Rating: PG-13

Commander William T. Riker was off duty. In fact, he wasn’t all that sure of what to do. Usually, something came up abut tonight was turning out to be a bit disappointing.

The poker game the night before had been surreal at best. They had all gathered in his quarters as usual, but this time things were different. They’d all had the chance to experience what very few ever had – the knowledge of what was to come. For the first time in his life, Will had been confronted with the gruesome fact of Deanna’s death. Of course, it was silly not to think it would ever happen, but still he never had thought it would. Then there was Worf. He and Worf had been close friends over the years, fighting along side each other in battles of the physical and spiritual nature. Will knew that Deanna would never approve of he and Worf quarrelling over her no matter what the cause. But the thought of him and her together…

Will turned away from the flower he had been looking at and swallowed hard. The arboretum was unusually quiet and empty this evening. He spotted a stone bench nearby and walked over to it, but didn’t sit down. Instead he walked underneath the giant willow tree next to it and picked at the tree’s overreaching limbs.

Last night, he’d made a deal with Worf and it wasn’t his nature to renege on an agreement. Will let out a short laugh and shook his head. What in the world was he thinking? He’d never sat by and let someone else take what he wanted, right? Throwing another bit of greenery on the ground, he realized that he had. All of those Starfleet commissions he had turned down – well he had a good reason for that. Several in fact. But now, he couldn’t think of one good one to explain why he was here by himself in the arboretum and Deanna was somewhere else waiting for Worf to get off duty.

Riker looked up and saw nothing but a canopy of willow branches guarding him against whatever else threatened to turn his life upside down. He’d had plans for the two of them, Deanna and he. Recently, he had begun to understand that life consisted of more than promotions and protocol. All he knew is that he wanted Deanna in it, even if it meant that he would have to wait a little bit longer until she was ready. Now, after all that had happened, he began to wonder if she ever would be ready to have any sort of romantic relationship with him again. Maybe the fact that they were serving together was just an excuse she had used. Hell, he had always known it was an excuse. But for what? Until now he was sure he knew the answer to that question.

Riker blew out a sigh and threw the remainder of his pickings to the grass beneath him. “Will?”

He turned behind him and saw Deanna’s head practically upside down peeking below the long branches of the tree. He hair was dangling towards the ground and her face was becoming decidedly red. The sight caused him to smile, crossing his arms in front of him. The more he thought of his current position the more embarrassed he got by the second. It’s not often that you see a grown man hiding and sulking under a willow tree. Still, he held his ground. “You’re face is turning red,” he offered.

“Well, if you weren’t under a willow tree I wouldn’t have to talk to you upside down,” Deanna said.

“My apologies,” Will said as he climbed out from underneath the branches.

Deanna stood back up and brushed a few stray remnants of the tree limbs from his blue shirt as he joined her on the walkway. For the first time, Deanna realized amusingly that he never seemed to wear another color other than blue. It did match his eyes, and looked incredible on him she had to admit.

Will saw her looking at his attire with a peculiar expression on her face. “What?” he asked.

Deanna shook her head, “Nothing. I was just thinking of how you always wear blue.”

Will smiled self-consciously and smoothed his fingers over a sleeve. “Yeah, well, I guess it’s because someone told me once how well it suited me.”

Deanna smiled at him and leaned forward, resting her hands on his chest, “It does suit you. It brings out your eyes.”

“My eyes…” Will echoed looking into hers. She was still leaning into him and he couldn’t help but brush back a stray hair that had fallen out of place because of her rather precarious position a minute ago.

Deanna’s face instinctively sought out the curve of his palm as it passed her cheek. He held it there willingly for a moment, reveling in the sensations they rarely allowed each other to feel. “They were what I first noticed about you,” Deanna said softly.

Will arched an eyebrow and brought his hand back down. “My eyes? We were both naked and my eyes were the first thing you noticed?”

Deanna smirked and pushed back against him, “Yes. Contrary to where ‘your’ eyes were going, I just couldn’t resist those baby blues.”

Will chuckled, shuffling his feet. “My eyes very much appreciated where they were going,” he said as he looked her up and down. He made sure to let her know that they still did appreciate her every bit as much as they did then.

Deanna’s gaze was one of reproach, but he knew that he could get away with it. She let him because it was a part of who they were together and neither one of them could ever let go of that. “So, what exactly were you doing under the tree?”

“What tree?” Will asked, shrugging his shoulders. He watched Deanna cross her arms and take a deep breath. It was a sign that she was determined and willing to torture in order to get the answer he knew she wanted. Will sighed and looked up at the simulated sky which was quickly turning to dusk. “I was inspecting it for bugs. They really do become a problem this time of year.”

Deanna looked at him, the expression on her face growing sterner. She didn’t smile at his humor, and for a moment, Will thought she looked genuinely angry at him. But then she dropped her gaze and her arms. Seeing the stone bench behind Riker, she moved over to it and sat down. She relaxed and closed her eyes briefly before opening them again and looked squarely at him. “So, what are you doing all by yourself in the arboretum? Usually you have a companion.”

Will shrugged again and gently kicked a small rock that had found it’s way onto the concrete path. “I actually came in here to find a lovely young lady to spend the evening with,” he gestured around him, “but as you can see, I’m all out of luck. That is until you came in here.”

Deanna smiled and shook her head, “Seems that you’re still out of luck, Commander. I’m here waiting on my companion to arrive. He had to work late so we decided to just meet here.”

Will’s heart fell, but he smiled at her nonetheless. “Ah. Well, I’m to blame for him having to work late. There’s a weapons drill scheduled for tomorrow and there were a few loose ends to tie up.”

“So, you’re the one I should throw stones at,” Deanna said. The lilt of humor was in her voice and a hint of a smile on her face.

Will raised his hands in defense, “The Captain was the one who ordered it, not me. I was just doing what I was told.”

“All right, I’ll let you by just this once,” she said. Her expression had softened, almost inviting him to have a seat next to her. He did. The bench was a small one and for both of them to fit comfortably, Will put his arm across the back of the bench. Deanna didn’t seem to mind, she never did. Normally though, she would snuggle up next to him, but this time she kept her distance.

“I was thinking about last night,” Riker suddenly said. Deanna unconsciously glanced at the door and he didn’t know if it was because she was waiting for Worf or because she wanted to extricate herself from the conversation they still had yet to have regarding certain recent events. Whatever the reason, Will in no way wanted her to feel uncomfortable. So he gently squeezed her shoulders, “He should be here any minute, Deanna. I think they finished up a few minutes ago.”

Deanna turned back to him and smiled gratefully. “I wasn’t sure.” They sat in silence for a few moments. She knew that they would have to talk about things between them, but she also wanted more than anything for him to just understand. “Last night was a little…strange. And then the Captain came in!”

Will laughed along side her as they both thought about the previous night. “I wasn’t sure what to think. He’s been acting different these past few days.”

“Wouldn’t you?” Deanna asked him. “Knowing what the future holds, having to deal with Q, being tossed between three time lines and having to keep up with the events in each. It’s a wonder that he’s as well as he is.”

“I’m not so sure. He did join the poker game last night. Not to mention the stories he told from his younger days.”

A pensive look crossed her face for a moment as if she were gathering her thoughts. It was a trait that he’d always admired about her. She never wished to speak unless she had carefully thought about what to say first. It was a good habit to have, one that he never could seem to master. “I think that what he saw in the future – all of us separated and our lives so…unfulfilled – he didn’t want that future for any of us. It must have made him realize what we have now and that he’s missed out on so much of it. I only wish he’d joined our games a long time ago. It would be nice to know him better because he has so much to offer that we never see.”

“Me too,” Will put his arm around her again and hugged her to him. They had all realized last night what they had together. Will hoped that each of them would do their part to make sure that the future the Captain witnessed would never happen. But Will had a special reason for not wanting it to happen. It was one that he now shared with Worf.

“Will,” Deanna paused and put a hand on his knee. It wasn’t an intimate touch but one which was sure to draw his attention. She spoke again slowly, “Worf…he told me last night about what you said to him.”

Riker first looked at the hand on his knee, followed the path of her arm until he was at her face. Just for a second, he wasn’t going to respond, but her eyes begged him to. He could feel that she needed to talk about this. After all, he did too. It had been hanging between them for days now, neither sure of what to say to the other or if anything should be said at all. He decided that it would be best for both of them to just get it out of the way, regardless of how painful it would be for him to talk about her and Worf.

“I didn’t know that he…” Will trailed off and turned his head away from her, unable to say it out loud. How could he hand over the love of his life to another person and act like it was no big deal?

When Deanna instinctively moved her hand up higher on his thigh, Will closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Did she really not know the affect she was having on him this very moment?

When she spoke again, it was as if she’d known his thoughts all along. It was to help him make sense of everything. Her voice was quiet, “I didn’t realize that you were wanting…I mean it was a surprise when you asked me to dinner the other night.”

He let out an amused laugh but did not look at her as he spoke. “A surprise. I guess I didn’t make much of an impression on you all those times we’ve had dinner together over the years.”

She smiled at that, sensing that he was attempting to keep a light attitude about the whole thing. “On the contrary, Commander. I remember those times very well and I’ll never forget them. However, when you asked me the other night, there was a hint of Betazed in your voice and that’s when I knew that it wasn’t like all of the other times.”

“Betazed?” he asked with a quizzical expression.

“You know, the way you used to ask me on a date when we were together on Betazed.”

Will chuckled, “I didn’t know there was a difference.”
Deanna smiled sadly and removed her hand. She shifted in her seat slightly and glanced back at the door. She stared at it for a long time and Riker was certain that their conversation had come to an abrupt end until she did finally continue it. “Worf was unsure about…pursuing anything with me without talking to you first. He appreciates your honesty last night.”

“Honesty my foot,” Will said. “Deanna you know as well as I do that I am not exactly comfortable with the idea of you and Worf together.”

“Will, you wouldn’t be comfortable no matter who it was,” she said gently. “I was never comfortable when you got serious with another woman.”

“You guys are serious?” Will asked as his head shot up quickly.

It was all Deanna could do not laugh at the panicked expression on his face. He of course didn’t realize what he must have looked like. “Yes, Will. We’re thinking about eloping pretty soon. I thought you might could come along and give me away since I can’t think of anyone else better suited for the job.”

Riker’s face fell as soon as he realized she was putting him on. He watched Deanna laugh at his obvious embarrassment and then felt her lean her head back against his shoulder all the while still smiling at him. He didn’t say anything, just stared straight ahead at some newly planted flowers.

“You know,” Deanna said, the laughter gone from her voice, “Worf thinks a great deal of you and so do I. But you and I have had this conversation before and I didn’t think we’d need to have it again.”

Will sighed, “We never had to deal with Worf before.”

“We or you?” she offered.

He was silent for a moment longer and then he rested his head on top of hers. “What do you really see in him?”

Deanna made a small sound and snuggled a bit closer to Riker. Will pulled his arm around her shoulders. “You know, my mother asked the same thing about you when we first started seeing each other.”

Will glanced down at her, “Don’t tell me you’re going to put him through the ringer like you did me? I don’t think Worf would appreciate losing to you in the tree hanging contest as much as I did.”

Deanna looked up at him, “Appreciate? As I recall you were quite a challenge, Will Riker. There were a lot of people who didn’t think we were well suited for each other. They thought you were too cocky and hard edged for me. But I knew better.” She pressed a finger into his chest, “You see, I saw something inside of you that no one else did. The way I see it now, you didn’t turn out so bad if I do say so myself.”

Will grinned back at her, “So, you see something inside of Worf that no one else sees?”

Deanna shrugged, “I suppose I do with everyone to some extent. But Worf’s different. He’s searching for companionship in the midst of people who are don’t share his lifestyle. I think he’s given into his circumstances somewhat and is willing to try a romantic relationship within a different context. I guess I find that endearing…for a Klingon.”

“It’s a challenge for you, just like I was.” Riker began to understand her logic. “I guess I just don’t understand why you told me we couldn’t be together all those years because we serve on the same ship, and then you go head first into a relationship with someone else serving on the same ship.” He stopped for a moment, not sure if he should say what was really on his mind. However, he couldn’t hold his thoughts back from Deanna any longer. “You want to know what I think?”

“Hmm?” she asked, her head still on his shoulder.

“I think that was an excuse not to be with ‘me.’” Riker took in his shoes as he waited for her response. It was something that he’d wanted to say to her for years but never had the courage to until now.

Deanna lifted her head and looked down at his shoes with him. “That’s a fairly bold accusation.”

He looked at her. “Is it true?”

Knowing that he was feeling remorseful for even bringing it up, she squared her eyes on his. “I hope you can understand my position on this. I love you, Will and I would do anything for you except being together with you again in that way. At least for right now that’s how things need to be with us,” she paused for a moment, “do you remember when I was supposed to marry Wyatt and we talked in the ready room?”

Will nodded.

“I told you that I knew you still cared within the limits of your career. Will, I can’t go through what I did the first time we were together. As amazing as it was, the heartbreak at the end almost made it seem not worth it.” Deanna smiled, her gaze breaking away from his as she stared off in the thin air. “I told Thomas while he was here that it took me a long time to get over what happened between you and I. All of the conversations he and I had, I suppose I should have had them with you as well.”

“Would’ve been nice,” Will said. “Deanna, do you really think I’m the same person who would walk out on a relationship?”

“No,” she trained her eyes on him again. “You’ve changed…we both have changed since then. But can you honestly tell me that you’re ready to put a marriage and family first in your life, sacrificing other things such as your career to make it all work? Because until you are, I don’t think you’re ready to commit to a serious relationship.”

He could say nothing. She was absolutely right and there was nothing he could say to defend himself. Will sighed, lifting his hand, he brushed her hair back over her shoulder and let it linger there. “I do understand. And I’m sorry if I’m acting like a jerk about this. The last thing I want to do is take away any happiness that you have.”

“Then, we’re okay?” she asked as she grabbed hold of his hand.

Will let out a long breath, squeezing her hand. “Yeah,” Will groaned in frustration while leaning forward, resting on his knees.

Deanna put a hand on his back. “Don’t worry, Will. I promise that you will be the first to know if anything gets serious.”

Will threw her a repugnant look and she laughed not noticing the door behind her opening. A tall Klingon walked in and spotted them on the bench.

“Commander, Deanna,” Worf said.

Deanna turned and gave him a brilliant smile. “Hello, Worf. Did you get everything finished?”

Worf stood rigged like he usually did, however he wore off-duty clothes. “Yes,” looking at Riker he said, “I believe you’ll find everything satisfactory, Commander.”

Will waved him off, “Sure, Worf.”

Leaning over, Deanna kissed Will on the cheek and then stood. “Well, we better go.”

Worf was about to say something when Riker stood abruptly. “No, I better go and leave you two alone. After all, I’ve got to find out where all the girls are hiding tonight.”

“Ten Forward,” Worf said. “There appears to be a birthday party going on.”

“You were there?” Deanna turned to him.

“I stopped by to give a report to Ensign Fletcher on the way here. It also seems, Commander, that she was hoping you would show up tonight,” Worf said, “isn’t she the one you have been seeing lately?”

Deanna threw a look at Riker and crossed her arms. Will cleared his throat, “Uh, yeah. She’s the one. Well, I better go and see if there’s any cake left.”

Will walked to the door, all too aware that Deanna was boring a hole right through his skull. But just before he stepped through the door, he turned back to her. “Oh, Deanna, I’ll be sure and let you know if things get serious between Ensign Fletcher and me. Maybe you can give me away at our wedding.”

He winked at her, a cocky grin on his face. The next moment, the door closed leaving one very peeved Batezoid and one very curious Klingon in its wake.