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The Wonders We See

By roselefontaine

Romance / Action

Chapter 1

Start writing here ... "Mr. LaForge, I need those warp engines now!" Captain Picard yelled through the com link. Will was gripping the arms of his chair with white knuckles, his teeth clenched, and while Deanna sat calmly, her wide eyes betrayed her panic. She looked towards Will. "Imzadi" she breathlessly whispered in his mind, fearing it might be the last time they connected. The bridge was shaking violently as the enormous creature chased them through space, its ionic energy beams reaching out to latch onto the ship and shake it. Just then Geordi announced "Got it!" and with a lurch the Enterprise shot through the stars at warp speed, dislodging the creature and regaining its equilibrium. An audible sigh could be heard from the crew, as the ensign leveled out the controls and created a smooth glide through space, leaving the creature far behind. "What was that?" Commander Riker asked tersely as he looked from the Captain, to Data, to Worf. "It seemed to come out of nowhere". Worf growled. The Captain sto

od and tugged his shirt down as he took in a deep breath and walked towards the viewscreen. "I don't know, Number One, but I'm glad we were able to get rid of it." Then he opened his com link. "Good work, Geordi" he said. A small voice came back over the link and echoed throughout the bridge. "Captain, we've got a problem".

"When the creature latched onto us, it sent negative ions cascading into our computer system, creating damage at a molecular level." Geordi explained as he faced the senior staff sitting around the table in the ready room. "What that means" he continued "is that our computer system is not working properly, and I don't know how to fix it." The Captain sighed. Geordi continued his thought as if he'd never paused "short of rebuilding the computer from the ground up". "Not good enough" the Captain stated. "Suggestions" he looked around to everyone at the table, Deanna picking at an imaginary thread in her lap as Will slowly shook his head no. Data, however, spoke up. "Geordi, you said the damage was somehow caused by negative ions, is that correct?" "Yes, Data" Geordi replied. Data continued. "I understand there is an outdated instrument called a positive ion generative field probe that was once used to reverse damage done to old computer systems that couldn't handle as much information as ours do now. Could that be calibrated to repair our system?" Geordi tilted his head and thought for a moment. "It's possible" he surmised. "But I don't know where we could find one. Perhaps in a history museum on earth. They haven't been used for years and would be impossible for our computer to replicate in the state it's in now". Will jerked his head upright, suddenly realizing something. "Nervala IV" he stated as he looked towards the Captain. "Number One?" the Captain raised his eyebrows. "Back on Nervala IV, when Thomas and I were down there the second time gathering the data, I remember seeing a PIGF probe among some of the old tools he had. I didn't think to bring it back, because we'd have no use for it. Since the beam-down window only occurs every eight years, and that's not until….." Will did some calculating in his head "this year, I'm sure no one's visited the planet and I'm sure it's still there." "Well" the Captain began "we're nowhere near earth and we are close to Nervala IV, but I don't remember which month and day the beam-out opens. Data?" "According to the old earth calendar, it would be next month, which begins in exactly….two weeks". The Captain smiled and relaxed back down into his seat. "and I believe the day would be the third day, so two weeks and three days to be precise". "We dodged a bullet" Will smiled at the Captain who nodded his head as he considered their luck at the timing of all this. "Very well, Number One, prepare your away team to retrieve the device, and inform our ensign of the new coordinates". "Yes sir" Will said as everyone began to rise from their seats. As Will was halfway up he looked over to Deanna who was staring at him. It was an awkward moment as they both remembered her relationship with Thomas after he'd been rescued from Nervala IV. She still had feelings for him, but only because he was Will, they had been one and the same up until the transporter accident. But those feelings paled in comparison to what she felt for this Will, her imzadi. Yet she could feel his discomfort, even to the point of feeling threatened. "It's OK imzadi, you have nothing to worry about" she sent to him as his cheeks reddened slightly at having been caught feeling so insecure. Since they had renewed their relationship at the briar patch and subsequently gotten engaged, Deanna's empathic skills towards Will were heightened and he was able again to hear her in his mind. It felt wonderful to both of them, like a dormant flower had been re-awakened. Deanna followed Will out to the bridge, who was giving coordinates for Nervala IV to the navigating ensign. "I hope this works" Geordi sighed as he exited the ready room to head towards the turbolift and back down to engineering. Suddenly the ship slowed to almost a crawl, then lurched forward at half-warp, causing everyone to lose their balance. Will grabbed onto the arm of his chair. "What the…" Will exclaimed as Geordi spoke up. "It will be like this until we get it fixed, Commander. Sorry." Will shot Geordi a helpless look but Geordi simply shrugged his shoulders and exited the bridge. "Do your best, ensign" Will said as he settled down into his chair. The ship lurched slightly again as Deanna nearly fell and grabbed the arm of her chair, her hair swinging wildly out in front of her and then back again. Will reached out to catch her as he slowly helped her down into her chair. "God I love that hair" he whispered into her mind as she giggled and reached up to smooth down all the loose and now wild curls.

"How much longer?" Guinan asked incredulously as Geordi stood in front of her, feeling like he was standing in front of a firing squad. "Two weeks, Guinan. And even then it will depend on if I can get the PIGF to work". Guinan looked away for a moment, her eyebrows knit in frustration, then back to Geordi. "Geordi, have you ever seen a sumarian sunset that looked like this?" she asked as she held up a glass of green goo. "Nope" Geordi gulped. "I don't have enough synthehol to make all my drinks so I need to replicate some of them. This is one, a very popular one, that needs to be replicated." Her stern look caused Geordi to swallow hard again and then turn to go. "Sorry, Guinan, I wish there was more I could do". Guinan sighed as she turned back to her bar that was buzzing with angry and frustrated people who were not receiving food and drink orders to their specifications. Sometimes the replicators worked, sometimes they didn't, and it was anyone's guess as to when would be which, or which would be when. Will and Deanna watched the commotion from their table in the corner as Deanna snickered and looked back towards Will. "Poor Guinan" she said. "People get so used to having things the way they want them, they are unable to handle it when it doesn't go like that". "Especially humans?" Will knew what she was getting at. "Yes, especially humans" Deanna blushed slightly as she smiled and looked down at her dinner. What was supposed to be a Betazoid vegetable stew was in actuality an Irish beef stew saturated with an Irish beer called Guinness. She scrunched up her nose and looked up at Will who was staring at his plate. He had ordered a medium rare beef steak with a stuffed potato. What he had gotten was some sort of Terrelian seaweed salad with a lemon dressing. He looked up at her and without a word they both lifted their plates and exchanged, passing them to each other. Then they laughed and began eating each other's dinners. "Mmmm" Deanna said as she took a mouthful of the seaweed. "Oh god, Deanna" Will said disgustedly as he stuck his tongue out and pretended to gag. "So tell me how that bovine in alcohol tastes?" Deanna gave him a sideways glare as he took a bite. "Oh yes, delicious!" he exclaimed as he began to take in forkfuls, thoroughly enjoying his stew. Deanna shook her head and chuckled, as they continued to eat in silence. After they had finished they held hands across the table and both stared out into the starlight. After some moments of silence, Deanna spoke. "Will" she said gently, to get his attention. He turned his eyes towards her. "I'd like to go down to Nervala IV with the away team". She braced herself, waiting for his reaction. "Why?" he asked, but he knew the answer. Deanna sighed, slowly extricating her hands from his. "I'd like to see where Thomas…where you…spent eight years of his life, imprisoned". Will sat back in his chair and took in a deep breath. "Deanna…." "Will," she interrupted. "it's not about my feelings for Tom. "I just think that ever since we rescued him I've been so curious what it was like, what it could've been like for him. Remember he was the same person you were when you were beamed out and he got stuck. I'd just like to see what his 'home' was like". Will thought for a moment. He couldn't think of a reason to say no. There would be no imminent danger and he could almost understand Deanna's feelings. It was hard for her to let Thomas go. She had loved him at one time. "Alright, Deanna, I'll allow it". He replied. "Thank you Imzadi" she replied as she leaned over to lightly kiss him on the nose. He loved this woman so much, he could refuse her nothing. She carressed his beard and rose from her seat as they prepared to return to their separate quarters. Deanna had not wanted to be together in the most intimate way yet, she wanted to be sure that this time it was lasting and stable, with their emotional bond and connection firmly entrenched. Will had to agree with her line of thinking, though he didn't have to like it. They walked slowly through the corridors hand in hand, oblivious to the envious stares of strangers. They had rebuilt their own little world, where they existed without time or space, where each other's essence was all that filled them; so in love they could hardly stand to be away from each other for one moment. When they arrived back to her quarters, Will took Deanna's face in his hand. He tilted her head back and brushed her gently on the lips. She tried to press her lips to his, but he was too quick, pulling back and teasing her, and she grabbed his face with her hands and pulled his lips back. He chuckled wickedly at her as he lowered his head again, this time pressing his lips to hers in a passionate kiss that devoured and encircled her lips over and over, igniting the fire within them. Deanna let her mind ease into his and he opened to allow her access. Will groaned as he felt her presence envelop him, forgetting how intensely pleasurable it could feel. Her heart beat against her chest, sending rhythms of deep warm love into him with every pulse. He reached the point of almost losing control, so he pulled back from her as their lips reluctantly parted. Deanna desperately tried to catch her breath as she placed her hands on either side of his face. He looked down into her eyes, gazing into her soul. He rested his forehead on hers as he whispered to her "No one but you, imzadi. No one but you". She entwined her mind around his again as he groaned, tilting his head back. "No one but you" she whispered into his thoughts.

"Number One!" the Captain said gruffly as he entered the bridge from his ready room door. Will looked up to see the Captain with a frustrated look on his face, carrying a mug in his hand. He reached his chair and sat down. "I ordered earl grey tea this morning" he said. Will raised his eyebrows, waiting for the rest of the story. "This is what I got" he spoke again as he held up the mug to Will. Will looked down into it to see a replicated but non-living earth frog peering up at him from the bottom of the cup. He remembered the Biology Lab had been experimenting with replicating organic tissue, and this must have come through the mixed-up replicators. "Ugh" he said as he pushed the mug away. At that moment Deanna entered from the turbolift and began walking down the ramp towards her chair. "Captain" Will whispered as he gestured for the Captain to give him the mug. The Captain handed it over with a questioning look in his eyes. "Deanna" Will said warmly as she looked over at him. "I took the liberty of ordering you a mug of hot chocolate to start your day today". Deanna's grin beamed on her face as she said "I so need that today. You're so thoughtful, Will". He handed her the mug as she immediately put it up to her lips. Will and the Captain struggled to keep straight faces as Data turned around to see what Deanna's response would be. When she felt no hot liquid flowing onto her lips she brought the mug up higher to tip the liquid down, and suddenly a limp frog landed on her nose. "Oh!" Deanna screamed at the top of her lungs, scaring the rest of the crew who didn't realize what was going on. "Get it off! Get it off!" she yelled, looking cross-eyed to the green blob on her nose. Will was laughing so hard he was doubled over and could barely get out of his chair, so the Captain had to do the honors. He reached over and gently pried the frog off of her face and handed it to Data. "Please see that this gets a proper burial Mr. Data." The Captain said, meaning for Data to dispose of it. Data stood with the lifeless frog in his hands and headed for the turbolift. "Where are you going?" the Captain asked. "To the Arboretum, sir, to give it a proper burial, as you requested." Data said stoically. Captain Picard looked at Will and merely shrugged as he returned to his seat. Deanna was rubbing her hands furiously over her face, trying to get off imaginary slime. "It was slimy!" she said. When she finished, she sat up tightly and looked over to Will with a look that could kill. Will raised his hands in surrender and shook his head. "It was the Captain's tea!" he exclaimed as Captain Picard shot him a look. "Counselor, I assure you I had nothing to do with this" he said as he tried to look as serious as possible. "Revenge is a dish best served cold, Will. Revenge is a dish best served cold". Deanna said calmly as she settled back down into her chair, looking straight ahead. Will looked at his Captain with wide eyes. "She sounds dangerous, Will. I'd watch your back if I were you" the Captain said as he turned towards the view screen. "Ensign, estimated time to our destination". The young ensign turned to address him. "Approximately three days, sir" he replied. "Good. I'm getting tired of finding things in my morning tea" the Captain said, dryly.

"What are you doing in here Data?" Geordi asked as he saw Data cupping something in his hands. "I am delivering the frog" Data said, as if Geordi should know that. "The what?" Geordi asked as he walked towards Data in the arboretum. "Commander Riker gave Counselor Troi a cup of hot chocolate, which, in fact, contained no hot chocolate but instead contained a frog" Data began. "The frog landed on the Couneslor's face to which she replied with a loud scream and…." "I get the idea, Data" Geordi interrupted, knowing that the frog had probably come through the replicator somehow and that the Commander was in big trouble. "Why are you here, Geordi?" Data said as he gently placed the dead frog into some foliage away from where most of the people would be walking. "There have been some complaints of the sprinkling system going off at inopportune times" Geordi replied. "I'm going to see if I can fix it from this end" he said as he looked down to a toolkit in his hands. "If I can be of any help, let me know" Data offered. "Sure thing, Data. But I will need you when we get our hands on that PIGF. I'm not sure I'll know what to do with the thing. In fact, if you could begin researching whatever schematics you can find on it, I'd be grateful". "Yes, Geordi, I will begin right away" Data replied as he turned to leave a very frustrated engineer in the arboretum. Unbeknownst to Geordi, Dr. Crusher was huffing and puffing her way around sickbay trying to find a replicator that would work well enough to replicate a new lab coat for her, as hers had long since lost its cleanliness and the recycler wasn't working. So far she'd received a pair of denim overalls, a farra cape like that worn by Romulan royalty, and a blue chambray shirt. This was her last try at the only other replicator in the area. "One. Blue. Lab. Coat. Size. Ten!" she said through gritted teeth, loudly and carefully enunciating each word. The buzzing sound occurred and there, laying on the replicator shelf, was a blue lab coat. "Finally!" she shouted as she snatched it up and put it on. "When we get this situation corrected, I'm going to replicate a hundred blue lab coats and keep them stashed for emergencies." she muttered to herself as she returned to her office to finish some paperwork. In ten forward Guinan was breaking out the real alcohol she had kept secretly stored to satisfy her customers. She had tried to talk Will into coming in once a day and cook for her, but to no avail, so she made a few things herself on a stove she had been able to replicate after several tries. The Enterprise continued to go back and forth between warp and impulse, gentle lurches sometimes shifting people out of their seats. The children were immensely enjoying what came out of the replicators during school, and the lights generally stayed on, with minor blackouts here and there. The crew was starting to get used to the unreliable ship's functions, but everyone would be glad when they finally arrived to Nervala IV.

"Imzadi, would you grab my padd down there on the floor by you?" Deanna asked as she nodded towards where the padd lay. They were both in his quarters working on different assignments, he on some crew evaluations he wanted to check over, she reviewing some of her patient's files. Will was sitting on the sofa, his legs apart, one hand holding a padd, the other draped casually across the back of the couch. Deanna was snuggled up on the other end, with her legs stretched out and her feet resting in Will's lap. Will looked up at her suspiciously. "What?" she asked at his expression. "You don't have some sort of green goo on that padd or something that will harm me, do you?" he queried, remembering her threat of revenge. Deanna tilted her head back and laughed. "No, imzadi, I've forgiven you for that". "Of course you have" Will mumbled under his breath as he picked up the pad delicately with only his thumb and forefinger and handed it over to her. "What was that?" she asked at his mumbling as he turned towards her and replied "I said what a nice night". Deanna grinned as she looked down to her padd and continued her work. Will loved her impishness and put his padd down on the side table and took her feet in his hands. He began to massage them gently, occasionally running his hands up her calves. "Mmm, imzadi, to what do I owe this pleasure?" she asked as she placed her padd down as well. "Consider it a gift for my fiancé." He replied. "Fiance" she repeated, "I sure do like that word". Deanna lifted her left hand and admired the ring that Will had placed there just a couple months before. "Once we get though with this mission on Nervala IV, how about we start planning out wedding?" Will asked as he continued to rub her feet. They had not had a chance with the busyness of their schedules to do any real planning, and once the crew evaluations were completed it would free up more time for both of them. "I'd like that" she sighed as she nestled back into the cushions, enjoying her massage. "You know what I'd like?" he said, wiggling his eyebrows at her and moving his hands further up her legs. "Yes, dear, I'd like that too, but we've waited this long, a couple more months shouldn't matter." She said. "Speak for yourself" he grumbled as he leapt on top of her tickling her waist. Deanna giggled and tried to pull herself away as he grabbed her arms and pinned her down, placing a heart-stopping kiss on her lips. When he came up for air he saw her cheeks were flushed and she was breathless. "Have I ever told you you're the best kisser this side of the alpha quadrant?" Deanna gasped. "Hey, who's on the other side that's better than me?" Will frowned. "No one" Deanna laughed. "I've just never been on the other side". She put both her hands around Will's neck and pulled him down for another kiss. Their lips touched lightly and she teased him, then she gave in to the desire that was raging inside her just as strongly for this man that she loved. They kissed passionately and urgently until both were breathless and flushed, and Will pulled up his head to look at her. "Two months, Imzadi, that's all you get." He whispered, seductively. "That's all I can handle" she replied as he stood and helped to pull her up. He kissed her warmly and softly once again at the door as he left her quarters to head for his own. Will dressed for bed, stifling a huge yawn. His body was definitely ready for sleep. He ordered the computer to turn out the lights, and pulled down the covers, slipping into bed. He lay his head back into the soft pillow, pulling the covers up over him and thinking of how blessed he was to have this woman in his life, who had loved him, been hurt by him, forgiven him, stood by him. He'd loved other women before, but nothing like Deanna. It was as if there was a place so deep in his heart, so deep down underneath everything that no one could access it, not even him. But she could, and she had touched it and it responded to her. It loved her. It was drawn to her and only her. "I love you imzadi" he thought to himself as he began to fall asleep. And in that moment a warm tickling in the back of his mind, gentle soft fingers reaching up like caressing tendrils into his soul and warming him deep inside. "Not nearly as much as I love you, imzadi". The musical voice sang into his mind, as Will sighed and smiled and fell off into a deep sleep.

"Data, we're waiting on you!" Will said, annoyed, into his com badge. "Yes, Commander, I am sorry" came the reply. "Lieutenant LaForge was just showing me some last minute things I need to know in engineering. I am on my way". Deanna looked at Will and chuckled as Will shook his head. "I have never known Data to be late for anything. I hope this isn't a sign of the mission to come" he said. Deanna smiled. "Imzadi, everything will be alright" she spoke into his mind. Deanna knew Will was worried. Not only was the transporter window a small one, two hours to be exact, and not only was she going to see the place where Thomas had been forced to live for eight years, but he was also returning to a place that represented painful things for him as well. He'd almost lost Thomas the last time they had been down there. And discovering and having his twin "brother" in his life had been a shock. Data walked into the transporter room and silently took his place on one of the circles on the transporter pad next to Will and Deanna. Captain Picard strolled in just then to wish them luck. "God speed, Number One" he smiled as Will nodded and spoke to Chief O'Brien. "Energize". And the familiar white glitters transported three Starfleet officers down onto the surface of a planet no one had visited in eight years. As they materialized, Will looked around and then pointed. "Over there" he said as Data and Deanna looked towards the makeshift home that had been Thomas's. They walked quickly to what appeared to be the doorway and entered, getting out of the stormy and turbulent atmosphere as soon as they could. It was quiet inside, eerily quiet, and Deanna shuddered as she looked around. "It's very…industrial" was all she could think to say. She could almost feel the presence of Thomas as she wandered through the room taking it all in. "Poor Thomas" she whispered as Will came up behind her. "There's his replicator" Will pointed out, "and his bed" as Deanna looked towards a makeshift mattress on the ground. "He kept food rations over there" Will pointed again to a safe-like container that had been salvaged. "And he got his water from the small pond just outside around the back" Will finished. They silently walked through with their flashlights, and down one hall Will pointed up to a fallen walkway. "That's where I almost lost him" Will said, somberly. "And you saved his life" Deanna replied. Deanna did not like the feel at all of this home, it almost felt haunted. This is where Thomas would think of her day and night to keep himself alive, often looking up into the night sky wondering if she was thinking about him, knowing that it would be eight years before he would have any chance of rescue. "I don't know how he survived" Deanna said, sadly. "You." Will replied as he gently rested his hand on her shoulder and she nuzzled it with her cheek. "And now he's part of Section 35 and working undercover for Starfleet. What a strange turn of events" she said. "Yes it is" Will said as he continued walking through the small rooms looking for the instrument they needed. "I wish I could remember where I saw it" he scratched his head as Data had been quietly walking through the rooms with them, scanning everything he could find with his tricorder. Suddenly there was a rustling from under one of the cabinets and Deanna shrieked and jumped as a small dark form skittered from the room and disappeared down one of the corridors. "What was that?" she screamed as Data walked towards where it exited with his tricorder. "I seem to remember Thomas mentioning something about animal-like creatures down on this planet, but nothing he ever invited into his home" Will said, warily. "In fact, they may have been dinner for him at some point". Deanna shuddered again, surveying dark and ominous dwelling. Will looked at his timekeeper. "We've only got a half an hour to find our tool before we need to beam back" he alerted both Deanna and Data as they continued their search. All three had been briefed by Geordi and shown a photo of what to expect for the PIGF. They knew what they were looking for, but the darkness was so black, even with flashlights, it was difficult to see. Tools may have been moved or even played with by the animal they had seen, heck, Will had no idea if the animal was more like a domesticated earth feline or a Klingon targ. "Data, you search that area down the corridor and Deanna and I will continue searching in this room" Will ordered. "Very well" Data said as he moved in the direction Will was pointing. Time continued clicking away as they worked against the clock. As it grew closer to their beam-out time, Will felt a chill go over his body. He knew all too well how possible it was to miss the timing by a minute and find yourself trapped down here for eight long dark years. His heart went out to Thomas again. "Five minutes, people, then we return to our beam-up site". Will shouted to both Data and Deanna. "I found it!" They both heard Data state as Will heaved a sigh of relief. He ran down the corridor to see Data holding up the PGIF. "It looks damaged" Will said as he held it up and examined it. "I think it's missing a piece here" he pointed out the area to Data. Data nodded his head in agreement and began feeling around on the floor where he had found the tool. Will checked his timekeeper again. "Two minutes" he said quietly to himself, feeling a queasy feeling in his stomach. He had assumed Deanna was right behind him, but unbeknownst to him she had wandered down the opposite corridor having heard a small whimpering sound, trying to find what it was. "Will, I think the animal's been hurt" she shouted over her shoulder. But she heard nothing but silence. "Will?" She abruptly stood up, her heart beginning to beat faster. "Will?" She heard the whimpering again. It broke her heart to hear a creature in pain, but she knew she needed to find Will right away as she didn't know how much longer they had. Will saw that one minute was left on his timekeeper as he looked to Data and said "Data we need to go. We'll have to leave the lost piece behind." "As you wish sir" Data responded and turned towards the exit. "Deanna, let's get going" he reached around to take her hand but felt nothing there and turned quickly to see only darkness. "Deanna!" he yelled in a panic. "I'm coming!" he heard a faint voice yelling from far down the corridor. Hurry up!" he yelled as he too headed towards the exit. His heart began to thud heavily in his chest as he reached the beam-up point, but he tried to calm himself per his Starfleet training. She was coming. He knew she was coming. "Commander Riker, we are ready to beam you up" Captain Picard's voice came over the intercom. "One moment Captain" Will replied. "Deanna!" Will screamed so loudly that he almost lost his voice. "I'm here!" he heard her yell, completely out of breath as she exited the building and ran towards them at full speed. "Commander!" the Captain yelled "It's time!" With that the familiar white glitters began to surround Data and Will, and just as they began to disappear Deanna reached them and grasped for Will's hand and he was able to grab hers just as the transporter beam pulled them away and rematerialized them onto the ship.

Will's heart was thudding so strongly in his chest, he almost passed out. He had grabbed Deanna's hand just in time, and saw the relived look in her eyes just as they were transported. He squeezed his hand tightly around hers as he came into focus in the transporter room of the enterprise. As he squeezed he felt fingernails digging into his palm, so hard they were drawing blood. But something wasn't right. They were not Deanna's fingernails. They were his. Will jerked his head around to see Data standing behind him, and the Captain and Chief O'Brien standing before him, and his own empty, bleeding hand down by his side. "Deanna?" he asked as he again scanned the room. "Where's Deanna?" he looked accusingly at the Captain and the Chief. Captain Picard looked quickly to Miles O'Brien, hoping there was an answer to their question. "Captain" Chief O'Brien said softly, when you ordered me to energize, there were only two people within the beam-up coordinates. "NO!" Will yelled. "No there were not! Deanna had my hand! I was holding her hand when we energized!" Again, Captain Picard looked to the Chief and Miles shook his head sadly. "Try again" the Captain said softly. Miles worked hurridly with the instruments on his panel, trying desperately to find a way through the storm that had closed in over the planet, to find Deanna Troi. But it was too late. There was nothing there to transport. He looked up at Captain Picard and sadly shook his head. "NO!" Will yelled again leaping angrily down off the platform and pushing Miles O'Brien aside while frantically moving around the controls trying desperately to find Deanna. "Deanna!" he yelled, but he could not get any readings through the enveloping cloud. Then he realized she must be there, on board, and he began frantically looking around the transporter room. "Deanna!" he shouted as he ran around in a state of frenzy. "Number One!" the Captain yelled but Will did not hear him. "Deanna! She's here! I know she's here!" Will yelled as he looked towards his commanding officer. "Computer, locate Counselor Troi" Captain Picard spoke into the air, allowing himself only a slight thread of hope. "The Counselor is not on board the ship" the computer droned back. "NOOOO!" Will screamed from the depth of his soul as he sank to the ground, placing his head in his hands. Then he looked up, and stood abruptly and yelled to Chief O'Brien. "I have to go back down! Beam me back down, Chief! I can still get her and bring her back!" He crawled up onto the transporter pad and lifted himself up and stood on the circle. "Energize!" he shouted as he looked towards Miles. Miles just stood there, holding his breath, as he then looked to the captain. "Number One" Captain Picard said softly as he approached his first officer. "No! Beam me down NOW! I said ENERGIZE!" Will demanded. There was another moment of silence while Will just stared at his Captain wild-eyed. Then he looked down at the ground and whispered "beam me down now, please". He fell to a crumpled heap on the transporter pad, and began to repeat Deanna's name over and over again. The Captain moved slowly forward as Miles stepped up to help him and they lifted Will up off the platform. The Captain let out a heavy sigh as tears welled up in his eyes. It was more than he could bear seeing his first officer like this and trying to get his head around the loss of Deanna. "Captain" Data's voice called him back as in the turmoil he had forgotten Data was even there. "Yes Data, what is it?" he said sadly as Miles continued helping Commander Riker out the door towards sickbay. "I think you should know" Data continued, "Counselor Troi never made it out of the compound when the Commander and I beamed up."

Deanna was running faster than her legs could even take her. Something was wrong that she could not hear Will's voice, had they already gone to the beam-up point? If it was time, why hadn't Will given her a warning? Could he possibly have said something at the exact same time she heard the beam fall and crash, then heard the whining of the poor animal? Is that why she hadn't heard him? She was beginning to feel this was all a dark dream and any minute she would wake up with her legs still flailing in the bed. Suddenly she heard his voice, the voice of her imzadi yelling her name from outside. "Deanna!" Her heart filled with hope. "I'm coming!" she yelled back as she heard his reply "Hurry up!" She chuckled because she knew if he could see how fast she was running, her lungs heaving up and down, he would know she couldn't possibly hurry anymore than she was. She saw the exit and felt relief flood her soul. She reached for the doorframe to propel herself out through the doorway and over to the beam-up spot. She grabbed it and thought she heard something, something familiar. A tingle, an almost electrical sound. At that point everything began to move in slow motion as her mind fooled her and denied that she was hearing a transporter beam. She pushed herself through the door just in time to see white glitters surrounding Will and Data. She continued to run, reaching out her hand, as they disappeared, and a raging orange cloud closed in over the planet, filling the sky above her head. The wind picked up and became turbulent, and darkness slowly descended. She stopped and paused only for a moment, then continued running full speed towards the beam-up point. Towards where she had seen Will and Data disappear. "Enterprise!" she yelled. "One to beam up!" There was no reply. She tapped her combadge again. And again. And again. She began beating her fist on it. "Enterprise! Enterprise! Do you read? Enterprise! I'm here! I'm still here!" She screamed. She felt the wind begin to swirl around her and the temperature drop, but she would not leave that spot. She knew there was some way they would get her up, some way they would retrieve her. She threw her head back and yelled up into the sky in one last desperate attempt. "ENTERPRISE!" Nothing but silence, except for the wild thrashing of her heart, was to be heard. She brought her face back down and her mind finally allowed her to realize what had happened. It was too late. She had missed the beam-up. "No! Will! Imzadi!" she screamed into the howling wind. She fell to her knees grasping her hair and looking wildly around her. "No! No! This can't be happening!" she cried. "How did this happen?!" She was frozen in place, frozen to the ground where Will and Data had been. There was now no hope of her being rescued, at least for another eight years. Her mind couldn't comprehend. She fell further to the ground, her face in her hands, as she lay prone, weeping into the dirt. But no one heard her, only the rustling of the trees responded. She rolled over and her head fell into a small puddle of liquid on the ground as she collapsed and passed out, fainting from the reality of the situation as it was only starting to work its way into her mind. "Imzadi, help me…" she whispered, just before everything went black.

Deanna awoke, and the first thing she noticed was the wetness on the side of her head, and then she became aware of the dark winds whipping at her body. She groaned as she rolled off her side onto her back. She couldn't remember where she was or what had happened. She ached all over. Her head throbbed violently and her eyes were swollen shut. Then she remembered sobbing. Sobbing for her life. What had happened that was so awful that she had sobbed for her life? Was she on the enterprise? In sickbay? Her mind was still struggling to focus when she thought of Will. Suddenly, in a panic, she sat bolt upright as she reached out for him, to grab his hand. She remembered running towards the exit on the compound on Nervala IV and just as she entered the doorway she saw him standing at the beam-out point with his hand stretched out to her, white glitters already taking him away. "Oh god! Oh god! Oh god!" she cried as she tried to open her eyes. "Nooo!" She remembered now where she was. She had passed out the night before. She was trapped on Nervala IV. The very same hellhole her imzadi had been trapped on only a few years previously. Deanna's heart and mind were racing. She tried to center herself but it was no use. She was having an attack of anxiety, her heart beating so quickly she thought she might pass out again. How could she center herself? She was still unable to face the full reality of what her life was now, changed in an avoidable instant. "I've got to get inside" she thought to herself. But her eyes were still swollen shut. She cursed herself for crying that much, as she reached up to rub her swollen eyelids until the circulation helped lessen the swelling and she could finally slowly open them. But it was dark. It was so dark. "What?" she thought. "That's odd, it should be morning." She slowly stood and looked around her, then held her hand in front of her face. She couldn't see it, only blackness. "I must be in a cave" she thought. "But how?" She reached her arms out to feel for the walls of the cave, but only wind whipping by her touched her hands. She gingerly took a step, and then another, and then another, but still she could see nothing. She stepped by shuffling her feet along the ground, feeling for any obstacles, while reaching her hands out in front of her. She moved slowly, feeling all around her and finally came upon something solid in front of her. It was an opening. She felt all around it. It was smooth and cold and metallic. She ran her hands down along one side and felt an indentation along the wall. "A dent" she thought. "I remember a dent. It was along the side of….." Deanna clasped her hand to her mouth. She recognized that she had arrived at the entrance to the shelter that she had just run out of the day before to join her imzadi. It was the encampment. She continued to feel around the edges of the door and then stepped inside, where the wind finally stopped howling. It was now eerily quiet. Deanna dropped to her knees and felt along the ground, thinking she must have dropped her flashlight while she was running out to catch Will and Data. Something was wrong that everything was so dark, but she thought if she could just find her flashlight it would help her see. She brushed along several objects, feeling up along a table leg and onto the top of the table. Nothing. Then she crawled slightly further into the room, she remembered a makeshift couch that Thomas had constructed of beams and odds and ends of soft materials he had found. She felt up along it and then ran her hand over the top. There! She felt a small sleek object. "That's it! The flashlight!" she thought, feeling a sense of relief for the first time since she had awakened. She leaned up against the couch and fumbled with it trying as quickly as she could to turn it on. The blackness was frightening to her. She finally found the switch and clicked it on, shining it on the opposite wall. But when she looked, when she gazed upon the wall where her light was shining, she saw nothing but blackness. She felt down along the front of the light where the beam should be. It was warm. It was working. She sat for a moment, running thoughts through her mind, turning them over, inspecting them. After a pause, she sank down further onto the floor and laid her head back on the cushion of the couch whispering "oh my god" into the darkness. Deanna Troi had suddenly come to a horrific realization of three separate and individual facts. She was trapped alone on Nervala IV. She would be trapped there for eight years before the Enterprise, or any other ship could rescue her. And she, Deanna Troi, was completely blind.

"What happened?" Dr. Crusher asked, concern etching her face as Miles O'Brien walked in half-carrying a mumbling and incoherent first office into sickbay and heaving him down on one of the biobeds. "Counselor Troi's been left on the planet" O'Brien said in a small barely audible voice. "Oh my god" the doctor whispered as she turned her attention towards Commander Riker and began to run her tricorder over him. Captain Picard entered sickbay walking quickly and came up beside the bed Will was on. "How is he?" he asked Beverly as she closed up her tricorder and looked at the Captain. "He's in a state of shock, I'm afraid. Jean-Luc, what happened down there?" Beverly's eyes were watering as she brought out a hypospray to inject into Will's neck to calm him and help him sleep. "I don't know, but I intend to get to the bottom of this. We've lost our counselor and friend, and there can't possibly be a logical reason for that!" he said, angrily. Beverly looked down. "We can retrieve her in eight years when the transporter window opens, right?" she said, softly. The Captain looked to Beverly, and then to the ground as he slowly shook his head. "Beverly, I know that Thomas survived down there for eight years, but do you really think Deanna can as well? It would be a nightmarish existence, at best." Beverly shot the Captain a look of disdain. "Jean-Luc, if anyone can survive this, Deanna can. She's one of the strongest and most resourceful women I know!" And..." Beverly continued as she looked somberly down at Will "she has to. She just has to." "I hope you're right, doctor" the Captain said. "As soon as Will is stable I'd like you in the ready room along with the rest of the senior staff." "Yes, Captain" Beverly replied as she called Alyssa Ogawa over to keep an eye on Commander Riker. Beverly looked pitifully at him as she turned to go. A short while later, Beverly, Geordi, Data, and Worf took their seats around the table and waited for Captain Picard to begin the meeting. Geordi and Worf both looked at each other, wondering where the counselor and first officer were. "I'm afraid I have difficult news" the Captain began as he took his seat and looked to Geordi and Worf. "Somehow when we tried to beam our three officers back up from Nervala IV, the Counselor was not with them. Only Commander Riker and Data were able to be retrieved." Geordi looked at Data, his expression showing both relief for his friend Data's return, and remorse for the apparent loss of Counselor Troi. "Was the Counselor well when you left, Data?" Geordi asked. Data responded "to my knowledge Counselor Troi was well. I know she was in the other room with Commander Riker while I was retrieving the PGIF, and then Commander Riker joined me as we looked for the missing piece and then exited the encampment to go to the beam-up coordinates. It was evident by the Commander's communication that he had thought the Counselor was right behind him. But when he saw that she wasn't he began yelling for her, and she answered us. The last thing that she said was that she was coming as the Commander told her to hurry up. A few seconds later the transporter beam surrounded us and I never saw her." "And yet" the Captain added "Commander Riker believes he had a hold of her hand when they beamed aboard". Geordi looked to Dr. Crusher with a questioning look. "It is possible" Dr. Crusher sighed, "that he imagined it. Our mind can play strange tricks on us when we're desperate". "How did she get separated from the team?" Worf demanded, his heart aching for his former love and friend. "The first rule of an away mission is stay together or know where each other are!" "I cannot answer that, Mr. Worf" Data replied. "I am only to surmise that she left on her own for a reason I am not privy to". The Captain brought both of his hands up and rubbed them along the sides of his head in a gesture of frustration. "Well, at least we know she was OK and not injured" he added to the conversation. "And Commander Riker?" Geordi queried. "He is stable now. He was in a state of shock and I suspect this will be very difficult for him to accept." Dr. Crusher responded. "We also know that Thomas survived on Nervala IV for eight years so it is possible." the Captain spoke up again, and then paused, as if in hard concentration contemplating a decision. The room was quiet with each officer sharing in their own grief. Then the Captain spoke again, this time with force. "Worf, tell the Ensign to hold off on setting coordinates for our next mapping mission. We will remain in orbit around Nervala IV for now. Data, I want you to spend all of your time finding a way to beam Counselor Troi back. Whatever it takes. I will deal with Starfleet. And Dr. Crusher, as soon as you feel Will is ready, I want to talk to him." "Aye, sir" each officer said as they accepted their orders from their Captain. They exited the room in silence as Geordi placed his hand on Data's shoulder and said "I'm glad you're back." Data tilted his head as if contemplating Geordi's meaning. "I too would have missed you" he replied . Worf walked onto the bridge and gave the Ensign her orders to remain in orbit. He knew later that night he would be visiting the holodeck to battle with whatever horrible monster he could create to take out his frustrations and the pain he was feeling in his heart. Beverly was the first out of the ready room and walked away quickly, avoiding contact with anyone. The tears were already coming down her cheeks as she finally released the grief she was feeling for her best friend who was stuck in an interminable situation, all alone, and who at best, would be lost for eight years and at worst….well, she couldn't think of the worst. Her heart was also hurting for her other friend who had lost the lover of his soul and the trauma he would now be facing. All through the corridors Beverly sobbed, allowing her heart to grieve, her arms trembling and legs shaking, until she reached sickbay. She was unaware if anyone saw her and didn't care what they thought. Then she reached the doors of sickbay and stood just outside and composed herself, wiping away her tears and readjusting her jacket. She drew in a deep breath and stepped towards the door as it slid open for her.

Deanna awoke with a start. She felt softness beneath her, it felt soft and warm, and it felt good. She wondered for a moment if she were back on the Enterprise in her own bed. Before she opened her eyes, she knew she had to try something. "Computer, end program" she pronounced into the air. Nothing. Deanna sighed. Her stomach was churning with such acid and she could tell that her mind was still reeling from all that had happened. She knew she was still down on Nervala IV and figured she must have fallen asleep on the couch. She cupped her hands over her eyes in grief, remembering that she was now blind. But how? All she could figure for the moment was that she must have hit her head hard when she collapsed onto the ground outside at the beam-up coordinates. Perhaps there was hope. Perhaps her sight would return. But for now she was in an unbearable situation, and the counselor within her knew she had a precarious and near impossible journey ahead. "If Thomas can do it, I can do it" she thought determinedly to herself. Suddenly something caught her attention. Noise. A sound in the infinite quietness. Whimpering. It was the animal she had heard that had caused her to go back to try and rescue it before. It was still here! Deanna did not know if that was good or bad, but she couldn't leave a living being alone to simply suffer and die. She had to at least check on it. She managed to drag herself up and feel her hands over to the wall, then along the sides to try and guide herself to where sounds came from. She remembered part of what the inside was like but not all, as she had only been there briefly, so she had to rely as much on what she was feeling as what she remembered. She continued to feel along the wall, stepping gingerly, stepping over obstacles that she encountered along the way. Then she reached the corridor which was far easier, as there were no obstacles on the floor and she could glide along quite nicely while sliding her hands along the wall. She was amazed at her own courage, at the moment she didn't feel frightened. She heard the whimpering coming from the room at the end of the corridor, and she remembered she had heard a crash, like a beam falling. She finally got to the room and entered, and got up as close as she could to the whimpering sounds. She felt down along the wall, careful to not go too far down as she didn't know if the animal would bite or sting or some other way of attacking her. Sure enough, she felt a horizontal beam slanting down diagonally from the ceiling towards the floor. She ran her hands down along it until it almost reached the floor where she had heard the animal. It had stopped its whining, and Deanna wondered if it had died. She felt a deep sadness as it mirrored the own type death she felt she was facing. But then she heard it try to move, and then yelp again. It was scared. Deanna's heart was beating and she was unsure what to do at this point. Her Starfleet training told her to allow it to die, rather than risk an injury in a place where she had no help and no medkit. The compassion in her told her to take a risk, and help the poor suffering animal. Her heart couldn't take the desperate and painful pleas coming from the creature. Deanna went against all logic, and continued sliding her hand slowly down the beam until it came to rest upon a soft warm object. The object moved abruptly and Deanna pulled her hand back, but then she gently rested it down again, murmuring soft soothing sounds as she simply allowed her hand to stay there. The animal seemed to calm somewhat, perhaps sensing that Deanna wanted to help. After a few moments Deanna spoke "what have you gotten yourself into, little one?" as she slowly touched her hand along the animals soft warm body and down to where it seemed to have been struggling. There it was. She could feel its leg caught underneath the beam. "No wonder you were crying" she said softly as she brought her hand back up to gently smooth the soft fur on the animal's side, uttering more sounds of comfort and safety. The animal lay still and quiet, but she could feel its little heart beating and its side moving quickly up and down to its labored breaths. "OK little one, I'm going to try and lift this beam up, and it's probably going to hurt" she said regretfully, knowing the animal couldn't understand her anyway. She felt along to where she could firmly grip both hands under the beam and then with all her might she grunted and pushed up, as the beam lifted just inches off the floor, and the animal scuttled out, letting out a mournful cry that broke Deanna's heart. But then the scuttling stopped and the animal began whimpering again, as Deanna dropped the beam back down to the floor where the creature had previously been, and felt along the floor to find where the animal had stopped and rested her hand upon the warm soft fur again. She felt down to its leg, knowing it would have been severely damaged. She felt a warm liquid like blood, and the odd angle at which the leg protruded. The animal let out at cry as she touched it. "Oh little one" she said sadly. "You're hurt very badly." Deanna sat back on her heels as tears formed in her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. Her heart broke at the little one's suffering and at her own. She wiped her cheeks with the back of her hands. "Well, if you could just let me lift you, I may be able to help you" she whispered as she tried ever so gently to slip her hands underneath the creature. It felt to be about the size of a large rabbit, with much the same feel of soft soft fur and warmth, and as she lifted, she was surprised the creature didn't struggle. Deanna stood slowly and gathered the creature into her arms holding it close to her chest with one arm, as she allowed its injured leg to hang below where she cradled it. With her other hand she reached out for the wall again, and with a heavy sigh began making her way slowly back to the main room. She remembered Will talking about Thomas getting his drinking water from a watering hole in back, and she thought she remembered a container that Will pointed out where Thomas kept his water. With any luck, there would still be some water left in it. She kept feeling and sliding and feeling and sliding, stepping over god knows what, but finally she arrived at where she remembered the jug to be, the animal still nestled safely in her arms. She felt down along the smooth metal to see if there was a spigot at the bottom and sure enough, there was, and as she maneuvered the lever a splash of cool liquid fell down on her feet. A smile came to her face as she looked down at her charge. "looks like we're in luck, little one". She chuckled at how she branded this poor animal with the same nickname her mother had given her. She carried the animal to the couch just a few feet away and gently laid it down on the cushion as she turned and felt for a container to collect the water in. On top of the jug she felt a cylindrical object that felt clean and empty. She lowered it and allowed some water to flow into it. She lifted the cup to her nose and smelled, it seemed clean. She gingerly lifted it to her lips to taste it, and it tasted normal. Then she stepped slowly over to the couch. She rested her hand on the mound of fur and gently held it down, as she slowly poured the water over its wounded leg. She felt it shudder slightly and whimper, but she continued to pour, knowing the blood was being washed away and the area cleansed, at least a little. Then she reached down to the bottom of her uniform top and tore away a long piece of fabric. She set the cup down and felt along the fabric to make sure it would work, then slid it slowly up underneath the creature's leg and began to wrap it slowly and surely, until she felt confident the leg was confined and the bleeding was stopped. At one point the animal lifted its head up back towards her hand and she felt it, and was afraid it was going to bite her, but then she felt it was sniffing instead, she felt a cold wet nose touching the back of her thumb. "It's checking me out" she thought warmly to herself. Once it was wrapped Deanna took the cup she had set on the floor and began to gulp greedily the water that was left. She realized how thirsty and dehydrated she was from all the crying. Then she sat down on the couch, feeling for where the creature was and sat beside it. Suddenly her head felt heavy and she felt very very tired. The trauma of the past 24 hours had taken its toll on her body. Her mind was still somewhat numb and her legs and arms ached. She gently laid herself back down onto the bed and, sliding her hand underneath the creature, lifted it and laid it on top of her stomach. "Looks like you're stuck with me for awhile little one" she said as she laid her head back and closed her eyes. The creature was already asleep, warming her stomach and lulling her to sleep as well.

Deanna dreamed of reaching for things. She was reaching for a glass of water. She was reaching for a doorway. She was reaching for a soft creature. She was reaching for Thomas. She was reaching for a hand. She felt her body stiffen and her heart race. She looked closer and saw that it was Will's hand reaching out for her. "Imzadi!" he yelled with a terror-stricken face. "Imzadi take my hand!" but as he was yelling for her, as the winds and the storm were swirling around them, he began to step away, backwards, slowly stepping back and back so she could not reach him. "Will!" she screamed as he slowly disappeared into the dark. Deanna awoke with a racing her heart, her eyes suddenly popping open wide. "Will" she said, breathlessly. She tried to sit up, but there was something heavy on her shoulder. She tried to look down only to be reminded of her blindness, and was met by warm fur tickling her nose. "What in the world…." She furrowed her brow trying to figure out what was going on. Then she smiled and lay her head back down. "little one" she chuckled as she reached her hand up to stroke the back of the creature who had crawled up to snuggle on her shoulder and against her face during the night. It was warm and breathing, and she could feel a vibration on her shoulder, something akin to an earth feline's purr. "At least it's still alive" she thought as she continued to stroke it. Then she decided to take advantage of its sleeping state and try to figure out what it looked like. She ran her hand down along to its back end to see if there was any tail. There was none, just two rear feet, and she could feel that the makeshift bandage was holding fast. She could also feel that the creature's other leg was slightly damaged and swollen as well, but no blood. It would be awhile before it would be able to walk, and even then it would probably always be a hobble. Deanna sighed, grateful she had been able to save the creature and grateful for the company, but wondering if she hadn't gone back for the whimpering sounds, would she be on the enterprise now? Her heart jerked in a sense of fear and remorse, regret and anger, but she quickly banished the thought. There would be plenty of time for working through her thoughts and feelings. Plenty of time. She then continued feeling her hand up along the creature's back to its head and face. She couldn't find anything to resemble ears and wondered if the creature had the ability to hear. "Can you hear me, little one?" she asked, softly. The creature's vibration became stronger, as if in response to Deanna's voice. She moved up to stroke what would be its head, and discovered it to be somewhat oblong, with two eyes and a mouth, but no apparent teeth. "What do you eat?" she wondered as she thought about what she could possibly feed it. "What am I going to eat?" she panicked, trying to remember what Thomas told her about food down here. She then continued on with her hand to find two front feet, and all four feet had three nubby claws, not too sharp, probably for clinging onto trees, she thought. As far as Deanna could make out from her finger travels, this creature would be most like a large earth rabbit with no ears, and a cute oblong head like a Betazoid tingla that lived in the Janaran Jungle. Deanna took in a deep breath trying to center herself and relishing the feeling of the warm comforting body on her shoulder. She knew her next few days would be about learning how to survive and she couldn't give into the feelings of terror, despair and heartbreak. She would have to be strong. She would have to reach inside herself for a deep strength. Could she do it? Could she survive here for eight years? Especially with being blind? The questions caused her stomach to tighten again. She tried to focus on Will. She didn't want to imagine what he was feeling. She knew he'd probably try to blame himself, especially as the leader of the mission. But it was her fault. It was not her imzadi's fault! She had to tell him that. She needed to tell him that! It was her fault! If she hadn't been so damned compassionate! Deanna realized she was starting to go down a slippery slope of despondency and she tried to reign herself in again and center herself. Her stomach tightened further, she knew she was on the verge of panic. "How can I do this? How can I get through this? She thought furtively. "Mother, help me" she whispered as she decided to close her eyes and lose herself in blissful ignorant slumber once again, while silent tears gently streamed down her face.

As she always did every morning, no matter where she was, Luwaxana Troi tried to tune in to her daughter on the Enterprise. Sometimes she was too far away, even for her advanced abilities, but this time the Enterprise was within the correct amount of light years from Betazed for her to make contact. "Good morning, little one" she thought cast. At her first try, there was no response, but Luwaxana could tell she was not being blocked. She tried again. "Little one, are you there?" Still, nothing came back. "That's odd" the matriarch thought but she chalked it up to some sort of fluke. She knew Deanna had been on an away mission, but also that she would be back by now. Luwaxana turned to leave out the front door of her mansion for some diplomatic meetings she had that morning and decided she'd try to contact her daughter again that afternoon.

There was darkness all around. He opened his eyes but couldn't see. He felt out with his hands, but couldn't feel. He tried to breathe, but couldn't. Something heavy was weighing on top of him. He felt something lightly shake his shoulder. "Will" he heard a whisper. "Will!" It was louder this time. "Hmmmmm?" he groaned in his sleepy slumber. Little by little air came to him, light came to him, touch came to him. He opened his eyes. It was blurry at first, but then everything came into focus. He was looking at somebody's face. A face with worried eyes. A fact with red hair. "Beverly?" he asked, somewhat confused. "Will, how do you feel?" she said with a gentle smile. Will put his hand to his head and groaned. "Like I had too much to drink last night". Beverly stood up and patted his chest. "That's not such a bad thing" she teased. Will looked up at her again and grinned, but then he saw sadness in her eyes. Suddenly, he remembered. "Deanna!" he yelled as he sat bolt upright, his heart beating wildly. "I have to get Deanna!" He tried to leap off the biobed, swinging his legs around, and fell face first to the floor. The orderlies ran over to help Dr. Crusher lift him back up to the bed, his head was spinning. "You're not strong enough yet, Commander" Beverly gently reassured. The orderlies laid him back down until all of him was on the bed and he shook his head, trying to clear it. He took in a few deep breaths until the dizziness stopped. Then he looked up again at Beverly, trying to read her face. Had it really happened? Had he lost Deanna? His eyes were filled with fear and desperation as he pleaded with the doctor, his mouth grimacing, his teeth clenched. "I'm sorry Will" Beverly placed her hand comfortingly on his shoulder. "Deanna's gone. There's nothing you can do now." Will brought both hands up to cover his face as his eyes began to tear and his shoulders began to shake. The pain in his soul overwhelmed him. "It just can't…." he tried to speak. "Beverly, I had her hand!" he exclaimed as he wiped his palms down his cheeks to clear the moisture and looked up again to the doctor. "Data refutes that, Will" Beverly said, somberly. Will's eyes grew wide. "What?!" he said, incredulously. "Data refutes that?!" he said, mockingly, as if Data could possibly be wrong. "Will" Beverly said softly, rubbing her hand up and down on his arm "for now let's just get you stable. This is going to be a long and difficult journey. But you should know, the Captain has Data working on any possible solution to get Deanna back up here." "Oh god, Deanna" Will said as he placed his hands over his face again. "Beverly, I left her there! On that god-forsaken planet, I left her there! How could I do that?!" "Will, calm down" Beverly spoke in hushed tones "we don't know yet what really happened and I'm sure Deanna doesn't blame you". "I was in charge!" Will spat out in a show of self-loathing. "I should have been aware of her location at all times!" Beverly sighed and pulled up a chair, sitting next to the biobed to be able to look at him eye-level. "Will listen to me" she said seriously as she looked deep into his eyes. "right now you need to be strong for Deanna as I'm sure she is trying to be strong for you. If any two people can make it through this nightmare, it's you two. Blaming each other or blaming yourself won't help anything and will only make things worse. I'm sure she's telling herself the same thing, even as we speak." Will looked up towards the ceiling. "god, Beverly, can you just imagine how she's feeling down there? Completely alone in that dark, dank encampment knowing that we won't be back for her for eight years? Could you survive that? Could you?" he challenged her. Beverly sat up and thought for a moment. "If I had someone who loved me with the intensity that you love her, I could" Beverly smiled as Will turned to look at her, his lips trembling. "Thanks doc" he quietly choked out as she gave his hand a squeeze.

It was early afternoon on Betazed and Luwaxana had just finished her last sip of tea. "Well, let's see what my daughter is up to" she thought to herself as she rose to pluck some dead leaves from the muktok plant gracing her living room. "Hello, little one, where have you been?" she sent through their link. Again, there was no response. At this point Luwaxana was beginning to feel worried. "Little one, are you there?" She waited. "Deanna, what's going on?" she sent forcefully, hoping to arouse some sort of response across their link. When no response came she knew something was terribly wrong. She called to Mr. Homm who came quickly at the urgency of her voice. "Something is wrong with our Deanna!" she said loudly, waving her arms. "Get the Enterprise on Starfleet communications for me, quickly!" Mr. Homm went to the terminal and punched in the appropriate buttons. "To whom do you wish to speak Madam?" Mr. Homm asked stoically. "Get me Commander Ri…no, wait. Get me Jean-Luc. Get me the captain!" Luwaxana barked. "Mrs. Troi" Captain Picard's face came on the viewscreen and Luwaxana could immediately see the worry in his eyes. "What's happened to my daughter, Jean-Luc? And you'd better not tell me she's on her way back from somewhere!" Luwaxana yelled into the viewscreen. Captain Picard sighed and placed a hand on his forehead, rubbing, and trying to release the tension he was feeling. "I'm afraid not, Luwaxana. Deanna's been…left behind…on Nervala IV." Mrs. Troi's mouth opened to speak but then she froze. She was remembering when Deanna had reunited with Thomas and what she had told her about Nervala IV. "Oh my god Jean-Luc!" Luwaxana screamed as she fainted back into the waiting arms of Mr. Homm. The Captain stood, as if he could help her, then sat himself back down. After a moment she came to, and stood slowly, wiping hands down along her satin gown trying to straighten it out and patting her hair. "Jean-Luc" she said in a low voice "I will leave now to join your ship and should arrive in three weeks. Once I get there, you'd better have an explanation for me and my daughter had better be on her way back to the ship. Ambassador Troi out". With that, the viewscreen went blank and Captain Picard pinched the area between his eyebrows trying to ward off a headache. It did not go unnoticed by him that Luwaxana, who was always far too familiar with him, had signed off in her formal title. If Jean-Luc Picard had ever felt like a little boy in serious trouble, it was now. "Captain Picard to Lieutenant Worf" he said as he tapped his comm. badge. "Lieutenant Worf here" came the reply. "See to it that one of our guest quarters is clean and available. We will be having an important visitor in three weeks time." The Captain intoned. "Aye, sir" Worf replied as the captain leaned back in his chair, making a mental note to push Data a little harder to discover a solution before three weeks had passed.

"I don't know Data, this could be awfully hard to recreate, considering the state of our replicators. Geordi held up the PIGF inspecting the area where a piece was missing. He could only guess at what it needed to be to get the tool working properly. And then, he knew, the replicators would only guess, even if he gave them specific instructions. Geordi sighed. "I'll work on it. I've got to get these on board systems working again or the Captain will have my head". Data cocked his head to one side, looking at Geordi curiously. "What would the Captain do with your head, Geordi?" A chuckle escaped from the engineer's throat as he fingered the broken area on his new found tool. "he'd probably have it for lunch, Data" Geordi said as he turned to head back towards engineering from Data's quarters, leaving a very confused android staring after him. Data returned his focus to his terminal looking for any possible way to get Counselor Troi back to the Enterprise. He'd analyzed the gasses in the cloud that covered the planet several times, he'd simulated possible scenarios for retrieving her and keeping her in one piece, he'd even researched ways to possibly time travel back to before the three officers were to beam up to the Enterprise, so he could make sure Deanna was there. Nothing seemed to work, and so far he was coming up empty. Meanwhile, all over the Enterprise, ship's night was beginning, and the lights lowered. Data rose to head towards the bridge to take the nightshift of command. Geordi set down his tool on his desk and sighed, still trying to figure out how to repair it. He decided to head for his quarters, realizing that after a good night's sleep he could probably work much better. He paused for a moment to think of Deanna and his friend, Will Riker, and his heart felt heavy. He sighed once more and walked out of engineering. On holodeck 3 a very bruised and battered Klingon finished cleaning the blood off of his bat'leh and sat down to light a candle of remembrance for his close friend, his once lover. He thought of Deanna and her strength, she had the heart of a warrior. But even he, a brave Klingon, would struggle under the circumstances she was facing. Worf waved his hand through the flame of the candle as was the Klingon custom, chanted a few quiet prayers of hope towards the one who was battling, and bowed his head as the hot wax slowly oozed down onto the table.

Beverly Crusher sat at her desk in her office and placed the padd down on top of it. For a moment she rested her head in her hands and let her mind wander to what Deanna might be doing at the moment. Then she thought of Will in the next room on the biobed. They had overcome so many obstacles in their relationship, and now this. They were supposed to be married two months from now. She thought about the possibility that she may never see her best friend again, and her breath caught in her throat as tears began to form.

Captain Picard set his cup of tea down on the table and rested the book he'd been trying to read in his lap. He quickly inhaled and exhaled a breath, thinking of his first officer whom he'd often thought of as a son, and how the loss of Deanna would affect him. He knew Will was the consummate professional, but even stalwart professional officers had their limits. The Captain rose and walked over to the windows, looking out at the planet below. He thought of his Counselor and how she must be feeling, abandoned on a planet without hope of rescue for a very, very long time. He thought of the many times her wise and gentle counsel had helped him through some of his most treacherous times. And then Captain Jean-Luc Picard, the man in charge of the flagship of the United Federation of Planets, did something no one had ever seen him do. Captain Jean-Luc Picard lowered his head, and cried.

And several floors away soft sobs could be heard, soft muffled sobs being drowned out by whirring machinery and medical equipment so that no one could hear, the soft sobs of a heart slowly breaking in two, of a soul that had loved for a thousand years, for an eternity, searching desperately for its partner, its mate, and finding nothing.

Deanna Troi woke with a start to odd sucking noises coming from the end of her bed. She sat up and looked around, forgetting again that she could no longer see, and thought to her stomach to check if the warm furry ball had been there. She felt nothing. "Little one?" she asked into the air, as if it could hear and understand her and respond. Then she heard a squeek. It was soft, but it was definitely a squeek, as if it was responding to her. It came from the same place by her feet where the sucking noises were coming from. She sat up further and slowly reached her hands down along the bed, coming up on her knees, until she felt soft fur. "There you are" she smiled, and then asked "what are you doing?" She felt a small wet nose nudge her fingers and something wet and sticky hanging out of its mouth. That's what the sucking noise was. Her new little pet was sucking on something. It had found food! "Can I see?" she asked as she cringed at the irony of her statement and took a tip of the slimy substance with her fingernails. She brought it to her nose and smelled it. "Hmmm, it smells like a plant of some kind. Sort of medicinal smelling, like the earth plant eucalyptus" she said. "Where did you find this, little one? I wonder if I too could eat it?" The fuzzy creature simply responded with a squeek and continued sucking and gumming the plant. Deanna surmised that without teeth, it must have had the appropriate enzymes to help dissolve the leaves in its mouth. Deanna sat back down on the couch and tried to take in a deep breath and assess her situation once again. She was aware, as a counselor, that her brain was still protecting her from coming to full grips of her situation which could be too overwhelming still. That was fine with her. She decided to focus on the day, just today, and what she needed to get done. Although how she would figure out what constituted a day when she couldn't see light and dark, she had no idea. Perhaps that would be first on her list. All of a sudden she felt little nubby claws touching at her arm and as she moved her arm the mass of fur crawled up into her lap and curled up into a ball to fall asleep. "Oh no you don't" Deanna said as she gently lifted it and set it down beside her. "I can't sleep anymore, I've got work to do. You're going to have to sleep by yourself". "Squeek" was the only response that came back to her. Deanna stood and tried to get her bearings. She knew the water jug was directly across from her. She knew there was a table and two chairs beside it and the container for water setting on top. She knew into the next room was the bed Thomas had made, and decided she would try and sleep there tonight. But she couldn't remember much else, in all the trauma some things were just not accessible to her mind right now. She automatically felt down along her collarbone and found her combadge. "Counselor Troi to Enterprise. Enterprise, come in". Silence. She knew the possibilities were virtually impossible, but decided she would continue trying for as long as she was stuck here. She realized how thirsty she was, and thought perhaps her little one was as well. She rose and felt her way across the floor to the water jug, took the container and filled it. Then she felt along the table where she knew there was a myriad of junk for another flatter open container. She found something that seemed like a dish and poured some water into it. Then she set it down on the floor beside the water jug. Immediately she heard rustling on the couch and a sharp squeek, then little hobbling feet scurrying haphazardly over to where she'd placed the water. She heard lapping noises. "So you were thirsty" she said. She could tell the creature's leg was starting to heal, but that walking was still difficult. Deanna then filled her own cup and drank voraciously from it, making sure to take in as much water as she could so as to not get dehydrated. "Rule number one, keep yourself hydrated" she recited as she remembered the rules for survival in precarious situations. "At least I'm not being tortured by the Romulans" she said sarcastically down to her little pet. She slowly backed up to the couch and sat down again to plan her day. Immediately the furry creature scrambled up the couch squeeking all the way from the slight pain in its leg and settled into Deanna's lap. "I see I've made a friend" she smiled. The creature began to vibrate as Deanna smoothed her hand along the soft fur from head to toe, over and over again. Soon it was asleep, and Deanna gently lifted it and set it beside her. She tried to think what her goals were for the day. It would be good to find the pond out back and perhaps bring in some more water for their supply. It would be good to search for food, though how could she do that without seeing? Maybe she could follow little one around until she felt where it was retrieving its food from. She also knew Thomas had stored some food he had dried, though she didn't know if there was any left or where it would be. She felt somewhat safe and confident in the structure she was in, and even though the doorway had no door and she could sometimes hear the wind coming in through the corridor, the temperature stayed remarkably moderate, and there were no leaks, as far as she could tell. She also knew she would have to find some way to keep herself occupied during the long days, weeks and months, she couldn't allow herself to think years, to keep herself from losing her grip on sanity. "Maybe I already have lost my grip on sanity" she joked to the animal sleeping beside her as she touched its head. "I'm talking to you as if you can hear and understand me." A gentle soft "squeek" was all she heard in reply.

Several days had passed since Will and Data had beamed back aboard the Enterprise, and Captain Picard realized he had not once visited his first officer in sick bay. He felt ashamed of that, but in his own stoicism as the only way a Captain of a starship could handle such a situation, he knew it would be difficult to reach out to Will. He needed to keep his own emotions guarded for the sake of the ship, for the sake of himself. But early this morning Beverly had called him on his com badge with two small words. "He's ready". "Very well. Send him to my office" the Captain replied. He sat behind his desk, hands clasped tightly in front of him, jaw tight. The chime rang. "Come" he said with his usual authority. The door slid open, and a haggard looking Will Riker entered, looking at his Captain and then down to the floor, easing himself down into the chair facing the desk. "Number One, it's good to see you up and about". The Captain smiled slightly. "Thank you, sir" was all Will replied. "Yes, well" the Captain began. Then he paused. Then he sighed heavily. "Will, there's no use beating around the bush between you and me, we've known each other too long. Tell me, just what the hell happened on that away mission? How did you possibly lose Deanna?" He hadn't meant to lose his temper, but his anger had been building since his Counselor and friend had not returned, and now he let it out. Will was slightly taken aback by the harsh tone of his superior officer. "Sir, I…." Will began. "I..I don't know" was all he could say as he folded his hands in his lap and looked to the ground. Couldn't the Captain see that there was nothing in this earth that would cause him to be careless with his imzadi? Nothing in the universe that would cause him to "lose" her? The Captain spoke more softly this time. "Will, I'm sorry. I know you love Deanna and would never deliberately do anything to jeopardize her safety. But there must have been some mistake made". "Yes, I believe it was my fault." Will replied. "I should have known her location at all times. I thought she was right behind me. She wasn't". "Well perhaps Deanna was distracted by something, did you give a warning when the beam-out window was close to closing?" Captain Picard asked. "Yes, per proper Starfleet protocal" Will answered. "And did she acknowledge?" the Captain asked again. Will thought for a moment. Had Deanna answered his warning? He thought she had. But he was so focused on finding the missing piece with Data, perhaps she hadn't. "I'm not sure" was his reply. Captain Picard pursed his lips and sighed. "Well, until we can ask Deanna we'll never know for sure". Picard said. Will glanced up with haunted eyes. Captain Picard smiled reassuringly. "I am sure Will that she will be waiting for us when we return in eight years. And I am sure you will get an earful and probably be paying for the rest of your life." Will smiled for the first time since he had returned to the ship. "I'd take any ongoing reprimand Deanna wanted to give, as long as I could have her back here with me" he said, softly. "And we still don't know if Data will come up with a better solution" the Captain encouraged. He could see his first officer was hurting deeply. "When can I return to duty?" Will asked, realizing he needed desperately to keep himself occupied. "One week" the Captain stated. "I want you to see Counselor Linea, who will be temporarily taking over Deanna's position. I want you to see him on a regular basis for at least three months and then he can decide from there. You're living an extremely traumatic experience, Will, and your mind has already played tricks on you. It is important you have a healthy mind as well as body to return to the bridge. Once I get an all clear from Counselor Linea and Dr. Crusher, I will be very glad to have you back." Will smiled slightly and nodded to his Captain, grateful to have this man be the one who decided his fate on the ship. Captain Picard was like a father to him, and no man could ask for a better father. A perfect mixture of authority and compassion. "Thank you, sir" Will said as he rose to exit the captain's office. "Oh and Will" Picard said as Will turned back around. "Data will be sharing his findings with us tomorrow morning at 0800 hours. I'd like you to be there". "Sir" Will acknowledged with hope as he turned back around and walked out the door.

"Data, I got it!" Geordi's voice boomed over the com badge on Data's uniform as he sat up in his chair at his desk in his quarters. "What have you got, Geordi?" he replied. "I replicated the missing piece! I think I can make this work! Can you come down and help me?" Geordi asked, obviously proud of himself. "On my way" Data replied. A few moments later Data walked into engineering to see a beaming chief engineer holding up a small metal object. "Look at this Data, it fits perfectly! I just have to attach it!" he said as he nestled the piece into the area on the PIGF. "Geordi, I am happy for you" Data replied. "This will make my research that much easier, as the computer has been running erratically. I called up a file on the atmospheric conditions of Nervala IV and it sent me a photo of a hot air balloon." Geordi chuckled as he lowered the instrument to his side. Then he grew serious. "Data, have you found anything? Anything that can rescue Deanna?" "You will find that out with the others at our meeting tomorrow with Captain Picard" Data said mysteriously as he reached for the laser to help Geordi weld his new instrument together and get the repairs underway.

"Look at this!" Guinan grinned as she held up a perfectly colored red and orange sumarian sunset. "It's perfect! I believe Geordi has finally gotten our systems back in line". Captain Picard who was sitting at the bar in the early afternoon with almost no one else around grunted and smiled at Guinan, nodding his head. "No, Captain, you don't realize how important this really is!" she said to him, quite seriously. The Captain grunted an acknowledgement again as Guinan set the glass down on the bar. "Now Captain" she began "If I didn't know better, I'd say you were brooding. And when someone comes to brood at my bar, it means they want to talk. And if they want to talk, they don't simply make grunting noises". Guinan rested her arms on the bar and smiled at him. Picard pulled himself up and sat back on the stool, taking in a breath. "I'm listening" was all Guinan said. After a moment, the Captain began. "Guinan, do you have any children?" he asked. "Quite a few" she smiled back at him. "Well, I don't. I don't have any children". "I know that" Guinan replied. "but what you don't know," the Captain continued, "what I've never told anyone, is that I feel about the senior staff as if they were my children. That holds especially true for Will and Deanna, whom I'm closest too. They have been to me like the children I've never had". Guinan stared at him, listening intently. "Go on" she said. The Captain paused, and then he said "did you ever feel like a failure as a mother?" Guinan could see where this was going. "Every day" she said. The Captain looked up at her, eyebrows raised. "Captain Picard, there is no Starfleet book written on how to be a parent, nor how to be a Captain, other than rules and regulations. We all have to muddle through it as best we can. We train, guide, teach, and love, and trust them to do the best that they can." "But did they?" he asked her. "Did they what?" she queried. "Did they do their best? Did they act as I and Starfleet have trained them to act?" "Oh, you must mean Will and Deanna" she shook her head knowingly. The Captain continued. "I've worked with both of them for a decade now. I'd trust them with my life. But in such a simple situation with such unendingly serious consequences, one or both of them made a mistake that may end up costing the Counselor her life. And in a sense, my first officer would lose his as well". The Captain was now shaking his head. "Such a simple procedure. Get to the beam-up coordinates on time". "Well, women do have a reputation for being late" Guinan smiled, trying to lighten the mood. "Guinan…" the Captain began to reprimand, but Guinan raised her hand to stop him. "Jean-Luc" she began, and he knew she was about to say something of great importance because she rarely addressed him by his first name unless it was to get his full and undivided attention. "You have been like a father to Will and Deanna. I've seen it. They know it. They regard you with the highest respect I've ever seen an officer show their commander. And…" here came the punchline, he knew, "they don't blame you". Captain Picard dropped his head to his chest, realizing Guinana had just hit the bullseye. "Everyone wants to find blame in this situation" she continued. "Will's blaming himself, Deanna is probably blaming herself and from that little vignette you just shared with me, I know that you are blaming yourself. You think you haven't been a good enough leader, a good enough "father" in training your "children". But Jean-Luc Picard I am here to tell you that sometimes things just happen, and you could no more be at fault for this situation than a Klingon could be recruited to raise a litter of kittens". "A litter of what?" the Captain's face showing confusion. Guinan waved her hand. "You know what I mean. It just doesn't suit you to take the blame for something that wasn't your fault". She finished. "Will and Deanna love you, Jean-Luc. And that will never change". After a moment of contemplation Captain Picard looked up into the kind face of his friend. He placed his hand on top of hers and patted it. "Thank you, Guinan". He said warmly as he rose to leave. "Don't mention it" she replied as she turned back to her perfectly correct sumarian sunset.

The senior staff gathered in the ready room at 0800 hours and began to take their seats. The other officers were talking warmly to Will, showing him comfort and encouragement. Even Worf had stood by his side. "She is a strong woman, Commander. She will make it through this with honor" he had said. As everyone took their seats the Captain entered and sat down. "Thank you all for coming" he said as he looked at his crew around the table. "We have much to discuss. First I would like to thank Geordi for returning my ship to me" he smiled as the other officers turned towards Geordi with a small round of applause. "I can finally have my bouillabaisse for lunch without finding a small reptile floating in it;" The officers chuckled as the Captain continued. "Commander Riker will hopefully be joining us on the bridge at the end of the week and I have notified Starfleet of our situation. It is obvious that if I am still in command of this ship eight years from now my priority will be to return to Nervala IV to retrieve Counselor Troi. Commander Riker has also been given permission that regardless of where he is serving, if it is different than here, he too may return and make that mission his top priority. And if anything should prevent either of us from returning, Starfleet will see to it that someone is there to retrieve Deanna." There were some murmurs of relief at the fact that Starfleet would not forget about Deanna Troi, although everyone knew they wouldn't anyway. "And now, to the purpose of this meeting. Mr. Data, have you found anything?" Everyone turned and looked to Data who stood upright from his chair and made his pronouncement. "Yes sir" he said, simply. "I believe I have".

Deanna spent the first few days puttering around inside her new home, trying to get a feel for what was there and where everything was located. She had found a large metal box that held something dry and crumbly inside. She surmised that it had been plants that Thomas had gathered and allowed to dry, as food storage. She tasted one, it wasn't anything to write home about, but she knew it would keep her alive. So for three days she had existed on dried plants and water, and could feel she was losing quite a bit of weight. At the same time she felt healthier, a little more energetic and stronger. She was aware that the little one was in and out of the building throughout the day, sometimes returning sucking loudly on its dinner, sometimes hobbling in to check up on her, pressing its cold nose against her leg. And always, always at night it was there to keep her warm, snuggling on her shoulder and vibrating as she slept. Deanna wasn't ready just yet to venture outside beyond the call of nature, so she still stayed mostly in her makeshift home. She could feel that Thomas had left things strewn all over the place, just like Will did in his quarters on the Enterprise, and Deanna couldn't tolerate such messiness so as best she could, she tried to identify what the objects were and find a place for them. There were many tools and one, as she felt it out, seemed like a lazer, probably the lazer Thomas had used to carve the picture of Janaran Falls that he had given her when he was romancing her on the Enterprise. "Maybe I could take up sculpting?" Deanna thought to herself. Then she crinkled her nose. "No, I'm more into things like…gardening. Imagine that, a blind person becoming a gardener" she laughed to herself, then frowned and felt a tinge of hopelessness at her blindness. She sighed and set the lazer in a special place, as it held good memories for her. She found something akin to a broom, and began to sweep the place out, feeling along with her feet as she went. Just as she had gotten the pile of dust and dirt at the door, little one came running in, dragging right through it and carrying the dirt back into the apartment. "Oh little one!" she said, frustrated. "That was a lot of work for a blind woman!" she chastised. The creature simply squeeked and Deanna couldn't help but smile. She set the broom aside and felt her way back to the couch and sat down, and as was usually the case, the creature immediately lept up into her lap. "Your leg is healing, isn't it?" Deanna said softly as she began to stroke the creature's fur. "And I have to stop calling you little one. I bet you hate that as much as I hated it when my mother called me that" Deanna said. "Hmmm….let's see. What would be a good name for you?" Deanna continued to scratch the creature on top of its head as it let out little squeeks of pleasure and vibrated loudly. "I know! Teya! I'll call you Teya!" she said as she lifted it up and touched her nose to where its nose would be. A small soft tongue came out and licked her. "Do you know what Teya means?" she asked as she gently laid it back down onto her lap. "It is the Betazoid word for snuggle. I am naming you Snuggle." For a moment a sharp pain ran through Deanna's heart. She remembered when she and Will were first together and one night when he had her in his arms and was nuzzling his nose in her hair and squeezing her tightly she said "Teya". "What?" he asked. "Teya" she said. "That is what you are doing. You are "teya-ing" me." He had grinned and squeezed her tighter. "I don't know what that means, but I know it's good" he chuckled. As if on cue, Teya squeeked and nudged Deanna's hand with its nose and she was brought back to reality. "Oh Teya" she said, softly, "I wish you could meet my imzadi. I think he would love you. Actually, I think he would love you for dinner" Deanna giggled as Teya squeeked in indignation. Then Deanna remembered Thomas talking about how he had killed some animals he'd encountered on the planet to feed himself. "He'd better not have killed you sweet little things" she thought disdainfully. "Don't worry, Teya, I shall remain a vegetarian for as long as I'm here". With that Teya happily scurried down to the floor and back out the front door again to do whatever it did during the day. Deanna rose to finish her cleaning. She was learning how to tell day from night by reaching her hand out of the front door and feeling the metal to see if it was warm or cool. Most days the moons of Nervala IV kept the air temperature quite warm during the day, though Deanna couldn't explain the scientific reasoning or what kind of moons they were, but at night things cooled down considerably and she could feel that from the metal. After she made a sweep-through the apartment once again and gathered the pile by the door, she paused to see if Teya would come running through. When it didn't, she swept all the dirt and dust out of the door, and then felt her hand around the frame to the metal. "Just as I thought" she said as her internal clock mirrored the cool metallic surface, telling her night had fallen. She laid the broom up against the inside of the doorframe and turned to face her freshly cleaned and straightened apartment. It actually felt really good to think she was making a warm and comforting home for herself, at least as warm and comforting as it could get here. She surprised herself by her resilience, and her ability thus far to take it one moment at a time. Teya had helped somewhat, providing comfort and companionship in what would otherwise be a very bleak situation. It was a small reward for the price that was being paid for helping the creature. Deanna sat down on the couch and said out loud "What I wouldn't give for a hot bath right now". She hadn't washed herself since she'd been left there and was feeling quite dirty. She reached her hand up to her hair and felt it. "Yuck" she said as it was matted and tangled. "Surely Thomas used something for soap around here" she thought to herself. "Wouldn't he?" she queried as the thought occurred to her that perhaps he hadn't. But then she remembered a small jug containing a liquid. When she shook it felt heavy, and when she poured a bit on her finger it felt thick and slimy, almost like sap from a tree or a discharge from a plant leaf like earth aloe vera. She realized that could very well be something Thomas had collected to use for cleaning. She found her way along the table and past the water jug and the dried plant cabinet to another table where she had gathered some of her finds. She found the bottle and took it back towards the cup of water she'd left sitting on top of the large jug. She poured another small drop on her finger and then poured a few drops of water on that and rubbed her fingers together. Sure enough, it became soft and slippery and smelled green and plant-like. "I think I'll give this a try" she thought. Then she realized she'd have to venture out behind her abode to find the pond located in the back so she could wash herself fully. The water might still be warm enough from the daytime. She felt some trepidation at not knowing anything that was out there, animal or otherwise, but the thought of washing herself in a soothing pool of water was just too tempting. She gathered up some robe-like outfits that she'd found hanging in one of the corners. She didn't know if they were shifts that Thomas had made, or if it was something that had been stranded there with him. But they smelled and felt clean and soft, and that was good enough for her. She would use one for a towel and one for her robe. She'd save her uniform for a later time when she felt like doing laundry. "OK, here goes" she took in a deep breath, supplies in hand, and felt her way along the wall towards the front doorway. She stepped out into the cool night air and could hear creaking and chirping coming from nearby. "hopefully just bugs" she thought. She felt her way around the side of the building to where she knew the facilities were and then beyond it she felt her way along a path until the front of her foot sank down into the ground. She knelt down and felt with her finger and realized she had found the edge of the pond. She gently reached in her fingers to touch the water and found that it was warm to the touch. It felt amazing. She twirled her hand around in the water, then lifted her fingers to taste and smell it, making sure it was safe. She stood hesitantly with shaky legs and slowly disrobed. It was unnerving to her to stand outside, completely naked and fully blind, with the creepy feeling that someone might be watching her and she wouldn't even know it. Her body shivered and goosebumps appeared all over as the cold breeze caressed her. She took a deep breath and held out her arms. "Well, if anyone is here, here I am! she shouted into the air, hoping to quell the own uneasiness she felt inside. All she could hear was the continued creaking of the "insects" and with a satisfied sigh she slowly stepped down into the water. With each few inches she eased herself down in, a feeling of euphoria began to overtake her. Three days of grime, dirt, and sweat began to wash away and the warm liquid relaxed her muscles as a smile played upon her face. She leaned her head back against the edge, the water extending fully up to her neck as she sat down. "Ohhhh" she moaned as she felt wonderful for the first time since her arrival on the god-forsaken planet. She took deep breaths and allowed her entire body to go limp, letting it soak away her trauma for the moment. Then she plugged her nose and held her head under water to soak her hair. She came up and reached around to the soap she had set up on the edge behind her and poured it into her hair and all over her body. She massaged it into her head and all over herself, then rinsed thoroughly, splashing the water away to disperse the soap. She relaxed again back onto the edge of the pond and decided to allow herself to finally think about all that had happened to her. Her asking Will if she could come on the mission to see where Thomas had lived. His initial reluctance before she had talked him into it. Her hearing the beam crash. Her heart breaking at the sound of the panicked and wounded animal. Her leaving, without thinking, to go and help it. Her never hearing Will issue a warning. Her realization that Will and Data had left the encampment. Her heart racing in a panic as she ran through the corridors at breakneck speed, coming to the doorway just in time to see Will and Data beam back up to the ship. That horrifying sense that something unthinkable had just happened, but her brain offering only confusion and denial. The way her heart sank into her stomach as she sat alone, sobbing, at the beam-up point, at the realization of what had just happened. The way she felt when she realized for the first time she was completely blind. The sense of despair and hopelessness that threatened to overwhelm her and suck away her life. Her little Teya, the reason for her being stranded here, the sense of unbearable regrets lurking in the background of her mind for having rescued the animal, along with the sense of the soft warmth, comfort, and company of the grateful creature. Thoughts ran aimlessly through Deanna's mind as she pondered over and over again how she could've handled things differently, all of the "what ifs" that surround a traumatizing and life-threatening, despairing event. Eventually, Deanna drifted off into a sound sleep, still sitting in the water, her mind continuing to work overtime well into her dreams. She had no idea how much time had passed when a small squeek sounded beside her ear and a soft wet nose nudged the back of her head. She came to, confused at first, then remembering she had been enjoying a warm bath in the pond when she must have fallen asleep. "Teya" she smiled to herself as she realized the creature had come to wake her up, probably not finding her in her bed where she should be. "What would I do without you, little one?" Deanna said as the animal squeaked again and Deanna slowly got out of the pond, drying herself with one of the robes and then donning the other. She felt clean and sleepy, and began with her feet and her hands to find her way back to the doorway. Her robe was loose on her and was all one piece with no opening in front. The neckline hung down low and the bottom of the robe reached the ground. The air was freezing, and by the time she reached her home her body was covered in goosebumps again. Once inside, she found a piece of material suitable for a belt and tied it around her waist. She made her way to the bed, combed her hair with a comb Thomas must've left there, and lay down into the softness. She heard skittering across the floor as Teya crawled up on the bed beside her and nestled into her side, beginning to vibrate. Deanna nestled her head deeply down into the makeshift pillow, and immediately began to feel sadness. Unsure as to specific reason, not that she didn't have reason to be sad, she started to search her thoughts. She breathed in deeply to calm herself and then a realization hit her. She was smelling a warm and comforting fragrance. A delicious and satisfying smell was filling her senses and her soul. She was smelling him. The fragrance of him. The beautiful fragrance of her imzadi. She knew instantly that it was because it was her first time sleeping in the bed, and Thomas had slept there for eight years, and since he was the duplicate of Will, the smell of their body was the same. She nuzzled her nose down into the pillow and breathed deeply. Her longing became heart wrenching as tears spilled down onto her cheeks. "Oh imzadi" she whispered as she pretended to hold him close to her, squeezing the pillow and rubbing her cheek across it. "Imzadi" she whispered again as she thought of his warm strong arms enveloping her and holding her safe. "Imzadi".

The senior officers seated around the table in the Captain's ready room gasped as all eyes turned to Data. Will's heart lurched as his eyes grew especially wide. He had not expected this. He had fully expected Data to say that aside from a tear in the universe, there was no way they could rescue Deanna for another eight years. But he hadn't. He had said he'd found a solution. "Explain" Captain Picard said as Data turned to face everyone at the table. "When the imposter historian visited our ship last year and took me inside his time machine to see if he had stolen any of our instruments, my positronic circuits recorded everything I saw. All of the information for creating a new time machine was stored in my archives." The Captain's eyes grew wide. "Data, why didn't you tell us this before? That is some pretty important information". "I saw no need" Data said simply as he cocked his head to one side. "But since there is a need now, I have retrieved the data and studied it, I believe I can build a time machine, similar but much smaller, for one person to go back in time and rescue Deanna." "Could we simply go back in time before the mission even began so I can prevent her from going?" Will asked. "No sir" Data responded. "Because I am new at this, I could only find a way to travel back six days. It will take me two days to build the machine, hence we can only travel back to the time we were on the planet." "Are you sure this is possible, Data?" the Captain asked. "I am sure it is possible to build the machine. I am sure it will function in some fashion. As to the safety and guarantees of this mission, I cannot say." "Very well, Data. Proceed. This is more hope than we've had so far." "I can help" Geordi piped in. "I'll prepare some medical supplies, just in case something has happened to Deanna during that time" Dr. Crusher added. "Sir" Will said pleadingly as he looked to the Captain. "Who will fly the machine?" "I believe that honor should go to Data" the captain regretfully informed Will, knowing that he would want to be the one. "He will know the machine and he would be most likely to survive if something should go wrong." With that the Captain dismissed his crew. "God speed, Mr. Data" he said. The senior staff rose to their feet and began to exit the ready room. "Oh, and Number One" the Captain called after him. "Sir?" Will said as he stopped at the doorway and turned. "Luwaxana Troi will be arriving in approximately two weeks whether we rescue Deanna or not. Please see to it that she is settled in and…keep her out of my way". "Yes sir!" Will said as he shuddered to think what Luwaxana will be like if they are not able to bring Deanna home with Data's time machine. Later that evening Will sat alone in his quarters going over what Data had said to him as he began to build and create a small time machine from the specs in his internal archives. They were down in engineering and Will had happened to stop by just after Captain Picard had left. "How's it going Data?" he asked as he crouched down beside where Data was hurridly welding things together on the floor. "As well as can be expected, Commander". He replied, his eyes glued on his work. "Data, how will this mission proceed?" Will asked, hiding his trepidation. Data knew what his Commander was asking, he was aware of the engagement between Will Riker and Deanna Troi and of his fondness for the Counselor. "How can we do this without disrupting the space-time continuum?" he asked again. Data stopped what he was doing and looked to the Commander. "Sir, after much discussion with Captain Picard, it has been decided that if I am able to arrive safely on the planet during the time we were on our away mission there, I will first look to find out why the Counselor was not at our coordinates in time. Then I will seek to find a way to get her there without her realizing my interference or with any of us observing…me." "That's still messing with time, Data". Will stated. "Yes, but the Captain and I agreed that in this special circumstance, rescuing Deanna is more important. However, if I cannot accomplish that task within those parameters, I will be unable to bring the Counselor back." Will, still looking at Data, shook his head sadly. "Understood." He said. After Data had continued to explain his reluctance to try and fly the time machine back to the very ship it was leaving from before he had more time to study the phenomenon, that's why he would be flying it to the planet. Back in his quarters Will raised his hands to rub his tired eyes, and realized that being alone tonight was not the best idea. He rose from his chair and turned to leave his quarters, heading for ten-forward. Once there, he retreated to the back table that he and Deanna had shared on so many occasions. He had barely sat down when Guinan showed up beside him with a tall elegant bottle filled with an amber liquid. "Care for some Telarian brandy, Commander?" she asked as she held up the bottle in one hand and a glass in the other. "That the real stuff?" Will asked, looking up at her. "Absolutely" Guinan replied. "Do you think I'd bring you anything other on a night like this?" She placed the glass down and began to pour. "So you've heard the news about Data's time machine" Will said as he stared, mesmerized, at the slowly filling glass. "Mmm-hmm" Guinan said as she finished pouring and placed the bottle down on the table. "Remember, Commander, nothing is over until it's over". With that she turned to leave, and Will crinkled his forehead in confusion as he looked after her. "I don't know what the hell that means" he thought to himself "but God bless you Guinan for leaving me this bottle!" With that he downed his drink in one swallow as he poured himself another. And another. And another. By the time a tall red-haired doctor entered ten-forward, she saw Will barely able to hold his chin up in his hand, laughing hysterically to himself. Beverly approached the table. "Hey, save some of that for me!" she scolded as she took the seat opposite him, grabbed the bottle and poured herself a drink from what was left into a glass Guinan had at some point mysteriously left on the table. "I thought you might be needing this" Guinan said as she suddenly appeared and placed another bottle of Teralian brandy on the table. "Thanks Guinan" Beverly grinned as she took the bottle while Guinan ushered the empty one away. It was not often that Dr. Beverly Crusher got drunk. In fact, it had only happened once since she had served on the Enterprise, and that was alone in her quarters after Odan had left in a female body she just couldn't bring herself to love. But this was an exceptional time. She had lost her best friend. Her other dear friend, dear to her like a brother, had lost his fiancé. The ship's android was building a time machine to go back and try to correct the whole fiasco, but wasn't allowed to be seen or heard while there. It all seemed like a bad dream. "Hey, wadya doing? Shave shom for me!" Will slurred as he tried to take the bottle from Beverly. "Whoa there, Commander, haven't you had enough? Let me have my turn!" she replied as she snatched the bottle back and filled her glass to the brim. She sucked the liquid down as if she were dying of thirst. Will's eyes grew wide as he watched her. Commander William Riker and Dr. Beverly Crusher were always careful in being professional around their personnel, but this time they were going to allow for some unprofessionalism. Besides, no one would be driving anything, they simply had to walk back to their quarters. Or beam back, if necessary. "Why Dr. Crusssherrr" Will slurred. "I had no idea you were a lusshhh. "Shhh!" Beverly responded. "You're not the only one who can get yourself three sheets to the wind, Will Riker." The two of them drank and laughed and teased until both were quite drunk and sat quietly, lost within their own thoughts. "Beverly?" Will said quietly, still staring straight ahead. "Yesh Will" she replied, resting her throbbing forehead in her hands. "Do you think I'll get her back?" he said. Even in her drunken state Beverly knew the double meaning of what Will was asking. Will had been trying to get Deanna back ever since they had reunited on the Enterprise ten years ago. He had finally succeeded, even getting her to agree to be his wife. But now he had lost her again, in a much more profound way. In a way that may, or may not, remedy itself. Beverly lifted her head and reached across the table to grab Will's hand. She missed the first time, her hand plunking down the table beside his. She tried again, this time hitting her mark, and looked him in the eyes. "Will" she said. "If I know Deanna, she is not only planning her return, not only planning the wedding, not only planning your future together, but she's planning how to kick your ass for leaving her behind." Beverly snickered to herself. "No pun intended." Will smiled, causing a searing pain to shoot through his eyes. "Ouch!' he said as he held his hand to his head. "How do we get out of here?" he asked, confused, as he looked around ten-forward. Both he and Beverly were still slurring their speech, but able to understand each other. Beverly looked around the room. "Is that the door?" she pointed to a doorway just beside the bar that led to Guinan's back room. "I think sho" he said as he tried to stand up from the table and promptly fell over. "Will" Beverly said as she too swayed out of her chair and reached down to help him up. They were both laughing hysterically as Beverly tried to support him and they hobbled their way towards the door. By the time they reached the bar, stumbling and laughing, everyone in ten-forward was looking at them. Will supported himself on the bar and took a deep breath as he headed for the door, with Beverly grabbing onto the back of his uniform to hold herself up and following him. Just as Will stepped through the door Guinan was coming out and he nearly knocked her over. "Oh, shorry mish" he nodded towards her as he continued to try and go through the door. Guinan blocked his way. "What are you doing, Commander?" she asked. "Trying to get to my quartersh. Now if you'll excuse me" he said irritatedly as he tried to push through again. This time Guinan stood firm and Will ran into her, causing Beverly to run into him, and a domino effect almost knocked all three of them to the ground, while the wide-eyed patrons of ten-forward watched. "Unless you want to sleep on a hard floor amongst bottles of hard liquor, I suggest you try that door over there Commander" Guinan pointed towards the exit. Will turned around to look at Beverly who thought for a moment and then nodded her head at him. Then he turned back to Guinan. "No, we'd like to shleep with the liquor" he stated, simply. Guinan smiled serenely but her eyes showed she was on the verge of laughter. "Transporter room" she said as she tapped her combadge. "O'Brien here" came the responding voice. "Two to transport from ten forward. The tall one to Commander William Riker's quarters, the shorter one to the quarters of Dr. Beverly Crusher". There was a long pause as Guinan knew Miles O'Brien was trying to figure out what was going on. "Understood." was his final reply. "Energizing". As Will and Beverly were surrounded by white glitters and slowly disappeared, Guinan turned toward her customers in the lounge and said loudly, stifling a chuckle "As you were everyone. Nothing to see here".

Two days later, Data with Geordi's help, had finished the time machine. "I'm not sure I like you doing this" Geordi said as they walked around looking at the machine in Cargo Bay 3. "Losing one senior staff member is bad enough. Losing my close friend would be unthinkable". "May I remind you, Geordi" Data stated "that Counselor Troi is not lost. Even in a worst case scenario we will most likely see her again in eight years." "Eight years is a long time" Geordi replied. "Is it difficult for humans to spend that much time apart?" Data queried. "Well I can guarantee you that for Commander Riker, eight years will be like an eternity" Geordi said, sadly. Data nodded his understanding as he stepped inside the machine to do a final check on the controls. At that moment Captain Picard and Commander Riker entered the Cargo Bay. "Is everything all set, Data?" the Captain asked as Geordi walked over to join them. "As set as it can be" Data replied, stepping back out of the machine. "Then I don't need to remind you of the parameters you must operate within" the Captain said. "No sir. I am well aware of my limitations". Data replied. "Well then, Mr. Data. Bring our counselor back." "I will do my best sir" Data said as he nodded to the Captain and began to step into the machine. Then he paused for a moment and stepped back out, addressing Commander Riker. "Commander, I do not wish for you to have to wait for an eternity to see the Counselor again. I want you to know, I will do everything I can to bring her back". Will was unsure of what exactly Data was referring to, but he nodded his head towards the admirable android, who held the fate of his imzadi in his hands. Data re-entered the capsule as the door closed. Everyone held their breath as a sound like engines began to fill the cargo bay. The machine began to shake, gently at first, then more violently as the Captain toyed with the idea of ordering Data to exit. But then, in an instant, the time machine vanished as Geordi let out a cheer and Will said a silent prayer, before all three men turned to go.

Luwaxana Troi sat in her room aboard the shuttle cruiser Reliable trying her best to send out telepathic messages to her daughter. No matter how hard she tried, nothing worked. It had been the first time since her daughter's birth that their link had been broken. She felt lost and empty. Deanna had become especially dear to her since her husband, Ian's death, and she often relied on their bond for comfort and assurance. Everyone thought that Ambassador Luwaxana Troi was a strong and resilient woman, able to withstand anything, and to a degree, she was. But without the link to her only child, and with the possibility that her only child could be lost forever, Luwaxana began to crumble. She'd never known this kind of emptiness before. She thought of poor humans who didn't have the special link that Betazoids did, and how very lonely that must feel. She thought of her daughter all alone on some god-forsaken planet, with no hope of being rescued for eight years. She had no way of knowing if she'd survive. Even the strongest of Betazoids could be taken down if the situation were harsh enough. And this one was harsh. Luwaxana tried once more, with all her might, all her strength, and in extreme desperation to send to her daughter. It so pressured her brain that something seemed to explode, sending desperate telepathic messages all over into the Universe. "Please come home! Please!" echoed throughout the stars, and weeks away onboard the Enterprise a drunk Will Riker grasped his head with his hands as a voice screamed into his mind in pain and agony, "Please come home!" He was unsure if it was his own pleading voice as he collapsed to the ground, and a very broken Luwaxana Troi fell out of her chair, onto the floor, unconscious.

Data was unaware of anything until he re-materialized on the planet's surface. Fortunately for him, the time machine had landed just on the edge of a forest, partially hidden by tree branches. He checked his chronometer, sure enough it had landed in just the right time-frame, and he looked out of the screen on the front to see Commander Riker, Deanna Troi, and himself, heading into the encampment. "An odd sensation" he said out loud as he tilted his head, musing on the idea of looking at himself, just a few yards away. He waited until everyone was inside before exiting his vehicle. But he found he could not open the door. "Computer, open the door" he commanded. The door did not open. "Computer, override any other issues and open door" he tried one more time. Still, the door stayed shut. He reached for the door handle, knowing that with his strength it would not be difficult to manually get the door open. But when he looked down he saw that the door had welded itself shut, somehow in transport, and if he damaged it in anyway, it could affect his ability to transport back to his proper time. He sat upright in his chair and looked about. "A curious situation" he said as he was aware the clock was ticking on his chance to remedy this situation. He thought about trying to remove the front transparent aluminum window, but might encounter the same issue as the door. If an android would have had the ability to sigh, a loud sigh would've been heard from an odd-looking machine sitting on the edge of a forest. In the meantime, three figures were perusing the inside of a crude encampment based on Nervala IV. "Poor Thomas" Deanna whispered as Will came up behind her. "There's his replicater" Will pointed out, "and his bed" as Deanna looked towards a makeshift mattress on the ground. "He kept food rations over there" Will pointed again to a safe-like container that had been salvaged. "And he got his water from the small pond just outside around the back" Will finished. They continued to walk and talk, looking for the tool they had come to retrieve. Some time had passed and it was getting close to the window closing for their chance to beam up. Outside in the clearing an android was approaching the encampment. Data had finally decided after much deliberation to remove the transparent aluminum, in the hopes of being able to attach it fully enough to be able to return to the Enterprise circa the present time. It was a risk he knew he needed to take. If he became stuck here, he would become stuck in a loop of beaming up to the Enterprise, building a time machine, traveling back to when he beamed up to the Enterprise. He would never make it out of here, even though for everyone else it would be as if he became stuck on Nervala IV the second time around and they would have to wait eight years to rescue him. But at least he would have the chance of saving Deanna. It was worth the risk. Data knew he needed to proceed quietly, and knew which corridor to take to avoid where he had found the PIGF and had called Commander Riker over to see it. He quietly slipped past them to head towards the room where Deanna had been. Just as he entered, he heard a crash and Commander Riker giving a two-minute warning at the same time, and then he heard a whimpering sound. To his surprise Counselor Deanna Troi turned to go towards where the sound was coming from, ignoring Starfleet protocol for the away team to stay together or communicate where each other was. He followed silently behind her to observe what was going on and try to find some way to guide her back to the beam-up point without directly confronting her. He saw that a beam had fallen and trapped a small animal, and that's why she had turned back. He thought he could lift the beam, but she would see him. Perhaps he could distract her by throwing a rock down the side corridor, distracting her and releasing the animal at the same time, so she would have no reason to stay. No, he needed something quicker. "Deanna! Two-minute warning!" Deanna turned abruptly at the sound of Will's voice coming from a nearby corridor. "I'm so sorry" she whispered to the poor squeeking animal as she turned to go, feeling awful. But when she ran by where the voice came from, no one was there. As she passed, Data, who had imitated Will's voice, stepped out from the shadows and followed her out. "You must have learned how to throw your voice!" Deanna responded to her imzadi as she entered the room and saw he and Data starting to leave the building. She continued to follow them, stopping for a moment to look behind her at the creature she had left behind, as Data quickly stepped back into an alcove so as not to be seen. Then she turned to go again, picking up her speed as she knew time was short. "Deanna!" she heard Will scream. "I'm coming!" she called as she reached the doorway. With her hand on the frame she pulled herself through to see Will and Data standing at the beam-up coordinates a look of relief on Will's face. She was almost to where they stood when a whirring sound and white glitters caused her to scream, as she saw Will hold out his hand with a horrified look on his face as the transporter beam enveloped them. "Deanna!" he yelled at the top of his lungs as she threw herself into the air, reaching for his hand, and as she came back down towards the ground she felt a finger touch hers, her hands brushing across his as the transporter beam took he and Data away. She landed with a thud on the ground, screaming Will's name, as Data stood and observed, feeling as close as an android could to a breaking heart. He stood and watched her for a moment in her horror and pain, thinking if he could have done anything differently to get her there just one minute sooner. He realized after some time that she was not coming in and planned to stay where she was for awhile, so he quietly snuck out and off to the side where the forest was, walking into the trees so he could not be seen, and then coming out to the place where his machine was. He entered through where the viewscreen had been, then from inside the vehicle picked the viewscreen up to begin the hard work of reattaching it, wondering if even he would make it back to the Enterprise.

"Sir, we have a vehicle materializing in Cargo Bay 3!" Lieutenant Worf's voice boomed throughout the bridge. "Data!" Will said as he quickly rose from his chair and looked at his Captain. Then he stopped abruptly, half-standing and still holding onto the arms of his chair. "Computer, location of Counselor Troi". he said. His heart was beating so fast, and what took a split-second felt like an hour to him. "Counselor Troi is not on board the Enterprise" was all the voice said. Will sank down, his heart dropping into his stomach. "He failed". he whispered sadly to Captain Picard. "Hold on, Number one, there may yet be hope. Perhaps now that he knows the situation, Data discovered a way to altar the timeline and can go back and fix it this time". Will's heart brightened again. "Yes sir!" he replied as he rose again and walked, then ran to the turbolift to get as quickly as he could to Cargo Bay 3. Data was checking out his machine when the Captain and Will arrived. Will was breathing heavily from his run as was the Captain, and as soon as he saw Data he said "Did you see her? Did you see her?" "Yes Commander, I saw the Counselor. I am sorry I was not able to get her to the coordinates in time. She almost had a hold of your hand when you and I beamed up." Will winced at the Captain at the irony of the situation, remembering that's how he had perceived it the first time. Before Will could say something else in his haste, Captain Picard spoke up. "Welcome back, Mr. Data. I'm glad to see that you and the machine are still in one piece." "Thank you, Captain. It was a precarious situation. I have much to share". "Then we'll meet in my ready room in five minutes. Number One, alert the senior staff." "Aye, sir" Will said, returning to his professional self. But as the Captain left the cargo bay Will stayed behind. "Data" he said quietly, pleadingly. "Was she OK?" "Yes, Commander, I believe she was" Data shared as Will lowered his head in a sigh of relief. Five minutes later the senior staff pulled out their chairs and sat around the table in the Captain's ready room. The Captain took his seat and gave the floor to Data. "Mr. Data" he said as he waved his hand towards him. Data stood and began to share his story. From the first moments of the time machine dematerializing in the cargo bay, until the moments when he saw himself and the Commander beam up, and finally to how he had to reattach the view window and hope for a safe return to the Enterprise. When he was finished, the whole crew was silent. "God, Deanna" Will whispered, realizing how she had gone against protocol to save a wounded creature. "All because of a damned animal!" He heard Worf grunt as the Klingon said "The Counselor always was too kind for her own good". Beverly shook her head. "Oh Deanna" she murmured. Everyone felt heavy-hearted as to how easily all of this could have been prevented. But Deanna ignoring a creature in pain? Impossible. "Data" the Captain said with hope. "Now that you know the scenario, would it be possible to access the area through a different corridor and prevent the beam from falling in the first place? That way Deanna would never hear the creature and have no reason to leave the team." "Yes sir" Data replied "That would be very possible". Will's head lifted, his eyes hopeful again. "Then make it so!" Captain Picard barked. "Sir?" Data queried. "I said make it so! Take the damned machine back and prevent the beam from falling!" the Captain said, irritated. "Sir" Data stated calmly. "I may have misrepresented myself. This time machine is a one-use only. I would have to build another one to attempt another mission." Captain Picard was now extremely frustrated. "Then godamnit build another one, Data!" he said in a raised voice, feeling angry at the android's seeming thick-headedness. "I am sorry sir" Data replied again. "As you know, I always run a self-diagnostic when I return from away missions. As I was running one in the cargo bay before you and Commander Riker arrived, I realized that the schematics I had archived for the time machine had been erased. Somehow in the time travel, it canceled itself out. I have no other explanation to offer". With that the senior staff, who had risen halfway from their chairs to leave the meeting plopped back down into them with a collective heavy sigh. Captain Picard found no words for this exceedingly frustrating situation. He looked to Geordi who was shaking his head. "We were in such a hurry to build it, we kept no schematics, save for the basic bones of the vehicle." Geordi said. "This is unacceptable!" Captain Picard yelled, and all the officers shot their heads up in his direction at his very uncharacteristic loss of temper. "I'm sorry Data" he said more softly. "This is an unbearable situation. Is there nothing else that can be done? No other way to get the Counselor back here?" "None that I'm aware of" Data responded, as Will dropped his head into his hands, his shoulders slumping down to the table. Everyone sat a moment more in silence, then the Captain said, somberly, "Dismissed." One by one the senior officers made their way out of the ready room, leaving behind a distraught Will Riker and severely frustrated Captain. "We'll get her in eight years, Number One. I will personally see to that". Will stood slowly nodding his head as his eyes glazed over. "Yes sir" he barely choked out. As the Captain and the first officer entered the bridge and headed towards their chairs the Captain spoke. "Set coordinates for the Bynorin system, Ensign, warp 9. We are already late for our mission."

Three weeks had passed since Will had lost Deanna to Nervala IV and in a few moments Luwaxana Troi would be beaming down to the Enterprise. He walked briskly through the corridors, not wanting to be late, not wanting to incur her wrath more than he already had. He debated whether to tell her the truth, that it had really been her daughter's fault that she had been left behind, or whether to take the blame himself. He would almost rather Luwaxana take all her wrath out on him, then to leave such a horrible thought with the mother of his imzadi. He turned the corner just in time to see the transporter beam materialize a very weak and haggard-looking Mrs. Troi onto the transporter pad. Mr. Homm materialized seconds later just behind her. "Mrs. Troi" Will said, surprise lacing his voice. "Oh William" she said in a small voice. "We've been through far too much together, please call me Luwaxana". As she attempted to step down from the pad she faltered a little, moving as if she were a very old and fragile woman. Will rushed to her side to help her. "Mrs. Tr…uh, Luwaxana, are you alright?" he asked as he looked up to Mr. Homm, concerned. "Oh, nothing that a broken bond with your daughter wouldn't create" she said, weakly waving one hand in the air. Will realized for the first time what it must be like for her, having a bond with Deanna since birth that was probably stronger in some ways than what he had with his imzadi. And he knew how alone and empty he felt. Mr. Homm picked up the large suitcase as Will said to Luwaxana "here, let me show you your quarters". Mr. Homm followed them out and down the corridors until they reached where they would be staying. The door slid open at Will's command and he ushered Luwaxana in through the doorway and gently set her down on the couch. Once the door hissed shut again and Mr. Homm retreated into the bedroom, Luwaxana patted the seat on the sofa beside her. "Come, William. Please tell me what happened." Will paused for a moment, then reluctantly sat down beside her. He did not want to relive the whole scenario, he had effectively sealed it off in a separate compartment in his mind. He wasn't yet able to bear the loss of Deanna. He sat silent for a few moments, then he began. He recounted the story in every detail, pausing every few moments to take a deep breath and center himself. When he got to the part about Deanna chasing after the wounded animal, he decided to tell the truth because Deanna would have wanted that. He watched Luwaxana as he shared how it had been her daughter's choice that had doomed her to the planet. Luwaxana didn't even flinch, her expression unchanging. Finally, Will finished up with all that had happened with Data and the time machine, which brought them to where they were now. When he was done, he exhaled and waited for a few moments for his almost mother-in-law to respond. She looked down, then looked up again and placed her hand on his. "William" she said matter-of-factly, "Deanna's gone. She's not coming back." Then Luwaxana smiled. Will crinkled his eyebrows and looked at her, perplexed. "We will retrieve her in eight years, Mrs. Troi" he responded. Luwaxana patted his hand in a patronizing way. "Oh, dear William. No we won't. She's gone. My shuttle transport flew over Nervala IV on the way here. I did everything I could to reach her, but to no avail. She's gone." Will sucked in a deep breath and stood from where he was sitting next to her. He was confused not only at Luwaxana's pronouncement, but also at her odd behavior, the fact that she was smiling and perfectly calm. "Couldn't it have just been the gasses covering the planet?" he asked her. "Normally that would be the case in such a situation, William. But when we flew over I was in extremely close proximity. My telepathic abilities would have been in fine working order then, even with the gasses". Luwaxana stood and placed her hand on his cheek. "Are you dating anyone now, William?" she asked, nonchalantly. Will quickly pulled away from her astonished that she would say such a thing. "No!" he shot back, distancing himself from her by several feet. "Well, why not?" Luwaxana demanded. "Because I'm waiting for Deanna!" he said, loudly. "She's dead, William!" Luwaxana retorted indignantly. "Get on with your life!" "She's not dead!" Will shot back, again. "Oh, I see. You must have some special ability I don't. Can you feel her?" Luwaxana said, sarcastically. Will thought for a moment. Could he? He tried to sense her in his mind. He could not. But he wouldn't be able to at this distance anyway. "No, Luwaxana." He replied. But before she could gloat he continued. "I can't feel her here" he said as he placed his palm to the side of his head. "But I can feel her here" he finished as he placed his hand over his heart. "Deanna is alive. I'm sure of it."

Will pondered his odd exchange with Luwaxana over the next couple of days. How could she be so emotionally removed if she thought her daughter was dead? Why was she smiling and encouraging him to date? He was beginning to hear other reports of her odd behavior occurring on the ship. How she had stormed sickbay demanding Beverly give her a sleeping sedative in the middle of the day. How she had entered the arboretum in a Betazoid-style swimsuit assuming she could go swimming in the pond there. How she had waltzed into ten-forward and announced to everyone that she and Data were going to be married. And now, as Will sat on the bridge next to Captain Picard, a very agitated Luwaxana Troi entered from the turbolift and began walking down the ramp, waving her arms wildly. "I'm here to report for duty Jean-Luc!" she said loudly, making sure everyone could hear. Data turned around with a perplexed look and Worf stood at attention, ready to pounce at any moment. A wide-eyed captain and first officer watched as she came around and settled down into Deanna's chair. "Mrs. Troi, what are you doing?" the Captain asked indignantly. "What do you mean, Jean-Luc? Am I not the perfect candidate to replace my daughter's position? I'm telepathic lest you forget. And stop thinking those wild thoughts, Jean-Luc! Now that I'm ship's counselor it would be completely unprofessional!" "You are not ship's counselor" the Captain said in a low voice, trying to contain his temper. "Do you not need another counselor to replace my daughter?" Luwaxana challenged him. "Yes, but…" "Am I not able to read every thought, feeling, or intention of every being on this ship?" The Captain sighed, heavily. "Yes, but…" "Then you would be a fool to not hire me!" she spat at him angrily. The Captain sat back down in his chair, rubbing his hands along the sides of his head. Through gritted teeth he said to his first officer "Get her off my bridge. And get her to sickbay. See if Beverly can do anything with her!" "Aye, sir" Will said as he quickly stood and walked over to Luwaxana. "Mrs. Troi, please come with me." "Where are we going William? And have you noticed that cute little Ensign that was looking you over in ten-forward the other day?" Will took Luwaxana's hand and lifted her from the chair. "I promise to notice that cute little Ensign if you'll come with me" he appeased her. "Very well, William. But I expect a full report as soon as the two of you begin dating". Will's cheeks turned slightly red as he led Luwaxana up the ramp and towards the turbolift. He hoped his comrades would know he had absolutely no interest in anyone other than Deanna Troi. And if he had to be celibate for eight years then so be it. His imzadi was worth waiting, living, and dying for.

It was only a day later that the Captain officially hired a new ship's counselor, Dr. Linea. He had been subbing for Deanna and taken on her workload, as he tried to get used to a new and very busy schedule. Will had had a good experience with him while trying to work through his grief and trauma. Captain Picard made it official and soon Dr. Linea would be joining them on the bridge. He wasn't an empath, but he was good at what he did. The Captain felt they would all work well together, though everyone felt uneasy about someone occupying Deanna's chair, especially since they all hoped she would eventually return. Several more weeks had passed and it had been almost two months since Deanna's disappearance. Captain Picard kept a close watch on Will to be sure he was appropriately dealing with the situation. As he sat on the bridge and observed his crew, he knew that each one had an important role in drawing Commander Riker back in after such a traumatic event. Data had kept the weekly poker games going in his quarters until the Commander felt ready to be a part of them again. Geordi invited Will to his holodeck adventures of hang-gliding off the cliffs of Sunra on Tella 2. Will found it was an excellent distraction that got his adrenalin going and something he really enjoyed. Beverly met Will for lunch twice a week, and they would often talk about what Deanna might be doing and how she would be surviving, and keep each other laughing with humorous anecdotes they had of her. "Remember when she nearly bit your head off in sickbay after losing her empathic abilities? Will said. "I thought she was going to strangle you when I heard about it." Beverly chuckled. "I remember her trying to seduce you with that chocolate sundae in ten-forward. I think she was enjoying watching you sweat". Will tilted his head back and laughed at the memory. "I thought I was going to pass out." He said. But by far, the most meaningful and surprising support came from one officer, a Klingon, who approached Will tentatively in ten-forward one night. "Sir" he said gruffly as he walked up behind where Will was sitting alone, staring out at the stars. "Yes, Worf, what is it?" Will said as he turned to face the Klingon. Things had been tense between them since Deanna and Worf had broken up and she and Will had begun dating again. They were cordial, but there was a coolness there. He knew Worf was unhappy that things had ended, and Worf knew his commanding officer was not happy that he had dated his imzadi. Worf took a seat across from Will and hesitated. Then he spoke. "Sir" he said. "I would like you to join me in a latbahh." Will tilted his chin up. "What is that, Worf?" Worf explained. "It is a ceremony performed on the Klingon homeworld for warriors who are away in battle. We honor them and wish them safe return." "But Worf" Will replied. "I thought it was the highest honor for a Klingon to die in battle." "Yes" Worf said. "But when it is our loved ones, it is an equally high honor to have them return to us. Deanna is in a battle now. A battle for her sanity and her life. I did not want to perform the ceremony without you." Will looked up and saw the sincerity in Worf's eyes. He was calling a truce. They were coming together over the very woman that had torn their friendship apart. A heart-rending and traumatic event was healing a longtime relationship that he had thought in disrepair. "Yes, Worf. Of course I will help you perform the ceremony." Will said.

Three months had passed and Deanna was almost getting used to her new home and life on Nervala IV. She was passing the time snuggling and talking with her new found pet, cleaning her dwelling, still discovering more corridors and small rooms where she lived and collecting things she found, not always knowing what they were but she had quite a stash on her "collection table", every evening she would bathe in her delightful "hot tub" as she called it, and found a way to get to the other side of the pond to collect clean water for drinking. She did her laundry once a week in the same area that she bathed. She found plants around the edge of the pond that she could eat. One in particular she was sure she smelled when she would bathe. It was an intoxicating fragrance, like a combination of lilies and fatoya, an exotic sweet fruit from Betazed. And when she located the plant and plucked it out of the ground, she found it had a large bulb at its roots. She tested it with her tongue hesitantly. She was more than aware that anything she tried might possibly be poisonous to her, but she knew she needed to eat. But this particular bulb, when she tasted it, dribbled sweet juice down her chin and had a flavor that felt like heaven. "Oh my gosh, this is soooo good" she said out loud. She immediately began plucking as many of the delectable plants as she could find, gathering them all in her robe like an apron, and feeling her way back into her home, where she could store them in the "plant dehydrator" as she called it. One day when she was gathering water she went through her mind to guess what day it was and how many months had passed. She had no way to write anything down, and couldn't see it anyway if she did, so she had to keep track of it in her mind, which was no easy task. She reminded herself each morning and each evening of what number day it was. And on this day when she calculated it out, she realized it was the three month anniversary of when she had run back to save Teya and found herself stranded on the planet. "Oh Teya I must give you a present" she thought, trying to stay positive. "We could call this your birthday since it's the day I first found you." Deanna tried to think of what she could possibly give to her pet, then it came to her. She grabbed a couple of her "fatoya" bulbs and immersed them in a container of water to see if they would soften. A couple hours later, sure enough, they came out slightly mushy. Then, placing them in a dish she used her fingers to mash them down into a soft fluffy ball. "I wonder if Teya will like this" she said to herself. She knew it was the closest thing she had to actually giving Teya a "special treat". She placed the dish on the floor and went about her chores. Later that evening she bathed and readied herself for bed. Teya had not come in yet, so she lay down and promptly fell asleep. Some time later she heard a noise in her dreams, becoming louder and louder until she was fully awake. It sounded like "nom nom nom nom nom". "What in the world is that?" she said out loud as she sat up in bed. She listened again. "Nom nom nom nom nom". "It sounds like someone eating" she thought. Then she realized what it was. Teya had come in and was apparently really enjoying her birthday treat. It was a sound Deanna had not heard her make before, and it sounded like she was saying "yum yum yum yum yum." It was so adorable Deanna giggled. "Do you like your treat, Teya?" She asked as she heard smacking lips and that same noise again "nom nom nom". Deanna waited until all the "noming" had stopped and then she heard Teya licking and cleaning herself. "My goodness, you act as if you just enjoyed a royal feast!" she told Teya. Deanna lay back down, thankful for the happy moments that were afforded her during her time of being stranded. A moment later a warm ball of fur crawled up the side of the bed and up onto Deanna's stomach. It sat down and continued licking itself. "happy birthday, little one" Deanna said as she scratched its head. "Squeek" Teya responded as she finished her bath, and then moved up to curl up on Deanna's shoulder, vibrating warmly as they both fell sound asleep.

Will strode up to the door of Lieutenant Worf's quarters and rang the chime. "Come" a gruff voice responded as the door slid open. Will hesitated slightly, unsure of what he would find. He and Worf were going to perform the Klingon "latbahh ceremony to send prayers Deanna's way for her safe return. When he stopped inside, the strong smell of incense assaulted his nose. He coughed slightly. He looked and saw a pot with something flaming inside, sitting in the middle of a table in the center of the room. The room was dark. "Come in Commander" Worf encouraged as Will walked over and stood beside him. He waited a moment for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. "Just tell me what to do, Worf" Will said as he surveyed the candles spread out through the rest of the room. Worf informed Will of what they would need to do and what each action held in meaning. Then they began the ceremony. They both walked around the table holding the flame two times, symbolizing their unified effort on behalf of a dearly loved person. Then Worf walked around the table twice chanting Deanna's name over and over. This made Will slightly uncomfortable. Then Worf informed Will he was to walk around the table twice, but instead of chanting Deanna's name, he was to chant the word imzadi, because that was their special bond. Will was touched by this thoughtfulness from Worf, and his humility. Will did as he was told, walking around chanting "imzadi, imzadi, imzadi" in a quiet voice, almost a whisper. The fragrance of the incense and the flickering of the candles seemed to lift his voice towards heaven. It felt surreal, as if his chants were reaching the planet she was on. When Will was done, Worf brought out a pitcher of Klingon bloodwine and with both of their hands holding it at the same time, they poured it down onto the flame to extinguish it. After a moment Worf stated "It is done Commander." He set the empty pitcher down on an adjacent table. Will stood, thoughtful and quiet for awhile. Then he replied "Worf, thank you for including me in this ceremony. It feels cleansing, somehow." Worf simply nodded towards him. "I'm sure Deanna would be proud of the way you've handled all of this." Will told the Klingon. "As she would be proud of you, sir" Worf replied, stoically. Will turned to leave, and then stopped halfway to the door. He turned around to face Worf. "Join me for a beer in ten-forward?" he asked. "Only if it is Klingon ale" Worf replied as Will grinned widely, heading out the door with Worf following close behind. Meanwhile down in sickbay Luwaxana Troi was just waking up from sedation, as Beverly had completed all her medical tests. She came to slowly, with Mr. Homm standing on one side of her bed and Captain Picard on the other. "Dr. Crusher, am I going to live?" Luwaxana joked, trying to wave her hand in the air, only to have it quickly flop back down. "I'm not sure" Beverly said softly, as she took Luwaxana's other hand in hers. The Captain's eyes grew wide as he looked questioningly at Beverly. Dr. Crusher sighed and said "there is some obvious brain damage that has occurred as a result of your and Deanna's bond having been torn." "Well, there's that" Luwaxana said waving her hand only an inch above her abdomen as she could lift it no further. Beverly then explained to the captain. "When Betazoids die, their bond is still in tact and exists forever. But in this case, something has caused the bond between Luwaxana and Deanna to be severed completely. I don't know why". "I know why" Luwaxana offered loudly as she tried to sit up, waving a pointed finger in the air. "She's dead!" With that Luwaxana burst out laughing as Mr. Homm reached down and gently settled her back down onto the bed. Beverly looked to the Captain with a deeply concerned look. "I recommend she be transported to Betazed as soon as is possible. I think her doctors need to take a look at her. If anyone would know how to fix this, they would." "Agreed" Captain Picard replied. "I will look into the next shuttle that will be traveling this way and going in that direction. In the meantime, make her as comfortable as possible". "Yes sir" Beverly said as the Captain turned to leave. But Luwaxana caught his arm and he spun back around. "Jean-Luc, it is imperative you make sure that first officer of yours starts dating soon! With that libido of his…" " Mrs. Troi!" the Captain shouted, sternly. "Oh yes, well, whatever" Luwaxana replied nonchalantly as she lay her head back down.

Deanna awoke to a frightening sound. It sounded like the monsters she would imagine as a child. Growling and snarling, she thought of an oversized klingon targ. She slowly sat up and shook her head to make sure it wasn't just a dream. But there it was again, sounding like it was a little ways outside of the front doorway and moving closer by the minute. The snarling became roaring, getting louder and louder, and she could tell the creature was in a state of fury, probably looking for its dinner. Then she heard the rattling of the front doorframe and a loud growl. Her heart stopped. She sat further upright with a gasp. "Oh my god" she whispered. Just then Teya, who had been sleeping by her side, jerked wide awake, sat for a moment while the creature continued to growl, then leapt off the bed runing for the door. "Teya, no!" Deanna screamed as she threw back the covers, leapt out of bed and began chasing Teya through her home with no thought of the fact that creature could come through the doorway at any moment. She tripped over something on the floor and landed with a hard thud on her elbows and knees, then she maneuvered herself back up and began to run again, hearing Teya's skittering feet moving closer and closer toward where the creature was. "Teya, come back!" she shouted as she continued to run into walls and knock over furniture, bumping her head and hurting her knee. Just as she reached the door she stumbled again and landed on her painful knee. "Damn!" she yelled, just as she heard Teya meet the monster outside of the doorway and a blood-curdling scream could be heard echoing through the air. Then the screeches and snarls and growls began and she could hear the two creatures fighting, moving backwards toward the forest, battling as they went. "Teya!" she screamed with all her might as she got up and ran through the doorway. But it was too late. She heard the pitiful cries of an animal being slaughtered, and they grew in volume and intensity until, with one final gut-wrenching cry, the animal went silent. Deanna fell to the ground. A wail came from deep within her body, a deep desperate sob, echoing more loudly than the animal's cries. "Teya! Nooooo!" she screamed, tears stinging at her eyes. "No! NO!" she continued to scream as sobs racked her body and her rib cage shook with such an intensity that she thought she would split in two. "No, please Taya, come back!" Deanna heaved sobs so strongly and loudly that she could not catch her breath. All of a sudden her heart broke open. And that small dark place where she had hidden her fear, hidden her despair, and hidden her imzadi, since she had arrived on the planet, came out with such a force that she fell face first to the ground with her body shaking violently. It was as if the heavens had opened and an ocean full of water had rushed down upon her, her emotions so searing in their pain and intensity that she felt she was drowning. It was beyond what she could bear. She felt as the pain forced out violent sobs and wails, a bile forming in her throat as the emotions shoved her grief up from the depths of her soul. Her cries for her Teya soon became cries for her Imzadi. "Imzadi, no! Please come back!" she screamed as her body curled into the fetal position, shaking. "Will, please come back for me! How could you leave me?" she yelled as another agonizing wail came up from deep within her. "Imzadi!" All-consuming grief and deep wails continued to come from the small Betazoid body crumpled on the ground. It was a long time before her tears ran dry and her sobs softened to mute little cries. She was spent, and had no intention of moving from where she lay. Perhaps never again. Death would be better than this. An end to her life would be better than this kind of pain. She could take no more. But just then something wet touched her arm. She lay unmoving, not caring what it was. For all she cared, the targ could come back and finish her off. What would it matter? But then the wetness was there again, nudging her arm. Then a squeek. Then another squeek. "What the…." Deanna thought as she slowly turned her body towards where the sound and wetness were coming from. Did Teya have friends that were visiting her now? Was it another animal? Tentatively she reached out her hand to feel around where the nudging was still happening on her other arm. She felt a soft, furry oblong head. "Teya?" she whispered. At that the creature began to squeek incessantly, nudging Deanna's arm over and over again. "Oh my god! Teya!" she screamed, for Deanna knew after living with her pet for three months, that this was indeed her little one. "How did you…what did you…." She could barely form the words. She sat up and reached down to pet Teya again, but as her hand slid down towards the creature's back she came up against something. Something hard and smooth. She felt her fingers around and surmised there were large quills, dozens of them, sticking up out of Teya's back. "What in the universe?" she whispered to herself, eyes wide. She followed up along them with her fingers, figuring they were almost a foot long. She didn't dare feel up to the tips as not only were they most likely sharp, but probably covered in a strong poison. That could be the only possible explanation for how Teya had defeated a creature that was surely three times its size. She felt back down along the quills to see if there were any ridges. Sure enough they were there, meaning Teya could retract the quills down into her back and underneath her fur. "My goodness, Teya" Deanna breathed in astonishment. She sat for a moment collecting herself as Teya began to lick her hand. She thought of the irony of the situation. Three months ago she had saved Teya's life and doomed herself to a stay on the planet. But tonight Teya had saved hers, and if it wasn't for Teya, she was sure she would be dead by now." "My, my, little one, you're just full of surprises aren't you?" Deanna said as she felt the quills slowly begin to retract and her companion offered her another squeek. "Well I suppose I can't take my own life now, can I?" she said as she scooped a now smooth-backed Teya into her arms and carried her inside.

Back on the enterprise things seemed to be settling down. Captain Picard had contacted a shuttle and gotten Luwaxana on her way back to Betazed. Dr. Linea was growing used to his new rank as head counselor of the Enterprise and enjoying the friendly banter he engaged in with the crew while on the bridge. Dr. Crusher was still spending her evenings in thoughtful contemplation of her friend whom she missed dearly, but during the day she felt more back to normal and sickbay was running smoothly. Geordi and Data continued during the off hours to search for a solution to bring the Counselor back. And Will and Worf, who no one thought would ever come together as friends again, had a weekly date in ten forward for a Klingon ale and a Teralian brandy. They often sat and talked about Deanna. They had both reconciled with each other for real and imagined transgressions and talked about how pleased Deanna would be if she could see them now. And every now and then, after Worf left to return to his quarters, Will would sit there late into the night, staring at the stars. "She's out there, you know" Guinan had said as she silently stepped up behind him. "I know" Will said softly. And then with a strained voice he whispered, "I miss her." "I can only imagine, Commander" Guinan replied. "What the two of you had…have, is beyond anything the rest of us can comprehend. It is a wonder to see." Will sighed as he twirled the glass around in his fingers. "Guinan, this nightmare feels like it will never be over". he said. Guinan stood quietly for a moment, and then turned to leave. But as she walked away she looked over her shoulder and said "just remember Will. It's not over, until it's over".

SIX YEARS LATER

Deanna Troi was a survivor. She had marked her sixth year on the planet of Nervala IV with a private party for her and her companion. Ever since she had thought her pet dead after a battle with an unknown beast, only to find her return after having conquered that beast, her desire to live had been renewed and her determination to be there, waiting, when the Enterprise returned to pick her up had become an obsession. She thought back on that night, when she carried her sweet little Teya into their home. Although Teya had won the battle, she was bloodied and bruised, and Deanna tenderly cared for her, washing her wounds and singing her to sleep, marveling at how she had been sent this special creature to stay by her side during what was, quite easily, a living hell. Teya's leg had long since healed, and Deanna found herself wondering what was the usual lifespan of a creature such as this. She hoped it would be for a long time. "You'll come to live with me on the Enterprise" she told it, as she stroked its head at night while it rested by her side. Deanna had also found a way to block the front doorway, after the beast had almost come inside and attacked them both. Teya may be a formidable opponent, but Deanna wasn't taking any chances on an encounter like that again. At nighttime she would slowly push a tall heavy piece of furniture up against the door, with only the small opening where the furniture stood propped on legs for Teya to come and go, if necessary. For the most part Teya slept with her and enjoyed being outside during the day. She had tried for awhile to keep her pet inside all the time, but Teya was having none of it. Deanna was pleased to find that during the daytime the "beasts of the forest" as she called them, did not seem to come around, so each morning she would push that furniture away so she could exit, do her chores and enjoy the outside when weather permitted, while Teya ran off after what adventures god only knew. At nighttime, on occasion, Deanna could still hear the snarls and growls off in the distance, and she would place her hand protectively over her little one, who was most often curled up on her shoulder, vibrating warmly. Deanna had made good on her promise to herself that she would become the first blind gardener (that she was aware of). She loved learning of the plants of this place. After six years, she had almost grown used to her blindness. She could make her way around her apartment and even out by the pond and surrounding area with very little need to feel or touch. Watching her move about, one would never know she was blind. She never ventured beyond her "yard" however, especially towards the forest. It was too uncertain when she couldn't see what she was encountering. Sometimes the storms would come and batter her encampment, pounding rain and booming thunder echoing in the atmosphere, and she and Teya would sit inside and snuggle, as she would recite stories to her, some of the old earth westerns her father had read to her as a little girl. It was Deanna's way of "reading". Since she had no books, and couldn't see them anyway, she would simply "read" to Teya reciting any stories she could remember, sometimes even making them up. "I should record these in my computer when I get back to the Enterprise" she surmised. "Maybe there's a career here somewhere." Teya would simply squeak in acknowledgement. On the more moderate days, Deanna would spend time gathering the plants she would find around the pond and just beyond the pond by a cluster of bushes and trees she had discovered, and bring them back to plant by her front door. Though she couldn't see it, she figured she had quite a magnificent garden by this time, and by feeling the plants she knew how to place them by height and size. She often wondered about the colors and how well they blended. She found new plants to eat, and she and Teya feasted on the abundance. But by far, her favorites were still the fatoya-like bulbs with their juicy sweetness. Every year on Teya's birthday, which was the anniversary of Deanna being stranded, she would make Teya's favorite "fatoya pudding" as she called it and sit and laugh at hearing the excited "nom nom nom nom nom" coming from where the food dish was. She never got so much love from Teya as when she made her that dish. And for awhile, Deanna even tried her hand at laser-sculpting as Thomas had when he made her the picture of Janaran Falls. She had made several pictures on odd pieces of flat metal that she'd found, but had no idea to tell if they were good or not, so she gave it up after only a week. When boredom set in, which was often, she would replay in her mind the memories of her and Will, from the day they met until the last moment she had seen him disappear in the transporter beam. And every evening, without fail, she would bathe in her "luxurious hot tub" and look up at the stars. She knew what they looked like whether she could see them or not. And she would remember Thomas telling her that when he was stranded there he would look up at the sky and think about her, wondering if she was doing the same thing. And it broke her heart to think of him like that, stranded, alone, hoping she hadn't forgotten him. And now it was her, looking up into the sky and thinking of Will. Longing for Will. Wondering if he was looking out of his window staring up at the same stars. Wondering if Will was even still on the Enterprise. Wondering if Will was even still thinking about her.

Will stared up at the makeshift calendar that he'd hung on his wall. The one where he marked off every day that passed, had been marking off every day that passed since he had left her there. For six years. Never missed a day. Because eventually, he knew, he would get to the day. That day. That most valued and sacred day that he would finally be able to rescue his imzadi and bring her home. Not a day passed that he didn't think about her. Not a day passed that he didn't wish for things to be different, for time to fold back on itself so he could've had his hand on Deanna and kept her with him. Not a day passed that he didn't find tears moistening his face as he fell off to sleep. But somewhere in this sixth year, somehow along the way, the unthinkable had happened. He had met someone. A woman. About whom he was beginning to feel attractions. Will shook his head to dispel the unwelcome feelings. He told himself what Deanna would have counseled him "It's understandable Imzadi. You can't go your life without ever feeling attracted to someone else". But he didn't want to be attracted to someone else. It was only two years until he could retrieve Deanna. He felt it would betray her if he were to start seeing someone. And surely, she wasn't seeing anyone on Nervala IV. He wanted to stay faithful to her. So he'd decided that just friends it would be with this new person. A new, very kind, very understanding, very pretty woman. Who seemed to be attracted to him as well. He had met her when Captain Picard had assigned him to work with the crew down in Stellar Cartography. There had been some in-fighting going on that was hindering their work in charting the new star systems, but nothing Dr. Linea had done had been able to quell it. So in frustration the Captain had ordered Will to spend a week every day in stellar cartography to unify the team and discover what was indeed the issue. Will had been reluctant at first, his place was on the bridge. But when he walked into cartography that first morning and saw her smiling at him, his heart felt a tingle that he hadn't felt in a very long time. She was tall and larger than most women he had dated, but in a rubenesque sort of way, with curves like Deanna's. Her hair was blonde and shoulder-length and her smile gleamed like the brightest jewels of Tarra 3. She was more animated than Deanna, laughing and joking a good portion of the time. Will liked being around her. She brought a light into what, for him, had been a very dark existence. He thought Deanna would think it wise if he befriended her to renew his zest for living. So when he walked into ten-forward one night and saw her sitting alone, he walked over and asked if he could join her. As they sat and talked, discussing her work with the stars, his work on the bridge, the conflict in cartography, the stars outside the lounge windows, Will realized that she was a nice friend. And that the deep and intense, almost consuming passion he felt for Deanna Troi, he could never feel for any other woman, so he felt safe. And with that, William T. Riker and Shelaya Thomkins became friends.

Rumor had it that Captain Jean-Luc Picard was about to be promoted to the office of Admiral. Not that anyone would be surprised, this had been a long time coming. But the question on everyone's mind was who would captain the Enterprise? Would Starfleet keep Will on board, or transfer him to captain another ship while assigning a new captain to the federation flagship? It was no secret that Will Riker wanted nothing more than to be captain of the Enterprise. "So Commander, heard any word yet on your possible future?" Geordi had asked one day on the bridge, when Will was in command while the Captain was away on a week's shore leave. "Nothing, so far. I have a hunch that Captain Picard is in touch with fleet headquarters while on his leave, he may have news when he returns". "Well, just for the record" Geordi continued "if they ship the Captain away, I sure hope you'll be our new Captain". "I concur" Worf's gruff voice said, standing at tactical. "As do I" Data said as he turned from where he was sitting at ops. "In fact, I have calculated the odds of your being assigned to captain this ship" Data reported as he continued. "If all factors are taken into consideration which include the number of people who will have a vote in the matter, which ones know you and which ones do not, and how long the ones that know you have had that privilege, along with your years of service to Starfleet, divided by the amount of other possible candidates for the job, and what their…." "Thank you Data." Commander Riker simply said. "Sir" Data replied as he turned back to man his station. It wasn't often that anyone mentioned Deanna in Will Riker's presence. There were times on the bridge that he wished they would, just to let him know that they were still thinking of her and looking forward to having her back. But none of them had been as close to her as he had been, save for Worf and Beverly a little, and he understood that they had moved on and let go. Dr. Linea was very popular with the crew, and had done an outstanding job taking Deanna's place. Will wondered at how Deanna would feel returning to see someone else had filled her shoes, even though she'd know it would be necessary. Will sighed as he sat looking towards the viewscreen. "Two years" he thought. "Just two more years."

The doctor shook his head. "Mrs. Troi, I just don't have an answer as to how we can fix this. How are you feeling?" Luwaxana got up off the biobed in the medical facility on Betazed and drew her satin jacket back around her shoulders. "Well, except for a little insanity here and there, from what I'm told, I feel fine." The doctor smiled at Luwaxana's acknowledgment that her illness was noticed by others and that she was behaving beyond even the usual flamboyance that she exhibited. But she had moments of clarity, and now was one of them. Dr. Deyarr placed his hand on her shoulder. "Mrs. Troi, I'm so sorry about Deanna" he said, sadly. Luwaxana waved her hand in the air. "Oh, think nothing of it, dear boy. We all have to go sometime." Dr. Deyarr could not decide if Luwaxana had just lost her moment of clarity or if she was in denial over her daughter's death, and if perhaps that was part of the problem. He looked seriously into her eyes and said "Luwaxana. My prescription for you is to go home and relax. And talk to someone. Or write in a journal. Make sure that you are dealing with the trauma of what happened six years ago and the ongoing toll it is taking on you. Treat yourself well. Have tea and cookies." Luwaxana seemed to regain her clarity and then she sighed. "I suppose you're right. Mr. Homm is a good friend and a good listener. We've never really talked about it. I know he misses her too." The doctor nodded. Then Luwaxana said "What I wouldn't give, doctor, to have my daughter home again. I think of all the times we had harsh disagreements and all the times I was less than loving towards her. Which was not often, mind you. But I miss her. I just miss her so much. She was the best part of my heart." With that Luwaxana turned and walked out the door.

"The garden is particularly fragrant today, don't you think, Teya?" Deanna said as she sighed and sat back on her heels. She had been working for hours and today, Teya had stayed by her side. She decided to try a whole new planting configuration, so she uprooted what she'd already placed there by her front door, and gathered all new plants. She worked painstakingly and precisely, knowing exactly what she wanted where, and when it was done she surveyed her work using her nose and fingers. She remembered Captain Picard trying to tell her a story when she had lost her empathic sense. It was about someone he knew who had been handicapped and how all his other sense became that much stronger to compensate. Deanna had abruptly and harshly interrupted him that day, not wanting to hear it. But now it came back to her because she had discovered it was so true, her other senses were heightened and almost more tuned into life since she had lost her sight. As she sat there petting her little one, an odd noise reached her ears. It almost sounded like something sliding down a chute, with a whirring and swishing sound. It was quite far away and she didn't initially feel frightened, one could hear a lot of odd noises here if one just listened long enough, but she turned to face where it was coming from just the same. After some time she heard other noises, then what were some sort of clicking sounds. Click, click, click. Almost like chatter between people, but in clicks. The sounds grew closer and Deanna wondered if she should go inside. Teya didn't seem to be bracing for anything, so she assumed they were safe. But once she heard the clicking sounds approach her and could hear something akin to feet walking on the ground, she stood abruptly, her heart beating wildly. "Wh-who's there? Will is that you?" She froze for a moment, could it possibly be her imzadi? Had they found a way to rescue her before the eight years had passed? Had she possibly miscalculated the time by two whole years? Thoughts whirred through her mind as she froze and nervously stretched out her hand to feel wahtever it was. Suddenly, a soft gentle appendage touched her fingers, and she felt a warmth ease through her body. It was so soft and gentle and set her completely at ease. "Who are you?" she asked again. "Where did you come from?" The clicking chatter began once more and she could tell there was more than one person there. Or being. She wasn't sure what it was. "I am Commander Deanna Troi of the starship Enterprise. I've been stranded here for six years. Are you here to rescue me? Can you take me back to my ship?" Her heart continued to beat so hard at the euphoric hope she was feeling that she thought it would go right through her chest. The clicking continued, as if they were trying to translate what she was telling them. Then the soft appendage reached up and rested on her temple. It still felt so warm and loving and nurturing, it completely relaxed her. But suddenly, as it stayed there, Deanna felt herself being transported. "Wait a minute, I…" but before she could get the words out, she found herself inside something. Then she felt something like engines starting. She was seated on what felt like a cushion, and she heard clicking chatter beside her again. Then she could tell the ship was taking off and leaving the planet. "Wait! No! We have to get Teya!" she shouted. But at that moment the appendage reached out again and rested on her temple. Deanna felt at peace, and then she fell asleep.

Deanna Troi slowly opened her eyes. She took in a breath, and tried to orient herself. Where was she? Was she home on the Enterprise? Was she still on Nervala IV? She instinctively reached for her Teya, but nothing was there. Then, she remembered. She had been somehow instantly transported to a ship and they had left Teya behind. "Teya!" she screamed as she abruptly sat up. But just as abruptly her head hit a ceiling and she fell back down with a thud. "Ow!" she screeched as she rubbed her head. She reached up her hand to feel and was met with a cool, smooth, metallic surface, like a transparent aluminum. She started feeling downward and could tell it went all the way down to her feet. She wiggled her toes and realized they were not enclosed. Then she spread her arms out to the side and felt that she was completely entombed, sort of like a coffin, but with the feet part missing. She felt something like a soft velvet that started at about the height of her nose, covering the sides and bottom upon which she rested. She marveled at how she could feel the plush softness beneath her, and yet felt nothing touching her body. For a moment, she panicked, feeling claustrophobically trapped and began feeling her hands frantically around the enclosure, trying to find an opening. It was too narrow for her to scooch herself out by where her feet were, and she felt desperately for some sort of latch. "Help!" she screamed, but just then she shoved her hands upward and the top of her enclosure opened, and continued slowly opening even after she'd brought her hands back down. "Oh. That was easy" she whispered to herself. She sat up on her "bed" and wished heavily to have her eyesight back. She sighed and slowly scooched herself down along the velvet mattress until her feet reached the floor. She stood up and found she was barefoot, standing in what felt like silken sand. While she had lain in her enclosure, she had heard a muted soft trickling like a waterfall. Now as she slid her feet across the soft warm sand she could hear it more fully, like a waterfall coming from the ceiling. She stepped over to where it sounded along one of the walls and felt her feet around. There seemed to be a pool, maybe six feet by six feet up against the cavern wall with water splashing down into it. She tentatively reached out her hands to touch the water and let it spill over her, it was cool and refreshing to her touch. She then felt along the walls and could tell they were sand-like as well, but hard and mostly smooth. She could tell by the echoing of the water that she was in a cave of some sort, but the air was moderate and it felt as if the oxygen level was slightly more than what she was used to, and it caused her to want to breathe deeply and fill her body with the fresh delicious air. She marveled at how serene she felt, even though she'd just been kidnapped, and even though they'd left her little one behind. She felt along the opposite wall and could tell there were plants there, almost like a wall of vines, and they felt succulent and smelled edible. Deanna realized she hadn't eaten for some time and she was hungry. She backed up towards her bed and stumbled onto something, it was some sort of chair, she sat down and sunk into it, it was soft like a cloud, and just like the mattress it supported her but she couldn't feel it touching her body. She also realized that though she was fully able to sit in it, the chair had no legs. It was floating. "This is amazing" she thought, she'd not encountered anything like this in her world. Suddenly her stomach growled and she decided to get someone's attention. "Hello! Is anyone there? Hello!" she yelled as loudly as she could. She did not know what to expect as she was being held against her will. But the creatures that had taken her seemed so gentle, and her surroundings were soft and comforting. Then she heard the clicking sounds. Off in the distance, but heading towards her. She didn't know if there was a doorway and if it was closed, but realized as they came closer that they entered her room easily, so she apparently was free to come and go. She could tell there were two beings, and they were chattering excitedly to one another. "Hello? I am Deanna Troi of the Starship Enterprise. Why have you brought me here?" she demanded. They clicked even louder, as if they were trying to communicate with her. "Where is Teya? The little animal that was by my side when you took me?" Again, the clicks and chatter as if they were trying to answer her. Deanna sighed. She realized that neither would be able to understand the other. She backed up to the chair and sat down, and rested her head in her hands. One of the beings came towards her and brushed a soft slightly hairy appendage across her face. It instantly calmed her. She decided to try and communicate through a form of charades. She stood again and pointed to her mouth "Hungry." She said. The creatures began clicking wildly, as if they had understood. The creature that had touched her gently touched her arm and pulled her in the direction of the waterfall. The creature bent down and scooped up some water and brought it up to his mouth, and sipped. Then he looked towards Deanna. She just stood there, not knowing what had happened. The creature clicked several times to get her attention, then performed the maneuver again. Still, Deanna stood there. Finally, the creature realized that this particular alien race did not have any visual ability, even though it had eyes. So it reached out for Deanna's hand and gently pulled it down towards the water, helping it to cup some water and then lifted her hand back up to her mouth. Deanna drank. She had never tasted anything so wonderful in her life. It was light and sweet, almost like a cotton candy, and yet cool and refreshing like spring water. "Oh my god" she said. "This is delicious". The creatures clicked excitedly. Then Deanna pointed towards her mouth again. "Food" she said. "Food. I need food". She heard the two creatures turn towards each other, chattering again, and then heard them leave the room. "I hope they're getting me something" she thought, frustrated. She sat on her chair and instantly relaxed. It felt so much like home here. She was unclear as to what the purpose of the creatures was towards her, or where she was, but she could tell they wished her no harm, and in fact were being very helpful in making her stay as comfortable as possible. "Maybe they thought they rescued me" she surmised. Then she heard the clicking sounds again and listened to the footsteps as they crunched along the sand coming towards her. "I think they have food" she thought to herself. "I'll bet it tastes as delightful as that water did". She held out her hand, beginning to trust them. One of the creatures brought a hand to hers and placed something in it. It was large and round, like some sort of disc, maybe five inches in diameter, and felt somewhat crunchy. Deanna took it and began to bring it up to her mouth when all of a sudden it began crawling up her arm. Deanna screamed. She violently shook it off her arm and ran backwards, running into the chair and tripping, falling on her backside up against the ivy-covered wall. The creatures jumped up and began clicking in furious and frantic tones, grabbing the "food" and running hurridly out through the doorway. "A bug!" Deanna screamed. "They tried to give me a giant bug for dinner!" She shuddered at the thought of such a large insect crawling up her arm, and began to cry from all of the fright and uncertainty of her situation. But it wasn't long before her cries turned to snickers, and then giggles, and then outright laughter as she said over and over to herself "they brought me a giant bug for dinner! What were they thinking? Is that what they eat, living giant crawling bugs? God, they must be related to the Klingons!" With that Deanna laughed so hard she fell over and rolled onto her back, enjoying her own private little joke and the ability to laugh again.

"Will, are you sure it's OK?" Shelaya asked as she took a sip of her coffee. She and Will were lunching in ten-forward and he had just asked her to join him at the senior staff poker game that evening. Their friendship had been growing, and they enjoyed an easy banter with each other. He'd wanted to include her as she was new to the ship and he thought it would help her make some more friends and get oriented. "It will be OK if I say it's OK" he winked at her. "I don't want your friends to resent me". She replied. "They won't" he said back. Shelaya sighed lightly as she set her cup down. "Will" she began, "won't they see me as a replacement for Deanna?" Will's head shot up, eyes wide. "Why would you say that? What do you know about Deanna?" he asked. Shelaya patted his hand to reassure him and then explained. "Well, Lieutenant LaForge had visited stellar cartography one night to get a look at the stars we were charting and he let it slip that you were engaged. It was almost as if he wanted to be sure I knew that." Will sat back in his chair and ran a nervous hand over his beard. "Then I asked around and found out about Deanna and what had happened on Nervala IV". She finished. "I was going to tell you" Will said as he leaned forward again. "Sometimes it's just too painful to talk about." "I understand" Shelaya said. "But I've noticed that you and I are getting growing closer and I enjoy your company immensely. But I just have to ask, are there any "feelings" there?" Will's chest tightened as he had not planned on having this conversation with Shelaya so soon. But she was right. He knew there were feelings there. On both sides. "There can't be." was his reply. "But are there?" she asked. He admired the way that she got straight to the point. Will sat up straight in his chair again as he looked intently across at his new friend. "Shelaya, I think we both know that we have an attraction to each other. But there are many attractions through one's lifetime but only one commitment. Well, at least hopefully only one. You are an amazing woman and an ever better friend. But that's all it is. We're just friends. That's all it will ever be." To Will's amazement, Shelaya took it completely in stride. "I figured as much, but I just wanted to clarify. I make it a point to never drink from another woman's well anyway". Will snickered. "Another woman's well? You make me sound like a beverage." Shelaya tilted her head back and laughed. He loved when she did that. "Deanna is one lucky woman, Commander." "I hope she still thinks so when we get her back here, I hope she is still as in love with me as I am with her". Will replied. "I have no doubt she'll feel that way and more" Shelaya winked at him, as his body relaxed at knowing they were finally crystal clear on where their relationship stood. That night Will walked into the poker game and asked his friends if he could bring a guest. They looked oddly at each other but shrugged their shoulders. They couldn't exactly say no to their commanding officer. Will then brought Shelaya in and introduced her to everyone. For as sweet and kind as she was, there was an awkward silence when she sat down. Worf, in particular seemed uncomfortable, and Beverly glared at Will throughout the evening. Once the game was over, everyone left quickly except Will and Shelaya. "Well, that went well" she said sarcastically as she helped Will put away the treats. "Don't' worry, it will take them some time to get used to you" he assured you. "I intend for you to continue to join us even after Deanna's home so they'll just have to understand. You're my friend and you mean a lot to me".

Beverly Crusher had noticed Will's growing attention towards Shelaya. Even beyond the poker game she had seen them laughing and talking in ten-forward. She was aware how Will would talk about her during staff meetings, even asking if and how every Friday, while she was enjoying lunch in ten-forward, they were too. She was growing uneasy about this new development, and felt protective for her friend who was stranded so far away from them. So because of that, she decided she would confront him. Besides, she had to keep up her reputation for sticking her nose in where it didn't belong. "Hello Will" she approached him one day in ten-forward, just after Shelaya had left him to return to cartography. "Is this seat taken?" "Not at all, Doc, help yourself" Will said. Beverly had not seen him this happy in a very long time. Six years, to be exact. And she didn't like it. "So, Commander, I see you have a new friend." Will immediately reacted. "A friend, Beverly. A friend. Not that it's any of your business". "It was certainly my business when I was working hard to bring you and Deanna back together. You never minded me butting in then". She retorted. Will bristled and sat straighter in his chair. "This is different. There's nothing going on here". Will stated. "Oh really?" Beverly shot back. "Do you realize, Will, how often you talk about her? You've invited her to our poker games that have only ever been for senior staff. You seek her out in ten-forward to join in animated conversations. You meet her for lunch every Friday, Will! That doesn't seem like nothing going on to me". Will sighed and rubbed his hands over his face. He thought for a moment, then he began "Beverly…" "No, Will. You listen to me. I worked for eight fucking years to get you and Deanna back together." "Dr. Crusher! Language!" Will reminded her that they were in a public place. Beverly continued more quietly "and I am not going to just stand by while you cavort your way into another woman's…..well, into another woman." She finished indignantly. "Beverly" Will said softly, as he took her hands and looked into her eyes. "I would not do that to Deanna." "She's not here" Beverly replied. "But she's here" Will said as he placed his hand over his heart. A moment or two of silence passed between them. "Will, you've got two more years to go. Do you think you can make it? Especially if you're opening your heart to another women, even as friends? Close friends?" Will didn't answer right away. "I am determined, Beverly. But I won't lie to you. It is hard. I'm lonely. I miss her. I need…." "Yes, Will, I know what you need." Beverly said as she rolled her eyes. Will continued. "But with Deanna up there enduring god knows what, I am resolute that I will not cheat on her. But I do need friends. And Shelaya is a good friend. She brings a sense of laughter into my life, which I have desperately needed. She completely understands there can be nothing between us." Beverly hesitated. Then she took Will's hand in her own. He was like the younger brother she never had, and she cared dearly for him. "I just wouldn't play with fire, Will. But if it's what you feel you need, and if you think Deanna would approve, I won't pester you anymore. But by God, Will Riker, if you hurt my friend anymore than she's been hurt, and if she has to come back to discover her fiancé could not stay faithful to her, I will strap you down on my biobed and take my scalpel and…" Will winced, painfully. "Stop, Bev. I get the picture". He said somberly.

Deanna pulled herself up off the floor, tears streaming down her cheeks more from laughing than crying. Just then she heard dragging feet and chattering clicking. "Oh god" she said as she grabbed the chair for support. "They're bringing me another bug." She pushed herself up from the chair and turned to face her food tormenters. They approached her cautiously, one of them slowly reaching out an appendage and touching her hand with it. Deanna cautiously took what the creature held in its hands, making sure it didn't have any legs or crawling abilities. It felt like some sort of oblong root, and she lifted it slowly towards her lips. She sniffed it, and it smelled like the carrots she used to eat in Will's salads he would make for her. She touched it with her tongue and took a bite. "Mmmm" she said as she smiled and took another bite. It tasted like a cross between a carrot and an apple. "This is delicious!" she said out loud as she looked towards her hosts with a grin on her face. Suddenly she heard click click click and one of the hosts walked towards her and she felt two long appendages reach around her and touch behind her back. A warmth infused her and her body instantly relaxed. "I think you're hugging me" she exclaimed, surprised, as she tried to place her arms around it's hard crusty body. Then it pulled back again and offered three more clicks. Deanna was touched by her hosts' tenderness. They were really trying to take care of her. She concluded that when they had found her on Nervala IV, they must have known she was stranded and believed they were rescuing her and, not knowing where she lived, brought her back to their world. But where was their world? And how did they get through the cloud on Nervala IV? Could they get her back to the Enterprise? And what if the enterprise was able to get through the cloud too and Will was looking for her? A panic arose in her throat and she tried again to communicate to the creatures. "Where am I?" she said as she gestured around the room. She only heard clicks back. "Where is your spaceship?" she asked again, trying her best imitation of a spaceship. But it was no use. There was a communication barrier, and no way to penetrate it. Deanna sat sadly in her chair and took another bite of her meal, savoring it. There were a few moments of silence between her and her hosts, and then she began crying again. Tears slowly rolled down her cheeks as she rested the vegetable in her lap. The creature that had been mostly staying back approached her. It moved forward and reached a tiny finger-like protrusion on the end of its appendage out to touch one of her tears. It studied the tear for a long time and then watched as Deanna buried her face in her hands and began to sob. Quietly, the two creatures exited the room. Deanna decided she was tired and after finishing her carrot she prepared for bed. She used the cool sweet-smelling water from the pool in her room to wash herself and felt around to see if they had left her any bed clothes. Sure enough, draped across the top of the cylinder that was her bed was a silken-type nightgown that, when she put it on was far too long for her, but she didn't mind. It felt cozy and warm, and she gently pushed up on the lid to her pod and crawled into the soft cushy cocoon. The melodic splashing of the waterfall lulled her off to sleep, and before she had a chance to think about Will, or Teya, or the plight she now found herself in, she fell into a deep dreamland that was far away and soothed her heart.

Deanna dreamed deeply. She saw Will reaching out to her. He was sitting at a table in ten-forward and his arms were stretched out, beckoning her to come. She was across the room and as she approached him she saw the intensity in his eyes. They were begging, pleading her to come to him. They never left her as she continued walking towards him. Her heart ached with the desperate longing his blue eyes expressed. He gazed at her like there was no one else in the room. The closer she got to the table, the faster she walked, until she was running fullspeed. Will stood up and she ran right into his arms. He lifted her up and squeezed her so tightly to his chest she could barely breathe. "Imzadi" he whispered into her ear as his tears began to fall. "Imzadi, imzadi" he chanted over and over again. Deanna held him tightly, net intending to ever let him go. He set her down but still, she clung to his uniform. She could not move. "Imzadi" he whispered against her hair as her tears joined with his. Just then, he released his grip on her and backed away, and he began fading away, disappearing into the night. "No! Imzadi!" she screamed as she reached for him. But it was too late. He had completely disappeared. He was standing there no longer. Suddenly a voice sounded behind her, a familiar kind voice. "Just remember, Deanna, it's not over until it's over". Deanna swung around to see Guinan smiling at her. Suddenly, she opened her eyes and heard an odd sound. She was breathing heavily, and rested her hand on her heart to calm herself. Images of Will were still going through her mind and she felt a pitiful pain in her soul, so hollow, so longing for him. "To just touch his face, stroke his beard, caress his cheek" she thought. She sighed heavily and listened to the sound. It was water, but not like the waterfall, more like pelting drops, like rain! "How could it be raining in here?" Deanna thought, perplexed. She gently lifted up the lid to her sleeping pod and slowly sat up with her palm facing up. She heard the rain, but she could not feel it. Scrunching up her eyebrows in confusion she slowly eased her way down to the floor and walked towards where she heard the rain coming down. It was in the same place as the waterfall. She walked to the edge and reached her hand over the ledge of the pool and there it was. Rain was falling! She walked around the edge of the large pool and everywhere she felt there was rain coming down. A solid wall of raindrops falling from the sky. She looked upward, even stepped into the pool and allowed the rain to gently soak her. "There must be some sort of opening, like an open skylight above the pool and it is raining on this planet" she thought. Then she remembered when she had first discovered the pool and waterfall she felt a warmth on her face and on her hand as she reached towards it. "Sunshine" she thought. She wondered at this place, at the beauty of what it must be like, at wonderful flowery fragrances she could smell, at the gentle serenity. She liked it here, though it was not home. If she had to be stranded and die somewhere, she thought, this would be the place, except she missed her Teya horribly. It was an agony in her heart. She wished again she could find some way to communicate with these beings. As she turned to go back towards her bed her foot bumped up against something. She knelt down to the floor and felt around. There was a tray that seemed to be full of all kinds of bulbs and leaves and plants. She inhaled and could smell all kinds of sweet and mouth-watering smells. "Is this food?" she thought as she lifted one of the bulbs to her lips to taste and then take a bite. "Oh my god" she said. "This is even better than the one yesterday". She felt around to each bulb and plant, surmising they were all edible. "They brought me breakfast in bed!" she laughed as she realized how fond she was becoming of her hosts. They were so very kind to her and tried to help her in every way. She could tell they were fond of her as well. She was grateful for their rescue of her, though she wasn't sure exactly how much it had bought her. At least here she had other beings to keep her company. As if on cue, she heard clicking sounds coming from down the corridor. As the chattering grew closer she could hear there were more than two this time, possibly three. "Hello" she said as she heard them walk through the doorway. "Thank you for my breakfast" she said as she waved her hand towards the tray of delicacies. She knew they couldn't understand what she said, but it felt good to be able to talk to someone, especially since Teya wasn't here. One of the beings approached her and rested its hand on her cheek. Again, she felt the warmth and serenity. It always felt so good, these beings had a way of imparting calm and safety. It clicked several times and then she felt something being pressed into her ear. The being pressed it gently, until it rested just inside the opening. It wasn't uncomfortable. "What's this?" she asked as she touched it. "It is….." she heard a voice in her ear. It reminded her of a voice she'd heard before back on the Enterprise, once when she was with Data on the holodeck and he had introduced her to a famous scientist from earth named Steven Hawking. It was the same kind of computerized voice she was hearing in her ear now. "It is a….translator" said the voice slowly. Deanna grabbed her ear and her jaw dropped wide open. "Oh my God!" she said. "You can talk to me! Can you hear me too?" She heard wild clicking sounds, excited clicking sounds. "Yes, we can….hear you too." Deanna ran towards her host and grabbed it and hugged it. It's body was hard like a shell and felt odd, but she was glad to express her appreciation. "We….care for you too" the being said. Deanna was so excited she couldn't think of a thing to say. The millions of questions she had, but she couldn't think of a single one. She was amazed at their technology that could invent such a thing. All they needed to do was speak out loud, and somehow the device in their ears translated everything almost perfectly. "We made this for you" she heard in her ear. "Oh, thank you, thank you so much!" she exclaimed, breathlessly. Another couple moments of silence passed as each one was trying to form their thoughts in the midst of the excitement. Then Deanna spoke. "I am Commander Deanna Troi of the starship Enterprise. Why did you bring me here?" was the first question that came out of her mouth. There was a pause and then she heard "You were lost. We felt bad. We brought you home with us." Deanna had surmised as much. They had known she was stranded. "Why didn't you bring Teya?" she asked, not yet allowing herself to feel the hurt at the loss of her little friend. "What is a Teya?" the question came back to her. "Teya was the small creature that was sitting with me when you "rescued" me". She explained. Then their answer came back; "the creature was… dinner. We had… already eaten." Deanna snorted as she laughed and realized that they had seen Teya quite differently than she had. She was grateful after all that they had not brought Teya with them. She thought for a moment more. "I want to go home. Can you return me to my ship?" She heard wild chatter and clicking sounds. Then they answered. "Where is your ship?" Deanna thought for a moment, and then realized she had no idea where the Enterprise was. "Can you return me to earth? It is the place where my employer's headquarters are located." Again the chatter, and then "where is earth?" Deanna rattled off the coordinates and the sector, but the creatures paused as if perplexed. "We do not know those coordinates. We have not heard of that sector." Deanna was beginning to grow anxious, she thought this would be a simple task for them to return her. She asked if they knew of the United Federation of Planets. They did not. "Where are we?" she finally asked in exasperation. The creatures explained where they were located, on the plane of Crostia in the sector of Krisalius. "I've not heard of that sector" Deanna muttered to herself as she slowly backed up and sat down in the chair. "What is a plane? What are your species?" she questioned. They began to explain to her that they were a race of insectasoids. That was the hard shell she felt when she had hugged them, and she had also thought she'd felt a second pair of arms. Almost like giant ants that walked upright. They lived on "planes" large flat areas in space that were covered with mounds of sand, plants, and other smaller creatures. The plants and the creatures were their food. They worked hard during their days, some at their city's centers in the science buildings inventing their grand technology, others were gatherers that worked hard to collect food to store underground for their long cold seasons. The lived underground with many tunnels and caverns and chambers, and most nights they enjoyed feasting on the plants they had gathered. But for special occasions, and usually about every sixth or seventh meal, they feasted on the smaller insects. Deanna shuddered at the remembrance of the giant bug they had brought her. To them, it was a treat. Each plane had its own botanist who would travel the galaxy collecting new kinds of plants to bring back to their homeworld. On a rare occasion the botanist would travel to another galaxy, they had the technology for that, even time travel, and that is what brought them to Nervala IV. But most often they preferred to stay in their sector and on their home planes, they were creatures who enjoyed their own domain more than travel. "Do you think you could look for my home? Maybe I could help you? I really want to go home." Deanna said as she choked up at the last few words. Tears began to stream down her cheeks as she quickly tried to wipe them away with her hands. Her heart ached so horribly, she was so lonely and so homesick. She missed her imzadi, her Teya, her mother, and her Enterprise family. And now she had to face the prospect that the Enterprise would come to rescue her on Nervala IV and she wouldn't be there. "Please" she pleaded with a desperate and heart-rending voice, and her hosts understood that she was in pain, and took pity on her. "Of course, Commander Deanna Troi. We will try to locate your planet earth. Tomorrow we will take you to the science building so you can explain everything to our Councilor of Science. Tonight we will bring dinner to you, and perhaps tomorrow you'd like to join us in the common dining hall?" "Yes, I would like that" she choked out as she wiped away a few more tears from her eyes. A couple hours later they brought her a lavish tray with all of the best plants and roots and some that she had enjoyed on Nervala IV as well. She ate what she could with the small appetite that she had at the moment, then crawled into bed, crying herself to sleep. She let herself grieve for her Teya, whom she'd never see again. She found she just couldn't bear the loss of her little one. She let herself think of her mother, wondering how she was surviving all this, longing to be held in her arms. She thought of Beverly and Data and her other crewmates whom she missed so much. She thought of Captain Picard and wondered if he missed her, if he thought of her. And she curled up into a fetal position and held herself tightly as she thought of Will, her beloved, her imzadi. She missed his warmth, the warm essence of his body as he would envelop her in his arms and gently kiss the top of her head. She missed his smell, a combination of his own body and the cologne he sometimes wore that drove her crazy. She missed his deep and tender voice when he was speaking words of love to her, words he would whisper into her ear and into her hair, proclaiming his love for her. Her heart ached, longed for his touch. Deanna pulled her pillow close to her and held it tight, sobbing deeply into it until the blissfulness of sleep took her away.

ONE AND ONE-HALF YEARS LATER

Will stared at the calendar on his wall. He almost couldn't believe it. Only six months until he could rescue his Deanna. God he hoped she'd survived. He hoped she had not lost her sanity or become emotionally immobile, as can happen when one is stranded alone for such a long time. But he would love her anyway. God, he would love her. He'd take her under his wing and cherish her and nurture her back to health. And if she was too far gone, he'd still love her and care for her for the rest of his life. Nothing could keep him from his imzadi. And though to some six months could seem like an eternity, when you've been waiting for your beloved for eight years, six months felt like a second. A passing moment, and he would be bringing her home. Will smiled as he stood and tugged down his uniform top. He stood straighter and taller. He was on his way to his captain's office to receive the news that Captain Picard had been promoted to Admiral and that Will would be taking over as Captain of the Enterprise. He walked down the hall in long strides, his pride showing to anyone who passed him by. This is what he had waited for, what he had wanted from day one. To captain his own ship. To captain the Enterprise. He reached Captain Picard's office and rang the chime. "Come" said the familiar voice. The voice he had grown to love and respect over the years. Will entered and stepped over the chair with a swagger he hadn't shown for awhile and sat facing his captain. "Number One" Captain Picard said as he smiled. Will awaited his news, anxiously. The Captain continued. "Will" he said with a slight hesitation, seeing the look of excitement in his first officer's eyes. "I have decided to remain as captain of the Enterprise". Will's face visibly fell. He had mixed feelings, he didn't want to lose Jean-Luc as a friend and a mentor, but he was really ready to take the helm. "Will, I'm sorry" Captain Picard said, knowing the disappointment this must be for Commander Riker. After Will composed himself he said "May I ask why, Captain?" Picard nodded and smiled again. Another Enterprise Captain once gave me some really good advice. He said 'don't ever ever let them take that chair away from you'. I believe he knew what he was talking about from first-hand experience. I've pondered that advice for a long time, and decided, at least for now, he was right." Will understood. He would probably do the same in the Captain's position. "The time will come" the Captain told him "when you will either be ready to take the captaincy of another ship or I will be ready to retire. In the meantime, I'd like to keep you by my side to keep me on my toes. I am an old man, you know." Will then flashed his famous Riker grin. "Of course, Captain" he said. He rose to leave, then remembered something and turned back to Picard. "Captain" he said with eyes wide. "We'd already planned a surprise party for you in an hour in ten-forward. I think it's too late to try and cancel it. "Then we shall celebrate" Captain Picard replied. "We'll celebrate still keeping our enterprise family in tact and the rescue of Deanna in six months. How does that sound?" Will grinned again. "That sounds wonderful" he said.

The celebration had begun. Captain Picard began it with an announcement that he had intended to stay, greeted by cheers from the many guests. They all would have loved having William Riker as their Captain, but they didn't want to lose Jean-Luc Picard. This way, they would keep both. Ten-forward had been decorated with a lot of glittering accessories. It was nighttime, so the lights were low and everything sparkled. They had decided to make it a formal reception, so the male officers were dressed handsomely in their dress uniforms and the females wore long gowns. There was a table of delicious hors d'oeuvres from every planet represented on the ship. Guinan had set up a beautiful bar with twinkling lights sparkling up and down along its length. She had every imaginable liqueur on display, including the "real stuff". There were all different shapes and sizes of barware in which to pour the drinks. There were tall blue drinks and short fiery red drinks, and wide frothy pink drinks. There was also straight up brandy and whiskey from several different planets, as well as romulan ale. The band played lively music and Will even joined them with his trombone for a few numbers. The stars shone brightly outside the slanted windows, pulsing along with the rhythms. Will felt like a prince. He wished his princess was there. But nonetheless he was going to enjoy himself. It had been a long time since he'd enjoyed much of anything. He was standing with Worf, Geordi, and Data, cracking jokes about his old age and still being first officer, while Data tried to discern just what was so funny about it. All four of them tried a variety of appetizers, finding some extremely delectable and others discreetly spitting into their napkins. Data would tilt his head everytime someone was obviously spitting something out and ask "Was it not to your liking, sir?" Data would then try the morsel himself, and, not being able to taste anything, declare it perfectly edible. "Shall we start our first round of drinks, gentlemen?" Will asked as the four of them approached the bar. "Ahh….my favorite customers" Guinan smiled as she looked at each of them. "What can I make for you, sirs?" Will ordered a brandy straight up, Worf and Geordi each asked for a romulan ale, and Data decided to try the frothy pink drink. He picked up the glass and downed the entire drink in one gulp. Then he looked curiously at his glass. "Intruiging" he said as he passed the glass back to Guinan. "Another one, please" he stated as Guinan poured another. "Whoa, Data, slow down" Geordi said as Data stated calmly, "you forget, Geordi, that androids are unable to become inebriated." "Well, not me" Geordi said as he finished his ale and reached for another. "This is a time to celebrate" Will said as he lifted his glass. "In just six months, we get to bring my fiancé home!" "Here, here!" Worf and Geordi said in unison. The four men continued to enjoy their drinks and small talk well into the night, when the band changed directions and began to play slow dance music. The floor slowly filled up with couples dancing and laughing, and Will looked up to see Beverly approaching. "Well, Commander, come dance with me to celebrate the soon bringing home of our Deanna" she smiled as she grabbed his hand. She noticed he was quite buzzed. "Are you able to dance?" she looked at him, smirking. "Of course I am, doc. I've been able to catch and kill klingon targs when I'm much drunker than this" he replied, indignantly. "Yeah, on the holodeck" she teased. Will just grinned as he placed a hand around her waist and took her other hand in his as they began to dance. "Are you feeling more hopeful?" she asked him as he spun her around. "Yes" Will replied. "I couldn't stop staring at my calendar this morning. Six months feels like such a short time at this point." "It is Will, it is" Beverly replied. After a few moments of silence Will said "Beverly, do you think she's alright?" Beverly thought for a moment. "Will, I can't be sure. I know Thomas survived down there, but it's a lot to go through, especially for someone as sensitive as Deanna. I know she's strong, but…it's just a lot to go through". Will nodded his head. "You know I will love her no matter what." "I know Will, I know. But the transition could be difficult for her." Beverly replied. Will sighed. "After all we've been through" he said, thoughtfully. "but I won't abandon her. Not this time" he said. Will and Beverly continued their dance as Will looked around at the other couples swaying to the music and the winding down of the once noisy boisterous party. The lights were lower now, and Will was feeling sleepy. Just then, something caught his eye. Someone was entering ten-forward, obviously late for the party and all he saw initially was a beautiful white silk gown. Then he looked up to see her, Sheleya, and he caught his breath. He had never seen her so lovely. Her blonde hair was done up in curls on top of her head with tendrils hanging down. The white gown clung to her, with a deep v-neck and clasped behind her neck in a halter style. Will immediately felt a sensation that he didn't want to feel with anyone but Deanna. He looked away, and spun Beverly around as they continued their conversation. But a moment later someone tapped Beverly on the shoulder. "Mind if I cut in?" Shelaya asked. Beverly looked up at Will with a wary look, but then smiled and said "Of course" as she moved out of the way. Shelaya stepped in as she slipped her hand in Will's and let him place his hand around her waist. "Hi friend" she said with a smile. "Hi friend" he said in return, trying desperately to focus on their dance. "It's only six months, isn't it?" Shelaya said, excitedly. "Yes, it is" Will smiled, thinking again of Deanna. "Oh Will, I just know she's going to be there waiting for you" Shelaya encouraged. Will relaxed a little, molding into her body as he remembered how much she was rooting for he and Deanna. She was a good woman. They talked for awhile about the happenings in stellar cartography and caught up a little as she had missed their previous Friday's lunch due to work obligations. "Are you disappointed you aren't going to be captain?" she asked. Will looked thoughtful for a moment. "Yes" he said, honestly. "But there is something to be said about keeping things status quo for a little while longer. I'll get my chance." Shelaya nodded as she rested her chin on his shoulder. Most of the people had cleared out of ten-forward by now, and Will and Shelaya were over towards the windows still dancing to the music, each lost in their own thoughts for awhile. But more and more Will was having a hard time concentrating. His body was responding to Sheleya in ways he didn't want it to. But with his large intake of alcohol and his sleepiness, it just felt so good to be there, in her arms. He hadn't been in a woman's arms, in Deanna's arms, in years. Sheleya was so soft and she smelled so good. He continued to rest his body against hers, and brought his hand up to her unclothed back, feeling the warmth of her skin against him. She sighed and he felt very aroused. He nestled his nose in her hair and inhaled. She smelled flowery, just like Deanna. He pulled her just a little closer. The band's music became softer and more slow, and the lights dimmed further, indicating the party was just about to come to an end. There were only a few people left talking quietly in the corners. Suddenly, without warning, Sheleya hugged Will tightly against her, squeezing him with all her might. "I really do care about you, William Riker" she said softly. Will stiffened slightly, then drew his head back to look at her face. He knew she had no idea what she was doing to him, but he wanted her. He cared for her too…and he wanted her. In his euphoric haze he drew his face close to hers. Her eyes grew wide as she realized what was about to happen. She wasn't thinking in those terms, but she also knew she wanted it as badly as he did. When he brought his lips to hers, she didn't protest. Will placed a warm sweet soft kiss on Shelaya's lips and she shivered at the taste of him. She began to kiss him back, and then realizing what she was doing pulled back quickly. "Oh god, Will, I'm so sorry" she said, her eyes wide. Will stood for a moment, and then shook his head as if to shake off the alcohol and confusion. "What have I done?" he thought to himself. Then he said again out loud "What have I done?" They looked at each other for a moment and then Will quickly said "I have to go" as he turned and ran out of ten-forward, leaving a stunned Shelaya in his wake.

Will got back to his quarters as quickly as he could, and as the door slid closed behind him, he sunk down into his chair, stunned at what he had just done. "Could I not wait six more months? God, I've been able to wait 7 ½ years!" he scolded himself. He took his hands and ran them through his hair as he shook his head and tried to sort out his feelings. He truly cared about Sheleya. And he was attracted to her. But it was nothing like he felt for Deanna. It was more like what he'd felt for other women he'd been in love with at times. Or at least thought he'd been in love with. But he'd needed her tonight. Maybe because it was just six months, maybe because he was missing Deanna so horribly and getting so anxious to bring her home. Maybe it was the alcohol or the way Sheleya's beauty had shined in her gown. But whatever it was, Will felt miserable that he had betrayed Deanna like that. Yes, it was just a kiss, but by god that kiss was huge in light of his strong commitment to his imzadi. And he knew he would have to tell her. He would have to tell his fiancé that after having been stranded on some god-forsaken planet for eight years and finally being rescued, that he had kissed another woman. It would probably break her heart. He wondered if she would still love him. He determined then and there that he would no longer spend any time with Sheleya. He would have to end their friendship.

"I understand, Will. I'm sad, but I understand." Shelaya said as she sat across from Will at a visible table in ten-forward. Will had decided to meet with her one last time to formally end their relationship. I'm so sorry, Sheleya. I don't know what got into me." He told her. Sheleya looked down and twirled her fingers around. After a moment she said "Will, you weren't alone in that kiss. I am just as much to blame as you are. And for the record, it makes sense to me that when you've been away from the woman you love for eight years and you have the kind of comfortable and caring relationship that we do, sometimes you just act irrationally. That doesn't excuse it, but I am willing to bet Deanna will understand. I don't want to come between you two From what you and others have told me, the bond that you and Deanna have is quite a wonder to see." Will nodded as he looked at her sadly. "I'm sorry again Sheleya, I really don't want to end our friendship. I care about you. But it's the right thing to do." Sheleya nodded sadly as Will stood and turned to leave. He didn't say goodbye and he didn't turn back around. He continued to walk right out the door of ten forward feeling the sharp sting of the loss of a friend. If he had turned back around, he might have seen a small tear make its way slowly down her cheek.

Deanna had lost track of time. Through the translator she had tried to explain to the Croistoids what an earth day was and had kept checking in with them as to how much of her time had passed. As close as she could tell, there were only a few more months until Will would show up on Nervala IV. Her heart grieved. After their first official communication Deanna had spent time with the plane's botanists. They worked hard to try and locate her galaxy or any starbase they could drop her off at. Deanna found out that to get to Nervala IV, the croistoids had actually traveled back in time, and it was very dangerous. They were still learning the technology. No wonder they were so much more advanced; they were from the future. And who knows how far away they were located from her sector. They were planning another trip back in time, but Deanna wasn't allowed to go as they were going to go in a different direction to look for earth and it would be even more dangerous. But if they succeeded and found it, they would take Deanna with them the next time. Deanna had become an integral part of her new family. Every day they would take her to the surface, where she would help them gather plants. She was good at recognizing what was needed since she had been a gardener on Nervala IV. She could tell by touch and smell if a plant was poisonous or not. She knew how to plant and water and which ones would re-bloom and which ones only bloomed once. They enjoyed her expertise. They even allowed her to "decorate" by planting a garden just outside each of the entrances to their underground home. The croistoids grew to love her and accepted her as their own. They did everything they could to make her stay comfortable and happy. Every night she would sit down to dinner with them, feasting on succulent plants and the fresh spring water that rained down in waterfalls into their enclosure. They got to know each other little by little through the translator, sharing about their own communities and species and time periods. The Croistoids were excited to know about her galaxy, and had hopes almost as high as hers of visiting it. They felt awful they had taken her from the planet where her friends would be looking for her, but being in the very beginnings of their time travel experiments, they didn't think it would be safe enough to try and travel back the same way and leave her there again. Deanna reassured them that they had done what they thought best and safest for her, and that at some point they would surely discover how to get her back, and since they could go back in time, they could get her to earth at just the right time. And once a week, after Deanna had finished the special meal with her hosts, she would quickly exit and leave for her room, so they could bring out their special "treats", and she shuddered all the way down the corridor hearing all of the loud crunching and excited chatter going on behind her. As she sat in her room, she would think of things she could be grateful for, how she could've been stranded on Nervala and for some reason the enterprise never be able to rescue her, how she could've died there, how her captors could have been malicious. Certainly, there was no one here on Croistia who could be a mate for her, but there were many many friends. "Things could be worse" she would muse to herself, trying to keep her spirits up. She would not give up. She would find Will. Her imzadi. And she would return to the love and the wondrous mysterious bond that was keeping her alive.

Luwaxana Troi was slowly recovering. Her mind was more alert and her emotions were more in check. But she missed her Deanna deeply. It was still hard for her to believe that her daughter was stranded on a planet light years away, unable to be rescued except after eight years. But this particular morning Luwaxana was feeling lighthearted for the first time in years. "Mr. Homm, is breakfast ready?" she yelled out to the kitchen. "Yes ma'am" came the deep voice that barely spoke. Luwaxna sauntered into the kitchen with a flourish, her lavish gown sweeping grandly behind her. Mr. Homm set a tea service on the table with a variety of rolls, croissants, and oskoid. "Oh, Mr. Homm, this is indeed a celebration. One week from today our Deanna will be rescued. I will contact William later this morning to get all of the details!" Mr. Homm nodded his head, a small smile on his lips. He, too, had missed Deanna. He had cared for her as a child, cooking for her, cleaning her room, helping her with her homework. She was almost like a daughter to him. Luwaxana sat at the table, said her prayers to the gods she believed in, and then she and Mr. Homm ate breakfast. "Delicious"! Luwaxana proclaimed as she wiped her mouth with her napkin. Mr. Homm nodded to her again, taking the small hammer and striking the gong as was their tradition to give thanks for the meal. Luwaxana had been counting the days, endless days that seemed to go on into infinity, to find herself here, with only one week to go. She could hardly contain herself. After she showered and changed, she called to Mr. Homm to get the Enterprise and Commander William T. Riker on the viewscreen for her to talk to. After a moment, Will's handsome face filled the screen. "Mrs. Troi!" he said, with a wide grin on his face. He had aged. He was older now and gray had infiltrated his temples and his beard. But he was still the most handsome man in Starfleet. "Now William, I keep telling you to call me Luwaxana!" she crowed as she waved her hands in the air. "Yes, of course, Luwaxana" he replied with a smile. "And how are the plans coming to retrieve our Deanna?" she asked him. "Very well, Luwaxana. We are on our way to that sector now. We are scheduled to arrive in one week and we will have a two-hour window within which to rescue her." Luwaxana dramatically placed her hand on her heart and tilted her head back with a sigh and a smile. "Oh, William. I can hardly wait. I haven't been able to sleep at all!" "And neither I" Will replied. Then Luwaxana's eyebrows curled up. "William, is there something wrong? You're blocking me." Will looked down as his cheeks turned slightly red. He had no intention of telling Luwaxana about the kiss he had shared with Shelaya. He hadn't talked to Sheleya since it had happened, so he felt he could put this behind him. "No, Luwaxana, I guess I'm just needing some privacy." Luwaxana nodded and understood. She could easily pass through his blocks but chose not to. She knew this was a delicate time for Will and there was much at stake. "Very well, William. Please call me as soon as you return! I want to see my sweet daughter's face on that viewscreen as soon as possible! Then I will travel to spend some time with the two of you!" she smiled grandly. Will nodded, hoping that it would take her a very long time to arrive. Surely he would need some time alone with his love before her mother came and turned their lives upside down. "God speed William. Goodbye for now." With that Luwaxana's face disappeared from the screen and Will sighed heavily, sitting back in his chair. Would he be able to make it through this week? He couldn't sleep, he couldn't eat. He was nervous about retrieving Deanna, nervous to tell her about Sheleya, nervous about her health and well-being, nervous if he would still find her there!

The days passed by more quickly than Will thought they would. On the final night before the rescue mission, Will had a dream. He dreamed he was on Betazed with Luwaxana. He was living in her house and having breakfast with her and Mr. Homm. It was like he lived there, permanently. "Oh, I'm so glad you've come home William!" Luwaxana exclaimed as she held his face in her hands. "We've missed you so!" Mr. Homm hit the gong with his hammer. "Did you ever find my fiancé?" he asked both of them. "No, dear William, I'm sorry we didn't. We looked everywhere, even on this strange ship called the Enterprise. I believe she is gone forever." Mr. Homm hit the gong again. With that Will started to cry. "Oh there, there William. We will take care of you. You are our son, we'll never leave you" Luwaxana comforted. Will was confused. He saw Mr. Homm get up and start looking for Deanna in their home, turning over furniture and lifting up curtains. "Still not here" Mr. Homm said in his deep voice as he hit the gong with his hammer again. Will began to lose his mind. "No! NO!" he yelled as he stood from the table clutching his head between his hands. Just then Guinan stepped out from behind one of the curtains. She put her hand on his shoulder. "Just remember Will, it's not over until it's over". Her voice echoed over and over in his head until suddenly he awoke, sweat pouring down his body and his breath coming in short bursts. He covered his eyes with his hands and fell down back on the bed. "Oh god" he said. "It was just a dream. And a very odd one at that". He waited until his breathing returned to normal and looked at the clock. It was almost time to get up anyway, so he rose from the bed to get ready for a day that he knew would change him forever, and hopefully in the best possible way. An hour later his door chime rang. "Come" he said. The door slid open and Beverly walked through. "I come bearing gifts, Commander" she said lightheartedly as she handed him a pan of freshly baked coffee cake. "Beverly!" Will exclaimed. "I didn't know you could bake!" "I can't" she offered. "But Guinan can, and she was more than happy to create this delectable breakfast in honor of this special day." Will smiled as he thought of Guinan's cryptic message to him in the dream, one that he thought he had heard before. "Well, come in and have breakfast, we still have a little while to wait before we can beam down" Will said as Beverly made herself at home. "You should see, Will, it's like there's a nervous energy all over the ship. The majority of the officers on board were here when Deanna was and they are aware we are sending a rescue mission down today. Everyone's excited." Will grinned from ear to ear. "But no one as much as me" he said. "No one as much as you" Beverly echoed as she smiled at him. "The Captain will see us off in the transporter room" she added. Will nodded. "I bet he will be really happy to see her again as well. He and Deanna were pretty close". Beverly sat back into the couch cushion and sighed. "That's bound to happen when someone counsels you on events as traumatic as his borg assimilation and being tortured by the Cardassions" she said. When Will was finished with his picking up, he motioned for Beverly to join him at the table where they cut up the coffee cake, replicated two cups of coffee and proceeded to enjoy their breakfast. After a few quiet moments of sipping and chewing, Beverly spoke up. "I just wonder if Deanna has been able to keep track of the time. I wonder if she has any idea we're coming for her today. Can you imagine if we surprise her? If she's sitting in her encampment doing god knows what and all of a sudden we walk in and exclaim Hello Deanna! Long time no see!" Will spat out his coffee as he began laughing at Beverly's scenario. "Yeah, and she's like where the hell have you been? What the fuck have you been doing all this time imzadi?" They both began laughing hysterically and neither could stop. Beverly made a few comments about how Deanna might smell with no shower or bath tub, and Will teased about how the first thing Deanna would demand was a hairbrush. "And then she'd look at me and say Will, if you think for a minute we're just going to go back to being lovers after you stranded me here for eight years, you're crazy!" With that the laughter immediately stopped and everything grew quiet. Beverly looked at Will, as tears began to fill his eyes. She reached across the table and gently took his hand. "It'll be OK, Will. She doesn't blame you. She'll be there. She will run into your arms and hold you as if she's never going to let you go. It'll be OK. You'll see." Beverly had tears streaming down her face now as well as she and her friend-brother shared a painful and tender moment. "God, Bev, I hope you're right" Will barely whispered. "I can't survive without her." An hour later four people were in the transporter room. Will was checking coordinates with Chief O'Brien for beaming down to the planet. Beverly was gathering the last of her medical supplies into her pack as she stepped up onto the pad. Data was already waiting on the transporter pad, looking forward to bringing the Counselor home. And Captain Picard was standing by to see his officers off on what would be one of the most important missions of the Enterprise, ever. Will and Miles finished and he went and stepped up on the transporter pad into his place. Just then a familiar person hesitantly peeked into the transporter room and he saw her face. His heart jumped. He had barely seen her in the past six months and he missed her. "Stand by, Chief O'Brien" Will said as he stepped down from the transporter pad. He walked over to Sheleya where they spoke in hushed tones. "What are you doing here?" he asked. "I wanted to see you off Will. I wanted to wish you luck and tell you I am praying that you find Deanna and bring her back safely. I can't wait to meet her." Sheleya's face looked sad and thoughtful at the same time. She really wanted the best for her former friend. Will gave her a quick hug as his eyes filled again with tears. "Thanks, Shey." He said. "I can't wait for you to meet her too. You will fall in love with her just like I did." With that Will stepped back and turned to go to the pad, stepping up again into his place. He didn't notice Beverly giving him a wary look. "Chief, energize" Will said as three people shimmered and began to fade into nothing.

Will's eyes slowly focused as he, Beverly and Data shimmered back into existence at the same beam-up coordinates where they had left Deanna on Nervala IV. As soon as Will's eyes oriented he looked around and located the encampment. "Deanna!" he yelled as he took off at breakneck speed towards the building. His heart was thudding so loudly in his chest, he felt it might explode. Eight years. Eight long unbearable years he'd waited for her. Waited to hold her in his arms, waited to rescue her, waited to bring her back home. "Deanna!" He kept yelling her name over and over again as he neared the entrance. He could barely contain himself. All he wanted, all he ever wanted, was his imzadi close to him; needing to feel her up against his body, to feel her heart beating against his chest. "Deanna, I'm here! We're here, Deanna!" He screamed again, waiting for her reply as he stepped through the doorway. He was completely out of breath but began jogging through the rooms, still calling her name. "Deanna!" He noticed how she had made a home for herself, how he could smell her scent in the air and on the furniture. It made his body go weak. He had not smelled her scent in so very long. "Deanna?" he said, a little less loudly this time as he entered the final corridor looking everywhere for her. Every corner, every alcove, behind every piece of furniture or machinery did not escape his gaze. "Deanna" he whispered. "Imzadi. Where are you?" He stopped for a moment to catch his breath, and then ran his hands through his hair. He bent over and rested his hands on his knees, still looking all around, at every inch of space, feeling if he looked hard enough, he would see her. Finally, Beverly caught up to him. "Will" she said. "Deanna must be outside, perhaps she's gone somewhere, it would be impossible to know what her lifestyle entails at this point." "Yes" Will said, still catching his breath. "Let's spread out and find her". Will and Beverly turned and moved quickly to meet up with Data who had been inspecting Deanna's home. "Evidence would suggest that she's been here recently, Commander". Data said. "Very good. Data, you take the woods, Beverly and I will split up and cover the rest of the area". With that the three made their way outside. They agreed to meet back at the encampment in time to make the beam-up. "Good luck Will" Beverly said to him. He noticed a wariness in her voice. A chill went up his spine. He knew that she was thinking what he was. But he wasn't giving up hope. There was no way in hell he would leave Deanna behind again. No way in hell.

Just short of two hours later, Data, Beverly and Will returned to the encampment. As Will walked up he saw Beverly and Data talking in hushed tones. He looked around to see if Deanna was with them. She was not. His got such a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach; he felt he would vomit. "No" he whispered as he met Dr. Crusher's eyes. "Will, I'm sorry. We didn't find her. We didn't find any evidence of her." Will nodded his head indicating he had not found anything either. "Theorize" he said to Data. "It is possible, Commander, that she was consumed by one of the creatures living here, with no remains left behind." At that Will fell to his knees, his breath heaving in and out as he tried to process what Data had just said. "Data!" Beverly chastised him and when he looked at her confused, she shook her head no, warning him not to continue. She placed her hand on Will's shoulder and said his name softly. "Will." He slowly looked up at her, an almost rapid look on his face. "No." he said. "No!" he yelled. "I refuse to accept that she's not here! She has to be here!" He stood abruptly and headed again towards the encampment with Data and Beverly following him. Tears began streaming down his cheeks as he attempted to muffle his sobs. He went from room to room again, looking, checking, moving things, throwing things out of the way. "Deanna!" he yelled so loudly it seemed to echo throughout the crumbling walls. "Will, we don't have much time" Beverly said softly. "Data and I are going back to the beam-up point. You only have a few minutes". Data then spoke up, handling some things he found on one of the tables. "Commander, there are some things here I'd like to take back to our ship for inspection." But Will didn't hear him. Data tilted his head and looked at Beverly who nodded to him. Then he took some items and placed them in his Starfleet jacket. Beverly and Data turned to leave. She looked back over her shoulder. "By God Will, you'd better be at the coordinates in time or I will skin you alive. I will not lose another friend on this hell-hole of a planet!" Beverly fought hard to not let the tears fall as she walked briskly back to the meeting place, leaving a silent Will Riker behind. Will was speechless. He was having a hard time thinking clearly. He felt paralyzed and couldn't move. For a split second he thought of staying, what could be worse than living without his imzadi? Perhaps if he stayed, she would turn up at some point. But he knew that was not possible. He knew his imzadi was not here. He could feel it. Like a robot Will turned to head towards the door. He stepped gingerly through the rooms, trying to soak in Deanna's essence as much as he could. He lifted a flower she had obviously brought inside and tucked it in his pocket. Then he saw her bed. He fell to his knees to allow himself a moment to inhale her scent, to breathe in every last bit of her he could as he nuzzled his face down into the blankets. Just then, something touched him and he saw something he hadn't noticed before. A small furry creature was curled up in the middle of the bed, looking at him with the saddest eyes he'd ever seen. Big black sad eyes. It reminded him of Deanna. "Will! You've got one minute!" Beverly yelled with force from outside. Without thinking, Will stood up and quickly but gently scooped up the creature and tucked it between his jacket and his chest. He quickly ran outside and made it to the coordinates just as the transporter beam began to sound. As the three Starfleet officers were being dematerialized, Dr. Beverly Crusher reached over to take the hand of her brother and her friend.

Captain Picard was waiting in the transporter room. He saw his three officers slowly appear on the pad. Only three. His heart sank, and his head dropped. But quickly he regained his composure. As Captain of this ship he needed to handle it professionally. There would be plenty of time for grief later. As soon as they were completely transported, Will reached inside his jacket and pulled out the creature, handing it to Beverly. He stepped down off the pad and headed for the doorway. "Will!" Beverly yelled as she looked in confusion down at the ball of fur he had handed her. It looked up at her and squeeked. "Number One!" Captain Picard yelled after him as Will continued, without word or emotion, walking out the door and away from the transporter room. The Captain sighed. "What happened?" he looked to his Chief medical officer. The creature was now squirming in her hands and she quickly tried to think of what to do with it. "I think I need to get this back to my lab, Jean-Luc. I don't know what it is or what Will was doing with it." Beverly sighed as well, looking at the Captain sadly. "We couldn't find her. We looked everywhere. We found nothing. No sign nor trace of her." With that Beverly turned to go, snuggling the creature up to her chest so it would not move. "Data, have the senior staff meet me in my ready room at 0800 hours! Be sure Commander Riker is there!" the Captain barked as he turned to leave, upset and trying to hide the emotions he was feeling. Data was left alone in the transporter room as he looked at Miles O'Brien. "That's the kind of mission you don't want to come home from" O'Brien said, looking sadly to the floor. "Indeed" Data said, stoically, "indeed".

Will continued to walk briskly through the corridors, his posture tight, no emotion on his face. When he accidentally ran into someone, he made no acknowledgement. When he got on the turbolift, he spoke to no one. It was as if he had completely shut down. He continued to walk with a purpose, heading toward the cabin that was his destination. When he finally got there, he rang the chime. The door opened, and there stood Sheleya, in her nightgown, with a surprised look on her face. "Will, what are you doing here?" she asked. Will stood quietly for a moment. Then he looked into her eyes with the most haunted, horrified expression she had ever seen and simply whispered "She's gone" as he fell, sobbing, into Sheleya's arms.

"Was there any indication that she had been harmed in any way?" Captain Picard asked Data at their senior staff meeting that evening. "None that any of us could see" Data replied. "But it is possible with the type of creatures that live on that planet…" Beverly gave Data a glaring look, and he stopped what he was saying. Will stiffened visibly as he sat crouched over the table. He had come reluctantly, and had offered nothing to the meeting. "Let's just say" Beverly said "that if harm did come to her, there was no evidence of it." Captain Picard rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Data, is there anyone to your knowledge that would have the capability to have landed on the planet and taken Deanna?" Will cringed again, not knowing if that possibility was hopeful or dreadful. "I am not aware of any civilization that has that capability at this time, sir" Data finished. After a moment of silence Captain Picard sighed. "Then I am declaring Counselor Troi missing in action and presumably dead. She died in the line of duty, and we will give her a proper Starfleet funeral". At that Will looked up incredulously at his Captain and stood quickly, leaving the meeting. The Captain didn't try to stop him. "I will contact Luwaxna Troi and inform the ship. In the meantime, Data and Worf, I would like you to work with Will on planning the funeral. Make sure it is within three days. Everyone will need closure. Our Counselor was dearly loved." Beverly knew that no one else would notice, that Captain Picard had always won their respect as a man who could remain calm in a time of crisis, but she could see that vulnerable part of him, and she saw his bottom lip quiver slightly. "Dismissed" he said with a hoarse voice, as he turned to leave. The rest of the officers rose slowly, everyone speechless. Geordi looked at Data, pursing his lips in a sign of resignation. Beverly stopped Worf on the way out and said "I know she was special to you. I am sure she would be pleased that you are helping with the funeral." Worf turned to look at Beverly, his face contorted as if he were to trying to reign in his emotions. "Thank you, doctor" he said in a deep voice. After everyone was gone Beverly waited just a few moments. Then she followed the Captain to his quarters.

Will returned to the cabin he had come from for the meeting. He rang the chime again, and the door opened. He walked inside and plopped down on the couch. The first time he was there, Sheleya had held him as he cried, rubbing his back in soothing motions, her heart breaking at the huge wails that were coming from deep within his heart. She held him for nearly a half-an-hour until his body no longer had fluid, until his tears had run dry. Then she gently laid him down on her couch, allowing him to float off into exhausted sleep, only waking him when the Captain called looking for him because he needed to attend a meeting. Will simply drug himself up off the couch, attended the meeting, then returned without ever saying a word to anyone. Now he sat sunken deeply into the cushions, his head tilted back, his eyes closed. "Do you want to talk about it?" Sheleya asked. "No." was his only reply. She took his hand and rubbed it gently. "Will, I'm so sorry. I don't know what to say." Will sighed heavily. "She was my imzadi, Shey. Do you know what that is? It's the one person in the world you are bonded to deep in your heart and soul, your lover for an eternity. And now I have to plan her funeral." Will began to cry again, soft whimpers was all he could manage. Sheleya cried with him, holding his hand to her cheek, comforting him. "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry" was all she could whisper over and over again. She had never seen a man so broken. She allowed him to cry until he fell asleep again, and again laid him back on the couch, covering him with a blanket. Then she turned out the lights and headed towards her bedroom.

"Come" Captain Picard said as his door slid open and Beverly walked inside. She caught him wiping frantically at his eyes, trying to hide the fact that he had been crying. "Jean-Luc' Beverly said softly. He cleared his throat. "Even though we know what we're getting into when we join Starfleet, you just never expect something like this". he said softly. Beverly walked slowly towards him, placing her hands on his shoulders. "I know you loved her too" she said as she rested her forehead on his. "I did" he began to cry, his voice cracking. "I loved her as if she were my daughter. Poor Deanna, dying all alone down there in that god-forsaken place!" With that, Beverly pulled Jean-Luc close to her and held him, and they both shed their tears for the friend they had lost, for the woman that had come to mean so much to both of them.

Sometime later, while the doctor and the Captain were quietly having a cup of tea, reminiscing about Deanna, Worf's voice came over the Captain's com badge. "Worf to Captain Picard". "Go ahead, Worf" the Captain replied. "Sir, I have an incoming message from Luwaxana Troi. She says she had been trying to get ahold of Commander Riker for hours and is demanding to speak to you." The Captain sighed a heavy sigh and said "Put her through". Then he looked at Beverly who reached out and placed her hands on his in encouragement. "Jean-Luc where has that first officer of yours been! He was supposed to contact me as soon as he and Deanna arrived safely back on the ship and I know that was hours ago! Where is she? Where is my precious daughter?" Luwaxna's booming voice filled the room, and she looked about as if she would find Deanna there. The Captain stood and cleared his throat, and walked towards the viewscreen. "Mrs. Troi" he said, softly. "I'm afraid I don't have good news for you" and with that he began to explain to her all that had happened. One watching the room would've seen a tired doctor nervously clutching at her knees, not wanting to hear the news all over again. And a Captain speaking softly and gently to woman he knew would be devastated. And mother, with a mother's heart, crumpling into a heap with awkward sobs and wails, begging the gods and deities she believed in to please bring her daughter back.

Three days later a funeral was held for Commander Deanna Troi, first counselor to be on a starship, and the flagship of the federation no less, loved and esteemed by all her colleagues. It was simple and quick per Will's request, a short ceremony in ten-forward with a lot of memories shared and a lot of tears shed. The crew loved her. Deanna had not made an enemy in her life. After it was done, Will stayed behind and asked Sheleya to join him. "I don't want to be alone" he had said. So, after everyone had left ten-forward he and Sheleya sat at a distant table, not the one he and Deanna had so often shared, but a new one, Will began to drown himself in Teralian brandy brought especially to him by Guinan. "You deserve the best, tonight, Commander" she had said as she looked to Sheleya and smiled. Sheleya simply sat with him and kept him company. When he could drink no more, she hoisted him up and walked with him resting on her, back to his quarters. He gave the command to open the door and she took him into his bedroom and laid him on the bed. "Please, stay with me" Will had begged. "I don't think that's such a good idea right now, Will. You're crazy with grief" she replied. Will knew she was right. "Then sleep on the couch. I don't want to be alone tonight" he said as he began to cry, tears streaming down his cheeks. Sheleya's heart broke for the umpteenth time in the past several days. "Of course, Will. I'll stay with you tonight" she said as she squeezed his hand and held it until he was asleep, then retired to the couch where she moved around until she got comfortable, and then fell asleep.

The Crostoids had made two attempts in the past year to time travel back to the galaxy where Nervala IV was located, but to no avail. Deanna was having a harder and harder time keeping her hopes up. She had thoughts of finally being able to return to earth and to the Enterprise to be with Will, only to find herself twenty years older. "Would you be interested in an older woman, Imzadi?" she would chuckle to herself. She kept herself busy at her jobs, creating the beautiful gardens that her hosts could admire and use for food, helping out in the science lab in any way that she was able, sharing stories with her hosts who had now become her friends. She enjoyed their meals together. On several occasions they had tried to convince her to stay and join them in their special meal of "bugs", arguing that she was special to them and should be treated as such. But every time Deanna cringed and said "no thank you. I am a vegetarian." One night as they were sharing stories, Deanna talked about her job on board the Enterprise. How she counseled people. "What is counsel?" one of the Crostoids asked through their translator. Deanna tried to explain how humans and various other species sometimes have difficulty expressing their emotions or working through a difficult situation. She was trained in helping them to do that. They would talk and she would listen, then she would offer advice and guidance. She noticed one of the crostoids start chattering wildly to another one close by. "This is all so new to them" Deanna thought. "I don't even know if they have emotions." Suddenly, Deanna realized something. She was not sensing them. She was not sensing them at all. Was that because they were unreadable to her, or because she had lost her empathic abilities? She had been so long without human contact that it never occurred to her to even try and read them. But she was trying now and the only thing coming back was nothingness. She thought back to Nervala IV and Teya. At times she could read the emotions of animals, especially if they were in fear. But she had never tried to read Teya, mostly because she was in too much of a state of shock to give it much thought. But the whole time she had never sensed any kind of emotion from her. Deanna wondered. Was all this a result of circumstances, or had she lost her empathy at the same time she lost her sight? Was whatever caused one, causing the other also? She had begun to realize what a rest this had been for her, through all of the grief and trauma to not have other minds invading hers as well. But she panicked slightly, wondering if it was a permanent situation. She sighed. "I won't know anything until I can get home" she thought. She returned to her room that night a little heavy-hearted. Thinking about Teya had re-opened the wound and she cried for awhile missing her little one. Then one of the croistoids came to see her. As she heard the footsteps through the door she quickly reached for her translator and placed it in her ear. "The king wants to see you" her host gallantly said. "The king?" Deanna asked. She had never been introduced to the king of the Crostoids, nor his mate. She assumed they were a solitary couple, as many of the crostoids were. Their life was their work, their science, and their brief times of connection at the end of the day. "Will you take me to him?" Deanna asked as her companion replied that he would, and Deanna moved forward to place a hand on his back so he could lead her where she needed to go. They walked through a myriad of corridors, and Deanna could feel they were going deeper and deeper. It was fitting, she thought, that the King and his mate would have the deepest cavern in the myriad of tunnels that the crostoids lived in. She marveled at this feat of engineering, that there would be so many tunnels that went so deeply and so many caverns, all perfectly solid with a clean water system running through each individual room. Each crostoid had their own pod that they slept in, and the crostoids of lesser positions were forced to share rooms with others. Deanna was glad she had her own room. She loved the sounds of the waterfall as it fell, and occasionally the gentle sound of rain as it came through the opening at the ceiling. She was sleeping well here and healthy, keeping her thoughts positive and hopeful. Somehow she knew, she just knew, that she would get home. Deanna's thoughts were interrupted as she and her host reached the doorway to the King's cavern. She heard her companion clicking into the room and the King respond. She was led inside and could hear the sounds of rushing water, as if this cavern had two separate waterfalls and pools. The room smelled of gardenias, as if there were many flowering plants and vines covering the walls. Suddenly she heard in her ear, "Come in, my friend. I have a request of you." Deanna felt a soft appendage touch her arm and she placed her other hand on top of it. She knew this was the king. He had a regal way about him. He led her to a chair and she sat down. "I understand you do counsel" he said. Deanna chuckled at his translation. "Yes, I do. I am a trained Counselor" she replied. "My people would like to….have counsel" he said. Deanna laughed. Was he really asking what she thought he was? "Do you mean they would like to come and see me with their problems?" she asked, convinced he would have no idea what she was talking about. "Yes" the King replied. Deanna thought for a moment. "In payment to you for this service, I have assigned a larger task force to work with my science officer on a way to get you home" the King said. Deanna took in a breath. This could be very hopeful for her. Still unsure the Crostoids had any idea what counseling was, she said to the King "Of course I will help. I will be available first thing tomorrow morning if someone would like to come and see me." The king expressed his appreciation to her and softly touched her arm again. Deanna unconsciously bowed to him, finding that she liked him immensely. Her companion led her back up through the myriads of tunnels and back to her room. "How about that?" she thought. "A counselor in any galaxy". As she drifted off to sleep she thought of many things. She wondered if Will had tried to retrieve her yet from Nervala IV and thought of how he would feel once he found she wasn't there. "Oh, imzadi" she thought. Of course he would think she was gone. But Deanna believed with all her heart that their bond would survive and somehow convince him, way deep in the back of his mind, that she was still alive and still coming home. She thought of her mother, also possibly mourning her death, and it broke her heart. She thought of Teya probably happily playing outside with her companions in the forest and wondered if the little one missed her. And she thought of how, in a worse possible scenario something so good could come of it, that she would now have a job, a job she loved, and she would be helping the people that had taken such good care of her. With all the myriad of thoughts, Deanna fell asleep and slept soundly through the night. The next morning she was awakened by an odd sound. As she drifted up through the levels of sleep she heard clicking and chattering. But it was so loud and so chaotic, it was as if a stadium was full of crostoids all clicking and chattering at the same time. As she came to the final level and opened her eyes, she listened. She could hear the wild clicking and chattering at her doorway, and it sounded like it continued well on down through the corridor. Deanna quickly opened her pod and jumped out, grabbing her robe and pulling it around her. She walked towards her doorway as she quickly shoved the translator into her ear. "What's going on?" she asked to the first person she heard at her open doorway. "We are here. For counsel." The voice responded. Deanna stood frozen for a moment. "How many of you are there?" she asked warily. After a slight pause, the crostoid replied "we are all the way down the corridors to the meal room." Deanna gasped. That was at least 100 crostoid. What could they be thinking? Did they even know what they were doing? "Well, I can only take one of you at a time, and if you'll give me a second to change, we'll get started. Deanna quickly changed behind a wall in the room and came out and sat on her pod and motioned to her chair as she spoke to her first client to come in. Then she asked the others to back up a bit from the door while they were waiting, as counsel was supposed to be private. As soon as the crostoid sat on the chair, he began. "I cannot work with my foreman anymore! He is a bully. He demands things that he knows I can't do. I am a hard worker! A good worker! But all he does is belittle me!" Deanna was stunned. She was stunned firstly that the crostoids were so passionate with their emotions. She was stunned secondly that any crostoid could belittle another, they seemed like such a peaceful race. But perhaps they'd never had a chance to express themselves, to voice their opinions. Perhaps that is why the King felt it so important they they "get counsel". After Deanna collected herself she encouraged her patient to continue and their session lasted almost an hour, with Deanna giving appropriate advice for how to handle the situation. Then the next one came in, and the next, each passing a translator to the next and Deanna was amazed at the problems they were sharing. Sibling rivalry, self-esteem issues, mates having difficulty relating. "They're just like us" she thought as she guided them through the sessions, stopping once for lunch, once for dinner, and then well into the night. By bedtime she was utterly exhausted and made a mental note to check with the King about limiting hours and scheduling appointments ahead of time. "Who would've thought?" she laughed to herself as she donned her nightgown and crawled into her cozy bed, falling fast asleep.

"I think you forgot something" Beverly Crusher said as she walked through the door to Will's quarters and placed a soft furry little ball on his floor. "Squeek" it said, as it looked up at Will. Will had been studying his PADD on his sofa when he told whoever was at the door to come in. When Beverly set the creature down, Will sat up quickly, spilling his pad on the floor, his eyes wide. "Oh my god! I brought that back from Nervala IV! I completely forgot!" he exclaimed. "Yes, Commander, you did." Beverly said, sternly. "Where's it been?" Will asked, still staring at animal sitting on the floor. "Well, for awhile I took care of it. Then the bio lab wanted to study it for awhile, but they took really good care of it as well. Then the children wanted it as part of their classroom zoo, and I made sure they also cared for it properly. But now it's time for you to care for it. It's yours, it belongs to you, and no one else wants it." "Squeek" the animal said again as it looked into Will's eyes. Will then remembered why he had brought it back from the planet. It had the largest blackest eyes that reminded him of his Deanna. "Deanna" he whispered sadly as he gently reached down and took the creature up into his arms. It seemed to take to him immediately, snuggling into the crook of his arm, squeeking happily. "I don't know what to do with…." Will said to Beverly until he looked up and saw the door shut behind her. "Damn you, Beverly" he said under his breath as he looked down again to his new companion. "Well, little guy, it looks like you're stuck with me for awhile. Do you have a name? I wonder what Deanna called you?" "Squeek, squeek!" the creature replied as if it were answering Will. "Hmmm. How about Frank? I've always liked that name. Frank it is, then." Will said. "Squeek" was its reply. "I'll have to get you a box, and some food, Bev will have to tell me what you eat. And a water dish." Will thought out loud. He did some checking and was able to replicate all the things he needed for his new pet. He really had no desire to care for a pet, Data's cat Spot was bad enough. But it was like a piece of Deanna to him, something he could hold onto in the midst of such dark days. The first night they spent together he put Frank in his little bed on the floor. But just as Will was about to fall asleep, he felt a little warm fuzzy crawl up onto him and curl up on his shoulder. "Oh no you don't, Frank. No pets in the bed" Will said sternly as he lifted Frank up and placed her down in her bed again. "Squeek" Frank protested. The next night Frank tried again, and Will put her back in her bed again. The third night Frank curled up on Will's stomach, and Will was too tired to move. By the fourth night Will had given up, and Frank became a permanent part of his sleeping arrangements. He sort of didn't mind, Frank brought him some of the warmth that he missed of his Deanna. He found himself thinking more and more of someone else he wanted in his bed, and with great guilt he tried his best to shoo those thoughts away. But they persisted. Since he had come back without Deanna, he had leaned heavily on Sheleya for emotional support and they had spent countless nights sleeping in each other's quarters, though separately. He knew he was falling in love with her, and that she was already in love with him. They both resisted it, though it had been enough time to grieve Deanna, how could he ever be with someone other than his imzadi? But his imzadi was gone. She was never coming back. And Will didn't know if he really wanted to spend the rest of his life alone.

Geordi, Worf and Data sat around the poker table staring at Will's large pile of chips. Geordi sighed and place his cards down on the table. "I'm out" he said. Worf looked at Data who looked at Will. "Arrrrrrr" Worf growled under his breath. "I will see you, Commander, and raise you fifty". Will kept his poker face as Data again looked to him to gauge a reaction. "You're not going to get any hints from me, Data" Will said, stoically. Data then looked back at his cards. "It is my conclusion at this time that Commander Riker is not bluffing. Under those circumstances, I fold" he said. Will looked at Worf with a large grin. Then he placed his cards on the table. "Grrrrrr" Worf growled as he slammed his cards down. "You are a formidable opponent, Sir" he said in his low gruff voice. Will laughed as he reached out and gathered all the chips into his arms, pulling them towards his pile. Geordi leaned back in his chair, studying his commanding officer for a moment. "You seem a lot happier these days, Commander" he said. Will smiled again. "I'm trying, Geordi. Deanna's death almost destroyed me. God, I loved…love her so much. I still struggle everyday. But I am learning how to cope." "We all miss her" Worf said, sadly. As if on cue, Geordi chimed in "Where's Sheleya tonight?" Will knew what he was asking. "She had to put in extra hours down in cartography. She sends her regrets but will join us next week." Will replied. A few moments of silence passed. Then Gerodi asked "how long has it been since we lost Counselor Troi?" Data spoke up in answer. "Precisely one year, three months, seven days…" "Thank you, Data" Will interrupted him. "A year and three months" Geordi pondered. "Hmmmm….seems like an appropriate amount of time to grieve." Will sat up straighter in his chair and tugged at his uniform. "Geordi….." he started. "Commander Thomkins does seem like a reasonable woman. For a human. I believe Deanna would have liked her." Worf chimed in. "Alright, alright. I know what you two are hinting at." Will said, his cheeks turning red. "Don't you think Deanna would want you to be happy, sir?" Geordi said. Worf chimed in again "I believe she would" he said confidently. Data tilted his head to one side. "Is this what is called encouraging a friend to move on with his life?" he asked to the three other officers. "Not just moving on, Data, moving on with someone" Geordi replied. "Oh" Data said as if he just picked up the hint. "You are encouraging Commander Riker to develop a romantic relationship with Lieutenant Thomkins." "Well, it does seem like they make a good pair" Geordi continued. "For Klingons, the grieving time only lasts three months, then they are looking for a new mate". Worf added. "Okay everyone" Will said, trying to hide his grin. "I appreciate your concern for my love life. But no one will ever be Deanna to me." He paused as if thinking of and desperately missing his imzadi. "She does not have to be Deanna" Worf said. "She only has to make you smile and want to get up in the morning" Geordi grinned. Will raised his hands in surrender. "I believe the Counselor would be happy for you" Data intoned. "I give up" Will said, exasperated. "I'll think about all of your advice". "Glad to hear it!" Geordi stated. Geordi looked at Worf and smiled. They had hoped this for their commander and friend for some time now. He deserved to be happy after all he'd been through. With that, the four friends began to clear the table and clean up, singing, laughing, and cracking jokes as they went along.

"They said what?!" Beverly exclaimed, slightly incredulous. "They want me to go out with her, to begin a romantic relationship." Will said. "Really?" she said again, as if trying to discern this new development. Will looked down at his hands as he sat in Beverly's office. He had wanted to talk to his sister/friend about it before he decided anything. Beverly was Deanna's close friend and if she had any protestations he would not pursue Sheleya. Beverly thought for a moment. "I can't pretend it wouldn't bother me, Will. I always felt you and Deanna belonged together. But now that she's gone…" "Yes, what are the rules now that she's gone?" Will asked. "I can't imagine ever loving a woman again like I loved my imzadi, but Geordi had a point when he said if she makes me happy and makes me want to face the day, it's worth having the relationship". "Does she make you happy?" Beverly asked. Will thought for a moment. "Yes, she does. She's really been there for me, Bev. And she's been completely appropriate all along, and very honoring of my and Deanna's relationship". "Hmmmm" Beverly thought for a few moments. "Then I think it would be foolish of you to not pursue it". "Really?" he said, a little surprised. "Yes." Beverly responded. "If I know Deanna, I believe that wherever she is, she would be cheering you on. She was a very thoughtful and generous imzadi". "That she was" Will agreed, a pain seeping through his heart. "Then go on, Will. Go live your life. Go have some fun. Doctor's orders." Beverly said with a wink. Will looked up at Beverly from where he was sitting. He reached out and placed his hand on hers. "Thanks doc" he said with a smile on his face as he rose to leave.

There was one last thing Will Riker needed to do before he asked Sheleya out on an "official date". In a week the Enterprise would be close enough to Betazed that he could catch a shuttle. There was someone he needed to see.

Will knocked on the door of the Troi mansion. Mr. Homm opened it, giving Will his usual blank expression with an ever so slight smile. "William!" Luwaxan Troi called from the back of the house. She had known he was here, of course she could sense him. She came running to the door, arms flailing, grabbing Will by the shoulders and kissing both cheeks. "I knew you'd come! I knew it!" she exclaimed. Will smiled sadly and took Luwaxna's hand and kissed it. She looked down at him with equally sad eyes. "I had to" was all he said. "Is it too late?" "No, I waited for you" Luwaxana said, casting her eyes downward. "I understood that it was too soon when I called you after losing Deanna. I understood that it would take you time." Will nodded and followed her in to the living room, sitting down on one of the grand couches. "Mr. Homm, get us some tea" Luwaxana said as she sat facing Will. "How are you doing William?" she asked. "I should be asking you the same thing" he said, solemnly, then cleared his throat. "I could be better, but I'm surviving. I miss my imzadi". Luwaxana tilted her head as tears filled her eyes. "Me too. I miss my daughter" she said. Then, a light filled her face. "You've met someone!" she smiled. Will's cheeks turned red as he looked to the ground. "I guess I kind of wanted to ask you about that. Maybe I'm here looking for approval" he said, nervously. Luwaxana stood and sat next to him, taking his hand. "William, Deanna would want you to be happy. Not to waste your life away pining for someone who wasn't coming back. You have my approval. You have Deanna's approval". Will breathed a sigh of relief as he smiled back at Luwaxana. "I think you'd like her" he said, as Mr. Homm entered with their tea service and the three sat together and talked and reminisced well into the afternoon.

The next day Luwaxana scheduled the ceremony. The reason Will had come. She had asked him many months ago to join her on Betazed, to bring Deanna's uniform and some of her personal items to be burned, and then they would scatter the ashes in the Valley of Song, as was the Betazoid custom. Will had been unable to even enter Deanna's quarters at the time, so he asked Beverly to go through her things and bring him the necessary items. She did, but when Will held one of Deanna's uniforms, holding it to his face and inhaling her scent, he broke down completely, and couldn't go any further. Beverly quickly gathered everything back up, including some other items she had saved for Will, and quickly left him to grieve. She had saved everything and when he was finally ready he retrieved the uniform and planned his leave for Betazed. So here he was now, a year later, ready to join in the sacred ceremony. Luwaxana informed him there would be about 100 people there, including Deanna's close friends. She and Will had placed Deanna's things in the fire the night before, and she was closely holding the precious urn that contained the ashes. Luwaxana, Mr. Homm, and Will took a transport and headed for the Valley of Song. As they neared the area, the transport dropped them off and they would walk the rest of the way. "This is it, William. This is our sacred place." Luwaxana said in hushsed tones. As Will stepped off the transport, an eerie feeling came over him and goosebumps broke out on his body. He could sense its essence, he could almost feel the "holiness" of the area they were about to come upon. Off in the distance they could see the gathering crowd on the edge of the valley. It was beautiful. In the Valley of Song, due to unusual atmospheric conditions, they sky maintained the colors of sunset at all times. It was awash with hues of indigo, violet, and orange, all swirled together in a Monet-esque painting. It reminded Will of the painting in the Betazed library where he and Deanna had first said goodbye. She had been teaching him how to feel the painting and allow it to soak into his being. Now, as he looked at the sky above what would be her final resting place, he could feel her again. Feel her deep into his soul. The gathered crowd was eerily silent, but as Will, Luwaxana, and Mr. Homm moved a few feet closer, Will began to hear something. It was faint and melodic, almost like a chorus of angels singing. "What is tha…." he began, but Luwaxana immediately put her finger to her lips and said "Shhhh." Will continued on in silence, and the singing became louder and louder. It was a mournful song, as if the angels were weeping, and the chorus of voices moaned a sound that was a cross between the howls of a distant wind and the chimes of a phantom organ. The voices swelled and ebbed and flowed over and over again, howling, mourning, weeping. Will thought it was the most beautiful and tragic thing he had ever heard. His heart began to weep, and as they drew closer the song began to meld into his soul, and tears began to gently stream down his cheeks. They finally reached the crowd, and Will realized the music was not coming from them. There was no choir there. It was in the trees, in the grass, in the wind. He and Luwaxana stepped through the crowd while Mr. Homm stayed behind. He followed her up to the edge of the cliff. The bottom of the valley glowed, as if trickles of sunlight or thin veins of gold ran through it. It was many colors to match the sky, and the view was breathtaking. Will thought of how many Betazoid citizens had been buried down there. Luwaxna held the urn close to her heart, and turned to face the friends who were gathered. Will followed her lead and did the same. No one spoke, but Will could somehow tell it was not because they were speaking telepathically, but because the ceremony contained no words. How could it? There could be no words when one loses one they love so deeply. Luwaxana lifted one hand with two fingers pointing upward, then slowly traced them around in an imaginary circle, then down from the top of her head to her heart, and rested them on the urn. The crowd did the same, and Will tried to follow along. He could hear soft sobs. Then Luwaxana turned again toward the valley and Will followed. She held the urn up as she began to weep, looking down to the valley. She took the lid off and set it gently on the ground. Then, she reached over to clasp Will's hand with one of hers. "Rest in peace, my little one" she said quietly as she turned the vase over and let the wind carry the ashes out over the valley and slowly down to the ground. It was silent for a few moments, and then the crowd began to sing a song. It was different than the howling Will had heard before, it was a song of confirmation, a song of finality. Luwaxana joined in, and though Will couldn't understand the Betazoid words, he understood its essence. When the song was done, everyone slowly turned and headed back to the transports. Will found it interesting that no one spoke, no one greeted or acknowledged one another. Everyone was quiet as they got on the transports to head home. Luwaxana spoke not a word to Will on the way home, nor for the rest of the evening. He understood this to be an ongoing part of the ceremony, and leaving her to her solitude, headed up the stairs of the Troi mansion to his bedroom. He had requested to not stay in Deanna's old room, as he thought it too painful, but as he passed by the closed door, he stopped. His heart was beating loudly as he reached his hand to the doorknob. Then he stopped again, removed his hand from the knob, and headed for his room. He gathered up his suitcase and all his things and returned to Deanna's old room. He placed his hand on the doorknob again, and slowly turned it. His breathing was heavy as he opened the door and peeked in, then entered, seeing Deanna's bed with the pink satin bedspread and feminine decorations, just as she had left it. He felt as if he was in a trance, had transported back through time. He changed into his pajamas, pulled down the covers and crawled in.

The next morning Luwaxana called Will's name as she had gone to his room and found nothing there. Had he left without saying goodbye? She couldn't imagine it. Then she walked by Deanna's room and saw the door slightly ajar. She quietly opened it and peeked in. There, in Deanna's bed, was Commander William T. Riker, all six foot four of him, curled up in a fetal position with a soft frilly pink comforter wrapped tightly all around him, sleeping like a baby. Luwaxana smiled to herself as she gently closed the door. An hour later Will, dressed in his uniform with suitcase in hand came down the stairs to join Luwaxana and Mr. Homm for breakfast. She never mentioned the change in bedrooms. "William, good morning!" she said in her usual effervescent manner. Will smiled at her and nodded to Mr. Homm. He took a seat, placed a napkin on his lap, and began munching on Betazoid breakfast delicacies. "My dear, what did you think of the ceremony?" Luwaxana asked. "It was absolutely beautiful" Will replied. "Just the kind of thing Deanna would have loved". "Yes, I think so too" Luwaxana replied. "She used to love to go to the Valley of Song to sit for hours listening to the chorus and thinking of her father." "What is that chorus, Luwaxana? I couldn't tell where it was coming from" Will asked. "No one knows, William. We have studied it for centuries. Some say it's the wind in the trees. Some say the rocks sing. No one knows for sure." Luwaxana replied. Will raised his eyebrows in amazement. There were so many wonderful things about this planet. "Are you sure you can't stay longer, dear?" Luwaxana asked, patting his hand with hers. "No, I really do have to go. But thank you Luwaxana. This has been really good for my soul". "It's been good for all our souls, William. And keep my posted on that new friend of yours. And please, William, don't make yourself scarce. We love having you here." With that Will gave Luwaxna a hug and a kiss, and after bowing to Mr. Homm, picked up his suitcase and belongings and headed towards the door. When he reached it, he paused for a moment and turned around, looking all around the room as if to soak in Deanna's essence one last time. Luwxana smiled at him, understanding completely, and then he turned to go. "Goodbye, Wiliam" he heard in his mind as he headed for the shuttle station.

Deanna Troi was learning all kinds of things in her new job as Counselor of Crostia. It was fascinating, and she was etching everything into her mind so she could write about it when she returned to the Enterprise. The beings were beginning to find their rhythm with her, some learning how to take charge of things themselves, some learning how best to use her services. She had about 10 appointments each day, and it took up most of her time. She allowed herself one day off a week, to sometimes do her gardening up on the surface, and sometimes recite stories to herself while sitting by her waterfall. The dormant season was coming, so the gathering had reached a frantic pace. Deanna learned that there was actually a winter period here on this planet, complete with snow. She suspected she would be stormed with new clients when everyone had to stay inside for long months. On this particular day she was feeling hopeful. The King, true to his word, had assigned extra scientists to help work on the project to find her a way home. They were creating a new and working time machine that they hoped to use as soon as the summer period came again. She arose from her cozy pod and went over to her pool, where she did her ablutions for the morning and got herself ready. She had no idea what she looked like, and figured it probably wasn't too attractive at this point. But she did her best, without being able to see, to do her hair and choose attractive clothing. Little did she know that the male crostoids had spent many hours discussing her availability as a viable partner. They were quite attracted to her uniqueness and differences, as well as her exotic essence. One in particular, Beted, had had his eye on her for some time. And today was the day he was going to show his appreciation for her. He had an appointment with her later in the morning, and bragged to all his friends how he was going to be her mate. Deanna breezed through her first few appointments quite easily, one was an issue of speaking up more, one was an issue of not speaking up quite so much, and one had to do with a mother-daughter dispute. It was time for her appointment with Beted, and she beckoned him to enter. He sat in the chair across from her. She had been counseling him for several months about his job, and ways he could advance up the order and better himself. She had noticed he was quite ambitious. "Good morning Beted" Deanna said as she smiled. "Hello Counselor" he replied as he looked at her, admiring her beauty. "What is going on for you since we last talked?" Deanna asked as she settled back in her chair and got comfortable. Beted began to share how he had approached his boss to ask for more difficult assignments in their gathering season so that he may prove himself worthy of advancement. "And how did that go?" she asked, prodding him to continue. "Quite well, to be perfectly honest." He replied. "I've been working harder for about a week now, and my foreman came to me and said he was quite impressed and that true to my word, I had proven myself to him". Deanna smiled. She admired this being and his honesty. They talked for their full allotted hour and Deanna noticed Betek seemed quite relaxed and happy, chatting with her about non-therapy things as if they'd known each other forever. When time was up Deanna let Betek know that others were waiting. They both stood, and just before he turned to leave, Betek placed his appendage on Deanna's shoulder. Then he pulled her towards him and held her close. "Betek! What are you doing?" Deanna said sternly, trying to pull away from him. But he held her tightly, his hand still on her shoulder as Deanna felt something warm and liquidy there. Finally, he let Deanna go as she placed her hand up to where he'd touched her. "Deanna Troi, counselor of Crostia, you now belong to me, Betek, Worker of Crostia. You are mine now. Forever and always." Betek stated confidently. "What the…" Deanna exclaimed as her eyes narrowed in anger and her hand felt a thick sticky substance on her shoulder. "What's this?!" she said as she tried to pull her hand off of her shoulder but it stuck to the thick goo that was there. As she yanked and pulled, long strands of the thick goo stretched out, still attached to her hand. Finally, she pulled it free, and for the first time, noticed the smell. It smelled musky, almost like human pheromones. "Betek!" she yelled. "What did you do to me?" Deanna was angry and panicked. She couldn't see to get any idea of what had just happened. "I tagged you" was all he said. "You what?" she replied. "I tagged you. You are now my wife." "Like hell I am!" Deanna yelled. She was not often given to cursing, but felt this situation warranted it. "You cannot avoid it. Once you are tagged, you belong to the one who tagged you. It is our custom. It is our law." With that, Betek turned to go. "I shall see you later, my love" he said as he sauntered through the doorway. "We will need to make living arrangements." As he left, gasps and loud chattering and clicking could be heard from those waiting in the corridor for their counseling appointments. Deanna was disgusted. What had he done to her shoulder? How dare he talk as if he owned her? She walked her way towards the door and said to her next appointment "Take me to the King, now! All appointments are cancelled for the rest of the day!" Everyone heard her in their translators. She could hear them back, exclaiming "I can't believe he did it!" and "How did he get to be so lucky? I wanted her for mine!" Deanna cursed again and sighed. She was discovering this culture to be much more outdated than she had thought. She had her clean hand on her client's shoulder as he walked her through the corridors and down through the shafts to the King's dwelling. "Your highness" he said through the doorway when they had arrived. "Counselor Deanna is here to see you". They stood and waited. After a moment the King could be heard from inside. "Bring her in." The client led Deanna in and then turned to go. "I shall wait outside, Counselor" he said as Deanna nodded in his direction. Once Deanna was completely inside the King gently took her hand and led her to a chair. He placed his translator in his ear and said "What can I do for you, Deanna?" in a most pleasant voice. "I was assaulted today by one of the crostoids" she said, irritated. "one of my clients, Beted." The King's voice was very alarmed. "Assaulted?!" he exclaimed. "How dare anyone hurt you! He shall be punished severely! What has he done?" Deanna then explained exactly what had happened, even lifting her hand to show him the sticky substance and on her shoulder and telling him that Betek said she had been "tagged". "I am disgusted!" she exclaimed. She waited to hear the King's pronouncement on this indignity but all she got back was silence. She waited a few more moments, then heard the King sigh into the translator. "You were tagged?" he asked, knowing the answer. "Yes" she said. "Oh my" he worriedly said back. "What? What's wrong?" she asked in a panic. "Is this substance going to kill me?" The King chuckled. "no, no my dear. It's just that we have laws here. Laws we must abide by. I had no idea any of my men would even consider tagging you, otherwise I would have instituted a law against it. I'm sorry, Deanna. There's nothing I can do. I am afraid you are now Betek's wife." Deanna stood abruptly, fists clenched by her side. "Your highness" she said through gritted teeth. "You and your people have been beyond gracious to me, and I have strived to be part of this community and serve to the best of my ability. But I will not, and I repeat WILL NOT be forced into marriage against my will!" She heard the King sigh again. "Deanna, please sit down and let me explain". She exhaled the breath she'd been holding and sat down again. "In our culture, it is an honor to be tagged. Our women do not consider it an insult or being forced in any way. In fact, they aspire to it. You could do worse than to marry a man like Betek. He is honorable and hard-working and considered quite the prize by most of our women." "but your highness" Deanna responded. "Where I come from….in my culture we prize free will above all else. Our freedom to choose. To choose who we want to be with." The King raised an eyebrow that Deanna could not see. A few moments of silence passed and the King sighed once more. "Deanna, my friend, I cannot altar this event at this point in time. It would create such an imbalance in our society to reverse a law that has served us for thousands of generations. However, I am not without compassion. If you agree to be Betek's mate for the time being, I will do whatever I can to find a way to remedy this." Deanna opened her mouth to protest, then closed it again. She understood what the King was saying and had observed enough alien cultures to know that for some, certain laws were preeminent and the foundation of the society, to altar that could be destructive. She stood up from her chair. "Your highness, I will do what I can." I will marry Betek, I will live with Betek, but I will not be with him." The King understood, and Deanna knew he was going to fight an uphill battle to try and release her from this. "Sir, thank you so much. I know how difficult this will be for you." "You mean much to us, Deanna. I will see what I can do." With that Deanna felt her way toward the door to her waiting escort outside. But just before she got to the door she turned to face the King. "Sir, if you will, what is this substance on my shoulder? Can it be washed off?" she asked, grimacing as she touched it again. "It cannot be washed off, Deanna, but it will fade in time. When it has faded, it will leave a tiny scar on your shoulder." The King replied. "A-A what?!" Deanna exclaimed. The King sighed, knowing she would not be happy with this. "It is a brand, sort of like a tattoo. It is the seal of the clan of Betek. It will show others that you are belong to him. In the meantime, the substance on your shoulder will do the same thing." Deanna rolled her eyes as she turned and muttered under her breath "Just one more reason to get back to the Enterprise so I can have Beverly remove the damned thing."

At 0700 hours that evening Deanna was to meet with Beted in her quarters to retrieve all of her items so she could move in with him where he was living. She decided she would turn this to her advantage as much as possible. She would not be a victim in this scenario. When Betek arrived her brought her a gift; a plate of her favorite fruits from the gathering. "Thank you, Betek" she said as she took the tray and set it down by her pool. "Are you ready, my love?" he asked. "Do you have your things packed?" Deanna took Betek's hand and sat him down in the chair. "Betek" she said, gently. "I am blind. I cannot see anything. Over time I have gotten to know my quarters so that I can expertly navigate here. It would be difficult for me to move into your home, I would be stumbling over things. That would make me very unhappy." Betek thought for a moment. It was unprecedented that a male move in with a female, but he sort of liked the idea. It appealed to the rebel side of him. He stood and looked at her sleeping pod. "We will have to bring in a larger pod, my dear. We couldn't both fit in that one." He said. Deanna crossed her arms and looked his direction. "Betek" she said, again with a kind tone. "Betazed women are not accustomed to moving in with strangers and suddenly start mating with them. I do not even know if our physiologies would be compatible. I am not comfortable. Could you give me time?" Betek didn't like this idea at all. But he stared for a moment as his lovely Deanna and was taken with her, and found himself unable to disagree. She seemed so fragile, so in need of him, just as she had hoped he would see her, and his heart melted. "Alright, my love, I will give you time. Just know that it will be difficult for me. I hope you will feel comfortable soon." With that, Deanna felt she had gained some power in the situation and encouraged Betek to move his own sleeping pod into her quarters. There was no reason they couldn't be friends. She did admire him and like him quite a bit. She wondered what he looked like. She couldn't imagine that being an insectasoid species he could be in any way attractive to her. And she was in love with someone else, anyway. She wouldn't tell Betek that. She knew that they all thought she would never be able to go home. But she still had hope. She just had to buy some time until the King could release her from this arrangement, and then hopefully the new time machine would be built. She prayed for that.

When Will returned to the Enterprise, he felt encouraged. He headed towards his quarters and the door automatically opened for him. But he barely had one foot inside when a little furry creature came running out from under the bed, and ran directly up his leg into his arms, squeaking wildly. "Well, hello little fella! Miss me?" Will said as he set his bag down and held Frank up, looking her in the face. Frank simply squeaked and squirmed until Will nestled her in his arms again. "I missed you too buddy" he said as they snuggled for a moment. Data had taken care of Frank in Will's absence, and had communicated to the Commander on Betazed of Frank's reluctance to come out from under the bed. "He seems to only be drawn to you, sir" Data had said. Will smiled at the thought and held Frank up again. "Who would've ever thought I'd enjoy having a pet, Frank? I think we make a pretty good team." Frank squiggled again and squeaked, and Will could've almost sworn he saw a smile on her face. He set Frank down on the floor and she scuttled over to the bed, where she crawled up the side and curled herself up in the middle of the comforter, falling fast asleep. Will brought his bag into the bedroom and began to unpack. He had someone he wanted to see as soon as he was finished.

Captain Picard sat in his quarters, reading his favorite book and relaxing with a cup of Earl Grey. He sat on his sofa, leaning against the arm with his legs sprawled out across the cushions. How he loved this time of the evening when he could have some solitude and quiet. Just as he was about to turn the page, his chime sounded. "Come" he said as he set his teacup down on the side table and sighed. Will Riker walked through his door, stepped over the chair and sat down, facing his Captain. "Ah, Number One, welcome back. To what do I owe this honor?" the Captain said, closing his book and genuinely happy to have a social visit from Will. It had been too long since they had spent any time together. He had felt awkward about the situation with Deanna so they had never talked about it. He'd wanted to be there for Will, but in his own grief, had somewhat shut him out. "I figured it was about time I pay you a visit" Will said, somberly. "Oh?" the Captain replied, raising an eyebrow. "Yes, sir. I feel like I've been careless in our relationship since Deanna died. It felt awkward to talk about her with you, and then I feel like I kind of shut you out. Sir, I am sorry." Will looked to the ground, hurt obvious in his eyes. The Captain stood and walked over, placing his hand on Will's shoulder. "Oh Will, I am the one who's sorry. I'm the one who shut you out. I should have been there for you." Will looked up, surprised. "When Deanna died, I didn't know what to say to you. My heart was in so much pain myself, that I shielded my own hurt instead of paying attention to yours. Can you ever forgive me?" Will stood up from his chair and did something he'd never done before. He hugged his Captain. And his Captain hugged him back. When they broke the embrace, Will had tears in his eyes. "It has been a difficult nine years, hasn't it, sir?" "Yes, yes indeed it has" the Captain replied as he offered Will a cup of tea. They spent the next several hours talking about how they both had dealt with Deanna's death and all of the events leading up to it, how each had felt afraid to approach the other, how it had been such a painful and sensitive subject. Then Captain Picard broke out a bottle of wine from his family's vineyard in France, and they finished off a bottle, laughing and reminiscing about some of the memories they had of Deanna. "Remember when I offered her your replicated mug of tea with the frog in it?" They both laughed hysterically about Deanna's expression when the frog landed on her face and stuck there. "What about when she turned into an amphibian with that virus?" the Captain reminded. "It was probably the only time I didn't think of Deanna Troi as attractive. Ugh". Will laughed again as he remembered the time Deanna had lured him into a hot bubble bath so she could shave off his beard. The Captain raised an eyebrow at Will and then they both burst out laughing again. Hysterical, uncontrollable laughter. Had Deanna been there, she would've known right away that they were finally releasing the last of their emotions surrounding her death, and doing that together. After awhile Will's laughter turned to tears as the Captain's laughter died down and they both sat somberly for a few moments. Then Will spoke. "She was the love of my life, Captain. I will never be in love again like I was in love with her." The Captain looked thoughtful for a moment, then said to Will "perhaps not. But that doesn't mean you can't be in love again." Will looked up at his Captain as a small smile crept across his face. "Et tu, Brutus?" he said as he told the Captain how his friends had all been trying to get him to ask out Sheleya. "And I think I'm finally ready to try my hand at another relationship" he said. "I am going to ask Sheleya out." The Captain stood up along with Will and shook his hand. "I'm happy for you, Will. You deserve to be happy." As Captain Picard walked him to the doorway Will turned and said "Thank you, Captain" as the Captain nodded to him. Once Will walked through the doorway and it slid shut behind him, he realized he felt like a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders.

"No, I don't think that would be a good idea" Sheleya said to her junior officer, handing the PADD back to her. "But we need to have a staff meeting next week, so we'll broach the subject then and see what the others have to say." The junior officer nodded and took the PADD over to his station in stellar cartography as a voice came over Shelaya's comm. Badge. "Commander Riker to Commander Thomkins" it said. Sheleya pressed her badge as she smiled. "Thomkins here, sir. What can I do for you?" "Are you alone?" he asked. Shelaya looked at the one lone officer sitting at his station, and slowly backed into a corner so she couldn't be heard. "I am now, Will" she said. "Welcome back." "Thanks. What are you doing Friday night?" he asked. "Well, I don't think I have anything planned. What's up?" she responded. "Would you like to go out with me?" Will said. A moment of silence passed as Sheleya tried to digest what he was actually asking. "Um…yeah…I guess so. Sure." she said, still a bit confused. Was Will asking her out? On a date? "Great!" he replied. "I'll pick you up at 0700 hours". And with that he was gone. Sheleya leaned up against the bulkhead scratching her head. What had just happened? Surely Will hadn't asked her out in a romantic way. She figured he'd probably never ask a woman out again, after Deanna. She'd given up on him months ago. To her he was just a friend, and she worked hard not to think of him any other way. She scratched her head again, wondering what they were going to do and what she should wear. It felt too awkward to ask him further, since she may have misinterpreted what he was asking. Friday night came and she decided on a compromise. Jeans with a nice purple satin blouse. Casual, yet chic. She put her hair up into a pony-tail and donned her heels. She gave herself a once over in the mirror. "Hmmm" she thought. "I wonder if he'll like this?" Then she chastised herself for thinking in those terms. But she was nervous. She wouldn't be honest with herself if she didn't admit that. My god, it was Will Riker. Every woman on the ship wanted to go out with him. She had always thought Deanna to be the luckiest woman in the world. Her door chime interrupted her thoughts and she went to answer it, hands shaking slightly. When he walked in he was dressed similar to her, in jeans and a nice button-down shirt, handsome as ever. She loved his broad shoulders and his beard, and those gorgeous blue eyes. Will glanced slightly up and down her outfit and smiled. "You look beautiful" he said as Sheleya blushed. "Come, my lady" he offered his arm. "We have some shopping to do". Sheleya raised an eyebrow at this, as she took his arm and he led her out of her quarters and towards the holodeck. Once there he punched in a program that he had created, and the door opened to Bourbon Street in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Sheleya laughed. "Will! This is fabulous! I've never been to New Orleans!" They stepped through the arch and then it disappeared. People were having a party all around them and jazz music was blaring out from the bars. "You haven't seen anything yet, Shey!" he yelled to be heard over the din. "I've got some nice boutiques to show you, and then a dinner reservation at one of the best jazz bars in town!" Sheleya tilted her head back and laughed. This was going to be one of the most fun evenings of her life. She and Will were so relaxed together, she wondered what she had ever had to be nervous about. They shopped for a long while and she found some treasured items while he bought her a small stuffed animal. Then they went to dinner and feasted on oysters Rockefeller, lobster and key lime pie. They enjoyed an after dinner drink outdoors under the moonlight. They could hardly believe how much time had passed when they finally ended the program and walked outside the holodeck. Will felt he was finally "normal" again, though in their hours of conversation the subject of Deanna had not come up once. He could not face sharing her with Sheleya now that she was his new love interest, the pain of Deanna's absence was just too deep. But Will did believe he could fall in love again, and that he could be happy again. He buried Deanna into a special place deep inside his heart, and offered the rest of it to Sheleya. She took his arm as they walked to her quarters, talking and laughing the whole way. Once they got there, she turned to tell him just what a wonderful time she had had. But before she could speak, Will had taken her face in his hands and leaned down to kiss her. His touch was soft and gentle, slow and sensuous, barely brushing her lips, but it made Shelaya shiver all over. When he pulled away from her, she was breathless and could not speak. Will smiled as he softly said "Good night, Sheleya", and turned to head back to his quarters. When he arrived, there was no warm ball of fur to greet him. "Hey Frank?" he asked as he looked around his quarters. Frank slowly peeked out from under the bed, offered a "squeek", then disappeared again. "That's odd" Will thought, but figured Frank would come out at bedtime. Will took some time to straighten his apartment and then got ready for bed, pulling down the covers and crawling in. His last thought before falling asleep was to his Deanna. Even though he knew, he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she would want him to fall in love again, he still whispered the words that broke his heart. "I'm sorry, Imzadi. I'm so sorry". He fell asleep before he had a chance to realize that Frank had never joined him, and for the first time ever, would remain under the bed for the entire night.

Months passed and Will and Sheleya grew closer. Everyone could see the difference in Will, like he finally had something to live for. The women in stellar cartography would gather around Sheleya excitedly to hear her tales of what it was like to be romanced by William T. Riker. She positively glowed. Indeed, they had fallen in love. Will kept his thoughts about Deanna to brief private moments in his quarters, but the rest of the time he tried to give himself as fully as possible to Sheleya. He truly wanted to move on with his life. And Sheleya was a wonderful woman, kind and thoughtful, beautiful, successful. And he loved her. He had not thought it possible, but he did truly love her. One night in ten forward, Will was waiting for her, nursing a brandy and staring out the viewport windows. He was lost in his thoughts until a voice came up behind him. "A penny for your thoughts, Commander" Guinan said, softly. Will turned and motioned for her to have a seat. She sat down and looked intently at him, making him slightly uncomfortable. "Well" he started, "I'm sure you are aware that I've been seeing Sheleya Thomkins for awhile now. We have grown quite close." "As in falling in love close?" Guinan asked with a smile. "Yes." Will said, a little sheepishly. "And that's a problem?" Guianan asked, prodding him to continue. "Yes. No. I don't know." Will replied. After a moment, Guinan said "Go on". Will sighed and twirled the glass around in his hands. "I think I'm going to ask her to marry me" he finally said. "Oh, that's the problem." Guinan replied with a straight face. Will smiled and shook his head. "No, that's not the problem" he replied to her teasing. "Then what is? It looks to me like you are moving on with your life, you've found someone to share it with and all is right in the universe" she said. Will paused for a moment and then said "Well, all is right in this universe. In the one that was supposed to be, the one where Deanna and I were supposed to be together, all is not right in that one." "And you feel guilty" Guinan offered. "Not guilty, so much." Will said. "I know Deanna was so gracious about everything and she would have wanted this for me. But somehow it makes things so final, as if I was secretly hoping she would still come back to me, but marrying Sheleya means it's over. Just totally, finally and completely over." Guinan let out a small breath of air as she thought of her response to Will. Then she placed her hands over his and said "Will, I think you're right. I think Deanna would have wanted this for you. And to be perfectly honest, and you know I've been around a really really long time, I have learned that nothing is ever truly over." With that she got up and returned to her bar, leaving Will a bit perplexed at what she had meant, but somehow relived at having gained her approval of marrying Sheleya.

Deanna and Betek were growing close. Once he had realized that he could actually not have her for his wife, due to her own stubborn will, and he certainly didn't want to force himself on her, he began to open up in a new way, not as an authority nor a husband nor even a crostoid, but as a friend, open and vulnerable. Deanna found underneath the boisterous exterior was a soft-hearted and tender man. They would spend many hours in the evening just getting to know each other, sharing stories of their cultures, Betek describing himself to her so she could get a better idea of what he looked like and how his alien body worked. They learned each other's humor and would often tell each other stories and joke and tease each other. If Betek had thought he was ever in love with her, her certainly was now. And if Deanna were to be honest with herself, she found herself having feelings for him as well. At night after he was asleep she would lay in her pod chastising herself, thinking of her imzadi. But as a counselor, she understood it was perfectly normal in her situation to develop feelings for this alien man she had grown so close to. Will would've understood. And Betek could never replace her imzadi. She wouldn't let him. She had been told that the new time machine had been built, and in a few days the Chief Botanist and Science Officer would be taking it out on a test run and if it worked properly, they would begin their search for her earth. She was excited and hopeful beyond measure. And if they found earth, and all things went as planned, they would return for her and take her back. Back to her home. Back to her job. Back to her imzadi. Deanna smiled to herself as she rolled onto her side savoring images of her and Will as she fell fast asleep.

Deanna, Betek, the King and his mate, and many, many of the Crostoids gathered around the launching pad as the two officers entered the newly built machine and locked the door shut. It was a launching pad of sorts, but everyone knew and had seen previously that a time machine doesn't actually launch, it simply "disappears" into a different time zone and place. So that was the hope for today. Deanna stood nervously, winding her hands around each other. Betek placed his arm around her, and the King tapped her arm to comfort her. After some time of checking that all systems were go, the officer informed the King they would be starting the launch sequence. Deanna could hear the engines beginning to roar, sounds similar to the ones she'd heard when they picked her up on Nervala IV. Her heart beat wildly with anticipation. She wouldn't be able to see it, but suspected she could hear if the launch was successful. After some very long moments of roaring engines, everything suddenly went quiet, and the people who were gathered around began to cheer wildly. "Oh my god" Deanna breathed as Betek squeezed her. "It worked Deanna! It worked!" he yelled into her ear translator as everyone else was clicking and chattering wildly. "God speed" she said to no one in particular as the King excitedly patted her arm again. "May they return quickly to take you to your home" he offered, as a blessing. "But I would miss you" Betek said, sadly. "I'd miss you too, Betek" Deanna said as she leaned in to give him a hug.

Everyone began to cheer as the Captain said "I now pronounce you man and wife!" and Will and Sheleya stepped down off of the platform to face their audience. There were hoots and hollers and much chatter as the crowd celebrated the new couple and the new beginning for William Riker. The women were jealous and the men were proud of their commanding officer. Will took Sheleya's hand and led her back down the aisle as he said "Let the party begin!"

"Let the party begin!" the King exclaimed as everyone around the table held up their glasses and laughed and cheered and the waiters brought out the best of the year's crop for everyone to eat and celebrate. "I have a sense this is going to be a successful mission, Deanna" the King said to her. "Oh, your highness, I hope so. I certainly hope so" she replied. They celebrated well into the evening, laughing and clinking glasses and eating to their heart's content. When it was all finally over, Betek and Deanna walked arm in arm back to her quarters. She was too full with anxiety and anticipation to sleep, and asked Betek if he would mind holding her for awhile. He happily obliged and gently rocked her back and forth for what felt like an eternity until she finally fell asleep.

When it was all finally over, Will and Sheleya walked arm in arm back to their quarters to begin their new life as husband and wife. They had torn down the wall between his and Deanna's old quarters to make a large home for the two of them and Frank. Sheleya was full of anxiety and anticipation, it was her honeymoon night, after all, so she asked if he would mind just holding her for awhile first. Will happily obliged and rocked her gently back and forth. He kissed her lovingly and warmly, and then with more passion, as they newly married couple began a dance together that would cement their relationship and take them to the heights of their love.

A week had gone by and so far no ship had returned to Crosted. They didn't know if that meant good news or bad news, but the King felt it shouldn't be taking this long. Everytime he and Deanna passed in a corridor he would reach out and lovingly pat her arm. Betek was comforting to her as well, she grew to love him more and more each day. He understood her need to get home, to her family, to her ship. He could not begrudge her what he would want himself in her place. But Deanna was good to him, she cared for him and nurtured him and counseled him, and let him in on her inner most secrets. They were like a loving romantic couple without the intimacy. Everyone else thought they were happily married. The King had not been able to convince the council to annul their union, but Betek and Deanna had managed to make it work. Today was one of their last gathering days before the winter season, and it would be a long one. Deanna had to till her garden and ready it for dormancy, while Betek, who was now a managing foreman would guide his crew in collecting as much food as possible for storage. It was a warm day, and Deanna enjoyed the smooth feel of the breeze as it passed across her face. She marveled at how her other senses were so much stronger now, in the absence of her sight, and wondered how Will would feel about all that when she got home. If she got home. As if on cue, something interrupted her thoughts and she heard the others running to where the mighty sounds of roaring engines could be heard near the science building, and joined them. They all waited, breathless for what they hoped they were hearing. And there, right before them, materializing from seeming nothing, the time machine formed. "Oh my god!" Deanna yelled as she moved up close to it, to where the hatch was. "They've returned home!" Betek yelled to everyone as the rest of the workers stopped what they were doing and the King came out of the compound. There was so much excitement and clicking and chattering, it was hard for Deanna to hear anything over the translator. She stared vividly at the hatch, waiting for it to open, waiting to hear the news if they had found her beloved second home. Home to Starfleet Headquarters. Suddenly the hatch flew open and out stepped the Chief Science Officer with a wide smile on his face and cheers and wild clicking from his comrades. Following close behind was the chief Botanist who also received cheers and the King immediately walked over to congratulate them both. "Thanks for staying safe. Thanks for getting back home" he had said. Deanna couldn't breathe. She stood, frozen, as if time was standing still. She turned to face where the King was talking with the two officers and she could hear them whispering something. Then, the Chief Science Officer approached her slowly and took her hand in his. "I'm sorry Deanna. We tried. We really tried. We visited several planets but we could not find your earth." Deanna looked to the ground. She was crushed. She felt broken. She tried hard to sound grateful for their effort, but all she could manage to choke out was "OK." Everyone understood her pain. Everyone understood the dashing of her hopes. She could contain it no longer, and burst into tears, turning and moving quickly, feeling her way towards the compound. The King turned to go after her, but Beted stopped him. "Let me" he said as the King looked on approvingly. Beted ran in after her and followed her into their quarters. Deanna fell face first down on the bed in her open pod and wept bitterly. Beted gently walked up behind her and placed his hand on her back, rubbing it slightly, and sat beside her to lift her up and hold her, rocking her back and forth as he had comforted her before. "Deanna, Deanna" he whispered softly as he continued to rock her well into the night. She sobbed into his shoulder, soaking him, until she could sob no more. He could feel the essence flowing out of her, the brightness and light that made Deanna Troi who she was. "I'm going to be stuck here forever" she sobbed as Betek said "shhh…it'll be OK, it'll be OK." Betek could think of worse things than having Deanna stuck with him forever, but his heart broke to see how much pain this woman he loved was in. She was utterly devastated. Betek could feel, since the first time he had seen Deanna from a distance, since the time he had begun counseling with her and now lived with her, that Deanna Troi, after all she had been through, after so many years of fighting and surviving… had finally given up hope.

"I don't think you should feed him that, dear" Sheleya chuckled as she saw Will try to give Frank a morsel of the meat pie that he had had for dinner. Frank sniffed, squeeked, and turned up his nose. "I think it's a vegetarian" Sheleya said as she began to clean up the dishes from their dinner. "It's not an it" Will said, laughing. "It's a he. Or at least I think it is." Sheleya placed the dishes in the recycler and walked over to wipe off the table. "Well, you can't expect me to get too attached to it…I mean, him. He virtually ignores me all day and at night he will only curl up on your shoulder." Sheleya said. "Jealous?" Will asked, teasingly. "Totally" Sheleya replied as she walked over to sit herself on Will's lap, gently kissing his nose. "I think Frank just likes men better. He's a man's man." Will said. "A man's man?" Sheleya chuckled. "Don't you mean a man's creature?" "yeah, something like that" Will smiled as he pulled Sheleya closer and nuzzled her neck. "Mmmmmm, that feels nice, Commander" she purred. They had been married for three months now, and enjoyed their rare moment alone, since each of them had such busy schedules. Tonight was one such night. Will had made sure they'd blocked out the entire evening just to spend alone. They'd made the transition quite easily, from friends to lovers to newlyweds. It was easy and comfortable for them, if not quite as deep as what he was used to. "Let's look at our wedding holovid. We can celebrate our three month anniversary" Sheleya said as she slid down off of Will's lip. "Only if we can re-enact our wedding night as soon as it's done." Will smirked, looking at Sheleya with desiring eyes. "Your wish is my command, sir" Sheleya responded, eyeing him sensuously. They both snuggled in on the couch as Frank jumped up into Will's lap before he had barely reached the seated position, and curled up for the evening. They sat and watched themselves and all their friends celebrate the beginning of their life together. Just as they were nearing the end, the Captain's voice came over Will's com badge. "Captain Picard to Commander Riker." His voice sounded more alarmed than usual. "Riker here. Go ahead Captain" Will said. "Number One, I need to see you in my ready room right away." "On my way" Will said as he rose from the couch, gently lifting Frank and placing him on Sheleya's lap. Sheleya held her hands up in the air and froze, just looking down at the furry creature, wondering if it would stay. But after a second it squeaked, and crawled off her lap, leaping off the sofa and running under the bed. She looked up at Will who simply shrugged his shoulders and smiled, bending over to kiss her on the head. "We'll take care of my wish as soon as I get back" he said. "I'll be waiting" Sheleya replied. Will left their quarters and headed to the Captain's ringing the chime. "Come" the familiar voice said from within. The door slid open and Will walked in, stepping over the chair in front of the Captain's desk and sat down. "What is it sir?" he asked. Captain Picard sighed, setting down the PADD he had been looking at. Will could see that the Starfleet insignia was still on the screen over the Captain's head, indicating a message had just been sent or received. The Captain leaned back in his chair and said "Will, I hope you don't have any need to contact anyone in this sector for awhile." "Sir?" Will asked. "I've just received word from Admiral Jensen. We're to head immediately for the Saynart Sector. Starfleet Astronomy believes a wormhole has just been created there, and we're the ship with the largest stellar cartography department with the most advance instrumentation, and we're heading there to study it. They believe this could be a gateway to new universes that no one has discovered before." "Wheeew" Will whistled. "That's pretty big stuff". The Captain nodded. "The Saynart Sector. Has anyone ever been there before?" Will asked. "Only two ships that I'm aware of, Number One. And one never returned. The other ship found no life and no Class M planets." Now it was Will's turn to lean back in his chair, digesting this new assignment. "I want you to inform the staff, Will, to contact any and all people they want to now, because we will be out of communication range for six months." Captain Picard stated. "I'll do that immediately sir" Will said as he rose from his chair. The Captain rose along with him heading to the bridge to set coordinates for their new adventure, to leave immediately at warp 9.

"Well, you're going to love this, Shey" Will said as he entered their quarters after giving a shipwide announcement about the assignment. He'd deliberately left Sheleya's comm. closed on it since he'd wanted to tell her himself. "We're heading for a largely unexplored sector of space to study a wormhole that Starfleet Astronomy believes has just been created." Sheleya's eyes grew wide. "Oh my" she said, as a big grin spread across her face. "Oh my" she said again as the news began to sink in. Will knew this was the kind of assignment she lived for, where she could use her expertise and basically be in charge of the exploration. "The Saynart Sector? That's pretty far out there, right?" she asked. Will nodded. "If you want to say goodbye to anyone, say it now" he said. Sheleya looked at him with a shocked expression. "No, I didn't mean it like that, Shey, we will be returning home. I just meant that it will be six months before we'll be in communication range again. In fact, we've already headed out." I'd better get busy then" she said. "I've got to get Cartography prepared for all of this. I'm sorry, Commander, but I'll have to grant you your wish on another night. Duty calls". And with that Sheleya headed out the door of their quarters down to where her second life was. Will understood completely. Just as he loved his job dearly, so did his wife. Next to each other, their jobs were what they lived for. For a brief moment, just the tiniest of a split second, Will remembered something. "Do you think it's possible for two people to go back in time and fix a mistake they made?" he'd asked Deanna at the Baku planet, hoping that his mistake of choosing his career over his love for her could be rectified. "On this ship, anything's possible" she had replied with a huge smile, giving him a second chance. "On this ship anything's possible" Will repeated to himself bitterly. "No it's not, imzadi. I can't get you back. I can't get you back, ever again."

Deanna was just a shell. She got through her days on auto-pilot, moving like a robot through her chores, refusing to counsel anyone. She no longer joined her hosts for meals and spent most of her time gardening, or in her quarters. The only one she talked to was Betek, and even then it was brief. He was growing deeply concerned for her. There was no other counselor on their planet, and who else could counsel the counselor? He would rock her to sleep every single night, and caress a soothing appendage across her forehead while she kicked and flailed with the nightmares. Every now and then he would hear that word as she uttered it over and over again in her sleep "imzadi, imzadi". Betek wished, in spite of his love for her, that he personally could find her a way home. It shattered his heart to see her like this. She was not the same person he had married. One night he came home, to find her sitting by the pond, rocking herself back and forth, staring intently at the water. "Deanna, what are you doing?" he had asked tenderly as he crouched down beside her. "Do you think I could drown myself in there?" she asked, innocently. "What?! Deanna! You don't want to drown yourself!" Betek exclaimed. "Yes. Yes I do, Betek." She replied quietly. Betek sat down beside her and placed his arm around her. "Am I that awful that you would take your own life rather than spend the rest of your days here with me?" he asked. His voice had been so pitiful and so sad as he spoke to her her imploringly, that it snapped Deanna out of the overwhelming grief and depression she was in. She stifled a chuckle, which then turned into a laugh, which then turned into a snort, and before Betek knew it she was full out laughing. "Wha..what's so funny Deanna? What is it?" he asked, trying to stifle the giggles that were welling up within him as well. Deanna tried to talk but couldn't, and soon Betek had caught her laughter. After some time, they had both laughed themselves out and Deanna got the hiccups. This sent them into a fit of laughter again, making her hiccup all the harder. Betek lifted her up and began patting her back, to try and quell her hiccups. They both laughed some more, and finally Deanna turned to him, tears streaming down her face, still smiling. She lifted her hand to caress his cheek. "Oh Betek. Thank you. You have made me see what a self-pitying fool I'm being. Here you are, loving me for all you're worth, being the anchor I've been able to cling to through this tragedy, sacrificing your own happiness to try and bring me back, only to have me tell you I'm going to take my own life. What a fool I've been." With that, Deanna reached out and pulled Betek to her and held him close, nuzzling his neck. Betek could barely breathe, his love for her coming out in droves. After awhile Deanna pulled back. "I don't know if I can ever love you the same way you love me, Betek, but I can certainly try. I'm stuck here now, and any woman would be a fool not to feel lucky to be with you" she said, as a huge grin spread across Betek's face. "Then you will stay? You will stay with me? He asked, as eager as a little boy with his first crush. "Of course I'll stay" she said. "Where else would I go?" They hugged once more and Deanna leaned in to gently kiss his cheek. Then they rose to have their evening meal and have fulfilling conversation for the first time in months. They talked and laughed and teased each other, enjoying their fruits and plants and drinking a special fermented juice. It felt good to Deanna to have broken out of the dark place she had been. She still could not completely accept her fate, but it was a start. She was clearing the table and cleaning up the room, when an odd feeling entered her heart. Something familiar. Something beautiful. She thought she heard something from far away, but shook her head, figuring she'd been imagining it. She walked towards her pod to retrieve her nightgown as Betek settled in the chair to do some reading. Then she felt it again. A warm tingling….no, no she heard it. She was hearing something. It was a soft lovely, musical jingling….."Oh god, it can't be" she said to herself as she froze in her tracks. "What is it lovely?" Betek asked as he looked up from his book. She held her breath and listened again. The tingling, that tingling, that beautiful sound…. "Oh god, oh god, oh god!" she screamed as she dropped her nightgown and took off like a shot, running through their doorway and into the corridor, running into things, bumping into crostoids, running towards where she figured the sound was coming from. She stumbled through the meal chambers and rounded the corner into where she knew the storage room was. It was a room where all the collected food was kept as well as whatever the botanist had brought back with her from their travels. Deanna burst through the doorway and could hear the botanist's voice as well as that of her assistants, chattering away as they categorized and packed away the plants they had brought back with them from their recent travels. They saw Deanna and began clicking and chattering to each other, none of them had a translator with them. The botanist tried to ask Deanna what was wrong but it just came out in clicks. Then Deanna heard the jingle again and she shrieked. "That! That!" she yelled as she leapt towards the botanist, scaring her, and the botanist dropped the flower she'd been holding to the ground. Deanna fell to the ground, frantically feeling all around it with her hands until she found the prize. She lifted it up and gently shook it, as the most delightful tingling bell-like sound tickled her ears. She shook it again just to be sure, then felt around it with her fingers. "Muk tok! was all she could say. Over and over and over again yelling "Muk tok!" Muk tok!" while sobs slowly stole over her body. She stood yelling at the botanist "Muk tok!" The botanist and her assistants clicked and chattered wildly, confusion reigning, until Betek finally burst through the door carrying a translator, realizing Deanna had not taken one with her. Deanna always kept hers in her ear so he handed the bud to the botanist who put it in her ear. "What is it Deanna, sweet heart? What is it?" Betek asked, concerned, seeing the shock on her face and looking down to the flower in her hand. "Home." Deanna said, barely a whisper, her hands shaking and tears streaming down her face. "Home."

After they got Deanna calmed down and went to see the King, they began putting the pieces of the puzzle into place. On their recent trip, the two Crostoids had visited three planets, thinking they were in the vicinity of earth, but none of them were what Deanna had described, so they collected their new prizes off the planets they'd been on and brought them back. One of those prizes was the muk tok flower that grew on Betazed. Deanna asked them to describe the planet to her and asked several specific questions, and indeed it had been Betazed that they had visited. "Did you talk to anyone? " Deanna had asked but they explained that due to the time travel they did not interact with the species on any of the planets and stayed hidden. "My God, you may have even seen my mother" Deanna whispered. Deanna kicked herself over and over, that in all the disruption and trauma of her life in the past years, she had never once thought to describe Betazed to them. She thought if they could just get her back to earth, she could contact Starfleet and be on her way. "Can you take me back there? Can you get me back to Betazed?" she had asked them anxiously and excitedly. The botanist looked at the King and then at Betek. "I believe we can, Deanna. I believe we can."

The next week was fraught with emotion for both Deanna and Betek. Just when he thought he'd have her with him forever, Betek had to let Deanna go. For Deanna's part she knew she would miss him deeply as well. She was experiencing such a contradiction of emotions; loss and sadness for leaving what had become her second family, her second home, her second mate, fear of what the future held after having been gone away for so long, and unbearable excitement and anticipation to see her home again, her mother, her shipmates, her imzadi. Would he still love her, even when he found out she was blind? Would Beverly be able to cure her? Would her life ever be the same? Deanna went through the days in a frenzy of excitement and hope. When the day finally came for her to enter the time machine with the botanist and science officer, everyone gathered at the site, clicking and chattering their goodbyes. She hugged the friends she had made while staying there, and accepted their various gifts and sentiments. When she got to the King, her eyes welled up with tears. "I shall miss you, Deanna. We shall miss you. Having you here, getting to know you and accept you as part of our family has been a delight." He said. Deanna grasped him around the neck and hugged him. "Oh sir, you and your people have been so gracious to me. Have taken such good care of me. I wish I could bring you all back with me." When she pulled away she could feel wetness on her cheek that was not hers only. Then she came to Betek. She felt her heart breaking, She did not want to leave him. Next to Will, Betek had been the deepest and closest relationship she had ever had. Through her trauma and blindness, through his love and tenderness, they had forged a bond. They had learned about each other and complemented each other. He had made her feel safe. "Oh Betek" Deanna cried as she buried her face in his shoulder. "I don't want to leave you". "Neither do I, Deanna, neither do I" Betek barely said in a hoarse voice. "I love you, you know". "I know, I know" Deanna said softly, taking her fingers to gently caress his cheek. They stood that way for a long, long time. Then she kissed his nose as he bent his forehead down to touch hers. "Safe journey, my love". Deanna stood there a moment longer resting her forehead on his. Then she turned, trembling and sobbing, Betek was sobbing, and even the King could be heard stifling his cries. Deanna walked over towards the capsule and entered it. She turned once more to face the crowd, as if she could see them, and waved a somber goodbye. She could hear soft sobs coming from the crowd as the door closed, Betek's sobs louder than all of them. She buckled herself into her seat behind the two other officers, wiping at her wet cheeks. "Get ready, Deanna, this will probably feel strange to you" the botanist said. Deanna had time traveled before, when the enterprise went back in time to save earth from the Borg, but that was through a wormhole and this was different. The engines powered up and she could feel the capsule shake. The noise was overwhelming from inside, so Deanna just closed her eyes and pictured Will, his sweet face, his soft beard, his smiling blue eyes. Before she knew it, she felt like she was whirling through space and time, dizzy and disoriented. She did not like the feeling, almost as if she were caught in an alternate reality. She heard sounds and voices from her own life, her past, her present, her future. She hung on tightly, trying to calm herself, trying to breathe. And then, in a second, it all stopped, and she heard silence, and regained her equilibrium. "We are here Deanna" a soft voice said from in front of her. Deanna's heart leapt. She couldn't believe it. Could this really be possible? After how many years, nine? Ten? Could she really be home? "Oh my god" was all she could say. The science officer spoke. "I believe you have arrived approximately nine or so years after you were stranded, Deanna, per your estimation. We will have to beam you down to your planet, and then leave immediately before we are detected." "I understand" she said. "I am ready." And with that the officer punched in the coordinates, and within a moment Deanna found herself standing on solid ground, familiar smells, familiar sounds, and familiar feelings all around her.

The Enterprise had arrived in the Saynart Sector without incident. It felt odd to be so far away from everything, to be in a place that few had ventured to before. It was eerily quiet and dark, save for the bright spiraling of the worm hole on the view screen. "Fascinating" Data said as they all stared in awe. "Sometimes I wish we could just jump right through it and see what's on the other side" Will said. "Your taste for adventure has not diminished with time, Number One" the Captain replied. "But we will have to wait for that wife of yours and see what she has to say about this wormhole's stability." "Ah yes, once again at my wife's mercy" the Commander joked. Data turned around in his seat. "Are you often at your wife's mercy sir?" he asked, curious as to what Will was saying. "Oh yes, more than you know" Will chuckled as he heard Worf grunt. "The man should never be at the woman's mercy. It is a sign of weakness". Worf said. "When it comes to women and being in love Worf, the human male is often weak." Will replied. "Amen to that, Number One, amen to that" the Captain joined in. The Enterprise bridge crew continued their friendly banter for the duration of their shift, as the officers in stellar cartography were working hard. Sheleya was aiding her junior officers in their study of the wormhole, mapping out this new star system and trying to scientifically ascertain if it was stable. She knew they could send a probe through, and would be doing that soon, but how much more exciting to be able to fly through it themselves. They'd been there for a little while, and within the week she would present her findings to the Captain. Then for the next several months the Enterprise would do some exploring and mapping, and search for the other starship that had never returned. Sehleya was in her element and she knew it. She wielded a lot of power on a mission like this, and she liked to tease Will about it, holding it over his head. This was fun for her, a once in a lifetime mission. Later that evening, Will returned to his quarters. As he walked through the door, per their usual ritual, Frank came running out from under the bed, crawling up his leg and and nuzzling him with his nose. Will rather enjoyed this, though he wouldn't let anyone know that. But Sheleya knew, she realized the relationship between Will and Frank was a special one. "Hey little guy" Will said. "How was your day hiding under the bed?" Will chuckled as he set Frank down on the floor. Frank still had not gotten used to Sheleya and still preferred to spend all her time under the bed, save for when Will was asleep, when she would sneak up into the bed and curl up on Will's shoulder. Will sighed and walked to the replicator, making himself a cup of coffee and sat there waiting for Sheleya to come home. "Life is good, Frank" he said to the little creature. "Squeak" came back the reply. "Who would have thought after all that has happened, I'd be here, mapping out a new sector for the federation, married to a woman I love, talking to a small furry animal sitting on my apartment floor?" Will chuckled to himself. It had been a long time since he'd allowed himself to think about Deanna, having buried her so deeply in his heart. And he was happy with his life, he thought. "Phew!" Sheleya said as she walked through the door, set her PADDs down and fell down onto the couch next to Will. "I'm exhausted!" Will smiled as he put his arm around her, and saw Frank sneak off to go under the bed. "This is hard work! I bet you're bored sitting up on that little old bridge of yours waiting for my decisions" she smirked. Will grabbed her and pulled her up onto his lap. "Very funny, Mrs. Riker!" he said. "I'm not trying to be funny, Mr. Thomkins" she replied as he attempted to tickle her and they both sat there laughing. Then he kissed her and they both rose and headed off to bed. A few weeks later a disappointed Sheleya and her team had decided things were too unstable for the Enterprise to enter the wormhole, so they sent a probe, but were unable to retrieve it. "Looks like we won't have much information for Fleet Astronomy, aye Number One?" "Unfortunately, no" Will said. "But remember, Captain, the adventure's not over yet." Indeed Will was right. They still had several more months of exploring to do.

Deanna stood, frozen for a moment, gauging her surroundings. She couldn't be too far from home, she could hear the Janaran Falls off in the distance. She felt her feet around and could tell she was on Betazed's version of a meadow, complete with grass. What should she do? She couldn't see anything. Should she just start walking? "Hello?" she yelled out. "Is anyone here?" She waited but heard nothing in reply. She sighed, and decided to start feeling her way in the direction she thought her home might be. Surely she'd run into someone sooner or later. After a while of walking she could tell she had found a dirt path by the feel under her feet. She decided to follow it. She could tell it was daylight by the feel of sun on her face and the sounds of the birds. "I wonder what mother is doing right now" she thought, excitedly. Just then she heard voices. Voices of exclamation. "Deanna Troi, Daughter of the Fifth House, what is wrong?!" she heard someone yell from not too far away. Someone had recognized her, though she didn't know their voice. Two people came running towards her and one of them clasped her arm. "Miss Troi! What are you doing here? Why are you dressed like that?" one of them asked. For the first time Deanna thought what a sight she must have been. Who knows what her hair looked like at this point, combined with the strange clothing she knew she was wearing, not to mention the fact that she was walking hesitantly while feeling her way along. "I-I've come from somewhere far away. I've found myself here on this pathway, and unsure of where I am. Would you be able to take me to my mother's house?" She heard the long pause and felt their confusion. "Yes, I am blind" she said. "Oh, we're so sorry Daughter, we didn't know." They said almost in unison. "It's OK. I haven't been looked at by Betazed's doctors yet, I'm hoping they can help me." She replied. "If you could just take my arm and lead me, I would so very much appreciate it." "Oh yes, Your Highness, certainly we can." Deanna chuckled under her breath. It had been so long since she'd been called that, but the people of Betazed did consider she and her mother royalty. The two strangers stood on either side of her, clasping her arms and led her down the winding pathway and towards the city of Rixx. The Troi mansion was on the outskirts of town. After about 20 minutes they came upon the house. They led Deanna up to the front entrance and rang the chime. Deanna's heart began beating loudly and she felt dizzy. She had not seen her mother for possibly ten years. "Would you get that Mr. Homm?" she heard her mother yell from inside the home. When the door opened there was silence as Deanna just stood there. Then she heard her mother exclaim "who is it?" and heard shuffling feet coming towards the door. Then she heard a scream, and a very loud, very disturbing thud. "Mother?" Deanna asked as the two strangers backed away to leave Mr. Homm and the Daughter of the Fifth House to tend to the matriarch lying on the floor.

"Mother? Mother!" Deanna yelled as she patted her mother's cheek. Mr. Homm had not said anything, but could see that Deanna was blind. They both poked and prodded Luwaxana until she shook her head and came to. "oh, oh my" she said in confusion. "I had the strangest dream. I dreamed that Deanna showed up on our doorstep!" "I did" Deanna said, smiling down at her mother. Luwaxana sat up so abruptly that she accidentally knocked Deanna in the head. "Ow! Mother! Please, calm down!" Deanna said rubbing her forehead. Mr. Homm got Luwaxana to her feet and led her over to the couch and Deanna, knowing the inside of her home like the back of her hand, confidently walked over and sat down beside her. "Mother, it's me. It's really me" she said as she took Luwaxna's hand in her own. "But..but…" Luwaxana stuttered. "I know. It's all very abrupt and very confusing and impossible to believe. But I'm here. I'm really here. By god, I'm here" Deanna said, barely believing it herself. Luwaxana sat dumbfounded, mouth hanging open, as Deanna began to explain her story. It took her an entire hour to share everything. When she was finished, Luwaxana still couldn't speak. Deanna simply waited, giving her as much time as she needed. Then Luwaxana finally had something to say. "Deanna" she whispered, taking both of her hands to the sides of her daughter's face. "Deanna" she said again as she rested her forehead on Deanna's and began to cry. She cried and wept for a very long time as Deanna just held her, squeezing her as tightly as possible for all the years she'd wished she'd been able to do just that, all the years she'd longed to be in her mother's arms. After almost another hour had passed, both mother and daughter wiped their tears away and Luwaxana noticed Mr. Homm doing the same. Again, Luwaxana spoke. "You know I couldn't sense you and still can't" she said. "I know" Deanna sighed. "When I lost my sight, my empathic abilities ceased as well. It's as if there's a wall around my brain. And it sounds like even you can't break through" she said, looking towards her mother. Her mother nodded sadly and then touched her daughter's eyelids. "I keep forgetting you're bind, my dear, but that was a yes I was nodding to you." They hugged again and held each other for a few moments more, then Deanna got up and went over to hug Mr. Homm as well. After another few moments she sat back down by her mother.

"Mother…" Deanna said softly, with such a longing, such sadness, such excitement in her voice. "He's not within communication range, little one. The Enterprise was sent on a mission to the Saynart Sector. They will be out of range for three more months. They were supposed to transport me to one of my Ambassadorial assignments, that's how I found out." Deanna squeezed her hands together nervously. She wanted nothing more than to see Will, but this would give her time to see if her blindness could be reversed. "How….how is he?" Deanna asked hesitantly. "Well, little one, it's been awhile since Will and I have talked. He took your death hard. Very hard. We had a ceremony for you at the Valley of Song". Deanna gulped at the thought of her own funeral. How sad. How sad for Will. "But last we talked he seemed to be trying to move on." "Do you know if he…if he's…" "Seeing someone?" Luwaxana continued for her, then laughed and took her daughter's hand. "You know I had encouraged him to start dating after we thought you were gone, but if I know Commander Riker, he's still pining away for you, probably staring at your holopic everyday and praying to whatever God he believes in for you to come back. And oh my god, Deanna, you are going to be quite an answer to that prayer." Deanna sat back into the sofa with a smile on her face. What a gift to give to her imzadi. To make his wishes and his prayers come true. To completely turn his world upside down. To literally take his breath away with her homecoming. "Well, mother, there's a lot to do in the next three months. I want to see every doctor and specialist on Betazed who might be able to return my sight to me. But for now, all I want is a nice hot shower, one of my nightgowns, and my warm snuggly bed to sleep in!" With that mother and daughter stood, and arm in arm headed for the stairway with Mr. Homm following behind.

Two more months passed and Deanna was growing tired of the poking and prodding and tests and more tests from the medical personnel on the planet of Betazed. No one had been able to find anything, any reason for her blindness or any way to help her. But this one last doctor seemed to be promising. He tried a new kind of tricorder that was not only more detailed, but able to use shadows and a configuration of light and dark to show things that other tricorders might miss. This morning they were meeting with Dr. Stromm to hear what his findings were. "Good morning, Daughters of the Fifth House" he bowed to them as they entered his office. "May this day be kind to you" he said in the traditional Betazoid greeting. "And to you" they both said in unison. They took their seats and sat waiting for his synopsis. "Well, Deanna I think I have some good news" he smiled. Deanna leaned forward, waiting with hopeful anticipation. "I was able to capture an image in our x-ray which might explain some things. As far as I can tell, there is a blackened area on your paracortex. It looks to me like some sort of parasite has attached itself there and is interfering with the normal functions of your Betazoid brain. I think it may have been a parasite that entered through your ear when you were passed out in the puddle of water on Nervala IV." Deanna shuddered at the thought, but looked at her mother with a hopeful expression on her face. "Then you can remove this..this…thing?" Luwaxana asked, waving her arms in the air. "And Deanna will be able to see again?" she exclaimed. "No, I'm afraid not" the doctor replied somberly. The air deflated in Deanna's lungs. "But I believe there's someone who can." The doctor continued. "This parasite is quite intricately woven itself into your brain, Deanna, almost like a trill does in its host's body. And from what I understand, Dr. Beverly Crusher, aboard the USS Enterprise, your ship, has had some experience surgically removing trills. I think she'd be the most qualified to try and remove this." Deanna took in a breath and looked excitedly at her mother. "Beverly! Of course!" she exclaimed. "Oh, little one, it seems there is hope after all" Luwaxana said as she patted her daughter's hand.

The final month could not pass by quickly enough for Deanna. Not only was there hope of regaining her sight, but she was going to see her dear friend Beverly again and finally be home on board the Enterprise. And after the hopefully successful surgery, she would finally see her beloved. Her imzadi. Deanna tried to keep busy attending functions with her mother, seeing her old friends, sharing her unbelievable story, showing her mother all she had learned as the chief gardener of Nervala IV and Crostia. When they would go to dances, Deanna found that despite her blindness the men of Betazed still desired to court her, and she would only lift her left hand and point to her engagement ring. It was still there. In the nine plus years she'd been gone away from Will, she had never taken it off. She and her mother went to the market in town together, and took a brief trip to the Opal Sea. With only a few days left before the Enterprise was in communication range, Deanna decided to take a little trip herself. "I'll be back late tonight, mother" she yelled over her shoulder as she left the mansion. She took a transport to a place she'd been longing to visit. It dropped her off on the outskirts of the jungle, but even blind she knew how to find the place she desired. After only about a half-an-hour's hike she arrived, hearing the roar of the waterfall as it tumbled over the edge of the rocks. Janaran Falls. She had to be there. She sat down on the soft grassy edge and mused how it initially reminded her of the waterfall in her room on Crostia, and how she missed Betek. But it didn't take long before the older memories, the sweeter ones, began to well up inside her, spilling over into her heart. A very young Lieutenant Riker had swept her off her feet and this had been their special secret place. Everything felt the same. The droplets of mist splashing her face, the sounds of the water crashing into the pool below, the sweet smell of the muk-tok flowers, the taste of the freshness of the breeze. But there was one thing that stood out above all others. Him. She could still smell him, his fragrance, his essence, as if he were sitting right there beside her. She had no explanation for how this could be, but she inhaled the essence of her imzadi as if it were her very life's breath. "Imzadi, imzadi" she whispered to no one in particular. "I'm coming home."

Dr. Beverly Crusher sat down in her office chair and sighed. It was good to be home. Though their most recent mission had been exciting for everyone else, it had been fairly routine for her. Mapping star systems and wormholes didn't really affect Sickbay, but it gave her a chance to continue some of her research and organize her lab. She felt a difference being back in this sector, it felt so much more familiar and warm. To the bridge crew's disappointment they had not discovered much, not even finding the missing starship. But at least they'd explored and could give a report back to Fleet Astronomy. "Not much here. Look elsewhere." Beverly chuckled to herself as she reached for the cup of tea she had replicated. The steam reached her nose before she could taste it, and she reveled in its cozy feeling. Just then she noticed the incoming button blinking red on her computer. A message was waiting for her. And it looked to be from Betazed. "That's odd" Beverly thought as she pressed the button waiting for the other party to appear. "Mrs. Troi, do what do I owe this honor?" she smiled and said as Luwaxana's face faded into view. Beverly placed her mug down, wondering what she wanted. "My dear Dr. Crusher, how is that lovely Captain of yours?" Luwaxana teased in her usual effervescent manner. "He's just fine, as far as I know" Beverly smiled tolerantly. "How can I help you?" "I believe I'm the one you can help" Deanna said as her mother stepped out of the way and Deanna's face came on the viewscreen. Beverly placed on her mug down on the table stared into the screen, not registering anything. "Hello Beverly?" Deanna said, hoping to shake her out of it. Beverly felt like she was in some sort of dream. Had she fallen asleep while drinking her tea? She looked around her office to make sure where she was and shook her head, trying to wake herself up. "No, it's not a dream Beverly. It's me, Deanna." Beverly looked to the screen again and leaned forward to scrutinize its details. Was this some sort of joke? Deanna had died over nine years ago. Was this a clone? "Oh my god, Luwaxna! Did you clone Deanna?!" Beverly exclaimed, mouth hanging open. Luwaxana's head leaned in from the side of the screen as she said "I beg your pardon, doctor, but that is illegal! This is really my daughter in flesh and blood. Please, let her explain." Beverly sat back into her chair, arms folded across her chest. She just knew this must be a prank of Luwxana. But as the face on the screen began to explain, the face that looked exactly like her close friend, Beverly grew more and more awed and less and less suspicious. Finally, as Deanna finished, Beverly sat there, stunned. "Oh. My. God" she whispered. A huge smile grew on Deanna's face as Beverly finally came to the realization that it really was her. "Deanna! Oh my god Deanna! It's really you!" Beverly jumped up and tried to hug the computer screen. "You're back! You've come home!" "Damn right" Deanna said as she chuckled and placed her hand on the screen, as if to touch Beverly's face. "But I've got a favor to ask of you. A couple, really." "Anything. Anything, Deanna. When can you come aboard?" Beverly asked, excitedly. "Well, that's what I wanted to talk to you about. I hope to come on board soon, but I need something from you. I need you to keep this secret, the fact that I'm alive, the fact that I'm coming. Don't tell anyone. Especially Will." If Deanna had been able to see, she would've seen Beverly's face fall, realizing that Deanna didn't know anything about Sheleya. "Why do you want me to keep it a secret?" Beverly asked. Deanna then explained what the doctor had told her, and her hopes that Beverly could cure her blindness, and that she didn't want to be reunited with Will until there was any chance that once they were together, she would be able to see his beautiful face again. "I understand" Beverly said sadly. How could she tell her friend that her imzadi, her soulmate, this man she had waited almost ten years for, had married someone else? How could she tell her? "Promise me, Bev" Deanna said. "I promise" Beverly replied, somberly. With that they made their plans of how it would all come down. Deanna would take a transport shuttle to where the Enterprise was located under the guise of someone delivering medical supplies. She would arrive in the middle of the night, so no one would see her, and Bev would take full responsibility. Beverly would keep her in the ICU unit, and no one would know she was there. She would schedule her surgery the same day as another surgery she'd need to perform so no one would suspect anything. Everything was all set and Deanna would arrive three days later. But the night before she was to come on board, Beverly couldn't sleep. She tossed and turned, tossed and turned. Finally, she got up, put on her bathrobe, and headed out into the corridor.

"Come" the sleep-riddled voice said from inside the room as the door slid open. Beverly walked in to see Jean-Luc Picard standing there in his pajamas. "My, my, Captain. Don't you look dapper?" she teased as the door slid closed behind her. "Yes, well, I'm not accustomed to having my friends pay me a visit in the middle of the night" he replied. Beverly sat down in a chair and sighed, heavily. 'What is it, Beverly? What's wrong?" the Captain asked. "Well, Jean-Luc, I have been keeping a secret. A really big, really unbelievable secret, and it's sort of tearing me apart. For several reasons." Beverly said. "Hmmm. I see" Captain Picard said as he scratched his chin. "Perhaps you would feel better if you shared that secret with someone you trusted." "I want to, but I promised I wouldn't. Wouldn't that make me a horrible person?" she asked. "It would make you a caring person. Obviously you feel this secret is important to share, otherwise you wouldn't be sitting here in my room right now." Beverly had to agree so she began to share the entire story with Jean-Luc from start to finish. When she was done, she began to cry. "Oh, Jean-Luc, what do I do? Deanna's coming here for surgery tomorrow in hopes of being re-united with the love of her life as a seeing person after nearly ten years, and she has no idea he's married!" Captain Picard sunk back in his chair, trying to digest everything he'd just been told. "Merde!" he breathed, trying to wrap his head around it. He felt a mixture of sadness and joy, just like Beverly had. But he was ecstatic in the thought of seeing Deanna again. "If you were Deanna" he began "would you want to know that before you got the surgery?" Dr. Crusher thought for a moment. "No, I don't believe I would. Getting the surgery is traumatic enough, and I'd want to try and get my sight back before I had further bad news." "Then I think you just answered your own question" the Captain said as he patted Beverly's hand. Beverly let out a breath of air. "Poor Deanna. My god, how much can one person take?" she exclaimed. "Indeed" the Captain replied solemnly. "Indeed".

"Does he look like he's sick?" Will asked, lifting Frank up for Sheleya to get a better look at her. "I can't see anything out of the ordinary" she said, checking Frank all over. "But he hasn't eaten in two days. That's not like him". Will said, anxiously. Sheleya smiled at her husband's concern for this little creature. "Well, I have an idea. Dr. K'ton works in the biology lab and he did some veterinary studies while on earth, perhaps you could let him give Frank a look." "Oh, that's a good idea" Will said. "I'll take Frank to him tomorrow". The next day Will walked into the biology lab with a box full of something squeaking. "Hi Commander Riker. Sheleya told me you'd be bringing in your pet" Dr. K'ton said. "Yeah, she thinks I'm a little crazy, but I really believe something is wrong with him." Will said. "Well, let's take a look" the doctor replied. Frank squirmed and squeaked, not liking this at all, so Will held her and calmed her down. Then Dr. K'ton ran his tricorder over her and told Will he'd be back in a moment with the results. A short while later, while Will was still snuggling Frank in his arms, the doctor returned. "It looks like our little friend has ingested something that's not very digestible. Some sort of tassle or piece of material or something. We'll just have to wait for it to come out, but I'd like to keep Frank here to keep an eye on him, just in case." Will breathed a sigh of relief. "Hear that, little guy? You're going to be OK. But you're going to have to stay here with Dr. K'ton for a few days, alright?" Will said to the friend nestled in his arms. The Doctor smiled at the big burly commanding officer who was so obviously attached to his pet. Will put Frank back in his box. "I'll take good care of him, Commander, and I'll keep you posted and let you know when you can come and pick him up" Dr. K'ton said, taking the box from Will. "Thanks doc. I'm glad you're here" Will said as he turned to leave. "Oh, and by the way, Will" the doctor said over his shoulder as he carried the box away. "Did you know Frank is a girl?"

Beverly waited anxiously as the body of her long lost friend began to materialize in the transporter room. "Oh Deanna!" she exclaimed as she ran forward to give her a hug. The two friends hugged each other for a long time. "I can't believe I'm here!" Deanna exclaimed excitedly. "My god, I never thought I'd be here again!" she said, as Beverly helped her down off the pad. Then Deanna stopped abruptly, as if listening for something. "Even without my empathy I can feel him" she whispered to Beverly. "I just can't believe my imzadi is only a couple of floors away. Look, Bev, I'm trembling". Beverly saw that indeed Deanna was shaking and clasped her hand more tightly, changing the subject. "OK Dea, we need to talk about your surgery. I received all the reports from your doctor on Betazed. It looks complicated, but as you said I have had experience in something similar to this. I think there is hope, and though it will be a long surgery, you should come out of it with flying colors." "Can we do it tomorrow?" Deanna asked both excitedly and pleading. She was shaking even more now. She could not wait another minute to see her imzadi. "Yes, Dea, we'll do it tomorrow" Beverly said, hiding the sadness in her voice. Beverly took Deanna to her room in sickbay where she made her as comfortable as possible and gave her a sedative to help her sleep. "Once all this is over, Dea, you and I are going to have a good strong drink in ten-forward." Bev said. "Or several" Deanna replied. "Or several" Bev agreed. The next morning, to any outsider, things seemed completely normal in Sickbay. But for Dr. Beverly Crusher, Deanna Troi, and Nurse Alyssa Ogawa nothing was normal. Alyssa gave Deanna a hypo of anesthesia while Bev scrubbed and readied, preparing and placing her instruments. Bev had to admit to herself she was very nervous, but if anyone could give Deanna hope of ever seeing again, it was her. Once all was set, Dr. Crusher and Nurse Ogawa began the surgery. Everyone in Sickbay knew they were not to be disturbed. When anyone would call for the doctor, one of the aides would answer and explain she was in surgery. An hour passed. And then another. And then another. After four hours Beverly was done, and she and Alyssa closed up and healed the incision. It had been an intense and treacherous surgery, and Beverly had sweat pouring down her face. She had been able to remove half of the parasite and hoped that was enough to give Deanna back her sight. Alyssa took the specimen to the lab for further research, while Bev sat and waited for Deanna to awake. Another hour passed, and Bev had fallen asleep, with her arms and forehead resting on the side of Deanna's bed. The room was perfectly quiet. Then, Bev felt something nudge her. "Bev?" a small weak voice sounded as Beverly opened one eye. "Bev, is that you?" the voice said again as Beverly opened the other eye and lifted her head. "Deanna, how are you feeling?" she said softly as she stood with her tricorder, running it over Deanna's face. Everything looked fine, and she stood and waited for Deanna to open her eyes, her heart beating furiously. "I feel…OK' Deanna replied with a dry throat. Then her eyelids fluttered as Beverly held fast to her hand, holding her breath. Then one eye opened. Deanna sucked in a deep shaky breath. Then slowly, she opened her other eye. A moment passed. "Deanna?" Beverly asked, softly, looking into her eyes. "Can you see?" The room was so quiet, one could almost hear both of their heartbeats. Deanna took in a shaky breath again, and then replied "No." Beverly fell back into her chair, tears coming to her eyes. "Oh, Dea, I'm so sorry. We got half of it out but….I'm so sorry." However, Deanna was not listening to her. She couldn't listen because she was hearing a million voices, a million minds, a million feelings all coming to her at once. Her empathy had returned. "My god" she breathed as she searched through the cacophony of feelings, searched through the chaos of thoughts, searching, searching for that one mind she wanted most. That mind she hungered for and craved. That mind that was bonded to hers, belonged to her and her alone. And when she found it, when she finally found that beautiful sweet mind, she gently prodded, lightly touched, and caressed it until she slipped inside. "Imzadi" she breathed as Beverly saw an angelic light come over her face.

Will was sound asleep beside Shelaya, dreaming peacefully. His dreams danced through the Alaskan wilderness and snow-covered mountains, and then he was fishing in an icy stream. He glanced up across the water to see a shadowy figure on the other side. Something struck him as familiar, and then the figure stepped forward. The most beautiful smile he had ever seen graced the person's face and suddenly lit up the night sky and the air all around him. "Imzadi" came the soft voice, as sweet as an angel. "Imzadi" came the whisper, floating across the water. The heavens were ringing with the melodic sound. "Imzadi!" Will sat bolt upright in bed, his eyes wide, his abrupt movement waking Shelaya, sweat pouring down his brow. "Will, what is it?" she asked as she reached over to touch his arm through her sleepy haze. "Imzadi!" a fierce, desperate voice echoed through his brain as he grabbed both hands over his ears. "Stop it! Stop it!" he cried. "You're not here! You're dead!" Shelaya now became fully awake and sat up herself. She looked curiously at Will who now had arisen and was pacing in the middle of the floor, holding his head and scrunching his eyes shut as if to block it out. The tingling in the back of his brain disconcerted him, as he had not felt it for over ten years. How could it be? Was it Luwaxana? Was it a nightmare? What was happening to him? "Imzadi!" her voice echoed across time and space and eternity, and planted itself fully into his mind, stroking it with warmth and love and hope. He fell to the ground, his eyes stinging with tears as he shook, trying to rid himself of the voice. Shelaya quickly reached for his com badge sitting on the night table. "Lieutenant Thomkins to Dr. Crusher! Doctor are you there?!" her voice pleading. "Crusher here" the voice came back with an almost sadness. "Is it Will?" Shelaya had a puzzled look on her face. "Yes, doctor, but how did you…." "Let me talk to him" Dr. Crusher said. Shelaya looked down at the com badge in confusion, then slowly handed it over to Will who was still kneeling on the floor. He took it and for a moment said nothing. Then, hesitantly he questioned "Beverly?" "Yes Will…she's here." was the only reply that came back.

Will immediately shot up into the air dropping the com badge and grabbing his robe from off the chair. In a second he was out the door, leaving a forgotten and confused wife in his wake. He ran down the corridor at break-neck speed as if had he hesitated, he would miss her. He noticed no one as he inadvertently knocked comrades aside. By the time he reached sickbay, he couldn't breathe, his body filled with adrenalin, fear, hope, and a crystal clear sense of her. He almost slid through the door as his eyes immediately went to the biobed where Beverly Crusher was standing. The first thing he saw was a cascade of long dark curls, the hair, that hair he had loved so much. She was laying perfectly still, her face looking up to the ceiling. He came to a dead stop, heart beating wildly in his chest. He was frozen for a second, then he began to step softly towards her, his eyes never leaving her. He felt like he was going to die. Slowly, her head turned as she sensed his presence, a small smile forming on her lips. "Imzadi" she whispered as love filled his being and she reached out her hand towards him, tears beginning to well in her eyes. She had waited for this moment forever. She had waited for this moment for a lifetime. It was like a dream, a long-held, barely hoped for, sometimes lost, fantastical dream. She had come home. She had finally come home to the other half of her soul. Will began to shake as he took her all in, her eyes, her smile, her outstretched hand. For a moment he stopped, believing he was still dreaming. He looked to Beverly who nodded encouragement. "She's been asking for you" Dr. Crusher said, softly. That was all the encouragement he needed. He leapt toward the biobed and instantly gathered her up in his arms pulling her as close to him as he possibly could, whispering her name over and over again. "Deanna, Deanna, Deanna". Tears flowed freely down his face as he rocked her back and forth, he buried his nose in her hair and inhaled life back into his body, chanting "Deanna, Deanna, Deanna". "Imzadi" she replied, and his body began to shake with heaving sobs, a lifetime of pain, sobbing into her hair, onto her face, all the while still rocking her back and forth. Deanna let go of her grief in one big release and sobbed with him, grabbing at his robe, grabbing at his arms, squeezing him tightly to her, clutching him in her hands. Their deep wails could be heard echoing throughout the corridors, the grief and heartache of love lost, the overwhelming joy of love found. It seemed forever that they rocked each other back and forth, sobbing and shaking, as Dr. Crusher stood silently by, her heart breaking, tears streaming down her own cheeks. She could almost not bear the joy and pain of this reunion, knowing what was coming. Will's breathing finally slowed back to normal while he still clung Deanna tightly to his chest. He didn't ever want to let her go. But he knew he had to. Slowly, he placed his hand on her shoulders and gently pulled her back to look in her face. Through swollen eyes and tear-stained cheeks she smiled, and gently reached up a hand to finger his cheek and lips. She slid her fingers around the back of his neck and gently pulled him forward. For a moment, Will was on auto-pilot, and the all too familiar dance led him as he allowed his lips to touch hers in an electrifying contact. She kissed him. He did not resist. For a moment again, everything in his world went into shimmery white glitters. His heart and his mind filled with such love that it almost consumed him. He was home. Home with his imzadi. But reality suddenly flashed before his mind as he slowly pulled back, but she did not let him go. "Deanna" he said as she began to pull his face towards hers again. "Deanna, I can't…." he held fast, though everything in him wanted to touch her lips again. She tried again to no avail, then looked up at him with a confused and hurt look on her face. Unbeknownst to Will, Shelaya had been standing there for some time, watching it all unfold. "Is someone here?" Deanna asked as she looked in the direction Shelaya was standing. Will snapped around abruptly to see his wife standing behind him, a gasp of shock reminding him how he had left her back in their quarters. Then he turned back around to Deanna who seemed to be looking right through him, as if she could see nothing, her eyes unfocused, barren. Then he looked up to Dr. Crusher with the look of a frightened and confused little boy. "She's blind, Will" the doctor said sadly and softly. Will looked back down to Deanna as he stroked her forehead and caressed his fingers over her eyes, forgetting again that Shelaya was still behind him. Deanna began to cry again, as Will pulled her up and hugged her to him, whispering "Oh, Imzadi, I'm so sorry" over and over into her ear. Shelaya watched the heartbreaking scene unfolding before her, feeling an overwhelming mix of emotions, pity, fear, anger, jealousy, compassion. "Will" Deanna sobbed as she clung to him. He rocked her back and forth again in a comforting gesture, then after some time, Shelaya cleared her throat to remind everyone that she was still there. Dr. Crusher looked down towards Will and Deanna and spoke with a cracking and crushed voice. "Deanna, I'd like you to meet Shelaya Thomkins, Will's wife." At that announcement, Will reluctantly stood and slowly lowered Deanna back down to the biobed. His arms were trembling, his heart was racing. Deanna looked up to Will with big black eyes that had lost their life. Tears continued to stream freely down her cheeks, her expression hurt, as if she'd just been mortally wounded. "Imzadi?" he heard, pleading in his mind, understanding completely the full implications of Beverly's announcement, feeling Deanna's heart cracking in two, feeling his own doing the same. "Deanna" he said as he reached towards her once more, but this time she shut him out, abruptly turning her back to him, all the blocks and all the walls slamming firmly into place. Deanna curled into a fetal position and began to sob, as she pulled her arms around herself and tried to disappear. Beverly reached down to stroke the side of her face in a comforting gesture, tears still falling down her face. Will stood motionless, feeling his life has just drained out of him. Feeling helpless. He turned slowly towards his wife, not knowing what he would find there. Shelaya just stood there, a blank and wounded look on her face. But when Will's eyes met hers, she slowly lifted her arms towards him, beckoning him to come to her. He almost ran and fell into her arms, sobbing bitterly, holding her tight, unable to do anything but heave the grief coming out of his body. Shelaya held him tightly as she slowly and gently pulled him, walking him out of sickbay, still in her arms.

After they had gone Deanna bitterly said to Beverly "Get me out of here. I want to go to my quarters. Take me to my quarters! I need to be alone!" She uncurled from her position and looked up to where she knew Beverly was. Beverly sighed and touched Deanna lightly on her arm. "Dea, your quarters were joined with Will's when he and Sheleya got married. Your old quarters aren't there anymore." Beverly saw Deanna place her hands over her face, only imagining the kind of pain she must be in. "Why don't you stay with me, Dea? I've got a spare room. I don't think it would be good for you to be alone right now." Deanna dropped her hands to her side. "Fine. Just get me out of here. I just want to be alone." Beverly was aware of the hard cold look on Deanna's face. How could anyone go through what she was, what she had been, and emotionally survive? She was concerned her friend would close her heart off forever after this. "Come on, Dea, let's get you out of here." A half-an-hour later Beverly had Deanna moved in to her quarters and as she sat on the couch staring blankly ahead, Beverly offered her a hot chocolate. "No." was all she said. Then Beverly offered her tea. "No, I don't want anything." She said again. "Are you sure?" Beverly asked. "I suspect you'll want something to calm you with the talk that I know is coming between the two of us. How about a brandy?" With that, Deanna nodded her head, and acknowledged the anger she was feeling. Beverly pulled out her private stash of brandy and poured them each a glass, handing one of them to Deanna, holding it there until Deanna could get her hands around it. Then Beverly sat down across from her. "Ask me" she said, calmly. "Ask you what?" Deanna said as she took a large gulp of the liquor. "What you are dying to ask" Beverly replied. Deanna sat back into the soft cushion, already feeling the effects of the brandy. "Beverly, how could he? HOW COULD HE?! We were imzadi! How could he go and marry someone else?! I waited almost ten years for him! I waited for him, longed for him, held onto his memory. That's how I survived!" Deanna was angry and she was finally venting it towards Beverly. Bev waited until she got it all out, and then spoke softly. "Dea, you have to remember that we all thought you were dead. We had your funeral. Will memorialized you with your mother at the Valley of Song. He grieved for you, god, he grieved for you. Most of us thought he wouldn't make it. But we all gathered around him and held him up. We let him talk and cry and vent. It took a long time, Dea. And those of us who know William Riker also know that he is still not over you. But the point came when he needed to move on. Dea, we all encouraged him to ask out Sheleya, to get on with his life. We thought that's what you would have wanted." Deanna opened her mouth to vent a loud and angry protest, but then she closed it again. She knew Beverly was right. She knew Will had done the right thing to move on from her "death", and if she had truly been dead, she would have wanted that for him. She gulped down the rest of her brandy and held out the empty glass to Beverly for more. Beverly obliged. If there was ever a time her friend needed to self-medicate, it was now. After gulping down the second glass, tears formed in Deanna's eyes again and began to spill down her cheeks. "I don't know what I'm going to do, Beverly" she said. "I can't get through this. I've gotten through things that would have destroyed most people, but this, this I can't get through". "Yes, you can, Deanna" Beverly soothed. "But not right now. Right now you just need to cry and scream and hurt. And if it makes you feel any better, there are many of us who are and will be just as upset as you are. I love Sheleya, and she has been a good wife to Will, but she does not belong with him, you do." With that Deanna began to cry and Beverly came over and joined her on the couch, holding her in her arms and comforting her. The two friends spent the rest of the evening grieving together, crying together, and Beverly Crusher held her dear friend Deanna Troi while her friend's heart silently broke in two.

Back in their quarters, Sheleya held her husband, slowly rocking him back and forth while he sobbed into her shoulder. He could not speak, there were no words. The woman he loved most in this life, in the universe, the one who held his heart in the palm of her hand, had returned to him. But he had married another. What could he do? He loved Sheleya, he did. And he didn't take his commitment to her lightly. But god, how could he live without his imzadi, now knowing she was alive? He clung to Sheleya so tightly that she could barely breathe, and Sheleya, whose heart was breaking also, soothed him, rubbed his back, caressed his face. Would Will stay with her? She found she felt a deep hatred for Deanna Troi, whom she was sure was a lovely person, she was sure didn't have a mean bone in her body. But Sheleya hated her. How could she come back now and ruin their life? Will may choose to stay with her, but wouldn't his heart always belong to Deanna? Would she want to be married to half a man? Sheleya began to sob as well and the couple poured their grief into each other. After a long while, their tears having been completely cried out, Will leaned back and looked at his wife's face and her red, swollen eyes. He reached up to touch her cheek and looked into her eyes. "I don't know what the answer is, Shey, but I meant my vows when I said them to you. You are my wife now. I won't leave you." Sheleya felt some sense of relief as she smiled through her tears and reached up to touch his face as well. "I love you" he said. She buried her face in his chest and began to cry some more.

The next morning three officers returned to duty. Dr. Beverly Crusher walked around her medical lab and sick bay as if in a daze. Lieutenant Thomkins walked into stellar cartography, barely able to keep her eyes open, bumping into things as she walked. Commander Riker walked onto the bridge looking like hell. Worf and Data took one look at him, then exchanged curious glances. Dr. Linea watched him closely as he walked by to take his seat to the left of the Captain. Captain Picard, who would normally tell his first officer he looked like hell and ask what had happened, said nothing until Will sat down, then simply said "Good morning, Number One." Will grunted, not knowing if anyone knew Deanna was on board, and not particularly caring. The shock and trauma of the previous night's events had numbed his heart somewhat, and he was trying to simply focus on one moment at a time. Captain Picard waited until they had begun the day's events, putting in coordinates, checking the systems, recording the log entry, then he beckoned his first officer to join him in the ready room. Will stood to follow his Captain, hanging his head, and to most on the bridge it looked like a schoolboy following the principal to his office for a reprimand. Data stood from his seat at ops and sat down in the Captain's chair.

Once the Captain and Will were seated across from each other, Captain Picard looked at him sympathetically. "How are you doing, Number One?" he asked with compassion. Will's head shot up, realizing the Captain must know. "How do you think I'm doing?" he uncharacteristically answered his Captain sarcastically. The Captain, however, gave him a wide berth. "Well, let's see. The only information I have at this point is Deanna was found, she is blind, she came on board two nights ago, Beverly conducted surgery which returned her empathy to her but not her sight, she contacted you through your bond, the two of you were reunited, and she found out about your marriage to Sheleya. How am I doing?" "That about sums it up" Will replied. "Well, Number One, if I were you and found myself in the situation you are finding yourself in, I would wish for death to come for me, and quickly" the Captain surmised. Will laughed ironically. "I thought Deanna was the Counselor, sir" he said. Captain Picard smiled and leaned forward on his desk, almost wanted to reach out and touch Will. "Will, I am so sorry. I truly cannot imagine what this is like for you, for Deanna. For Sheleya. What should be a most joyous occasion has become a horrible nightmare." Will sighed, feeling so very thankful for his Captain's understanding. "Under the circumstances, Will, I think you should take a few days off. I'll offer the same to Lieutenant Thomkins. This afternoon at 0200 hours we'll have a staff meeting and I'll let everyone know what's going on, and that we have found Deanna. You are not required to attend. Then I will meet with both Beverly and Deanna and find out what Deanna's decision is." "Sir?" Will said. The Captain leaned back in his chair, running both of his hands along the top of his head and sighing. "Will, I'm going to be offering a position as a counselor on board this ship to Deanna, if she's willing to stay. We could use her services and I think everyone would agree we would welcome her back with open arms." The Captain said. Will's eyes grew sad and he nodded. "Of course. Of course Deanna should stay on the Enterprise" he said softly. "Now go and begin to heal, Number One. The time has come to close one chapter and see where the next one takes us all." The Captain said. Will rose from his chair and nodded his head, knowing deep down that he would never heal from this. That the loss of his soul was just something he would have to accept in this particular lifetime.

Deanna sat on the couch in Beverly's quarters, staring straight ahead. She had resisted the temptation for the umpteenth time to reach out to Will. "He's married to someone else" she kept reminding herself bitterly. But now that she had come home, now that she had felt him again, her soul kept knocking on the door, kept reaching, kept looking, kept searching for the bond that she could not allow to be there. It was exhausting her to keep her heart closed. She breathed in and out as she tried her best to calm herself and took in the whole of her situation. She was back home, on board her ship with the people she loved. But she was completely blind and her imzadi was not with her. Was this a life worth living? She knew it was, but she didn't want to. Not yet. All she wanted right now was to go to sleep and never wake up again. Could Beverly possibly be correct that she could get through this too? After everything else? Deanna was a strong woman, but never in a million years did she dream she would be able to endure something like this. Suddenly the door slid open and Beverly walked inside. "How are you feeling, Deanna?" she asked as she placed a hand on her friend's shoulder. "I'm here" was all Deanna said. "Well" Beverly continued "do you feel ready to be reunited with your friends? The Captain has called a meeting in one hour and everyone will be there, Geordi, Worf, Data, and he's going to explain the situation to everyone and thought you might like to be there to meet them. "Will?" Deanna asked. Beverly looked to the ground. "No, the Captain suggested he not attend" Beverly said. Deanna sighed, knowing it was for the best. "Alright, I guess I'm ready" she replied. "Good. Let's go a little early so you can have a private reunion with Jean-Luc before everyone else gets there." Beverly said.

Captain Picard sat nervously in his chair, not knowing what to do with his hands. Beverly would be arriving any minute with Deanna and he was still in somewhat of a state of shock that he would be seeing his counselor again, the woman who had helped him get through his time with Borg, his torture from the Cardassians, a woman who had become his close friend and confidante. Someone he had missed dearly, had thought was dead, had relegated to the back of his heart with his other loved ones who had passed on. But now she was here, different, blind, tested and tried by some of the worst circumstances he had ever heard of in Starfleet. But she was alive, and he couldn't wait to see her again. The doors slid open and an older, but still beautiful Deanna Troi stood there, her black hair falling in cascading curls around her shoulders, her lips turned into an almost smile, her black eyes staring straight ahead, missing the life they'd previously known. "Deanna!" Captain Picard exclaimed as he came out from around his desk and grasped her in his hands. "Let me look at you!" he said as she giggled slightly and some of the light came back into her face. "Oh god, Deanna you're here. You're really here!" and with that Captain Picard hugged his long-lost friend, his eyes shiny with newly formed tears. "Captain. It's so good to see you!" Deanna joked, and it took awhile for Captain Picard to get it. "Oh, Oh yes" he chuckled nervously as he led Deanna in and she took a seat across from his desk, while Beverly went and sat on the couch. "We have much to share, Counselor. I understand you've had quite the adventure". "You could say that" Deanna replied. "Yes, well we'll schedule a meeting for some other time so I can hear your story and report back to Starfleet, but now is the time for reunions. After I explain to the rest of the staff what has happened, would you like to join us and say hello to everyone?" the Captain asked. "Yes, I think I would like that" Deanna replied. "Good. If you want to wait in the next room and Beverly will call you in when we're ready. I want to prepare everyone so that no one is too terribly traumatized by the reappearance of someone we'd buried." Deanna nodded in the Captain's direction. "And Deanna" he continued. "I want you to know that I am holding a position for you here on the ship. I don't need your answer right away, but I'd like you to stay on board as one of our counselors. We could really use you right now." The Captain saw Deanna's face go through a myriad of emotions at his announcement, and finally settle on thoughtfulness. "Thank you, Captain. I will surely give it some thought" Deanna replied. Fifteen minutes later, the senior staff minus Will began to gather in the Captain's ready room. "Anyone know what this meeting is about?" Geordi said to the others gathered there. "Anyone know where Will is?" Dr. Linea asked, concerned for his friend and patient. Worf simply grunted as the Captain and Beverly both entered and took a seat. "Commander Riker will not be attending this meeting with us" the Captain let everyone know right away. "And I have something quite unbelievable to share with all of you". With that, Captain Picard began his story and with each new thing shared, the eyes of the crew grew wider and wider until finally Geordi muttered in disbelief "so that's what was wrong with him", as Dr. Linea bowed his head in the knowledge of what his friend must be going through. "How in the world is Deanna with all of this?" Geordi asked, still not believing she was really alive. "Well, you can ask her yourself" the Captain said as the door opened and Deanna Troi stepped into the old familiar room. "Deanna!" Worf shouted as he was the first to get up and walk over to her, lifting her off the floor and hugging her much too tightly. "You aree home!" Deanna held tightly to her friend and former lover as she pressed her cheek up against his. "Worf! Oh Worf!" she said loudly as she shed tears of joy. Soon Geordi joined them and Data came up as he said "Counselor, it is good to have you home". "Oh Data" Deanna said. "It is good to be home." And she almost meant it. Being with her old friends, receiving their love and compassion was the first thread of healing she had felt in her heart. The Captain introduced her to Dr. Linea who said he would love to have her work for him and was anxious to hear her story again from her viewpoint. The reunion was bittersweet with many hugs and tears, and an awkward silent acknowledgment of the officer who was not there.

Four days passed and everyone went about their duties except for Will and Sheleya. They took some time together to just be with each other and affirm their love for each other. It was a painful time, but Sheleya was sure they would get through it, eventually. She began to lose her hatred of Deanna and it was replaced with a deep sympathy for what she, too, must be going through. She tried to put herself in Deanna's shoes and imagine how horrible it would be. She didn't know much about the imzadi bond, but she knew enough. She knew that, to a degree, it would be a death to both Will and Deanna even though they were both still alive. By the night of the third day, they had decided to have dinner in ten-forward. They gathered at their favorite table and ordered their meals. They talked about being there for each other and how every marriage is tested, even with something so life-shaking as this. Sheleya appreciated how Will had not mentioned Deanna since the first night he had seen her, and how he had not made any attempt to contact her. Will, for his part, had worked hard to keep that part of his heart closed, no matter how much it destroyed a piece of him. They talked and laughed as they ate and drank, it was almost like old times. Then Sheleya saw a look come across Will's face that frightened her, as he looked towards the entrance to ten-forward. He was staring. He was mesmerized. His eyes were completely glazed over. For there, entering the room, was Deanna Troi, her hand clasped around Beverly's arm, and when Sheleya saw it, her heart fell. Deanna was in civilian clothing, a lovely lavender dress that wrapped around her waist, and softly displayed her voluptuousness. Her face was beautiful, radiant even, and her black hair fell in large ringlets to her shoulders, curls framing her face. She was coming to accept her situation, and had tapped into courage that even she, the survivor, did not know she had. As Beverly led her through the door, heads turned and a few soft male voices could be heard gasping. Deanna Troi was beautiful. The past ten years had not changed that. As she followed behind Beverly she occasionally bumped into a table or chair, obviously fumbling to find her way through. This shook Will out of his revelry and he felt a slight stab in his heart at her handicap. He remembered when she lost her empathy, how devastating that had been for her. But she certainly seemed to be handling things fine now, and Will felt almost a prick of jealousy that deep down, he was not faring quite so well. Beverly and Deanna walked over to the table where Geordi, Worf, and Data sat and joined them. Will almost had a longing to be a part of that group; his old group with his best friend and fiancé. But then he suddenly realized he had been completely ignoring Sheleya and shook his head, trying to get the lovely image of Deanna out of his mind. He returned his attention to their dinner and looked up at her sheepishly. Sheleya was upset, but she still reached out and placed her hand on his arm. "It will take time, love. It will take time." Will smiled at his loving wife, and then looked again to the table where his friends and former lover were talking and laughing, and obviously having a great time. "Do you want to join them?" Sheleya asked, resigning herself to the fact that this would be her life for awhile. "It might help." "No, No, I don't think so" Will said shaking his head. "I just want to spend a nice evening with you". And with that he took her hand and kissed it, and they resumed their meal together.

If Deanna had not had her heart closed, she would've felt Will's presence, his longing to be with her. She would've sensed feelings from the other men in the room as well. But tonight she was enjoying being with her friends. They talked of old times, teased Data, laughed at private jokes, and at one point Worf, laughing so hard he snorted, sent the five of them into hysterical guffaws since Worf never did that, Beverly nearly falling off of her chair in laughter. They asked Deanna many questions about her time away, trying to understand all that she had been through. It had been as if no time had passed at all, and everything was back to normal. Well, almost. As Beverly and Deanna grew tired they excused themselves and decided to head to their quarters. As Beverly was leading her friend out the door she turned around to look at Will and Sheleya. Will was staring at them, and Beverly offered him a look of sadness and regret as she headed out the door.

Three weeks had passed and Deanna had finally made her decision. She was drawing on unusual strength, and felt maybe she could stay on board the Enterprise, maybe she could accept Captain Picard's job offer. She was glad he didn't try to immediately re-instate her to the bridge job; she didn't feel ready for that and saw that Dr. Linea was handling it just fine. She even felt slightly excited about starting her counseling job again. It would be a life without Will, but a life nonetheless. There was one more thing she had to do before she paid a visit to the Captain. She had Beverly help her in doing her hair and donning her outfit, then Beverly walked with her out into the corridor. "We need to get you a sensor chip" Bev said to her as Deanna held fast to her shoulder. "It might be able to help you navigate these corridors alone." "I think I'd like that, Bev" Deanna said. "I think I'm ready to start being more independent. And, after I accept the Captain's job offer, it's probably high time I move into my own quarters". "Oh, I will miss you" Beverly said, giving her friend's shoulder a squeeze. "No you won't. I've left long black hairs everywhere I suspect, and it's never fun to have one's quarters invaded" Deanna teased. Beverly laughed. "Well, maybe. But you know you're welcome anytime". And with that, Beverly and Deanna continued towards their destination.

Will and Sheleya were enjoying their meal and discussing the day's events. They had not been intimate for awhile, since Deanna had come aboard, and this night they both wanted to rectify that. The candles were lit, and she had replicated one of Will's favorite meals. Between bites and conversation they heard the door chime. "Come" Sheleya said. The door slid open, and Deanna Troi slowly took the few steps to get inside the apartment while the door closed behind her. Will turned to see who it was, and when he saw Deanna he abruptly stood up, knocking his food all over the floor, then backing into his chair as it toppled over. Sheleya for her part, remained outwardly calm though her heart was beating wildly. "Deanna" she said softly. "Please come in. Would you like to sit down?" "No thank you, Lieutenant" Deanna said equally as soft. "I actually came here to apologize". She looked towards where she heard Will. "To both of you". Sheleya stood to join her husband who was now standing mere inches from Deanna, looking deeply into her blinded eyes. Deanna could sense the presence of both of them, knew they were standing facing her, waiting for her to continue. Will's heart thudded as he hadn't been this close to his imzadi since he had held her in his arms that night in sick bay. His cheeks felt flushed. "I was very rude to both of you the night you came to sick bay. I acted as if I had some claim on Will, but I didn't. You both thought I was dead, and you had every right to begin a relationship. And in time, I promise, I will grow to be happy for you. Sheleya, you are a very lucky woman and from what I understand, Will is a lucky man. Please forgive me for the way I acted. I'm hoping we can start fresh as I will be staying on board the Enterprise, and hoping you both know I would do nothing to come between the two of you." With that Deanna swallowed hard. She felt those were the toughest words she'd ever had to say in her life. She forced a smile and nodded, first to Sheleya and then to Will, and turned to go, leaving them both stunned. After a moment Will spoke up. "Deanna, wait…." But it was too late. She was gone.

For a moment Sheleya said nothing. She was hoping all this would go away, just go away. But with Deanna staying on the ship, she could see that it wasn't. She could see the hurt and longing in Will's heart, as he practically reached for Deanna when she walked out the door. In fact, he was still standing there, his hand held out in mid-air. Sheleya walked towards him and placed her hand on his arm. "Go to her." Will jerked his head around to face her. "What? Are you crazy?" he asked his wife. "Will" she began "I just mean that the two of you will never get past this unless you talk through it. You've both been hurt deeply, too deeply, and avoiding each other for the next umpteen years isn't going to heal it. I think you need to get it out of your system. I think you need to go to her and talk to her." Will stood for a moment taking in all that Sheleya was saying. Should he go talk to Deanna? Would that be wise? But he knew that he wanted to, oh how he wanted to. Will put his hand up against his forehead and rubbed it back through his hair. Maybe Sheleya was right. Maybe this was the only way to get the healing process started. "OK" he said as he bent down to kiss her head. "OK, I'll go and talk to her. Will you wait up for me?" "Of course my love. I'll be here" Sheleya said as she kissed him back and with one heavy breath Will turned towards the door and went to find Deanna.

"She's not here Will" Beverly said as she opened the door to see Will standing there. "Can you tell me where she is?" he asked. "Do you think that's such a good idea?" Beverly replied. "No, but my wife does. She thinks we need to talk to each other and get this out in the open." Beverly said. "Yes, I suppose she's right. You've got a good wife, there Will. I don't think I'd be that understanding." Beverly said. "Hell, I know you wouldn't" Will smirked as Beverly hit him playfully on the arm. "She's in the arboretum, Will, and don't you dare hurt her anymore than she's already been." "I promise, as much as I can avoid it" Will said as he turned and headed towards the arboretum. Once there, he entered his access code and walk through to the pathway. It was night time in the arboretum and there were very few people there. He knew where Deanna was. She would be where she always was when she came here to think. He opened his mind slightly, searching for hers, but found it was still closed. He didn't blame her. He would do the same thing in her situation. He quietly came up behind to where she was sitting on the bench, facing the small fountain. "Is this seat taken?" he asked, nervously. "Will" was all Deanna said as she continued staring at the fountain, listening to the trickling water. She had fully expected him to come, though it wasn't what she wanted. He gingerly walked around to the front of the bench and sat down next to her, a very small space between them. For a few moments, there was nothing but silence between them. Will could feel a low buzzing in the back of his mind, almost as if a radio station was almost tuned in, but not quite. In Deanna's mind it was painful, and she wanted nothing more than to let go, just let go, and allow her imzadi to fill her mind with all that he was. "Deanna" Will began softly. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. For everything." A small tear formed in Deanna's eye and slid down her cheek. She refused to look at him. "I know, imzadi. But what can we do? Life has thrown us the worst of all curveballs and we have to find a way to hit it back." Another moment of silence passed. "I don't think I can" Will whispered. Deanna sat frozen. Everything in her ached so much, ached from all of the pain, ached from all the despair, desperately ached to have this man sitting next to her in her arms. Just to hold him. Bury her face in him. For one second. "I don't think you have a choice" she said, quietly. After another moment he said "Did you think about me?" "Every minute of every hour of everyday" she replied. Will's eyes filled with tears as he continued. "Me too. I kept you in my heart and soul for years, Deanna, years. But after we buried you…" "I know" Deanna whispered. Then she said softly and with an understanding only she could have for him, "Rabeem, imzadi". At Deanna's soft, understanding reply Will burst into tears, burying his face in his hands, desperate for her touch. He couldn't contain himself any longer and leaned in to her up against her shoulder, weeping into the silence. Deanna responded the only way she could, she reached her arm around him and pulled him close, nestling her cheek up against his face, and the tears were coming for her too, as she let go of the bar on the door of her mind, reaching out to him, holding him there as he filled her, slid into the depths of her very soul and they touched each other again. "Imzadi" she whispered as his weeping turned into gut-wrenching sobs and she rocked him back and forth. "I – I want to be with you" he choked out between sobs. "I know, imzadi, I know. Me too" she replied through her own tears. They stayed like that for an eternity, grieving for each other, grieving with each other, grieving for the life they would never have. There wasn't much else to say; they wanted each other, they couldn't have each other. But Deanna knew that Will loved Sheleya as well, she could feel it. And in some ways, Deanna felt she was stronger than Will, that she should be the one to lose here, not Sheleya, and not Will. Even though she had already lost so much. After a long while she pulled back to look at Will's face. He sat up and reached out to touch the tears on her cheeks, then he reached up to touch her eyelids. She let him. "Imzadi, your sight" he said sadly. Deanna smiled. "You'd be surprised at how well one can adapt when they lose something precious" she said. "But not this, Deanna…not this…" he replied. Deanna sighed and took his hand into her own, pulling it to her mouth and placing a gentle kiss on it. "Will, it is an impossible situation. But you're the master of impossible situations, remember? I will always be with you, imzadi, but I will try not to invade the personal aspects of your life. Just know that I am always here, no matter what." Will frowned. "I know" he said quietly. Then he turned to face the fountain and took her hand and held it, just held it for what seemed an eternity. It felt small and soft and warm in his. It felt like home. They both stared at the fountain and held hands, and Deanna soaked in as much warmth from him as she could, soaked in his soul through their clasped hands, knowing she would never have a chance like this again. Soaked in his presence and imprinted it on her soul, so she would never forget. And after they were done, after they had soaked up each other's presence as much as two beings possibly could without becoming one entity, Will let go of her hand and slowly stood, paused for a moment in the silent night of the arboretum, then turned his back on her and walked away. Deanna could hear his footsteps growing fainter and fainter, then she heard the door to the arboretum slide open, pause, and then close. She sat there, silent, staring off into the distance, barely able to breathe. Then one last time she reached down inside herself, into her empathic center, the essence that was Deanna Troi, and closed away the part of her mind that was his, sealed off their bond forever, to remain deep in her heart, not to be accessed again.

Many months had passed since the day Deanna Troi had returned to the Enterprise. Though struggles continued in the hearts of Will, Deanna, and Sheleya, no one would know it. They were all cordial to each other, even friendly, but also kept a safe distance. Deanna was even dating now. She was thriving in hew new/old position as Counselor, and was able to help people immensely with all she had been through. She was in the process of writing a report for Starfleet about her experiences, particularly with the Crostoids. This was a new race from the future, but Deanna already knew all about them and could document it. She was also writing a thesis on finding inner strength in the midst of tragedy and chaos, to be presented at Starfleet Academy by her. Once her story got out, she had become a bit of a celebrity in Starfleet circles, and her speaking abilities and knowledge of survival tactics were in great demand. The main time things got awkward and painful for her was when she would be on a date in ten-forward and Will and Sheleya would be there. One night in particular she was out with the new Lieutenant from the science lab. They were enjoying their meal, sharing and talking about his new position, their families, her story. Deanna was actually enjoying herself when the Lieutenant spoke up. "Are you in trouble with Commander Riker?" Deanna stopped mid-chew and looked at him perplexed. "No, why do you ask?" "Because he won't stop staring at you. He's been watching us ever since we arrived here." The Lieutenant answered. Deanna tensed slightly and placed her fork down. She thought better of it, but slowly turned her head around to look in the direction the Lieutenant had been looking. Sure enough, Will was sitting at a far table and staring at them, but as soon as her eyes met his he looked away, sheepishly, and just then Sheleya walked up to the table to join him. Deanna turned back around and lied "Oh, I just remembered, I owe him an evaluation report". Her date looked at her oddly, but then chose to ignore it and continued their conversation. Most of the time, certainly during the days, Deanna was thriving and healing. But at night she would have nightmares, nightmares about being stranded alone, nightmares about being lost in space, nightmares about being abandoned. One night after she awoke, shaking, with sweat pouring down her body, she realized something. "Thomas" she thought. He had been through what she'd been through. He'd been stranded exactly where she had been, he'd lost years of his life, he'd returned to find his duplicate with his imzadi. And though they'd had a brief affair, they'd not renewed their relationship, so in a sense, he had lost her too. Deanna knew it would be good to have someone to talk to who could understand her plight, and who better than Thomas? She quickly got out of bed and set about to seeing if she could find him in the universe. Last she'd heard, he'd become an officer in Section 35. She searched for hours until she came upon someone who could help her. A man who had worked with Thomas just after he'd escaped the Cardassian prison. Sure enough, she got an address for where Thomas might be staying, and punched in the coordinates to try and contact him.

"My god Deanna, you still look as beautiful as the last time I saw you" Thomas Riker said as Deanna's image came into view on his screen. "You always were a flatterer, Thomas" Deanna said, chuckling. "I was hoping to hear from you when I heard they had found you, especially since we shared the same home on that god-forsaken planet" Thomas said, somewhat sadly. "I'm sorry Thomas" Deanna looked down at her hands. "It's just been such a…such a…." "nightmare?" he asked, knowing all too well. "To say the least" Deanna sighed. "Besides, you're a bit difficult to get a hold of". "Gotta keep on moving, Dea, you know that" Thomas replied. Deanna nodded and smiled. "Indeed I do". Then after a moment she said "Thomas, speaking of nightmares, I've been having them every night since I came back. I can't seem to sleep anymore". "Same thing happened to me, Dea" he said. "It took a long while to get over it". Deanna just stared at him with those big sad beautiful black eyes. "Need me to come and comfort you?" he said, waggling his eyebrows. "Well, in a way" she said, giggling. "I was hoping you could come for a visit." "Say no more, my dear, I shall take the next transport". And with that they spent some time catching up with each other and when Deanna finally turned off the viewscreen she felt somewhat better. Thomas was coming, he knew her inside and out, and he would be able to help.

Will and Sheleya stood waiting for Dr. T'Kon to collect Frank. She was finally well, her digestive system in working order, and Will and Sheleya were bringing her home. "Hey, Shey, did you know Frank's a girl?" Will told her, amused. "I'm not surprised. All the girls like you, Commander" she teased. Will put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her tightly to him. "You are too kind, my dear" he said. Just then the doctor walked out carrying a box. "Frank!" Will yelled as if having his most prized possession returned to him. He quickly opened the box and reached inside, pulling out a squirming squeaking furball that immediately latched onto his chest, reaching up its nose and nuzzling Will over and over on the chin. "Hey buddy! Did ya miss me?" Will asked as he nuzzled Frank back. "Squeak! Squeak!" was the reply. Sheleya tentatively reached out to pat Frank on the head, who was still so excited she nearly wiggled herself out of Will's arms. "Let's go you two. You can continue your love-fest at home" Sheleya said as she walked out of sickbay, and a smiling Will, holding one squiggling furball followed her. They reached their quarters and the door slid open, as Will put Frank down and she immediately ran for under the bed. Sheleya looked up at Will's sad face and said "I'll be gone early tomorrow. Then you two can be reunited. Or, you could just wait until we fall asleep. I am sure the ball of fur will end up on your stomach or shoulder within minutes". Will grinned again like a child. "Thanks for being understanding, Shey. Most men have their sports, I have a pet". Sheleya set the jacket she'd been wearing down on the couch as Will went to retrieve one of his PADDs. "Just don't start calling it Sheleya and we'll be OK" she said in a warning voice. Will grabbed her and began kissing the back of her neck as she giggled and squirmed much like Frank had. They followed each other into the bedroom and didn't take long to undress and caress each other. Afterwards, Sheleya fell asleep quickly. Will stayed awake for awhile, thinking about how he had stayed cabin-bound for much of his free time in the past several months and he missed going to ten-forward. He had stopped going so as to not see Deanna with her dates, and also out of respect for his wife. When Deanna was there he was affected, he couldn't help it. He didn't mean to stare, didn't mean to feel jealous, but in some odd way it felt like she still belonged to him. But it had been a long time and maybe he was stronger now. Sheyleya had a meeting tomorrow night and he didn't particularly want to spend the time alone in his quarters, so maybe he'd join his friends in ten-forward for a drink. "That sounds good" he thought as he drifted off to sleep.

"Commander Riker!" Geordi yelled as Will walked in to ten forward. "Come and join us!" Geordi, Worf, and Data were sharing a round of romulan ale, as per their usual Thursday night tradition. Guinan saw Will and brought another decanter to the table, knowing he would want some too. "Commander, to what do we owe the pleasure?" Guinan asked, nodding in her knowing way as to why he had stopped coming to ten forward for awhile. "I just needed to get out. See my friends. Share a drink." He said, smiling, as he looked around and didn't see Deanna, and let out a sigh of relief. "We were just discussing the Briar Patch, Commander. All of the things we experienced there" Worf said, gruffly. Will didn't particularly want to think about that time in his life, when he and Deanna had renewed their relationship, but he sat down to join his friends anyway. Sensing his discomfort, Geordi changed the subject. "Data, had any good holodeck adventures lately? Geordi asked his friend. "As a matter of fact, Geordi, I have" Data began. "I did some research into literary characters who were detectives like Sherlock Holmes and have been creating new adventures to pique my interest" Data replied. "Why, just the other night I was a character called James Bond from old earth literature and I…" "I didn't know Thomas Riker was on board" Worf stated out of the blue as he gave Will a curious look. Everyone stopped and Will turned around to see where Worf was looking. And there, at their old table, his and Deanna's, was Thomas and Deanna, looking into each other's eyes, talking secretively, Thomas's hand resting gently on top of hers. "Neither did I" Will replied testily as he rose from his chair. "Oh boy" Geordi said under his breath as Data tilted his head and gave him a look of confusion. "Is this not a good thing?" Data asked. "No" Worf said adamantly. "Not at all" Geordi agreed. Will took long purposeful strides getting over to where they were sitting and just as he arrived, Deanna looked up. "Oh Will, please join…." "Sure didn't take you long brother, did it?" Will said snarkily to Thomas. "What?" Thomas asked, confused. "You know what! As soon as Deanna's back and available, here you are turning on all the charm" Will said loudly as he lifted his chin. "Will, I…" Deanna began, but Will put his hand up to stop her. "Don't try to defend him Deanna. He knows exactly what he's doing. He was so happy I married Sheleya so he could have another chance at you, and now he's trying to take it!" "Stop it Will!" Deanna said, becoming angry. "What did you do?" Will continued his tirade on Thomas. "Call her to tell her you'll come and offer comfort? Share all your stories together of how you survived on Nervala IV? Offer her the marriage that your brother can't?" "That's enough Will!" Deanna shouted as she stood from the table and turned to face him. Thomas watched all of this with fascination. "First of all, it's none of your business what Thomas and I are doing! You're married to someone else, remember? I don't belong to you anymore! Secondly, Thomas would have every right to come here and try to renew our relationship, that is a reasonable thing for him to be feeling. And thirdly, thirdly Commander (she put the emphasis on Commander) I am that one that invited him!" Will looked at her with narrowed eyes. "Doesn't take you long either, does it?" he said, sarcastically. With that Deanna slapped him across the face as Thomas stood quickly and Guinan ran over to try and calm things down. Will looked at Deanna with a stare that could kill as he gingerly rubbed his reddened cheek. Deanna glared back at him with venom, pinning him with her gaze, blindness be damned. Thomas looked to Guinan as everyone else in ten-forward was watching the scene unfold. "Commander Riker, perhaps I could interest you in another romulan ale at the bar?" Guinan asked as she gently took Will's arm. Suddenly realizing he had made a complete fool of himself, in front of his friends, in front of his brother, and especially in front of Deanna, Will said "No. I'm done here. I'm done." and turned and stormed out of the room. Deanna looked to Guinan who shrugged her shoulders and then to Thomas who put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Guess he's still in love with you, isn't he, imzadi?" he said. Deanna sat back down and sighed. "I don't know. Maybe. But I know he loves Sheleya too. Thomas, he's just going to have to learn to let me go." "Have you let him go?" Thomas asked, looking so intently into her eyes that she had to look away. He took a quick gulp of his whiskey while he waited for her reply. She turned back to face him with sad eyes, and slowly nodded her head no. "That's what I thought" he said, solemnly. "Look Dea, I can't tell you what to do, but I know what I'd do in your situation. I'd leave. I'd get the hell out of here and go as fast and as far away as I could. And I'd take some time to heal my heart, and maybe even find a way to do surgery to remove that imzadi thing". Thomas said with a half-grin. "But you're imzadi too" Deanna chuckled. "Do you want me to remove you?" Thomas finished his whiskey and thought for a moment. "How about splitting it in half. Get rid of Will's half, but keep mine" he said with conviction. Deanna tilted her head and smiled her gorgeous smile at him as she reached for his hand. "Imzadi" she said. "Imzadi" he returned. The next morning Deanna saw him off in the transporter room. He had stayed for four days and had indeed helped her through her nightmares by sharing some of the tricks he had used. They'd stayed in separate quarters, and when he was getting ready to transport Deanna grabbed him to hug him, and then held him tightly, not letting go. He melted into her, how he still loved this woman. They held each other for a long time, until Deanna whispered "I don't want to let go". "I know, I know" he said softly. "But you've got some healing to do. If you ever get that brother of mine out of your soul, you know where to find me" he said as he pulled back and leaned in to kiss her tenderly on the lips. Her lips tingled and her toes curled, she loved this man too. But she knew at the moment what she was really loving was the duplicate of him that he looked, smelled, and tasted like in every way. With that, Thomas stepped up onto the pad and turned to face his imzadi. She looked towards him with sad eyes, as she pressed her fingers to her lips and tenderly blew him a kiss as he fizzled out of sight.

It only took Deanna a few more weeks to make her decision. She couldn't stay. She knew that. Really, she had known that from the beginning. How could she possibly have thought she could separate her heart from Will and go on living as if she were simply single again? That bond. That damned bond. What she wouldn't give now to have never found it with him. She checked with her mother and with Starfleet academy to see what her options were. She could become a Betazed ambassador and travel with her mother on Starfleet missions. She could become a psychology teacher at Starfleet academy and her classes would be bursting at the seam. Or she could have a counseling position at Starfleet headquarters, and in fact, with such fortuitous timing, the head of the counseling department was taking maternity leave and they had offered Deanna her position temporarily. "How could I refuse that?" she had thought as she accepted the position. First, she paid a visit to Captain Picard. "Deanna" he had said sadly. "I don't want to see you go. I missed you so much the first time, it is hard to let you go again. But I do understand. Frankly, I'm surprised you lasted this long". He knew. In fact, Deanna had finally realized that everyone knew that she and Will still had feelings for each other. It was whispered in hushed silences in engineering, spoken of in secrets in ten-forward, acknowledged with knowing glances on the bridge. "Poor Sheleya" Deanna thought. "This must be so hard for her." Deanna rose from her chair and gave her Captain a hug. She wondered if she'd ever see him again. It was tearing her heart out to leave the ones she loved, when she finally had returned to them. She returned to her quarters to pack her bags. Could she really do this? Could she leave her imzadi? Could she leave the life she had pined for for so long? She thought of his handsome face, his soft lips, his dancing eyes. Could she leave him for what might be forever? Never to see him again? "Oh my god" Deanna breathed as the reality of it dawned on her. Her gut ached as tears found their way up to her eyes. William T. Riker, the heart and soul of her life. She thought of seeing him for the first time on Betazed, their breathtaking reunion on the Enterprise, the tender and torcherous moments they shared together, their eternal bond. That sense of connection and belonging whenever she was anywhere near him. That sense of being fully loved in every way, of being intertwined in each other's minds, holding each other. Her best friend. The lover of her soul. Could she really leave him behind forever? Deanna stood, trembling, surveying her bags and suitcases. She would take one and have Beverly send the rest on after her. She looked around her quarters, almost in a daze. Then she headed out the door to sick bay to say goodbye to Beverly. "Do you have to go?" Beverly said sadly as she saw her friend walk towards her, suitcase in hand, crying uncontrollably. "You know I do" she choked out between sobs. Beverly took her in her arms and held her. Could there have been a sadder situation? Could two people be suffering any more than they were? So much loss. Deanna had suffered more loss than any person should have to go through in a lifetime. "You know I'm here for you, Dea. Always here. I…" Beverly was interrupted by a beep on her combadge as she tapped it. "Dr. Crusher here" she said, looking apologetically at Deanna. "Hi Bev, it's Dr. T'Kon. I just wanted to check and see if Will had shared anything with you about his pet. Is it still doing OK?" "As far as I know. I will see him tomorrow. I can check with him." Beverly said as the voice came back "Sounds good. T'Kon out". Deanna through her blurry eyes looked at Beverly curiously. "Pet? Since when does Will have a pet?" Beverly smiled slightly and said "since he came back from hoping to rescue you from Nervala IV. He found this warm furry thing curled up on the bed you had been sleeping in and he couldn't resist it". Deanna's eyes grew wide. "Warm and furry?" she asked. Beverly nodded. "About this big" she motioned with her hands "with no ears , no tail, and squeaks a lot?" she asked. Beverly nodded, a confused look on her face. "Oh my god." Deanna gasped, as she dropped her suitcase on the floor and ran out of sick bay like it was on fire. "Oh my god!" she said over and over as she ran lightning speed through the corridors to where Will and Sheleya lived. She was completely out of breath as she rang the chime. "Come" she heard a voice say. The door slid open and Deanna burst through it, her face looking as if she had seen a ghost. Will and Sheleya were seated on the couch, but Deanna was not aware of them. "Teya!" she cried. "Teya! Teya! Are you here?!" She looked frantically all around the apartment even though she could see nothing, and suddenly heard a squeak from under the bed. A sweet furry animal ran out squeaking wildly. More wildly than Will had ever heard her squeak before. "Teya! Oh my god! My Teya! My little one!" Deanna cried as she knelt down and Teya jumped up into her arms kissing and licking and nudging her frantically all over her face, squeaking and squeaking. Deanna buried her face into the little animal, weeping uncontrollably. "Oh Teya, Teya" she continued to whisper, holding her tightly. Will and Sheleya watched with fascination as it suddenly struck them what was going on. This was Deanna's pet. This was her companion that she had lived with and fallen in love with during her long years on Nervala IV. This was her little one. Will's heart sank. He knew instantly he would have to let Frank go. The very same pet that he had also fallen in love with and who was, for him, the last piece of Deanna that he held. "Deanna" he said softly as he rose from the couch, Sheleya watching him. "Will, please….please….can I… can I have her? Please, Will. Oh god, please." Deanna could barely speak through her tears and gasping breaths. Sheleya had never seen a more pitiful sight. Deanna actually thought Will might withhold this one last piece of her heart that she so obviously and desperately needed, and she was literally begging him. Will's heart tore. "Of course Deanna" he said softly as he looked on and she held Teya even closer to her. Deanna couldn't stop crying. She was clinging to the one thing that hadn't left her. That she thought was gone forever. Nothing more could be said. Deanna felt awkward then, and, Teya still in her arms, turned and walked out of the apartment without saying a word. Will stared after her, saying nothing. Sheleya stared at Will as he turned silently and sadly, and sat back down on the couch. Beverly met Deanna in the transporter room and when she got there, saw Frank sitting peacefully in her arms. "He actually gave that to you?" she asked, shocked. Deanna just nodded her head through her tears. "god, he was in love with that thing!" Beverly exclaimed as Deanna found a giggle escaping her lips. "Well, so am I and she belongs to me. I found her first." Deanna said. Beverly walked up to where Deanna was standing on the pad and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Did you tell him?" she asked, gently. Deanna looked to the floor and shook her head no. "I couldn't, Bev, I just couldn't. How do you say a final goodbye to someone you love so much, so deeply that it runs through your veins? I just couldn't…" "It's OK" Bev comforted her friend. "Perhaps you could send him a subspace communiqué in the morning. With that Beverly and Deanna hugged one last time, and shared loving but sad glances as Deanna shimmered into nothingness.

Sheleya finished a very long, very difficult day of work and headed for her quarters. She and Will were going to have a late dinner and he would be waiting for her. As she dusted some lint off her shoulder the door to their apartment opened and she walked through. The first thing she saw was the PADD strewn on the floor. The second thing she saw was the half-empty bottle of whiskey sitting on the table. Then she saw Will. He looked weak, small, and frail, slumped in the chair, his head in his hands. He hadn't heard her come in. She was going to open her mouth to speak, but decided to look at the PADD instead. She picked it up off the floor and read. "Dear Will, you know I could never say goodbye. I couldn't say it on Betazed, I couldn't say it when you were going to take the Pegasus, I couldn't say it on away missions. And I certainly can't say it now. To think that I am leaving my life, the very breath of my soul…..god, it hurts so much I don't think I'll ever recover. But I want you and Sheleya to be happy. I've found a job, and even if I never get over you, I will survive. I will probably never see you again. May God be with you, imzadi. Now and forever. Deanna. Sheleya dropped the PADD and that got Will's attention. When he looked up at her she could see his eyes were red and swollen. God she wanted to kill him. And she wanted to love him. She felt a huge sense of relief that Deanna was gone, but she was beginning to believe that her ghost would never be gone from his heart. She wondered not for the first time if she was fighting a losing battle. But in spite of it all, she chose the path of love and walked over to her grief-stricken husband. "I'm so sorry, Will" she said softly as she placed her arms around him. And Commander William T. Riker, a finally broken man, buried his head in his wife's arms and sobbed like a child.

Deanna Troi arrived on earth and settled into her new apartment. She found it a huge difference being physically away from Will. Perhaps she could heal after all. After debating about it for a very long time, she finally discarded all things that reminded her of him, and gifts he had given her in their past she gave away to people who might enjoy them. She truly deeply wanted to move on with her life. She felt it was a gift that she was even still here, and wanted to make the most of it regardless of the hurts she had endured. She loved her new apartment, located on the grounds of Starfleet headquarters, a third-story one bedroom with a gas fireplace. Teya loved it too, and scuttled about sniffing everything, making sure it was good enough for Deanna. For the first two weeks she took the time just to get to know her home and her building and surrounding area. Beverly had implanted a sensing device in her before she left, but she found using a white cane worked just as well and she got around a little faster. She could tell by the warmth on her face during the day that her apartment had many windows, and she could smell the breeze from the San Francisco Bay wafting through them. At night when it got cold, she would still leave the windows open, turn on her fireplace, and snuggle in a soft blanket she kept thrown over her chair. She kept good wine in the refrigerator, and often ordered in gourmet meals from the nearby restaurants. For the first time, she was enjoying her freedom. She attempted again to close off the bond, and instead focused on her new life and her new job. Her mother sent congratulatory flowers; twenty bouquets, and her apartment smelled like the Janaran Jungle. Beverly had already contacted her just to say that she missed her, and they talked and giggled like schoolgirls well into the night. "Are you going to date?" she asked her friend. Deanna sighed. "I don't know, Bev, I rather like the idea of being single at this point, and let's face it, I'm no spring chicken!" Beverly poo-pooed that. Deanna asked her when she was finally going to ask out Captain Picard to which Beverly responded by accidentally spitting out her tea. They laughed and talked, and carefully avoided the subject of Will…and Sheleya. Beverly found it awkward on board the ship as well. Will was avoiding her and she understood why. How could they ever talk about what happened and Deanna moving on? It was too painful for them both. Their once closed friendship evolved into a cordial and friendly professional relationship. Beverly felt, in a way, she had lost two friends. But they were both still in her life so for that she was grateful. "Bev, you should see it here, it's gorgeous!" Beverly chuckled. "Deanna, do you realized what you just said? Surely you can't see it?" "Well, I can't see it, but I can see it" Deanna replied. "I see it through my smell, my touch, my ears, my taste. And it's beautiful." Beverly smiled at her friend's ability to enjoy life in the midst of everything. "Well, call me after you start your job and keep my posted" she said. "And let me know if you see any attractive men!" Deanna snorted as she laughed, and they both said a heartfelt goodbye. It was another cool evening in San Francisco so Deanna decided to make herself a martini and sit by the fire. She contemplated her new life, her new start, and her new job that would begin tomorrow. She was also going to begin writing her memoir, in hopes of helping others survive insurmountable trauma. The fire felt warm on her face and hands and she could hear distant voices of people enjoying the evening outdoors. Teya was sleeping peacefully in her lap, and she sipped on her martini and dreamed of better times to come. The only chance she allowed herself to think of Will was just when she slipped into bed at night and whispered "Sleep well, imzadi", then she quickly turned her thoughts to other things.

The next morning Deanna arose and prepared for work. She would be meeting with the head of the medical facility first, who would, in essence, be her boss, then she would get to know her office and research some of the new clients that were being transferred to her. Tomorrow she would have her first appointment. She ran into a few people and stumbled a couple times on her way to Starfleet headquarters, but did quite well for finding her way. When she arrived for her meeting with Dr. Quorn, she found out he was quite surprised she was blind; no one had told him. "That's the way I like it" Deanna said. "I don't want people to pity me or make special exceptions." The doctor found Deanna to be a remarkable and attractive woman. His wife had died two years previously and he really wasn't looking for anyone, but it would be refreshing to have a female friend and colleague, and one as beautiful inside and out as Deanna. Deanna's first day went well, as did her second, third, the first week. She was thriving, everything in her life that had happened had prepared her for this kind of leadership position. She had several other counselors under her to monitor and guide, and they were in awe at the events of the past ten years of her life. Often they would visit her in her office along with various other civilians. Word had gotten around about who she was and her new position, and everyone wanted to stop by to meet her and hear her story. "You are quite the celebrity around here" Dr. Quorn had told her when they were having lunch one day. They met together most every day during their lunch break, and ate at the seafood restaurant located across from fleet headquarters. Deanna deeply enjoyed his friendship as it helped to heal the loss of her other friends. She was glad she was blind, because Dr. Quorn was half Ferengi and she was sure she would find him physically repugnant, especially after what she'd gone through when she, Will, and her mother had been kidnapped by the Ferengi. When she told Dr. Quorn that story, he laughed heartily, and assured her that not all Ferengis were as daft as the ones that had taken her. And indeed, Deanna had found that Dr. Quorn, or Damod as he asked her to call him, was kind and thoughtful, highly intelligent, a gentleman. They grew close in sharing their stories, his of the death of his wife to a virulent flesh disease that he had been unable to cure, and Deanna's of the loss that she too had incurred. No romantic feelings passed between them, only true and loving friendship.

Deanna had been sitting on a bench one evening, out in the courtyard between her building and fleet headquarters, staring up at the stars. She had been on earth for six months now, and loved everything about her new life. She was happy. But every now and then, something in her soul seemed to be trying to reach up to the sky and touch it, to grab onto a star and hold on for dear life. She knew her bond was searching for its imzadi, and her heart was searching for its home. But this was her home now, and she didn't want to leave, it was just that every now and then….."Deanna?" she heard a soft voice behind her. "Damod" she smiled. "Please come and join me." He sat down beside her and once again their conversation turned to their former lovers. It was cathartic for both of them, in a way. They'd both decided to stay single, their hearts forever belonging to someone else. Someone they could never have again. So they comforted each other and laughed and talked, bringing joy to each other's life. After a while they both rose to go and Deanna gave Damod a quick hug. "You're like a brother to me and I'm so glad you're here" she said as he squeezed her back. "Likewise" he said. "Can I walk you back to your apartment?" Since it was dark Deanna agreed and they walked in silence until they reached her building and then her door. But when they got to her door she heard Teya squeaking. But this was not a happy squeek, rather, it seemed like she was having trouble breathing. Deanna burst through the entrance as soon as the door opened, immediately looking for Teya, who was sprawled out on the couch. "Teya" Deanna whispered as she gently lifted her. "What's wrong? What is it, sweetie?" Deanna asked, eyes wide and starting to panic. Teya's eyes were half-closed and she kept trying to draw in breaths. She didn't seem to be in any pain or suffering, but her body was struggling. She looked up into Deanna's face and reached her nose up with all her might and gave Deanna one last kiss on the nose. Deanna kissed her back and held her tightly. "Oh my little one, this is it, you're dying aren't you?" she whispered, tears coming to her eyes as she looked again towards the creature's soft face. Again, Teya stared intently into Deanna's face as if to say thank you, thank you for rescuing her, thank you for being there for her, thank you for the lifetime they had spent together. After one last breath, Teya rested her head on Deanna's shoulder and simply fell asleep. Deanna cradled her and cried, Damod came over and offered to try CPR, but Deanna refused. "I think she died of old age" she said between tears. "She was already fully grown when I found her so many years ago, and she'd been struggling a bit lately". Deanna refused to let Damod take Teya away, and held her there on her shoulder for a long long time. She rested her head on top of the still warm body, tears streaming down her cheeks, wetting the soft fur. Soon the tears turned to wails as Damod sadly looked on. This had been the companion that Deanna had turned to over and over again for comfort, the small piece of Will that she still had. Deanna loved it as if it had been her own child. Damod allowed Deanna to grieve, tears filling his eyes also as he witnessed her shattering pain. Well into the night Deanna held Teya and rocked her back and forth, until her tears had run dry and her eyes could no longer stay open. Damod then took the animal from Deanna's reluctant arms and offered to bury it in a special garden that was out in the courtyard. "Will that be OK?" Deanna asked. "I'll make it OK" he replied. Together they went out into the dark of night, the stars shimmering against the black sky, a quiet hush over the now sleeping city. Damod, being a medical doctor made sure Teya had passed and there was nothing more that could be done. He knelt down and dug a deep well with his hands. Then he stood and looked at Deanna. "Are you sure you're ready? This is all quite sudden" he said. Deanna thought for a moment and then nodded her head. "I knew it was coming" she replied softly. "I'm as ready as I'll ever be." With that Damod gently placed Teya into the ground and slowly covered her as Deanna softly wept. Then Deanna knelt down and placed her hand over the grave, tears dripping slowly and gently into the dirt. "Teya, my little one. I'm going to miss you so much" she wept. Damod could hardly stand the scene, but he reveled in the fact that Deanna's tears for her beloved pet would water the ground that would soon birth new flowers, new life. He placed his hand on her back and lifted her up, keeping his arm around her as they both turned and slowly made their way back to her apartment, Deanna turning her face around to take one last look at the grave.

"Hold the lift!" Beverly shouted as she ran for the turbolift whose door was ready to close. A hand reached out to hold the door as Beverly ran through, breathless. "Thanks" she said, smiling as she turned to see a stoic Will Riker standing there. "Oh god" Beverly thought. He was the last person she wanted to be trapped on a turbolift with. Things had been so awkward between them since Deanna had returned to the Enterprise. Beverly felt a divided loyalty to both of them. She and Will stared straight ahead saying nothing as the lift began its ascent. They were both heading for the bridge for a briefing from Captain Picard. After a few moments, Beverly got up her courage and said "How are you doing Will?" He continued to look straight ahead as he replied "are you asking as my doctor or as my friend?" "Both" Beverly said, looking at him. She waited a moment and he finally turned to look at her. "Well, in response to the doctor my body feels healthier than it's ever been, due to vigorous workouts on the holodeck and a lot less imbibing. In response to the friend, I feel like hell. I miss Deanna so much it's hurting both my marriage and my work. I can't stop thinking about her, Bev. It's as if every night when I'm trying to fall off to sleep, my bond starts frantically searching through star systems and light years, desperately trying to find its mate. Then it gives up, restless and despondent, and I can't sleep. And in fact, I have a hunch the Captain is meeting with both of us to get an answer from you as to if you think I'm still fit for duty." Beverly stepped closer to her hurting friend and placed a hand on his arm. "Are you?" she asked, gently. "I'm not sure, Bev. I thought I could handle all this, thought I could stay committed to Shey, I do love her, you know, and even if we parted I don't think Deanna would have me back anyway. But my heart just seems set in its way, unyielding, stubborn." "Sort of like a first officer I know" Beverly teased. "Yeah, so stubborn I wasted years of my life avoiding getting back together with her, then when I finally did, I lost her again. What an ass." Beverly chuckled. She never thought in a million years she'd hear Will Riker call himself an ass. "Ha ha I can see that amuses you" he said sardonically. "You always amuse me, Will Riker" Beverly smiled as she patted his arm. Then Will said "halt turbolift", and the car came to an abrupt stop. He turned to Beverly and with a forlorn look on his face said "How is she, Beverly?" Beverly looked down and sighed. She knew this was coming. She knew Will would be aware that she had maintained contact with Deanna and would want to stay connected in any way he could. "Are you sure you want to know?" she asked, thinking it would just be more difficult for him. "Yes" he replied. "Well" Beverly continued "she's surviving. It's not easy for her either, but she has a lot of support there and she loves her job. That's helping her get through." "Do you think she'll move on without me?" he asked, sounding pitiful. Beverly wasn't sure how to answer that. "She's trying" was all she said. They rode the rest of the way in silence and when they got off the turbolift and went to the Captain's ready room, Will had been right. After discussing with both of them, Captain Picard decided to relieve Will of duty, temporarily, while Beverly helped him medically with the depression and Dr. Linea with the emotional side. "Dr. Linea and I are becoming attached at the hip" Will said, rolling his eyes, acknowledging the amount of counseling he had needed in the past couple of years. Will returned to his quarters, feeling more defeated than ever. When Sheleya came home, he was just sitting there, staring at the wall. Sheleya felt badly for him, but she could see the end was near for their marriage. She'd tried, they'd both tried, but nothing could buck against that damned imzadi bond. She felt sorry for Will, thinking that he'd have to spend the rest of his life alone pining away for Deanna. She made a note to herself to be sure to never get involved with a Betazoid.

"Will, you have to come" Beverly prodded as she sat across from him in his quarters. She had been trying to get him to come out for weeks, and this was the perfect opportunity. Data was having an art show in ten-forward where he was going display the paintings he'd been working on. "Everyone's going, it will be fun" she encouraged. Will had been hiding for some time now, struggling to maintain an emotional balance. "Please" Beverly begged him. "Alright, alright" Will said, shaking his head. "I suppose it will be good for me to be with people again". "Great! I'll pick you up at 0700 tonight!" she cried as Will eyed her suspiciously. "Why, good doctor, are you asking me out on a date?" he queried. "Only because I know your wife has to work tonight" she shot back over her shoulder as she left his quarters. At 0700 hours Beverly stopped by Will's quarters and they walked together to ten forward. Will felt awkward, like he wanted to hide, but kept telling himself it was only one night. When the doors opened and they walked in, Will felt a sting of pain. Seeing all his friends there milling about and talking, remembering what life was like before Deanna was stranded on Nervala IV. Beverly took his arm and squeezed it in understanding, then led him in. On the far wall was a table with about 25 of Data's paintings displayed. People were strolling by it ooohing and ahhhing. Data stood at the far end of the table receiving the admiration and accolades from the people. This was an experiment for him, taking on a human emotional endeavor, painting, and he wanted to see how his comrades would react. "Commander Riker!" Geordi yelled as he flagged Will to come over and join them. The Captain was there, as well as Worf. "It's good to see you!" Geordi's endearment was sincere. He had missed his friend over the past several months, but understood all that was going on. Will was able to smile and join in some conversation with his colleagues, but something on Data's table kept drawing his eye over and over again. Finally he said "excuse me" and turned and headed over to where Data was standing. "Welcome, Commander" the android said, in what sounded like enthusiasm. "Hi Data" Will responded. "This all yours?" he asked as he spread his arms out over towards the table. "Yes, sir, it is. Please feel free to have a look and let me know what you think" Data answered. Will began with the first painting. It was a still life of fruit in a bowl and a book on terran philosophy. "Interesting" Will said as he moved to the next painting. This one was of a grove of trees and a human dancing in the distance. "I like that one, Data" Will stated. Then he moved onto the third one. The one that had been catching his eye from across the room. When he looked down, his heart stopped and he froze. "Sir? What do you think?" Data asked as he saw Will's odd response. Will hadn't heard him. For there, on the table, was the second most beautiful painting he'd ever seen. He'd once described it as goopy paint swirls when his beloved was trying to teach him how to feel a painting in your heart, how to feel it deeply. And then, on the day of their heart-wrenching goodbye, standing there in the library on Betazed, Will finally got it. The beauty of the universe was found in that painting. The beauty of Deanna. "Data!" he exclaimed. "Where did you….how did you…" Data understood his confusion. "Yes, sir, I see why you are perplexed. I painted this from a carving I found on the table in the compound on Nervala IV." "What?!" Will shouted as his head shot up to look at Data. "Yes sir. Dr. Crusher told me to take whatever I wanted, so this is what I brought back." Data pointed to behind the painting and Will stretched his neck to see around the back. Sitting there was a carving on a piece of metal that looked exactly like the painting in the Betazed library. "You found this in the compound? In Deanna's…" Will's voice trailed off. "Yes sir." Data said. "I believe the Counselor carved it." Will held his breath as he reached around to pick up the tablet. He fingered it gently, touching its delicate lines and brushing his fingers around the corners. Then he placed it against his chest, and held it there for a long time. To think that Deanna had carved that, the painting that held them both together, the painting that saw them both part. The one painting that so represented their imzadi bond. "Data" Will said softly as he turned to his friend. "I will pay you in credits whatever you ask to have this painting and this tablet. I will give you anything." Data tilted his head in confusion and then said "You do not have to pay me anything, Commander. You may have this painting if you so desire". Will just stood there staring at Data, unable to speak. "Can I…can I…have it now?" he asked. Data looked around at ten-forward and saw that people were beginning to leave the party and that most had already looked at his artwork. "Yes sir, I believe you can" Data replied. With that, Will tucked the carving inside his jacket and lifted the large painting off the table. He tucked it as best he could under his arm and began to leave ten-forward. "Will, where are you going?" Beverly shouted after him. But he didn't hear her, he just kept walking.

Sheleya arrived home late and walked through the door to their quarters to see Will Riker sitting in a chair and staring at a painting on the wall. "What in god's name is that?" she exclaimed, bristling at the abstractness of it. "A painting" Will said, coldly. "I can see that, but what is it doing here and why are you staring at it?" she was starting to get irritated. Will knew he owed her the truth. He had no right to treat her like that. He leaned back in the chair and rubbed his hands through his hair. "It's a painting Data did of a carving Deanna had made that he found on Nervala IV." he explained. Then he waited to see her response. After a few moments Sheleya said angrily "god dammit Will, can't you let her go? My god it's like she's a part of your DNA!" "Well, she sort of is" he said weakly, defeatedly. Sheleya turned to go to their bedroom and retire for the night. The next morning her bags were packed. Will wasn't surprised. "I…I just don't know what to say. I've made your life miserable" he said hoarsely as he walked out in his pajamas and bathrobe when he heard her gathering her things. Sheleya looked up at him with tears in her eyes. Then she walked up to him and placed her hand on his cheek. "You didn't make my whole life miserable, Will. We had a couple of really good years. I always loved you, you know." Will placed his hand on hers and nodded. "I know" he said softly. "I wish things could've been different." Sheleya smiled slightly and replied "there's an awful lot of people who are wishing that right now" she said, sadly. "Life can be a bitch, can't it?" Will actually chuckled. "The bitchiest" he said. Sheleya picked up her bags and turned to go. "Where will you go, Shey?" he asked. She turned back around. "I'm going to spend some time with my mother, she's ill. Then I'll be seeking a job on earth's moon as head cartographist." She replied. "You'll be the best" he said quietly as she smiled at him. His eyes looked so sad, his face looked so drawn. She wondered if he'd survive. "Captain Picard said he'll take care of the divorce papers" she said quietly. Will nodded. "Goodbye, Shey" he said, sadly. "Goodbye, Will" she replied as the door slid open and she walked out of his life forever.

A month had passed and Will Riker was a shell of the man he'd used to be. He'd managed to get his career back on track and was doing well on the bridge, but emotionally he was spent. He never socialized, never joined his friends, didn't even think of dating. He had thought on several occasions of contacting Deanna, but what was the point? She'd moved on with her life. It just seemed it would be fruitless, too much water over the damn, too much heartbreak to last them both a lifetime. At night in his sleep his arms still wrapped around himself thinking it was Deanna. During the days on the bridge he would sometimes turn to the Counselor's chair, thinking she would be there. He tried to dismiss the bond, but couldn't. He blocked it, cursed it, tried to bury it. Finally, after trying every last effort to rid himself of it, he realized that his only option for making it through life, for surviving, was to learn to live with half a heart.

"He's a mess, Dee. He's never stopped loving you. He's never stopped thinking about you." Bev said as she stared at Deanna on the viewscreen. Deanna looked down and fiddled with her fingers. "I just don't know if there's anything I can do" she said, sadly. "Dammit Deanna I know you still love him! Just call him for god's sake!" Bev yelled at her friend. "It's not that simple" Deanna said softly as she looked back up at Beverly, tears welling in her eyes. "What's not simple? You love him. He loves you. And for the first time in a long time the two of you can be together!" Deanna sighed. There seemed to be so much bad luck and misfortune when it came to her and Will. Like the universe was against them. Did she really want to try again? For what, like the fourth time? "Bev, you're right. I do love him. But I've moved on with my life and closed off that part of my heart. I don't think I could take anymore pain. I don't think it was meant to be." Beverly laughed so loud that she snorted. "Oh Deanna," she said through snorts "are you trying to convince yourself or me?" Deanna looked down and fiddled with her fingers again. She thought how she was just getting her life back together, learning to live again, feeling happy. She and Will were both in their 50's now. They were both such different people now. It just wouldn't work. "Bev, I don't think there's anything I can do" was all Deanna could say as she ended the communication before her friend could see a silent tear roll down her cheek.

Will was in the observation lounge discussing his options with the Captain. "I think it's a good offer Will." Captain Picard said. "But I don't know if….." Will trailed off, embarrassed to say the next words. "if you can handle it? If you're emotionally up for it?" the Captain said for him. Will simply nodded. "Number One" the Captain began. "I know you and I've seen what you've been through. I've seen you defeated, victorious, depressed, and vibrant. But one thing has always remained the same, and that is your undying commitment to do what's right. That makes you ready for it." Will took a moment to soak in the Captain's confidence and faith in him. It felt so good. "And you say the position will be open in three months?" he asked. "That's right" the Captain said. Will had been offered captainship of the Titan and Captain Picard almost had him talked into it. "It would be the perfect chance to get on with my life" he said, half-smiling. "Indeed" the Captain agreed. Will thought for one more moment, then he placed his hands on the table. "then, full steam ahead. I'm going to take it!" He said with excitement as he grinned up at his commanding officer. "You've made a wise choice, Will" Captain Picard said, rising and patting him on the shoulder, smiling broadly. "Care to join me for a drink in ten-forward? We can celebrate." "I'd love to sir, but I think I'd like to be alone for awhile" Will replied. I just want to revel in this moment that I've waited my whole life for. It's a big turning point for me." "Very well. But come and join us later" the Captain replied as he stood, shook Will's hand one more time, and left the room. Will stood as well and moved over towards the long windows to stare up at the stars. His life was finally moving forward. He'd waited to be captain for decades, and now it was finally going to happen. Not in the way he'd wanted or hoped, but at least his career was coming full circle. That stars sped by, they still held the same fascination for him. He tried to let them fill the empty place in his soul. The stars, those stars that had held such wonder for him as a child, such a challenge for him as an adult. Those stars, that he now felt finally belonged to him.

"Congratulations, Captain" a soft voice behind him said. Will spun around and froze. Time went in slow motion. The stars seemed to shake, and the air seemed to distort in wave upon wave of an eternal destiny. The very universe seemed to hold its breath. Finally, she spoke. A voice as melodious and lovely as a Betazed summer breeze. "Can you see the beauty, imzadi?" she asked. He knew she was talking about the stars, the ones he'd been staring at, but he never took his eyes off her. "Oh, I most certainly can" he replied. She knew he was staring at her and she crinkled her nose and smiled, and her face lit a fire in his soul. Neither of them moved as the computer clock ticked into the silence. It was as if they couldn't, as if either of them moved, the beauty, the essence in front of them would disappear. Breathless, Will spoke next. "Why are you here, imzadi?" She looked down, clasping her hands nervously, then she looked back at him, fathomless black eyes, begging, pleading. "I heard about Sheleya" she said. "Yes, it was bound to happen" he replied sadly, looking at the ground. Deanna shifted and took a step in his direction. Will's heartbeat sped up. "She was a good person" she said softly and he could almost feel her breath. He could smell her, the beautiful scent of her. "Yes, she was" he agreed as he held his gaze on her face and slowly took a step towards her. Their bond bucked and swayed above their heads, hoping, waiting, longing for connection. "Why are you here, Deanna?" he asked again, his voice deeper. I was hoping….I mean, I was thinking…." she stammered nervously, not being able to get anything out. "What I mean Will, is…." He could wait no longer. He took the last long step between them and lifted her up off the ground, pressing her tightly to his body and gently sliding her back down. He enveloped his arms around her small body and devoured her, soaking in her presence, holding her body close to his. He buried his face in her hair and inhaled, he wet it with his tears. She murmured over and over into his chest "I couldn't stay way….I couldn't stay away…." "No….no…" was all he could reply. They held each other for forever, each taking in the other, the soft feel of her curves, the broad strength of his chest, her sweet-smelling hair, the masculine essence of his being. How long had it been since they'd held each other like this, since they'd drowned in each other's embrace? When their breathing became synchronized and they could feel each other's heartbeats, Will stepped slowly back. He rested his hands on her shoulders and studied her breathtaking face. Age had done nothing except to make this woman that much more beautiful. Her eyes, those eyes, not seeing but begging him pleading him to do what he only had wanted to do for over a decade. He slipped his finger underneath her chin and gently lifted it. As he moved his lips slowly towards hers, her breath caught in her throat and the universe paused. Soft lips came against soft lips, as two bodies trembled and two hearts shook mightily and then opened. Imzadi to imzadi, bond to bond, all eternity was found in this moment as her heart reached his, his heart reached hers, and a firestorm connected once again. Then the minds, oh the minds. They had been closed to each other for so long. But Deanna's reached, felt, gently touched and tickled. Will's mind drew back in a panic….it had been so long, so long….but slowly, gently, he opened to her, opened to her gentle touch as she slipped in and soothed, caressed and softened, loved and healed. A sigh escaped her lips as he pressed more fervently against her, not being able to get enough. His lips crushed hers as he touched them with his tongue, tasting, testing, to see if she would open. And she did. Just as Will had opened to her, Deanna's mouth parted and welcomed him. His searching tongue slipped between her teeth and dove into her soft wet mouth as she moaned loudly, falling further into his arms, almost unable to stand. This was what the bond had been waiting for, searching, reaching, looking, night after lonely night. Will's tongue probed and thrust, his lips kissed and pressed, as Deanna responded with a fervor. Her whole body shivered as Will at last ended his exquisite torture. He slowly drew his head back and looked again into her large black eyes. Neither could speak, as their hearts and minds continued to reunite. And the bond that had been denied for so long, the bond that had been buried and closed and abused and hidden, finally found its home, finally found its mate, and the song reverberated over and over again in the musical strings of their souls, "imzadi…imzadi…."

"Of course you can stay on board and have your old job back, Deanna. Under the circumstances I'd say it's absolutely necessary" Captain Picard smiled at his on-again, off-again Counselor. The woman she'd been replacing at Starfleet Headquarters had returned, and she was without a home and without a job, well, almost without a home. She'd found her home again in someone's arms. "And I understand Beverly has some good news for us" the Captain said with a hopeful tone. "Yes, yes" Deanna replied. "The doctors on the trill home world that she'd been in contact with have given her a procedure which they believe can remove the rest of the parasite from my paracortex". "And when will the surgery be?" he asked her. "In two days. She's preparing everything now." Deanna replied. "Very well. And does she think you'll be able to see again?" he asked, hesitantly. Deanna looked to the ground. "There is no guarantee, sir. It's a 50/50 chance. But you know, even if I can't, even if I am never able to have my sight again, I am OK. I have my imzadi back, that's all that matters." Deanna knew Will would marry her no matter what, accept her, love her, no matter what. But what she wouldn't give to be able to see his handsome, lovely face again. The face that had launched a thousand heartbeats in her over her lifetime. The face that had stopped her dead in her tracks. Captain Picard smiled. "I'm sure it is Counselor. If we all had an imzadi everything in the world would be better. But I do hope you have success with correcting your sight through the surgery". With that the Captain dismissed Deanna and she returned to her quarters. When she got there she smelled something delightful and headed towards where it was coming from. She reached her table and felt around it until she came to a vase. She lifted it to her face and took a deep breath. "Mmmm, I know what this is" she said to herself as she shook the vase gently and a lovely jingle came from the flower. Then, as if turned on by the shaking of the vase, a voice sounded from a little speaker. "Welcome home, imzadi". Deanna caught her breath and grinned from ear to ear. "God, I love that man" she said as she pondered the many different happy meanings of his message to her.

Two days later Deanna lay on the biobed in sickbay, in her hospital gown with Will and Beverly talking beside her. "It should be just a couple of hours, Will. I'd tell you there's no need to stay and I'll call you as soon as she wakes up, but I know it'd be no use." "Got that right" he said as he looked down to Deanna who was starting to feel drowsy from the meds Bev gave her. "So just stay out of the way for now. We'll be taking her into the ICU and one of the doctors from the trill homeworld will assist me, he's waiting there for us now." Will looked down to Deanna again and reached down and took her hand. "Will?" she said sleepily. "I'm right here, honey" he said soothingly. "I'll be waiting for you." "I'm scared" she said, looking up to him. Will looked at Beverly. He knew there were always risks with surgery, and this was another risky one. He didn't care as much about her sight as he did about her making it through at all. "I'm going to be right here, imzadi. Beverly's going to take good care of you. Don't worry." With that he leaned down to kiss her delicately on the cheek as she cupped his face in her hand. "I'll see you soon" he whispered into her ear as she offered a half-smile before she went totally out. Beverly's assistants took the biobed and wheeled it into the ICU as Beverly gave Will one last look of reassurance and then turned and followed them. Will stood out in the waiting room, walking, pacing, sitting, standing, scratching his beard, running his fingers through his hair. The minutes on the clock ticked slowly by. A half-hour went by. Then an hour. Then another hour. "My god, what are they doing in there?" he mumbled as he began to pace again. His heart started to beat faster as another half-hour went by. "Come on Bev, what's taking so long?" he thought, worriedly. He paced some more and ran his fingers through his hair some more as sweat began to break out on his forehead. Finally, the door slid open and a disheveled Beverly Crusher walked in. "She made it through the surgery, Will. Barely. We got the parasite completely removed." Beverly said, exhausted. Will swallowed hard. "Can I see her?" he asked, his eyes betraying his desperation. "In a moment, they're wheeling her out now" Beverly said. Will entered sickbay and Beverly followed him, removing her mask and noticing Will's hair all messed up and standing on end from all of his fussing. She smiled to herself. Just as they brought Deanna's bed into place, Will reached her and looked down at her soft sleeping face. He took his fingers and brushed them along her cheekbone, then bent over to place a tender kiss on her forehead. He leaned down and whispered in her ear "Deanna, Deanna." She stirred momentarily then quieted again. Will waited a moment, and then tickled the side of her neck with his fingers. "Wake up, baby" he said softly as she stirred again, turning her head from one side and then to the other. Will leaned in so his face was close to hers. "Time to wake up, sleeping beauty" he smiled. Deanna's eyelids began to flutter and a small smile came across her lips. "Imzadi" she breathed. Will chuckled as he placed a hand by her shoulder and continued to stare into her face. First one eye opened, then closed, then the other opened, and finally, both. Those eyes. Those beautiful eyes. He was always getting lost in them. "Hi darling" Will said as he stared into her soul. "You made it through the surgery. The parasite is gone." Deanna crinkled her nose and smiled. But Will noticed her eyes were focused towards the top of his head. "Imzadi" she giggled as she reached up and touched his hair. "What the hell happened to you?" Will's eyes grew wide as he looked up at Beverly and back down to Deanna. "Deanna?" he whispered, holding his breath. "Yes, imzadi, I can see you" she smiled widely as she took her fingers and tried to smooth down his tousled hair. "And what a sight you are." Beverly clasped her hand over her mouth as she gasped and tears came to her eyes. "Oh my god, it worked" she whispered. Will was frozen, he couldn't stop grinning and he couldn't stop staring into those beautiful eyes. Deanna drew her fingers tenderly down his cheek and across to his lips. Then she brought them down to his beard feeling wonderfulness of it, then she brought her hand back up and cupped his cheek in it. "Yes, imzadi." She breathed. What a sight you are."

Deanna Troi's gown flowed out in white silk from her body and looked lovely against her porcelain skin and black hair. She trembled as she walked down the aisle, soulful eyes staring at her mate. Will's legs wouldn't stop moving as he stood there, mesmerized for the umpteenth time by her beauty. After a few moments he couldn't hold back any longer and jumped off the platform to run down the aisle and meet her halfway, taking her in his arms and squeezing her tightly as giggles could be heard in the audience. Will calmed her trembling and guided her up to where the Captain stood. Neither of them heard a word he said, just a slight buzzing in the background, as they shared tender loving murmurs to each other in their minds. As they faced each other, Will spoke of loving her before he knew her, for a thousand years, for an eternity, his soul connected to hers in a way beyond the universe, beyond this realm of reality. Deanna spoke of the light he brought to her existence, the strength he brought to her heart, no other, there was never any other, there would never be any other. The Captain pronounced them husband and wife. Their friends cheered and many cried like babies. The Captain put his arm around Beverly as she cried into his shoulder. Luwaxana clung to Mr. Homm to make sure she didn't faint. Guinan smiled serenely, nodding knowingly as they walked past her down the aisle. A newlywed husband took his wife to bed, loving and worshipping every inch of her body, taking his time, stretching it out to all eternity until she lay violently shaking underneath him as he, too, exploded into her soul and trembled with a love so deep it was unspeakable. And the wonder, oh the wonder, of two souls so connected that nothing could tear them apart, nothing could break the bond, it was truly, most amazingly, a wonder to see.

EPILOGUE

Deanna lay sleeping peacefully in Will's arms. "Squeak" a sound came from under the bed. No one stirred. "Squeak!" came the voice again. Deanna's eyes suddenly opened wide. "Squeak!" "What the…." she began to say as she gently slid out from Will's arms and bent over, upside down, straining to look under the bed. A soft wet nose nuzzled hers. "Oh my god!" she exclaimed and this time it woke Will up. She sat up quickly and turned to look at Will with confusion. "Will, what is…what is….." she reached under the bed and lifted the creature out and held it up to him. "This?!" she exclaimed. There, in Deanna's arms, was a soft warm furry creature so much like Teya that it tugged at her heart. "Oh my god, I forgot" Will mumbled to himself, under his breath. "Excuse me?" Deanna asked. "Well, um.." Will said as he cleared his throat. "After you left the Enterprise I…. well, I…..I just missed you so much and missed my pet that reminded me of you so I went to Beverly and I….." he paused looking up at Deanna hoping somehow she would lose interest. "Well, I asked her if she still had the DNA from when they'd studied the animal, and…." "Will, you didn't!" Deanna gasped. Will looked sheepishly down at the ground. "I did." he said, penitent. "You made a clone?! A clone of Teya?!" she could not believe it. "Well, not me, Beverly" Will smirked. "And she agreed to that?" Deanna asked, astonished. Will just shook his head yes. "Oh my god Will, you know that's illegal? You know if Starfleet ever found out you could lose your job…" Will turned to face Deanna, a little embarrassed, a little amused. "Well, Captain Picard said he'd look the other way due to extenuating circumstances. I'm hoping you'll agree" he smiled. Deanna snorted and looked down at the little creature nestled in her arms. "What did you name it?" she asked. "Frank" he said, proudly. "Frank? Will, you know it's a girl, right?" Deanna asked, incredulous. Will nodded, giving her a charming smile. She sighed. "Well, how about Frankie?" she asked. "Frankie sounds good" Will said as he scratched his beard. Will and Deanna both burst out laughing as she set her new pet down on the ground and leapt back into Will's arms nuzzling and nipping his neck. Frankie immediately followed her and jumped up into the bed, trying to get in between them and snuggle. "Oh no you don't, little one!" Deanna said sternly as she gently lifted her pet and set it over to the side. "Nothing comes between us. Nothing. Ever again."

THE END

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