To Capture The Wind

By Michele (IceSlivers)


*Standard Disclaimer: Paramount owns all but the story line even though we outlawed slavery here in the US like two hundred years ago, they still insist on owning Riker and Troi. *sigh*

Chapter One

Forecasts of change began long ago. Everything changes, and nothing stays the same. Somehow, on this ship, the old cliché “the more things change, the more they stay the same” reigned. Crew came and went, missions succeeded or failed, and relationships grew or died. Things change. Lives change. Lives continue despite the curveballs of fate. Opportunities arise and decisions are made…life changing decisions…facts of life. Deanna Troi was just learning to appreciate the subtle importance of changes in life. See, she had just made a life altering choice.
A feisty fire in her dark eyes drew admiring looks from the males she passed in the corridor. With her long dark hair, fair complexion, graceful features, and lithe body, Deanna invoked envy in most females and longing in most males. The stares she drew as she entered Ten-Forward barely brushed her subconscious. Oh, she felt them all right, but she was so accustomed to drawing admiring stares that she ignored the throng of people. All she cared about, at the moment, was sharing her newest decision with a life long friend. What would happen then was anyone's guess. The ultimatum Deanna planned on issuing him would surely ruin their friendship…for better or worse.
In the lounge, Deanna scanned the crowd, looking for the face of a person that she knew was already in the lounge. The moment she passed through the doors, she felt his presence invade her mind and her heart. With firm determination, she pushed his familiar spirit from her mind. Her eyes zeroed in on a man sitting near the center of the lounge across from a lovely brunette who looked approximately the same age as Deanna. A smile played on her lips as she started towards the cozy couple. Her gait was sure and steady…sure that this course was the right course. After all, it was time that things change, and for once, her career offered Deanna the opportunity to change everything.
Hushed voices and the clinking of glass permeated the table and gave it a romantic air. Soft smiles were traded along with promising looks, but the suddenly shocked look that crossed Will’s face destroyed the mood. He immediately began glancing around the lounge until his eyes met with hers. Deanna advanced towards his table with a smile on her face bright enough to light a galaxy. Knowing her as well as he did that smile meant only one thing to him. Trouble. He attempted to look at ease, but Deanna's smile grew as she sensed his deep discomfort. His date's emotions whirled around in confusion as the woman sensed the growing tension between Deanna and her date. Deanna almost felt sorry for the woman.
All conversation at the table ceased as Deanna stopped directly in front of Commander William Riker and crossed her arms over her chest. Riker leaned back and waited for Deanna to say something, to end the uncomfortable silence between them, but the tension continued to grow. Deanna did nothing to stop it, so Will swallowed hard and took a deep breath. She cocked an eyebrow at him and he lamely asked, “Would you like to join us, Counselor?”
Deanna's silent laughter echoed sweetly through Will’s mind, startling him since she rarely allowed her thoughts to drift into his mind anymore. He blushed while she looked utterly serene. “No, Will, I don't think so,” she replied. Her gaze swept meaningfully over his lovely date, then Deanna smiled winningly at Riker. “I believe the old saying is, ‘two’s company, three's a crowd?’” She appeared to be in deep thought before nodding. “Yes, that's it.”
Astutely, Riker's date took the unspoken hint and gracefully rose to her feet. She smiled politely at Deanna, then smiled seductively at Will. In a smooth and understanding voice she said, “Obviously, there's something you two need to talk about. Alone,” she added. “I’ll be in my quarters, Will,” she told him. He nodded and she brushed casually by Deanna, who watched her leave with an amused smile. With is date gone, Will gestured to her empty chair next to him. “Have a seat, Counselor,” he invited again with a wary smile.
“I prefer to stand,” she primly informed him, thoroughly enjoying Riker's discomfort. She knew he liked to have control of every situation, but now the control belonged to Deanna. A glimmer of sadness glinted briefly in her eyes, but with a shake of her head it was replaced with determination. In a soft, but firmly loving tone Deanna warned him, “Listen to me very carefully, Riker, because our future depends on whatever you say next.”
Confusion lit his surprised eyes and dumbly he repeated, “Our future? What do you mean?”
“Our future. You see, I've been offered a position at Starfleet Medical, heading up the counseling unit,” she told him, placing her palms on the table and leaning slightly on them.
Will’s face glowed with an honest smile of happiness for her. “Deanna, that's wonderful!” He exclaimed. “What an offer!”
“I've accepted,” she continued quietly. His eyebrows shot up and his mouth fell open. Deanna continued without allowing him the chance to speak. “I leave in two weeks. The Enterprise is due for a refitting at Utopia Planetia, so Captain Picard has offered me a shuttlecraft from Mars to Starfleet Headquarters.”
“Congratulations,” he said dispiritedly. Deanna was leaving…Deanna was leaving…God, after a decade or longer of service together, Deanna was leaving. Leaving the Enterprise, leaving him. His heart pounded and his head began to throb. Will felt as if he was being split in two, one part wanting to beg her to stay, the other wanting to stay stoic.
“Will, you have two choices,” Deanna quietly said, drawing him back to the present from his turbulent thoughts. “You can let me leave, ending things between us, or you can convince me to stay. Those are your only options,” she assured him. Deanna leaned over the table and inches from his face she whispered in a deadly soft tone, “So, what'll it be?”

“Who the hell does she think she is?!” Will raged to his amused friend, Lieutenant Commander Geordi LaForge, as he stalked around his quarters like a caged panther. Geordi repressed a smile at his friend’s understandable anger. In all the years LaForge had known Will Riker, never before had he seen Will quite this angry. His hands were locked behind his back and his eyes glowed in barely restrained fury.
“Will, she has every right to leave this ship, and this is a terrific opportunity for her. You can’t
deny that,” Geordi said logically, folding his hands on his knees. “It’s not like you have any claims
on Deanna…Or, do you?” He asked slyly. Will glared at him, and Geordi held his hands up in a surrendering manner.
Will sighed, walked over to a chair, and despondently sank into it. He slouched deep in the chair with a depressed demeanor very different from his usual lively self. “She didn’t even act like herself!” Will exclaimed with his anger fading slightly. “The Deanna I knew would never have talked to me like that!” Ironically, he mused, “She acted like her mother.”
“After ten years, a person is going to change, Commander. Even Deanna. Of course the Deanna you knew wouldn’t have talked to you like that. The Deanna you knew was timid and over powered
by her mother, or so you’ve told me. The Deanna I know is strong and outspoken. She’s very sure
of herself and extremely spirited. Will, you still see the Deanna you met on Betazed so many years ago. You can’t see Deanna the way all the rest of us see her because you’re vision is clouded with the Deanna you knew then. Open your eyes, Commander,” Geordi advised, standing to his feet. “You’ll like what you see,” he promised Riker as he walked to the door. “I’m due in Engineering.
Think about what I said, Will.”
“Thanks Geordi,” Will said half hearted. The doors to his quarters closed quietly and Will began mulling over what LaForge had said. He was right. Will’s impression of Deanna was clouded with
the girl he’d known on Betazed. Then, Deanna was so afraid of contradicting her mother, that she’d broken up with him. Maybe he did still see Deanna as a girl who would bend to the will of another person. He did need to open his eyes. Obviously, he’d missed something. All the years he’d spent chasing after his career on the Enterprise, he only paid Deanna a passing attention. He knew
Deanna was there, waiting in the wings, or so he’d assumed. Assuming was his second mistake.
His first mistake was keeping Deanna at arm’s length and not seeing how much she’d changed.
Wearily, he rubbed his temples and closed his eyes. Deanna’s words from earlier spiraled
through his mind. The future of their relationship was entirely in his hands. It was an odd feeling.
He didn’t want to lose Deanna. And, he knew he loved her, but he’d never thought Deanna would
leave the ship. At least, Will thought she would never leave without him. Yet, here he was…in his quarters trying to face the reality of Deanna’s upcoming departure. He sighed. Life just wasn’t going right.

“So, how did the Commander take your news?” Beverly Crusher asked Deanna as she sipped some tea. They sat across from each other in Beverly’s quarters, enjoying an after dinner conversation. Deanna sipped her hot chocolate with a reflective smile, considering Beverly’s question before answering it tactfully.
“He was…miffed,” she replied, a smile glowing in her eyes.
With a chuckle, Beverly repeated, “Miffed?” Beverly giggled and finished off her tea. “Somehow, I can’t picture Will Riker as being miffed.”
Beverly laughed and nodded. “Now, angry I can credit to him.” Both women dissolved into laughter. “You know, I’m going to miss you around here, Dee. Who else am I going to make fun of the other senior officers with?” She asked, sobering slightly.
Deanna’s eyes glimmered. Her hopelessly light hearted mood could not be ruined. For once in her life, she was absolutely sure what she’d done was the right thing to do. After spending half her life pining for Will Riker, chasing him across the galaxy, and pinning all her hopes on brief encounters it was time for her to move on. If Riker wanted her, he had to prove it to her. He’d had chance after chance. All he had to do was snap his fingers and Deanna would have come running, but that was then…this was now. Now, if he snapped his fingers, she’d look over, but not come running. She could leave him and their friendship behind, but some part of her would always belong to him. She could banish him from her life, but not from her heart. That was something she had to learn to accept and live with…somehow.
“Deanna?” Beverly’s gentle voice brought her back from her solemn thoughts. “You were a million miles away,” she commented, leaning back in her chair and studying her friend.
“I was thinking,” Deanna said, twisting a lock of her curly hair around a finger.
“About Will?” Beverly guessed quickly. The slight pinking of Deanna’s cheeks answered Beverly before Deanna could verbalize her answer. She nodded her dark head slightly. “I’ve spent half my life wanting him, Beverly,” Deanna mused. “Do you have any idea how relieved I feel now that I’m free of him?”
Raising her eyebrows, Beverly asked, “Free of him? Deanna, you’ve told me countless times you’ll never be completely free of Will.”
“How does a woman ever forget her first true love?” Deanna countered. “I’ll never forget him, but Beverly, I’m not going to waste anymore of my life on him.”
“Good for you.” Beverly smiled warmly and reached across the table to squeeze Deanna’s hand. “I’m truly happy for you. You deserve some happiness, Deanna.”
The smile on Deanna’s face spoke for her. She did deserve some happiness, and if Earth was where Destiny wanted her, then by God, she was going to follow her heart. For the first time in a very long time, she was going to let her heart lead her, wherever it lead her, and Will Riker be damned!

Sleep that night was an exercise in futility that night for Will. When his eyes slid closed he saw Deanna leaning over his table, her face inches from him, and her eyes glittering. With his eyes open he heard Deanna’s voice echoing through his mind in that stealthily silent voice she’d used. He sighed noisily, rolled over on his back, and laced his fingers under his head. He stared up into the inky blackness of his bedroom, frustrated, confused, and depressed. All his emotions led back to the same cause: Deanna. Damn her, he thought. She issues me an ultimatum, and knows I’m laying here awake thinking about it. Will sat up in the blackness, seized with inspiration. She did know what he was thinking. She had to with the link they shared. It had been awhile since he cast his thoughts to her, but with a little concentration, he could do it. He took a deep breath, cleared his mind, and focused completely on Deanna’s spirit until he was filled with the sensation. Then, he took his thoughts and frustrations, put them in a ball, and threw them across the binds of telepathy, straight into Deanna’s mind.

With a pounding heart, Deanna Troi sat straight up in her bed and pressed her hand to her chest. She took a deep breath, trying to center and calm herself. Slowly, her heartbeat returned to normal and Deanna concentrated on the emotions and images that had awakened her from a sound sleep. A soft smile grew across Deanna’s face as the images and feelings began to make sense. It was Will and he was frustrated…with her…with his life. She leaned back against her pillows and closed her eyes, returning to sleep with a satisfied smile on her lips. Maybe he would get the message…finally.

The senior staff met in Ten-Forward the next day to celebrate the ending of a long and draining mission, receive some much deserved time off, and offer Deanna their congratulations for her promotion. She stood in the center of a group, laughing and smiling at what they said to her. Everyone who mattered to her stood around her…except one solitary man who stood gazing out at the stars. His aura of anger warned approaching friends to back off and leave him alone. Alone was all he wanted to be. If it wouldn’t have been bad manners, Will would have left Ten-Forward the moment Captain Picard awarded them shore leave. As the first officer, he had to maintain a certain decorum for appearances sake, but later, he would take out all his frustrations on the holodeck. “You know, you could at least try to be happy for her, Will,” a voice said from behind him. He made no effort to turn around or acknowledge the speaker. The speaker grinned, knowing Riker heard her, but was attempting to ignore her. “Will, whether you like it or not, Deanna is going to leave, and she is happy about it. She deserves some happiness, and the least you could do is let her be happy. After all you’ve put her through, she deserves that much from you,” the speaker said cuttingly, and the barb made its mark. He spun around with ill concealed anger in his eyes.
“After all I’ve put her through?” He asked incredulously. “What the hell is that suppose to mean?”
“She loves you, Will. She’s loved you for as long as I’ve known you two, and what do you do? You throw it back in her face. You flaunt your latest love in front of her…your latest conquest, and now, you have the nerve to be self-righteous? Who do you think she is? Who do you think you are?”
“Go to hell,” Riker hissed, incensed beyond belief. Then, he turned and stalked away from the doctor before he said something he would truly regret. A satisfied smile grew across Beverly’s face as she watched the commander practically run from the lounge. A troubled smile grew across Deanna’s face as she watched Will leave. She started after him, then she stopped. Protecting and worrying about him had to stop. She didn’t care about him anymore, or so she kept telling herself. Deanna was a terrible liar. She did care about him, and lying to herself was getting her nowhere. She sighed noisily and disengaged herself from the group of people surrounding her. Then, she quietly slipped, unnoticed, from Ten-Forward and asked, “Computer, what is the location of Commander Riker?”
“Commander Riker is on Holodeck One,” the computer replied in its usual monotone. Deanna nodded and headed to the nearest turbolift. “Holodeck One!” She called out, and the turbolift hurled her to her location in the blink of an eye. The doors opened and she exited, walked to the holodeck entrance, and pressed a button. A gruesome scene greeted her as she stepped in the holodeck. Will was running one of Worf’s old fitness programs, and he was running it on the highest level of difficulty. She stood in the safety of the arch until the program came to an end.
“Will, what are you doing?” She asked in an exasperated tone. Deanna crossed her arms over her chest and raised her eyebrows at him. Sweat poured from his brow, his hair stood up in wet spikes, and his chest heaved with exertion.
“What does it look like?” He returned in between gasps of air.
“It looks like you’re trying to kill yourself,” she replied dryly.
“And, if I am?”
“Then, I’d say you need to talk to a counselor,” Deanna suggested mildly.
Will raised his eyebrows and pointedly said, “Let me know where I can find a good one.”
The verbal jibe found its mark. Deanna’s shoulders squared and her face grew hard. With a contented smile, Will watched her struggle to find her center, calm herself, and take a deep breath. I know how to push your buttons, too, Will Riker, Deanna thought deep down in her psyche where Will would not sense her thoughts. She smiled brilliantly at him and informed him, “There will be a formal ceremony tonight to confirm my official promotion. As first officer, you are expected to attend.” Her voice was dry and serious. He glared at her and retorted, “I know my duties, Commander.” Deanna tilted her head in acknowledgment, then turned on her heel and left the holodeck. Will sank to the floor in exhaustion and anger.
“Troi to Crusher,” Deanna called out as she walked to the turbolift.
“Crusher here. What’s up, Deanna?” Beverly’s relaxed tone indicated this was a good time to talk.
Deanna smiled while she entered the turbolift and directed it to Deck Eight. “Beverly, I need some help picking out a dress for tonight. Can you swing by my quarters in a little while?”
“I’ll be there in ten minutes, Counselor.” Beverly’s amused tone made Deanna’s smile grow.


Chapter Two

Nothing short of a miracle could have prepared Will Riker for the sight his eyes beheld as
Deanna walked into the lounge that night with Beverly. His eyes widened, his heart quickened,
and a gasp escaped his lips. She looked…well, he’d never seen her dressed quite this way. She wore a strapless, shimmering ice blue gown, exposing her creamy shoulders, and the swells of her breasts. Her hair was pulled back off her face in an elegant French twist, and her make-up was natural. Deanna always looked lovely, but there was a glow emanating from her, enhancing her beauty tenfold. He unknowingly clutched his wineglass tightly until his fingers began to throb. By then, Deanna had made her way across the room and was surrounded by friends, well wishers, and more than a few admirers, and to Will’s chagrin, she was relishing in it. He’d forgotten how sensual she could be when she wanted to be.
“Deanna looks gorgeous.” Will looked over and saw Geordi beside him. The shorter man leaned against the bar and passed an admiring glance over the beautiful counselor. Will’s eyes darkened to a dangerous smolder. Geordi noted the change in Riker’s stance and expression and casually commented, “You know, Commander, with the reaction you’re having towards a friend admiring another friend, I’d hate to see your reaction to a serious admirer.”
“She’s making my life, hell, Geordi,” Riker commented softly, taking a sip of the wine in his glass.
“She only gave you that ultimatum a day ago, Will,” Geordi reminded him.
“I know, and I didn’t sleep at all last night…All I can think about is that stupid ultimatum, and what’s worse is Deanna knows it.”
“Ever think that maybe this is what she wanted? Maybe she’s trying to drive you crazy?” Geordi suggested.
“Well, she’s doing a damned good job of it,” Will spat, finishing off the wine in his glass and setting it on the bar. With a determined look, he stalked over to Deanna’s group of admirers and stood on the fringe. Sensing his anger, she looked up, startled to find his irritated blue eyes staring intently at her. She offered him a brilliant smile and made her way through the group to where he stood. “Having a good time, Commander?” Deanna asked lightly, sipping her wine. Will continued his glaring until Deanna sighed and asked, “What are you so angry about, Will? The fact that other men are…appreciating my appearance, or the fact that you’re equally enthralled by my looks?”
“Would my answer make a difference?” Will countered in an undertone. Deanna turned a sad smile on him and replied, “Well, I guess we’ll never know since you’re not going to answer. Never try to beat around the bush with an empath, Commander. It will do you no good.” Then softly she added, “And, as well as we know each other, I would think that by now, you would especially know not to do that with me. I know you better than you know yourself, Will Riker.”
An unexplainable ache filled Riker’s chest as the truth of her words assaulted his mind. All the years of hiding his emotions, remaining in “command” mode more than a relaxed manner, and attempting to squash his love for her was moot. Oh, he’d fooled everyone, including himself, into believe he didn’t care about her anymore…He’d fooled everyone but her. All those years of standing back, remaining his friend, and watching him had been hell on Deanna. The away missions, dangerous liaisons, and risky maneuvers had added years to the Betazoid’s young life. Part of her reason for breaking off their relationship was just that reason. She worried about him so much, that his well being had almost become more important than her own. The most feared thing for an empath, to lose themselves to another’s emotions, had almost happened to her with the one she loved the most. She longed to lose herself to him, but only if he could lose himself with her. For that to happen, he had to realize she wasn’t a constant in his life, and the only way to achieve that was for her to disappear for awhile. She thanked the gods for Starfleet’s confidence in her. They were giving her an escape with this promotion.
Will looked down into her dark, sad eyes, and his chest felt like a vise was squeezing it. He had to get away from her before he lost himself in those eyes. It was already beginning. Slowly, but surely, that familiar sensation of being swept away by her essence was seeping through his veins. With a small smile, he reached out and took one of her hands in one of his much larger ones and raised it to his lips. Ever so gently, he placed a kiss on the center of her hand then released it. “Congratulations, Commander. It’s been a pleasure to serve with you, and an even greater pleasure to know you. Things around here won’t be the same without you telling us what we’re feeling. God knows I’ll miss it, and I’ll miss you. I love you, Deanna,” he said quietly, then he turned and walked away from her…out of her life. Again. The doors to Ten-Forward closed behind him with a whoosh that echoed through Deanna’s mind as tears filled her eyes. Her hands grasped for a chair or something sturdy to help her shaking legs, but an arm around her shoulders kept her from falling. Those dark, teary eyes collided with Beverly blue and understanding ones. The doctor gave her friend a compassionate squeeze as the tears Deanna fought valiantly against slid down her face. Deanna let them remain on her cheeks…the wetness growing cold against her warm skin. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, regaining control once more.
“What happened?” Beverly asked softly when Deanna’s eyes opened again and she looked stronger.
“He said he loves me and that he’ll miss me,” Deanna told Beverly in quiet victory.
“So now what do you do?” Beverly took her arm from Deanna’s shoulders and looked intently at the empath who smiled dazzlingly. “What do I do now?” Deanna returned. “I do nothing. I’ve done all I can do. It’s up to him…now.”

Chapter Three

A week came and went too fast for Will or Deanna to realize. Both were so caught up in their duties to the ship, their lives, and the upcoming changes in personnel that time flew by like the wind. The end of the week rolled around and found Will enjoying a night off alone in his quarters. He sat in his favorite chair, leaning back, sipping a snifter of brandy, with soft blues playing in the background. His week had been hellish with the upcoming duty changes. Planning new duty rosters, completing his bridge shift, and minor run-ins with locals from whatever system the Enterprise happened to be in made for a long, but quick week. Since Deanna's promotion ceremony, he hadn't had time enough to sit down and truly ponder the situation before him.
He didn't want to lose her...that was something he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt. And, he also knew what he had said to her at the ceremony was true. He did love her. Hell, he'd loved her since the day they'd met. A smile crinkled the skin around his mouth as he recalled the first time Deanna Troi entered his life. Chandra's wedding...A traditional Betazoid wedding. Everyone in attendance was nude. In the beginning, it had been Deanna's body that appealed to the young Riker, but over time and with age, Deanna's mind, spirit, and, of course, body appealed to him more than ever. He wanted her in his life. He needed her in his life. After fifteen years of service together, he had come to rely on her, and he believed she relied on him. "This decision isn't just up to me,'s up to you," Will said to the empty air of his quarters, still with his eyes closed, still holding the snifter of brandy. I may be able to convince you to stay, Deanna, but for our relationship to grow into whatever it is we's going to take both of us, Riker thought to himself, punctuated with a long sigh.

"I don't know...I thought things would be different after the incident in the Briar Patch," Deanna said with a sigh as she and Beverly walked through the arboretum. They meandered along the paths of blooms and greenery, stopping every once in a while to admire a particularly lovely flower, or pausing to look at each other as they talked. This was their weekend ritual. Every Friday night, if possible, Deanna and Beverly met each other in the arboretum to catch up on the week's events. They paused to admire a beautiful section of Betazed roses. The varying colors of petals brought a smile to Deanna's lips.
Beverly admired the rose, inhaled its heady fragrance, then asked, "Dee, what happened after that? When we beamed back from the planet, you two were inseparable."
"Life," Deanna answered ruefully, looking sadly to her friend. "Things kept coming up...ship's duties...obligations...Dates were broken and after awhile, we let things slip back to friends. The comfort zone we've lived in so long was too hard to break out of."
"Then, the ultimatum." Beverly's eyes lit up. From the moment Deanna had confided to Beverly about her plans, she'd been trying to figure out what brought on her friend's sudden determination. Now, she understood. "Deanna, did it ever cross your mind to talk to Will about the way you've felt?"
"I tried," Deanna said, resuming their stroll down a path laden with roses from too many planets to count. "Somehow, it was always the wrong time...a bad day...or it was too uncomfortable for both of us. It was so hard to adjust to being lovers again after being friends for so long."
"Do you want him back?" Beverly asked softly, looking down at the grass beneath their feet.
"Yes," Deanna replied strongly and without hesitation.
"Then I suggest you talk to him." Beverly suddenly smiled and ran a hand through her shortened hair. "In fact, why don't you go talk to him now?"
"I can't!" But, even as she refused, Deanna knew there was no escape. A door opened behind the women and both turned one with a smile, one expressionless.
"I'll leave you two alone," Beverly said wisely, quickly making the escape Deanna longed to make. With a strong, steadying breath, Deanna looked up and offered a wavering smile. "Fancy meeting you here," she said in a quaking voice.
"I knew you'd be here. You're always here on Fridays," he said, stepping closer to Deanna. He leaned down and inhaled the fragrance of the colorful Betazed rose. "You know, you have a lot in common with this rose," he said quietly. "You're both beautiful and you're both colorful...and, you're both vibrantly full of life." He rose back to his full height and turned a sad smile on her. "And, separated from your both whither and die."
"What?" Deanna's brow wrinkled in confusion. "Separated from my stem?"
"What gives you life...a reason to live," he tried to explain.
Deanna smiled softly and asked, "And, you know what my reason for living is?" Her eyes sparkled in teary mirth as he nodded.
"You live for the same reasons I do...exploring the unknown...meeting new lifeforms... Being with family and friends...enjoying a good poker game...” She smothered a laugh that instantly sobered as he ended with, "And, you live because of love...the love of your family and friends, and the love you have for what you do."
"Walk with me?" Deanna invited. He nodded and they continued on the path she and Beverly had begun. After a few moments of silence, she quietly said, "Beverly and I come here every Friday to talk about our week. It gives us a new perspective on the week."
"It's very soothing," he said, walking along beside her with an easy gait. "How has you week been?"
"Hellish. Yours?" She returned, stopping to look at him, trying to read him.
"Equally as hellish," he answered with a rueful smile.
"Why?" Deanna almost held her breath as she waited for the answer he was struggling with. He took a deep breath and quietly replied, "Because of you. Deanna, I don't want you to leave." His blue eyes met her brown ones and held them captive. "I need you here. You are my stem."
Tears welled up in Deanna's eyes, and one escaped down her cheek. He reached over and wiped it away. "I know this is going to be hard, but if you're willing to work it out, then so am I. What we isn't worth losing or letting go. I don't want to be friends anymore, Deanna. Not if it's going to drive you away. I want you in my life, and if I can't have you as a friend, then I want you in my life as a girlfriend...fiancée...or my wife," he added after a deep breath. "I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about your ultimatum, Dee...I've thought about what my life would be without you, and I don't like it. Please...don't go." His eyes pleaded with hers, and slowly, she reached out for his hand. He took hers and held it tightly...a lifeline to the future, and pulled her up against him into a tight embrace. Thank you, she silently thanked any gods who were listening.


Chapter Four

"Good morning." His voice was deep and groggy, but it was music to her ears. She sat down beside him, smiled at him, and brushed hair off his forehead. He caught her hand and took it to his lips for a quick kiss. "Did you sleep?" He asked, sitting up against the mass of pillows.
"I tried," she told him. "But, I was afraid if I fell asleep, I'd wake up to find this all a dream," she admitted quietly.
This isn't a dream, he thought to her, squeezing her hand. "I'm years out of practice," he told her, wondering if she'd heard him at all. The smile and light in her eyes answered his question.
"Then, I'll just have to re-teach you what you've forgotten," she told him in an undertone, leaning over him. Their lips met in a gentle kiss and grew into something far more passionate. Later, lying in his arms, she quietly said, "I wasn't planning on going back to bed this morning." One of her hands roamed lazily up and down his chest.
Grinning, Will said, "I'm just glad we don't have bridge duty today."
Deanna laughed and nodded, snuggling closer to his body. She sighed contentedly. "I thought we'd never have this again."
"I couldn't believe that ultimatum you gave me," he returned. "What are you going to do about the promotion?" She tilted her chin up and gave him a small smile.
"I'm going to talk to the captain tomorrow. I'm sure he won't mind me staying aboard."
Will laughed, nodding his head in complete agreement. Then, sobering, he asked, "What about Starfleet Medical?"
Deanna snuggled back down and murmured, "Can we talk about this later? Someone wore me out and I didn't sleep well last night." Will chuckled and brushed her hair off her shoulder, then ran his hand up and down her spine in a soothing manner until her breathing changed and he knew she was asleep. When she woke up, then they would discuss their future...together. He wasn't willing to yield to a future without her...not anymore and not again.

"You're grinning awfully broadly this morning, Doctor," Picard said pleasantly as Beverly slid into a chair across the table from him. She flashed him another brilliant smile and raised her teacup to her lips. Beverly took a long and refreshing drink of the tea and Picard asked, "Care to tell me what's put such a smile on your face?"
Beverly laughed and set her teacup back down on the table. She leaned back in her chair and casually replied, "Oh, I don't think we'll have to find another counselor after all. Something tells me Deanna's going to ask to remain aboard." The look of pure shock on Jean-Luc's face slowly wiped the euphoria off Beverly's face. He leaned forward and stared at his breakfast companion, not knowing quite what to say. "Jean-Luc...what? What is it?" Dread slowly filled Beverly as he straightened his shoulders and stiffened his posture. She saw his command position begin, and the dread intensified.
"Deanna accepted that promotion Beverly. You headed Starfleet Medical for a year. You know Starfleet Command doesn't take kindly to having promotions such as that shoved back down their throats."
"What are you telling me, Jean-Luc? Deanna will have to leave?" Beverly's face paled as their captain slowly nodded his head. Her face sank into her hands and she quietly whispered, "Oh my God."


Chapter Five

"Troi to Picard," Deanna called out, activating the comm system. She pulled on a loose fitting, pale pink tunic and began running a brush through her straightened hair.
"Picard here, Counselor. What can I do for you?" Jean-Luc was dreading this communication. He knew it was coming, but hoped it wouldn't happen, yet here it was at hand.
Deanna placed her brush on the counter in the bathroom and studied her reflection before replying, "Captain, if you have a free moment today, I'd like to talk to you about something important."
"Of course, Counselor. Feel free to stop by any time today." Jean-Luc looked over to Beverly's despondent, still form. She remained sitting in the chair across from him with a defeated look, and it pained him to know that look was his fault. "Picard out," he said, ending the communication. He reached a hand over to Beverly and covered one of her hands with one of his. "Must you look so sad?" He asked quietly.
Her sad eyes met his and she slowly nodded. "Yes, because I am sad, Jean-Luc. Deanna is my best friend, and I don't want her to leave, and beyond that, she and Will have finally begun to work things out…her leaving will only drive a wedge between them." Beverly sighed dispiritedly for her friends.
"If they truly desire to be together, Beverly, then they will find a way to work through this…setback," he said assuredly. Beverly laughed shortly in full doubt of the usually right Captain Picard.

The chimes to her door sounded and Deanna called out the open command. The doors slid open and Will stepped through them. A smile lit up her face as she met him in the middle of his trek across the room to her and he caught her in a tight embrace followed by a quick kiss. "You look lovely," he said, surveying her appearance quickly. The pink tunic highlighted the pink in her cheeks, and the loose black pants emphasized her long legs. His gaze settled briefly on her hair and a thought drifted through the surface of his mind in a place very easy for Deanna to read. Her eyes widened in surprise and he blushed. "Well, I can't help it. I like your hair better when it's curly," he said sheepishly.
"I'll see what I can do about that later," she said offhandedly. "Captain Picard told me to feel free to stop by any time today."
"Great!" Will exclaimed. "What about Starfleet Command?" His face sobered, knowing that the Command wouldn't take Deanna's news too kindly. She sobered also and shook her head. "I want to talk to the captain before I take on Starfleet Command."
"Wise choice," Will agreed with a smile. He reached out for her hand and she immediately clasped his hand tightly for reassurance. Will squeezed her hand and smiled at her. "Come on. Let's get this over with." Deanna nodded and followed him out of her quarters.

Beverly jumped when the chimes rang to Picard's quarters. He now sat on his favorite chair while Beverly was curled up in a corner of his couch, both were reading, and both were dreading this confrontation. Beverly nodded and Jean-Luc called out the open command. The doors opened and the new couple stepped into the captain's quarters. Deanna smiled at Beverly and Jean-Luc, Will looked uncomfortable and shielded his feelings from Deanna's empathy. Picard waved towards his living area. "Please, sit," he invited. "What brings you two here while you're on leave?" Jean-Luc struggled to maintain a light conversation and atmosphere in a tension filled quarters. He sat back down in his chair while Will and Deanna sought refuge on the couch beside Beverly. Sensing something was wrong, Will wisely placed Deanna between him and Beverly while hoping she hadn't picked up on the tension and unhappiness in the room.
"Captain, I need to discuss with you some new developments in my…promotion," Deanna began, carefully choosing her words. She felt Will's presence infuse into her mind and she welcomed the comforting spirit. With his strength and her desire to make this relationship work, she continued doggedly ahead. "Captain, I'd like to stay aboard the Enterprise."
Picard clasped his hands together and looked down at them. He tightened and released his hands as he built up his own strength. When his eyes finally met hers, then Will's, they both knew what his answer was, and their worst fear was confirmed when Picard spoke. "Counselor…Deanna, I would love for you to stay aboard the Enterprise. I am convinced no one can do as good a job counseling as you can, and certainly, no other counselor could come aboard this ship and be nearly as good as you. The crew feels comfortable with you, you are well informed, and extremely easy to talk to. That's what makes you so good."
"But…" Deanna encouraged him to continue even as tears brightened her dark eyes.
"But, I cannot grant you permission to stay aboard. Deanna, Starfleet Command does not take kindly to those whom it has promoted shoving that promotion back in their laps. Minimum, you would only have to be at Starfleet Medical for six months before you can resume your post on the Enterprise, if you so desire." Picard's tone softened and his stature relaxed as he confided, "I would hope you do return to us here. The ship will not be the same without your presence."
Deanna rose to her feet simultaneously with Will, and Picard stood just second after they did. "Thank you, Captain," Deanna said, extending her hand. Jean-Luc took it in his and squeezed it warmly. "Deanna, if I could do anything to change this, I would," he assured her. She nodded as he released her hand. Will took that hand and led Deanna from the captain's quarters. Once out in the hallway, he pulled her into a tight embrace, telepathically reassuring her that things would work out. Deanna wanted to believe him…tried to believe him. Her heart longed to believe him, but her head reminded her that for months on end they would be light years apart. How could a relationship survive that?
"Hey…don't start thinking like that, Dee. We have a week to figure this out," Will reminded her, picking up on her thoughts, as she pulled out of his embrace. "We'll work this out…somehow," he assured her, squeezing her shoulders. She smiled a small smile and clung to the faith in his words.
"I love you," she said quietly, leaning back to his embrace. He held her tightly and murmured the same back to her. They remained tightly holding to each other for a few more seconds, then pulled out of the embrace. Their hands intertwined as he led her to the turbolift. To let go of the other for even a moment was giving Fate a chance to whisk one of them away.
A week…they had a week together. Knowing that, Will clutched Deanna's hand even tighter as the turbolift doors opened. She looked curiously at him, sensing his swift change in emotions, and tried to probe him. He thwarted her mental brush with an apologetic smile and she nodded her head respectfully as they entered his quarters. The doors closed behind them with a gentle hiss. He walked over to his couch and collapsed on it, staring off into space. She walked over and sat down beside him, placing a hand on his knee. "Will?"
"I was just thinking…we have a week before you have to leave," he told her quietly. "A week…We've…I've wasted ten years. Ten years, Deanna," Will said regretfully.
Deanna smiled sadly at him and said, "Will, we can't take back the past, and I don't want to take back our past. These ten years have allowed us to grow…change. We've become more than lovers…we've become best friends, and that's more important than just being lovers. I know that after a horrible day, I can come to you and talk to you about it. You are my best friend. Our friendship has survived nearly everything Fate and Q have thrown at us. Surely we can survive a few thousand light-years."
Laughing, Will covered her hand with his and squeezed it lightly. "Shhh…don't mention Q. The last thing we need is him messing around in our lives." His mirth subsided and he sobered. "A week, Deanna."
"A week," she repeated just as soberly, knowing that this week would make or break their relationship.

That evening found Deanna sitting alone in her quarters under strict orders not to leave her home until Will contacted her. Two hours ago, Deanna had been amused by his instructions, but after another hour and a half, she was becoming irritated. On the holodeck, Will grinned as he sensed Deanna's irritation towards him. With their relationship renewed, he made little effort to repress his senses of her. Since the Briar Patch, their awareness of each other had increased tenfold. When their relationship failed to grow after the Briar Patch, Will learned, again, to repress his sense of her in his life, but with their relationship renewed again, he allowed his senses to be flooded by her thoughts and feelings. Finishing his project, he leaned against a tree and surveyed his handiwork. Satisfied, he tapped his communicator and called out, "Riker to Troi. Deanna, can you meet me on Holodeck Two?"
"Be there in fifteen minutes, Will," Deanna replied back, jumping to her feet. "Troi out." She smoothed her hair, grinning at her reflection, then left her quarters.


Chapter Six

Entering the holodeck found Deanna in a forest paradise. She stepped through the arch and surveyed the greenery with childlike wonder. Noises of all kinds permeated the air and a cool breeze lifted her hair every now and then. Leaves crunched beneath her feet and fell from towering trees above her. She looked up at the sun shining through breaks in the green canopy.
"Like it?" She heard from behind her. With a huge smile, she turned and walked over to a grinning Riker.
"It's perfect," she whispered as he drew her close. "Where is this place?" She asked just before he gently kissed her lips.
"In my imagination," he softly replied. "It a combination of some of the forests on Earth along with a few elements from my imagination. I never had time to create this program and always wanted to do so. And, since I've always wanted to spend time here with you, I figured this was the perfect time to invent it."
"You're right," Deanna said quietly. She pulled away from him and looked up again at the sun. A breeze ruffled her hair, drawing Will's attention to it and his eyes lit up. "Your hair!" He exclaimed, reaching out a hand and catching a section of it. She smiled back at him and casually commented, "Well you did say you like it better this way."
Will smiled at her again and wrapped his arms around her from behind. "I wish we had more time..." Deanna said, for the first time, sounding remorseful. Will tightened his arms around her waist.
"We won't be apart forever," he reminded her. "You'll be back in six months, or maybe I can get a position at Starfleet Headquarters. Make no mistake, though, we will be together again."
Deanna turned around in his arms and wrapped hers around his middle section, leaning heavily against him. Tears from her dark eyes wetted the front of his shirt. He rested his chin on the top of her head, fighting back his own emotions. When her tears subsided, he released her with a smile, and wiped away the residue of her tears with his thumbs. "Come on," he said, taking her hand tightly. "I made this place to be a place of happiness, not tears. I also made it to be explored."
She managed a faint smile and nodded. "Then explore we shall," she said, allowing him to lead her off into the forest.

"Not speaking to me?" Beverly spun around from her stand at the observation port in Ten-Forward at Jean-Luc's inquiry. She glared at him in a way no other on his ship would dare, then turned her back to him. He sighed and ran a hand over his bald pate. "Beverly, it's not as if I did this on purpose. My hands are tied."
"You could pull some strings," she stated deadly.
He sighed and leaned a shoulder on the wall next to where she stood. She was right. He could have pulled some strings, but he chose not to do so. "You're right, Beverly, I could have pulled some strings and allowed Deanna to keep her position here without angering too many at Starfleet Command."
"Then why didn't you?" She asked, staring out at the stars.
" Because this is something Deanna has always wanted, and she is too good to keep here when Starfleet Medical needs her. You went to them when they needed you, and now, it's Deanna's turn."
Beverly turned with a small smile in her eyes and said, "But there's a difference there, Jean-Luc. I wanted to go."
"And, so does Deanna," he said.
"Not without Will," Beverly returned with equal conviction in her voice. Jean-Luc sighed in frustration. Women, he thought disdainfully, echoing the sentiments of men throughout the years and galaxy.
Men, Beverly thought at the exact same time equally as disdainfully. They just don't get it. If they did, Will would have confessed how he felt about Deanna years ago, and Jean-Luc... Her thoughts trailed off as she sneaked a quick look at their captain. They were just as bad as Will and Deanna...both completely in love with the other yet neither willing to admit it. Her nose wrinkled in distaste and banished the thought from her mind. "Well, I'm going to go find Deanna and give her some pointers for Starfleet Medical," Beverly said defeated. "I'll see you later, Captain," Beverly informed him in a stern tone. She brushed past him and out of Ten-Forward. Jean-Luc shook his head and marveled at the way a woman could change so completely in such a short amount of time.

"Computer, locate Counselor Troi," Beverly requested as she stood waiting for the turbolift.
"Counselor Troi is on Holodeck Two," the computer replied.
Beverly's brow wrinkled and she astutely asked, "Computer, is Counselor Troi alone on the Holodeck?"
"Negative." Beverly smiled knowingly and entered the turbolift. "Sickbay!" She called out, deciding to do some work in Sickbay.

The grass felt like velvet beneath Deanna's feet as she and Will walked slowly through the forest area on the holodeck. She held her shoes in one hand and held tightly to Will's hand with the other. The smell of pine and oak flowed through the air with each gentle breeze. The cool air raised goose bumps on her skin and she shivered involuntarily. Will stopped and smiled at her. "Cold?" He asked, running his hands up and down her arms, raising more goose bumps.
"Not really," she amended with a smile of her own.
"I could warm you up," he said with a suggestive waggle of his eyebrows. Deanna burst into laughter and sat down on a tree stump near by. Will joined her and sat on the grass in front of her. "I wish we could stay here forever," he said wistfully.
Deanna smiled as wistfully and agreed with him. "Me too, but we can't."
Harsh reality crashed down upon both of them. Seven days was all they had left together before she had to leave. Briefly, she wished she wasn't leaving, but on the other hand, she was glad to be leaving. She didn't want to leave Will, but the thrill of her promotion was growing on her. The prospect of creating a new division in Starfleet was almost overwhelming with responsibility and excitement. "I'll have to take a shore leave to Earth and take you to Alaska," Will said quietly.
"Alaska?" She wrinkled her nose. All the stories she'd heard from Will about the snow filled land sounded wonderful...if you liked snow, which she didn't at all. Will laughed at her expression. "It's not that cold there, Dee."
"In the summer," she added, making his grin grow to twice its original size.
"In the summer," he agreed. "It's not too hot and not too cold...nighttime can be chilly, especially when the wind whips through, but otherwise it's nice. You'd like it."
In the back of her mind, Deanna seriously doubted him, but she smiled nonetheless. She could learn to love his home as much as he loved hers as long as they were together. Besides, if it got too cold for her, she could find a coat. The thought made her grin...her bundled up in two or three coats and he in a tee shirt and shorts. It was such a ludicrous mental picture that she snickered out loud. "What?" Will asked curiously.
"A mental picture...don't ask," she advised and he wisely took her suggestion.

"Captain's Personal Log. Stardate xxxx.xx. Today a request was made of me by Counselor Deanna Troi that she be allowed to stay aboard the Enterprise. In her best interest, I refused her request, however, not everyone sees it that way. My first officer must have some silent objections knowing that he and the counselor have rekindled their relationship. My CMO, however, is not so silent in her objections. She feels I should have pulled some strings...make Starfleet not view Deanna's rejection of her promotion easier and not such a stigma on her record. I chose not too. To that end, she is no longer speaking to me." Picard laughed lightly in his recording. "That may be a blessing in disguise, but her anger is warranted. It would have been easier to dissuade Starfleet Command if Deanna had not already accepted her promotion. For her to do such a thing now would be a blight on an otherwise unmarred, remarkable career. She will be allowed to resume her posting here on the Enterprise in six months, though. I fear this will not ease my conscious, though." Jean-Luc paused to take a sip of his Earl Grey. "We will arrive at Utopia Planetia in approximately one hundred and forty four hours. It will be nice to have a break, maybe be able to visit France for awhile as the ship is undergoing a refitting. I am expecting my first officer to request some time planetside, which I will grant him...I feel I owe him that. Picard out."
Jean-Luc leaned back in his chair with his eyes closed. What had begun in the morning as a dull headache had exploded into a mind piercing pain by evening. He was exhausted between dealing with Deanna and dealing with Beverly. Funny...I can run a starship of a thousand people through the most dangerous a battle without a second thought, yet when it comes down to the needs of the people close to me I agonize myself nearly into illness. Ah well, I suppose that's what friends do, he mused. He had agonized over this decision concerning Deanna. Last night he’d remained awake trying to find a solution to satisfy both Deanna and Starfleet only to arrive at the conclusion that there were only two solutions: Having her leave, or angering Starfleet. Granted, had the choice been hers to make, Deanna probably would have chosen to remain aboard the Enterprise without a second thought to the mark against her on her personnel file. For this new division, Starfleet Command wanted the best at Starfleet Medical, and there was no one better in her field than Deanna Troi. That had been the final straw in Picard's decision making. He had benefited from her expertise for years, and now the entire Federation could benefit from her abilities. His choice would benefit Starfleet, for the good of mankind throughout the Federation. Beverly would get over her anger, and his first officer...well, Picard wasn't completely sure he understood the relationship Riker shared with Troi. He knew their relationship went beyond friends and colleagues. They were the best example Picard had ever witnessed of the word soulmates. They just matter what the situation or setting. He'd known that since the first day he had met Will Riker at Farpoint and introduced him to Deanna Troi. The reaction he witnessed that day had been unlike any reaction he'd seen between old friends reunited after a period of time. Their reunion had been eerily silent. Picard hadn't known then that Riker and Troi shared a telepathic bond or that she'd been communicating with him telepathically through that entire introduction. Jean-Luc smiled, recalling his words from that introduction, "I expect my key officers to know each others abilities." No doubt they knew each other's abilities better than anyone could have imagined.
On a number of times the telepathic bond Riker shared with Deanna had influenced the outcome of a mission...he could sense what she felt from a new encounter. Their uncanny knowledge of each other was something Picard knew he would miss, and if he was going to miss it, he could only guess as to how much it would effect Riker. But, Riker was one of the best in Starfleet, and Picard was just as sure of his first officer's abilities now as the day he'd met the man. Riker would adjust...Picard would adjust, and even Beverly would adjust to not having Deanna around the ship. And, before they knew it, she would be back...or so he hoped. Picard looked to his chronometer. 2345..., he noted the time and rose to his feet, stretching out his aching muscles, and as he headed for his bedroom he realized with startled awareness...his headache was gone.

Will looked over at Deanna, stretched out beside him in the grass, her expression drifting between awareness and sleepy obliviousness. In his mind, he took a picture of the way she looked and filed it away. It was something to look back on through the next six months to keep his loneliness in check. Her head lolled towards me and she smiled lazily. "It's not forever, Will," she reminded him quietly.
"I don't know when six months turned into forever," he told her, bracing up on one elbow and pulling a blade of grass out of her hair. As he flicked it into the air a gust of wind carried the blade farther into the woods. Will watched it disappear into the green darkness of the forest with fascination. That one blade of grass seemed to symbolize his life since meeting Deanna. Before his stint on Betazed, his life was growing and flourishing with great gusto. His career was everything he'd hoped it to be...on road straight to the top...Then, his stint on Betazed began and like that blade of grass, he'd been picked and sent wherever the winds of Fate desired. A desire burned from within him to stop the wind, to become rooted again, and in his heart the answer he sought came. "Deanna, marry me," he said quietly, looking into her eyes, his eyes glowing with a fiery intensity.


Chapter Seven

"What?!" Deanna exploded, sitting up in full alertness. She looked at him with shock in her eyes, and he returned her gaze with his infamous grin. Her empathy told Deanna he was completely serious, but she had to ask anyway. "Will, are you serious?"
"Very," he returned, sitting up beside her, never breaking eye contact. "I love you, and I've loved you since the day I met you. I want to marry you, Deanna, and I believe you want to marry me. I know you love me." He smiled and reached out to finger a lock of her hair. Her eyes glimmered with unshed tears and in his mind he heard, Yes, I love you, and yes, I want to marry you, Imzadi, but for the right reasons. Not for fear of losing me.
Will's eyebrows raised and his forehead wrinkled. "Losing you?" He returned. "Deanna, I want to marry you because I love you, not because I'm afraid I'm going to lose you while you're on Earth." He reached out for one of her hands and took it in one of his. "Please," he whispered, and her resolved crumbled. She leaned into his chest and their lips met in a tender kiss. Yes, floated through his mind, and he pulled away from her with hope in his eyes. "Yes?" He asked again.
Deanna smiled brilliantly and nodded her head. "Yes. Yes, I will marry you," she answered softly, leaning back to catch his lips again with hers. He succumbed to the air of sensuality she cast about them and found himself in a place of sweet torment where her every erotic thought doubled the desire racing through his body. He groaned and his hands went around her, drawing her closer and closer, yet never quite close enough. And, when their bodies melded together, a sigh of ecstasy escaped his lips as she drew his body closer to hers…so close it was hard to tell where one began and the other ended. They completed the oneness of their souls as their bodies became one. Later, noises of pleasure permeated the forest paradise created from Will's imagination, and when their desires were spent, he moved to the side, taking her with him. Her head rested on his shoulder while one of her hands played about his chest. His arms formed a tight circle around her still trembling body. He closed his eyes and whispered a brief word of thanks again to any gods listening and Deanna smiled. They know how grateful we are, Will…both of us, she cast into his mind. The sensation of her voice echoing sweetly through his mind almost brought tears to his eyes.
"Do you know how much I've missed hearing you in my mind and feeling your thoughts?" He asked gently.
"If it's as much as I've missed hearing you in my mind and feeling your thoughts, then yes," Deanna returned with an impish smile that caused Will to chuckle. "I should never have taught you how to build mind blocks," she told him with a sigh.
"Then, I would have known years ago how you felt," she answered and his arms tightened around her nude body.
"Let's not fixate on the past anymore, Dee. We made some pretty awful mistakes, but that's over. We have now and we have the future…together, and that looks a whole lot better to me than the past ever could, as wonderful as some of it was." She nodded against his chest and silently agreed to bury the past and only look forward to their future together. She breathed a contented sigh and snuggled closer to his warm body as sleep began to envelope her. Slowly, Will loosened his arms around her and quietly said, "Computer replicate one blanket to my location." Within seconds a blanket shimmered into existence beside him. He freed one hand and reached for the blanket, then he spread it over them and sleep began to infuse his body as well.

It was the sound of the chimes that roused Jean-Luc Picard from a sound sleep. Groggily, he sat up in his bed, squinted into the darkness of his bedroom, and rubbed his eyes. The chimes sounded through his quarters again and he cursed as he swung his legs over his bed. He stood up on unsteady legs, reached for his robe, and put it on as he head to the door. "Come!" He called gruffly, stalking over to his replicator. "Tea. Earl Grey. Hot," he ordered in short imperatives. The doors of his quarters hissed open as he lifted his teacup to his lips and he turned to see who was invading his privacy this early in the morning. "Beverly!" He breathed in surprise. She smiled tentatively at him as she stepped into his quarters. The doors closed behind her. "Good morning, Jean-Luc," she said softly.
"Doctor," he said equally as quietly. "Was I mistaken in my assumption that we would not be dining together this morning?"
"Very mistaken," she said with a smile. "However, I was the one mistaken, Jean-Luc. I was angry and already missing Deanna when I lashed out at you yesterday. I'm sorry." Beverly bit her lip and Jean-Luc smile. He knew how hard it was for Beverly to apologize for anything, but especially for her temper. Sometimes it did get the best of her, and he knew that after twenty some odd years of association. He made allowance for her that normally he wouldn't grant anyone else, but she wasn't just anyone else. She was the widow of one of the finest men Jean-Luc had ever served with, and she was the mother of that man's son. She was one of the best CMO's in Starfleet, but above all that, she was his closest friend and that made her invaluable to him.
"Computer, croissants," he requested to the replicator. Their customary breakfast shimmered into existence and he took the plate from the replicator. With a forgiving smile, he looked expectantly to Beverly. "Hungry?" He gestured to the empty dining room table and was blessed with a relieved smile from his CMO.
"Of course," she replied, sitting down at his table. He placed the croissants in the center of the table, sat down, then simultaneously, they each took a croissant, broke them in half, and began to eat in companionable silence.

Morning came much too soon. Deanna awoke first. She lay beside Will's sleeping body drinking in his presence like a parched person drinks water. Her breathing remained slow and even, less any change in her body awaken him. She wanted to remain in his arms forever. An ache slowly infiltrated her heart. Six days. Six days to rejoice together in their engagement, six days to be together, and six days to love without the barriers of comm links, subspace messages, and unfulfilling shore leaves. Six short and sweet days…possible the best of her life. Her eyelids closed again and tears burned in her eyes. One escaped down her cheek onto Will's chest, the hot liquid penetrating the haze of sleep around his mind. He slowly came awake, shifting sleepily, then yawned. Deanna laughed lightly. "I'd forgotten how you wake up," she said as he stretched as best he could with her laying half on, half off his body.
"It's been a long time since I woke up to a beautiful woman in my bed," he teasingly told her.
"It's getting longer. This isn't your bed." She giggled again and looked up at the green canopy above them. Birds chirped off in the distance and the grass again felt like velvet. The sky was a bright blue and the sun shone brilliantly. For some reason, the whole day looked brighter, felt better, then she remembered why and cautiously asked, "Still want to marry me?"
"Yup, as long as you don't always look like this in the morning," he told her, trying to maintain a serious mien, but his grin broke through anyway. She hit his chest lightly. "Jerk," she said, sitting up and throwing off the blanket. "Where'd this come from?" She asked, then answered herself. "Oh…You must have replicated it last night."
"Very good, Counselor," Will said, his gaze hungrily roaming over her nude body. Deanna flushed slightly, sensing his thoughts, as she slipped back into her clothes. When she was fully dressed, she looked to her still nude escort impatiently. "Well?" She cocked an eyebrow at him. "We have a lot to do today."
"I know, but most of it could be done right here," he suggested. Deanna blushed and tapped her foot against the floor. "Computer, end program!" She called out with an mischievous grin that erupted into gales of laughter at the shocked expression on his face.

"I can't believe I'm helping you pack," Will grumbled, standing in the center of Deanna's normally immaculate living room. He looked over to where she stood, no more than six feet away, packing priceless Betazed antiques into a box. She looked up with a distracted smile to him. "You said you'd do anything," she stated.
"This wasn't what I had in mind," he needlessly told her. Deanna gave him a knowing grin and said, "I know what you had in mind, Commander."
"Breakfast, Deanna," he returned, stretching his arms above his head, drawing his shirt taut over his chest. "I'm hungry, are you?" His gaze held more meaning than just a meal and she blushed gorgeously.
"Yes, I'm hungry…for both of what you're suggesting, but I have to start packing, Will. I have six days before we get to Utopia Planetia."
The reminder of her upcoming departure put a gloom over the previously jovial mood. Deanna sensed the change immediately, and she regretted her words. There was no need for a reminder, at least not to Will. He knew how many days they had left together. He probably knew it down to the hours and minutes. The last thing he needed was for her to constantly remind him. "I'm sorry, Will. I know you don't need me to constantly tell you how many days it is before I have to leave you." He tried to smile, but his attempt failed miserably. She sidled up beside him and put her arms around his neck. They kissed passionately, trying to make up for lost time and trying to hang onto time. "I love you," he whispered when they parted and she smiled, thinking the words back to him. His eyes sparkled at the sensation of her words echoing through his mind.
"Crusher to Troi," came over the communication system drawing them reluctantly apart so that Deanna could tap her communicator. "Troi here. Go ahead Beverly," Deanna replied, crossing her arms over to chest.
"Are you and Will free for lunch?" Beverly asked in a tone that struck Deanna as hesitant. She and Will exchanged a look, his agreeing with her that Beverly sounded unsure. "We can be if you need us to be," Deanna called back.
A few seconds passed before Beverly's relieved reply came back over the system. "Great. Meet me in my quarters?" she suggested.
"We'll be there in an hour. Troi out," Deanna said, ending the communication. She looked to Will. "Did she sound strange?"
Will nodded, crossing his arms over his chest. "Very," he answered. "Got any clue what's bothering her?"
"The same thing that's bothering you," she said, her eyes downcast. Will reached over and tipped her chin up. He smiled gently at her. "Never be ashamed of your accomplishments, Deanna. This is the best thing that could have happened to you. No matter how we feel about your leaving, we're also happy and proud of you and you know it, but you're concentrating more on our sadness. Concentrated on our pride for you, our happiness."
She smiled sadly at him. "You're mistaken, Will," she told him, putting her arms around his neck. "You're the best thing that could have ever happened to me. This promotion is probably the best thing that could have happened to my career, but not in my life. My life is more than Starfleet. You know that."
"Yes, I do," he answered, nodding his head with a rueful smile. "At one time the best thing that happened in my life was a promotion…my life was Starfleet."
"And now?" Her eyes turned liquid and hopeful. He grinned at her child like expression and nodded his head. "And now I realize Starfleet is just a career. I want to be the best at it I can be, but I want to have the life I denied myself for so long in the beginning. You're a big part of the life I denied myself, Dee. I may not need some of it in my life, now, but I do need you. I've always needed you and I always will."
Raising up on her tiptoes, she kissed him lightly. "Good, I'm glad you realize that, I'm just sorry it took so long," she half teased him and half meant every word. He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her tighter against him and kissed her more fully. "So am I," he murmured against her lips. She pulled away a few moments later and grinned up at him. "If we're going to make lunch, we'd better stop," she advised.
"You can make it worth my while later," he told her, taking her hand and leading her out of her quarters and next door to his. He had a present for her.


Chapter Eight

"I need to grab something out of my quarters," he told her, stopping in front of his door and punching in the access code. The doors slid open obediently and he walked in his home. "Computer! Lights!" He called out. Deanna wisely waited in the hallway until the light came on to illuminate his quarters. Only then did she step in and nearly double over in horrified laughter. "Will, good gods, why do you let your quarters get so messy?" she asked in between gasps of air.
Casually, he looked back over his shoulder at her as he disappeared into his bedroom. "What's the point in keeping it clean? No one ever sees it." His reply was slightly muffled as he rummaged through a drawer in his bedroom. Deanna wandered over to the doorjamb and watched him with an ill-concealed smile of amusement. An affectionate smile grew across her face as he began looking through something in his closet. What are you looking for? She cast into his mind.
Inside his closet, he smiled as her question floated through his mind. His smile grew when he found the box he was searching for and he emerged from his closet still wearing that grin. Pretending not to have heard her thought cast, he carried the smallish box to his bed and set it on his rumpled comforter. Will? He heard echo through his mind. He continued to ignore her cast with a growing smile. She sighed nosily and crossed her arms over her chest. Now she knew how her mother felt when her father had learned to block her casts. "Will," Deanna spoke in an irritated tone that made him chuckle.
"Yes?" He turned to look at her, holding out the smallish box in his hands. She glared at him and took the box from him. "What is this?" She asked, touching a button. The top opened to reveal another box. Will grinned, and Deanna took the smaller box out and tapped a button on the top. The box opened and he held his breath. She reached inside with her slim hands and pulled out a slender gold chain with a pendant hanging off it. Reverently, she fingered the pendant. The deep, clear blue stone surrounded by tiny clear gems shot prisms around his bedroom. She looked to him with dark, questioning eyes.
"It was my mother's," he answered her unspoken question as he took the necklace from her fingers. Expertly, he lifted her heavy hair, hung the chain around her slender neck, and clasped the clasp in one fluid movement. The pendant picked up the blue of her uniform, intensifying its color. She moved to the mirror in his bathroom and stared at the necklace. "It's beautiful," she whispered, touching it gently. He came up behind her and placed his hands on her shoulder. "Not quite as beautiful as the woman wearing it," he told her. She smiled at his reflection.
"Thank you." She turned around and kissed him lightly. "Come on, we need to head to Beverly's quarters," Deanna told him, pulling away. He smiled down at her and kissed her forehead. "If you insist," he replied. She laughed and said, "Yes, I do."
"Fine," he returned with a slightly disappointed smile. He followed her out of his quarters to the hallway. They slowly made their way to the turbolift, and when the doors shut, he pulled her to him for a lingering kiss. When the doors began to open they separated, both straightening their uniforms with flushed faces. They exchanged knowing glances as they stood in front of Beverly's quarters. The door chimes rang throughout Beverly's quarters and her voice soon floated out. "Enter," she called and the doors opened.
Deanna stepped through and Will followed her inside. Beverly sat on her couch, rising when they entered. "You're early," Beverly said. Deanna smiled, reaching where Beverly stood, and told her in an undertone, "It was either be early or never make it here."
Smiling a knowing smile, Beverly turned to Will. "Come on in, Commander," she invited. "Nothing in here is programmed to bite you…yet," she teased. He glared at her while joining Deanna near the couch. The lights hit Deanna's necklace just enough for Beverly to notice the sparkling blue gem. "Deanna, this is beautiful!" Beverly reached out and lightly fingered the dainty necklace. Deanna glowed with a smile.
"Will gave it to me," she said. Beverly's gaze swung to Will and she grinned at the commander. "I'm impressed, Riker."
"Be impressed with my father. He bought it for my mother." Will sat down on the couch and looked up to Beverly. "So, Doc, why'd you drag us here?" Deanna sat down beside him and lightly slapped his thigh. That was rude, she cast into his mind. He stiffened slightly. Her thought casts always caught him unprepared and startled him. After taking a moment to relax and concentrate, he thought back, I have other things on my mind.
The grin Deanna had been fighting won and broke out across her lips. She laughed lightly and returned to Will's mind, I know what your thoughts are. Beverly eyed the two curiously before saying, "I wish you two wouldn't communicate telepathically around me."
"Fine, we won't," Will said. They both knew their ability to communicate telepathically made Beverly uneasy, and Will suspected, a little jealous. With her husband being dead for so long, Will knew Beverly was a little lonely and wished she had as close of a relationship with someone as he did with Deanna. He also knew that Beverly was still a little uncomfortable around him. Their brief affair while Will hosted a Trill symbiont named Odan, who was in love with Beverly, had caused years of tension between the two. Strangely, the only person not affected by that brief affair had been Deanna. But, he hadn't been involved with Deanna at the time. Still, Deanna had to know that both Will and Beverly were still a little uneasy with each other.
"I just wanted us to have lunch together, Will. I didn't think it was that big of a deal. I know you probably had other plans for this afternoon, but Deanna is my best friend and this is probably the only time we'll be able to have any time alone. There is a going away party being planned along with a formal luncheon," Beverly informed them. Deanna groaned and Will sighed nosily.
"There goes any alone time," Will commented darkly. Deanna and Beverly chuckled, then Deanna said, "I don't want a going away party. I'll be coming back."
"Or so we hope," Will added softly. Both Deanna and Beverly shot him a look. "I will be back." Deanna's voice had a sharper tone to it. Will held up a hand in apology and Deanna inclined her head in acceptance. Beverly let the moment pass quietly before saying, "Lunch is ready, if you're hungry. I'll get it on the table." She walked over to the dining room area and began setting things around the table. Will and Deanna sat on the couch for another moment, staring at each other, then they joined Beverly at the table.

"Lunch was wonderful, Bev, thanks," Deanna said, leaning back in her chair. Her eyes drifted over to Will. He wore a distant and faraway look. Deanna probed his emotions, finding his mental shields down, and immediately knew what was on his mind. The future of their relationship weighed heavily on Will's mind. It weighed on Deanna's mind, too. She knew he loved her, but only time would tell whether their relationship was meant to be and could stand the test of time and distance.
"Gee, now I remember why I don't give more parties," Beverly commented after noticing their grim looks. Deanna recovered and laughed heartily at her best friend. Will shook off his reverie to smile at Beverly and tell her, "It's not the hostess, it's the company."
"I know," she answered quietly. "Listen, why don't you two go spend some time together. Deanna and I can get together later, right?" She turned her hopeful blue eyes to Deanna's dark ones. Deanna nodded. "Of course. We'll see each other before I leave." She felt Beverly relax and realized how heavily her upcoming departure was weighing on those she loved the most. Will looked over to her and noted her grim expression. Gently he said, "Deanna, we should go."
"Humm…Oh! You're right," she agreed, standing to her feet simultaneously with Will. She smiled softy at Beverly. "I'll talk to you later."
Beverly smiled at Deanna and nodded her head. She watched Will escort the beautiful empath out of her quarters and into the hallway. The door closed behind them and Beverly felt an acute sense of loss. First, Jack, then Wesley, and now Deanna. The difference was, Jack wasn't coming back…Wesley popped in anytime the whim hit him, wherever he was in the space/time continuum…And, Deanna…She was only leaving for Earth and Starfleet Medical. They would keep in contact. They were best friends. They had to stay in contact. And, she wasn't the only person Deanna was leaving behind. Will would remain here, too, and Beverly took comfort in that. They would draw comfort from each other and when loneliness got to both of them they would comfort each other.

Back in Deanna's quarters, the lights were low and candle light glowed from the bedroom. A golden glow reflected off Deanna's creamy skin as Will sat on her bed, drinking in the beauty of her naked body. He'd once told her that he could appreciate her body as he would any piece of art, but he was wrong. He couldn't appreciate her body like any piece of art because she wasn't just any piece of priceless, irreplaceable art. She wasn't even art. She was a flesh and blood, sensual, inciting woman, and God help him, he couldn't live without her.
And, just like he would with any piece of priceless art, he reached out and gently ran a finger down her throat to her stomach. She shivered with delight and goose bumps raised on her body, and when his warm mouth joined his hands, she moaned, the goose bumps disappearing into the searing heat of his mouth. As his hands wandered all over her body, her eyes closed as a feeling of unparalleled ecstasy began surging through her veins. He knew just how to touch her, how to make her feel like the only woman in the universe. The power he held over her scared her sometimes, yet it was she who gave him this power. And, he used his power over her well. Her back arched and a gasp escaped her lips as he finally pulled her body down against his. She sighed in contentment as he moved over her body, touching, teasing, and tormenting.
When their bodies finally joined, she knew an bliss unlike any other. He made love to her in a way he hadn't in years. It was slow and filled with hunger. Every moment was a moment that would never come again. Every sigh, every gasp, every moan was a song never to be sung again, and they delighted in the song. They savored the song. They savored every moment, and never wanted this day to end. They made love for hours, endless hours, as they had that first time in the Jalara. Then, Will had joked that the impressions dug into the ground by their bodies would mystify future geologists. Now, there was no steamy jungle, no dirt beneath them, but the urgency of time that permeated their first love making also permeated this one. Their time together was nearing an end. Five days was all they had left. A sadness came to Deanna in the midst of their love making when she realized how short of a time they had together, but her unhappiness faded just as quickly as it had come to be replaced by a feeling of love and of being wanted. Will loved her and he wanted her in every way, in everything. Letting her go proved his love for her. He did love her enough to let her go, and should would return to him because she was his in every way. She'd always been his, and she always would be. The winds of change could take her away and change their lives, but nothing could change their future. Their future was together, and they would be together. Deanna was positive of that as she drifted off to sleep, cradled in Will's arms. She smiled, feeling his chest rise and fall with every breath he took. With her free hand she reached for her neck and felt for the necklace he'd given her. Her hand closed around it, and she snuggled closer to his body. Even in sleep he held her tight, giving her a sense of security she hadn't felt since her father died. It was with that thought that she fell asleep with a smile on her lips.

Morning would come, though, and their time together would diminish even more. Every second together would become more and more precious. Every kiss, every touch, every look would mean more and something for them to remember in the long months of separation that lie ahead for them. Those times would come to cement their relationship, keep them faithful and hopeful, and looking ahead to the day that would come when Deanna would come back to the ship. She had to follow her heart, and her heart belonged to the man she slept beside. It would lead her back to where she belonged, by his side, even as their time grew to an end and the dreaded day came when they had to say goodbye.


Chapter Nine

Their remaining days together passed in a flurry of activity. In between packing and tying up loose ends, Deanna found time to spend with Beverly and other friends. Her nights were spent either in her quarters or in Will's. They spent countless hours of the night just sitting together, going over the day, enjoying their time off and their time together. Later, they spent hours making love, sometimes slowly and leisurely, other times fast and furiously. Then, they would fall asleep in each other's arms and wake up the same way. Will awoke first on the dreaded morning that Deanna was scheduled to leave. He lay beside her, studying her face, memorizing every feature for the lonely days ahead. How she had become his entire universe in such a short amount of time mystified him. Yet, somehow, she had become his world, and once again, he had to learn how to function without that world. He reached out a touched a curl of her dark hair, wrapping it around his finger and felt a sting come to his eyes. He took a deep breath and centered himself. The last thing he wanted was his sorrow to awake Deanna from her sound sleep. And, so he contented himself with studying the one he loved until she stirred sometime later.

When Deanna awoke, her dark eyes collided with Will's sparkling blue ones. She smiled sleepily at him and stretched with a yawn. "Good morning," she said sleepily, turning over and kissing him lightly. Her naked body pressed up against his and the uncontrollable passion between them rose again. Later, she rolled away from him onto her back with a deep breath of cool air and pressed a trembling hand to her heaving chest. No words passed between them this morning. No words were needed. Their looks and touches said it all. Even as they dressed and prepared for what was to be a difficult day, no sound passed between them. She finished dressing early and silently left his quarters and went next door to her own for once last look. Tears filled her eyes as she surveyed the now empty quarters. All of her personal effects were already on their way to Earth. The quarters were now a shell of what it had been. Where splash of lavender had been were replaced by Starfleet standard issue furniture. Everything seemed sterile and unused. The homey feeling of her quarters was gone and replaced by an austere oppression. It wasn't hers anymore. It didn't even feel like hers anymore. A tear slid down her face and she turned to leave, but Riker's body prevented her from leaving. She bumped directly into him, and wordlessly, his arms went around her back and held her tightly until the scalding tears stopped. She remained in his embrace until he gruffly said, "It's time, Deanna."

"I'm ready," she said as she pulled away from him and wiped at her eyes. She straightened her uniform and patted her hair. Then, she looked up to Will for final approval. His smile beamed down at her. He took her hand, held it tightly, and led her to the turbolift. It came to a stop too soon, and they stepped out, heading for Cargo Bay One. She stopped, suddenly, and turned to Will with a look of fear on her face that startled him.

"Deanna?" He reached out and took her shoulders in his hands.

"I can't do this," she whispered. "I can't leave." Her eyes glittered with tears again. He smiled reassuringly at her and tightened his grip on her shoulders. "You can do this. You can leave, Deanna. You have to leave, Dee. We need you here, but Starfleet needs you more."

"But, I need you and everyone here," she said plaintively. He smiled sadly at her and said, "And, we need you. We always will, and we will be here when you return." And, I will always be here for you, Deanna. I love you, he thought to her along their link. He sent a surge of strength across their link and infused her with it. She smiled at him bravely and nodded his head. "You're right. Let's do this," she said strongly. Riker beamed at her.

"That's my girl," he said affectionately. They moved to the entrance and the door opened to the cargo bay. The senior staff stood there, waiting, and when they entered, the senior staff snapped to attention. As she passed by Beverly, she stopped and the two women hugged tightly, making nearly everyone uneasy. Deanna moved out of that embrace and walked with sure steps to the waiting shuttlecraft. Captain Picard waited at the entrance and extended his hands to her. "Good luck, Deanna," he wished her. Then, in a softer tone, he said, "You will be missed, Counselor. Have a good and safe journey."

A tear rolled down her face as she nodded to Picard and stepped inside the shuttlecraft. The lieutenant who was to pilot the shuttle smiled at the counselor. Deanna smiled back at him, then turned back to her extended family. Will stepped forward and kissed her cheek. Be safe, she heard in her mind. She smiled back at him and thought, Always. He smiled and let her go into the shuttlecraft. The doors closed and the doors to the cargo bay opened, and the engines of the shuttlecraft fired up and began to slowly leave the Enterprise. When it cleared the doors, the Cargo Bay doors closed with a thud, and Will looked to Beverly with sad eyes. She had tears streaming down her face, and he walked over to her and wordlessly pulled her into a hug. The rest of the senior staff slowly left, leaving the two of them alone.

Beverly's tears subsided and she pulled away from Riker with a sheepish smile. "God, Will, I'm sorry. I don't know what got into me," she told him, taking a step away from him and wiped her eyes.

"It's okay. I'm starting to get use to women crying on my shoulder," he joked half hearted. It earned him a dim smile from the doctor. "Come on, Doc, what'd ya say we get out of here and head to Ten-Forward. I think we deserve a treat," he suggested, if for nothing else than to give them a welcome diversion.

"I'd rather not go somewhere so...crowded. Dinner in my quarters in an hour?" She looked so hopeful that he nodded. Neither of them needed to be alone tonight. Beverly looked relieved and Will felt as relieved as she looked. Together, they left the Cargo Bay and headed for their respective quarters to wait out a long hour...alone.

The stars moved by at a leisurely pace. Deanna stared out the viewport at her former home until it grew too small to see, then she leaned back in her chair with an empty feeling. The young pilot wisely remained quiet throughout the routine flight to Earth that would take approximately thirty minutes to an hour. But, as the blue speck that would be her home for the next six months loomed into view, she leaned forward again with a growing expression of fascination. The four years she'd spent at the academy were some of the best years of her life. She had fallen in love with the watery planet. Granted, it wasn't quite as lovely as her homeworld, but it was so vastly different that it appealed to her. There wasn't the constant monitoring of thoughts or emotions because not everyone was a telepath or an empath. She truly loved the society on was so different from the stifling royal society on Betazed that she'd grown up in as a member of Betazed royalty. Here she had no lineage to uphold, no preset reputation as a Daughter of the Fifth House. All she had to do was live up to her Starfleet record and reputation. Other than that, she could create her own persona here. A smile split her face as the excitement in her grew, but even as her excitement grew a feeling of despondency settled in the pit of her stomach. It was Will, she knew. He already missed her. Her smile grew secretive. It looked as if her ultimatum would work. If he wanted to be with her forever, he could find a way to live without her constant presence for six months. And, if he were truly ready to settle down with her, then these six months would tell how ready he was. She grinned. Yes, these six months would be very telling, and very wonderful as she learned to make her own life here on Earth.

The shuttlecraft entered Earth's atmosphere and began its decent to San Francisco. She gripped the armrests of her chair tightly as the craft landed at the landing pad of Starfleet Headquarters. "Here we are, Counselor," her pilot needlessly said, yet Deanna smiled breezily at him.

"Thank you for a wonderful flight. You're a gifted pilot," she told him, grabbing her small duffel bag, and disembarking. The pilot flushed red at her compliment and fumbled a reply, but Deanna didn't seem to hear him. She was staring off into a crowd of people who were staring back into the passengers disembarking from various shuttlecrafts around the headquarters. Deanna shook off the feeling of familiar spirits and began walking through the crowd to the entrance of Starfleet Headquarters, but a hand shot out and grabbed her arm.

"Hey!" She exclaimed, turning with anger to the trespasser. "Just who do you think...!" Her voice trailed off as the hand's owner emerged from the crowd. A sincere smile grew across Deanna's face. "Kyle," she said warmly. He smiled at her, but she sensed his discomfort. "You didn't have to come," she told him as he led her to a less crowded area.

He smiled back at her and said, "I know. I wanted to. You don't know too many people here, so I figured you'd like to see a familiar face...or two," he added as a woman with peaches and cream colored hair joined him. Deanna grinned broadly at the woman. "Katharine," she said with equal warmness. The older woman pulled the younger into a quick hug. "It's so good to see you again," Deanna said as they parted.

"Oh, it's good to see you, too," she agreed. "I was ecstatic when I found out you were coming to head up the counseling unit. It'll be nice to work with someone I know."

Deanna's eyes glistened. "You two really didn't have to come, but it is so nice to see familiar faces," she said, with a thankful look to the elder man. "Thank you for arranging this, Kyle."

He held up his hands in refusal. "I had little to do with this, Deanna. Will contacted me and informed you were coming to Earth for awhile. He knew I was going to be in San Francisco. I only did what I thought my son would like me to do for his fiancée," Kyle said slyly. Deanna flushed and Katharine looked between the young empath and the older warp specialist in disbelief.

"Did he just say fiancée?" She looked back and forth again, then laughed. "Well, I'll be damned...someone finally got a Riker to commit to them," she mused. "Congratulations, Deanna."

"Thank you, Katharine," Deanna said rather formally.

The trio stood silent for a moment until Deanna asked, "Should I report to Admiral Collins or go find my quarters?"

"Oh!" Katharine exclaimed. "I'll take you to Admiral Collins' office and Kyle can take your bag to your quarters. After your meeting with the good admiral, I'll show you to your quarters. Deal?"

"Deal," Deanna said automatically handing her bag to Will's father. "Thank you," she whispered.

"It's our pleasure," he said gruffly, patting her shoulder, then disappearing into the crowd. The women stood and watched him disappear, then Katharine turned to Deanna with an expectant smile. "Shall we?" She motioned to Starfleet Headquarters and Deanna nodded. Katharine smiled broadly and led the young woman to the start of the rest of her life.

"I guess Deanna is settling in about now," Beverly said quietly to Will. They sat across from each other at Beverly's dining table. Both wore bleak expressions. Their dinners sat in front of them untouched and cold. Neither of them were hungry, or even wanted to eat. Will was avoiding his quarters. It was too quiet there without Deanna bustling around. "Do you think your father met her at Starfleet Headquarters?" She asked to break the silence.

Slowly, Will nodded his head. "Yeah. I'm pretty sure he did. I don't ask him to do too much for me, so he could do this one little thing. He probably took Katharine along to ease things. Dad's not too comfortable being alone with Deanna. He understands that she can't read his thoughts, but he doesn't like the idea of her knowing exactly what he's feeling. Katharine puts him at ease in tense situations."

"Katharine?" Beverly leaned forward on the table and studied Riker in a way she hadn't studied him before. Now, she understood why Deanna was so drawn to this man. She'd always thought Will was handsome, in a rugged sort of way, but not her type. Underneath his rough exterior though was a caring and concerned man. He was far more gentle that his allowed people to see. Only Deanna saw the gentle side of him, and Beverly was beginning to understand why. As the commander of this vessel, he had to maintain an aura of complete control, even when everything inside him spun out of control. The only time he could lose that control was alone in his quarters…or with Deanna. Beverly blushed lightly when she realized she was inventorying the assets of her best friend's fiancé.

"Are you okay?" Will stared at Beverly with a curiously amused expression. He knew she'd been studying him in a far more intimate way than she usually looked at him, and it made him a little uncomfortable. His memories of making love to her while he was Odan roared back to haunt him, and he felt inexplicably guilty. Beverly nodded her head, and Will cruised ahead in a more professional tone. "Dr. Pulaski…Katharine Pulaski. My father has known her for a long time." He paused to straighten his tunic and stand up. "I should be going. It's getting late and I'm hoping Deanna was send me a subspace tonight."

Beverly rose to her feet and walked with him to her door. A brief flash of disappoint shot through her as the doors opened and he stepped out into the hallway. "Thanks for dinner, Beverly," he said courteously.

"Anytime, Will," she tried to say in a warm tone, but it came out in a higher, more squeaky tone than she usually used. He looked at her strangely, but wisely refrained from saying anything. The doors closed and he left to wander the ship for awhile. Beverly leaned against her closed doors and pressed a hand to her stomach.

Studying her new home gave Deanna a sense of loneliness more than a sense of accomplishment. The apartment given to her by Starfleet was huge, in comparison to her quarters on the Enterprise, yet it didn't feel like home. You have to give it time, Deanna, she told herself while grimacing at the standard issue furniture strewn throughout her new home. Her boxes from the Enterprise sat, unopened, in the middle of her living room floor, and it seemed unlikely that she would get to them tonight. It was well after midnight in San Francisco. Starfleet Command was giving her a week to settle in, but after that she was to report, as ordered, to her position at Starfleet Medical. A week to make this place feel like home, she thought to herself as she wandered through the spacious apartment. So far, there wasn't a single room she felt comfortable in, so she flopped down on the uncomfortable couch and glared until she saw the sliding glass door. Deanna rose to her feet and walked across the cream colored carpet to the door and pressed a button that activated the door mechanism. The clear door slid open and she stepped outside into the velvet, San Francisco night.

A watery chill in the air wrapped around Deanna like a blanket in the deepest dark of night, and she wrapped her arms around herself as she shivered slightly. Tilting her head up to the sky she saw in the inky blackness of night lit by millions of tiny pinpoints of light. She wondered how many of those pinpoints she'd visited in her travels of space, and she wondered which one was her home. A soft smile came to her face. And, I wonder which one of those stars Will is staring at tonight, she thought as a sense of peace came into her spirit. Suddenly, she felt invigorated and alive with each breath she drew of salty air. The bay was near her apartment, and she could hear water lapping in the distance. This place, this unfamiliar place, began to feel like home in that moment. The lapping water against the beach and the humid air reminded her of the tropical like weather on Betazed, and the sky above her reminded her of the Enterprise. She had the best of both worlds at her feet and above her head, and she smiled again. Maybe this place could become home.

After leaving Beverly's quarters and wandering around the ship for an hour or so, Will found himself sitting near a viewport in Ten-Forward. The thing that shocked him more than anything, though, was how content he was to sit there and stare at the passing stars. The stars gave him a sense of peace he'd been sorely lacking sense Deanna's departure that afternoon. It was as if he could sense her in the stars. They sparkled in a way he hadn't noticed before. Just as before, when they were separated, he began to take notice of all the little subtleties of time and space. Before it had been with the painting on Betazed, now it was something more profound…Space, in all its wondrous, dangerous glory spread out before him as far as his eyes could behold. He lived and worked everyday in the most complex, yet most subtle arena. All the beauty and horror of the universe was his for the viewing everyday he remained upon this ship of space exploration. Before, living here had been routine, even boring, but tonight that changed. A smile laced with irony came to his lips. Just as before, Deanna Troi had succeeded in making him view life in a different light.


Chapter Ten

“Ready for your first day?” Deanna jumped with nervous energy and offered Katharine Pulaski a tense smile. Katharine didn’t need to be an empath to know how nervous Deanna was about this day. Her first week on Earth had passed in a flurry of activity for Deanna, from getting her home decorated more to her liking, to meeting a few members of her staff, then to settling into a new office. Everyone was so patient and accommodating to her, and she was eternally grateful to them. The receptionist assigned to Deanna was a pleasant woman, approximately the same age as Deanna, named Valerie. The two women had struck up an instant rapport. As a native to the San Francisco area, Valerie was constantly intrigued by the species that came through Starfleet, and had the ability to view them firsthand with a job at Starfleet Medical. Prone to space sickness and a nagging ability to be insubordinate at times, she’d long ago ruled out Starfleet as a possible career outlet, so she was content to be a flunky at Starfleet Medical. She could work for them without being one of them, so to speak. Granted, there was always the reproving looks from Starfleet personnel who thought they were better than she just because they wore a uniform. She laughed at those types, knowing they would never make it past a junior grade, if they were lucky. To make it in Starfleet, one had to be accommodating, willing to overlook the shortcomings over another, and most importantly, learning how to stay out of the business of another person…or planet. That, in layman’s terms, was the Prime Directive, and it was by that Prime Directive that Valerie lived and worked. When she’d met her new boss, Valerie knew she’d finally come face to face with someone who was the embodiment of that directive. She knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she and Deanna Troi would work very well together, and maybe even become friends, but that was something she left entirely to Deanna. Valerie was not the type to push herself on anyone, no matter how much she liked them.
So, on Deanna’s first day of true work Valerie made sure to be there early and to appear as comfortable as she could. This day was like any other day, no matter what, and when Deanna walked into her office accompanied by Dr. Pulaski, Valerie assumed a confident smile. “Good morning,” she said as Deanna and Katharine paused outside her office. Dr. Pulaski offered Valerie a distracted smile, but Deanna gave her a warm smile. Valerie nodded and returned to some work on her desk while the two women finished up their conversation. It was during that conversation that a subspace message came in for Deanna.
The beeping of Valerie’s communications port became annoying, so she hit a button and looked to the beginning of the message with a critical eye. It was up to her to judge the importance of a communication and either relay it directly to Deanna or wait until Deanna was good and ready to take the communication. This one perplexed Valerie slightly. The message was from the Enterprise, but from the first officer. Finally, Valerie judged it to be of less importance and continued about her business. A few moments later, Dr. Pulaski departed and Deanna turned to her receptionist with a forced smile.
“Was that your comm system beeping earlier?” Deanna’s eyes strayed to the flashing red light, noting that someone was on hold. Valerie looked up with a friendly smile and replied, “Yes, it was. There is a message for you from the Enterprise.”
A joy came across Deanna’s face that made Valerie’s eyes widened as the commander leaned across her desk to turn the comm unit to face her. Deanna hit a button, scanned for the sender, then hit another button. Instantly, Will Riker’s face came on the screen. “Will!” Deanna exclaimed softly. “I knew it was you.”
“I’d hope so considering subspace messages generally show where they originated from,” he teased her. She laughed lightly and leaned closer to the screen. “How’s your first day going?”
“So far so good, but it just got a whole lot better.” A gentle smile softened her entire face. Valerie was intrigued. Very few people in Starfleet were so open or that was her experience. “How is everyone? How are you?”
“We’re fine. Everyone is fine. We’re charting a new system right now, so it’s pretty routine here. How’s Earth?”
“Wonderful,” Deanna replied with a sigh. “It could be better, though,” she hinted, making Will smile.
“I’m trying to arrange a shore leave in a few weeks. Until then, this will have to do,” he said resignedly. She sighed and nodded her head. “Let me know the minute you find something out, okay?”
“You know I will,” he told her patiently. “Listen, I’m due on the bridge in five minutes. I’ll due my best to send you a message tonight.”
“I’ll hold you to it,” she told him. His eyes crinkled with a smile as he said, “Riker out.”
The comm unit went black and Deanna stared at it. Slowly, Valerie reached out and turned it to face her. “Someone important?” She asked casually.
“Very. My fiancé,” Deanna said with a wide smile. Every time she said the word, it seemed to make her attachment to him more permanent. “If I’m not insanely busy or with a really important appointment, you are to put Commander Will Riker, Dr. Beverly Crusher, Dr. Katharine Pulaski, Kyle Riker, Lwaxana Troi, or Captain Jean-Luc Picard through to me immediately,” Deanna told her in a firm voice. Valerie nodded and made quick notes of each name, and Deanna disappeared into her office, the door closing softly behind her.

Will strode onto the bridge wearing a stupid smile for his watch. The younger officers smiled at his expression while the older, more seasoned, officers tried very hard not to roll their eyes. To his surprise, Beverly sat in the chair usually occupied by Deanna. She took one look at him and laughed…loudly. Her laughter echoed through the bridge and brought the captain from his Ready Room with a puzzled face. “Doctor?” Picard asked, crossing his arms and waiting for Beverly to explain herself. However, Beverly wiped her eyes and just looked to Will. He looked at the captain, completely confused, but whatever Picard saw caused him to turn right around and back into his office. “What? Do I have something stuck in my teeth?” Will asked, sitting down in the captain’s chair.
“No. You look like a thirteen year old boy who just saw his first naked woman,” Beverly told him in an undertone. Then, even more softly she added, “Actually, you look like Wesley the first time he fell in love.”
“I feel like I’m in love for the first time,” Will confided, squirming in the chair, trying to find a comfortable position. “Helm, position?” He asked in a stern tone.
“Mark 457 by 282,” the yeoman announced. Will nodded and settled back for his watch, not that he was expecting anything out of the ordinary. So far, the most remarkable thing in this system was a class M planet that a probe was currently checking out.
The captain’s chair fit him well, and with a stolen glance, Beverly wondered again why he was so adamant in staying aboard the Enterprise. Deanna had often said that Will felt anything less than the captaincy of the Enterprise was a step down, and that wasn’t a step he was willing to make unless something happened to Captain Picard and he wasn’t given command of the Enterprise. Still, Beverly had to wonder how much of his staying aboard was because of Deanna. It was time Riker have his own ship, own crew, and own command. Now, if she could only convince him of that since she was privy to a matter that the rest of the crew wasn’t. She was the confidant of the captain, and Jean-Luc had told her of an interesting offer made to him by Starfleet. Beverly was sure Riker would accept, but only if Deanna encouraged him to accept. She had to talk to Deanna before Will did. “Excuse me, Commander,” Beverly said, rising to her feet and practically running off the bridge. He shook his head and wondered what appointment she’d forgotten. With a shrug, he dismissed it and turned his attention back to the stars at hand.

Impatiently, Beverly stared at her vidlink. The pretty blonde who’d identified herself as Deanna’s receptionist refused to put her thought. “It’s an emergency,” Beverly stated again, this tine a little more desperately.
“I’m sorry. I’m under strict orders from Commander Troi to hold all her calls,” Valerie stated again, this time with a note of curtness. “Look, I can’t do anything about this. I’m sorry about your emergency, but I’ve got a job to worry about. As soon as the commander is through I’ll have her get back to you. Other than that, my hands are tied. Thompson out.” Valerie ended the communication with a sigh. Deanna had come out an hour earlier to inform her not to put through any communications unless they were from her fiancé or her mother. She was in a meeting with two admirals, and the top brass of Starfleet Medical. Tomorrow, Deanna would begin supervising the training of ten of the most promising counselors from Starfleet Academy. This meeting was to give Deanna a dose of what she would be expected to put these cadets through, and it wasn’t a job she relished. However, it was a job she had to do, and like the perfectionist she was, Deanna would do a superior job.
The six men and women who had entered Deanna’s office an hour ago strode out talking quietly amongst themselves. Valerie nodded politely as they left, and when the door was clear, she walked into Deanna’s office. The sight she found there shook her. “Commander, are you all right?” She asked hesitantly and ill at ease. Deanna’s chair was swiveled to look out her window at the Golden Gate Bridge. What shocked Valerie so was to see Deanna’s hands covering her face. Occasionally, Valerie heard a sniffle. “Commander?” She said a little louder in case Deanna hadn’t heard her the first time.
“Come on in, Valerie,” Deanna said in a gravely voice that any woman would recognize as the voice of another woman who was deeply stressed. She swiveled the chair around and faced Valerie with a forced smile. Valerie stepped a little farther into the office so that the door would close behind her and no one could see Deanna in such a state. “Thank you for your concern, but I’ll be fine. I just need to adjust. It’s been over a dozen years since I’ve spent any significant time planetside.”
“Admiral Collins derives perverse pleasure in terrifying her new recruits,” Valerie informed Deanna with an easy smile. She walked a little closer to Deanna’s desk and leaned on a chair. “The last person that held this position quit after three weeks because of Admiral Collins. If you can make it through the first month, you’ll be fine. She seems to let up on people after that.”
Deanna sniffled. “That’s good to hear,” she said with a rueful smile, and she waved towards a chair. “Have a seat,” she invited. With a smile, Valerie sat down and Deanna continued. “My mother is a lot like that. She’s very domineering, so I should be able to withstand the admiral. In all honesty, Valerie, I’m just a little lonely and not looking forward to returning to an empty apartment in a strange city where I only know two people.”
“Well, you had a call while you were in your meeting from a Doctor Crusher,” Valerie said, noting the way Deanna’s eyes lit up. “I told her you would get back to her as soon as you could. She said it was important.”
“I’ll send her a subspace as soon as I get to my apartment,” Deanna said, leaning back in her chair. “Anyone else?”
“No,” Valerie said. Taking a chance, Valerie leaned forward and told her, “Commander, I don’t mean to overstep my place, but if you’re lonely and don’t want to go to your apartment, why don’t you wrangle a dinner invitation from Dr. Pulaski? I thought you two were friends.”
“We are,” Deanna said with a sigh. “But, I know that she’s having dinner tonight with another person, and I don’t want to be a third wheel.”
With gleaming, knowing eyes, Valerie smiled and conspiratorially asked, “A man?”
“My fiancé’s father,” Deanna answered. Valerie’s eyes widened with concealed laughter. “Oh my.”
“Life is strange,” Deanna remarked, leaning deeper in the chair and closing her eyes. “Thanks Val.”
“For what?” She asked, standing to her feet and preparing to leave.
“For making me feel better.”
With a smile, Valerie replied, “Anytime, Commander.”
The doors made a hissing sound as they opened and over the noise Valerie heard Deanna’s quiet voice say, “My name is Deanna, not Commander,” and Valerie smiled.

Once Will’s watch was over he headed to his quarters and changed into a workout outfit. Having some free time for once, Will decided to go to the holodeck and exercise. He hadn’t practiced any of his martial arts in quite awhile, and with Deanna gone, he had discovered some extra free time. Granted, he would rather be spending that time with Deanna, but that wasn’t possible. As he walked to the turbolift he whistled lightly. An unshakable smile was plastered across his face. Things were going well on the ship, Deanna was settling into her position on Earth, and his father was helping him for once. The turbolift stopped on the holodeck. Will stepped out and paused in front of Holodeck One to read the program in progress. To his surprise it was one of his martial arts programs so, curiously, he stepped inside. Beverly stood in the “gym” and executed a move…incorrectly. Will hid a smile, leaned against the arch, and watch her perform another couple of moves, all completely wrong. She stopped to wipe the sweat from her face and to stretch the muscles of her neck. “You really shouldn’t be doing this level, Bev. You’re going to get hurt.”
Spinning around, Beverly glared at Will Riker and threw her towel at him. “You scared me to death, Riker! How long have you been there?”
“Long enough to know you’re going to get hurt if you keep doing this level,” he replied, walking over to where she stood. “This is the advanced level.”
“I know. I thought I was advanced,” she said as he began to stretch. She watched the muscles across his back ripple as he bent down to stretch out his back. Realizing what she was doing, Beverly quickly averted her eyes.
Finishing his stretches, Will stood back up and slowly began executing one of the moves he’d observed Beverly doing incorrectly. She watched him repeat the move again for her benefit, then she slowly began mimicking him. Will watched her and shook his head. “You’re still not doing it right, Bev,” he told her, moving behind her, and moving her right arm out to the side. “Now, slowly move your right leg forward a little bit,” he told her. Beverly shivered involuntarily as his breath tickled her ear and made her hair move. She moved her leg and felt his body rotate slightly the right. That’s when she put an inch or so in between their bodies and finished the move.
“Now, do you see what you were doing wrong?” He asked her, reaching for his towel.
No, but I know what I’m doing wrong, she thought. “No, but I think you’re right about me needing to step down a level,” she answered, turning away from him and walking over to where she’d thrown her towel. “How come you don’t teach a class? You’re obviously a master at this,” she complemented him.
“I would, but I don’t have time. You know how that goes. If you had the time, you’d teach a dance class, wouldn’t you?” He returned as she bent down to retrieve her towel and pat her face. With fascination, he watched as she picked up her red hair away from her sticky neck. It was long and slender, something Will hadn’t noticed about her before. It fit her well, he noted, with her long, graceful limbs and slender dancer’s body. God, Riker, do you realize what you’re doing? Beverly is your fiancée’s best friend, and Deanna has barely been gone a week. A week, Riker! You need to go take a cold shower, he berated himself, so abruptly and brusquely he said, “I have to go.”
“Will! Dinner tonight?” She offered before he reached the door.
“No,” he called back as the door opened. “I have to catch up on some work,” he told her as the doors closed behind him. She stared at the door in open mouth confusion, then shrugged and followed him out. She had some work to catch up on in sickbay as well.

Guilt and confusion built up in him as he sat alone in his dark quarters. Over and over he asked himself why he couldn’t remain faithful to Deanna, the one woman he loved more than any woman before. And, to make things even worse, he was being unfaithful with her best friend. Yeah, well, Beverly’s not making it any easier, he thought angrily, then defended her in the same thought with, She doesn’t even know what you’re thinking, Riker. Leave her alone. He sighed, wanting to talk to Deanna, but wanting to avoid her. How could he tell her that she’d been gone barely a week and his thoughts roamed constantly to her best friend? He wasn’t going to tell her. Ever, and Beverly would never know any of his thoughts, either. They would remain in his mind and go no farther.

Beverly sat in her office getting no work done at all. She stared off into space, her thoughts as guilty as Will’s. She couldn’t deny her growing attraction to him, and that attraction was making her feel lower than a Ferengii. While her best friend was doing her duty on Earth, she remained here with Deanna’s fiancé and thought about seducing him. Well, it’s not like you haven’t made love with him before, she thought. He was Odan, then, Beverly. Get a grip! She chastised herself. Still, she couldn’t forget that the person she loved was Odan, but the body that’d brought her such pleasure belonged to Will Riker. Standing to her feet, Beverly walked over to the mirror in her office and studied her appearance. She was prettier now than she’d been then. She’d aged well, and her new haircut flattered her features. Then, her eyes met the accusing eyes in the mirror and she blushed as red as her hair. Oh Deanna…I’m so sorry, she thought sorrowful, flopping back into her hair with her eyes closed. Deanna would never find out these thoughts and neither would Will. They would go no farther than her conscience, and she would live with them. Somehow.

In her apartment, Deanna sat down heavily on her couch after checking for any new messages. Will hadn’t tried to contact her. After having to unexpectedly work late, on her first day no less, Deanna had consoled herself with thoughts of having a message from Will when she got home. Now that there was no message, she slumped back and wondered what was going on, if the ship was in danger…if he was in danger. No, no, Deanna. If he were in danger, you would know it. You’d sense it, she reminded herself sternly. He probably had a long day and just went to bed. You know how tired he is after a long day. There’s nothing wrong. Or, so she hoped, but on the Enterprise, the two people she cared about the most were not in bed and there was something very wrong with both of them. Fortunately, with the amount of space between them Deanna was only able to sense the briefest things about Will, and his guilt wasn’t one of them.


Chapter Eleven

The next morning brought Deanna awake to the insistent chirping of her computer. Slowly, she pulled herself to a sitting position and glanced at her chronometer. It was just after six in the morning, and Deanna cursed quietly in Betazed. “Computer, access incoming message and identify,” she requested, stifling a yawn.
“Message identified. USS Enterprise. Commander William T. Riker,” the computer replied in its annoyingly pleasant voice. She grimaced and swung her legs over the side of her bed and walked to the viewscreen in her bedroom. “Put the message through,” she ordered, running a hand through her tangled hair. The viewscreen flickered to life and Riker’s smiling face greeted her. “Good morning,” she said with another yawn.
“Did I wake you?” He asked, drinking in the sight of her shining face, tangled hair, and sleepy eyes. He knew he’d awakened her. She laughed lightly and replied, “Yes, you did, but you already knew that, Commander.”
“What time is it there? Sixish?” He leaned back in his chair and she noticed he was wearing a dark blue robe. Her brow wrinkled in confusion and she thought back to packing her clothes. She was sure she had slipped that robe into her bag. It was her favorite and he knew it. “Deanna?” A grin crept across his face as he realized what had her so perplexed. “I replicated another one once I noticed someone had stolen my old robe. I can’t imagine who would have done that.”
“Me either,” she said, feigning innocence.
“Yeah right,” he said, amusement flickering in his eyes. He leaned forward, suddenly serious. “I’m sorry I didn’t contact you last night. Things got really busy around here,” he explained. Guilt crept up on him again and he frowned.
“I had to work late, so I wouldn’t have been here, even if you did try to contact me.” Deanna noticed the change in his facial expressions and felt a slight tick in her mind. There was something he wasn’t telling her, but she wasn’t going to push him into telling her. If there was one thing she’d learned about him, it was he would tell her when he was good and ready. If it were something important, he would tell her immediately. “How’s Beverly?”
Will nearly choked on air and in a strangled he answered, “Fine,” then he coughed. “She misses you.”
“I bet you’re seeing a lot of her,” Deanna said innocently. Will coughed harder. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah, swallowed wrong. I’ve put in a request to the captain for shore leave beginning in two weeks,” he said, quickly changing the topic.
“Great!” Deanna almost clapped her hands like a child and Will smiled at her excitement. “For how long?”
“As long as he sees fit to give me,” Will answered with a smile. “What’s on your agenda for today?” He settled back against his chair in a casual manner and studied Deanna. The usual glow that surrounded her seemed brighter this morning, either that or Will missed her more than he was willing to admit.
“I get to meet the first batch of cadets today. Hopefully, I’ll only have to look at three today.”
“You don’t sound very enthused,” observed Riker, leaning forward in his chair and closer to the view screen.
“I’m not…really,” Deanna admitted quietly. “I’m not sure I’m ready for this, Will. Who am I to judge whether or not a cadet will be a good ship’s counselor?”
The note of panic in her voice made a soft smile come to Riker’s face. “Deanna, you are the perfect person for this. You’re one of the best in Starfleet, and you’ve been through nearly everything, as a ship’s counselor, that these young people can expect. If Starfleet was confident in you they wouldn’t have offered you this position.”
After a moment Deanna answered with a smile, “You’re right.”
“I know.” The impertinent grin on his face made her dissolve into laughter. She calmed down and said, “I have to go, Will. I love you,” she added quietly.
“Talk to you soon. We’ll be out of transmission range for awhile, so I’ll send you a communiqué tonight or in the morning,” he informed her. A dark look came over her and worriedly she asked, “Something wrong?”
“No, nothing, just investigating this class M planet we’ve discovered for possible habitation.” He smiled at her. “Stop worrying, Counselor, and go do your job. I love you, too.”
Her smile could have lit the galaxy at those words…words she’d waited half her life to hear out of his mouth again. She barely noticed when he ended the communication. Things were finally working out.

“Deanna, your next cadet is here,” Valerie told her in a sympathetic tone as she entered the counselor’s office carrying a PADD and a cup of hot chocolate. “Here ya go.” Deanna gratefully accepted the hot chocolate and took a long, restorative drink. Smiling, Valerie lay the PADD on her desk and sat down across from Deanna.
“Who is my next victim?” Deanna asked with a smile after finishing the cup of chocolate. Valerie reached back over and took the PADD. Switching it on, she read, “David Williams, a fourth year cadet, majored in Psychology, graduated from college in the top of his class, and immediately applied to Starfleet Academy.”
“And, let me guess, he’s in the top of his class at the academy, his professors just love him, and he’s rumored to be the next James T. Kirk,” Deanna finished with a smirk. Valerie giggled and gave the PADD back to Deanna. “Close enough,” she answered, standing to her feet. “Should I send him in?”
Deanna sighed, stretching her arms out and rotating her neck, before answering, “Send him in.”
Valerie strolled out into the waiting area where two more cadets waited. She studied the young man intently. He was not aware that Deanna was an empath, therefore able to read his emotions. That information was not made available to the cadets under her evaluation. This way they would act normal, or as normally as they could in sessions that would decide their career. The young man that sat, waiting patiently, wore the typical cadet uniform, a serious face as he read a PADD, and the usual military haircut. His clear green eyes disarmed Valerie and she shuddered. Somehow, she felt as if he could see to her soul, and as he looked up at her, Valerie put on a bright smile. “Cadet Williams?” Valerie asked pleasantly. He rose to his feet and she instructed him, “Commander Troi will see you now. You may go right on in.”
With a gracious nod of his head, Williams brushed past Valerie and disappeared into Deanna’s office. Valerie giggled and muttered, “He’ll never make it.” The remaining cadet tried to repress her laughter, but it still escaped through her lips. Valerie raised her eyebrows at the young woman, but her eyes twinkled with amusement.

“Have a seat, cadet, please,” Deanna invited him while she turned to the replicator. “Would you like something to drink?”
“No thank you,” he said as he sat in the chair across from Deanna’s imposing desk. Deanna ordered a chilled glass of water then sat at her desk. “So, tell me about yourself,” she requested as she took a sip of the water.
He cocked an eyebrow at her and returned, “Is this where you analyze my childhood and reflect on how it will affect my adult life? If it is, you’re wasting my time and yours.”
Nonplussed, Deanna replied, “Well, it is my time to waste, Cadet. I don’t have anything else to do today, but if you do, I suggest we get down to business.”
“Suits me just fine.” He watched as Deanna moved around to her seat at her desk and his breath caught. She was lovely! “So, what do you want to know?”
“Where were you born?” She reached for his personal file and turned the PADD so she could read his file while he talked.
“Doesn’t the PADD tell you?”
Deanna dropped the PADD on her desk and leaned forward on her desk, studying the cadet intently. “You’re very resentful about being subjected to a psychological evaluation that has bearing on the rest of your life.”
Sarcastically, he asked, “Your telepathic abilities tell you that?” A brief look of shock crossed her face before she resumed a neutral expression.
“Telepathic abilities? No, but my empathic abilities tell me you’re not only resentful, you’re belligerent. That’s not very becoming to a future Starfleet officer.”
“Empathic?” The word hung in the air between them like a shroud. Deanna repressed her amusement at his sudden discomfort. “Yes, empathic. Now, Cadet Williams, why don’t we start over and do this my way?”
“Yes sir,” he answered quietly, suddenly fascinated by the pattern of the carpet.

An hour later, the door to Deanna’s office hissed open and Cadet Williams left looking downtrodden and chastised. Valerie laughed quietly to herself as Deanna followed him out wearing an enormous smile. “Did you put him in tears?” Valerie asked quietly as Deanna reached for another PADD.
“No, but I put him in his place,” she answered matter-of-factly. “I’ll tell you later. You’ll get a kick out of it.” Deanna looked up at the remaining cadet with a tired smile and extended her hand to her. “Cadet Kirth?”
“That’s me,” the young woman said in a pleasant tone. She extended her hand and warmly shook hands with Deanna. “Fourth year cadet Ariel Kirth.”
“Come with me.” Deanna turned and led her into her office. The door closed behind them, but just before they closed, Ariel caught a wink in her direction from Valerie and she smiled. “Would you like something to drink, Kirth?”
“Water please,” she requested, taking the seat vacated by Cadet Williams. Deanna replicated another glass of water and took it to Ariel Kirth. Then, Deanna perched on the edge of her desk with a friendly smile. This cadet would go far. Deanna could sense the determination and leadership within the young woman. She had the makings of a commander…a good commander. “So, Cadet Kirth, tell me a little about yourself,” Deanna requested.
Ariel settled back into her chair and crossed her ankles. “I was born in New Berlin, my mother is stationed at Utopia Planetia, and my father is a scientist assigned at New Berlin. I’m the youngest of three children. I didn’t graduate top in my class from college, it took me two attempts to get into the academy, and I haven’t been honored by any psychological societies.” She gave Deanna an infectious smile. “So, is this when I get my walking papers?”
A burst of laughter came from deep within Deanna at Ariel’s inappropriate yet perfect response. “No, Ariel, I have a feeling this is where you’ll get your assignment papers,” Deanna told her after a while with her dark eyes sparkling. Ariel breathed a deep sigh of relief and Deanna felt a sudden nervousness follow out of the cadet. “There’s no need to be nervous, Cadet,” Deanna said gently.
“I wanted to be different and stand out. I know you’ve been getting standard answers all day, so I thought standing out would get me noticed,” she confided to Deanna who continued to smile at her warmly.
“Sometimes doing something nonstandard is the best thing to do. Out in space, it can save your life,” Deanna said, standing to her feet. “Ariel, I’ll be in contact with you to set up another appointment later this week, if that’s all right with you, of course.”
Ariel turned with a bright smile and quietly said, “I look forward to it,” then she left. Deanna collapsed into her chair, grateful that the day’s appointments were through, and dreading the night of work ahead of her. Sorting through these cadets was going to be more difficult than she’d originally believed, but it would be worth it. She was shaping the future of Starfleet and that made her smile.

“Captain to the bridge!” Riker called out as they entered orbit around the class M planet their sensors had detected earlier that week. He looked out at the planet and as always, was struck by the sheer beauty of the heavens. The atmosphere shone with an almost iridescent quality of the blue water and pinkish, swirling clouds. Deanna would love this place, he though with a smile.
Aesthetically, the planet was beautiful and could sustain life. Now, they had to establish the terrain. Captain Picard arrived on the bridge followed by Data, and they both stopped momentarily to appreciate the view. “Number One, assemble your away team,” Picard ordered. Riker nodded and pointed to Data, then hit his communicator and requested that LaForge and two other geologists join the team. Data and Riker left the bridge to meet their team in transporter room two. Ten minutes later the away team beamed down to the planet. Five minutes after that all hell broke loose.

“Rocky,” Will comment as he and Geordi climbed a small hill and overlooked a low valley. A deep appreciation grew in Will to the creator of the worlds. This planet was one of the more beautiful he’d seen in his travels. If it weren’t so rocky the planet would be almost identical to Betazed.
“There’s seismic activity going on in the tectonic plates, Commander,” LaForge warned him. “Sooner or later, this continent is going to experience one hell of a ground quake.”
“Let’s hope it’s later, ehh,” Will said as he turned around and saw Data coming towards them with the geologists. Riker smiled at the two scientists who carried arrays of equipment that Will couldn’t fathom how to use. They set their equipment on the ground and began unpacking some of the more sensitive equipment to begin their surveys while Riker, Data, and LaForge did superficial surveys of the planet’s atmosphere and usability for the federation. “Data, impressions?” Riker asked, feeling a slight tremor below his feet. He cast a look to Geordi who was intently studying the ground with his tricorder.
“The planet seems able to support a great quantity of life. Vegetation and water supplies are adequate to support a settlement.”
“Excellent.” Will squatted down beside LaForge and asked, “Problem?”
Geordi was silent for a moment, studying his readings, and then he opened his mouth to answer when the ground began shaking. Riker was thrown into a prone position. Dirt flew in his mouth and in his nose while rocks cut into the exposed skin. He heard gasps from the geologists as they were tossed about, then pain exploded in his head sending white flames of heat through his body. The last thing he heard before passing out was Data and Geordi frantically contacting the Enterprise.

On Earth, Deanna sat ramrod straight in her chair, her eyes growing huge and fearful, her face growing pale. Concern immediately etched across Valerie’s face. She leaned forward to examine Deanna who seemed suddenly lost in another world. “Deanna?”
Deanna had been relating to Valerie the tale of her encounter with Cadet Williams when she’d suddenly gone silent, pale, and straight. “Deanna!” Valerie said a little louder and more forcefully. The door to Deanna’s office opened and she swung in the chair to see who the visitor was, and with a sigh of relief, she quickly motioned to Katharine Pulaski. Without a note of distress, Pulaski pulled out her ever-present tricorder and quickly ran it over Deanna. Then, she snapped it shut and knelt in front of the commander. “Troi,” Katharine said gently. “Deanna, what is it?” Deanna remained silent and Valerie asked with growing alarm, “What’s wrong with her? She was talking to me about her cadets from today then suddenly went like this!”
“Deanna is communicating, rather trying to communicate, telepathically with someone,” Katharine answered matter-of-factly. “She can stay like this for hours. What were you talking about again?”
“The cadets she’d interviewed this morning, one in particular,” Valerie quickly answered. “Is she all right?”
“Physically, she’s fine, but I won’t know any further than that until she comes to. The only times she ever went suddenly into telepathic communications on the Enterprise was when something happened to her mother…or Commander Riker.” Darkness grew on Katharine’s face as she punched a button on the comm panel. “The Enterprise is charting a new system and out of regular communications range,” she commented slowly. “I could send an emergency medical transmission, but even that will take a few hours to reach them and set up a link back here. I…”
“It’s okay, Katharine,” Deanna said slowly, rubbing her eyes and slouching back into her chair. “I’m fine.”
“What happened?” The doctor demanded, placing her hands on her hips. “You scared the hell out of us!”
“Something’s happened to Will,” she said in a dead voice. “I can’t sense him at all.” A note of fear began to tremor in Deanna’s voice. “I can’t sense him.” Her eyes filled with tears and Katharine pulled her into a tight embrace for a moment, then she turned back to the communications panel and began sending a priority one message to the Enterprise. That would be the fastest way to find out what was going on.

“I need a hypospray!” Beverly yelled to Alyssa, her nurse. Unflinching, Alyssa handed Beverly the needed hypospray, and quickly, the doctor injected the medicine into the bleeding and unmoving Commander Riker. “Dammit, Will, stabilize!” Beverly seethed, injecting him with a few more hyposprays. She held her breath for a moment and watched his levels return to a more normal level. “Good, he’s stabilizing,” she said, reaching for a cellular regenerator. She ran it over to cut on the back of his head to close the wound and stop the bleeding. “All right, let’s get him into surgery!” She yelled to her team who quickly followed her orders without question.
Picard paced the length of his Ready Room awaiting word from Dr. Crusher when the comm system leaped to life. He walked over and tapped his computer console and to his surprise, Katharine Pulaski’s smiling face greeted him. “Katharine!” He exclaimed with genuine happiness. “It’s been quite awhile.” The reprieve from worrying about his Number One was greatly needed, and Picard welcomed such a distraction in the form of an old friend. “How are you?”
“I’m fine, Jean-Luc,” Katharine answered with a warm smile, but her eyes lacked her usual sparkle. “But, I do have a bit of a problem I need to discuss with you.”
“I rather thought you might,” said Picard, leaning back in his chair and tugging on his shirt. “You look like a person with something on your mind. How can I help?”
Katharine cast a quick look over to where Valerie sat beside Deanna, who still wore a faraway, intense look. She was still trying to reach Will telepathically, and with bewilderment, Valerie just stared at the Betazoid. In a low voice Katharine quickly informed Picard, “About thirty minutes ago, Deanna went into a state of intense telepathic communication. Has something happened on the Enterprise that would cause this, or should I send a subspace to Betazed?”
“No, no, it’s here on the ship.” Picard sighed wistfully. His reprieve wasn’t going to happen this time. “Commander Riker led an away team to a class M planet we’ve discovered and while the team was there the continent they were on experienced a severe ground quake. Most of the away team was injured, including Commander Riker. He suffered a severe blow to the head by a rockslide and lost consciousness. He’s in surgery right now to repair any internal injuries.”
“Ahhh.” A gasp from behind Katharine told her that Deanna had heard the entire conversation. She turned around and found Troi standing directly behind her, so she moved out of the way to allow Deanna to talk with Captain Picard.
“Is Will all right?” She asked in a haggard voice. Picard’s heart ached seeing Deanna in such pain. His awe of the telepathic bond Troi shared with Riker gave way to sadness at the pain it was causing her. Suddenly, he was extremely grateful not to share that type of closeness with anyone.
“Beverly is doing all she can for him, Deanna,” he said gently as his communicator beeped. “Excuse me, Deanna.” Picard turned from the screen and hit his insignia. “Picard here.”
“Captain, Commander Riker is out of surgery and in the critical care area. Dr. Crusher seems to think he’ll be fine in a few hours. His internal injuries were minimal and his head wound is healing nicely,” a nameless nurse informed him.
“Excellent. Inform Dr. Crusher I shall come to Sickbay soon. Picard out.”
With a smile he turned back to his computer and told Deanna, “Sickbay has just informed me that Will is out of surgery and recovering nicely. He is still unconscious, but Beverly seems to think he’s going to be fine, Deanna.”
Relief flowed through her veins in unimaginable quantities. When he awoke, Deanna’s contact with him would return. “Thank you, Captain,” she said softly.
“You’re welcome, Deanna. I will give Will your regards.”
Deanna laughed lightly and nodded her head. “Thank you. Troi out,” she ended the communication and turned back to the two women with a smile. “Will’s going to be fine,” she told them.
“Wonderful!” Katharine exclaimed. “Now, I’m ordering you, Commander, to go home and get some rest. When you report back tomorrow, you’ll have another three cadets to deal with,” she reminded Deanna who groaned.
“Terrific, give me something to look forward to,” Deanna grumbled, picking up some PADDs and placing them in a carrying case. “Lock up my office when you leave. Thanks Katharine,” Deanna said, walking out of her office and into the reception area. She didn’t hear the whirl of a holocamera as it snapped her picture, or the sigh of satisfaction that came afterwards.


Chapter Twelve

“Dammit, Deanna, turn off the lights,” Will muttered quietly while Beverly recorded his latest vitals. She chuckled softly and placed his chart on the end of his bed. After coming out of surgery, his condition had remained the same, but within the last few hours, he was slowly beginning to improve. Ten hours had passed since the ground quake, and the rest of the away team, with the exception of Data, who hadn’t been injured, was recovering quietly in their quarters. Beverly had placed them on medical leave for two days to give them a chance to completely recover from their minor to mild injuries. “Computer, lower light level to one fourth,” she ordered quietly. The light level decreased and Will descended back into a more settled sleep. Beverly slipped from Will’s room to her office. Once in her office, she sat down in her chair completely exhausted. Her eyelids closed and she drifted into a light sleep, sitting in her chair. Had the captain not entered her office, Beverly would have slept there the rest of the night and awakened in a horrid mood with a stiff body. Picard smiled, seeing Beverly asleep that way. He walked quietly over to her chair and touched her arm lightly.

“Beverly,” he said softly, shaking her arm. She groggily came to and looked around in confusion. “You’re in your office,” he helpfully told her.

“So I see,” was her groggy reply. She stretched her arms above her head and rotated her neck. “What time is it?’

“Just before shift change.”

“Damn, I slept for over two hours,” she said irritably. “I have a thousand things to do.” She rose to her feet and patted her hair down. Picard remained a hold on her arm and she looked at him with obvious annoyance. “What do you want, Jean-Luc?” She demanded.

“I want you to go to your quarters, shower, change, and take a nap, Beverly. You need it. Let Dr. Selar handle things for awhile. That is why she’s here.”

“But…” She began to argue, and he held up a silencing hand. “Don’t try to argue, Doctor. If you do, I’ll make it an order.”

She sighed and stiffened. “Fine, Captain. I’ll go, but I have to check on Will and update his chart for Selar,” she said and he conceded to that request. He waited in her office while she strode to the critical care area and disappeared into Riker’s private room. To her surprise, Will was sitting up in bed wearing a grimace. “Well! It lives!” She said cheerfully, picking up his chart and beginning her notations. “How do you feel?”

“Awful. My head is pounding,” he said in a quiet voice. “I feel like I have a hangover.”

“You don’t, but you did get hit in the head rather hard,” she told him, finishing her notations and taking a seat on the edge of his bed. “What do you remember?”

“Not a lot,” he admitted. “We were discussing the viability of a settlement. I crouched down to ask Geordi something, and the next thing I remember was waking up in here.” He reached up and gingerly touched the back of his head. His hands encountered stiff spikes and a large lump. “Obviously, I got hit in the head. Mutiny on the away team?” He weakly joked.

Beverly smiled. “Not really. A ground shake occurred and you were caught in the way of a rockslide.”

“Well, that explains the headache. How’s the rest of the team?” He sat up a little more and leaned back against the pillows.

“Everyone else was released a few hours after they came in and are on medical leave for a few days. Data escaped without any injuries.”

“Good,” Will murmured, feeling the warm clutch of sleep. His eyes closed and he felt the bed shift as Beverly stood up.

“You get some sleep. We’ll talk more later,” she promised, leaning down to straighten the covers. Will forced his eyes open and smiled weakly at her. “Thanks,” he mumbled. Their eyes met and Beverly felt something leap between them.
“Just doing my job, Will,” she told him in an unsteady voice. She tried to smile, but her lips were frozen. A current leapt between them again, then his eyes closed and she breathed a sigh of relief. Quickly, she left his room and bumped into Picard on her way out.

Confused, she stared at him until he said, “I was wondering if you fell asleep again. How’s Will?”

“Asleep. He woke up for a few minutes, so I told him what happened on the planet. I’m sure he’ll want more information later.”

“I’m sure he will, too. Now, you go get some rest,” Picard ordered. Beverly smiled at him and nodded. She did need the rest and time to reflect. Picard watched her quickly leave Sickbay, and content that she would get some rest, Picard returned to the bridge.

“Good morning, Commander!” Deanna heard from behind her as she prepared to enter her office, so she turned around with a fake smile that grew to a genuine one. “Good morning, Cadet,” Deanna returned politely. “What can I do for you this morning?” A quick glance around the waiting area confirmed that Valerie hadn’t come in yet and there were no messages waiting for her to return. That bothered her. Deanna’s sense of Will had returned to her early in the morning, rousing her from a deep and fitful sleep. She looked tired, and in this case, looks were not deceiving. Deanna was exhausted and considering canceling today’s appointments.

Ariel immediately knew something was wrong with Deanna. Yesterday, she’d been enthusiastic and lively, but this morning Deanna looked awful. Maybe she just wasn’t a morning person. “I was wondering if I could go ahead and set up my next appointment. My brother is coming in town next week, so if I set it up now, I can work it around his visit…if that’s all right with you, of course,” Ariel quickly added. Deanna smiled at her and waved towards her office.

“Come into my office and we’ll see what I can do to help,” Deanna told her, and Ariel followed her into the bright office. The sun reflected brightly off the water, completely illuminating Deanna’s office with natural light. Being so nervous the day before, Ariel hadn’t noticed the beauty of Deanna’s office. “Have a seat,” Deanna invited as she walked to her computer console and brought up next week’s schedule. It was empty, just as she thought it would be. “What day is good for you, Ariel?”

“Tuesday? My brother is coming in on Wednesday and staying through Sunday.” Ariel looked down at her hands and picked a piece of lint off her shirt. Her classes for the day had been cancelled, so she was dressed in civilian clothing and her reddish hair hung about her shoulders instead of up in the bun she usually wore it in. Deanna pressed a few buttons on the console then looked to Ariel with a smile. “You’re scheduled for Tuesday at 0300 hours.”

“Great!” She exclaimed, rising to her feet. “Thank you, Commander.” Ariel turned to leave, but Deanna’s voice stopped her.

“Ariel, why do you want to be a counselor?” She asked unexpectedly. Deanna sat down at her desk and felt Ariel’s confusion profusely.

The question caught Ariel unprepared and unexpectedly. She frantically thought for an answer as she slowly turned back around to face Deanna. Only one reason came to her mind, the same reason she had fought so hard to get into Starfleet Academy. “I want to help people, explore space, and learn about other cultures.”

“You could do that being anything,” Deanna returned evenly.

“Yes, I could, but nothing less than doing what I’m good at would bring me satisfaction in my job,” Ariel shot back. A smile grew across Deanna’s fatigued face. “Good answer, Cadet. You just passed your first test.”

Ariel’s smile was as bright as the sun and her blue eyes glowed with happiness. “Good,” was all she said, though. Deanna smiled back at her, but her smile suddenly faded and she rose quickly to her feet. Ariel watched her with fascination as Deanna walked over to the door and pressed the release button. To her surprise, but not Deanna, an older man was standing there, his finger posed to ring the door buzzer. He stared at Deanna with his mouth agape, but she just pulled him into her office, and then quickly embraced him. “How did you know it was me?” He asked roughly, releasing her and taking a step back from her. “You look like hell,” he commented. She just smiled back at him while Ariel’s eyebrows shot to the top of her hairline.

“You should know how I knew it was you, Kyle,” Deanna said, pointedly reminding him of the empathic abilities that made him so uncomfortable around her. “And, I know I look awful. You’d look just as bad if you’d have gotten as little sleep as I did last night.” Deanna turned to smile at Ariel, then motioned Kyle to her couch. “Have a seat. Would you like anything to drink?”

“No. I want to know why you didn’t immediately inform me about Will,” he said, getting straight to the point. Ariel sunk back into her chair, forgotten by the other two occupants. Deanna walked to her replicator. “Valerian root tea,” she ordered. Both Ariel and Kyle wrinkled their noses as the pungent stuff materialized. Deanna took a long sip before answering Kyle’s question.

“I didn’t tell you because I wasn’t exactly in any condition to talk to anyone after it happened,” she began, walking over to where he sat at the couch and sitting down beside him. “After the accident happened and I lost my sense of him, I went into a state of intense telepathic communication with him. Katharine only let me go home after she talked to Captain Picard and found out Will was going to be okay. I went home and resumed trying to reach him. I didn’t regain my sense of him until early this morning, and I knew Katharine would tell you. He is, after all, your son, and her…whatever,” Deanna ended tactfully.

“Katharine did tell me, the minute she got home, then I contacted the Enterprise myself,” he told Deanna who stared back at him unimpressed. “I assume Captain Picard told you the same thing he told Katharine,” Deanna replied. He nodded with a sigh. “That’s why I came to you this morning. I knew that if anything had happened to him during the night, you would know.”

Smiling at the rough old man who’d spent so many years loving and hating his son at the same time, Deanna placed her hand on his knee and with a note of tenderness promised, “If anything…anything had happened to Will last night I would have been in contact with you immediately, Kyle.”

Briefly, Kyle looked uncertain and extremely ill at ease. Deanna’s brow wrinkled and Ariel watched with rapt fascination. He took a deep breath and Deanna waited. “Will doesn’t talk much about your…link with him.”

“It’s a very private thing, Kyle,” Deanna reminded him with a gleam of amusement in her eyes. “You and Will don’t exactly share an intensely close relationship. Why would he tell you about the bond he shares with me?”

“Because he is my son,” Kyle stated simply.

“And, I am my mother’s daughter, yet she knows little to nothing about the bond I share with Will. Yes, she knows it exists, but other than that, she asks nothing. It is simply none of her business.”

“Or mine,” Kyle finished and Deanna nodded in agreement. “Kyle, if it would make you feel any better, yes, I would know if something happened to Will because of the link I share with him. Just as my mother would telepathically know if anything happened to me, I would know if something happened to Will. Love does strange things to a person.”

“He gave you Elizabeth’s necklace,” Kyle said softly.

Reaching under her hair for the slender gold chain, Deanna found it and pulled gently on it. From underneath her uniform she produced the sparkling pendant and chain. Kyle smiled a nostalgic smile. He reached for it and held it carefully in his palm. “I haven’t seen this since the day she died,” he whispered. “I’m glad he gave it to you, Deanna.” He smiled softly at his future daughter-in-law. “Thank you for giving something to my son I could never give him.”

“And, what is that?” Deanna asked feeling her tears stinging her eyes.


“Will knows you love him,” Deanna refuted, but Kyle shook his head. “Not the way I should have, Deanna. Not the way a father should love his son, and not when he needed it the most. You were there for him at the times in his life when he’s needed love the most, and I wasn’t. That means more to me than you’ll ever know.”

A tear slid down Deanna’s face and she wiped it away quickly with a laugh. “If you don’t get out of here, Riker, I’m going to really start crying, and I know your son doesn’t deal well with crying women, so I can only imagine how his father would react.”

Kyle laughed boisterously, patted Deanna’s leg, and stood to his feet. “I’ll let you know if I hear anything,” he promised her with a wink. She stifled a laugh and promised him the same, and then he left her office just as quickly as he’d come in. Deanna stood to her feet and ran her shaking hands over her hair. Then, she turned around and gasped. Ariel blushed richly and said apologetically, “I’m so sorry, Commander. I know I should have left, but I was afraid of interrupting.”

“It’s all right, Ariel,” Deanna said wearily, sitting down at her desk. “However, none of the cadets under my supervision were to know I’m empathic. Now, two of you do.”


“Yes. You and David Williams.” She propped her chin up on her hands. “So, what do I do here. I know Cadet Williams will not tell anyone, but what about you?” Her dark eyes studied Ariel intently and Ariel smiled.

“What about me? What would I tell anyone? I don’t know anything,” she said innocently. A smile grew across Deanna’s face and she laughed lightly. “Thank you, Ariel,” Deanna said. Ariel stood up and headed towards the door. “No problem, Commander,” she said, then she disappeared into the reception area.

“When do I get out of here?” Will asked loudly as Beverly entered his room in Sickbay. She raised her eyebrows and teased, “Don’t take that tone with me, Commander, or I’ll keep you here longer.”

“I feel fine, and my headache is gone,” Will said irritably. “I want to return to my quarters.”

“So you can jump back into duty and make yourself worse?” Beverly taunted, picking up his chart and reading Selar’s observations. She made a noise of approval and placed it back at the foot of his bed. Then, Beverly looked back to her patient and in a no nonsense voice said, “No, Commander. I’m not going to release you today. It’s been barely twenty-four hours since you were injured. If you’re good, I’ll release you tomorrow.”

Will glared at Beverly until she snickered and sat down at his bedside. “Why are you such a horrible patient?” She asked, playing with her jacket. “Did a doctor do something terrible to you as a child?”

“You’re not a counselor, Doctor,” Will reminded her with a grin.

“I know. I’m just curious,” she told him, meeting his gaze head on. “Why do you hate doctors and sickbays so much?”

Will sighed in annoyance. “If you must know, I had a doctor as a child who accidentally dropped me on my head.”

Beverly stared at him, trying to figure out if he was serious or not. His poker face was legendary, and most of the time he wasn’t bluffing. In a good natured humor, Beverly said, “Well, that certainly explains a lot.”

“I’m joking, Bev,” he deadpanned, and she wasn’t sure whether he was joking or not until a sunny grin broke out across his face. She hit him lightly on his shoulder while exclaiming, “You had me going for a moment, Riker!”

“I know,” he replied. A piece of her hair fell into her face as she laughed and he reached up and brushed it away from her face. They both looked at each other with shock, and then Beverly quickly stood up and away from his bed. “I have other patients to look in on,” she stammered, nearly running from his room. Will closed his eyes as the doors closed and mentally berating himself.

Out in the hallway, Beverly pressed a shaking hand to her pounding heart all the while thinking, What have I started?

Another day ended for Deanna Troi, but on a much better note than the day before had ended. She left her office feeling secure and loved. Tonight she would send a communiqué to the Enterprise…to Will. They were still out of regular transmissions range, but she could still let him know everything was going fine for her and she’d had an interesting encounter with his father. Her three cadets from today had proved to be an interesting, competent group. Competition between this group of cadets would be fierce, and Deanna looked forward to seeing who came out on top. One thing was for sure, though, and that was that Ariel Kirth would be one of her top recommendations. Although Deanna had only one meeting and one impromptu meeting with the young woman, Deanna was positive that Ariel had what it took to go far. These thoughts and more ran through her mind all the while a holocamera whirled taking picture after picture of her.


Chapter Thirteen

The room was almost completely dark with the exception of small spotlights placed here and there to illuminate to holos. Slowly, the north wall was gaining new examples of his latest obsession. Pictures from her office, the beach, and her home adorned various portions of the wall. The genre ranged from still life to nude, and the expressions were all candid. Of course they were since she had no idea she was being photographed. That pleased him immensely. Had she known she was being photographed she would have balked, done everything possible to stop him. After all, Deanna Troi was a powerful woman in Starfleet with incredibly powerful ties. One false move and he would be discovered. His discovery meant one thing; loosing the object of his obsession, and that just simply wasn’t an option. His interest in her was too great, and his need for her was overwhelming. After his first meeting with her he hadn’t missed a chance to snag a picture of her. Only a month had passed…only a month, and his obsession with her had increased to incredible proportions. His last obsession, God rest her unknowing soul, had taken nearly a year to reach the magnitude it had with Deanna.

God, the sound of her name made his heart quicken, and the thought of her smile made his body respond in a forceful way. He reached over for his favorite holo, a blow up of her face, and grinned evilly. Ever so carefully, he ran his finger over her lovely cheekbones and down to her mouth. His finger paused at her mouth, and his tongue came out to wet his own lips. He imagined what it would be like to taste those unreachable lips, and his breath began coming in shorter and shorter gasps. Soon, his obsession would have to be quenched and nothing would do but Miss Deanna Troi. He salivated and waited anxiously for that coming day…that day would come soon. Too soon for her and not soon enough for him. Time. Time! He yelped and looked to his chronometer. Then, a savage curse burst from his lips as he grabbed his holocamera and ran from his home. Today, she was meeting her cursed fiancé at Starfleet Headquarters and he was anxious to see this man that had managed to steal his lovely from him.

Standing on the platform with her eyes shaded, Deanna watched the disembarking officers from the latest transport. Very early that morning Will had sent her a transmission saying he had been delayed at Starbase 000 and would be a little late. Hopefully, he would be on this transport. If he wasn’t she was going back to her apartment and wait for him there. She sighed nosily at dropped her hand to her side as the last officer disembarked. Deanna turned her back and began walking back inside the headquarters. A holocamera whirled, snapping pictures of her. Of her disappointment and her lovely expectant smile as she waited for her intended. He poised ready to take the picture of this man. He needed a picture of this man to see what his competition was, and then to contemplate what he would do to this man. He watched as Deanna paused, waiting, for the door to open into Starfleet Headquarters, but someone shouted her name. She spun around with an irresistible smile so he snapped a quick picture. His focus changed quickly as Deanna threw her arms around the neck of a tall, dark haired man, wearing the red uniform of a Starfleet bridge officer. When they pulled apart, their faces were so close, and their eyes captivated each other, so he snapped that picture, too, and he thrilled with the coming day where he would be the one she held captive with her eyes, with her arms around his neck, and a look of love shining in her eyes for him. Pulling completely apart, Deanna ran a finger over Will’s cheek and he took that picture too, but when she leaned in and kissed him passionately he spat and turned away…completely disgusted.

“Where were you?” Deanna asked, breathlessly as they separated from their kiss. He smiled down at her and brushed a wayward strand of hair from her mouth. “Talking to the transport captain. Sorry,” he whispered, lacing his fingers with hers. “Let’s go,” he said in a quiet and husky voice. She smiled at Riker and led Riker away from the platform and into the building where they disappeared from sight. No matter, he knew where Deanna lived and could just as easily get his pictures at her apartment. The setting sun sparkling off the bay would make a lovely shot, but only if he could catch her without that Starfleet fellow around.

“How’s everyone?” Deanna asked hours later in a sleepy voice. Her hand drifted up and down on Will’s chest, playing through his chest hair. He smiled and whispered back that everything was fine on the ship. She snuggled closer to him and murmured an incoherent reply as she drifted off to sleep. Will lay awake with her sleeping on his chest and felt incredibly lucky for the thousandth time that day. Deanna was more beautiful now than while on the ship with a light golden tan highlighting her skin. She looked young, healthy, and in love, just the way she should, and Will prayed silently that Deanna would never discover his traitorous thoughts about her best friend. After all, they were just thoughts. It wasn’t as if he’d acted on them, but still the thought would hurt her just as much as the action…if not more. No, he had to keep his mental shields in place less she discover what he was hiding from her. They were both better off this way.

Back at his apartment, he activated his latest batch of holos. The one he’d taken of Deanna running her finger over Riker’s cheek was distorted now with Riker’s image missing and his image superimposed. He was in the process of blowing that picture up into a poster size. This picture was the centerpiece of his collection. All he had to do now was wait until Riker went back to the Enterprise, and then he could make his move. Patience was a virtue, and it was certainly a virtue he embodied. One did not become a stalker without being patient, waiting for the perfect time to move in for the kill, and upon making the kill becoming patient again to await another victim. His licked his lips and drifted into his fantasy world where he made love to Deanna while she clung to his body, and where she fell asleep, willingly in his arms. He kicked back in his chair and relaxed to his dream world that was becoming his reality. In a few hours, he would begin designing his holosuite programs. Then, his fantasy would become a semi-reality, drawing him further into the web of insanity where he lived and no one even suspected…not even his supervisor…the one who should know, but he kept his feelings hidden deep down from her, especially knowing she was empathic, and that wasn’t an easy task for him. He thanked one of his first victims for unknowingly teaching her murderer how to shield his thoughts.

The smell of pancakes and sizzling bacon roused Deanna from her deep sleep. She rolled over on her side with an expectant smile that faded to perplexed. The sheets beside her were wrinkled but cold. Will had obviously been awake for quite awhile, so she slipped on his old robe and padded out into her kitchen. Seeing Will standing at her stove watching over his breakfast concoctions brought a bright smile to her face. Sensing her presence, Will looked up and grinned broadly at her. “Good morning, sleeping beauty,” he said, flipping a pancake at the same time.

“Need some help?” She offered, walking over to her replicator and ordering a glass of orange juice. Will shook his head, so she leaned against the wall, drank her juice, and watched him work his magic. “I’ll get the plates,” she said when he neared finishing. He nodded, so she grabbed two plates, silverware, and began setting the table. By the time she finished, Will had also placed their breakfast on the table. She sat down and looked at it all with a watering mouth. He laughed and handed her a pancake.

“What time do you have to be at your office?” Will asked, munching on a piece of bacon. Deanna swallowed her pancake and answered, “0900 hours. I have four cadets this morning.” She wrinkled her nose and Will laughed.

“Eat up, then. Sounds like you’re going to need all your strength for that and for later,” he hinted. She blushed and looked away. Will chuckled.

“What are you going to do while I’m at work?” Deanna asked, finishing off her breakfast and pushing away from the table with a smile. She hadn’t eaten like that since leaving the Enterprise.

After taking a sip of his coffee Will replied, “I thought I’d wander around San Francisco for awhile, and then go see my father.” His nose wrinkled and she laughed as she stood up. She walked over to him and kissed his cheek lightly, and then disappeared back into her bedroom. The sonic shower began humming, and Will knew she was getting dressed for the day. He’d walk with her to Starfleet Medical, see Katharine, and after that go see his father.

Two hours later Deanna sat in her office preparing for the second cadet of the day. She leaned back in her chair and read David Williams’ personnel file again. Something just wasn’t adding up, and to her great frustration, most of the time she couldn’t read him. She would discuss that with him today. Since he knew she was an empath there was a chance he could be blocking her probes, but the real question was how could he block her? There was no mention in his file of being a telepath or an empath. His thoughts were finely tuned, however. Maybe he’d had some deeper training than his file led to believe. Or, he was purposely hiding something, and if he was, she had to find it before releasing her initial findings to the board at the end of next month. At the end of the three month period, she had to narrow the field down to five candidates, and train them in how to deal with some of the crew problems aboard a ship and, as a ship’s counselor, how to solve those problems. Thinking of the task gave her a headache.

Her communications system beeped and she pressed it. “Troi here,” she replied. Valerie’s voice came back to her saying, “Cadet Williams is here, Deanna.”

“Send him in.” Deanna quickly put away his file and walked around to the front of her desk where she perched on the corner. The doors opened and David walked in wearing the cocky smile of the young and arrogant. For a brief moment, Deanna sensed something peculiar about him, but almost immediately, his mental blocks went up leaving Deanna to wonder what bothered her so about him. Clearing her throat, she gestured to the couch and said, “Have a seat, Cadet.”

Doing as she ordered, David casually walked over and sat down. He studied Deanna in a way that made her extremely nervous, so she picked up a PADD from her desk to keep her hands occupied. And, while she did this, his smile grew as if he knew she was nervous. “David, why do you want to be a counselor?” She asked, her voice cracking slightly. She blushed, he grinned malevolently, and she shuddered.

David crossed his leg at his knee and became fascinated with his hands while he considered her question. For a moment, his shielding slipped and Deanna got another glimpse into his emotions. There was something evil about him, and she knew it in that moment. When he finally spoke, she started slightly. “I’ve trained for this my entire life. Why, I don’t know what else I’d do if I weren’t analyzing people,” he replied.

Wrong answer, yet Deanna maintained her false smile. “Analyzing people? David, that’s not counseling.”

“Really?” He asked silkily. “Then, just what is ‘counseling,’ Counselor?” His green eyes studied her so intently Deanna feared he could read her soul in that moment. Quickly, she jumped to her feet and walked to the door. It slid open and she saw Will chatting with Valerie. He was laughing at something, but stopped abruptly when he caught sight of Deanna. He rose and walked over to her with concern on his face. “Dee? What is it?” He asked lowly. She took him by his hand and practically dragged him into her office. The doors closed behind him and with confusion, he stared at her. The grin on David’s face seemed to grow. Deanna walked to the center of her office, not too far from Will, but not to close to where David sat. “David,” she began, “it’s obvious you aren’t ready to be a counselor on a starship. Perhaps someday you will be, but you aren’t ready right now. I’m going to have to let you go from this program. You’re wasting my time and your own,” she finished quickly and took a step towards Riker.

The fury on David’s face was like nothing either had seen before. He glowered at Deanna and hissed, “Who are you to judge me?”

“I am a counselor who’s been on a starship for more than ten years. I know what it’s like to be out there, and I know you aren’t ready to handle it. That’s who I am to judge you,” she returned evenly. “Now, leave my office. You can do so on your own accord, or I can have the commander here escort you out.”

David glared at them one last time and then flounced out of her office. Deanna collapsed against Will, her body shivering uncontrollably. He ran his hands up and down her back until she’d calmed down. “There’s something evil about him,” she whispered. Will continued to gently comfort her until she pulled out of his embrace. He leaned in and kissed her reassuringly. She sank into the comfort he offered her until Valerie voice broke across the communications system. “Deanna, Cadet Firth is here,” she said. Deanna visibly brightened and replied, “Send her on in, Val.”

As the door opened, Deanna pulled a respectable distance away from Will. Ariel stepped in wearing a broad smile. She stopped short at the sight of Commander Riker and blanched. Deanna chuckled and pulled Ariel away from the doors so that they would close. “Ariel, you act as though you’ve never seen a Starfleet commander,” she teased feeling much better.

“I…I,” Ariel stammered. Will and Deanna burst into laughter. Deanna placed a hand on Ariel’s arm and said, “Will, this is Cadet Ariel Firth. Ariel, this is Commander William Riker of the USS Enterprise.” Will extended his hand and Ariel weakly extended hers. They shook hands and Deanna laughed again. “I think Ariel is in awe of you,” she said. “I wonder why.” Her dark eyes sparkled with merriment, and Will marveled at how quickly her emotions had changed once out of the other cadet’s presence.

“Ariel, do you mind if I cancel your appointment and meet with you tomorrow? I just dismissed a cadet from the program and need a break,” she told her. Ariel nodded her vigorously. “That’s fine. Same time?” she asked.

“Sure,” Deanna replied. Ariel smiled and turned to leave, but she paused and turned back around to face the couple. “It was a pleasure meeting you, Commander,” she said shyly. Will smiled back at her and inclined his head and then Ariel left.

“Nice kid,” he commented, pulling Deanna back to him.

“She’s going to go far,” Deanna told him as his lips descended and took hers hostage. Riker’s back was to the window but Deanna’s face was in full view. And, taking advantage of the moment, her admirer took another holo of her.


Chapter Fourteen

The setting sun cast brilliant sparkles across the porch of Kyle Riker’s rented bungalow. In what had become his evening ritual Kyle sat out on his back porch and studied the setting star. After so many years out in space and neglecting the things that were important, Kyle was learning to find solace in the simple things of life, like watching the sun set. Usually, he watched this spectacle alone. Katharine was either not home yet or making dinner for the two of them, so he stayed out of her way while reflecting on his day as the sun set. However, today he watched with company. His son sat beside him, slouched, glaring, and occasionally nursing the beer in his hand. It was real beer, not that syntheohol stuff that Starfleet had allowed him to guzzle during his tour. Kyle knew his son could hold his liquor, but he was on his third beer. Father and son may not be too close, but even Kyle could see something was bothering his son, so finally he gave into those fatherly impulses and asked, “Will, what’s eating you?”

“Nothing,” Will bit back, tilting his head back while taking another gulp of beer. Kyle shook his head and made a mental note to cut off Will’s supply of liquor. “You know, this is the problem we had when you were a kid. I’d ask a question and you’d never answer.”

“I just answered.” Will’s speech was becoming slightly slurred. Deanna was just going to love having a drunken fiancé this evening.

Kyle chuckled. “I’ve never seen you drunk.”

“Yeah, and you thought maybe I’d talk if you got me drunk,” Will astutely observed. He finished off the beer and rose to his feet. Suddenly, he was steady and without the least hint of drunkenness. “I’m not drunk, Dad, and when I’m ready to talk about what’s bothering me, I’ll let you know,” he spat out with an edge to his voice. Katharine stopped at the open door not wanting to eavesdrop but fascinated with the exchange. Things seemed so peaceful between Kyle and Will lately that she thought they were putting the past behind them, but hearing this exchange, she wasn’t so sure anymore.

“Will, the thought of getting you drunk to talk to me never entered my mind,” Kyle said calmly as he watched the sun dip lower into the ocean. “You give me too much credit. I’m not the bastard you seem to think I am.” Will cocked an eyebrow at him, so Kyle amended, “I’m not the bastard I was a long time ago. If I were, you wouldn’t willingly be here, and Katharine would have left me years ago.” Kyle finished off his second, and last, beer of the evening and rose to his feet, still falling several inches shorter than his son. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go see if she needs any help.”

Stunned, Will watched as his father brushed past him and disappeared into the bungalow. Laughter floated out onto the porch and Will sank back into his chair with his head in his hands. The happiness he felt when his father was with Katharine was what he wanted for the rest of his life with Deanna, but dammit, why was it so hard for him to keep his mind off another woman. Briefly, the thought of Beverly stretching in the gym flew through his mind and he cursed savagely. So lost in his thoughts was he, Will didn’t hear the doorbell ring to his father’s house or his father warmly welcome Deanna into his home.

“Come in, come in!” Kyle exclaimed, placing a hand on the small of Deanna’s back and gently guided her through the living room to the dining room where Katharine was setting the table for dinner. “How was your day?” He asked his future daughter-in-law warmly. Deanna smiled at the older man who was making such a valiant effort not just for her but for his son, too.

“Awful,” Deanna answered truthfully. “I had to dismiss a cadet from the program and Will was going to take me out to lunch, but he had an urgent matter to take care of at Starfleet Headquarters, so I spent the day catching up and thinking.”

Kyle guided her to a chair at the table and after Deanna sat down, he winked at her while saying, “I’ll get you a drink. Any requests?”

“Something with chocolate or Valerian root tea,” Will replied from the doorway that led from the outside porch to the dining room. Deanna smiled at him and cast into his mind, How well you know me. He gave her a distracted smile so she tried to gently probe his emotions, but his mental shields came down with such a force she visibly tensed.

“Deanna?” Katharine said with concern. “Are you all right?” She sat a cup of Valerian tea in front of the younger woman, and then sat down in the chair beside Deanna. Katharine glanced up to see if Will was concerned, but to her surprise, he was gone. Quickly, she and Kyle exchanged meaningful looks, and discretely, Kyle disappeared outside while Katharine sat with Deanna. “Are you all right?” She asked again, this time more gently. Deanna looked up wearily.

“I don’t know,” she said softly. “I’m stressed out at work, and something is wrong with Will.”

“How do you know?” Katharine asked, then immediately felt like an idiot. “Oh, of course…you would know.”

“He’s blocking my probes and barely acknowledges my thought casts,” Deanna told her. “He won’t talk to me, and he tries to act like everything is fine, but it’s not, Katharine. I know something is wrong with him. I sensed it the moment he stepped off that transport!” Deanna almost threw her hands up in frustration, and out on the porch, Kyle knew exactly how the Betazoid felt as he tried talking to his son once again.

“Will, whatever is bothering you is beginning to affect Deanna,” Kyle told him, and it earned him a dark glare from his son. “Did you figure that out all on your own, Dad? Your powers of perception amazed me,” Will returned sarcastically with his back to his father. Kyle bit back a biting retort as he studied his son’s back. Suddenly, a light went on in Kyle’s mind and he understood. Quietly, Kyle said, “You know, about six months before your mother and I were to marry, I met the most extraordinary woman. She was gorgeous, outgoing, and as ambition as I used to be. I fell for her like a ton of bricks, and to make things worse, so did your mother. They became the best of friends, and she was the maid-of-honor at our wedding. I tried my damnedest to avoid being alone with her because I didn’t trust myself, and boy, did I beat myself up at night over it while your mother lay next to me sound asleep. Little did I know your mother knew the way I felt. Oh, I loved your mother, Will, don’t mistake that. I loved Elizabeth in a way I will never, never love another woman, but there was something about her friend I can’t explain. I was just attracted to her, and one day we were alone in the house. She was waiting for your mother to get home from work, and I had taken the day off to spend with your mother.” Kyle stopped and smiled for a moment. Will kept his back to his father, but he was engrossed in his father’s quiet story. “Your mother couldn’t get the day off, so I stayed home alone, then she came over. For awhile, I went outside, but it was the dead of winter, so I had to come back in, and she was still there with your mother still not home. We tried avoiding the topic of my feelings for her and her feelings for me, but eventually, we lost, and when your mother opened the door to our house she found us in one single, stupid kiss. I nearly lost your mother that day, Will,” Kyle admitted sadly, but he brightened in the next minute. “Your mother forgave me. It was a mistake and after awhile, Elizabeth understood that I loved her and only her, and it was a good thing, too, because she found out a week later you were on your way.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Will asked in a gruff voice. His hands clutched the railing of the porch so tightly that his knuckles had turned white.

“I don’t know,” Kyle answered simply, then he went back inside the house.

Like hell you don’t know, Dad. You knew exactly what you were doing when you told me that story, Will thought ruefully.

Across town at Starfleet Academy, Ariel sat at a small picnic table with PADDs spread over the table. She held one in her hands and studied it intently until a shadow fell across her table. She looked up with a quizzical smile and shaded her eyes. “Hi David,” Ariel said warmly, placing her PADD on the table.

“Can I join you?” David asked in a friendly tone. Ariel nodded and he sank into the chair across from her. Idly, he picked up a PADD and skimmed its contents. “Ah, studying for finals,” David observed and Ariel nodded with a laugh. He threw the PADD back into the jumble and leaned forward on his elbows with a lazy, seductive smile that made Ariel’s heart pound a little harder.


Chapter Fifteen

After an uneventful and tense week of strained affection between Will and Deanna it came time for him to leave. His shore leave was up and it was time to return to his position on the Enterprise. For once, Will hated to return to his job, but he hated to stay on Earth with Deanna. Constantly shielding his thoughts from her was an exhausting yet necessary chore, but going back to the Enterprise yielded an entire new set of problems. Sooner or later, he was going to have to face his growing attraction to Beverly and do something about it. What that something was, though, he didn’t know, and what he wasn’t counting on this day was for Deanna to completely lose her cool with him.

She stood in her bedroom, watching him quickly pack his things. He wanted to leave with enough time to stop and see his father and Katharine one more time, so he threw things into his bag without notice for how they landed. She shook her head, walked over to his bag, and quietly went about straightening things. So busy was she in her task that she didn’t notice the growing scowl on Will’s face when he saw her straightening his things. What got her attention was the forcefulness of his thoughts as they entered her mind. Dammit, Deanna, leave it alone! No one but you cares what my luggage looks like on the inside! He practically yelled telepathically, and the tone of his thought caused her to visibly stiffen and come to her full height. No one…No one dared talk to her that way, not even her mother, and if looks could kill…

The glare on Deanna’s face said it all and the defensive nature of Will’s stance added more tension to an already flammable situation. “Don’t ever, ever talk to me like that again,” Deanna said slowly, quietly, and emphatically. Her dark eyes glittered as dangerously as Will’s azure ones.

“Then stop mothering me, Deanna. You’re not my mother!” He exclaimed, his voice growing in intensity.

“You’re right! I’m not your mother. I’m your lover and best friend. There’s a big difference there, Riker!” Deanna paused for a moment to regain control over herself, but the control she sought remained slightly out of her reach, and so, she exploded. “You came here to see me because I can’t come back to the Enterprise right now to see you. I thought you wanted to come here, yet all you’ve done is act like a bastard, Will Riker. I don’t know what has gotten into you, but it better stop here and now.”

“Threats, Deanna?” Will asked, stepping closer to her. His voice was soft, angry, and completely hypnotizing to her. “I thought that was beneath you.”

“Beneath me? What does that mean? What has gotten into you, Will? Dammit, just tell me because I can’t stand living like this!” Tears formed in her eyes and a pain of guilt shot through Will’s heart. He reached out and grasped her upper arms in his hands and pulled her closer to him. Just as a tear trickled down her face, he crushed her body to his and thought to her, I’m just out of sorts, Deanna. Don’t worry, I’ll work it out, and things will be just as they were before, okay? Please, trust me.

I do trust you, Will. I love you, he heard in his mind and he smiled. “Good,” he said, kissing her forehead. He held her briefly before pulling away with a wistful smile. “If I don’t leave now I won’t leave.”

“I’ll see you again soon,” Deanna promised. “Have a safe trip home.”

“I will,” he assured her, and then he turned to leave, feeling her sadness to the depths of his soul and hating himself for causing her such pain.

Once Will left her apartment, Deanna sank down on her bed. Idly, she fingered his mother’s necklace while analyzing Will’s emotions from the past few days. All she could figure out for sure was that something was deeply bothering him, and whatever it was he was hiding it deep down so that she could not perceive it. She trusted in him to work out whatever it was and to tell her in his good time. With a sigh of resignation, she reached to her nightstand for a PADD containing her recommendations to Starfleet and scanned the list. Quickly, she lost herself in her work.

A month passed in barely noticeable haste. Deanna became completely engrossed in her work while Will became more and more determined to avoid Beverly aboard the ship. He spent his time either on the bridge or in his quarters. The only time he came in contact with the good doctor was in the weekly poker game or in senior staff meetings. When those times came around, both were acutely aware of the growing attraction between them, and both were equally determined to squash it before it grew out of hand. On Earth, however, Ariel Firth was learning to give into her feelings and attraction to a fellow cadet.

Stretching lazily, Ariel grimaced and looked to her chronometer. Seeing the time, she sighed and hauled herself into a sitting position in her bed. It was well into the afternoon, yet she was still tired. Ariel smiled, knowing the reason. Since running into David Williams a month ago, her days had been spent studying while her nights had been spent in a whirlwind of dates with him. He had swept her off her feet like no other man ever had, and Ariel liked it…too much, she was afraid. Her studies were suffering slightly, but her grades were still top notch so she wasn’t too worried. Besides, finals were coming up in less than two weeks. After that came graduation, assignments, then departures for wherever Starfleet sent them.

The idea of being apart from him scared her, but realizing how dependent she’d become on him in a month’s time was more frightening to her. Ariel was sure she was falling in love with him and him with her. Today, she was to meet him for a picnic and swim down at the bay. With a smile, she trotted from her bed to the shower and began to dress for the day. An hour later, she was ready, and after grabbing her bag, Ariel headed to David’s apartment.

“I think I have my recs ready for Starfleet,” Deanna told Katharine as they prepared dinner together. She was dining with Katharine and Kyle. Thanks to Katharine’s patience and teaching, Deanna had discovered a tolerance for cooking without a replicator. Now, if she didn’t help with dinner she felt terrible about it.

Katharine diced an onion and tossed it into a bowl. “Good. How many have you narrowed the field down to?” She handed Deanna a carrot to cut.

“Ten,” she answered, cleaning the carrot meticulously. “I want to get it down to eight, but I don’t think that’s going to be possible.”

“Oh well. Let command worry about that. You’ve done your job, and you’ve done it well,” Katharine assured her.

Deanna paused in her cutting and said, “I can’t believe I’ve been here for three months already!”

“Neither can I,” Katharine returned truthfully. “The first month flew by.”

“I was so busy with the cadets and work that I honestly didn’t notice the time. I did the second month, though,” Deanna replied with a smile. She finished with the carrot and dumped it into the salad. Then, she began to mix the salad.

Katharine chuckled. “Of course you did. Will spent two weeks here. That made the month go incredibly slow for you. This month has flown by, too.”

“Yes, it has,” Deanna agreed, carrying the salad to the table. She placed it in the center and looked out the door with a smile. Kyle stood in his customary place staring out at the ocean. The contentment she felt from him made her smile. “Katharine, are you happy?” Deanna asked suddenly, still staring at Kyle’s back. Katharine looked to the young empath with surprise, but answered the question nonetheless.

“Yes, I am,” she replied unequivocally. “Why do you ask, Deanna?” Katharine turned from her cooking to face Deanna. “Are you?”

“Happy?” Deanna paused before answering. “Yeah, I’m happy.”

“But you could be happier,” Katharine prodded.

“Who couldn’t?” Deanna returned philosophically.

“Me.” Katharine smiled, crossing her arms over her chest. “Deanna, I’m perfectly happy where I am. My life is exactly what I want it to be. I love my job and I love the man who’s standing out on that porch watching the sun set like he does everyday. I love nearly everything about my life except watching people I care about suffer.” She studied Deanna thoughtfully for a moment, watching as the Betazoid’s head looked downward to study her feet as if the floor suddenly fascinated her. She said nothing, allowing Deanna time to gather her thoughts. After a few minutes, Deanna looked up and quietly said, “I think I’ll go back to my apartment. Tomorrow will be a long day and I’m tired.”

Katharine raised her eyebrows but did nothing to stop Deanna as she left the house. A few moments later, Kyle walked in and slipped an arm around Katharine’s shoulders. “Where’s Deanna?” He asked.

“She left,” Katharine answered simply as Kyle kissed her cheek. A concerned look came to his face, but Katharine shook her head while gesturing to the meal on the table. “Let’s eat. We’ll worry about Deanna later.”

The chimes rang to Will’s quarters startling him out of his thoughts. Soft blues music played in the background of his darkened quarters. Until now, he had been enjoying a mellow and relaxing evening off duty. Since returning from Earth, Will sought the solace of his quarters more than the enjoyment he used to find in Ten-Forward. The only time he truly socialized with his fellow crewmates was during the weekly poker games, and even that was only with a select few of the senior staff. Most of the crew had noticed the change in their commander and wisely chose to leave him to himself. All but whoever stood on the other side of that door. Briefly, Will entertained the idea of not answering the door but he knew if the person was persistent enough they would request his location from the computer. The computer would alert them that his location was his quarters, and if they became concerned they might alert security…the list went on and on, so Will gave in and called out in an annoyed voice, “Enter!”

With their usual whoosh, the doors slid open and Beverly Crusher stepped inside Riker’s dark quarters. Just enough light illuminated the quarters for her to see Will’s shadow figure slouched in his favorite chair. “Will,” Beverly said to get his attention. His head jerked a little bit so she walked closer to where he sat. “Will, are you all right?” She asked, sitting down on his couch.

“I’ve been better,” he admitted in a voice of the weary. “Why are you here?”

His tone stung her, but she bit back a tart reply. “I was worried about you,” she told him. “The entire senior staff is concerned with you, Will. Did something happen on Earth?”

“Nope. That’s the problem,” he said in the same tired voice.

“What’s the problem?” She asked in utter confusion.

Will closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair as he replied, “You.”

“Me!?” Beverly’s shocked repeat of his answer rang shrilly through his quarters. “Me? How can I be the problem?”

“Don’t play stupid, Beverly. You know exactly what I’m talking about.”

“No, I don’t, Will,” she lied, knowing exactly what he was talking about. Will opened his eyes and sat up straight in his chair. Beverly leaned against the couch, away from Will. “What is it?” Her breath came in short inhalations and her eyes danced in fear. Her voice trembled just like the rest of her body, and her mouth suddenly went dry. Oh yes, she knew exactly what Will was referring to as the problem. This was the problem.

He leaned closer to her, setting his elbows on his knees and searching her out with his ice blue eyes. “You really don’t know what the problem is, Beverly?” He asked in a silky, soft voice…a mesmerizing voice. She tried to shake her head, but her muscles wouldn’t cooperate with her brain. He leaned in closer, and she shrank farther against the couch. “If you don’t know what the problem is, then why are you moving farther away from me?” He asked rhetorically. “If there is no problem between us, why are you having a harder time breathing, and why are you trembling? It’s not cold in here. It’s hot…too damn hot, and you know why,” he finished, moving in closer.

“I should go,” she said in a strangled and quiet voice full of panic. She tried to slide around Will, but for some reason, she just couldn’t. She remained against the couch, blocked by Will’s body and her own insane desire to remain where she was.

“If you’re going to leave, you’d better leave now,” he warned her.

“I can’t. I just can’t,” she whispered.

Her tortured reply sent Will over the edge, and he leaned over her body. His lips caught hers in one, single, forbidden, and sweet kiss. A strangled sound of refusal tried to escape her throat but died where it began, and she slid her arms around his neck, giving into a fantasy her body just couldn’t ignore. Since that one time they’d made love, he as Odan, the memory of that night had haunted her dreams. And, everytime it did, she felt an overwhelming guilt at the desire. He belonged to her best friend and this was wrong. Summoning all her strength and willpower, Beverly unwound her arms and gently pushed Will away. Their kiss broke and they stared at each other, each with labored breathing. “We can’t do this, Will,” she whispered painfully. “God knows I want to, but it would be for the wrong reasons. You love Deanna, and she’s my best friend. I can’t do this to her.”

“Neither can I,” came his anguished reply as he sank back into his chair. His eyes slid closed again and a guilt unlike any other invade his soul. Moments later he heard the door open then close to his quarters, marking Beverly’s departure. “I’m sorry, Deanna,” he whispered to the air. “I’m so sorry.”

Ariel knocked on David’s door for the third time, a little harder and a little longer, and she received the same reply. Nothing. Dammit, David, she thought. I hope you didn’t forget our date. Ariel knocked again even harder and to her surprise, the door opened slightly. Curiously, Ariel pushed against it and the door opened completely. She stepped inside feeling slightly like an intruder. “David?” Ariel called, stepping into the immaculately clean living room. Her eyes roamed inquisitively over everything in the room. Of all the times he had been to her apartment, this was the first time she’d been to his. She smiled, appreciating the cleanliness and the coloration of the room. The white with splashes of shockingly bright red suited the young man who lived in the apartment. Smiling, Ariel dropped her bag and wandered farther into the apartment. She stopped in front of the closed door to David’s room. Oh, why not? I’m already here, she thought, stepping forward. The door opened automatically and Ariel stepped in. Then, she froze.

Her stunned eyes encountered pictures of Deanna Troi decorating the walls of the room like wallpaper. Pictures upon pictures of Deanna in various places, poses, and with various people greeted her eyes. Disgust filled her at the sight of so many pictures depicting Deanna in the nude, but fear replaced the disgust at the sight of the picture above David’s bed. It was a poster-sized picture of Deanna with her arms wrapped around David, obviously superimposed. “God!” Ariel exclaimed, backing out of the room, feeling her stomach church. She ran to the living room and stooped down for her bag. As she straightened the door opened to his apartment again and David entered. Ariel stared at him in appalled terror while David stared at her in surprised shock.

“Hey Ari,” David greeted her, tossing the PADDs he held onto a table. “How did you get in?” He asked, his gaze settling on her, inventorying the terror in her eyes. “What’s wrong?” He stepped closer to her and Ariel back away from him, holding her hands out in front of her.

“Stay away from me,” she said in a quiet, but firm voice. “The door was open and I just came, but I just remembered I have a session with my study group for astrophysics. I need to leave,” she stammered, trying to leave, but David’s body blocked her from the door. “David, please, I’m late,” she pleaded, her eyes dancing with unshed tears of terror.

The fear Ariel felt doubled when a gleam came into David’s glittering green eyes. “Finals are over, Ari. Why do you need to meet with your study group?” He tauntingly reminded her. “You’re not going anywhere,” he told her, reaching out and grabbing her arm. “Nowhere except to my bedroom.”

“No!” Ariel screamed. All the training in self-defense from her second year at the academy came roaring back, and Ariel began fighting with all her might. She began kicking and writhing furiously against the pull of David’s arm. He glanced at her with annoyance and swung her around in front of him. “Stop it!” He yelled to her, inches from her face. She flinched but kept fighting nonetheless. David released her arm only to grasp her shoulders with both his eyes. “Dammit, Ari, I don’t want to hurt you! Why’d you have to find out? Why?!”

“Find out what?” Ariel feigned stupidity which only made David that much more angry. “David, please let me go. Please! I won’t tell anyone! I won’t!” The tears she’d been fighting so gallantly finally spilled over her eyelids and down her face. “Oh, please let me go,” she sobbed, the fight leaving her. She almost sank against David as her body began to shake uncontrollably. David grinned and shook her roughly. “I won’t hurt you, Ari, but I can’t let you go. I just can’t,” he said apologetically, and then he drug her back to his room.


Chapter Sixteen

“David, you can’t do this. Assignments are going to be handed out tomorrow, and if I’m not there, people are going to get suspicious. They’re going to come looking for me, and people know we've been dating. Security will question you, and they’ll want to search your apartment. They’re going to find me, David. Just let me go and nothing will happen,” Ariel promised. Her reasoning was sound, and she was praying that appealing to his common sense would win her freedom. Only the slight tremble in her voice betrayed her true trepidation. He smiled sadly at her as he activated the forcefield generator. A flickering of light and slight humming sound signified that the generator was in good working order. Ariel walked up to the invisible barrier and gingerly laid her hand against it. A shock sent her reeling against the wall. She sat there and shook her head, dazed by the strong shock. “I wouldn’t do that too many more times, Ari. This is one of the strongest forcefields Starfleet uses. Too many shocks like that will render you unconscious, and who knows what could happen you if you’re unconscious.” His smile turned to a leer and Ariel shrank against the wall as tears began to burn her eyes. David saw the tears forming and immediately turned into the caring young man she thought she knew. “Don’t cry, Ari. It won’t do you any good,” he told her. “Now, be a good girl and stay put. I have things to do.”

Ariel watched as he left her trapped in his bedroom. The forcefield blocked the door, her only escape. There were no windows in the room, or if there were, they were covered by pictures of Deanna Troi. Her head came to rest on her knees as sobs of fear and knowing racked her body. Deanna would be his next victim, of that, Ariel was positive, and there was no way for her to warn her friend. She was trapped.

Night fell quickly on San Francisco but sleep did not come to Deanna. She stood out on her balcony watching the reflection of the moon dancing off the water and she shivered. With the approaching winter, the wind that blew across the water had a distinct chill to it. It was well after midnight on this cloudless night. Tomorrow, Deanna would change the lives of ten cadets forever. Those ten, those few, select ten. The best of the best in their class, and the only thing that made Deanna smile was that Ariel was one of those ten. The task she’d begun three months ago was coming to an end. She’d waded through fifty cadets to find ten who had the potential to face the problems of space travel and overcome them. Now, those cadets would go into the supervision of another counselor on a starship. Their training truly began once aboard their new assignments. Deanna prayed Ariel ended up on a good ship under the tutelage of a good counselor. Briefly, she wished she could be Ariel’s mentor, but she still had another three months left on Earth before she could fathom returning to the Enterprise. Returning to the Enterprise…the thought made Deanna shudder. What was there to return to? Even she wasn’t sure anymore. Granted, she had good friends, a family of sorts, and a fiancé waiting for her there, but things were so different now. Being away from them had given Deanna a chance to grow and change. She no longer needed them to survive. She could make it on her own, but she did miss them. The one thing holding her back was Will. Whatever had been wrong with him during his visit to Earth hadn’t righted itself. If anything, things were worse, and he still wouldn’t talk to her about it. His withdrawal and retreat from their once open and sharing relationship cut her deeply, so deeply she couldn’t even discuss it with him. Deanna wanted things back to normal…whatever normal was.

With a sigh of resignation, Deanna walked back into her living room, closing the glass door behind her and never hearing the ever-present whirl of the holocamera that captured her every move. The lights went out in the living room and a light in her bedroom appeared in the window. Anxiously, he waited for her naked silhouette to appear against the sheer lavender curtains, and when it did a smile of appreciation came to his face. He licked his lips; then he took the picture. Finished for the night, he began the long trek back to his apartment to develop the holos, place them in just the right places in his shrine, and then deal with his newest problem who sat in his bedroom.

Sunlight swept through Deanna’s apartment, and with a stretch she awakened. For a few minutes, she lay in her bed allowing herself to completely awaken. She studied the ceiling of her bedroom noticing the imperfections in the titling for the first time. Before she could reflect on the sublities of the ceramic, Deanna swung her legs over her bed and sat up. She would not waste time today reflecting on the sublities of life…or ceramic tile.

“Wake up, Ari. It’s time for breakfast,” David cheerfully said, standing outside his bedroom. Ariel studied him from the far corner where she sat in a huddled ball. She watched him bend over the generator and tap in the access code. Her heart sank as he entered the room carrying a tray filled with breakfast foods. “Oh, don’t look so sad, Ari,” David said condescendingly. She wrapped her arms tightly around her legs as he advanced to the corner where she sat. He placed the tray in front of her and squatted down. Lightly, he reached out and brushed her wayward hair away from her face and she flinched. “Your hair is tangled,” he told her quietly. She skittered away from her captor, amusing him even more. “Ah, Ari, I wish you hadn’t found out my secret,” he told her sadly, sitting down beside her. “I really like you.”

“I…I like you too, David,” Ariel said quietly, forcing herself to relaxed. Her arms fell to the side and she stretched out her legs. Relief flowed through her veins after being in such a cramped position for so long. She’d sat all night coming up with a way to escape from David, and this was her first opportunity. In order to escape, she knew she had to catch the forcefield down, and it was down right now. After that, she had to get outside. He wouldn’t dare go after her in the open. Ariel took a deep breath and looked over at David with a forced smile. “I must look horrible,” she said, feigning female vanity.

“You look fine, Ari,” David whispered, leaning over to her and kissing her lightly. Her body recoiled at his touch, but she forced herself to tolerate it, even encourage it. Distracting him was her only hope at escape. She curved her fingers around the nape of his neck, and he deepened the kiss. Ariel fought back her gag reflex as his tongue touched hers. When his hand slid towards her breast, she could no longer control her body’s reaction to his touch, and she jerked away from him. He looked to her with confusion, and she looked back apologetically. “I’m sorry,” she told him softly.

He moved closer to her and reached out a hand to cup her cheek. “What is it?”

“I feel…odd,” she told him truthfully. She did feel odd…terrified, fearful, and disgusted. Ariel didn’t experience those emotions too often. “I feel like we’re being watched.” Ariel waved her hand to the pictures of Deanna, and a strange grin lit David’s face as he leaned over her. Just before their lips met again he told her, “We are.” Ariel shuddered as he forced her flat on the floor and covered her face and neck with kisses. As he reached for the hem of her shirt Ariel forced back a scream, and when he pulled it over her head she tried not to faint. When his lips touched her breast, she nearly threw up. When he removed the rest of her clothing and his she closed her eyes, and when his body covered hers, she separated herself from the act at hand.

He finished and hauled himself off her body into a sitting position. Ariel remained laying on the floor counting slowly to ten. He sat beside her wiping the sweat from his forehead and trying to control his breathing. Noticing he was paying her little mind, Ariel suddenly sprang into action. She leaped to her feet, startling David, and she landed a swift kick to his stomach, which doubled him over. Retching, he watched as she grabbed a shirt and took off running down the hallway. “No!” David roared, leaping to his feet despite the pain in his gut. He ran after her, catching her just as she reached the front door. He used his body to flatten her against the wall eliciting a whoosh of air from her lungs. She gasped for air as she slid down the wall to the floor. He slid down on top of her, pinning her below him. She recoiled in terror at the gleam of pleasure in his eyes. “No,” she breathed just as he raised his fist, and then everything went black.

Deanna surveyed the crowd present at the assigning ceremony, looking through the excited cadets for Ariel. Several of her cadets stopped her to thank her, and she offered them only the briefest attention while something tickled the back of her mind. A thread of fear wove itself around her mind while she looked for Ariel to no avail. So intent was she on her search that she bumped right into Katharine, who looked at the young Betazoid with concerned surprise. “Deanna, what’s wrong?” She asked, noting the strained look on Deanna’s face.

“I don’t know,” she replied. “Have you see Ariel?” Even as she asked, Deanna continued to look around. Katharine shook her head. “No, I haven’t. Deanna, what is it?”

“Nothing.” Deanna pulled away from Katharine and disappeared into the crowd of exuberant cadets. She wandered outside the auditorium into the bright sunlight. Shading her eyes, she looked for Ariel as she walked to her office. The path to her office was fairly well shaded and completely deserted. A feeling of desolation invaded her mind as she treaded up the stairs to her office building. The doors slid open and Deanna stepped inside the darkened building. She quickly walked down the familiar hallway to her office. Being in the middle of the office building, the reception area was extremely dark, and Deanna tensed, sensing she was not alone in the building. Laughing softly, she shook off the feeling while thinking, Silly, there are other people in this building, too…the cleaning crew…other personnel, you’re just being silly, Deanna.

With a smile, Deanna walked up to her door and began punching in the access code to open the door. She stopped before the last number and spun around, sensing someone in close proximity to her, but she saw nothing. So, she turned around and began to punch in the last number when her world spun and went black.

“David! Oh my God! What have you done!?” Ariel screamed as he walked up to the door of his bedroom where Ariel was now tied into a chair. He paid her no mind as he disengaged the generator and walked into the room. David dumped the unconscious Deanna onto his bed and loosened her uniform. “If she stops breathing, let me know,” he commanded Ariel as he walked over to where she was bound.

“Now what are you going to do to me?” She asked warily as he untied her bindings.

“Nothing. You can’t watch Deanna if you’re tied in a chair, but mark my words, Ari, if you try anything else, you’ll long for the tenderness I showed you early,” he told her. Then, he kissed her lips. When he pulled away, Ariel spat in his face, and he slapped her across the face with enough force to send her back into the chair. She pressed a trembling hand to her face as he left the room and reactivated the forcefield. When he was out of sight, Ariel walked on trembling limbs to the bed where Deanna lay and collapsed beside her mentor. Gingerly, she felt the back of Deanna’s head and found a lump. Obviously, he’d taken Deanna by surprise. Briefly, Ariel wondered how he had found her alone, and then she began praying. Praying that someone would quickly notice that she and Deanna were both missing, and someone find them. With that thought on her mind, Ariel watched over Deanna like a mother, and waited with fear for David to return. God only knew what he had in store for the two women. Ariel closed her eyes and said a prayer to the ancient God of her grandparents. If He got them out of this, she would take back every derogatory thing that she’d said about the entity she believed was a myth.

After an insurmountable time passed, Deanna began to stir. Ariel had nodded off into an exhausted slumber beside the counselor. Slowly, Deanna opened her eyes and the world spun. Her head pounded, so carefully she walked her fingers down the back of her head. They paused when they encountered the large lump. Deanna tried remembering what had happened, but everything was foggy. Ariel’s presence pierced through Deanna’s hazy mind and with relief, she turned to her side and found the girl sleeping beside her. Gently, Deanna shook Ariel awake, and the girl awoke with a frightened jump. “Ariel, Ariel, it’s me,” Deanna said quietly to calm the girl. Ariel sighed in relief and sank back against the pillows.

“Thank God. Are you all right?” She asked Deanna with concern.

“I have a bump on my head, but I’m fine. Where are we?” Deanna took a good look around the room and noticed all the pictures of her and she gasped. “Gods!” She exclaimed, pressing a horrified finger to her mouth. “Who…who did this?” She asked in a whisper, taking in the full effect of the pictures.

“David,” Ariel answered quickly. “I found out yesterday by accident. We had a date and when he didn’t show up on time, I came on in and found this.” Ariel waved her hand at the pictures. Deanna reached over and touched Ariel’s cheek gently. “Did he do this?” She asked the girl. Ariel nodded with downcast eyes. “Oh Ariel,” she breathed.

“I tried to escape earlier today,” Ariel told her.

Dreading the answer, Deanna asked, “What happened?”

“I let him have sex with me, thinking that afterwards, I’d be able to escape. I nearly got away, but he caught me at the door. He knocked me cold, brought me back in here, tied me up, and I guess that’s when he left to go find you.”

Quickly, Deanna pulled Ariel into an embrace as the tears began to flow down the younger girl’s face. She sobbed quietly into Deanna’s shoulder as Deanna began trying to think of a way to get out of their predicament. Will, I need you, Deanna thought, knowing there was no way Will could receive her thought cast with this much distance separating them. For the umpteenth time in her life, Deanna cursed the fates that made her half Betazoid. If only she’d been a full Betazoid, she could send a free roaming thought cast and alert people to their whereabouts immediately. Of course, that was impossible, and she wasn’t even sure that people knew she was missing yet. As Ariel’s tear slowly stopped, Deanna remembered that Kyle had invited her to dinner. When she didn’t show up, they would try to contact her at her apartment, and when she didn’t answer, they would try her office. Valerie would tell them she wasn’t there, that she hadn’t called in, and they would grow more concerned. Hopefully, they would contact Starfleet then. She and Ariel only had to survive the next two days.

“Ariel,” Deanna began, getting the girl’s attention. Ariel pulled away from Deanna with questioning eyes. “Ariel, I was suppose to have dinner tonight with my fiancé’s parents. When I don’t show up, they’ll get concerned and try to contact me. If I don’t return their communication, they’ll try to reach me at the office. Valerie will tell them that I’m not there and she doesn’t know where I am. When that happens, Kyle will contact Starfleet. Starfleet will find us, Ariel. They will.”

“Why are you so sure?” Ariel asked, losing faith quickly.

Deanna smiled, grateful to her mother and the ties she had in Starfleet. “I’m sure because my mother is one of the top Starfleet ambassadors from Betazed. I’m also a member of the Betazed aristocracy. I’m a Daughter of the Fifth House. My mother is the Holder of the Sacred Chalice of Rixx and heir to the Holy Rings of Betazed. My father was a Starfleet officer before he was killed, I am a decorated commander, and my fiancé is an extremely decorated commander…the list goes on and on, Ariel. My mother and my fiancé will demand that Starfleet find me, and as long as my mother and he can still sense my presence, they will not give up. If he or my mother were on the planet, I could have them here in the blink of an eye with a thought cast.”

“Can you contact anyone else?” Ariel asked hopefully.

“No, she can’t,” David answered from the doorway. The two women looked to him, one with stunned fear and the other with outraged ire. He deactivated the forcefield and came in the room with a menacing smile. Deanna rose to her full height and assumed her most aristocratic stance. “Hello, my lovely one,” he greeted Deanna. “I’m glad to see you’ve suffered no ill effects from earlier.”

“You will let Ariel and me go, now,” Deanna demanded unwaveringly as she sensed his determination to have her for himself. He laughed long and hard causing Ariel to shudder, and yet, Deanna remained standing determinedly before him. It was imperative that she show no fear. He reached out for a forbidden touch of her ebony hair, but Deanna stepped back out of his reach with a smile. “I’m not yours to touch, David,” she taunted him, knowing if she could make him angry enough to attack that she and Ariel could overpower him.

Unfortunately, her jibe had little effect on him. He continued to reach out until he touched her hair. She stared at him with unflinching anger until he wrapped a section of her hair around his finger and yanked her to him. She bit back a yelp of pain while Ariel grimaced behind her. Inches from her face, David whispered, “Trust me, my lovely, you will be mine to touch. Very soon.” Then, he shoved her away causing her to tumble onto the bed beside Ariel. His gaze settled on Ariel who stared back at him with anger in her eyes. He walked over and yanked her up by her arm. “You’re coming with me. I can’t afford to leave you two alone in here,” he said. Ariel shook her head until she heard in her head, He won’t hurt you, Ariel. He has me, and that’s what he wants. Dumbfounded, she looked to Deanna, who nodded imperceptibly as David dragged Ariel from the room and reactivated the forcefield. Once he disappeared down the hallway, she offered a prayer for Ariel’s protection, then she thought, Help me…


Chapter Seventeen

The door chimes never rang to his quarters in the middle of the night anymore, so when they rang this night, three days after Deanna’s disappearance on Earth, Will sat up with a start and practically leaped from his bed. He grabbed his robe and as he slid it on he called out, “Computer, identify visitor!”

“Visitor identified. Captain Jean-Luc Picard.” Will’s frown deepened. For the captain to come to Will’s quarters in the middle of the night signified something extremely important had happened. “Enter,” he said, standing in at his replicator as the doors opened. “Come in, Captain,” Will invited, knowing that Jean-Luc Picard would never enter a room unless invited. “Can I get you something?” Will took his glass of water and turned to Picard with an expectant smile that quickly faded at the seriousness on the captain’s face. “Sir?”

Picard tried to smile and failed miserably, so he took to his command posture with his hands locked behind his back and an emotionless face. “I’m sorry to have awakened you at such an hour, Will, but I just received a communiqué from Starfleet that needs your immediate attention.

“My attention?” Will sank down into his favorite chair and gestured for Picard to sit on the couch across from him. “Why didn’t I receive the communiqué, Sir?”

Picard became fascinated with a small sculpture adorning the center of Riker’s glass coffee table. Carefully, he picked it up and turned it over a few times in his hands, studying it. “This piece is exquisite, Number One. From where did you acquire it?”

“Betazed. It was a present from Deanna for my birthday a few years back. Captain, what was the communiqué about?” Will inquired with a growing feeling of dread.

Placing the piece back on the table, Picard quietly answered, “Deanna is missing, Will. Starfleet was notified that earlier today a cadet had disappeared, and less than an hour later they were notified of Deanna’s disappearance. Starfleet Security believes the disappearances are related.”

Rage and fear filled Will’s being as his mind immediately began seeking out Deanna’s. In his heart, he knew it was a futile search yet he couldn’t stop the impulse. Picard watched the change on Will’s face and knew he was searching for Deanna’s spirit in a way that Picard could only begin to understand. “I can’t reach her,” Will said quietly.

“Did you really expect to?” Picard asked, leaning forward on his knees, studying his first officer. Riker shook his head and ruefully admitted, “No, but hell, it’s worth a shot. Are there any leads?” Will clinched his fists tightly.

“Dr. Pulaski was the last person to see Deanna. According to Katharine, Deanna seemed extremely agitated.”

“Why?” Will demanded.

“Apparently, she was attempting to locate a cadet that did not show for the assigning ceremony,” Picard reported. Will came straight in his chair and his eyes burned with intensity. “What is it, Number One?”

Will stood from his chair and began pacing the length of his living room. Picard watched the younger man with a measure of fascination. He was unable to fathom how he would feel in such a situation. If the woman he loved had mysteriously disappeared without a trace Picard had an inkling that the frustration showing in Will Riker would be magnified more times over. He smiled a hidden smile since the woman he loved was aboard this ship and should she suddenly disappear; there would be records, warp signatures, and leads to follow. With all the technology of the twenty-fourth century, it seemed unimaginable that a person could simply disappear without a trace, yet it had happened, and not just to one person but two. Picard felt a pang for the family of the young cadet who was also missing. “Captain, you said there was a cadet also missing. Do you know what the cadet’s name is?” Will asked, stopping in front of the couch.

“Dirth…Kirth…Something along those lines, I believe. Why?”

“Was it Firth, perhaps?” Will suggested. A light went on in Picard’s eyes. “Yes, it as Firth! Ariel Firth, I believe was her name.”

Will stalked over to his communications panel and tapped in his access code. Moments later the face of a huge man materialized on the screen. A wide grin swept across the man’s face and he exclaimed, “Riker! How the hell are you?”

“Not too great, Tang. I need a favor.” Riker knew better than to beat around the bush with this gruff former security officer. Tang raised his eyebrows and Will quickly continued. “I need you to access security cams of Starfleet Medical for stardate xxxx.xx.”

“Easy. Any particular thing to look for?” The man asked, typing things in to his computer.

“Yeah. Anything out of the ordinary…like a man slinking around Commander Deanna Troi’s office,” Riker told him. Tang’s eyes lit up.

“Ah, still the Betazoid, ehh, Riker?” He guffawed at his own suggestion while Riker smiled tolerantly and nodded. “Yeah, Tang. She’s missing and the last place she was seen was heading for Starfleet Medical.”

“All right. Give me a few hours, Will. I’ll get back to you,” Tang said, ending the communication. The screen flickered to black and Riker turned back to face his stunned captain. He began to apologize, but Picard held up his hands. “No need, Will. In your situation, I would do the same thing, no matter how illegal it might be.” A grin twinkled in Picard’s eyes, and Will sighed with relief. Picard rose to his feet to leave. Just before he reached the door, Picard turned and uncomfortably said, “Will, I can only imagine what you’re going through, and for whatever it’s worth, if you need a friend…”

“Thank you, Sir,” Will said. Picard nodded and left his quarters. Will walked over to the coffee table and picked up the small Betazoid meditation statue. He turned it over and over in his hands with his eyes closed, remembering how happy Deanna and he had been when she gave him the statue. That birthday was one of his better ones. Resignedly, he placed the statue back on the table and stalked around his quarters. Soon, his pent up anger began to get the best of him and he picked up the glass of water. Quickly, he drank the contents, and then he stared at the glass just as he had the statue. But, before his common sense overruled his anger, Will reached back and threw the glass at the wall with such force that when it hit, it shattered into thousands of splintered pieces. Then, he collapsed into his chair with his head in his hands. The statue on the table caught his eyes once again and he prayed to find that kind of happiness with Deanna again.

On Earth, Ariel awoke in a dark room, wholly unfamiliar to her. “Dammit, David!” she hissed. “Son of a bitch must have given me a sedative.” She rose to her unsteady limbs and felt for the wall behind her. Carefully, she made her way around the room, feeling for the door or a forcefield. Any moment she expected to be thrown across the room by a forcefield. To her surprise, Ariel found no forcefields or any restraints. She also found no exits in the room. “Damn,” she seethed. “What is he up to now?” Ariel wondered with no idea of how lucky she was to be locked in a dark room without David’s constant presence, for above her, that was exactly what Deanna was enduring.

However, Deanna was enduring it in the way most Betazoids endured torture or discomfort. She had placed herself in a self-induced meditative state, much to David’s ire. Nothing he did had any effect on her. He could kill her and she wouldn’t know. “Bitch,” he swore, kicking Deanna’s back. She lay on the floor in a fetal position as she had for two days. Things were not going to David’s plan, and every moment Deanna remained catatonic added to David’s growing anger. Still, even as he stared at her in anger his desire for her reared its ugly head once again as his eyes beheld her creamy skin, shiny hair, and slender body. He sank down beside her body and took a handful of her wavy hair in his hands, and he inhaled the sweet scent of her hair. His desire that had begun the obsession overtook his anger and lost control, just as he had with Ariel. Even as she lay there, unresponsive and nearly catatonic, David took her, and when it was over, he pulled away from her body. Staring down at her, revulsion rose in his throat. Looking at her, it seemed as if nothing had happened. She lay in nearly the same position, only now she was naked. The body that once held his attention now angered him. This one would not beg for her life. This one would not look at him with fear or resignation at the end. No, she would remain like this for as long as she desired, and there was nothing…nothing he could do about it. And, that infuriated David thoroughly. His wrath built inside him as he stared down at her until it erupted forth in a physical display. Time passed quickly as he took out his aggression on her unfeeling body until he was sated, and then he slunk away into the corner of his bedroom and watched, waiting, for his lovely one to awaken.

In the room where Ariel was held, she was busily working at a section of wall. Earlier, in a search of the walls, she’d found an imperfection in the plaster. After picking at it, she realized it wasn’t plaster, but instead it was drywall. With her fingernails and aided by the sharp toe of her boots, Ariel dug through the wall until she exposed a thin beam of sunlight. It shot across the room casting shadows about the dreariness. The sight of it renewed a vigor in Ariel. She dug faster at the wall exposing more and more sunlight until her bloody hands came in contact with cool glass. Ariel paused and stared out the dirty window while offering a quick prayer of thanksgiving. Then, with all the strength she possessed in her five foot four frame Ariel turned her boot around and aimed the thick heel of it at the window. Closing her eyes she summoned her strength and brought the boot forward as hard as she could, beginning to shatter the glass of the window. Furiously, she beat against it until it shattered outward. After throwing the boot out of the window Ariel picked the larger, most deadly, pieces of glass and dropped them on the floor below her. Still working on adrenaline, Ariel hoisted her body up and forced her upper torso out the small window. She took a deep breath of the salty afternoon air before bringing the rest of her body out the window.

Without taking a moment to rest, Ariel jumped to her feet and began running. Nothing looked familiar to her, but it didn’t matter. She had to find help, not just for her, but for Deanna. By now, people had to know they were missing and had to be looking for them. Sooner or later she would encounter someone or she would die trying.

“Will?” Beverly softly said as she entered the transporter room where Riker awaited transport to the USS Hood. He turned to her with a sleep deprived eyes. “What?” He asked in a tired, overwhelmed voice.

She walked into the room and the doors closing behind her. She nodded to the transporter chief with a smile. “I just wanted to say good luck, and please let me know the moment you find anything out,” Beverly said softly. He nodded and curtly said, “I will.” She smiled once more and turned to leave. Then, she stopped and quietly said, “Will, I’m sorry for what happened the other night.”

“So am I,” he said as the transporter chief looked over to Will. “Commander, the Hood is ready for you to transport over.”

He nodded to the chief and stepped aboard the transporter pad. Beverly stood and watched him dematerialize. Then, she turned to go while saying a quick prayer for Deanna’s safe recovery.

Will appeared aboard the Hood and without a word to the transporter chief there or the first officer sent to greet him, he stalked off to the bridge. The Hood was currently on detached duty. It was also the only Federation ship heading towards Earth at a speed higher than Warp Four. All in all, the trip to Earth on the Hood was expected to take less than three days.

Out of breath, Ariel collapsed onto the grass just outside an office building. Her head was pounding from the blows David had inflicted on her and her hands felt as if they were on fire. Blood still oozed from the cuts caused by the drywall, plaster, and glass. She fought off a wave of dizziness and fought to remain conscious. She had to get help. With that thought in mind, Ariel struggled to her feet. She leaned against a tree as another wave of dizziness swept over her. The world began spinning faster and faster. She closed her eyes against the merry-go-round, but it intensified until she fell to her knees. A passing man looked to her curiously, and then ran to her with horror on his face as she fainted, face first, into the grass. Gently, he cradled her in his arms and turned her over. Noting the bruises on her face, the blood on her hands, and the tears in what little clothing she wore, he stood effortlessly to his feet with her in his arms like a baby and walked quickly into the office building where he summoned help.

Within fifteen minutes the police arrived along with medical care. As the doctors pressed a hypo to Ariel’s neck she opened her eyes and whispered, “Help.”

“We’re doing all we can, miss,” an officer said. “Can you tell me your name?”

“Ariel…Ariel Firth…Fourth year…cadet…Starflee…” Before she could finish the sentence, Ariel passed back out and the officer grabbed at his communication unit to alert Starfleet Security. Ariel Firth had been found.


Chapter Eighteen

It was the humming that awoke Ariel from her deep sleep with such a start. Her eyes opened and she tried to sit up. I have to escape, she thought frantically. “Help me!” She thought she screamed, but actually, it was a loud whisper. Futilely, she tried to move her arms, but they remained pinned to her sides. She fought against the restraints so vigorously that an alarm sounded. Then, she froze. Her surroundings were cheery and bright. They were also completely unfamiliar to her. Wild eyed, she watched the door to the room slide open. A dark haired woman stepped inside followed by a woman Ariel vaguely recognized. “Calm down, you’re safe here,” the brunette told Ariel in a soothing voice. She tapped in some numbers and the alarm ceased. The terror slowly faded from Ariel’s eyes as the other woman stepped completely into Ariel’s line of vision. “Dr. Pulaski,” Ariel breathed. Katharine smiled at the girl and sat down beside her bed. She exchanged a look with the nurse who discreetly left. “Ariel, do you know where you are?”

“I’m guessing I’m in the hospital,” Ariel answered quietly. Suddenly, her eyes widened and she looked to Katharine frantically. “What about Deanna?”

“What about Deanna?” Katharine leaned forward and released the restraining field around Ariel. “Ariel, do you know where Deanna is?”

“Same place I was. David Williams apartment. He was holding us there. Doctor, he’s obsessed with her. After he kidnapped Deanna, I was locked in another room. I don’t know what he did her.”

“But, he’s still there with her?” Katharine pressed, hitting the communication panel in Ariel’s room. Ariel nodded and said, “They were both still there when I escaped.”

Katharine’s face grew pale. “Ariel, that was two days ago,” she gently told her.

“Two days ago!” Ariel exclaimed, sitting up quickly. Promptly, the room began spinning and Katharine slowly pushed Ariel back down onto the bed.

“Ariel, you had a concussion and a broken cheekbone when you were brought in along with several cuts and bruises. You’re bound to be sore and dizzy.” Katharine stood up and moved closer to the communications panel. Quickly, she established a connection with Starfleet Security and she informed them, “Cadet Firth has awakened and believes that Commander Troi is being held by Cadet David Williams at his apartment.” The screen went black and Katharine sighed. “Now, all we can do is wait,” Katharine said to no one in particular. Ariel stared at the wall ahead of her with tear filled eyes and prayed the security men weren’t too late to save Deanna from David.

Starfleet Security surrounded the building where David Williams lived while six of their most highly trained men entered the building. As silent as a cat’s walk the men hurried to David’s first floor apartment. Reaching the entrance, they assumed a standard pattern, two men on each side of the door with the other two standing directly in front of the door. The team leader nodded slowly to his point man who stepped forward and sounded the door chimes throughout the apartment. After no answer came within two minutes of the first chime, the point man banged his fist on the door while calling out, “Starfleet Security!”

Again, no reply came so the team looked to their leader. Quickly, the leader weighed the options, closed his eyes, and nodded his head to the point man. He whipped out his phaser and fired, disintegrating the door. The team leader jumped through the entrance with his men following behind him. They split into standard attack patterns and searched every room in the apartment. Coming to David’s bedroom, one of the men paused at the closed door. He took a deep breath and pressed the door mechanism. The door slid open only to reveal a forcefield, so he looked around to find the generator. Finding it, he fired his phaser at it on the highest setting. It quickly vaporized and the forcefield vanished. The door was dark, hot, and it stank of human sweat. He feared the worst while he searched for the manual light switch. His fingers found the slight indentation in the wall and he pressed it firmly, bringing the lights on, flooding the room with harsh brightness. He squinted his eyes for the moment it took for him to adjust to the sudden brightness. Carefully, with his phaser ready, he moved into the room, looking around for any sign of humanity. His eyes stopped roaming when he saw a small foot near the end of the bed. Quickly, he rushed over, knelt down beside the naked body, and checked for a pulse. With his other hand he dropped his phaser and hit his communicator. “Ericson to team leader. I’ve found Commander Troi in the suspect’s bedroom. We need a med team here, stat.”

“Acknowledged. Team leader out,” was the crisp reply.

Ericson looked at the abuse done to the commander with saddened eyes. Out of respect for her, he pulled a sheet off the bed and placed it over her nude body. The rest of the security team ran into the room, talking loudly, but all that ceased when they saw her body laying there, covered by a sheet so like a shroud. “She’s alive. I don’t know how, but she is,” Ericson said quietly, standing to his feet. “Is Williams in the house?”

“No. The premises is secure,” his leader told him. “Why don’t you go out front and wait for the med team?” He suggested, noting the anger on his friend’s face and knowing Ericson needed to get out of there. With a curt nod, he took the suggestion and Ericson left the room leaving five men to stare down at the beaten beauty, praying she lived, berating themselves for not finding her sooner, and disgusted by the evident sickness of the man who lived in the house. The pictures of Deanna still adorned the walls of his bedroom. It made the men shudder, but the sight of Deanna’s bruised and abused body made them determined…Determined to find David Williams and bring him to justice.

Ericson came back into the house followed by a med team that quickly assessed their patient, stabilized her condition, and began loading her body onto an anti-grav unit. They rushed from the apartment to the waiting ambulance that would take Commander Troi to the medical center. The security team watched as the ambulance left, and with a sigh, the team leader turned to his men and said quietly, “We’ve got a job to finish here. Let’s get to it, men. She deserves to have her attacker found and punished for what he’s done to her.”

Sounds of agreement filled the air and the men slowly filed out of the apartment, sealed it off, and went to their waiting vehicle. Back at their command post they would find every file they could on David Williams and solve their mystery while at the medical center a team fought to save Deanna’s precious life.

The normally quiet medical center was a beehive of activity as doctors, nurses, and security scurried in and out of the emergency ward. All hell had broken loose at precisely the time Deanna Troi had arrived on an anti-grav stretcher. With the med team shouting her stats and doctors working furiously on her, the adrenaline level of all in the emergency ward had risen to at least twice its normal level. She was stable as the med team rushed her in, but within moments, her blood pressure and pulse began dropping. Then, the fight against death began. The team working on her fought valiantly, struggling with her weakening systems to stabilize her, and give her the chance at life she deserved. Her injuries had made one nurse so upset that she was forced to leave the room and have another take over for her. She was aghast that one person could inflict that much damage on another. So, she wandered out into the waiting area to try and regain her equilibrium. While she stood at the window two older men practically ran into the medical center. She watched with fascination as they ran to the information center, and in a panicked voice one of them demanded information on Deanna Troi’s condition. The receptionist there followed her strict orders from Starfleet and refused to give any information out, which infuriated the gray haired man. The woman directed both men to the waiting area and strongly suggested they wait there for information, should any be coming that could be released to the public. Both men stalked angrily over to the chairs but instead of sitting down, they began pacing, one fast and furiously while the other one limped slightly behind him. Against her better judgement, the nurse slowly wandered into their path causing them to stop and glare at her. She smiled soothingly at them and whispered, “The medical team is stabilizing Commander Troi’s condition right now. Her injuries might be pretty severe, but I don’t know for sure,” she confided.

The gray haired man gave her a smile of gratitude as he sank into a chair with his head in his hands. Confused, she looked to the limping gentleman who explained, “He’s Commander Troi’s fiancé’s father. Kyle Riker.”

“Oh!” A light of recognition dawned in her violet eyes. “Who are you?”

“Roger Tang, former Sargent in Starfleet Security,” he informed her. Her eyes brightened again in recognition. The survivors of Wolf 347 were something of a legend. “Look, I know it’s against policy, but can you please get us an update on Commander Troi’s condition?” He requested lowly.

“No need to do that, Roger. She’ll lose her job. Katharine will be out to tell us about Deanna as soon as she can,” Kyle said, his voice muted by his hands. Tang sat down beside Kyle with a sigh. He knew Kyle was right, but dammit, he was worried! Deanna had burned a hole of affection for her in Roger Tang’s heart after being rescued from her first kidnapping on Betazed with the Sindareen. She was so young and so beautiful then. He had been so grateful that she’d been found alive, even if it had been by a non-security man. But, even then, he had known that Deanna Troi and William Riker were destined to be together. There was a spark between them that even he could see way back then. When Will had contacted him about Deanna’s disappearance on Earth all the old tenderness and protective feelings he had for her came roaring back with a vengeance. God help David Williams if Will Riker found him first, but God help him ever more if Tang ever laid eyes on the man.

While Tang thought of revenge, Kyle watched the door to the emergency ward, waiting for Katharine to appear. The young nurse, who’d offered them some information, had returned back to the emergency ward, so the only way they would get information now was through Katharine. And, so they waited. Kyle tapped his hands on his legs and wondered what he was going to have to tell his son. He prayed Deanna hadn’t been as badly injured as the young nurse had said. Closing his eyes for a moment, he whispered a silent prayer for Deanna, and then he opened his eyes and looked around the waiting room. For awhile, he watched the people coming and going from the medical center, then his gaze settled on the plants in the nearby arboretum. One plant in particular caught his eye…A single white rose blooming on a rose bush. It was perfectly shaped, unmarred, and beautiful. Tears stung his eyes and a hand touched his shoulder. Kyle nearly jumped out of his skin.

He craned his neck around and saw Katharine standing there with a look on her face that unnerved him. “We need to talk,” she quietly told him. Tang watched her pull a chair over to where they sat. She placed it in front of them, and then she sat down in it. For a moment, she was silent as she tried to come up with the best way to tell them about Deanna’s injuries. Both men stared at her with waiting eyes. The best way to tell them was straight forwardly, so she began telling them as unemotionally as she could. “Deanna was severely beaten. One of her kidneys was bruised, two ribs were broken, and there is some swelling to her spinal cord due to a strong blow to her back. She has numerous lacerations and bruises about her body and face. Her right arm has a hairline fracture that is being repaired right now, and she is still in her self-induced meditative state.”

“Self-induced?” Tang asked. Even after living on Betazed for so many years, he still didn’t quite understand the passive race.
Katharine nodded. “Yes, self-induced. When a Betazoid is forced to endure something like torture, they placed themselves in a meditative state so that they are unaware of what’s going on around them…or to them. This way their bodies endure the torture, but their mind does not. They don’t feel what’s happening to them.” Tang raised his eyebrows in understand and waited for Katharine to continue. Obviously, there was something she was struggling to tell them. Kyle saw the tears gathering in her eyes, and he leaned forward, took her hand in his, and gave it an encouraging squeeze. She smiled at him and softly said, “Deanna was also raped. Viciously,” she added even softer, her eyes downcast to the floor.

Both men sat back against their chair, blown back by Katharine’s words. Anger ripped through their blood. Tang thought of ways to get back at this man. Kyle thought about Will and how to tell his son this piece of news. God, it just kept getting worse. “How long will she been in her state?” He asked hoarsely. Katharine shook her head.

“I don’t know…she can stay like that as long as she wants. We’re giving her food and water by IV. She won’t come out of it until she thinks she’s safe.”

“And, how do we let her know she’s safe?” Kyle asked quietly, his eyes meeting Katharine’s.

“We can’t. At this point the only way for Deanna to know she’s safe is for a telepath to mentally tell her. Lwaxana has been notified that Deanna has been found. She’s on her way, but won’t be here for several days.”

“Will should be here tomorrow,” Kyle told her.

“But, he isn’t telepathic,” Tang interjected. Riker and Pulaski looked at the former Sargent with a smile and Kyle told him, “With Deanna, he is.”

Tang knew it was possible. He’d heard stories on Betazed about non-telepaths who learned how to send and receive thought casts while on Betazed, but he had no idea that Riker had learned how in his short tour of duty there. He smiled, knowing exactly how Riker had learned and from whom. Then, his smiled darkened. That whom lay not too far away in a hospital bed fighting for her life. Tang wouldn’t have traded places with William Riker in a second. To have to endure what Will would have to endure with Deanna’s injuries wasn’t something Tang would wish on his worst enemy. He felt sorry for the young man who surged through space right now, just light years from Earth, and who nothing of his fiancée’s condition. No, there wasn’t enough gold pressed latinum in the universe to make Roger Tang trade places with Will Riker. Tang was already experiencing the emotions of anger, sadness, and fury. He could only imagine what emotions would run through Will’s veins when he was told of Deanna’s injuries. And, that was something his imagination did not want to know first hand. Another pang of pity went through Tang for Will Riker. The poor man didn’t have a clue what awaited him on Earth.

“Bridge to Commander Riker.”

“Riker here,” Will answered the comm page in a voice that did little to express how he felt at the moment. Empty…scared…furious…

“Our estimated ETA from Earth is approximately four hours, Sir. We will be arriving about fifteen hours ahead of schedule.”

“Thank you for the update, Bridge. Please notify me when we reach transporter range of Earth. Riker out.” He hit his communicator, cutting off the transmission.

He owed the captain and crew of the Hood a huge thank you for their swiftness in getting him to Earth. The uneventful nature of the trip had aided in their arriving ahead of schedule. It wasn’t just that, though. Some of the crew of the Hood knew Will or Deanna personally from former assignments or the academy, and they felt a certain kinship with him in his grief. Since his arrival on the Hood, Will had remained in his quarters, preferring to be alone rather than with a crowd. And, the crew of the Hood had respected his choice to stay isolated. The only people who visited him were the captain, which was necessary, and the first officer, a friend of Deanna’s from the academy. The first officer had visited Will his first night aboard the Hood. After that, the only person who saw Will was the captain, and that had been only a handful of times over the past two days. The only encouraging report received from Starfleet had been when Ariel had been found, but since then, there had been no word concerning Deanna. The only thing that kept Will going was his increasing sense of her as they neared Earth. He knew she was still alive, and the closer they got to Earth the more ability he had in sensing her emotions. So far, the only thing he could sense was her terror. He felt as though his heart was being ripped from his chest. The awful waiting was killing him. He craved some news…any news. He needed some news about her. The closer they came to earth the more impatient he grew. Sometimes, he berated himself for not being there to protect her, and in those moments he felt especially guilty. Not only did he feel guilty for not being there for her, but also for being on the ship with Beverly around the same time all this mess began. At those times he hated himself with a virulence. He sent most of his time alternating between self-hatred and hopeful prayer and meditation for Deanna. Sometimes, he tried to contact her telepathically, but he received no response. That scared him. By now, she should be able to pick up the tiniest thread of his thoughts, but her mind was silent and closed to him. The only thing he knew for sure was that she was alive, and that kept him going.

Soon he would arrive on Earth and learn for himself just why she wasn’t receiving or responding to his thought casts, and he was her only hope of bringing her out of her self-induced state. If he couldn’t do it, that only left Lwaxana, and if she couldn’t do it, that left them with little or no solutions. But, those on Earth were confident Will could bring her out of it. After all, he was her Imzadi, and he meant more to her than anything in the universe. She trusted him more than anyone. That alone should bring her out of it…or so they hoped as they waited for Will to arrive.


Chapter Nineteen

Warm wind blew gently through the trees and caused ripples to appear on the lake in front of Starfleet Medical Center. The shining of the sun brought forth sparkles from the lake that burst forth into a blinding display. As people walked by, they invariably shaded their eyes against the glorious brilliance of the water. From up above the sun shone in a sky of brilliant blue with clouds so wispy one had to wonder if angels had painted them on the tapestry of the heavens. The soft grass of velvet green carpeted the area around the lake, and yet, Will Riker noticed none of the surrounding beauty as he strode slowly up the granite walkway towards the glass entrance of the medical building. Upon his arrival on Earth from the Hood, Will had gone straight to his father’s rented bungalow only to find it empty but a PADD waiting on the dining table from his father to Will. After reading the note on the PADD Will had left his father’s house for Starfleet Medical Center. Now that he stood in front of the building a flutter of dread began in Will’s stomach. The relief that flowed through him at his father’s note of Deanna’s recovery now turned into fear that she was horribly hurt. Briefly, he looked up to the sky, closed his eyes, and prayed for strength to the God of his great-grandparents. As a child, he’d found the stories of Job, Jacob, Joseph, and Jesus fascinating, but as a man, he’d found the stories to be just that. Stories. Now, he stood offering a prayer to the God he hadn’t believed until Deanna's recovery. He still wasn’t sure he believed in it, but he wasn’t willing to discount the possibility anymore. With a deep breath of the fresh air he opened his eyes and stepped forward into the medical center.

The perpetually cold air of the medical center assaulted Will the moment he entered the austere building. Chill bumps grew on his arms and he shivered until he grew accustomed to the chill of the air. He drew a few looks as he approached the information desk from his disheveled appearance. Very few times did Will Riker ever appear as rumpled and ragged as he did at this moment. His usually fastidious uniform was wrinkled, dark shadows ringed his lower eyelids, and his hair looked as if it hadn’t been combed in days. A young woman manned the information desk, and she stared at Riker in unconcealed fascination. He raised his eyebrows and in a commanding voice he requested, “I’d like Commander Deanna Troi’s room number, please, and any information you can give me on her condition.”

“Sorry, I’m not allowed to give out any of that information by order of Starfleet Command,” she flippantly told him while she typed something in at her computer terminal. Will scowled and asked, “Then, can you page Dr. Katharine Pulaski please?”
With an annoyed sigh and an air of long suffering, the girl activated the communications system and requested for Dr. Pulaski to come to the information desk. When she ended the communication, Will glared at her. “Commander Troi is my fiancée," he informed her. Does that make any difference to your orders?”

“Nope. You could be the President of the UPF and I still wouldn’t tell you anything,” she retorted.

Before Will could make any type of reply a turbolift opened and Katharine stepped out. She looked around the information area before her eyes sighted Will. Upon seeing him, she immediately went to him and pulled him into a tight embrace. He attempted to hug her back, but his arms just wouldn’t cooperate with his mind, so when she released him he smiled apologetically at her. “Welcome home, Will,” Katharine said as she led him over to the comfortable chairs of the waiting area.

“Thanks,” he said dispiritedly. Katharine sank into a padded chair and Will sank into the one beside her. He turned his head to face her body. It was obvious she was gathering her thoughts and his heart sank while his fear grew. Clearly, Deanna’s injuries were more serious than even he thought. Katharine remained silent for a few minutes more causing Will’s anxiety to double and burst forth. “For God’s sake, Katharine, just tell me!” He exploded quietly. She jumped slightly, and then she nodded.

“All right. There’s no easy way to tell you this anyway,” Katharine said, smoothing an invisible wrinkle from her clothing. “Deanna was severely beaten, Will. We’ve repaired her bruised kidney, the hairline fracture to her right arm, and her broken ribs.” His face grew paler and paler with each injury. “She also had some cuts and bruises. We’ve healed the cuts, but we’re letting the bruises heal on their own, for the most part. Some of them, we’ve healed because they were so severe.”

“So help me God, if I lay eyes on the bastard that did this to her, I’ll kill him,” Will promised softly. Katharine winced, knowing she still had to tell him the worst news of all. She lay a hand on his knee closest to her and he looked at her with questioning eyes.
“Will, there’s something else you need to know,” she said, looking at him directly in his eyes. He raised his eyebrows, swallowed hard, and asked, “What?”

“Deanna was raped,” she said gently. Will’s face went ashen and his breathing ceased. Fire rushed through his blood igniting the spark of anger in his cobalt eyes. His hands shook and he looked down at the floor. He muttered something that Katharine didn’t quite hear. She leaned closer to him and said, “I didn’t hear what you said.”

He raised his eyes to hers and sorrowfully asked, “Can I see her?”

“Of course.” Katharine rose to her feet and stood still, waiting as Will slowly stood beside her. They proceeded to the turbolift. Katharine directed it where to go, and then she stole a look at Will. His face remained pale and his eyes reflected a deep anger dimmed by sadness. When the lift stopped at the appropriate floor, he stalked from the lift and Katharine nearly had to run to catch him. He stopped at the entrance to Deanna’s room, not because he wanted to, but because two Starfleet Security officers blocked his entrance. Katharine came up behind Will and nodded to the security men. They stepped aside, allowing them entrance to Deanna’s room.

Katharine remained at the doorway while Will walked forward into Deanna’s dimly lit room. He slowly walked up to her bedside, barely noting his father sitting on the other side. Kyle rose to his feet and stood uncertainly while Will looked down at Deanna’s bruised face. Anger like he’d never experience shot through his veins while sadness like no other welled up inside his heart. His eyes began to sting, and respectfully, Kyle walked over to where Katharine stood, and then they slipped from her room leaving Will alone.

He sank into a chair and took Deanna’s hand in his. For the thousandth time, he marveled at the smallness of her hands compared to his. It felt cold and fragile in his hand. The stinging in his eyes increased to an unbearable level. He placed her hand back on the sheet and walked over to the wall. Will leaned against the wall with his forehead pressed against the wall. He fought back the tears that threatened to come. His father walked in and over to his son. He placed a comforting hand upon his son’s shoulder. “Will, are you all right, son?” He asked quietly as his son sighed deeply. Will turned around and faced his father with red eyes and said, “I’m going to kill the bastard that did this to her, Dad.”

“No, you’re not,” Kyle said reasonably. “You can’t do that. Deanna needs you more than you need to be in a brig the rest of your life.” Will’s gaze dropped to the floor. He knew his father was right. “Will, there is something Katharine didn’t tell you about Deanna’s condition,” Kyle began, causing Will to look back up at his father.

“What?” He asked, bracing himself for another blow.

“Deanna is in a self-induced meditative state.”

“Damn,” Will swore. “How long has she been like that?”

Kyle sighed and ran his hand through his gray hair. “I don’t know, Son. All Katharine knows is Deanna will not come out of it until she feels safe.”

“And, she won’t know she’s safe until someone telepathically tells her,” Will finished for his father who nodded. Will sighed and walked back over to where Deanna lay. He stared down at her intently, expanded his mind, and looked for Deanna’s. Kyle stood off to the side watching his son. Will closed his eyes and searched for Deanna while thinking to her, Deanna, I’m here. You’re safe now. Please, come back to me.

The warmth of her mind tentatively touched the familiarity of his, and as a lover separated by time and distance from the object of her affection, Deanna’s mind rushed to Will’s as a lover to her beloved. The forcefulness of her reply nearly sent Will to his knees. Dazed, he sank into the nearby chair. “Will?” His father asked cautiously. Will held up a hand to silence his father while he sorted through the onslaught of telepathic images sent to him by Deanna. “She’s scared,” Will told his father quietly.

“Scared of what?” Kyle asked, walking over to his son and crossing his arms over his chest.

“What happened to her. Dad, she experienced it all,” Will said, stricken as the images came clearer. A wave of repulsion rose in his throat as his mind replayed the horrors Deanna had lived through for two days. “David…He has some sort of mental training. She placed herself in the trance to endure the physical traumas, but David was able to break through her mental blocks and force her, mentally, to go through everything her body was going through. Oh God, Dad…” Will finally broke down, leaning his head onto the cool sheets of Deanna’s biobed. His shoulders heaved and Kyle’s heart cracked seeing his son in so much pain. Kyle placed his hands on Will’s shoulders and let his presence comfort him as best Kyle could.

The doors to Deanna’s room opened swiftly and Katharine stepped into the room. The doors sealed behind her. Katharine stopped short at the sight of Kyle and Will. Unsure of what to do, she stood unobtrusively out of the way until Will had regained his self-control. When he raised his head, Will offered Katharine a smile, and she walked over to Deanna’s bed. “Are you all right?” She asked him.

Will shook his head and answered, “No, but I will be,” He took Deanna’s hand in his again and projected his thoughts to her again. Deanna, wake up. We’ll deal with this together. I know you’re scared and I know you’re angry. So am I. I need you to help me and you need me to help you. Please, Deanna, don’t try to do this alone. I want to help you. I need to help you. Imzadi, please, he whispered into her mind sweetly. His eyes remained locked on her pale and bruised face, waiting, watching for any sign that she heard him…that she was coming back to him. Deanna, he begged mentally. Deanna, please.

Will, he heard the weak reply in his mind. He sat up straight in his chair and stared down at her with bright intensity in his eyes. Her hand fluttered in his, and then gently, Deanna’s hand clutched his hand a little tighter. With his free hand, Will passed his hand over her forehead and brushed her hair away from her face. “Deanna?” He said audibly. His father and Katharine stared at him, knowing that Will had been involved in telepathic communication with Deanna. Katharine reached in her pocket for her tricorder and slowly passed it over Deanna. “She’s waking up,” Katharine said, snapping the tricorder shut.


Chapter Twenty

For the first time since her admittance to the hospital, Ariel stood at her window that overlooked the sparkling pond in front of the building. Restlessly, Ariel paced around her small room and stopped periodically to look at something. Earlier that morning Ariel had replicated a suit of civilian clothing and dressed. She knew Dr. Pulaski would hate her being out of bed, much less dressed, but she had done so anyway. Physically, she was fine. There were no further reasons to keep her under guard. Except for the fact that David remained illusive to Starfleet Security. Ariel longed for some company, some noise, anything but the silence that permeated her room. Once, she’d gone outside and conversed with the guards until they politely asked her to return inside her room so that they wouldn’t be distracted. Reluctantly, Ariel had done as they asked. Now, as she paced her room growing more impatient, she stopped again at the window. Longing to be outside flared up as she watched the people walking, laughing, and talking. She wanted her freedom, craved her independence, and most of all, desired to no longer be a victim of David Williams. Anger grew in her, upsetting her until it exploded within her. She lashed out at the only thing near her. Ariel punched the wall.

“Did the wall offend you?” A curious and unfamiliar, yet slightly familiar, voice asked from the doorway of her room. Ariel spun around and gaped at the man just slightly in her hospital room. The doors were closed behind him and he leaned casually against the wall. He cocked his eyebrow at her and awaited her answer.

“The wall?” She asked dumbly. He grinned and she stammered, “No…It…I…I just needed to release some anger,” she finally answered.

“Tell me about it. I’ve punched many a bulkheads in my past,” he replied, walking over to a chair near Ariel’s bed and sitting down in it casually. He gestured to her bed and Ariel walked over to it, sitting down on the rumpled sheets. “I wanted to let you know that Deanna woke up earlier today,” he told her. “She’s still a little confused and very upset.” He paused and looked down at his hands. When he looked back to Ariel, his face was filled with emotions she couldn’t name and regret in his voice. “Ariel, I owe you an enormous thank you. Without your help, we would never have found Deanna in time to save her,” he told her in a thick voice.

Smiling warmly, Ariel reached out and placed her slender hand on his arm and said, “No thanks are needed, Commander. I just wish none of this had ever happened.”

“Don’t we all?” He rhetorically asked. He ran a hand through his massively disheveled hair, and stood up with a sigh. “I should get back to her. Dr. Pulaski needed to examine her, and I thought you would want some information on Deanna’s condition.”

“I did. Thank you.” Ariel walked with him to the door. It slid open and he stepped into the hallway. He smiled at her again just as the doors closed. Ariel trotted back to her bed in deep thought and sat down.

Will walked into Deanna’s room with a broad smile, hoping to make her feel more reassured, but he was greeted by the sound of a woman quietly crying. He rushed into the room and found Katharine sitting on Deanna’s bed, rocking her back and forth like a sad child. She motioned to Will with her hands and he quickly walked to her bedside. “Deanna, Will’s here,” Katharine told her quietly. Deanna pulled away from Katharine and turned her sad, tear filled eyes to Will, who immediately sat down beside her and pulled her to his chest. She immediately filled his mind with the thoughts that tormented her and his heart felt like it was in the grip of a vice. “Shhh…Deanna, it’s all right. You’re safe,” he whispered into her hair.

Suddenly, his mind was flooded with memories from Deanna’s rescue from a Sindareen raider in the Jalara Jungle and the eerie similarity that this rescue held. She clutched his shoulder tightly, tears rolled down her safe, and yet no sound came from her lips. This time, Will was not helpless to comfort her as he had been then. His mind comforted hers as he shared in the horrors she had experienced, and after a few minutes, she calmed down. Will smiled at her and kissed her forehead. “Feel better?” Will berated himself at asking such a question, but Deanna offered him back a small smile of her own.

“Yes, I do,” she answered softly. Katharine patted Deanna’s shoulder as she stood up from the bed, and as she passed Will on her way from the room, she patted Will’s shoulder. “Where were you?” she asked, settling back against her pillows.

“Ariel’s room. I wanted to let her know that you were awake and recovering.” He settled a hand on her shin as they talked. She flinched but didn’t pull away from him while she reminded herself that he loved her and wasn’t going to hurt her. He was there to help her and protect her, not hurt and degrade her.

“How is Ariel?” Concern for the young cadet filled Deanna and gave her a brief reprieve from the hurt inside.
Will sighed and carefully considered his answer and how Deanna would react. He knew it was better to tell her the truth than dissemble with her. As an empath, Deanna would know immediately that he was lying to her. “Ariel is…recovering. She’s angry, but relieved that you’re all right, and she’s scared.” A rueful smile came to his lips. “When I entered her room she was punching the wall.”

Deanna laughed softly. “Anger is good, though. It’s an important part of the healing process,” she added in a voice that grew softer with each word until her lower lip began to tremble. Will shifted towards her to embrace her again with the onslaught of emotions that overwhelmed her, but Deanna held her hands up in protest. “I’m angry, too,” she told him in a whisper. “I’m angry, and I’m terrified, and I’m hurting. I feel like I’m never going to heal, but I know that’s wrong. I’m a psychologist. I know that eventually everything will be fine, but dammit, I don’t feel like that right now!”

“Hey! Wait a minute. Deanna, you’ve been conscious for a day. You can’t hurtle through healing at warp speed. You know that healing takes time, patience, work, love, and support. You have all of that, and you will be fine,” he emphatically said. “It won’t be today, and it probably won’t be tomorrow, but it will happen. One day you’re going to wake up and this will all be just a horrible memory.” His steady and deep voice reassured her and comforted her.

“I’m so glad you’re here.” Deanna’s hands dropped and Will pulled her in his arms again. His own eyes stung as he whispered into her hair, “Where else would I be?” A nagging feeling of guilt crept up on him, but he buried it deep down inside himself. The last thing he needed was for Deanna to discover his one moment of insanity with Beverly. In her state, it could possibly destroy her.

Dozing lightly, Ariel awoke the moment her doors opened. She looked with wide-eyed fear at the door until she saw her visitor. Even then, her fear did not pass for she did not recognize this person. The woman was tall, dressed in subdued black and silver garb, and her brown eyes studied Ariel intently. For a moment, Ariel feared the woman could pierce through to her soul with those eyes, and she wasn’t far from wrong. Her fair complexion and curly hair set off a bell of familiarity in Ariel, who finally found her voice. “Who are you?” Ariel asked in a strangled voice as a feeling of warmth and reassurance seeped into her mind.

“I owe you more than I can give,” the woman stated clearly in a quiet voice. “You saved my daughter’s life.”
Ariel stared back at the woman with a dumbfounded look as Lwaxana Troi beheld the girl with a gaze of admiration and gratefulness.


Chapter Twenty One

In her sweeping regal manner, Lwaxana strode over to Ariel’s bedside and gently probed her mind. She immediately noticed the fear in the girl and with her usually robust voice slightly restrained and quietly assuring she said, “You have nothing to fear from me, Ariel. I am not here to do anyone any harm. Quite simply, I couldn’t cause anyone here harm. I am simply here to assist in my daughter’s recovery in any way I possibly can. However, I had to see you and thank you for giving her back to those who love her. We owe you more than any of us could give. I am especially grateful and extremely lucky.” Ariel’s face scrunched up in confusion and Lwaxana laughed lightly before explaining. “Deanna was kidnapped as a young woman, approximately your age, and thanks the gods she was safely rescued. That time she managed to escape mostly unharmed.” Tears welled up in Lwaxana’s eyes as she spoke. “Thank you for saving my daughter’s life, Ariel.”

“But, I didn’t do anything!” Ariel sputtered. “I don’t understand this! First Commander Riker and now you come down here to thank me for saving Deanna’s life, and I didn’t do anything more than tell Dr. Pulaski that David had kidnapped Deanna as he did me. I didn’t stop him from kidnapping her, and I didn’t stop him from hurting her! I couldn’t! I couldn’t stop him from hurting me!” A tear slid down Ariel’s pale cheek. Her slender hands shook as she ran them through her reddish hair, and her blue eyes glistened with tears. Lwaxana walked over to Ariel’s bedside, took the shaking, ivory hands in her own, and squeezed them with the strength of a thousand lifetimes. She closed her eyes and lightly infused the physical connection with a touch of strength to the girl to calm Ariel and give her some piece of mind. When her eyes opened she found Ariel looking oddly at her and she offered a comforting smile. “Ariel, had you not told Dr. Pulaski that this David had kidnapped my daughter, Deanna could still be a hostage of this…this…oh!” A sputtered of indignant anger escaped Lwaxana’s lips. She could not call David a human, for no human would inflict this type of harm on another fellow human being.

“You’re a telepath, aren’t you?” Ariel asked unexpectedly. Lwaxana looked at the girl and nodded her head. Ariel sighed and said, “I knew that. Deanna did mention she was half-Betazoid.”

“Yes, she is half-Betazoid. An empath, but you already know that,” Lwaxana stated.

“Can you find David?” Ariel asked quietly and in a small, frightened voice. Lwaxana shook her head. “No. There are simply too many minds on Earth for me to search through and find the one that haunts my daughter’s dreams. Although I am a strong telepath, I have to block nearly all humans when I am on Earth. Even I cannot stand the barrage of thoughts and emotions. Humans say one thing and think another. It’s more than overwhelming for a telepath, even if it is a strong telepath, such as I am.” Lwaxana watched the fade of disappointment in Ariel’s eyes and gently Lwaxana said, “Ariel, he will be found, and I assure you, he will be duly punished for his crimes against you and my daughter.” She emphasized the word you for Ariel, who looked back in surprise. Lwaxana laughed lightly. “Ariel, I am a telepath, and your anger is very close to the surface of your thoughts. The anger you have directed towards David is not just due to his kidnapping you, but to the rape you suffered at his hands as well.” Ariel quickly looked away and down at her hands.

“It wasn’t rape,” Ariel said hoarsely. “I had sex with him willingly, hoping that it would keep him from going after Deanna.”

“He had power over you, Ariel, and that is not sex. That is rape. Rape is about power, not sex or making love. You’re an intelligent young woman, and you know that as well as I do,” Lwaxana said gently as a tear rolled down Ariel’s face. She knew Lwaxana was right, but she felt a twinge of guilt. She had let David have sex with her without a fight, but it hadn’t been something she’d done too willingly. Lwaxana smiled and squeezed Ariel’s hand again. She sent the girl another surge of strength. Then, she rose to her feet and told Ariel, “I need to be with my daughter, now, Ariel. We will talk again,” she decreed. And, just like that, Mrs. Troi left her room leaving her just as dumbfounded as before.

“What do you mean I’m not permitted to enter?” Came the outraged voice that echoed down the hall from a woman who stood in front of two surly guards. “Do you know who I am? I am Lwaxana Troi, Daughter of the Fifth House, Holder of the Sacred Chalice of Rixx, Heir to the Holy Rings of Betazed, and above all that I am Deanna Troi’s mother, so get out of my way!” Surprising the men with her display of anger and strength, Lwaxana pushed one of them aside and the doors opened. Will stood directly in front of her looking as if he were about to exit the room when she made her entrance. Lwaxana paused to smile at the commander before shoving him gently to the side as she made her way to her daughter’s bedside. Deanna lay in her bed sleeping soundly, and Lwaxana took her daughter’s small, warm hand in her own and held it tightly. She suffused her daughter with love as Deanna dreamed. A smile played across the younger Betazoid’s face as her dreams took a different turn. At the door, Will quietly conferred with the guards for a moment, and then he stepped back in the room with an uneasy smile to Lwaxana. “She’s sleeping,” he dumbly told her.

“So, I see,” Lwaxana returned with a smile. Will wasn’t quite sure, but he thought he heard the echoing of laughter through his brain. As his mental discipline became stronger so did his sense of Lwaxana, but her formidable mind reading abilities kept him at the fringe of sensing her as he could Deanna. Of course, he didn’t share as close of a bond with the mother as he did with the daughter. “How has she been?” Lwaxana’s voice was soft and whispery so she wouldn’t awaken her sleeping child.

“She has good moments and she has bad ones,” Will answered truthfully. Lying to a telepath was an exercise in futility. He walked closer to Deanna’s bed and swept her hair back from her face with a tender smile. Lwaxana watched him with barely concealed fascination. Since meeting this man over twenty years ago, Will Riker continued to surprise the usual unflappable Lwaxana. Every prediction, save one, which she’d made about this man, he had proved wrong, except for his love for her daughter. For that, he was willing to stake anything and everything, and more than once, he had done just that. She had a grudging respect and admiration for the young man. Twice, now three times, he’d saved her daughter’s life. He was her daughter’s lifeline, and Lwaxana had to respect that. So, that prompted her mother-like question in a voice so soft that Will nearly couldn’t hear. “How are you holding up through this?”

For a moment, Will stood in deep thought, mainly making sure that he’d heard Lwaxana correctly. This was the first time in his memory that Lwaxana had asked about his mental and emotional state. Usually, she just probed his mind and made judgment calls on what she found floating around in his mind. Yet, this time she’d restrained herself to allow him to tell her after she asked him. She’d asked him. Will was automatically touched and frightened. One never knew what to expect from Lwaxana Troi, so it was better to stay on guard than let his guard down for too long. “I’m all right,” he finally answered, sensing Lwaxana growing impatient at his lengthy silence. “I’m angry, I’m tired, but I’m all right. Deanna needs me to be here for her. She’s more important.”

“You’re of no use to her if you’re overtaxed, William,” Lwaxana chided him. “You should get some rest.”

“I can’t,” he said tightly. Lwaxana raised her eyebrows at his tone and finally took it upon herself to probe his mind very lightly. What she saw on the surface made her gasp, and he looked at her with his eyes wide. “She shared her memories with you,” Lwaxana breathed.

“Damn right, and everytime I close my eyes, I see that bastard raping her,” he spat, his anger finally boiling over. “I should have been here! I should have stopped him from hurting her. I knew there was something wrong with that damned cadet the first and last time I met him. Deanna was truly afraid of him when she dismissed him from the program. She was so unnerved by him, in fact, that she had me come in her office while she dismissed him. I should have known something was going on, and I should have been here to stop it, but no, I had to play the big starship commander. I had to…”

Enough, William! Lwaxana’s sharp reprimand echoed through his mind with such intensity that Will felt the beginnings of a horrible headache beginning. Noting the pain on his face, Lwaxana softened her telepathic castings. Recriminations will get you nowhere and be of no help to my daughter. None! You couldn’t have stopped it, even if you were here, William. You…I…no one could have stopped this. Fate does things we don’t like and people we love get hurt, and no matter how much we want to change the past, we can’t. You should know that better than anyone. Will winced. The truth in Lwaxana’s words cut deeply. He did know probably better than anyone that the past couldn’t be changed. If it could, he would have shown up on Risa…married Deanna all those years ago…lived happily ever after…maybe.

“Go, William. Go home and get some rest,” Lwaxana told him. “I am not going anywhere, and I will be here when Deanna wakes up. You have nothing to worry about for the time being. When she needs you the most you’ll be prepared and rested. Go,” she ordered. Will sighed. He knew when he was beaten, and Lwaxana Troi often beat him at his own game. He pressed a kiss to Deanna’s forehead and left without a word to Lwaxana. She watched him leave with a smile. He loves you, Little One. Of that, you can rest assured, Lwaxana thought to her daughter with a loving smile. Then, she leaned back into a chair and closed her eyes, sorting through the mental images she’d taken from Will’s mind. Disgust welled up in her, but she pushed it aside to find her center of tranquility. It was there that Lwaxana remained as she held her sleeping daughter’s hand. Not only did the peace help Deanna sleep; it helped Lwaxana keep her anger at bay. She would vent her anger eventually, but it would be on the person who deserved her formidable anger. No more exploding at senseless guards or giving headaches to those she cared about because her telepath castings were too intense. No, she would store it up, and when it finally exploded in one glorious demonstration of maternal rage, no one would ever doubt the power of Lwaxana Troi again, if there were any doubt to be laid to rest, that is.


Chapter Twenty Two

The blinds covering Ariel’s window snapped open and flooded the room with the bright light of the morning sun. Ariel groaned and turned onto her side, away from the light. Her visitor laughed lightly and walked over to Ariel'’ bed. She shook Ariel gently to wakefulness, and when she did awake, Ariel looked at her visitor with a bewildered smile. “What are you doing here?” Ariel asked, turning onto her back and sitting up against her pillows.

“Someone has to take you home,” she answered nonchalantly. “You’re not really in any condition to be by yourself, and with Deanna being here, I figured I was your best choice.”

“My only choice,” Ariel said ruefully. “Thanks Val.”

Deanna’s receptionist and friend smiled at the young woman she had so much admiration for and said, “You’re welcome, Ariel.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Because Dr. Pulaski asked me to, and I know you have no family on Earth. You need a place to stay where you’ll be safe, and you’ll be safe with me. Who would think to look for you at my place?” Valerie asked rhetorically. Ariel nodded her head thoughtfully. “All right! Get your lazy rear out of bed, Cadet!” Valerie said suddenly, startling Ariel with her tone. “You need to get dressed and outta here!”

Ariel smiled at Valerie and swung her legs over the side of her bed. Her head spun slightly after laying down for so long, and she sat perfectly still until the swirling stopped. Then, she rose to her feet and walked over to the closet that held her change of clothes. “Val?” Ariel asked tentatively as she slipped into a pair of soft beige slacks.

“What, kiddo?” Valerie asked, sitting in a chair and reading a PADD while Ariel changed.

“I want to see Deanna before I leave.” Ariel slipped her gown over her head and slipped on a loose fitting light blue shirt. She heard Valerie sigh and pause for awhile before agreeing. “All right, but only if it’s okay with Commander Riker and Ambassador Troi,” she conceded. “You finish getting dressed and packed up to leave. I’ll go talk to Commander Riker, if I can find him, and tell Dr. Pulaski that you’re nearly ready to leave…if I can find her.” Valerie rose to her feet and moved to leave the room. As she walked by Ariel, Valerie patted the younger woman’s shoulder. Ariel smiled a hidden smile as the doors opened and Valerie left.

The need to see Deanna was something Ariel didn’t quite understand, but it was just something she knew she had to do. Maybe it wasn’t even for her own sake.

Outside Deanna’s room, the guards remained, alert and ready to do whatever was necessary to protect the occupants inside the room. Their mission was clear and laid out plainly to them. They were to keep Commander Troi safe at all costs, and under no circumstances were anyone to enter her room unless it was those people on a very short list that had been okayed by Commander Riker and Commander Troi’s mother. Valerie understood perfectly why the guards were not allowing her admittance into Deanna’s room, and she was grateful to them for protecting her friend. Starfleet Security men were the best in the federation. “Look, I don’t want to go inside. I just need to talk to Commander Riker. Could one of you please go in and get him?”

“No,” the larger and taller of the guards told her with impassive eyes resting on Valerie evenly.

“It’s really important that I speak with him.”


It took all of Valerie’s self-restraint not to stamp her foot in frustration. She glared at the guard and opened her mouth to let him know what she truly thought of him when the door to Deanna’s room opened. Valerie’s mouth closed immediately as her eyes beheld a woman she’d hadn’t seen before but knew immediately who the woman was. “What is the commotion out here?” Lwaxana asked simply, crossing her arms over her chest. She glared at the guards and at Valerie all in turn. Valerie nearly withered under that gaze, and even the guards look chastised. “In case you two have forgotten, my daughter is in a very fragile state right now,” Lwaxana needlessly reminded the guards, and then she turned to Valerie. “And, I don’t know who you are, but if you are the cause of this commotion, I highly suggest you leave before I contact Security.”

Valerie raised her eyebrows and fought back a smile. Obviously, this was a woman who was use to having her way. “Mrs. Troi, I am a friend of your daughter,” Valerie told Lwaxana, who remained unimpressed, and continued to regard Valerie with the same look one might regard an ant with.

“I still suggest you leave before I contact Security. My daughter is in no condition to receive visitors at this time, young woman!”

“Mrs. Troi?” Ariel said cautiously, stepping closer to Deanna’s room. Both Lwaxana and Valerie turned to face her with surprise on their faces.

“Ariel, I told you to wait in your room!” Valerie exclaimed.

“When you didn’t come back, I knew you’d run into some trouble here,” Ariel answered simply, then she turned her attentions back to Lwaxana. “Mrs. Troi, the last thing I want to do is cause Deanna any more heartache, but I’m leaving the hospital today, and I thought maybe I could see her before I left,” Ariel said, her eyes unwavering from Lwaxana’s face.

The anger in Lwaxana’s face softened immediately and her voice became gently and melodious. “Of course you can see her, Ariel, but be aware that she is not herself…yet.”

“Thank you,” Ariel said, her eyes aglow with gratitude. Lwaxana stepped out into the hallway and motioned for Ariel to enter the room without her. She hoped giving the two of them a chance to talk alone would help Deanna share her grief with someone who could slightly understand what she was going through.

Ariel walked slowly into Deanna’s dark room, and she studied the still form lying on the bed. She approached the biobed very cautiously and gently she said, “Deanna, are you awake?”

“Yes,” Deanna answered in a small voice. “Go away, Ariel. I don’t want to see anyone right now.”

“Why?” Ariel asked unperturbed. She ignored Deanna’s request and walked over to the large window. Peeking through the blinds, Ariel saw a glorious sun and a clear blue sky. “It’s a beautiful day outside,” Ariel told her, pushing a button and the shades snapped open, flooding the room with bright light. Deanna flinched from the light and turned her back to the light. “Deanna, you can’t hide forever. You know that, and you also know that slipping into depression is the very worst thing you can do right now, and that’s exactly what you’re doing!” Ariel’s voice was sharp, but as soft as a breeze. Deanna felt a hot tear leak from her eyes and run down to the pillow, yet Ariel didn’t stop. “I knew there was a reason for me to come see you today, but I didn’t know what it was. I just knew before I left today I had to see you, and now I know why. Deanna, dammit, look at me!” Ariel walked over to the side of the bed and stared down at the Betazoid. “If you let yourself do this, Deanna, you’re letting him win, and so help me God, if you let him win, I’ll never forgive you!” She said scathingly. Deanna stared back up at Ariel with gleaming eyes that had no effect on the incensed Terran. “David hurt us both, Deanna, and the only way we can win is to fight back and not let fear rule our lives. You don’t want sunlight in this room because it represents everything you’re afraid of right now. The outside world. Well, guess what, Counselor? I have to go out in that world today and you can be damned sure I’m not going to roll into a ball and fight leaving this hospital. I want out of here and to put my life back together. I have a career waiting for me to start, and I have a family that loves me. And, you know what, else? So do you if you’d stop feeling sorry for yourself and realize it.”

“Get out,” Deanna hissed. Ariel stared back and said without the least hint of compassion, “I was just going. I’d rather be with the living.” And, with that, Ariel left Deanna’s room. She breezed by where Lwaxana and Valerie sat chatting softly. Their conversation stopped as Ariel stopped short in front of Lwaxana. She read the girl’s anger at her like an open book, and she braced herself for the barrage Ariel was sure to put Lwaxana through.

“Do you know what you and Commander Riker are doing to her?” Ariel asked. “You two are hurting her just as much as David did. He took the power from her to control what happens in her life, and you two are allowing her to wallow in her self-pity. She’s letting him win, and you two are cheering her on. How dare you say you love her and want to help her when all you’re really doing is allowing her to live in fear? God, I am so glad my family isn’t here to help me, because if they share the same idea of help that you hold, I’d be in worse shape than Deanna.” She stepped closer to Lwaxana and glared at her. “You told me when you first arrived on Earth that this was not my fault and I could not have stopped David from kidnapping Deanna when I was blaming myself for all of this. You basically told me to stop rolling my own grief and to look at the future, because that’s all I have. I have what’s here and what’s coming for me, and if I live in fear, which is what David wants, not only do I let him win, but also I miss out on my life. I will not miss out on my life, Lwaxana, and you and Commander Riker are allowing Deanna to miss out on the rest of hers! You think she’s going to marry him when she gets out of her?” Ariel paused to take a deep breath before continuing. “No! She’s not because she’ll be too damn afraid of any man, even one who loves her as much as he does. And, whose fault will it be? Yours and his for allowing David to win over her. God, I hope you can find a way to live with that, because I know I couldn’t.”

Finished and weakened by her explosion of anger, Ariel turned to Valerie and said, “I’m ready to leave this place. Now. If I remember correctly, assignments were passed out the day this hell-ride began. I have an assignment and a career waiting for me.”

Valerie raised her eyebrows as she rose to her feet and wordlessly, she followed the younger woman to the turbolifts. Ariel stepped into the first one that opened and barked, “First floor!” Valerie barely had time to enter the lift before the doors snapped closed and hurled them down to the entrance of the hospital. As soon as the doors opened again, Ariel practically ran out of them and outside. Valerie followed as quickly as she could and then she came to halt as Ariel sank to her knees on the soft grass outside the medical center. Her shoulders heaved and Valerie ran to the girl, thinking Ariel had finally snapped, but when Ariel looked to Valerie, she wore a smile and tears of happiness on her face. Valerie slid an arm around Ariel’s shoulder and helped Ariel to her feet. Then, she led her over to edge of the pond and they sat down on the grass there for hours, watching people come and go, the ducks play, and relishing in life.


Chapter Twenty Three

Pacing the waiting room like a jailed tigress, Lwaxana stalked the length and width of the room, her eyes on the floor, but her mind actively listening for the thoughts of one Commander William T. Riker. Warily, one of the guards, who happened to be one of the unfortunate guards who’d refused Lwaxana entry to Deanna’s room upon her arrival, watched the incensed Betazoid pace. As she strutted across the room, she muttered to herself about insolence and disrespect. The guard repressed a grin as he wondered who else had managed to upset the temperamental woman. Unexpectedly, Lwaxana came to a full stop and swung around as the doors to the turbolift opened. Will stepped out looking refreshed and rested, and he wore a smile until he saw the expression on Lwaxana’s face. He stared at her and she stared back. “You’re upset,” Will observed carefully as he walked over to where she stood. She glared back at him for his inane comment. His eyes darted to Deanna’s door and worriedly he asked, “Is something wrong with Deanna?”

“Yes! No! Oh, I don’t know!” Lwaxana exploded loudly. Will paled slightly, remembering the last time he’d been at the receiving end of the current Daughter of the Fifth House’s wrath. “Lwaxana, you’re not making too much sense,” Will pointed out, walking over to her and standing in front of her, forcing her to stand still and look him in the eyes. The anger he found mirrored there shook him. “What happened?”

“That…that cadet!” She sputtered and Will saw red.

“Cadet? David? Where is he?” Will began scanning the area and wished he had a phaser.

“No, not David, but may the gods protect him if I ever lay eyes on him.”

“Then, what cadet are you talking about?” Will asked in thorough confusion.

“Ariel Firth!” She refrained from adding on you idiot to the end of her phrase.

“Ariel?” Will walked over to a chair and sank down in it, holding his head in his hands. His head was beginning to ache. “Lwaxana, what does Ariel have to do with any of this?” He asked, trying to work his way to the bottom of this.

“She was released from the hospital earlier.”

Yeah, that clarifies things, Will thought with a smile to himself. He’d temporarily forgotten he was dealing with a telepath. Lwaxana’s ire flashed through Will’s mind in a flurry of words, thoughts, and feelings. Will fought the waves of nausea and dizziness that often came to him with direct telepath communication with Lwaxana. He moaned and Lwaxana instantly sent soothing, apologetic waves to his mind. His headache eased and he slowly raised his head. “Next time, send the images slower. I can handle it easier, then,” he told her. She nodded and he gestured for her to sit beside him, which she obliged him in doing. “Now, start at the beginning and tell me what’s wrong with Deanna and what part in it Ariel plays.”

Lwaxana nodded and began at the beginning. She told him of Ariel’s visit and the things she’d said to Lwaxana, and ended by saying, “Knowing what she said to me, William, I cannot imagine what she said to Deanna.”

“You haven’t seen her?” He jumped to his feet as she shook her head and stalked by the guards and into Deanna’s room. Deanna stood at the window with her hands on either side of the window frame. Her back was to him, but she had to know he was there, so Will walked slowly into the room and paused at her bed. “Deanna?” His voice was quiet and calm, and he tried to emit emotions of peace and comfort. “Hey, what are you doing out of bed?”

“Watching Ariel and Valerie,” Deanna answered very softly. Will’s forehead crinkled and he walked over to the window, peering over her shoulder. He saw Ariel and Valerie sitting beside the pond, talking, and laughing. “They’re so happy.”
The awe in her voice struck a discordant note in Will’s mind. “Deanna, would you like to go outside and take a walk.” He felt like he was talking to a child, and she looked up to him with her dark eyes flashing.

“No, I don’t want to go outside, Will. That’s the problem! I don’t want to go outside! Ever!”

“Why?” He asked quietly.

“Because he’s out there,” she whispered. Her eyes growing large and fearful. Anger rose in him again. Self-loathing completely directed at himself for not being able to protect Deanna from this attack. His strong emotions barely made an impact on Deanna as she stared out the window. Will reached out, placed a hand on her slender shoulder, and gently turned her to face him. “Deanna, what did Ariel say to you?”

“Why?” She asked thickly. Her tongue felt too large for her mouth. Will’s eyes implored her, so she sighed and answered quietly. “She told me that I was allowing David to win by staying in this room, in that bed, being afraid, and Will, she’s right!” Deanna exclaimed, tears finally winning over and spilling down her cheeks. “I am afraid! I am…I am…I am,” she wailed as he pulled her to his chest and enveloped her in a tight embrace. The sobs wracked her body and shook him to his soul. He buried his face into her hair as she buried her face into his shoulder. Her tears wet his skin through his shirt, branding him, for what he had to say to her would cause her even more pain. Will knew that Ariel was right. The longer Deanna stayed locked up in this room the harder it would be for her to leave this place and function normally in society. He sucked in a deep breath of air and pushed Deanna away from him, his hands never leaving her shoulders. In fact, he locked onto her shoulders with a crushing grip so he wouldn’t loose his nerve and she wouldn’t be able to turn away from him.

“Deanna, the only way to stop being afraid is to face your fear,” Will quietly began, his eyes glowing with intensity. Her eyes were captured by his and unable to look away from him. The redness rimming the beautiful brown eyes in the pale face of the woman he loved shook him to his very core, but he knew in the end that this was the best thing for her. He had to say this…to do this to her, no matter what the cost.

“So what do you want me to do?” Deanna almost yelled. “Go out there!? Will, he’s still out there! He was obsessed with me, Will. Gods, he could be looking for me now. He could find me tonight and kidnap me again! I’m not going through that again!” Tears streamed down her face and shook Will’s resolve even further, but his steel determination won over his feelings to her.

“Yes, I want you to go out there, Deanna. I want you to get well again. I want you to be you again, and the only way that’s going to happen is if you face your fear and leave this room! Yes, David is still out there, but do you really think he’s going to come after you again? He knows everyone is watching you and Ariel like a hawk. He’s not going to come after you again, Deanna. Stalkers aren’t that stupid.”

“And, how do you know that?” Her voice trembled and her hands shook. She was close to losing control, and that’s what Will wanted. Losing control meant facing up to her fear and, hopefully, the desire to overcome it would win, but how far was he going to have to go to make her lose control?

“How do I know that? Because, he’s going to wait until everyone feels safe again, then he’s going to make his move. What he doesn’t know is that there’s no way he’s going to get that close to you again. I won’t let that happen.”

“Yeah, and where were you when it did happen, Will?” Deanna asked dangerously. Will’s eyes locked into her eyes and glittered in anger while hers glowed furiously. “You promised to love and protect me when you proposed to me, so where were you when David was raping me? Where!?” She practically roared.

The doors whooshed open and Lwaxana hurried inside and skidded to a stop when she saw the two of them locked in their intense conversation. Neither acknowledged her intrusion. “Where was I?” He asked in a quiet voice, his eyes dilating slightly. He offered a quick, silent prayer that things would work out the way he wanted them to somehow, someway, then he answered. “I was with Beverly.”

Deanna’s brow wrinkled slightly and she stared back in confusion. “You were with my best friend when you could have been here protecting me.”

“You don’t get it, Deanna. I was ‘with’ Beverly,” he emphasized, and her eyes grow large and wide with sudden understanding.

“You were with Beverly? My best friend!!! Oh Gods! How could you, Will? You were engaged to me!? You want to marry me and you couldn’t be faithful to me for six months? Six measly little months!? You bastard!” Almost unconsciously she raised her hand and slapped him across the face with strength neither knew she possessed. “You sanctimonious son of a bitch!” A tear trailed down her face. “How could you, Will?” She whispered brokenly. “How could Beverly?” Will offered no answers, and on the inside he hurt as much as she did and he masked that hurt from her. But, he couldn’t mask his pain from Lwaxana, who probed his mind and what she found there left her confused, but she remained silent because she knew this was that Deanna needed. She glared back at the silent commander and strongly said, “Get out, Will. Get out!” She pointed at the door and he released her shoulders.

“Fine. I’ll leave, Deanna, but when you need me, you know where to find me,” he told her in a tender, aching voice. Then, he turned and left, nodding briefly to Lwaxana as she stared perplexed at his back briefly before turning her attention to her daughter.

“Little One, I’m so sorry,” Lwaxana said, moving to embrace her daughter. Deanna fell into her mother’s embrace and bawled on her shoulder as Deanna has as a little girl. Lwaxana rubbed her back in soothing circles while whispering calming words to her daughter’s mind. “Deanna, you know Will is right about one thing,” Lwaxana said gently.

Deanna raised her head with a sorrowful look about her eyes. “About what?”

“You have to leave here, Little One. You can’t let David win. Look at what it’s costing you,” she said sensibly.

“I know, Mother,” Deanna replied. She moved from her mother’s arms back to the window and looked out. Ariel and Valerie remained sitting at the edge of the pond where they’d been all day. She longed to join them outside…to hear the birds chirping, squint in the bright light of the sun, and feel the breeze blow through her curls. Just as she looked away another person joined them at the pond and Deanna was compelled to watch as Will sank down beside them with his knees pulled up. He rested his head on them and stared out at the water while Ariel spoke to him. He answered Ariel’s question and a flash of jealousy went through her as Ariel reached over and slung an arm around his shoulder. She patted his shoulder a few times, and then her arm slid to the grass. The trio sat silently together, pondering the secrets of life in the reflections of the water. Deanna turned from the heart-breaking picture outside the window and looked back to her mother. “I want to return to Betazed,” she told Lwaxana with utter certainty. Lwaxana tried to probe her daughter’s mind but found it closed to her.

“Deanna, are you sure?” Lwaxana had to ask, thinking about what she’d read in Will’s mind.

“Yes. I am.” Deanna crossed her arms and stared back at Lwaxana, daring her mother to refuse her.

“I’ll make the arrangements immediately, then,” Lwaxana said. Deanna nodded and looked out the window again. The trio that had been there just moments ago was gone, off into the world that scared her so much. Well, not any longer. Soon, she’d be off this world, leaving her trouble behind on it. Lwaxana stared at her daughter’s back with a thoughtful smile on her face and she plotted to put her daughter’s life back together again. No matter what the personal cost. Her daughter was more important than her pride. And, so she made her plans silently.

After Deanna fell into a fitful sleep, Lwaxana left the hospital and made her way to the house where Kyle Riker lived. She knew Will was staying with his father. As she made her towards the beach house, Lwaxana paused to admire the beauty of her surroundings. Kyle Riker had certainly chose a beautiful, calming place to make his home. The waves crashed gently against the shoreline, and the air was charged with salt from the sea. Briefly, it reminded Lwaxana of…”El-Nar?” She spun around. Will stood off to the opposite side of the house, hidden in the shadow of the bungalow. She hadn’t known he was there and that surprised her. Usually, she could sense the thoughts of people miles from her, let alone their presence. Then again, Will was trained in Betazed thought techniques. It was plausible he could mask his mind from her. It wouldn’t be the first time he had done so. “Why are you here, Lwaxana?” He asked, stepping around to the front of the house and motioning for her to join him on the porch. She followed him up the shallow steps and sank into an overstuffed chair opposite him.

“Why are you letting Deanna think you slept with Beverly?” she asked him quietly.

“Why not?” He asked with a shrug of his shoulders.

“Because she wants to leave Earth and return with me to Betazed.”

“Well, at least she’ll be going outside,” he answered, crossing his arms and staring off into the stars.

“This isn’t what either of you want, William,” Lwaxana told him, needlessly skimming that off his mind. She hoped to anger him just as he had angered Deanna into realizing the truth.

“I want what’s best for Deanna.” Crash and burn. Her plan hadn’t worked. It was unusual for Lwaxana to not get her way, so she tried an approach that always worked on Will. She became the formidable mother, ambassador, and woman that was renowned throughout the universe as a force to be reckoned with and never overcome. “William Riker, you can lie to my daughter, you can lie to yourself, but make no mistake, you cannot lie to me,” she began, getting Will’s attention. “You want to allow my daughter to assume the man she loves more than herself did something unfathomable to her is unacceptable to me! I will not allow you to hurt Deanna like this again, Will, especially so needlessly.”

“So, what am I suppose to do? Go tell her I lied to her so that she’d face up to her fears?” He laughed mirthlessly.

“What did you lie to her about, Will? You kissed Beverly, nothing more and nothing less. A kiss is forgivable.” Lwaxana told him. He stared back at her. “A kiss is forgivable, Will. You knew it was wrong and felt horrible about it. Deanna will forgive you.”

“Stop reading my thoughts, Lwaxana,” Will requested quietly. She nodded respectively and rose to her feet. “Think about what I said, Will. Deanna will be leaving with me in two days. The future of your relationship with my daughter depends on whatever you decide to do next,” she advised him as she walked down the steps and into the sand of the beach. He watched her shadow disappear into the darkness and he stared bleakly out at the sea. It all came back to him again. One word would end their relationship and one word would save it. “Damn,” he seethed, staring at the water, and he remained there the rest of the night.


Chapter Twenty Four

The next day came and went with little notice. Will’s mood deteriorated from bad to worse. His father and Katharine steered clear of him unless absolutely necessary. Once nightfall came, Will found himself sitting outside on the beach watching the stars and listening to the waves crash against the beach. Sleep was an exercise in uselessness for everytime he closed his eyes visions of Deanna danced behind his eyelids. He constantly had to reassure himself that what he was doing was the right thing to do, no matter how much it hurt him or her to let her go…again. The same way I let her go the first time, he thought bleakly. No, she had proof he’d slept with another woman that time. This time the only proof she had was his word, and of course, why would he lie to her? She had no reason to suspect he was lying, except that she was an empath too blinded by betrayal to feel his deceit. “Aw hell,” Will muttered, rising to his feet and stretching. Then, he headed into his father’s rented house and up to the bedroom that was his temporary home. His computer terminal blinked, indicating a new message was awaiting his attention. With a sigh he sat down at his desk and punched a code into the computer there. A message appeared with the usual Starfleet insignia then flashed into a subspace message from Beverly. Will closed the message without listening to it. He knew Beverly wanted information on Deanna, and at this point, Will wasn’t sure what to tell her. First, he needed to know what Deanna was going to say to Beverly before he actually talked to her. Or maybe it was better that he talk to her first and prepare her for Deanna’s rage. The pros and cons of each scenario ran through Will’s mind until he felt the beginnings of a fierce headache and he closed his eyes. And, that was how Katharine found him in the morning.

“Will?” Katharine gently nudged his shoulder with one of her hands. “Wake up.”

Will yawned and slowly opened his eyes. The first thing he was aware of was the shooting pain in his neck. The next thing that assaulted his system was the stiffness in his back. “Damn, fell asleep at my desk again,” he muttered before offering Katharine a tired smile. “Good morning,” he told her in a groggy voice.

“No time for pleasantries,” she said in a firm voice. Will squinted at her, wondering what the hell she meant by that when she said, “Deanna’s transport leaves in twenty minutes. You barely have enough time to make it.”

“I’m not going,” he said quietly, but very firmly. Katharine glared at him and asked, “But why? You love her!”

“And, I have to let her go, Kate,” he said quietly. “This is something I have to do. I know it doesn’t make any sense, but just trust me. Please?”

The sad look he gave her melted her heart. She rested a hand on his shoulder and leaned up against him, offering him an odd sort of comforting hug. Will took comfort in her embrace. As a little boy, he never had a mother or a mother type to offer comfort to him in times of need. As a man, he had first found it difficult to accept comfort from this woman, but he was quickly growing to accept it. Katharine found it difficult to be a mother to this grown man, although she wasn’t his mother or even married to his father. She loved his father more than anything and would marry him in a heartbeat, and loving him meant being a mother to his son, even if his son was well into his thirties. Katharine felt Will’s sigh and quiet admission, “I never dreamed I could hurt like this.” She pulled away from him and squatted down to be on eye level with him as he sat in his desk chair.

“Oh, Will,” she sighed, reaching over to him and pushing the wayward lock of his hair that was never quite in place back into place. “I’m no good at things like this. You know that,” she told him with a rueful grin. “I am an expert at healing the human body, but when it comes to healing the human heart…well, let’s say I rank somewhere below beginner.” She chuckled and Will couldn’t resist grinning. “I don’t know what has happened between you and Deanna, and it’s none of my business so I’m not going to ask. But, I do know one thing and that is that you love her. There’s a very old Earth saying, ‘If you love someone let them go, and if they come back to you then they were truly yours anyway.’ I don’t know if that helps any, but if Deanna truly does love you then she will come back to you. I know she needs time alone to heal and come to grips with what happened to her, but she’s going to need time to heal with you, too.”

“That’s not going to happen, Kate,” he told her quietly. “She thinks I betrayed her. She’ll never forgive me.”

Katharine rose to her feet and stared down at him before she turned the tables on him, so to speak. “William Riker, I have never heard you talk like this. So defeated and unwilling to fight. This isn’t the Will Riker I know and have come to greatly admire. I don’t know what happened to him, but I suggest you find him again if you want to get Deanna back.”

“Nice try, Katharine. I used the same ploy on Deanna,” Will replied, closing his eyes again. “It worked on her, though.”

Before replying, Katharine looked to the chronometer at Will’s bedside, and then she quietly informed him, “Deanna’s transport is preparing to leave.”

“Then, I wish her a safe trip,” he said outloud and with his mind. He couldn’t sense Deanna’s mind too well. She’d obviously closed it to him, but he sent the message nevertheless. Maybe Lwaxana would hear it. Katharine sighed and left Will alone to wallow in his misery.

“Little One, are you sure this is what you want to do? It isn’t too late to get off the transport,” Lwaxana told Deanna again for the thousandth time. Deanna remained calm and quietly told her mother again, “Yes, I’m sure, Mother. I want to go home.”

But, Betazed isn’t where you’re at home, Little One. Home for you is the Enterprise. Home for you is with Will. Oh why can’t you see that? Lwaxana thought deeply to herself. She knew why Deanna refused to see that, though. She was too blinded by anger and jealousy. “Deanna, out of my own curiosity, how long are you going to stay on Betazed?”

“I haven’t decided, yet, Mother,” Deanna answered, settling into her seat. Her side throbbed every now and then, so finding a comfortable way to sit for the long transport was difficult. The doctors had assured her before she was released from the hospital that it was a residual effect of the attack to her and it would fade in time. Since Katharine had the day off, another doctor had signed Deanna out of the hospital and permitted her to travel. Once she arrived on Betazed, Lwaxana would make sure that Deanna visited their family doctor.

“How much leave did Starfleet allow you, Little One?” Lwaxana leaned into her heavily padded seat and nodded to her valet. The seat was acceptable.

“As long as I need, Mother,” Deanna answered mindlessly, staring out her window. He didn’t come. I really thought he would come to convince me to stay. Deanna’s thoughts floated through her mother’s mind although she hadn’t cast them to Lwaxana. In reply, Lwaxana thought, Did you really expect him to show up, Little One? After the things you said to him, did you really think he would come and beg you to stay?

“Stop reading my thoughts, Mother.”

“Then, stop casting them to me,” Lwaxana replied blithely. “Honestly, Deanna, I don’t know why you constantly think I’m meddling around in your mind. You constantly send out thought casts to me without realizing it.”

“They’re not thought casts to you, Mother. They’re just random thoughts.” Deanna fumed silently. This had the makings of a long trip if Lwaxana kept on this way. Deanna wasn’t sure she would make it all the way to Betazed without completely losing her temper with her mother. “Mother, please, just leave me alone right now,” Deanna requested, still staring out her window.

“As you wish, Little One,” Lwaxana agreed, settled into her chair as well. She watched Deanna press a hand against her side and her eyes narrowed. Deanna, are you feeling all right? She cast the motherly thought into her daughter’s head, and Deanna tolerated it only because it was a thought of concern.

I’m fine, Mother. It’s nothing. The doctor warned me I would have some aches and pains here and there. I’m fine. Really. Deanna thought back to her mother even as she felt Lwaxana’s doubt and mistrust in human doctors.

The transport began to move and Deanna felt a tear well up and cascade down her face. She quickly wiped it away as the ship rose into the air and hurled towards the atmosphere of Earth. Within moments, it exploded out of the atmosphere and into space. Deanna watched the stars hurl by and barely noted the cities on the moon. The transport would make only one stop, and that was at starbase exactly half way between Earth and Betazed. Deanna looked around at the passengers of the transport. There weren’t very many, and most of them were scientists or Starfleet personnel. Deanna and Lwaxana were the only native Betazoids onboard, and that was a relief. The only person she had to shield her thoughts from was her mother, and after thirty years or so of practice, Deanna was an expert at that. She closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the cushioned seat to enjoy the ride.

Later in the day, Will finally ventured out of his bedroom to find the house empty. His father and Katharine had gone into town to do some shopping. Thank God. The last thing he wanted to do was answer his father’s endless questions. He needed to contact Starfleet Command and find out how quickly he could get on a transport back to the Enterprise. With that thought on his mind, he moved over to the computer terminal in the living room, but a knock at the door prevented him from carrying out his thought. “Damn,” he muttered, stalking to the front door. He pressed the release command; the door swung open, and Will found himself staring agape at Beverly Crusher. “What the hell are you doing here?” He asked her when he found his voice some moments later.
“Nice way to greet me, Will,” Beverly said in an angry tone. “Can I come in?” Will moved away from the door and motioned for her to enter. She stalked in and the door closed behind her. He walked into the living room and she followed him. When he sat down, she moved over to the couch and sat down there, opposite of him. “Where’s Deanna?” She asked, noting the look of pain that sliced across his face at the mention of Deanna’s name.

“My guess is on her way back to Betazed with Lwaxana right now,” he answered lightly, trying to mask the pain on his face and in his voice. It didn’t fool Beverly for a minute. Her eyes widened and she slouched back against the couch.

“You told her,” she said, her eyes sliding closed. “Oh my God, Will, what did you tell her?”

“The only thing I could think of to save her from a life of fear,” he answered, clasping his hands in front of him. “I told her I was with you the night she was raped.”

“She was raped!?!” Beverly exploded. In her mind, she condemned Jean-Luc Picard to perdition. All he had told the senior staff was that Deanna had been kidnapped, found severely injured, but expected to make a full recovery after some time. “Jean-Luc didn’t tell us that!”

“Because I didn’t tell him that,” Will replied. “Everyone agreed it was best not to broadcast that information just yet. At the time, Deanna wasn’t dealing with it too well.”

“Oh my God, Will. This just keeps getting worse! And, you told her you were with me!!! God, why?!”

“Because the only way I could think of that would make her leave the hospital was to make her angry enough that she had to leave…to escape,” Will answered.

“So you let her assume we’d slept together,” Beverly surmised. “Wonderful, Will, now my best friend hates me because she thinks I slept with her fiancé. No wonder she hasn’t returned any of my messages!”

“She probably didn’t get any of your messages, Beverly. She and Lwaxana left for Betazed this morning.” Will rubbed his temples. Another headache was coming on. He made a mental note to ask Katharine for a hypospray, even if he did hate them. These daily headaches were getting on his nerves more than a hypospray.

Beverly sat silently for a few minutes, digesting everything Will had told her, and then she quietly asked, “Is she coming back to the ship?”

“I don’t know?”

“Are you still getting married?”

“I doubt it,” he replied with a sad smile.

“You have to tell her the truth,” Beverly declared, slapping her knees. “If you don’t, I will,” she threatened.

“Do that. She won’t believe you, Bev. She believes I betrayed her. She’ll forgive you, but she won’t forgive me.”

“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” she said softly, studying the broken hearted man across from her. He shrugged and said, “Tis better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.”

“Oh don’t spout poetry, Riker. That’s so out of character for you, and if I wanted poetic notions, I’d ask Jean-Luc!” She returned tartly.

“How do you think the captain is going to feel about that little kiss we share, Crusher?” Riker asked cuttingly.

This time Beverly shrugged and replied, “He already knows, Will. I told him the day after you left the ship. A kiss is a kiss. They happen, sometimes at the wrong time to the wrong people, which is what happened to us. He knows that and doesn’t care, Will. He knows it meant nothing.”

“Did it mean nothing?” He asked, his blue eyes suddenly staring at her. She squirmed under the assault but her answer remained a firm, “Yes. It meant nothing, Will. You know that, I know that, Jean-Luc knows that, now we just have to convince Deanna of that.”

“Good luck,” Will told her, leaning back in his chair. “I’m the last person she wants to talk to right now.”

“And, how do you know that?” She asked, leaning forward, studying him intently. This was a side of Riker she’d never seen before. He was almost complacent.

“Because I have very little sense of her. She’s closed her mind to me completely, Beverly. That’s how angry and hurt she is right now.”

“And, you did this to her and to you just so she’d face her fears,” Beverly mused, then looked back at him. “Her fears of what?”

“Of her rapist. David…the rapist…wasn’t caught, Beverly. Deanna was terrified that if she left the hospital he would find her, kidnap her again, and rape her again. And, Lwaxana and I weren’t really helping. We let her wallow in her fear, even encouraged it. I knew the only way to make her face it was to do a complete change in my attitude towards her.”

“So you made her think you cheated on her.”

“Yes. I’ve never seen her that angry, and it obviously worked. She left the hospital and faced her fears of him.”

“How do you figure, Will?” Beverly asked, playing with her fingernails. “After all, she’s left for Betazed. Wouldn’t you call that running from your fears?”

Damn, that thought hadn’t occurred to him. Maybe she had left Earth to escape David and the threat of him finding her again, and not because she felt betrayed by Will and needed to get away from him. Beverly watched him closely and could almost see the wheels turning in his head. She knew that thought hadn’t occurred to him. She continued to play with her fingers while Will thought, playing things out in his mind again. He realized with a sinking feeling that he might be very wrong and Beverly might be very right. Briefly, he prayed she was wrong, but the more he thought about it, the more right her theory seemed. Anger rose in him again and he briefly thought about punching the wall, but he decided against it. The last thing he needed was to do something like that and piss off his father. After all, their relationship was still very tenuous. There was no sense in straining it any further than he had over the past few days with his sultry mood. “God, Beverly, I hope you’re wrong,” he finally vocalized quietly, staring at the floor.

“But you know I’m probably right,” she returned in an equally quiet voice.

“Yes,” he admitted.

“Then, what are you going to do?” She asked, already knowing the answer when he looked up at her and grinned.

“What else can I do? I’ll have to go to Betazed.”

“I’m going with you,” she firmly told him.

“Like I thought otherwise,” he said with a smile and she smiled back.


Chapter Twenty Five

The sun shone brightly on the morning that Lwaxana and Deanna’s transport arrived on Betazed. Above them, the sky was a brilliant blue streaked with orange from the bright rays of the sun. Below them, the soft green grass cushioned their feet, and the air was filled with the aroma of flowers native to Betazed. Deanna took a deep, cleansing breath, and the feelings of security and peacefulness ran through her body for the first time in nearly a month. Lwaxana watched her daughter with a smile. For once, Deanna’s thoughts seemed to be at peace and not tumultuous. Maybe coming to Betazed was just what she needed. “Come, Little One,” Lwaxana said softly to Deanna, gesturing towards the path that led them to the Troi mansion. Deanna turned and followed her mother down the familiar path. She opened her mind and felt out with it for the universal calm that reigned on Betazed. What a relief it was to be around people who were serene and non-violent. She let her mental shields fall. There was little sense in keeping them up while on the planet. Any Betazoid could easily punch through her mental barriers, if they chose to, and Deanna had nothing to hide by letting the walls down. Here, no one wished her harm or wanted to her hurt her. Here she was safe.

After walking for a little while, the mansion loomed in front of them. As usual, it never failed to impress Deanna with its stature and grace. The creative forces that powered her mother and father had conceived this beautiful home, for it was completely designed by the couple who’d lived in it together for such a tragically short period of time. It was a house of dreams and promises never kept; yet, Lwaxana couldn’t bring herself to leave it. The promise of lasting love with her husband may have eluded her, but the promise of love from her children remained true. Deanna loved her mother fiercely as did her younger brother, and as Kestra had before her tragic death. And, the house was still home to the dream of grandchildren, happiness, and long life. Those were the dreams Lwaxana prayed to come true, not just for her, but for her son and daughter.

The valet opened the door for the women and they entered the foyer. Deanna’s smile grew as she heard the objections of a young boy while Lwaxana frowned at her son’s voice. She strode into the living room where a harassed tutor sat next to a young boy no older than five. “Mother!” He exclaimed, leaping off the couch and running to Lwaxana, whose displeasure towards her son was immediately dispelled with a hug from the impish boy. He looked curiously over his mother’s shoulder to where Deanna stood idly picking up holos of the family over the years. She lingered over one of her father until her brother’s voice broke into her reverie. “Who are you?” The child asked indignantly. Deanna smiled winningly at the little boy who she hadn’t seen since he was an infant and replied, “I am Deanna.”

“Xander, you remember I had to leave and go where your sister was because she had been hurt and needed me?” Lwaxana asked softly, near her son’s ear. He nodded but never took his eyes from Deanna’s face. “Well, your sister decided she needed to come home to get better, so I brought her back with me.”

“You’re my sister?” the little boy asked her uncertainly. He walked over to Deanna, and she squatted down to his level. “Yes, I am,” she answered, staring at the little boy who looked quite like Lwaxana, but had the markings of his father, too. “I’m Deanna.”
“You said that already,” he told her, staring at her. “You look like Mom.” Deanna smiled broadly at him and ruffled his dark brown hair. “Thank you, Xander.” She rose up to her full height and look over at Lwaxana. She cast a thought to her mother who nodded. “You’re old room is just the way you left it, Little One. If you need anything else, call for me or Mr. Homn.”

“Thank you, Mother,” Deanna said softly as she ascended the grand staircase. Xander watched her go, and then he turned to his mother with an awe stricken smile. “Mother, she’s beautiful!” He exclaimed.

Lwaxana laughed and rumpled his hair much as Deanna had before. “Yes, she is, Xander. She’s also very sad right now, too.”
“I could tell,” he said, earning a strange look from his mother.

“You could?” She asked, probing his young mind for any signs of empathy. “How, darling?”

Xander smiled at his mother as he answered, “Because she looked it!” Lwaxana laughed and nodded over to his tutor. “You and Mr. Crete have some more studying to complete, and I expect it done without anymore complaining from you, young man,” she sternly told her disappointed son.

“But Mom,” he began to object.

“No objects, Xander!” She exclaimed, guiding him back to the couch. “I’ll be in the study if I’m needed,” she told the boy and his tutor. They both nodded unhappily and Lwaxana strode quickly across the room and into her study where she shut the door and collapsed onto the long couch in the center of the room. The worry, heartache, and anger of the past few days had finally gotten to her, and she let them out in the only way she could. Lwaxana cried.

The stars shot by at a fast pace as Beverly stared out the small viewport to her left. She unsuccessfully tried to stretch her long legs out and work out the stiffness, but the confines of the small shuttle prevented that. She stole a look at Commander Riker, who piloted the shuttle with ease and expertise. His jaw was set and he wore a grim look on his face. Beverly knew he was concentrating on getting them to Betazed as quickly and as safely as possible. “We’ll be there soon enough, Will,” she chided him lightly. He glared at her and said nothing, so she sighed and settled back against her uncomfortable seat. They’d both called in every favor owed to them by the higher ups in Starfleet to commandeer an extended shore leave and a shuttlecraft. In the long run, it would be worth it, though, but that was providing that Will could convince Deanna to come back with them to Earth. And, that was a long shot. They both knew it. Beverly closed her eyes and prayed silently for the gods to smile on them, and then she drifted off into sleep until a sharp bump caused her head to slam back against the back of her seat. She opened her eyes and rubbed the back of her head when one hand and struggled to sit up by bracing herself with her other hand. “Where are we, Riker?” She surveyed the area. Obviously, they were on a planet.

“Betazed. Starfleet Embassy,” he replied, shutting down the shuttle’s systems. Beverly looked out the small viewport and smiled. Nightfall was descending on Betazed. The sky had disintegrated into hues of violet and blue while the twin moons began to rise and cast white-violet light upon the surface of the planet. “Wow,” she breathed.

Will punched a button and doors opened. Beverly rose, and then collapsed back into her seat. Her legs weren’t quite working yet, while Will quickly exited the shuttle. She followed him a few seconds later. Beverly inhaled a deep breath of the fresh air while Will surveyed the bustle about the embassy. “Must be some sort of party,” he muttered, hefting a bag onto his shoulder. “Come on. Let’s go see if we can get rooms in the Embassy tonight.” Beverly nodded and followed him into the beautiful building.
A party was indeed in full swing, yet it was eerily silent. “They’re communicating telepathically for the most part,” Will needlessly informed her.

“Can you communicate with them?” She ventured further into the room.

“Only if they communicate with me first. I can’t initiate conversation with anyone besides Deanna or Lwaxana unless my adrenaline is going,” he told her with a rye smile. “Besides, I can’t hear their conversations anyway. I’m not telepathic.”
“Wow, Will, if you hadn’t told me that, I would never have guessed,” she returned sarcastically. He glared at her and strode to the information area of the embassy. A young woman manned the desk and smiled coyly at the handsome commander as he approached her. “Good evening Commander. How can I help you?”

“What’s the party for?” he asked, leaning against the desk with his side so he could still see Beverly.

“The head of the embassy is retiring,” she replied.

“Ah. A farewell party,” he noted, turning his full attention to the young woman. “I’ve just arrived on a transport from Earth with a fellow officer from my ship. Are there rooms available here for the night?”

“I doubt it, but let me check,” she replied, quickly tapping on her computer console. She looked back with an apologetic smile. “Sorry, Commander. We’re booked.”

“Damn,” Will muttered. Staying at the Troi’s was out of the question. He wanted to approach Deanna after a good night’s sleep and in a different environment. He emitted a long sigh and let his mind drift into command mode, searching for a solution to this present problem. If worse came to worse, they could always sleep in the shuttlecraft.

“Excuse me, but do I know you?” A melodious voice inquired of Beverly, who remained standing just outside the doorway of the reception hall. Beverly glanced up at the blonde woman floating towards her and she shook her head. “No, I don’t believe we’ve ever met.”

A confused look came about her face. “Are you sure. You are very…familiar,” she finished lamely as her eyes came to rest on Will Riker’s back. “Will,” she whispered, pricking Beverly’s curiosity. Before she could ask how the woman knew Will, the woman’s eyes slid closed, and Beverly shot a look to Riker. He had gone suddenly still and stiff, and then he slowly turned around, his eyes resting on the blonde who suddenly wore a bright smile. “It is you!” She exclaimed as he strode over to her and wrapped her in a bear hug. “What are you doing on Betazed?”

“You don’t know?” He asked, releasing her. Her smile faded and she nodded.

“Lwaxana contacted me the moment they landed this morning. She was to have attended this function tonight, but she didn’t want to leave Deanna. I came in her place.” She looked down. “Will, what happened?”

“I’ll tell you later. I promise,” he said quietly, feeling Beverly’s piercing gaze.

“Beverly, stop looking at me like that. This is Deanna’s best friend. I’ve known her longer than I’ve known Deanna.” Beverly glanced at the woman who nodded her head. “I apologize for my rudeness! I am Chandra Xerx, Daughter of the Third House.” She extended her hand and Beverly took it in her own.

“Dr. Beverly Crusher,” she answered. “I suppose you already know that, though.”

Chandra laughed lightly and nodded her head. “Yes, I do, but only because of my messages from Deanna. It’s good to finally meet you.”

“Thank you,” Beverly said quietly, and then she turned to Will. “Did you get us rooms?”

“No. The embassy is full tonight. The head of the embassy is retiring and the embassy is full with dignitaries.”

“Wonderful,” Beverly moaned. “Don’t tell me we have to sleep in the shuttlecraft.”

Will began to nod his head when Chandra interrupted him. “No! I wouldn’t hear of it. You two will stay at my house for as long as you need. Teb is attending a conference, so I’m all alone.”

“Chandra, we can’t impose on you like that,” Will said while Beverly shot him a disbelieving look.

Don’t argue with me, Riker, Chandra replied to his mind. Will stiffened and then nodded. “Fine, we’ll stay with you tonight.”

Sensing some telepath communication, Beverly grinned, grateful to Chandra’s telepathic interference. Chandra smiled at Beverly. “Well, now that that’s settled, I insist you join the festivities.”

“Chandra, we’re really tired,” Will tried to evade, but one glare from the blonde telepath quickly changed his tune. “Fine, but not for long,” he agreed, stashing the shoulder bag at the information desk. “Who’s retiring, anyway?” He asked as they followed Chandra into the celebration. She shot him a jaunty smile and replied, “Mark Roper.”

Without warning, Deanna shot up in her bed and pressed a hand to her heart. The nightmares were beginning to subside, but they still came every night. She gulped a deep breath of air and swung her legs over the side of her bed. Then, she left her room and went down the stairs to her favorite part of the house. Before her father’s death, he had installed a room completely of glass. It had been dubbed the “bubble room” because of its complete clearness. She slowly walked in there and stared out at the sparkling night. It calmed her, chasing the nightmares away, and she sighed in relief. Coming home was just what she needed. She already felt ten times better.

“Deanna?” A small voice said from behind. She spun around and squatted down on her brother’s level.

“Xander, what are you doing awake? It’s very late!”

“I couldn’t sleep,” he answered simply. “I like this room.”

“I do too.” Deanna sank onto the cool glass floor and Xander sat down beside her. “My father built this room before he died.”

“I know. Mother told me.” He stared up at the ceiling and began pointing out the constellations. Deanna listening to him identify the stars as a familiar tickle of emotion played through her mind. She sat up and concentrated completely on that thread. Finally, the thoughts of another broke through her involuntary mental barriers. Deanna, can you hear me? Deanna sighed with relief and replied back to Chandra’s gentle thought, Yes, I can.

Deanna, Will and Beverly are here, she informed her best friend while standing next to Will in the reception room. She smiled and nodded occasionally, and no one noticed she was in an intense telepathic communication. She felt Deanna tense and she thought, Deanna, don’t worry. I know you need time to yourself to heal. They’re staying with me tonight. The embassy is full. I’ll do my best to keep them occupied for a few days, but you know you’re going to have to talk to him eventually.

I know, Deanna cast back with a remorseful tone. Give me at least a day to get my bearings, Chan.

You got it, Dee, Chandra thought back, closing off the communication, and then turned her complete attention to the celebration. Beverly was off retrieving them drinks while Will was approaching Mark Roper. Chandra smiled inwardly at the pleasure on Roper’s face at unexpectedly seeing his former laision to Starfleet. The men exchanged friendly handshakes and laughed heartily. Mark placed his hand on a young woman’s shoulder, who turned to him. A smile of pure joy lit her face and she pulled Riker into a tight hug. Chandra’s face darkened. Wendy Roper was one element Chandra had forgotten, and she would have to be dealt with very carefully. The last thing Deanna needed was to think something was up again between those two.


Chapter Twenty Six

“So, what brings you back to Betazed, Will?” Wendy asked. They strolled along the walkway behind the embassy. After being at the party for an hour, Beverly had left with Chandra’s mother. The flight had simply exhausted her. Seeing old friends had revitalized Will. Something told him he wouldn’t sleep tonight. He was too keyed up and filled with too much nervous energy. His excess energy was what had them walking outside. He needed to pace and Wendy needed to escape the noise.

He paused and dug the toe of his boot into the ground while Wendy stared at him intently. “Will?” Wendy stepped over to him and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Hey, talk to me.”

Will laughed hollowly. “Remember the last time we saw each other?”

“Yes. You were here to stop Deanna from marrying some Klingon,” Wendy recited.

“Yup. Seems like I always have to chase her across the galaxy to make her know how I really feel. Last time it took me a dozen years to finally right the wrongs between us.”

Wendy’s eyes gleamed and she suggested, “Why don’t you just marry her, then?”

“Tried twice. The first time was a disaster.”

“I knew you didn’t show up on Risa like the two of you had planned.”

“How?” He asked, looking over to her.

“Easy. Deanna came back...unmarried…then, she left to go to the academy. That and I checked up on you ever now and then. I knew you weren’t married.” Wendy looked away at the sky and stared at one of the moons. The torch she had carried for Will Riker still simmered after all this time, but she loved her husband very much. She wouldn’t trade her husband in for the universe, but the memory of that one night with Will still made her shiver.

“Wendy, did I ever apologize for what happened between us?” Will asked suddenly, catching Wendy off guard. She swallowed hard, and then shook her head. Will’s eyes darkened and he apologized. “I shouldn’t have left you the way I did. God, we were so young and so…”

“Stupid?” Wendy supplied with a wry smile. “Will, I have no ill feelings for what happened between us. We were young and we were definitely not in love. We were drunk and it was sex. Nothing more.”

Will smiled at her and glanced up at the stars. He smiled. They looked so different from a planet view than they did in space. It never ceased to amaze him. “Deanna and I are suppose to be planning our wedding right now.”
“Why aren’t you?” Wendy asked softly. She knew they were engaged. She doubted there was a single person on Betazed who didn’t know Lwaxana Troi’s daughter was engaged. Finally.

“Deanna was raped a few weeks ago, Wendy. Kidnapped and raped. I wasn’t there…I was on the Enterprise and she was on Earth.”

Wendy paled, but wisely said nothing. She tightened her grip on Will’s shoulder for support and comfort. “To top it all off, while she was on Earth I managed to get myself involved with another crewmember. I didn’t sleep with her, Wendy, but I kissed her. I regretted it instantly, but I still did it. Deanna found out, but she thinks it was something more than a kiss. God, Wendy, I can’t be faithful to her, I can’t protect her, hell, I can command a starship without a second thought, but when it comes to my personal life, I can’t keep it from crashing.”

“Will, do you love Deanna?” Wendy asked softly.

“Yes,” he answered without hesitation.

“When things went haywire last time it was because she loved you and you weren’t sure if you loved her. This time you know you love her, but she isn’t sure anymore because of the things that have happened to her.”

“So?” Will turned to regard Wendy with a quizzical look.

“So, you ran to her last time. Wouldn’t you say it’s her turn to come to you?” She suggested. The shocked look on Will’s face made her laugh. “Will, Deanna knows you love her. This time you’re going to have to give her time to come to you instead of time for you to go to her. I know you came to Betazed for her, but what if you don’t go to her? You’re on the planet and she’s bound to know by now. Let her come to you.”

“She won’t, Wendy.” His quiet voice was barely a whisper.

“Then, she doesn’t deserve you, Will,” Wendy returned, dropping her arm back down to her side. “I have to go inside now. Daddy will be looking for me, and I’m sure my husband is here by now. If you need me, you know where to find me.” She leaned over and kissed his cheek. He returned the kiss and whispered, “Thanks Wendy. Tell your father I said good night and I’ll see him again before I leave.”

“You got it,” she said as he turned on his heel and walked away. She watched him until she could see him no longer and her shoulders drooped. Then, she turned, stiffened her shoulders, and walked inside the embassy with a smile on her face.

His walk to the Xerx house was short and slow. Will’s thoughts ran rampant in his mind until he had a headache. By the time he came to the door of the Xerx mansion, his head was splitting. He sank down on the steps in front of the door and put his head in his hands.

Not far away, Deanna sat on the edge of her bed, staring off into space. Now that she knew Will was on the planet, her sense of him had returned with a vengeance. She could sense his despondency and heartache as easily as she could sense her mother’s dreams. And, she knew all those emotions were directed at her. Deanna sighed deeply and flopped back on her bed. She stared up at the ceiling and her imagination conjured up images of Will kissing Beverly and Beverly in his arms. The images nearly made her sick. Then, she felt David’s hands on her body and she gagged. Clear your mind, Deanna. Don’t think about him. David’s not here and he can’t hurt you. She told herself. Quickly, her body responded and her heartbeat slowed. She closed her eyes and memories of she and Will spilled through her, and she smiled as she drifted off to sleep.

The next morning came and Chandra found Will still sitting outside her house. “Have you been here all night?” She asked indignantly as she sank down beside him.

“Yeah.” His voice was raspy and gruff. It was deep and reminded her of her husband’s morning voice. “Couldn’t sleep.”

“Neither could I,” Chandra admitted with a sigh. “I’m not use to sleeping alone anymore. I’ll be glad when Teb gets home.”

“I bet,” Will said disinterestedly. Chandra smiled, knowing he could care less about her problems. He was too fixated on his own, and with good reason. “Chandra, I had a long talk with Wendy last night…something she said…I can’t stop thinking about it.”
“What is it?” Chandra gave him her full attention and propped her head up on her knees as she looked at him.

“I came here to straighten things out between Deanna and me…seems like I’m always having to do that.” He smiled and cleared his throat. “I love her, Chandra, but I’m tired of chasing her across the galaxy. She knows I love her, yet…”

“What happened between you and Beverly?” Chandra asked out of the blue. Will blanched before replying, “I kissed her. That’s it. One simple, stupid little kiss that meant nothing to me.”

“That’s what I thought. Beverly and I talked about that last night,” Chandra confided. “Will, I don’t know what to tell you to do. You know Deanna needs you right now to help her get through this, and I know you need her just as much. You need to meet in the middle, somehow.” Chandra slowly rose to her feet, stretching her body out. “I’m going for a walk. Will you be here when I get back?”

“Maybe. If not, you’ll know where to find me,” he answered with a smile. Chandra smiled back and quickly strode off. Her morning walk was a ritual for her. It awakened her senses and her body, and it was good for her. She took a deep breath of the clear, clean air and smiled. Today had the makings of a beautiful day, or so Chandra hoped as she turned down a street that wasn’t part of her usual morning path. The houses along the street were as large and as ornate as her family’s. These houses were also part of the founding houses of Betazed. She strode up to one of the more ornate ones and waited patiently. Within seconds the door opened and she smiled up at the servant. She cast her thanks and he inclined his head. She walked past him and quickly went up the stairs and stopping in front of a closed one near the staircase. Again, she didn’t knock…or wait this time. Instead, she went right on inside.

“Chandra! Gods! Knock sometime!” Deanna exclaimed, rising from the chair she sat on. “What are you doing here?”

“Do you love Will?”

“What?” Deanna reached behind her, using the chair as a brace. “Do I love Will?” She repeated.

“Yes. Do you love him? It shouldn’t be a hard question to answer, Deanna. Either you do or you don’t. Now, do you love him?” Chandra wisely closed the door and leaned against it with her arms crossed.

Deanna sank back down into the chair and faced her best friend across the room. “Yes, I do,” she finally answered. “Now, what is this all about?”

“You’re putting him through hell, Dee,” Chandra told her, softening her voice. Deanna looked down and replied, “I know.”

“Why?” Chandra walked over and knelt in front of Deanna, forcing Deanna to look at her. “Dee, he loves you, and this is killing him. He needs to help you and needs you to help him. I know you think something more happened between him and Beverly, but it didn’t. I’ve talked to both of them, and their answers are exactly the same, as are their thoughts. They didn’t sleep together, Deanna. I think Will is incapable of hurting you like that again.”

Deanna took a deep breath and shuddered as she exhaled. “Chan, I’m scared of him.” There, it was out. And, Gods, it felt good to finally voice her deepest fear. Chandra’s face softened even more and she leaned back on her heels. Tears welled up in Deanna’s eyes and they spilled over the dark lashes as she whispered, “I’m so scared of him. I know he didn’t rape him, and I know he never wouldn’t, but dammit, Chan, this has happened to me twice. Twice! I thought the psychic one was bad, but there’s no comparison. I love him, but I’m so scared of him. I don’t know if I can…be…with him again.”

“He’s not asking you to sleep with him, Dee. He’s asking you to love him,” Chandra softly said. She rose to her feet and said, “Will and Bev are staying at my parents’ house. I don’t know for how much longer. They were still there when I left, Dee.”

“Thanks Chan,” Deanna said. Chandra smiled and turned to leave while casting her customary thought to Deanna. She shut the door quietly behind her and Deanna rose from her chair and went to her closet. Reaching inside, she pulled out her Starfleet uniform and threw it on the bed. Bending down, she retrieved her boots and tossed them to the bed. Then, she walked over to the mirror in her room and studied her reflection harshly. She snatched up a brush, combed her hair, and began styling it. Later, she stripped and reached for her uniform and pulled it on. When she looked into the mirror again she saw the beginnings of the woman she was before all this happened and she smiled. It was time to reclaim her life.

Chapter Twenty Seven


At the bottom of the staircase, Deanna froze at hearing her name spoken in such a confused manner. She turned around and found Xander staring at her in unabashed curiosity. “Hiya kiddo,” Deanna said, walking over to her brother and squatting down to his eye level.

“Wow. You look really different,” he said, reaching out and touching her communicator. Deanna smiled and glanced down at herself. Somehow putting her uniform back on made her feel a little more like herself. Starfleet was an important, even integral part of her life, and the uniform was a sign of that importance. Part of reclaiming her life meant reintegrating back into Starfleet, although her attack had occurred while serving Starfleet and by another member of the fleet. Putting the uniform back on was a way of moving past that while knowing she would never forget, but she had to move on past it and into the future. “What are these?” He asked, reaching up to her neck and touching the pips as reverently as she had touched the Holy Rings of Betazed as a child.

“Those indicate my rank in Starfleet,” she answered him. “I am a commander, and commanders wear three of these on their collar. Captains wear four, admirals wearing several, and every officer in Starfleet wears these.” Deanna reached up and touched the pips as a smile grew across her face.

Xander smiled brightly and said, “Wow,” again and Deanna laughed at him. She rose back to her full height and rumpled his hair. “I have something I need to go do. I’ll be back later, kiddo,” she told him, turning around and coming face to face with her mother. Lwaxana smiled softly at her daughter and reached over to brush a lock of Deanna’s hair off her shoulder. She had her hair tied back, but a few strands had escaped already.

“Well, this is certainly a change from last night, Little One,” Lwaxana commented carefully. She knew Chandra had visited Deanna early in the morning. The only thing she didn’t know was what words had been exchanged between the two women. “I wasn’t aware you had your uniform with you.”

“I am a Starfleet officer, Mother. I don’t go anywhere without it,” Deanna said wryly. Behind her, Xander giggled and Lwaxana peered down at her young son. “Xander, would you mind if I talked to your sister alone, please?” Even though she phrased it as a question, it was more of an order to leave. Xander nodded and bound up the stairs to his room. Lwaxana shook her head at the child. He had a boundless store of energy that never failed to amaze her. Now, to deal with her daughter, she turned back to Deanna and said, “Chandra was here this morning.”

“Yes, she was,” Deanna replied needlessly. “There were some things she thought I ought to know.”

Lwaxana cocked an eyebrow and crossed her arms over her check. “Such as?”

“Such as things that are private and none of your business, Mother.”

Inside, Lwaxana smiled broadly. Finally, that little spark of defiance Lwaxana loved to hate in her daughter was back. She feared much too much pain had permanently squelched it. There was a sparkle, faint, but bright, in Deanna’s previously dull and unexpressive eyes. They glowed with a new expressiveness and a determination Lwaxana could recall seeing on only one occasion. She squinted her eyes and searched for something in the atmosphere. When she found it everything suddenly came clear. “William is here.”

“Good, then he hasn’t left if you’re sensing his presence,” Deanna said with relief. She was afraid he would leave without seeing her. Chandra seemed to indicate that was a possibility.

Lwaxana raised her eyebrows and asked, “Don’t you sense him?” For a moment, she feared Deanna had severed her link to Riker after her attack, but Deanna smiled and jauntily replied, “Mother, there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t sense Will Riker. No one, no one, can invade my sense as he can and stay there as he does. Being Imzadi does have its advantages.”
“Yes, it does,” Lwaxana replied softly, but deep in her mind she thought, Oh Little One, you have no idea what advantages it holds for you, but you will soon discover that for yourself. Of that, I have no doubt. “So, you’re going to him?”

“He deserves nothing less, Mother. I’ve pushed him away this entire time, and in doing so, I’ve hurt him and myself more than David hurt me. I need him to heal, Mother, and he needs me. Putting on this,” she paused to adjust her collar, “is a step I had to take without him, but I can’t go the rest of the way without him, Mother. There are too many things waiting that I can’t deal with on my own. I need to look my fear in the face, Mother, and I need him there with me when I do. What I don’t need, though, is this constant fear and apprehensiveness that is my constant companion. You were right in making me come to Betazed. Granted, I’ve been here less than a day, but when I stepped off that shuttle, I let my mental barriers down. I knew there was no sense in having them up while I was here. Any Betazoid who decided just to push through them could do so. I decided to take a risk and let anyone who wanted to see into my mind do so, and you know what? It felt good to not have those barriers up.” Deanna stopped and chewed on her lip for a moment before softly ending, “I have to let go of the barriers between Will and me. That’s the only way I can go on from this, Mother. He’s the one person in the universe that loves me the most. I belong with him…completely and totally. No barriers.”

Lwaxana quickly pulled her daughter into a tight embrace and swallowed over the lump in her throat. Mentally, she sent a telepathic thank you to a rather smug Daughter of the Third House. Then, she thought to Deanna, You’re wrong, Little One about one thing and one thing only.

What am I wrong about? Deanna thought back.

I am the person in the universe that loves you the most. He is the one that lives in your heart and soul. He is your life, but I am your mother. I love you more than you will ever know, and I am so proud of you and everything you’ve accomplished, but I’ve never been more proud of you than I am right now, Little One.

Deanna felt a tear slid down her cheek and to her surprise, she felt one slid down Lwaxana’s cheek. The tears mingled together and Deanna pulled away from her mother with a smile. “I have to go.”

“Will you return tonight?” Lwaxana didn’t bother to wipe the tear from her check. She let it dry there like the wetness of a kiss.

“I hope not,” Deanna replied with a wide grin. “I’ll be home again, Mother. I promise.”

“I know you will. All your stuff is here. You can’t return to Earth without it,” Lwaxana said cheekily. “Go on and get out of here. He’s waiting for you.” Your home is waiting for you, Lwaxana thought to Deanna, and it brought a gentle smile to Deanna’s face. She quickly kissed her mother’s cheek again, and then she turned and left the house.

After a good night’s sleep, Beverly awoke in a strange, but comfortable bed. She rolled over and looked out the large window to her right. The sun shone in brightly, casting prisms across the white room. She allowed herself to wake slowly, and then she dressed and walked downstairs to find the house completely empty. Wrinkling her forehead, Beverly tapped her communicator. “Crusher to Riker.”

“I’m outside, Beverly,” Will replied through the communicator. Beverly tapped her communicator, ending the transmission and walked outside. Will remained sitting on the porch where he had sat for the past hours. He had lost track of how many.

“What are you doing out here?” She asked, sitting down beside him.

“Chandra asked me the same thing this morning.”

“Well, what are you doing?”

“Thinking,” he replied, staring out ahead at the sky. “You know, the last time I watched a day pass on Betazed was twenty years ago.” Beverly remained quiet, allowing him to continue without interruption. “I’d just rescued Deanna from a group of Sindareen raiders that took her hostage. I found her in the Jalara Jungle.” He raised his hand and waved in the direction of the jungle. “We made love that day for the first time,” he said quietly. “I…I thought it was a mistake. I mean, she’d just been rescued from an alien that could have killed her if he’d desired. I knew she was terrified, but you know how she is…she never lets her fear show. Right before we made love, she broke down and let all her fear out that she’d kept inside while that Sindareen had held her hostage. God, Bev, I’d nearly all of my time on Betazed chasing after her. There was just something about her. At first, it was her body, but then…then it became something more. When we made love then, something just clicked inside me, and it scared the hell out of me. Afterwards, she explained to me what I had felt was a bond that Betazoids sometimes form.”

“The Imzadi bond,” Beverly said quietly.

“Yeah,” Will said, nodding his head. “It scared me to death. I had my entire future in front of me. I wasn’t ready to settle down, and I think she knew it deep down, but I knew there would be no other woman in my life that could touch me like Deanna did. And, I was right. The others were just sex…Deanna…Deanna became my life. When we formed the bond, she told me that she was the first woman to ever touch my soul. That’s what being Imzadi was all about. As I got older I realized she was right. No woman before her and no woman after her could touch my soul. Seeing her again on the Enterprise was the best thing that ever happened to me. When I saw her again, God, I was dumbstruck. I didn’t think it was possible for her to become even more beautiful, but she had, and I was still in love with her.” Will paused and smirked. “Took me long enough to realize that, didn’t it? Hell, I’d been in love with her from the moment I saw her. Love at first sight…never believed in it before, but I did after I saw her. When we agreed to just stay friends onboard the ship, part of me kept telling me what an idiot I was, but the commander in me kept telling me it was the better thing for both of us.”

“Then, Worf…”

Will hung his head and stared at the patterns in the woodwork of the porch step. “Yeah, then came Worf and I thought I’d lost her forever. Even came back here to break up their engagement. I figured she’d hate me for it, but Beverly, she would have died if I hadn’t come here. Worf was willing to let her die. Die! That’s when I knew. I knew we couldn’t stay friends anymore. I couldn’t bear to lose her.”

“Then why did it take the Briar Patch mission to bring you together?” Beverly asked softly.

“Hell if I know,” he answered with characteristic Will Riker sarcasm. “For all I know, it could have been Worf being aboard and knowing his wife had just died. It just did…the youthful influences on us…we were like the couple we’d been in the jungle before her mother broke us up, Starfleet separated us, and a gap that took years to bridge.” Will stopped and smiled quickly, but it faded and he confided, “When the effects of the patch wore off, Deanna was afraid we would break up again. It took her months to finally admit that to me. She keeps all her pain and hurt bottled inside her, Bev. I’m scared that’s what she’s doing this time, but unlike the other times, I’m not there to help her. She won’t let me,” he said defeated.

Beverly thought for a moment, mulling thoughts over in her mind while Will added, “I ran into an old friend last night who knew what was going on with Deanna and that I had come after her. She told me not to go after her. Deanna had pushed me away, it was her place to come to me.”

“What do you think?” Beverly shoved a lock of her hair behind her ear.

“I think it hurts like hell, but I’m tired of being rejected.”

“Can’t really blame you, Will, but you’re the man who supposedly never gives up,” Beverly said with a smile. He glared at her and she shrugged. “Hey, I’ve seen you in action. You never let something go without a fight.”

“I’ve fought and lost,” he said. “Sometimes you gotta learn to accept defeat, Doctor.” Will rose to his feet and added thoughtfully, “When you lose a patient, you can do everything in the book to revive them, but if it’s their time to die, you have to let it go. Same goes for relationships.”

Beverly opened her mouth, but Will had already walked away. Damn, he could leave quickly when he wanted to. She shook her head and lowered her head to her knees. She stayed that way for quite awhile until she heard footsteps coming to the mansion, and she quickly raised her head to give Will an earful. Her mouth dropped open, but no sound came out. Amusedly, Deanna stared down at her shocked friend. “Hi Bev,” Deanna said unceremoniously dropping down to sit in the place that Will had just vacated. Beverly continued to stare at Deanna until Deanna laughed and asked, “Bev, you okay?”

“What the hell happened?” Beverly felt a headache coming on. Between her frustration over Deanna and Will, and now her confusion over a suddenly fine Deanna sitting beside her, Beverly’s brain was beginning to go into overload. “Just last night you were…”

“Wallowing in my own self pity,” Deanna completed the sentence. “Chandra talked some sense into me.”

“Thank God!” Beverly rubbed her temples and made a mental note to thank Chandra. She closed her eyes and felt some of the tension recede. “Where’s Will?” Deanna asked.

“You did see him? He just left. I figured you passed him,” Beverly said. The headache was coming back. Deanna shook her head and Beverly muttered, “Great. He was heading in that direction.” Beverly pointed and Deanna jumped to her feet. “Thanks Bev. After I talk to him, you and I need to talk, too,” Deanna said pointedly. Beverly nodded her head. She knew it was coming. Then, she closed her eyes again and rubbed her temples as Deanna’s footsteps grew fainter and finally silent as she went in search of Will Riker.


Chapter Twenty Eight

As Deanna walked in the direction of the Jalara Jungle, her sense of Will grew stronger. She knew she was close to him, and she walked faster, anxious to see him, to explain things, to just talk to him. Deanna paused as she came to the edge of the jungle and surveyed the area looking for broken tree limbs or crushed vegetation that would indicate a human’s recent presence. “Ah ha!” She strode over to an area where there was crushed vegetation and ventured into the jungle. Her sense of Will increased tenfold and she quickly walked over the bumpy ground, but was careful to avoid the lifeforms she sensed.

She felt like she had walked forever before she heard the sound of gurgling water and she paused to take a drink from the pond. She wasn’t too far from the Janaran Falls, but her sense of Will wasn’t leading her in that direction, so she continued farther into the jungle. Above her a bird chirped and she looked up. Then, she tripped over a tree limb. “Damn!” She went down hard and landed soundly on her bottom. Deanna struggled back to her feet only to collapse again. The pain in her ankle was too severe. Gently, she felt the area. It was already swelling. “Terrific Deanna. Now, you’ve sprung your ankle,” she muttered to herself as she hit her communicator, hoping against hope that it would work. It chirped and she sighed in relief. “Troi to Riker,” Deanna said, knowing Will was the only one close enough to receive her communication.

A few second went by before Will’s surprised reply came to her. “Riker here. Deanna, where are you?”

“I don’t know,” she answered honestly. “Somewhere not too far from you, though.”

“You’re in the jungle?”

“Didn’t I just say that?” She retorted with frustration.

On the other end of the transmission, Will chuckled and began backtracking through the jungle. “All right, keep talking to me. Maybe we’ll get lucky and I’ll hear you,” he told her. The words were no more than out of his mouth when he felt her presence all around him. The sensation nearly sent him to his knees. “Deanna,” he croaked over the transmission. “What are you doing?”

“Proximity,” she replied in an even voice. “The closer you get to me, the stronger your sense of me will get.” Projecting herself into his mind was a technique that required the maximum level of her concentration. “Will, I’m sorry I pushed you away,” she whispered, still concentrating on him. “I never meant to hurt you.”

“I know,” he answered. The sense grew stronger. “I’m getting closer to you.”

“I know,” she answered. “Will.”


“I’m ready to go home,” she whispered to him. He froze in his steps. “What?” He whispered back to her.

“I’m ready to go home,” she repeated. A broad smile grew across her face and she murmured, “Riker, if you’re not walking, you can’t find me. I can’t walk to find you, so you’re going to have to get over your shock and come to me. I can’t come to you anymore than I already have.”

Will smiled and resumed his course to Deanna. Within a few minutes he came to a clearing, and when he emerged he found Deanna sitting with her back to him and next to a tree. He started towards her very quietly. “You can’t sneak up on an empath,” she said, craning her head around to see him. He grinned and squatted down beside her. “Which ankle?”

“This one,” she said reaching for it and pulling up her pant leg. Will reached to her boot and removed it, noticing for the first time that she was wearing her uniform.

“Didn’t think you brought your uniform with you,” he commented, fingering the ankle. “No broken bones, just a sprain. You’ll live Counselor.” Deanna snorted and said, “This coming from a Starfleet commander with no medical training.”

“Starfleet Captain, but you’re right about the medical training.” He continued working on her ankle. “Think you can stand on it?”

“Captain?” She reached down and grabbed his arm. “Stop it, Will. You just said captain.”

“Yeah. I heard what I said. I hear in the same language I speak.” Deanna chuckled and caught his hand. “I was coming to find you.”

“Why?” He asked, sitting down and staring at her.

Deanna stared back at him with an unflinching gaze as she answered. “What happened to me…It scared me, Will…”

“Of course it did.”

“Let me finish. It made me afraid of you, and I needed to get away from what I thought I was afraid of, but it made me realize, I’m not afraid of you, Will. I know you can’t hurt me the way David hurt me. When I said I’m ready to go home, I meant it. I’m ready to go back and to face him. I want him put away and punished for what he did to Ariel and I. But, I don’t want to go without you, Will. I need you. I love you,” she whispered.

“I love you, too,” he said softly, leaning over and kissing her gently. “This is where it all started, you know,” he whispered inches from her face.

“Yeah, I know,” she whispered back. He kissed her again and she whispered, “Take me home.”
They separated and smiled at each other. He rose to his feet and leaned down. He scooped her up in his arms like a baby and smiled down at her. “Ready?”

“As ready as I’m ever going to be, Will,” she said as a gust of wind blew through the jungle and ruffled her hair around. She reached up and caught her hair before it blew into Will’s face. “Don’t drop me,” she said quietly. Will smiled down at her and pressed a kiss onto her forehead. “Never. Never again.” And, then he smiled.