called after him. Picard turned as if he hadn't realised and nodded back.
"Ah, yes. Goodnight, Number One; Counselor." He nodded again, slowing enough to wait for Crusher but, Riker noticed with a half-smile, not looking at him as he entered Troi's quarters. The door slid shut on Beverly's expression, and Riker only then allowed himself laughter.
"Will?" Troi's voice sounded much less exhausted, but more than a little exasperated. "Are you coming to bed?"
He grinned. "I'm coming, Imzadi." A wry grin
worked its way onto his face as he stepped into the bedroom. "I wouldn't
want to disappoint the Captain's imagination, after all..."