As Imzadi

By Tourn


Disclaimer: I do not intend to disclaim. I plan to make kajillions of dollars off this very short story, which is based on copyrighted characters from other people's minds! Erm. Right. Just kidding.

The magnanimous reader will forgive any glaring inconsistencies in the text. Any mistakes are my own. Please don't hesitate to storm the castle with feedback.

As Imzadi 1/1

William Riker was at a table alone, posture lazy, staring off at nothing in particular. Only his fingers were moving, betraying him, rapidly turning a toothpick over and over. Suddenly, his eyes flashed to the ceiling.

"I don't want to hear it," he said.

Dr. Crusher was standing in front of him, arms crossed, eyeing him skeptically. "Oh no?"

"Not one bit," he answered, as his eyes met hers.

"How," she said, putting her hand on a chair, "do you even know what I'm going to say?"

"How many times have I beaten you at poker?"

Her expression admitted defeat.

"Plus," Will added, "it's what I can see in everyone's *curious* eyes when
they talk to me." Oh, that hurt. He wished he hadn't admitted it out loud.
His nostrils flared, and he straightened up. "Now shoo."

Beverly pulled out a chair and sat down across from him. "You might have pulled it off. You really might have. But `shoo' doesn't exactly inspire unquestioning obedience."

"What if I give you a direct order to shoo?"

"Why don't you find out?" she smirked.

He chuckled. "No thanks."

"And that's the first time I've seen you laugh in days, Will Riker."

"It may be the first time I've laughed in days."

Beverly cast him a worried look.

He sighed. "I'm not serious, but – come on, Beverly. You expect a person to be cheerful when two of his best friends just…do a thing like that?"

The Doctor looked at the ground.

"Right! How would you feel if Captain Picard and Deanna started seeing each other?" he asked aggressively.

"I have no idea what you're implying," she answered, as coolly as possible.

"Is that a hint of amusement I detect in your voice?"

"So what if it is? Plus, Jean-Luc and Deanna leaves you and I, my dear Commander." She eyed him mischievously.

"I'm not sure I could handle you, my dear Doctor," he laughed. Then he looked at the woman opposite him thoughtfully and gave a gentle smile. "Thank you for refusing to go away."


"I just don't understand," he said, looking away. "I don't understand how they could have done this." He looked back at Beverly, as if he wanted to assure her of something: "This isn't a victim complex or anything."

She raised her eyebrows.

"Maybe it is, a little," he admitted. "What – they see charms in each other that they've been blind to for *seven years*, they have a bit of a crush on each other – okay, whatever. But a man doesn't date his friend's former lover – that's an unwritten rule that goes way back. You know, I'm even willing to say to hell with that, because it's nothing compared to what she's done." He passed a hand over his eyes – then smiled weakly and made a helpless gesture in the air. "You know what – I don't want to get melodramatic or anything, so that's my piece. Now you say yours and we can move onto happier topics."

"I'd say let's move on to happier topics right now if I didn't think you were wrong about something," Beverly said.

"You think I'm wrong, do you?" Will asked wryly. "Shoot."

"I don't know the exact nature of your relationship, but Deanna is, after all, an empath. I don't know what she feels coming from your general direction, but—"

"I shut her out," Will interrupted, directing his gaze just over the Doctor's left shoulder. "I don't know what the hell she was thinking, but she doesn't need to deal with what I'm thinking." And then, quieter: "She doesn't exactly have the right, in any case." He cleared his throat and made eye contact. "I shut her out, that's that."

Beverly gave Will a helpless look.

He raised his eyebrows and made to stand up. "Thanks for talking…I'm going to my quarters."

"To do what?" Beverly asked as he stood up.

"To listen to some rap music to get me even more pissed, so I can kick major ass in my racquetball game on the holodeck at 1800 hours," he answered sardonically. Then he sighed, and leaned down to cover her hand with his. "I apologize for my mood. Honestly, thank you."

"I wish you'd talk to her, that's all. See you later." Beverly turned around to look sympathetically after him and spotted Guinan, empty tray in hand, headed past her.

"Hey!" she called out.

Guinan stopped and turned around. "I'm sorry?"

"You haven't asked me yet if I wanted anything to drink," the Doctor pointed out.

"Would you like anything to drink?" Guinan asked, pursing her lips.

Beverly beamed. "No thanks."

The barkeeper's eyes narrowed. "Right. Have you ever heard of Merlin?"

"King Arthur's magician?" Beverly answered, unsure where the conversation was going.

"Yes, that's him. Do you know what happened to him?"

"Uh…no," said the Doctor.

"Merlin trained a sorceress, and then she sealed him in a cave forever." Guinan smiled to herself. "Good times." Then she looked at Dr. Crusher, grinned, and walked to another table.

Beverly shifted uncomfortably in her chair. "There ought to be rules against that sort of thing," she said to no one in particular.

*** *** *** ***

Deanna Troi looked in the mirror and sighed. She felt like she had spent the last few days frowning. "The only problem with you," she told her reflection, "is that you are a moron."

That was wrong. Everyone else was a moron. Before she had time to define more clearly who "everyone else" was, her doorbell rang.

She grimaced. She didn't want to see anybody. The only person she might remotely want to see was Will Riker, and only because he could use a good sucker punch. "Come in," she said irritably, before her visitor rang the bell again.

The doors slid open and Worf stepped in.

"Worf, " she breathed, relaxing.

"Were you expecting somebody else?" he asked, bemused, walking towards her.

"No, of course not," she said with a weak smile. "Look," she said, more loudly, "don't get too close, okay? I might bite."

Worf stopped. "That is not a good thing for a humanoid."

Deanna didn't know whether to laugh or tell him to leave so she could sulk on her own terms. "Not generally, no."

"Is something wrong?"

"Not particularly. I just feel like putting a hole in something."

"That is not your usual way of dealing with situations," Worf observed.

"Good grief." She knew if she said anything more, she'd lash out – and Worf didn't deserve a lashing. "Would you mind terribly if I asked you to move along for a little bit? Just while I calm down…take a nap…something."

"Of course not. Contact me later if you would like to have dinner."

"Thank you."

She didn't move as he walked out the door. She was still there thirty seconds later, trying to sort out her thoughts.

Worf's visit had turned her careless, satisfied dissatisfaction into rationality. She didn't care much for it at this particular moment. Will would have made her laugh at herself, but Will was…Well, he was gone, and that's al=
l there was to it. She scowled. That wasn't right. There had to be more to it than just that.

She turned and sat down on her couch. It was totally okay for her to be thinking about Will, she reminded herself. Will was a friend. When friends disagree – or fall out – or whatever had happened between Will and her - they think about each other. And they miss each other. Right. And if she was honest? Will didn't seem to be missing her a whole lot. He'd practically sealed off his emotions from her, indifferent to what she might suffer at this loss. The worst of it was that, once in a while, an emotion would get away from him – when he was particularly mirthful or triumphant, and had forgotten himself, the familiar feeling of him would touch a corner of her mind, and she would open herself up to it. If only – if only…

She closed her eyes and leant her head back to rest on the couch. It was only then that she realized how tired she was. Had she told Worf that she might take a nap? A little one might do the trick, and maybe when she woke upshe wouldn't even be thinking about Will, her mind not even flashing triumphant *I wasn't thinking of him till now*…

*** *** ***

Deanna jolted awake, with confused, scrabbling unease filling her mind. She was dizzy from sleep and the feeling, and someone was angry, and she couldn't tell if it was herself, and she wanted to cry from fatigue and shock; but she had to calm down, keep it together, center herself. She took a few breaths, uneven from panic, and then they grew calmer, and she tried to lose her drowsiness in concentration.

What had happened? No one was in trouble, from what she could sense, but the sudden waking had left a deep and confused impression on her, and she'd dreamt something that she couldn't remember, but she wouldn't think about that now. She needed to stop focusing on herself. But there was something more, hundreds of things more, and it was no good to try to connect with the outer world when she was so disoriented.

She lifted her head. Was someone standing outside her door?

A moment later, memories like epiphanies, it all came back. She had been drifting, wandering, missing Will, feeling for him and finding him like a wall, thinking *what if I pushed* and the *what if* still beating now…

*** *** ***

Outside the Counselor's door, Will was sweating: granted, the racquetball game he had just quit had soaked him through, but now it was mostly unrelated cold sweat that made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. He had to decide if he was going to ring. The people passing in the hallway had started looking at him curiously; he had to decide. And why not go in and ask her just what the hell had happened? His anger rose again thinking about it, and he raised his arm and rang the chime.

Will inhaled deeply, trying calm himself. The door didn't open, but he wouldn't ring again. He would wait. Just a few more seconds. He knew she could feel him. He hadn't put his defenses back up, here was his mind, she could take whatever she fucking wanted.

The door to her quarters slid open. He stepped across the threshold into her dimly lit living room, and the door slid shut behind him. She was sitting on a couch, alert, her hands on her lap, her legs close together and uncrossed. She still looked small. Damn. What was this?

After a few moments of looking at her, he spoke. "I need to know what happened." Not anything he had expected to say, not the tone he had expected to say it in, nothing of all that. Just a quiet, even statement, and that was all.

*** *** ***

For all her front, Deanna still wasn't calm. And here he was, standing strong and imposing in her quarters, his shirt stained with sweat, asking her what had happened. She knew his posture was just for protection, but it still made her draw back. And where to begin?

"I don't – " her voice broke off, shaky. After a pause, she tried again: " I'm so sorry, Will." Because that was it, really, that was what had prevailed: piercing regret at letting it get this far. It was a relief to get the words out.

Though Will watched her cautiously, his blue eyes held no accusation. He never looked like this on the Bridge. She loved him in these moments, when he looked at her with nothing a mere acquaintance would see – and she loved, too, seeing him work, serious, no more than a glance or two in her direction, First Officer of the Enterprise.

But it was impossible – him standing at the door, and fear (but why fear?) clawing its way up to her heart when she wasn't careful to keep her emotions under control – it was impossible to really talk like she wanted. She didn't know how to ask him to sit down, but anything had to be better than this awkwardness. "Please," she said, finally, "it makes me nervous to see you standing there like you're going to wander off any second."

He looked like he was going to say something, but he walked over and sat down without a word. Then: "What happened, Deanna? I don't…want to believe that you'd crash your way into my head – I wouldn't have believed it of you – but what else should I believe? It was you; you weren't trying to hide – nothing of that – but…" Anger broke the surface of his calm.

She wanted to reach out her hand, just touch him again – it had been too long – but he wouldn't have understood. "You could probably tell me what happened more coherently than I could tell you. I was—" and oh, this was going to be difficult – "I was sleeping, and I had been thinking about you as I was drifting off…I'm sorry. I don't know what happened, Will – it's like hearing a noise and incorporating it into your dream, only backwards and more complicated…" she said, grieved. "I was…trying to reach you—"

He gave a disbelieving laugh. "As if you really cared!" he exclaimed with an ironic air of discovery, standing up and beginning to pace.

"Of course I care," said she, taken aback and a little frustrated. "You think I stop caring about the important people in my life just because I start another relationship?"

Will stopped and turned to face her. "This is different and you know it," he remarked forcefully. "You know, I once criticized you for thinking too much, but I don't think you'll ever hear that particular criticism from me again."

She bristled. "You're no paragon of maturity either," she shot back. "I start seeing Worf and oh, that's it for you, we aren't friends anymore?"

"It's difficult," he said, through his teeth, "to have a relationship with someone when you disagree with their important choices."

Deanna rose from her seat. "Worf is a good man," she said staunchly, with some amount of pride.

"Worf is a *great* man, Deanna, but the two of you are of very different temperaments. It may not seem like that's the case now, in `the first flush of' – whatever you two have going on – but it won't be the same afterwards…And it will hurt me to see you suffer later, so there: I'm saying this purely out of selfishness." He had begun this speech with emotion, but he finished it almost carelessly, saying the last words like he was playing a game.

"Do you know who you sound like?" asked Deanna angrily.

"Who?" He sounded insouciant and vaguely curious, which made Deanna angrier. How he could say these things!

"My mother," she snapped. "You sound just like my mother when we wanted to be together."

"That was different, Deanna. We had connected on a different level." He was looking at her seriously now, but she revolted at the instinct to soften.

"Oh, so Worf and I are just infatuated with each other," Deanna said sarcastically. "That's right, it isn't like we've known each other for years or anything."

"The two of you have been *acquainted* for years, but that doesn't mean you've known each other. If you had really known each other, you wouldn't be acting like a high school couple." Deanna bristled at this, but Will forged on. "Have you ever seen Worf be such an obliging puppy to anyone before? You haven't – and you won't see it again after a month has gone by and he's cooled down a little bit."

"Worf is not a puppy, Will!"

"No kidding," he laughed.

Deanna couldn't help smiling at this, but the smile only lasted a second. " You don't know how our relationship is. When we're alone together, we're alone, and nobody sees except us. You don't know how it is."

Will became rigid. "Is it like it was with you and me?"

"Of course not. No two relationships are the same – have any of your flings been the same as when we were together?" She spoke evenly, not betraying the bitterness she had felt at each of those occasions throughout the years.

"That isn't what I mean," muttered Will, not looking at her. "And you were always important, through each one of those `flings.'" He met her eyes with his own. "Even when I was in love, you were important. But this…You've torn me out, Deanna. Don't you see? The next time something happens to you – if anything does, God forbid – who's going to wait by your hospital bed? Worf, that's who, and meanwhile I'll be in agonies on the bridge. If I visit, I'll be like an intruder – I can't live my life like that."

And the wall was there again, that damned wall that he had reconstructed in a second. She actually had to reach for physical support; finding none, she shakily sat back down. His emotions had been so mixed with her own that she hadn't clearly been able to identify them – she had been in too much turm oil anyway – but now, all of him being pulled back from her was a powerful shock. And it was true, what he had said! Now times were good, the days passed uneventfully, the missions were fairly routine – but who knew what could happen? Who knew what disaster, what shadow was waiting in their future? A day would inevitably come when she would need Will, or he would need her; he was part of her after all, more inextricable than her memories, and right at that moment she wanted nothing more than to have him back, open to her, his arms warm around her and protecting…

*** *** ***

Will could have kicked himself when he saw her fumble to sit down. And he had thought she was being insensitive. He opened the gates and bared his emotions to her, let them flow over her, mix in with her own. She sagged visibly. A rush of remorse brought him to her silently, and he crouched by her side. "I'm sorry," he murmured once, then once more, and he felt her hands in his hair, touching softly. He dropped his head slightly and closed his eyes in painful relief at being so close to her once more.

Finally, tentatively, her left hand slid down the side of his face, his beard, and he felt her lips on his forehead. He was breathing deeply, evenly, feeling strangely spiritual…But there was something else, too – an odd tension inside him, like he was waiting and had been waiting for years and years, but couldn't think what it was he had been waiting for…

Her lips left his forehead and he could feel her gaze on him. From his crouching position, he moved to sit beside her. Her hand dropped from his face, and he took it in both of his. After a few moments of tracing the lines of her palm, he brought her hand up to his lips urgently; passing his mouth over the back of her hand to her palm, he pressed his lips against it.

He felt her shudder and lean into him before pulling back slightly. He hadn't meant to let it get this far, but something about her lips on his forehead had made his heart burst. And nothing had happened, really – just emotions in a tangled mess – and something electric, he could have sworn, when his lips had touched her hand. But she was pulling away again – again, when he hadn't meant to do anything except bring her a little closer…

He felt depressed all of a sudden – the lights were too dim, and he didn't know what he would do, how he would keep himself occupied when Deanna would say that she wanted him to go. She had kissed his forehead in friendship, he supposed, not feeling anything of what he had felt, and his despair sharpened with that thought. He wouldn't wait for her to say anything, he thought, he would just leave. It would be easier that way. He stood up without looking at her, then heard a ragged sound escape her throat.

*** *** ***
Deanna was looking up at Will in pain. Confusion reigned in her own mind; nevertheless, she could feel the gray melancholy that pervaded his.

When she had kissed him, it had been with tenderness, an almost holy love. But when he had touched her, something had flared up inside her; she'd wanted to really run her hands through his hair, feel his mouth on her body; her breath had gone and she had wanted more before she had realized down what path her physical senses were taking her. It hadn't been right, and so she'd stiffened. And now he was leaving, without closure, and he would perhaps shut himself off from her again, and then take the next promotion that was offered. She clutched his hand in fear, and he turned to look down at her, his eyes questioning.

The air was heavy between them. She didn't know what to say; she was more at fault than he was, she knew, for letting herself go the way that she had, but her mind was empty of words. Finally, quietly, she said all she could think of:

"I love you."

Will turned to fully face her, and she felt his depression drowning in relief. He smiled softly. "Well I *know* that," he said, lightly touching her cheek with his free hand.

"Please stay."

"I'd like nothing more to sit with you all evening," he admitted. "But I think – with Worf – and your…qualms – that we'd do better to meet in the near future instead of me staying."

"I don't have qualms…and I'll talk to Worf later. I…know he'll understand. Please, stay now."

"As what?" Will asked seriously. He was feeling expectant, but she couldn't tell what he was expecting. They could renew their comfortable friendship, but wasn't she looking for more than that when she took up with Worf? On the other hand, an offer for them to start a relationship and see where it led them might scare her best friend away. She pursed her lips as she thought about men and their commitment issues, and decided on the safest response: a question in return.

She let go of his hand and looked at him seriously. "What do you want to stay as?" She swallowed. Everything seemed to hang on this moment – granted, she could have asked him the question many times in the past years, but this was it, she was asking it now, unsure of the answer.

His gaze was penetrating. "As Imzadi."

She looked down with an embarrassed smile. When she looked up again, he was smiling too.

"Commander Riker," she pronounced, taking his hand in her own, "you have yourself a deal."

"Good thing, don't you think?" he laughed. "After all," he said, leaning down, "I'd hate to be on indifferent terms with the woman I love." And he covered her mouth with his.