Paramount owns everyone and everything mentioned in this story -- and much of my hard earned money over the years. No infringement intended, etc., etc.
This is written as a little romantic fantasy for those who think Riker and Troi belong together and that the Troi/Worf romance is misguided at best.
The premise is LOOSELY based on the "death-of-all" scene in the audio cassette version of the "Generations" novelization by J.M. Dillard and calls on the finer points of Peter David's "Imzadi." It begins just as "Generations" ends. My apologies to Trek canonites..
Address comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. WARNING: This could be the first of many "Deanna dumps Worf for Riker" stories.
ONE BLUE REXA AND FOUR DIAMONDS
By S.J. McHale
Cmdr. William Riker stepped over the broken chair to reach the safe in his quarters. He would soon be leaving the USS Enterprise for the last time, joining
the rest of his crew on board the Farragut for transport away from the ruins of his ship. <His ship.>
Well, not anymore. His hopes of commanding the finest ship in Starfleet went down when the Enterprise crashed. And, depending on the findings of the board of inquiry that would no doubt be forthcoming, his entire career could be over. He had been outsmarted by the renegade Klingon sisters Lursa and B'Etor. Even if he wasn't demoted or court-martialed, he would be the laughing stock of Starfleet. Somehow, he didn't think they'd remember he was the only commanding officer who had faced the Borg and lived to tell about it. No, they'd be talking about this little incident for years to come.
Well, he thought, first things first. The safe protested, but opened to
reveal its contents. Will rummaged through the items -- two PADDs and three vinyl
envelopes. He decided to take one of the PADDs. It contained a letter he had started twice before and had never been able to bring himself to finish. Now, maybe it was time to get on with it.
The envelopes, like the other PADD containing his orders to report to the Enterprise were nothing more than relics. Except . . .
He picked up one envelope, felt the weight of the contents, laid it back
down, picked it up again and, cursing at his indecisiveness, threw the envelope into his open bag. Maybe she would want it someday, he reasoned as he slammed the safe. If nothing else, he could leave it with her to remember him by.
With one last look around his quarters, he shouldered the bag and went to the join Captain Jean-Luc Picard for a final farewell to NCC 1701-D.
Counselor Deanna Troi listened to Lt. Juri Viscari's self criticism and even tried to inject helpful comments, but her heart wasn't in her work today. The Enterprise crew had spent all of yesterday and last night finding temporary housing on the Farragut for the 15-day journey to Starbase 133. Throughout the night, Deanna had played problem solver when mismatched crewmembers had been assigned shared -- and usually cramped -- quarters. She was forcing herself to keep regular hours today because she knew a lot of her crewmates need to reconcile their actions when the Enterprise crashed. Others just needed help dealing with the loss of personal items that could not be recovered.
"I shouldn't have left my station, Counselor. We were in a combat situation and I failed to uphold my duty."
"Juri, we were in a hopeless situation and you feared for your child's safety. No one will blame you for wanting to be with him. He's only three months old and he's
"I'm a Starfleet officer."
"You're also a mother."
"Do you think the Captain will feel that way when he reads my CO's report?"
"I can't promise anything, but I'll talk to him." Deanna leaned forward and
gave Juri's hand a reassuring pat. "Not just about you. If it makes you feel any better, you aren't alone. You see, we all have preconceived notions of how we should act in a given situation. However, when we're faced with a crisis -- when we don't have time to rationalize and think about our actions -- quite often we react according to our deepest feelings. When the crisis is over, and we have the luxury of self-analysis, we're
often disappointed with ourselves."
"I'm more angry than disappointed."
"Juri, you didn't have time to think 'I should stay at my post and monitor the computer's attempts to stabilize ship.' You feared for your son and you rushed to him. In other words, the real you came out. You see yourself as a mother first and a lieutenant second. That's nothing to be ashamed of. Starfleet may think we're all machines at times, but the Captain knows better. I don't think your CO's report will ever get beyond his desk."
"It happened to others, too?"
"Yes, Juri." Deanna smiled. <It even happened to me. And, like you, I've been grappling with myself ever since.>
A tired Will Riker took one last look at the crew assignment chart and smiled at the first officer of the Farragut. "That's everyone. Thank you, Commander. It looks like we're going to be a little crowded until we get to Starbase 133. Feel free to make full use of our personnel."
"I was hoping you'd say that, Riker. Especially Security. I'm afraid when the
shock wears off, your crew is going to be a pain in the rear."
"To put it mildly. A thousand people and 15 days with too much time on their hands. Tell Lt. Cmdr. Worf that I said you're to have his full cooperation."
"The Klingon heads your Security?"
"Yes. And he's good at it."
"Any kin to --?"
"Not that I know of." Will handed him the PADD with more force than was
necessary. "I'll be with Captain Picard if you need me." With that, he turned on his heel
and stormed away.
Captain Picard's quarters were next to Riker's in the VIP section of the ship. They were probably the only members of the Enterprise crew who had no reason to complain about their accommodations. Will pressed the bell and the doors opened immediately. The Captain, seated at the desk, looked up from a computer screen. "Have a seat, Commander. I see everyone is situated."
Will didn't realize how much his body ached until he stretched his legs out in front of him. "We have 326 people sleeping in storage areas, but everyone at least has
a bed. Any chance we can shave some time off our ETA?"
"No, and there are no carrier ships in this vicinity, either, so it appears we're
stuck in this situation for the full duration. I must say you've done an admirable job
in finding sleeping quarters for everyone."
"Commander Jennings and I placed them and, if they griped too much, I sent them to Deanna for a pep talk."
"How is she? Beverly said she suffered bruised ribs in the crash and wouldn't
let her treat them until everyone else had been seen."
"Is that what was bothering her?" He frowned at the thought of Deanna being in pain and being stubborn about it. "To be honest, I haven't seen her since we left the Enterprise. I wondered why she insisted on staying in her quarters-slash-office."
"I'm sure she has her reasons." Picard turned off the monitor. "Number One, it's time you and I begin planning for the board of inquiry. I don't think we're going to have the luxury of waiting until we get to Starbase 133. Rear Admiral Adams, Vice Admiral Maurisota and Commodore Lassier are passing through this sector on their way to a conference on Zaldaria. For the sake of expedience, it appears they've been ordered to conduct a hearing on this ship sometime in the next 24 hours. That doesn't give us much time to prepare."
"No, but it will put me out of my misery that much sooner. I wasn't looking
forward to stewing for 15 days."
"I can imagine. This is very serious, Will, as I'm sure you realize."
"Yes, sir. And I'll face whatever disciplinary action Starfleet deems
"For right now, I just want to hear -- in the most minute detail -- what
the hell happened."
Will had dreaded this moment, but once he began, the words came easy. He felt almost detached as he described the unprovoked attack by the Klingon sisters and how Worf's knowledge of the older Bird of Prey's defects helped them destroy the aggressor. "None of our scanners picked up the video transmitter in Geordi's visor until it was activated seconds before the attack. Data was trying to identify it when the first torpedoes sliced through our shields."
"I have talked with Mr. La Forge. He recalls checking on the ship's status
when he returned to Engineering. No doubt, that gave the Duras sisters a bird's eye view of our shield modulation and God knows what else."
"So it would seem. Geordi had no way of knowing, sir."
"I hold him blameless, Commander. Actually, I don't believe anyone
on the Enterprise is at fault. Whether or not the powers that be agree with me
is another matter."
"Geordi and Data are already working with the engineering staff on the Farragut to test the possibility of constant, yet random, changes in shield modulation to prevent a similar incident. I'll draft new protocol for isolating returned hostages until more thorough scans can be completed. We followed Starfleet policy when Geordi reboarded the ship, but it wasn't good enough, was it?"
"Excellent. Go on."
"We had a warp core breach, which gave us five minutes to get everyone into the saucer section and to distance ourselves from the explosion. We managed the
evacuation, but we couldn't get far enough away. When the force of the blast hit, we lost control of the ship and went down."
"With Counselor Troi at the helm.
"Our helmsman was injured. Deanna was the closest."
"And the least experienced."
"She's qualified, Captain. If I hadn't thought so, I would have taken over
"She has the required hours in, and has performed suitably in routine flight, but in a crisis situation an experienced helmsman is always preferred."
"I agree. But in the split second we had, Deanna was my only option. The helm simply didn't respond. It isn't as though she sat there and stared at the pretty lights."
"I'm sure she did everything possible. I know all of you well enough to know
that if anything could have been done to have saved the Enterprise you would have done so."
Will went on to describe the search and rescue teams and other activities that
occurred before the Captain rejoined the crew. When Picard was satisfied, Will stood and walked slowly toward the doors. They had already opened when he stepped back and addressed Picard. "Captain, has Starfleet given any indication as to when another ship will be available?"
"When I talked to Commodore Lassier earlier -- and I must warn you, Number One, Lassier can be an ass-- he said an as yet unnamed Galaxy class ship is in the final stages at Utopia. She should be ready for shakedown trials in six to eight months. It will probably be ours, although much of our crew will be reassigned as soon as we get to Starbase 133. Since our encounter with the Borg, there are personnel shortages in too many areas for us to have any chance of keeping the bulk our technical or support personnel."
"I can -- and will -- request that my senior staff be kept intact. I assume we'll be sent either to Utopia or Earth to begin training for the new ship. Imagine it, Number One, an opportunity to have a say in the final interior design."
"Actually, sir, I've been thinking it may in the best interests of everyone if I request an immediate transfer and reassignment."
"Leave the Enterprise crew?"
"I don't think the crew has a lot of confidence in me right now, Captain."
"Come back over here and sit down, Commander." Picard waited until Will was again seated across from his desk. "Will, I can understand what you're going through. I know you thought as highly of the Enterprise as I did. But will running away from your responsibilities to this crew solve anything?"
"I don't think the crew will care."
"On the contrary. You have a rare ability of being both a highly demanding first officer and an understanding friend to everyone who has the privilege of serving with you. If I were to poll our crew right now, very few would suggest replacing you."
"Captain, I can see it in their eyes. All they know is the Enterprise crashed on my watch. As far as they're concerned, I disrupted their lives, I destroyed a lot of dreams."
"I don't think --"
"Captain . . . I have personal reasons for wanting to leave." Will shifted in his chair and stared at a scratch in one of his boots. "In all honesty, I began drafting a request several months ago. I haven't followed through because I kept hoping certain situations would change. They haven't and aren't likely to. Now just seems like a good time to make a clean break."
Picard nodded, understanding. "I have appreciated the way you've kept personal feelings from interfering with your ability to work with Mr. Worf."
"Have I? Removing the gang plank was petty, at best."
"I thought it quite amusing."
"Hardly actions becoming a first officer. I think it would better for the crew, and I know it would be better for me, if I leave as soon as possible."
"Commander, I don't know about the crew, but I have all the confidence in the world in your capabilities, and the idea of having to break in a new ship and a new first officer at the same time, frankly, is an experience I'd just as soon avoid. Until Data learns how to control his new-found emotions, he isn't up to handling the responsibilities. Geordi is too valuable in engineering and, as much as I respect Worf's capabilities in tactical and security, he would not be my first choice."
"My leaving now will give you time to select a suitable replacement. I'm sure there are a lot of officers who would jump at the chance."
"Do you have a new assignment in mind?"
"The first officer of the USS Price is on an extended medical leave. According to subspace chatter, the Price will pass through this sector, close enough for us to rendezvous, in about 72 hours. It would only be a temporary assignment, and the ship is hardly state of the art, but it will do until something else opens."
"I know the Captain of the Price. If you were leaving to take over his command, I might encourage you to do so. But do you really think you'll be happy with a lateral move and a Captain that is a total . . . ?" Picard shook his head rather than use the word that came to mind.
"When the board of inquiry gets through with me I may a lieutenant j.g. again and this may be a moot discussion."
"I doubt that very much." He turned his chair sideways and stared at a displayed tangle of metal and synthetic materials that he assumed was meant to pass as art. "Very well, Commander. Give me a padd with your request and I promise to consider it. I won't promise to accept it."
"I was hoping you'd get Admiral Adams' approval, to expedite things."
"You know the procedure, Number One."
"Thank you, sir." Will stood slowly and left without looking back. It was better not to know the expression on his Captain's face. He didn't realize his hands were shaking until he tried to straighten his tunic.
Geordi stopped at Data's table in the Starboard Lounge, fascinated by Data's laughter. It would take all of them a while to get used to Data's newly acquired ability to have emotions. He sat across from him and listened for several moments before asking, "What's so funny?"
"Before you came in, Lieutenants Cindy Barnes and Angie Delangelo were are fighting over Lt. Carl Weatherby. Barnes called Delangelo a back-stabbing, two-headed, Mizjerian mining tramp."
"And you found that funny?"
"No, but the way Delangelo poured an entire pitcher of liquid substance on Barnes' head was uproariously humorous. I am going to enjoy slapstick, once I develop a better understanding of it."
Geordi shook his head. "Enjoy yourself, Data, but don't be surprised if the next
pitcher is poured on your head."
That evening, Dr. Beverly Crusher stared openmouthed at her friend and captain. "I know you're convinced, and I'm sure you're right, but if we died, Jean-Luc, I don't remember it."
"It happened, Beverly. I failed the first time and Soran launched the probe. The Enterprise was in the resulting shock wave's path. I'm sure of it. I know Kirk and I changed things when we returned, but did that make it as though it never happened for all of you or would some crew members have a recollection of it?"
Beverly thought a moment, then tapped her comm badge. "Crusher to Deanna Troi."
"Deanna, could you come to Captain Picard's quarters for a moment?"
"On my way."
"If anyone would know how the crew is reacting, it would be Deanna."
She continued to both argue with him and to listen with fascination while
he told her about his alternative life in the Nexus. "A house full of them?"
"Yes. I don't understand the power of the Nexus but, somehow, it all felt right. It was my home and my children."
"What did your wife look like?"
"I really didn't pay that much attention." He shifted positions and reached for
his tea. "Slender. Tall, I think. Reddish hair. No one in particular."
Beverly was about to comment when the door chimed. Jean-Luc leaped to
his feet. "Come!"
Deanna entered, smiling when she saw the playful look on Beverly's face
and the empty dishes on the table. "Am I interrupting something?" she asked.
"Not at all, Counselor. Would you like something? Tea, perhaps?" Jean-Luc
offered too quickly.
"Nothing, thank you." Deanna sat on the sofa, next to Beverly. "What do you need?"
Jean-Luc described, as briefly as he could, his first and second attempts at stopping Soran. "When I couldn't overcome him the first time, and he succeeded in launching the probe, I was swept into the Nexus. Everything in the shock wave's path must have been destroyed. Including the Enterprise. I know by changing things we negated the first event. But time has always held a fascination for me and I was wondering if anyone on the crew had mentioned remembering both incidents."
"Do you remember anything, Deanna?" Beverly asked.
Deanna read the Captain's emotions -- something she generally avoided
out of respect unless duty dictated or they were overwhelming, as they had been when he
learned of his brother's and nephew's deaths -- before answering. "What happened the first time shouldn't trouble you, Captain, since you ultimately succeeded. But, yes,
I do remember. The Enterprise went down twice. The first time, as we were preparing to organize search parties, it began to get dark and we could hear a rumbling in the distance. We knew it was the shock wave." She shuddered upon remembering Will's gaze at the moment he had realized they had survived the crash only to die Soran's shock wave. The defeat and bitterness she had seen in those usually warm eyes had taken her breath away.
"What happened then?" Picard asked.
"Everything started shaking, then buckling, as though were in an earthquake." Deanna lowered her eyes and took a deep breath before continuing. "I knew it wasn't supposed to be happening, but it was. The last thing I remember was a deafening roar as the bulkheads began to glow and everything around us burst into flames. I was thinking 'It's not right!'"
Beverly touched her arm. "Deanna?"
Deanna nodded. "The next thing I knew, the crash was happening all over again."
"Too bad you couldn't have come back a few seconds later, Captain," Beverly teased. "One crash would have been plenty."
Jean-Luc smiled. There was peace in knowing that leaving the incredible happiness offered by the Nexus to battle Soran again had been his only choice. He had saved his friends as well as millions of people he would never know. It made James T. Kirk's death an even more gallant one -- he had saved the crew of the Enterprise once again.
"Actually, it's too bad I didn't come back a few minutes sooner. Perhaps with a second chance, Will could have saved the Enterprise . . .
Deanna was staring at the floor, the slightest hint of tears in her eyes. "If
there's nothing else . . ." She stood slowly, unsteady on her feet.
"No. Thank you, Counselor."
Beverly got to her feet. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," she said, though her eyes betrayed her. "Lunch tomorrow?" she
asked her closest friend.
"Drinks in 30 minutes. Your cabin."
Deanna nodded her thanks and apologies and left. In the corridor, she
leaned against the cool metal wall and breathed slowly several times before trying to
Thankfully, she reached her quarters without seeing anyone she knew from the Enterprise crew. Thirty minutes would give her time to rest, a luxury she hadn't afforded herself since arriving on the Farragut. She stretched out on the bed and closed her eyes, only to be jolted awake a few minutes later by Worf's voice.
"Lt. Commander Worf to Deanna Troi."
"What is it, Worf?" she asked, hoping her irritation wasn't obvious in her voice.
"I have just finished with a security matter. I was hoping we could celebrate my promotion over dinner."
"I can't, Worf. I'm meeting Beverly in a few minutes."
"Are you feeling ill?"
"No, nothing like that."
"Perhaps later, then."
"I don't think so, Worf. Not tonight. I'm sorry, I guess I'm just tired." <And confused. And I don't want to see you right now!>
"I understand. I will see you tomorrow. Sleep well, Deanna."
"Good night." She slapped her comm badge to end their conversation and swung her legs over the side of the bed. "There goes my nap." The door chime indicated Beverly had arrived. Deanna called "Come in!" as she went to check her hair and makeup. "I'll just be a minute."
"No hurry. How are your ribs?"
Beverly was holding a medical scanner. "I'll be the judge of that." She checked
Deanna over, from head to toe. "You're right. I do excellent work, don't I?"
"When the patient cooperates." She eyed a covered tray Beverly had placed on the table. "What did you bring?"
Beverly removed the cover with a grand gesture. "Arturian fizzes. I know, they're fattening and probably illegal somewhere, but we're deserving."
"They're synthahol, aren't they?"
"No. I made these in Sickbay with the chief medical officer's private stash of medicinal supplies."
Deanna laughed at Beverly's eagerness. "Are you suggesting we get -- what is the word Will uses -- soused?"
"This mixture doesn't have that much punch. Besides, the Captain has his wine
. . . " her voice trailed. "Had his wine. Oh, Deanna, isn't it awful about Jean-Luc's brother and nephew?"
"Has he said very much to you?"
"No, just the details in hollow recitation."
"He's trying to distance himself from his emotions. That's always been his way of coping."
"Is there anything I can do to help him?"
"Listen when we needs to talk. And he will, eventually."
Beverly filled a glass with the pale pink, frothy mush and handed it to Deanna. She wanted to ask her about Jean-Luc's fantasy in the Nexus, and how it related to the deaths of his family, but instead she raised her glass and said, "To Jean-Luc's recovery and to the Enterprise-- may our memories of her live forever."
"Definitely." Deanna sipped her drink. It was cool and refreshing and, despite being pink, tasted like very sweet chocolate with just the slightest hint of something she'd never tasted. "What's in this?"
"Arturian brandy. Dr. Leith keeps it for one of his patients. I had to promise to pay him back by pulling three shifts in Sickbay while we're on the Farragut."
"You know, I had a dreadful realization on my way here."
<Not you, too.> "Such as?"
Deanna was caught off guard by the suggestion. "No, we aren't. We both have our family homes out there." She gestured starboard. "Or are they that way?" She gestured port. "Wherever they are, we can always hide in them if we need to. And right now, I very much need a place to hide."
"I'm sorry, Deanna. Really. I should have known asking you about dying would be upsetting."
"Remembering my death doesn't bother me. What upsets me are the events leading up to it."
"You can't blame yourself. Jean-Luc said Will told him you did everything possible and the helm simply wouldn't respond."
"Will told him that?"
"I wonder if the board of inquiry will agree."
"We'll find out day very soon. The board will convene right here on the Farragut sometime in the next 24 hours. Two admirals and one nasty little commodore. All after Will's hide."
"It wasn't Will's fault! How was he to know the Duras sisters had our shield modulations?" Deanna refilled her glass with such force she nearly knocked it over. "If it wasn't for his fast decision to separate the saucer section we'd have died when the warp engines blew."
"Hey, hold it!" Beverly held up her hands in mock self-defense. "Are you that concerned about Will's future, or is something else going on here?"
Deanna smiled sadly. "That's the problem with having close friends, they know you too well."
"Wanna talk about it?"
She shook her head, then nodded and laughed through sudden tears. "Let me ask you something. After the Enterprise stopped decapitating trees and you had a moment to think -- what were your first thoughts?"
"My first thoughts?" Beverly raised a brow. "That's an odd question."
"Not really. It's what I've been dealing with all day. First thoughts and actions in a crisis can be very telling."
"I imagine so." She sipped her fizz, her smile widening as she recalled her own situation. "Well, when everything stopped I was sprawled on top of Lieutenant Ickerd Davidson. I apologized, pushed his hand away from a place it didn't belong, and began listening for casualty reports."
"Very professional of you, Doctor." She tilted her glass toward Beverly.
"What did you think of?" She caught Deanna's expression. "Oh, so that's what has you so upset. All right, what happened?"
Deanna set her drink on the table before it fell from her trembling hand. "When I came to, and was finally able to stand, I saw Will lying face up on the deck. I had this overwhelming fear that he was dead, so I screamed something like 'My God! Will!'" and rushed over to him."
"Except for a scratched forehead and a terribly bruised ego, he's fine."
"He's depressed and angry and . . . something else I can't read."
"Have you talked to him?"
"No. I've been avoiding him."
"Beverly, when I saw Will, I panicked. Not just because he was motionless, but because I had no sense of him." At Beverly's confused look, she explained. "I can't explain it really, but whenever Will is near me, I have a sense of him. In other words, I know he's there. I can be in a room filled with people and know the moment Will enters or leaves. I've gotten so used to it that I don't pay any attention to it anymore. I didn't even realize why I'd panicked until I thought about it tonight."
"Well, at least he can never sneak up on you."
"There's no way to explain the emptiness I felt without it."
"Do you have that same sense of Worf?"
"No." She stood and began to pace. "I've spent most of my time since we boarded the Farragut trying to help crew members deal with their first thoughts and actions. When you summoned me to the Captain's quarters I was trying to analyze my own. I'm not sure I like what I've learned."
"What's wrong with being concerned about a friend?"
"Nothing. Except my thoughts were ONLY Will."
"Deanna, I've never fully understood the concept of Imzadi, but wouldn't it make sense that you and Will are still close?"
"I've tried to convince myself that's all it was. Beverly, I've been with Worf for a year. I care very deeply for the man. My first thoughts should have been of him!"
"And you're angry with yourself because you thought of Will instead?"
"Shouldn't I be?"
"No. Which did you see first?"
"Will." She lowered her eyes. "But I didn't even think of Worf until he and Data were standing next to us. Besides, if it had only been thoughts, I could write them off as a momentary lapse. But the first time the Enterprise went down, when the Captain couldn't save us and I knew I was going to die, I turned my back on Worf and went to be with Will."
"Exactly. Worf and I were on the turbolift when the shock wave began. Worf said, 'It is not a dishonorable way to die. If you, Deanna, are going to die, I am glad to die with you.' Will gave me a forced smile and said, 'Same here.'"
"And you wanted to die at Will's side."
Deanna slumped back into her chair. "I think I made an unconscious decision to die in his arms. I staggered over to him and he put his arms around me. Even though he was holding me as tightly as he could, we fell to the deck. And we died there, with our arms around each other."
"And Worf was left with Data." Beverly refilled both their glasses. "It sounds to me as though you have a lot of unresolved feelings where Will is concerned."
"I thought I had resolved them. I thought I was happy with things the way they were. For now, anyway. Will as a friend and Worf as the man in my life. It was neat and tidy. And safe."
"Well, you may be happy with it, but Will isn't. It's the main reason he's leaving." At Deanna's wide-eyed response, Beverly immediately knew she had said too much.
"Leaving? What are you talking about?"
"Deanna, this really should come from Will."
"Tell me, Beverly!"
"He told Jean-Luc today that, pending the results of the board of inquiry, he wants to transfer to the Price when it passes through this sector in three days."
"No, he can't do that to me. Not now."
"Jean-Luc isn't sure he's going to accept the request. In fact, right now, he's
leaning towards denying it. Or at least delaying it for as long as he can."
"This has to be a bad dream. Computer, where is Commander Riker?"
After a brief delay, the computer blipped, then responded with "State full name and ship's assignment."
"Our crew data was placed in a personnel subdirectory so we can be removed more easily when we get to Starbase 133," Beverly explained. "We have to give full name and ship ID. This is an old ship."
Deanna scowled. "Computer, where is Commander William Thomas Riker of the Starship Enterprise?"
A few seconds, then: "Commander Riker is in the Starboard Lounge."
"Beverly, thank you. I won't tell Will you said anything." She stood and took a long, slow drink of the fizz. "As much as I dread this, I have to talk to him."
"Deanna, do you love him?"
"That's one question I haven't asked myself in a very long time."
Beverly came around the table to join her. "Maybe you've been afraid of the answer. It's easier to choose a 'safe,' undemanding relationship than it is to dive into one that requires everything you can give."
"Are you talking about me and Will or you and the Captain?"
Beverly scowled. "Both, darn it."
"Well, one of is about to find out. Aren't I?" She hugged Beverly and hurried to the door. "Thanks for the drinks. And the ear."
"What are friends for? Good luck. You know I'll expect to hear every lurid detail."
Deanna grinned and hurried from the room, hoping to catch Will while he was still in the lounge. If she had to chase him all over the ship, she would surely lose her nerve.
Beverly sat back down to finish the last glass of Arturian fizz and to ponder why the devil she wasn't the woman in Jean-Luc's Nexus-induced fantasy.
Will had tried to sleep, but every time he closed his eyes he saw the smoking bridge of the Enterprise and his friends being thrown about him. Deanna had come so close to striking the screen. If Data hadn't caught her . . .
After an hour of tossing and turning, he had gotten dressed, grabbed the PADD with his half-finished transfer request, and headed for the Starboard Lounge. On the way there, he had hoped to find a friendly female face with a sympathetic shoulder. By the time he walked into the lounge, however, he had decided he'd rather be alone.
He found a small table in the back and dropped heavily into a chair facing the window. That should tell anyone who entered he wanted to be left alone. Would he be happy on the Price with Captain 'Gung Ho' Howard? Probably not. But from that ship he'd be ready to jump at a command opportunity. On that ship, he'd have nothing to lose by leaving.
The other times, when he'd turned down what he had thought he wanted most -- his own ship -- it was because leaving would have been too great a sacrifice. Sure, he'd said he preferred the excitement of leading away teams and being in the thick of things in ways that a captain never could. That hadn't been totally dishonest. But he had always known there were other reasons. He had stayed because of her. Having found her again, and believing that there was the slightest chance they might rebuild their relationship, he couldn't bring himself to leave. She would never have gone with him and he feared putting too much distance between them might end things once and for all.
The waiter arrived, took his order, and left quickly as though sensing his mood.
As long as they were having casual encounters, he had never felt threatened. Even when she began seeing Worf, he had expected her to get tired of being with a Klingon. He knew a little about Klingon mating habits and he had thought Deanna would soon want to rid herself of Worf. For the first few weeks he had gone so far as to check her face and neck for bite marks, itching to punch Worf if he saw the slightest outline of the Klingon's teeth. When weeks turned into months, he had began to fear the worst. Deanna had made her choice, and it wasn't him. "It" wasn't even human. Will hit the PADD's power button and began typing on the miniature keypad.
Well, he'd survived the most miserable year of his life, was not a better man for it, and had no intentions of prolonging the misery until they got to Earth. If the Captain didn't approve, he'd give the request directly to Admiral Adams. "The sooner I get out of here, the better," he mumbled under his breath.
When his drink was placed in front of him, he looked up to thank the waiter and instead saw Deanna standing next to him. He focused on the PADD. "How are your ribs?"
"Better. Who told you?"
"The Captain. Next time, don't suffer so long."
"They weren't that bad," she said, sliding into the seat across from him. <Don't lecture me, Will.> "How's your head?"
"Outside, it's fine. Inside . . . well . . ." Will concentrated on his typing, determined to ignore her. He didn't want to talk to her. He didn't even want to see her right now.
"What are you working on?" she asked, already knowing the answer.
He handed her the PADD and, needing something else to focus on, gulped down his drink. Deanna read it and returned it to him. "You put three 'm's' in immediate."
Will glared at the screen. "I hate these things," he said, turning hitting the off switch and dropping the PADD onto the table. Rubbing at his eyes, he muttered, "I'm going to retire to a planet that still uses paper. Hell, two days from now I may have to find a job on one. Which do you think I'd be happier as -- a mediocre jazz musician or a grouchy chef in some watering hole?" He lowered his hands and looked at her for the first time.
"At least the hearing will be held soon," Deanna said matter-of-factly, but she struck him as being edgy despite her cool expression. "It will be a relief to get it over with. I think you're worrying for nothing, Will. They can't blame you. It wasn't your fault. And I refuse to accept the blame."
"One of the men I went through the Academy with crashed a ship. Nothing special, just an inexpensive little cruiser. He has a nice little farm now on the planet Iadnuy. I think he grows turnips."
"If you're talking about who I think you are, he crashed while trying to get away from imaginary Romulan Warbirds. You are mentally sound and you did your best."
"Is that your professional opinion?" Will eyes flashed in anger, then showed only resignation. "No matter what happens at the hearing, Deanna, things will never be the same."
"No, but leaving isn't the answer."
"It works for me."
"Does it? Why?"
"Deanna, I'm tired and I'm in a rotten mood. I have a tendency to be too honest when I get like this, and I don't think you really want to hear it." He turned on the PADD and corrected his typo in "immediate."
Deanna took it away from him. "I wouldn't have asked."
Will simmered a few moments before saying anything. "Maybe you haven't noticed, but the last year has been hell for me. As someone who likes to be in control of every situation, you should understand -- I've lost control of my life and I want it back."
"Deanna . . ."
"All right, you asked for it." He snatched the PADD from her hand and slammed it down on the table. "Have you considered even once how it makes me feel to see you with Worf? I've tried my damnedest to accept the two of you. My aristocratic, half-Betazoid/half-human angel with a Klingon who growls and prefers his dinner to be crawling off the plate."
"That isn't fair."
Will held up a hand to silence her. "Deanna, I've tried to get over the --" he took a deep breath, hesitated, then plunged ahead "-- over the jealousy and anger I feel when I see you with him. I know I have to, if we're going to get on with our lives."
"I never meant to hurt you."
"And I didn't ask to be Imzadi -- damn it, I'm not even half-Betazoid, so why me?-- but it happened and you're a part of me. Maybe the best part. Every time I see you touch him or look at him in a way you used to look at me, I feel a piece of what we had -- a piece of myself -- being chipped away. And it's killing me."
"I don't know what to say."
"Then shut up and let me finish." He looked past her, out the window. "I thought being Imzadi was something special. That no matter what happened, there'd always be
. . . a special bond that couldn't be broken. But I was wrong. We've lost it."
"No, we haven't."
"Haven't we? Think about it. We started drifting apart after you were with Tom."
"Tom? I haven't thought of him in . . . Have you heard anything from him?"
"No. But he's contributed to making the past 12 months so miserable. As if dealing with my own insecurities weren't bad enough, I've had to live with the fact that my transporter-created other self is in a Cardassian prison. Once again, Thomas Riker is suffering and I'm free."
"You aren't responsible for him."
"Rationally, I know that. So why do I feel as though I unleashed him on the universe? He told me I was living the life he should have had. Let's face it, I resented him and I treated him like hell. Maybe if I'd tried to--"
"To what? To make him you?"
"I don't know. Maybe he would have been better at me that I've been."
"That's the silliest thing I've ever heard!" She realized her voice was carrying and felt incredibly foolish, then angry at him for dragging her into this conversation. At least most of the people close enough to hear them were on the Farragut's crew.
"Then go away and leave me alone, and you won't have to hear it."
She ignored the request. "Of what else have you lost control?"
Will leaned across the table. By now he was seething. "I just crashed the flagship of the Federation! My career -- the one part of my life where I still called the shots -- could be over!"
"You need to think more constructive thoughts."
"If this seems like wallowing in self-pity to you, Counselor, I apologize."
"That's exactly what it is. Do you really think leaving will make you happier?"
"It will hurt a hell of a lot less. Out of sight, out of mind."
"You're talking about Worf again, aren't you?"
Will's voice softened, his eyes were suddenly pleading. "Deanna, how can you be with him?"
"I'm with Worf because he wants to be with me. Just me. Not me and whoever else strikes his fancy at the moment."
"Maybe that's because he knows he has you. I've never had that luxury."
"All right, William Riker, you started this!" She sensed his anger and matched it with her own. "I was going to give up everything for you! You canceled our plans to meet on Risa, I didn't. I don't think you ever realized how hurt I was. Or did it even matter?"
"You know I wanted to be there. When my CO refused to grant a delay, I appealed all the way to Starfleet Command. I still have the requests and the denials, if you'd like to see them. I was told to accept the promotion and report to my next assignment, or to forget it and be content to stay in the pack. I couldn't do that, Deanna. I had goals I wanted to reach. I wanted to give you more than a lieutenant j.g. could provide."
"You wanted your career more than you wanted me. It didn't matter to you that as far as I was concerned, being with you would have been enough."
"Then why did you turn down the next two offers I made?"
"They came at graduation time and right when I was supposed to report to the Academy. By then, I wasn't going to walk away from everything I'd worked for, either. I didn't think we'd lose touch." Deanna remembered her mother telling her she "blew it" with Will. She had never seen it that way; she had always blamed him.
"Eventually, Deanna, a man stops asking. And you made it very clear when we joined the Enterprise crew that you had no intention of picking up where we'd left off."
"I was still angry. And I wasn't ready to be hurt again." She put her hand on Will's. "Maybe I was punishing you for disappointing me."
He gently pushed her hand away. "You still are. And I can't take it anymore. I'm leaving, Deanna. In three days, if I'm lucky. If not, as soon as we get to Starbase 133."
Deanna's eyes filled with tears. "I don't want you to go."
Will studied her face for several moments before responding. "Then give me a reason to stay." When she didn't answer, he picked up the PADD and slowly rose to his feet. "I didn't think so. I'm sorry, Deanna. I've tried, but I can't watch you be with him. I can't see you everyday and go on being just your good friend." Seeing the tears in her eyes almost brought him to his knees beside her. Instead, he smiled and said in a lighter voice, "We'll talk before I leave. There's something I want to give you." He pushed the chair aside and walked away. She called out to him telepathically, and he heard her, but he only closed his eyes and kept walking.
His eyes were closed when he ran into Worf at the doors of the Starboard Lounge. "Begging your pardon, Commander," Worf said, stepping aside.
"Window aisle, last table." Will pushed past him without acknowledging Worf's thank you. He waited to take out his frustration on a turbolift call button that would never sit exactly straight again.
Worf found Deanna immediately and sat down. "I did not think I would see you
"I hadn't planned to leave my quarters."
"Deanna, you have been crying." His brow furrowed. "Did Commander Riker upset you?"
"Worf, what were your first thoughts when the Enterprise crashed?"
He shook his head. "You did not answer my question."
His nostrils flared at her stubbornness and at having to discuss the matter. "I was angry and ashamed that renegades from my homeworld had caused the Enterprise's destruction. I was sorry that Lursa and B'Etor had chosen a dishonorable way to die, but I was also glad that I was able to assist in destroying their ship."
"Honor's very important to you, isn't it?"
"It is a guiding force in a warrior's life. To die without honor is a disgrace."
"To a Klingon warrior."
"That is what I am, Deanna." He wrapped his large hands around hers. "Now answer my question. Why were you crying?"
"Will wants an immediate transfer."
Worf nodded. "I can understand. He feels responsible for the crash. I would also feel that way if I had been in command."
"What is it with you men?" She snatched her hand away from Worfs'. "Honor, pride -- can't you ever just follow your hearts?"
"I cannot speak for Commander Riker. He is a human. I am a Klingon male who accepts the role emotions play in my life."
"A very limited role."
"Warriors who are led by emotions tend to die very young."
"You mean warriors who feel they have to fight over every injustice, no matter how infantile it seems?"
Worf waved away the waiter who appeared. His voice was low when he said, "If Commander Riker's leaving upsets you, perhaps you should discuss it with him. I will not tolerate being insulted through misdirected anger."
"I thought you had accepted me for who I am, Deanna. If do not apologize for what I believe."
"I care very much for the man you are."
"For the man I am?"
"You know what I mean."
"Yes, I am afraid I do."
Deanna started to protest when she felt a terrible wave of emptiness pass over her. She heard Worf explaining the difference between Terran men and Klingon males, but he sounded far away as the reality of her situation began to sink in. This is the way it would be when Will left. During their years apart, she had always known she would see him again. Now it would truly be over between them. The distance he would place between them would be insurmountable.
For the first time in her life, she understood the devastation her mother had felt when her father died. To be separated for life from your Imzadi meant losing too much of yourself.
<Give me a reason to stay. >
She leaped to her feet with such force she almost overturned her chair. "Worf, I'm not feeling well. I have to go."
"I will take you to Sickbay."
"No, stay here. Eat your dinner. I'll be fine."
He looked at her, the concern evident in his eyes. "I will see you tomorrow?"
"Of course." She touched Worf's shoulder as she passed.
Will had hoped a shower would clear his thoughts, but it had done little more than make the joints that ached more noticeable. He glared at his reflection in the mirror. <Damn it, Riker. You told her things you never wanted her to know.> Well, it wouldn't matter soon. In a few days, they'd say good-bye and it would be over. He'd never have to see those sad eyes again. Those eyes. How many times had he lost himself in them?
Deanna had trotted much of the way to Deck 11, pretending she didn't see the startled looks of Enterprise crewmates she passed. No doubt, seeing their counselor in a teary-eyed, frazzled state was unnerving to the people who depended on her to help them maintain their sanity. In the 10 minutes it took her to cover the distance, she considered all of the reasons she should stay with Worf rather than go back to Will. No one had ever appreciated her as much as Worf. Certainly, no one had ever changed as much just for her.
But Worf wasn't . . . Imzadi. He was good to her and he loved her, but how many times had she found herself wondering what was missing? Worf had swept her off her feet and she had marveled in the new experiences of being with a Klingon. Newness, however, had a way of fading, and Worf could be so rigid about some things that there were times she wanted to forcibly smooth his forehead for him.
She nearly ran into a group of children on their way to a camping trip in a holodeck. They hardly noticed, though the adults with them chastised her. Children were another thing she had tried not to think about. She loved Alexander, and he had a special beauty of his own, but did she want her children to have distinct Klingon features? Children with Will would be . . . perfect. Handsome, smart, and too much like their father. <I'd despise him if I didn't . . . love him? Do I? >
Deanna ran/walked the rest of the way, both hating herself for what she was about to do to Worf and trembling with the anticipation of being with Will again. She was in a hurry until she reached the corridor outside of Will's door. With her finger poised to press the buzzer, she froze. <What am I doing? If I go in, there will be no turning back. He'll expect all of me. Am I ready to give him everything?>
At the sound of the door chime, a still-damp Will slipped on pajama bottoms and grabbed his robe. It had better be important. "Come!"
Deanna stormed into the living area. "Answer one question for me. What were your first thoughts when you came to after the crash?"
"What?" He came into the room, walking slowly toward her while he put on the robe. Any anger she didn't sense was written all over his face. "Deanna, what the hell are you doing here?"
"After you came to, on the bridge, what did you think of first?"
Will buried his face in his hands. "Go away, Deanna. I can't take anymore of you tonight. It's late and I just want to forget who you are, who I am-- Right now I'd like to forget everyone and everything I've ever known."
"I'm not leaving until you answer me."
He ran his hand through his wet hair while deciding if he wanted to throw her out or answer her so she would leave. "Since you were shouting at me, I guess my first thought was to answer you."
"Then? I said a quick prayer of thanks that you were all right, and immediately felt guilty as hell about it."
"I was responsible for over 1,000 lives. I shouldn't have been preoccupied with yours."
Deanna wrapped her arms around her chest and exhaled. She hadn't even realized she was holding her breath. "When I saw you, I thought you were dead. I yelled and ran over to you because I had to know you were all right. My first thoughts were of you, too. Only of you." She turned away from him. "Will, do you remember anything about the first time we crashed? When the shock wave destroyed the ship?"
"Just a vague uneasiness."
"I remember all of it."
For the first time he thought of Deanna's feelings rather than his own anger. "Are you okay about it?"
She faced him again, studying his face before she answered. "No, I'm not."
"What happened?" he asked softly.
"Everything was the same up until the time Worf and I got into the turbolift." She described the darkness that came over the bridge and the way he had looked at her. She even managed to calmly tell him all that Worf had said about dying with her. However, when she tried to tell him the rest, she began to feel weak and her voice began to quiver. "All I knew was that I had to touch you one last time. And that, if I was going to die, I wanted to be in your arms. "
She nodded, willing herself not to cry. "I staggered over to you and you put your arms around me. By then the floor was buckling and we fell. Everything burst into flames, and I remember thinking our lives weren't meant to end that way. But at least you and I were together. And while I expected to feel anger and fear in you, they weren't there. All I sensed were your love for me and a terrible sadness over things that might have been."
Will closed the distance between them and held out his arms. Without hesitation, Deanna stepped into his embrace and buried her face in his shoulder for several moments while he kissed the top of her head and whispered, "It's all right."
"I'm sorry," she said, finally, although she didn't know what she was apologizing for.
"Deanna, maybe someday we will die in each other's arms. I don't know about you, but I'd prefer it to be after we've lived a long, happy life in them."
She stepped back looked him over. "Why do you have to be dressed like that?"
He smiled an apology and tied the belt of his robe. "I wasn't expecting company. I'll change."
She shook her head and returned to his embrace. "I should have wanted to die with Worf."
"I know. If I were ship's counselor, I'd ask, 'And what have you learned from this, Miss Troi?'"
Deanna's words were almost lost against his chest. "That no matter how hard I've tried -- no matter how badly I've wanted to -- I've never stopped . . . being in love with you."
Will tightened his hold on her. "I've never wanted you to stop."
"Then don't leave."
"Don't ask me to stay . . . unless . . . " He felt her body tense. <So that's your answer.> He released her and headed for his bedroom. "Good night, Deanna," he said without looking back. "Admiral Adams will be here in less than 12 hours. I don't think my nodding off at the hearing will make a good impression on them."
"Why now? Why all of a sudden?"
He didn't miss a step, nor did he answer.
<Don't you do this to me, William Riker.> "Don't you see, it's complicated with us?" Without realizing it, she was following him. "If we get back together, it will have to be all or nothing. That's the way it is when two people are Imzadi."
He stopped at the bedroom doorway, but didn't turn around. "I've settled for nothing for a long time. And I have to tell you, Deanna, I hate it."
"It isn't what I want, either." She caught up with him, expecting him to turn. When he didn't, she touched his back, not surprised by the tension she felt beneath her hand. "Look at me."
"Why? You know what I'm feeling."
"Anger. Sadness. Impatience. Desire. All mixed up with love that right now you wish you didn't feel." Deanna rested her forehead on his back. "Imzadi?"
Will turned slowly. He would not touch her. Instead, he stood straight, looking past the top of her head, his hands opening and closing into fists. And he waited.
She kissed his chest just above the opening of his robe, then followed her lips with her fingertips, sliding them up his chest until her hands were on the back of his neck. At his hesitation, she smiled and nodded.
Will carefully placed his hands on the sides of her face and brushed away the remnants of tears with his thumbs. "Do you also know how much I need you tonight?"
"I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere."
His lips brushed across hers. "Worf?"
"I know how he's going to feel," he said with another brief kiss. His hands moved slowly from her face to her back, edging her closer.
"Tonight, I'm with you. And you're right, you can't go on being just my good friend." She met Will's next kiss with one of her own. Passion soon replaced doubt, and Will and Deanna were amazed to discover all over again the intense physical and emotional satisfaction that could only be found when one shared body, mind and soul with one's Imzadi.
In the hours that passed, the Farragut could have crashed and neither would have noticed.
By midnight, Worf was pacing his cabin and worrying about Deanna. He had never seen her so pale or frightened as she was when she raced out of the Starboard Lounge. At 2300 hours he had gone by her quarters to check on her, but she had not answered and he had not yet been given the authority to order a security override. He had almost called Farragut security, but had decided against it. She would be furious with him for ignoring her wishes to be alone.
If Commander Riker was still capable of upsetting her that much, he would be glad when the transfer came through. That was the best way to keep Q's version of their future from coming to pass. There could be no lifetime of animosity if his only challenger for Deanna's heart was out of the picture. With Riker gone, Deanna would finally be free to love him without looking over her shoulder. And he had no doubt Riker would find more than enough women to keep him occupied. Anything female held a fascination for William Riker.
Then why did he feel as though he had already lost?
"Computer, where is Counselor Deanna Troi of the Enterprise crew?"
"Counselor Troi is in cabin 11-D."
"To whom is that cabin assigned?"
"Cabin 11-D is a VIP cabin, currently assigned to Commander William T. Riker of the Enterprise."
Worf closed his eyes. "Where is Commander Riker?"
"Commander Riker is in his quarters."
An hour later, when he again asked the computer for their locations, he received the same answer. The same was true at 0200 and 0300 hours. By then, having slept only sporadically, Worf was furious and the ceremonial dagger he had rescued from the Enterprise felt better and better in his hands.
"I probably should go," Deanna whispered, nudging Will's chin with her forehead. "Computer, quarter lights."
He lazily tightened his arm around her. "Go back to sleep. Computer, lights out."
"You aren't going to leave now, are you? Computer, quarter lights."
Deanna pushed at his chest. "On what?"
"On what tonight means to you."
"Tonight was wonderful. How could it be anything else?" She kissed his nose. "We're Imzadi."
"Does it mean we're back together?"
"Is that what you want?"
"It's what I've always wanted."
"But are you ready for what I want?"
He opened his eyes for the first time, blinking against the light. "What's that?"
"I won't be hurt again."
Will pulled her against him. "I'm not the same ambitious young fool who knows now he should have moved heaven and earth to have been on Risa. I've fought my feelings for you too long, Deanna. You've heard all my excuses. But if my career meant more than you, I'd have left a long time ago."
Deanna traced the line of his beard from ear to chin. "I'm glad you didn't. What do you really want, Will?"
"Why are we Imzadi?"
She had always expected that question, but at the moment it took her aback. "I don't know. It just happens." <What a lame answer.>
"But why did you become Imzadi with me and not with other lovers? Or have you felt the same with Worf?"
"No. Worf is an amazing man. But it's only one Imzadi per customer."
"Yet you almost married someone else."
"Will, some Betazoid men and women live happily married lives with someone other than their Imzadi. Fortunately for the sanity of Betazed, most people who share that special bond don't fight it as hard as we have." <How do I make him understand?> "Are you sorry we're Imzadi?"
"Even though it means love can never be simple between us?"
"I know what you and I are capable of sharing and, for all its complications, I want that back in my life. Maybe I had to lose everything to realize what's really important. I repeat: Are we back together?"
Deanna looked into his eyes for several seconds before answering. "William Riker, you are my best friend, my confidante, my soulmate, my Imzadi, and tonight you were my lover again. All of those are wonderful, but I need even more from you."
"I need to know that no matter what happens in this universe -- or in our silly careers -- our love for each other will always come first. That's the one thing you've never been able to give me."
Will winced, then laughed at her pained expression. "Deanna Troi, if I know I have you, body and soul . . ." He finished the thought with a kiss.
Deanna let his emotions fill her with a warmth she had almost forgotten and suddenly felt as though she could not get close enough to him. "Computer, lights out," she breathed, pressing the entire length of her body against his.
"Computer, quarter lights." He frowned at her startled expression when he pushed her away. Slowly, placing emphasis on each word, he asked again, "Are_we_back_together?"
She responded with an exaggerated sigh. "Will that keep you in my life?"
"It will make you the center of mine."
"Then yes, Commander, we are."
"You'll end things with Worf?"
"You mean I can't have both of you?"
"I don't share my toys -- uh -- Trois."
Deanna mussed his hair. "You can be incredibly annoying."
"That's not all I can be."
"I've noticed. Computer, lights out."
"What's this?" Deanna asked when Will placed a black vinyl envelope on the breakfast table.
"Something I bought you just after I left Betazed."
"The first time? That was ages ago."
"Oh, the stupidity of youth." He removed a small box from the envelope and handed it to her.
Deanna carefully raised the lid. "What . . ?" was all she could manage when she saw the ring.
"Platinum. One blue rexa and four diamonds. I'd planned on slipping it on your finger as soon as you stepped off the shuttle at Risa."
"You've kept it all these years?"
"I paid for it long after you dumped me, Deanna. I wasn't about to throw it away."
"How romantic." Her voice was sarcastic, but her eyes shone.
"I did almost leave it on the Enterprise. Sort of a monument to the past. But then I figured, if nothing else, it would make a nice 'remember me' gift when I transferred. Deep down, I suppose I never gave up the hope of putting it to its intended use."
"I'm not sure we're ready for that, Will. I'm still not convinced we're right for each other."
Will started to protest, then realized she was teasing. He knew how to get even. "You just don't want to make your mother happy."
"Are you sure you aren't trying to stake your territory?"
"I'm not worried about Worf, if that's what you mean."
"Worf will have to testify at the board of inquiry. I know he'd never lie to harm you. His honor wouldn't allow that. But on a personal level, he's going to be furious."
"Are you saying I should watch my back?"
"I'm sure whatever Klingons do to fight over a woman doesn't include sneaking up on their prey." She slid from her chair onto his lap. "I know I asked for a commitment, but that doesn't mean you have to propose marriage right away."
"I'm not trying to rush you into anything, Deanna."
"Nothing says we have to get engaged for a very long time."
"Don't tell me you think we need time to get to know each other."
"No. Nor will I remind you that familiarity breeds contempt." She closed her hands around the box. "It's the most beautiful ring I've ever seen."
"Not exactly regulation, but that wasn't an issue when I bought it for you."
"I'm not always on duty."
He took the ring from the box and slipped it on her finger. "I want you to have this." Before she could protest, he said, "All I ask is that you accept it with the love that comes with it, Deanna. You can decide at which point it stops being a simple gift and becomes something more."
The look in his eyes told her resistance was futile. "I'll keep it."
"I shouldn't ask for any kind of a relationship until after the board of inquiry reaches a decision. If I'm kicked out of Starfleet, or even busted a couple of ranks, I can't expect you to be with me."
"I don't care if you're made ensign again. After last night you know that."
He kissed her gently, but for a several seconds. "I need a lot of reassuring."
"And you shall have it. What else is in the envelope?"
"Starfleet's denials of my request for leave to meet you on Risa. I don't know why I kept them. Maybe to have someone other than myself to blame for the sacrifices I've made."
"You can throw them away now." Deanna took one last look at the ring before removing it and placing it back in the box. "I'll find a chain and hide it under my uniform while I'm on duty -- and until after I've had a chance to talk to Worf."
"Do you think he suspects anything?"
"I left him pouting in the Starboard Lounge and I wasn't in my quarters last night when he no doubt checked. What do you think?"
"He's planning ways to tear my throat out."
"I've wanted to do that a few times myself." Laughing, she kissed him just above his collar. "I have to go. I have to rearrange a full schedule of appointments today so I can be free for the hearing."
"Forget about me, I'll find something to do with myself."
Deanna kissed him as she stood up. "Stay out of trouble."
"I don't have a choice. They won't let me on the bridge Besides, the board should be here any time now."
The Captain's voice interrupted his next thought. "Enterprise senior staff report to Conference Room B, Deck 14, immediately."
Will began clearing the table. "Battle stations."
The board listened quietly and made PADDentries as each member of the bridge crew described the final moments of the Enterprise. Beverly was called upon first to outline the extent of injuries caused both during the battle with the Bird of Prey and by the crash, then was dismissed to the waiting area.
With the computer recording their every word and gesture, each member of the senior staff answered questions put to them by the admirals and commodore. Captain Picard, who was not under scrutiny, sat in the back of the room and listened. He did not like the way Lassier was bullying his people, no doubt trying to impress the admirals. Had he not been under orders to remain silent, he probably would have challenged Lassier in a battle of wits.
One by one the officers testified and were dismissed. Finally, after Picard had been asked to leave, Will faced the board alone.
"That isn't fair," Deanna said in the waiting area.
"I agree," Beverly said, studying Worf. He always seemed too quiet and withdrawn, even for a Klingon. More than that, she didn't like the tightness in his jaw. Deanna didn't seem worried, though, so why should she?
"I was shaking in my boots," Geordi said, kicking at the chair next to him
"And I was on the defensive," Deanna admitted.
The Captain looked at Worf, waiting. Finally, Worf said, "We can only state the facts as we remember them. It will be up to the board to decide if we are being forthright. Most of us are most of the time."
Although he didn't look at her, Deanna knew he had directed those words at her.
Will glared at Lassier and decided he did not like the little man. "Commander La Forge was checked thoroughly when he returned from the Bird of Prey. I've no doubt our security officers followed proper procedure. The video device didn't register on our scanners, so we had no way of knowing that the Duras sisters were getting a tour of the ship."
"It seems to me that when someone returns from an enemy ship --"
"We followed Starfleet policy," Will pointed out. "Next time we'll do a lot more."
Adams, who was known for her fairness to embattled Starfleet officers, interrupted, "Commander, the loss of a ship -- especially a Galaxy class starship of the Enterprise's reputation -- at a time of critical shortages is a tremendous blow to Starfleet. I'm sure you realize that."
"Commodore, I think my dedication to the Enterprise is well documented. If anything could have been done, I would have acted accordingly. With a warp core breach, there are no options but to separate the ship and to hope you can make a run for it. We were lucky -- very lucky -- to have gotten far enough away to simply crash. A few seconds closer and we'd have been destroyed by the blast. Most crews don't make it when the warp core blows."
"I'm surprised, with a ship's counselor at the helm, you managed to survive at all," Maurisota said.
"Admiral Maurisota, if judgments are to be made by this board, they should be directed at me. No one else on that bridge can be accused of doing anything except nearly giving his or her life in service to Starfleet. I've explained my decision to ask Counselor Troi to take the helm and I stand by it."
"And it's been duly noted," Adams said. "Commander, your record with Starfleet, save an occasional misguided loyalty, has been exemplary. This board has not forgotten your actions in the Borg encounter. No doubt countless lives were saved when you stopped their progression toward Earth."
"Unfortunately," Maurisota said, "Starfleet quite often has the 'What did you do for me today?' outlook where our careers are concerned."
"I prefer to look at lives rather than careers," Adams said. "Thank you, Commander. Please wait with your shipmates."
"What's taking them so long?" Geordi asked after watching Will sulk for as long as he could stand it.
"I'm sure they're trying to be fair," Beverly said. She was wondering why she had to sit there, since her fate wasn't in limbo. Still, she would never leave her friends at a time like this.
"They're probably trying to decide if they've reached their quota of sacrificial lambs this year," Will said as much to himself as to anyone.
"That may be truer than you think, Number One," Picard cautioned. "I have never known there to be consistency in these hearings. You can take heart in the fact that James T. Kirk was, in effect, rewarded for stealing the Enterprise and having to destroy it to prevent it from falling into enemy hands. If there were ever grounds for court-martial . . ."
"Was he what you would have expected?" Will asked.
"Let's just say history could never do him justice," Picard said. "I feel truly honored to have known him, even for a short time."
"Another morning shot," Geordi said to Data.
"I believe the phrase is 'shot to hell,'" Data corrected.
"As far as I'm concerned, we're all off duty the moment the board leaves," Picard said. "Might as well relax while we can. I have a feeling things are going to get very interesting when we reach Starbase 133."
"Not me," Beverly said. "I owe the Farragut's chief medical officer three shifts.
At their quizical looks, she smiled and purred, "Ever hear of Arturian fizzes?"
"When this is over, everyone is invited to my quarters for an all-day poker party," Geordi said. "Doctor Crusher is in charge of refreshments."
"Are your quarters large enough?" Beverly asked wistfully.
"Barely, and everyone will have to bring his or her own chair." Geordi smiled at Will. "How about it, Commander? Care to defend your title?"
Will glanced at Deanna, who was sitting too blasted close to Worf on a couch, and smirked. "I wouldn't miss it. Unless I'm in the brig."
Commodore Lassier appeared at the door. "Captain?"
Picard rose slowly, straightened his uniform, and followed the commodore back into the conference room. As he stood in front of the board, he was determined to remain void of expression.
Admiral Adams turned off the PADD she was holding and addressed him. "Captain, you have served with Commander Riker for several years. Do you wish him to remain as your first officer, or would you prefer that he be transferred? The Price will be in this sector in 46 hours. We can move him."
"I have a great deal of confidence in Commander Riker. I realize that I will eventually lose him to his own command. In fact, he should already have his own ship. In the meantime, however, I consider myself lucky to have him as my first officer and will resist any attempts to transfer him from the Enterprise crew."
"He's turned down every offer of command," Lassier sniffed.
"For reasons of his own," Picard assured him. "Not because he wasn't capable. Being second in command of the Enterprise would naturally hold greater challenges than commanding a lesser ship I, for one, am very glad he refused the Melbourne. We all know what the Borg did to that ship."
"We have three options, Captain," Adams said. "We can court-martial him for dereliction of duty, demote him as many ranks as we see fit, or issue a severe reprimand for not anticipating the actions of the Duras sisters."
"It seems to me, Admiral, that Commander Riker should be commended for placing the lives of his crew ahead of his ship," Picard argued. "We've both known Captains who have done less. His fast action saved more than 1,000 men, women and children. How many instances can you name in which a crew survived a warp core breach?"
"For someone who has just lost his ship through no fault of his own, you are surprisingly supportive," Maurisota said.
"I feel very strongly about the capabilities of Commander Riker and the rest of my senior staff. Commanders Data and La Forge are already working with the Farragut chief engineer to test constant rotation of shield modulations. They hope to prevent anything like this from happening in the future. Commander Riker is writing new protocol for returned hostages."
"Starfleet protocol has always served its purpose," Lassier said stiffly.
Picard decided to pretend Lassier didn't exist and to direct his comments at Admiral Adams. "I have had the privilege of serving the last eight years with the finest crew in Starfleet. I intend to do everything in my power to keep them together on the next ship I command."
"I hope you can," Adams said. "Thank you, Captain. Our decision has been made. Call for your crew."
Picard took deliberate steps to the door and motioned for his officers to join him. Will waited until everyone except Deanna had gone into the conference room. "This is it," he said quietly, forcing a smile.
Deanna took his arm. "Nothing that happens in there will change my feelings for you."
Will looked numb for a second, then there was a trace of a genuine smile. "Then what happens in there doesn't really matter, does it?"
"Number One?" Picard called from the doorway.
Will squeezed her shoulder and went to face the board. His crewmates sat in two rows of chairs on the opposite side of the room. Will stopped at the conference table and faced the board, grateful when he realized that Picard was going to stand next to him.
Admiral Adams folded her hands and addressed him. "Your Captain seems to feel you deserve a commendation rather than disciplinary action," she said, watching his face for a reaction. "What do you think?"
"I've no doubt, Admiral, that whatever decision you've reached is a fair one." Will was not going to play cat and mouse with them.
"Commander, I'll be honest with you," Adams continued. "If this were any other time in Starfleet history, I'm not sure what we would do with you. There are grounds for severe disciplinary action."
Maurisota nodded. "As I'm sure you are aware, there is a critical shortage of personnel. Many of our finest officers were lost to the Borg, so there is a great need for men with your experience and proven capabilities. We do not believe court-martialing you, or even dropping you to a lower rank, to be in the best interests of Starfleet."
"More than likely," Adams said, "our ordeals with the Borg have just begun. You, and others like you, may be called upon to assume command of military vessels at any time. We may yet be in for the fight of our lives."
"Otherwise, we might be ordering security to take you to the brig." Lassier did not want Riker to think he was getting off too easily. "Don't think your shoddy performance in this incident will be forgotten, Commander."
<I'm sure you'll see to that> Riker thought. He said, however, "No, sir."
Adams glared at Lassier, waiting. A shake of his head indicated he had nothing to add. "It is the finding of this board that an official reprimand be placed in your records for failing to take necessary actions to prevent the Duras sisters from gaining the information needed to overcome the Enterprise's shields and thus bringing about the destruction of NCC 1701-D. Your Captain has requested that you retain the position of first officer to this crew, and this board sees no reason to interfere. Nor do we see a reason to bring any actions against other members of your crew. Therefore, this hearing is adjourned."
At that, the admirals and commodore left the room.
Will felt the pats on his back and heard the well wishes of his friends, but he was unable to do anything except smile at them. The realization that he had been vindicated was slow to sink in, especially since he couldn't take his eyes of Worf standing with his arms around Deanna.
"Now we have two things to celebrate," Worf said. "Will you have lunch with me?"
Deanna nodded, taking his arm.
"Hey, what about my party?" Geordi asked as they left the room.
"We will try to make it later," Worf said.
Deanna hoped her smile in Will's direction was sufficient to reassure him, but she doubted it. Underneath his smile she sensed definite signs of jealousy. When she tried to reach out with her mind, she struck a determined wall. <Fine, be that way.>
"Ready to play, Commander?" Geordi urged.
Will shrugged. "I've got nothing else to do."
"Today, Number One, I may challenge you once and for all as poker champ," Picard said.
Worf clutched Deanna's unused fork so hard it bent in his hand. "He does not love you, Deanna."
"Yes he does, Worf. The advantage of being empathic is knowing when your partner is being honest."
"So he loves you now. For how long? Until he gets to know the women of the Farragut?"
"Worf, I know you're angry." She slid her chair around the table until she was close enough to place her hands on his arm. "I've meant every word I've ever said to you."
"But now you are willing to forget all that we are to each other to . . . to crawl back to the Commander. He will hurt you again."
"Will and I have spent a lot of years hurting each other. Sometimes deliberately, but usually because we didn't have the courage to act on our feelings. I can't help myself where he's concerned, Worf. We're Imzadi."
"That is nonsense," Worf hissed.
"That is no more nonsense to a Betazoid woman than honor is to a Klingon male."
"You can settle for a human after being with a Klingon?"
Deanna smiled at the look of disgust on Worf's face and immediately realized it was the wrong thing to do. His face clouded over. "Worf -- "
"If he were not my superior officer, I would challenge him to fight for you."
"THAT is nonsense."
"When a warrior's female is stolen, he has the right to demand vengeance, even to the death."
"Listen to me." <How dare you.> "I have never considered myself to be your female, or Will's woman, or my mother's daughter, or anyone else's anything. I'm my own person and I'll decide who I want to be with. If you hurt Will, I'll never forgive you."
"I place too much value on my career to jeopardize it by assaulting someone who outranks me, no matter how deserving. I will work with him. I will not promise anything more."
"Please. You remember what the Captain said about Q's version of the future. I don't want you and Will to spend the next 25 years hating each other because of me. I'm not worth it."
"You underestimate your value."
Deanna hugged Worf's broad upper arm. "The last thing I want to do is hurt you. I care too much for you, Worf."
"I should have known this would happen. You practically threw yourself on him after the crash."
"I thought he was dead."
"And what did you think I was?"
She had hoped he wouldn't ask. "I guess I was too absorbed in my thoughts for Will to worry about anyone else. That's when I began to realize . . . I've never . . . stopped . . . loving him."
"Would you have changed partners if he had not threatened to leave?"
"I honestly can't answer that. I've battled with my feelings ever since we left the Enterprise." She rested her head on Worf's arm. "If I'd had the luxury of thinking through my feelings, I would have wanted to be with you when the end came. But I didn't. I reacted out of my love for Will. It's time I realize that I can't deny those feelings any longer, Worf. I'm truly sorry."
He pulled away from her. "Alexander will be disappointed. He was looking forward to our extended leave."
"I'll try to make it up to him. You know I couldn't love him more if he were my own son. I don't want to lose him."
"That will be up to him." He stood and looked down at her. "I will not give up hope, Deanna, because I do not believe Commander Riker will live up to your expectations."
"I think you're wrong." She rose to her full height, annoyed by the way he still towered over her. "I hope you and I can go back to being friends, Worf."
"I will never think of you with anything less than love and respect." He gestured with his head for her to leave him. When she was out of hearing range, he sat down, grabbed a handful of his lunch, and shoved it into his mouth. "Humans."
"I'll see your 20 and raise you 50 more," Will said, grinning at the squirming Dr. Crusher.
"What do you think he has?" she asked no one in particular.
"Not as much as he claims," Picard answered. "However, I will fold."
"I'm in," Beverly said, tossing five chips onto the stack.
Geordi looked at his cards, then at the pile of chips on the table. "I'm out. Data?"
"The odds of Commander Riker winning every hand are decreasing with each deal. I will call his bet."
Will smiled and lowered his cards. "Full house. Kings over tens."
Data shook his head, suddenly unimpressed by his three nines and two eights. "How does he do that?" Beverly asked, displaying her three jacks and watching Will gather a large pile of chips from the center of the table.
"I think he cheats," came a lilting voice from the door. "Room for one more?"
Will stood quickly and gestured for Deanna to take his chair. "I'll get another one." He noticed she had changed from her uniform into the blue jumpsuit that he greatly appreciated on her. More than that, her left hand was displaying one blue rexa and four diamonds.
"It's wide enough for both of us," Deanna said and waited for him to sit back down. She leaned against his shoulder as she positioned herself on the edge of the chair. "But you have to promise not to look at my cards."
"I can think of better things to look at," Will said quietly, only to her. When he turned to resume the game, he realized everyone at the table was studying them. Not that it surprised him. They'd been watching Worf, Deanna and him for a year, as though waiting for round two of an emotional boxing match.
"Where is Commander Worf?" Data asked, still unaware of some of love's finer points.
"Having lunch," Deanna said, reaching for the cards as Data dealt them. "I, on the other hand, had a sudden urge to play poker. And, since I had to reschedule an afternoon full of appointments to be here, I expect to win." She took a handful of Will's chips and stacked them neatly in front of her.
Picard smiled at the pairs of aces and tens in his hand. "Speaking of schedules, am I assume you have decided not to complete the request you were composing, Number One? I'll open with 20, Data."
"The isolation protocol?" Will considered the lone ace in his hand. "I'll have it by the time we reach Starbase 133."
"Actually, I was referring to the other request," Picard said lightly, enjoying the way Beverly's hair fell across her shoulders as leaned forward to match his opening bet.
Will felt Deanna's knee press against his. "No, sir. I've decided to try a different proposal."
All of them matched Picard's opening bet and requested new cards. As Data dealt, most moaned at their new cards. Will found it difficult not to laugh at the four jacks Data tossed him.
"Let's up the ante by 20 and see who remains," Picard said, speaking primarily to Will.
When it was Will's turn, he placed his cards face down and stroked his beard. Might as well let them think he was facing a tough decision. Finally, he grabbed a chip. "I'll see your 20, Captain, and raise you 50."
"I'm out," Deanna groaned. She dropped her cards on the table. "This little 50 is staying home."
Will smiled at Deanna. "So am I."
Picard raised a brow. "Beg pardon?"
"I'm staying home."
-- The End --