"I didn't realise you owned so much," Beverly Crusher grunted from behind the hefty crate of personal belongings she was carrying, struggling to fit between the doorframe of the new crew cabin without scraping the uniform from her arms.
There was an indistinguishable sound from the side of the couch, where even more boxes were piled, followed by a long sigh. Deanna Troi emerged, shaking her head in desperation. "Neither did I. Is that all of it?"
"Thankfully." The doctor dropped her load onto the couch, making the thick cushions bounce. She looked around incredulously. "Where did all of this come from?"
Troi pulled her dark hair back from her shoulders. "I have no idea. I'm sure half of it was never in my old quarters."
Crusher grinned, pushing her way through the mess to reach the replicator. "I know I never saw it. Maybe you got a couple other people's crates along with yours." She tapped in the activation code on the new machine. "One ginger tea, hot." There was a whirr and the drink appeared in a clear mug. The doctor sipped it and shrugged. "Well, at least your replicator works."
Troi smiled. "I'll have a hot chocolate, I think."
"You'll get through a few before you finish unpacking," her friend teased as she handed over the tall glass. Troi gave a wry laugh.
"I'd better get started, then." She looked around; after a moment she shook her head helplessly. "But where do I start?"
"Pick a box, any box." Crusher shrugged, closed her eyes and pointed randomly. "Start there."
Troi followed Crusher's finger and rolled her eyes. "You would pick the biggest pile first."
Her friend smiled apologetically. "Just lucky I guess."
The counselor took a deep breath and knelt down; as Crusher took a step she coughed, shook her head firmly and pointed to the couch. "If I have to do this, the least you can do is stay and watch."
Crusher shrugged and sat down, taking a leisurely sip of her tea. "No problem. Beats opening my crates for a few hours."
Troi scowled up at her: Crusher just grinned behind her mug.
"Call it the perks of the job. I'll just make sure you don't strain anything while you're unpacking."
"Why, thank you."
"Don't mention it." She tipped the mug back, finishing her tea as Troi began to empty the first box, hefting it onto the coffee table.
Crusher blinked, spotting the contents of the crate below, raising her eyebrows in surprise. "What's that?" Curious, she put down her empty mug and lunged for the box, pulling it over in front of her. Two hologram projector cubes and a PADD landed on the floor, and she withdrew her prize. "Handwritten letters?"
Troi looked up, caught off guard. She looked confused for a moment, then embarrassed at her friend's find, half managing a smile. "Yes."
"Yes." She took the bundle from her friend's hand. Crusher raised her eyebrows but shrugged, exploring the rest of the container.
"What? I offered to help you unpack."
Troi scowled and sighed ruefully. "How about you go unpack over there?" She pointed to her desk, hidden beneath yet another huge pile of boxes. Crusher grinned mischievously.
"Aha. That means there's something interesting in here." She reached into the box again.
"Beverly!" Troi sounded somewhat desperate. The doctor ignored her and took out a small wooden box. It was ornately carved, and the lid wasn't closed properly: as Crusher set it down to finish emptying the box, the lid popped open. Troi reached out and grasped the box, pulling it towards her, and as she did so a slip of paper fluttered out. Crusher picked it up, intrigued, and unfolded it. Her eyebrows rose as she looked up at her friend.
Troi shrugged nonchalantly, but the discomfort in her eyes gave her away. Crusher, however, didn't see it, too busy reading the poem.
"'To Deanna, love always, your Imzadi.'" She looked up. "And what might that mean?"
Troi shook her head and held out her hand. The poem was reluctantly put in her palm and she replaced it quickly in the box, locking it firmly shut. "It's in the past," she said absently, carrying the box to her desk. She opened one of the drawers and gently laid the box inside.
"There's a lot in the past, Deanna," Crusher said with a smile. "Some secret admirer? Wyatt Miller, perhaps?"
Troi laughed. "No! Wyatt never wrote me any letters, let alone poetry. It's not important."
"It's not?" Crusher watched with amusement as her friend reddened. She was about to pursue the matter further when the door chimed.
"Yes?" Troi turned to face the door, a smile coming to her face at the sight of the ship's first officer. "Hi, Will. Come in."
She stepped aside to let him enter, and Riker eyed the room speculatively. "You're still not quite straight, I see."
Troi smiled. "When have my quarters ever been completely tidy, Will?"
He grinned. "Not as long as I've known you." He searched out a clear seat, nodding to Crusher. "Hi, Beverly."
"Hi, Will." Her green eyes sparkled with good-natured mischief. "Say, you've known Deanna a while. You wouldn't know anyone who ever wrote her love poetry, would you?"
Riker's eyebrows rose theatrically as he turned his head to regard Troi. She shrugged very slightly, trying to look unflustered. "She found some," she said in a small voice.
A smile touched his eyes, and he never took his gaze from her as he answered. "Can't think of anyone. You don't remember who it might have been?" He gave her a pointedly inquisitive glance.
"No," she managed as he continued to watch her with that deep, blue gaze. "Can't remember anyone at all."
"Oh well." Crusher shrugged. "I guess I'll just have to toss and turn over it for the entirety of the mission if you're not going to tell me."
Troi tossed her a slight scowl. "Beverly, I really don't remember, okay?"
The doctor held up both hands in surrender. "If you say so." There was a pause that made Troi distinctly worried; then her friend's green eyes lit with inspiration. "Maybe if you see what else is in that box, you'll remember who it was."
"Beverly," Troi warned.
Crusher raised her eyebrows. "What? Surely you don't want to forget someone who was sweet enough to write you poetry like that."
"It's good?" Riker sounded intrigued. Troi coloured slightly, convinced Crusher would hear the pride of authorship in his voice.
The doctor just smirked. "Pretty good, yeah. Whoever it was had a passion for archaic writing, too." She gestured to the pile Troi had moved protectively out of her grasp. "Handwritten letters."
"Really?" To his credit, he managed to look curious rather than amused at the situation. He flashed Troi an inquisitively raised eyebrow. "Maybe they're signed, hmm?"
"Maybe." She looked a little apprehensive, but she didn't protest when he picked up the bundle and sat down on the couch. Trying to cover her discomfort, she began to dig through the nearest box, blindly emptying it without even noticing what she was piling onto the floor beside her. Riker continued to flick silently through the letters, and after a few minutes even Crusher seemed to give up and returned to helping. Troi relaxed somewhat at that, handing her friend a pile of PADDs to place on the desk. As Crusher stood up and crossed the room, Troi leaned over the box and separated the next pile, lifting them out-
"'I don't know why I did what I did to you. It was probably the stupidest thing I've ever done in my life, and all I know now is that I want, I need you to forgive me. I love you, Deanna...'"
She looked up slowly, knowing she would meet his gentle blue gaze. Slowly, she let her belongings fall back into the box and sank back onto her heels, looking up at him.
"I've never heard you read any of it," she said softly. "Not even the poem."
"I'll read that for you, if you like." He seemed captivated by her eyes, unable look away. His voice was as quiet as her own, and neither of them even acknowledged the half-embarrassed, half-intrigued redhead at the side of the room.
"No. Read some more." She gestured to the letters in his hand. She moved gracefully, pushing boxes out of the way until she was sitting cross-legged in front of him. "Any of them. I don't mind."
He flicked through the thick bundle; noticing one that had obviously been handled more than the rest, he drew it out. It was shorter than the rest, only a single page, but well-fingered. Troi blushed slightly as he started to read.
It's been six weeks since I left Betazed, and I miss you like crazy. My transfer came through this morning - I leave for the USS Potemkin in a week. It's a smaller ship, and a step down for a while - second officer for a trial period, but in six months they'll be needing a first officer and I'm the likely candidate if I take this transfer. And after six months, I'm eligible to bring family aboard... which brings me neatly to what I wanted to say to you.
I don't have a lot of time to write this, and I don't want to dress up what I'm going to say, so I'll keep it short. I know I can't offer you as much as your life on Betazed, but I can love you above anything else, and it's the love that's important, isn't it? You always said so. I've learnt a lot from you, and I want to go on learning for as long as I can.
Deanna, will you-'"
"Will." She put her hand on his, her voice barely audible. "Don't read that."
He looked up, his face a mixture of regret and understanding. "You have."
"Not for a while," she admitted. He winced inwardly, nodding.
"He's not coming on this mission, you know," Crusher put in suddenly. Troi looked up in surprise; she'd forgotten her friend, still standing awkwardly and somewhat hopefully near the door. Riker glared at her, only half-playfully.
"That was the single most unsubtle piece of matchmaking I've ever heard."
The doctor coughed awkwardly. "That's my cue."
"Glad you found it."
She edged toward the door, which helpfully opened for her. "I'll be going, then. If you need me, I'll be in my quarters." A rueful grimace came to her face. "Unpacking."
Despite herself, Troi couldn't help laughing at her friend's predicament. Riker just sighed.
"Well, that's gonna be around the ship before we even leave spacedock."
"Will," she smiled and laid a hand on his arm. "I think Beverly has a little more discretion than that."
He shrugged ruefully. "You're the psychologist." Troi looked up at him; after a moment of meeting his eyes she sighed.
"If we're lucky, we might reach warp one before it does."
He raised his eyebrows with a sudden grin. "Innuendo, Deanna? From you?"
She looked at him archly. "That's just your mind working overtime."
"You'd know." He grinned at her expression. Troi let out a disgusted noise and shook her head.
"I give up. Drink?"
"Your replicator's working?" She nodded and he grinned. "Beats most of the ship. The whole Federation's been on war rations so long they're forgotten how we actually eat." He considered it for a moment. "Synthehol. It's been a long day." He sat down, gingerly moving aside another open container, trying not to drop any of the trinkets inside. "How much do you own, Deanna?"
She laughed ruefully. "More than I did when I packed it."
He looked around, surveying the room with a subtly raised eyebrow. "I can believe that."
Troi smiled, looking around and gave a small shake of her head. She paused, calling up their selections from the replicator, taking the moment to draw on her curiosity and try...
She turned to him, handing over his drink, deceptively casual for the loaded question that emerged.
"Why did you never ask me again?"
He shrugged, trying to cover the fact that he didn't really know the answer. "I - it wasn't the time. It was never the time. It'd been two years, and we were serving together for the first time..." He shrugged wryly, recognising their all-purpose excuse. "I'd changed. You'd changed." He smiled at her then, assuring her that that wasn't all a bad thing. "We changed. It wouldn't have..." he paused, avoiding the word 'worked'. It was too final, too harsh for them. It could have worked, whenever they wanted to try. "It wouldn't have been right to just ask. Putting the cart before the horse, as it were, given how long we were apart." He sighed and smiled ruefully, running a hand over his hair. "And then there was you and Worf-"
"She was right, you know."
He stopped, looking at her in confusion. "I'm sorry?"
"Beverly." She took a step toward him. "Earlier." Her cool hand reached out for his larger one. "Worf." Fingers slid between his own. "He isn't here." Her palm pressed to his. "He's not coming on this mission."
He managed a slightly flustered grin. "Well, being first officer, I think I'd know if he were."
"Will," she murmured reprovingly. "We're getting off the subject."
He grinned, raising his eyebrows. "And what would that be?"
"He's not here. He's not going to be here."
"Did you want me to do something about it?"
She smiled playfully. "Not really."
He grinned. "Well... okay."
"Nothing to do with him, anyway."
"Oh?" Her other hand slid up to his shoulder, behind his neck. "Mm... you haven't done that in a while."
"A very long while," she breathed softly, a small smile beginning in her eyes. His grin widened in answer.
"Was there something you wanted me to help you with?"
She smiled mischievously, brushing her lips over his. "I can think of a few things."
He smiled back, turning his head to whisper in her ear. "Will I get dirty?"
Troi laughed softly, nibbling lightly along his throat. "What makes you think you're so squeaky clean right now, Will Riker?"
He shrugged and tilted his head down to her, catching her lips against his. "Oh, I don't know... I'm not usually all that untidy."
Troi laughed, sliding her arms around his waist. "Unlike me."
He raised an eyebrow. "Is that another innuendo I hear from you, Counselor?"
Her only answer was a soft laugh over his cheek. Riker grinned at the sensation, his own voice breathing into her ear. "Am I going to be gone long?" She smiled, doing that to his neck again in a distinctly unhurried fashion.
"Oh, I wouldn't worry about that."
He grinned. "Just so long as I don't have to unpack anything."
Troi smiled teasingly and stepped back, pulling him toward
the bedroom. "Just one thing..."