Will Riker shook his head in confusion. He wasn't sure how Rachael Finnegan had gotten into his quarters but at the moment, he didn't particularly care. She stood over him with fire burning in her eyes. Rachael was absolutely furious and had every right to be. Will was sleeping with another woman and had tried to keep it a secret. Rachael suddenly knew why Will had been avoiding her but she didn't know how to react.

Will felt as if time stood still. He had a lovely woman standing over him and a lovely woman lying next to him. The problem was that both of them seemed extremely upset. Riker knew that things were going to take a turn for the worse.

"How could you?" restated Rachael, allowing tears to drain down her face.

"Rachael, I can explain." replied Will, pulling a sheet over his groin.

Vanessa quickly rolled out of bed and searched frantically for her clothes. She quickly realized that her shirt and paints were still in the living room. Vanessa gasped in mortification as her cheeks stung red with embarrassment. I have to cover myself with something, she thought in a panic.

Not knowing what else to do, Vanessa yanked the sheet from Will Riker, re- revealing his nudity. She quickly wrapped herself in the sheet and managed to cover most of her nakedness. Will glared at Vanessa for a moment but suddenly remembered that his pants were on the floor. He slide from his bed and scooped up his pants. Riker put them on quickly as Rachael yelled obscene words at him.

"Rachael, you need to calm down!" shouted Riker as he latched the button to his pants.

"Calm down?! How dare you Will Riker?! You're sleeping with another woman! A woman that appears to be a girl!" roared Rachael, her tears still flowing.

Vanessa wanted to speak but her voice was trapped within her throat. She wanted to lash out Finnegan for calling her a girl but the problem was, Rachael Finnegan was one of her professors. She wasn't about to add gas to the fire. Vanessa held her tongue and listened to the arguing.

"First of all Rachael, we're not married! We're not exclusive! I don't think I'm doing anything wrong! I can tell you this! I don't appreciate you sneaking into my quarters uninvited!" yelled Riker, flailing his arms in the air.

"Well excuse me. If I had known you were baby sitting, I wouldn't have barged in!"

"Can you two stop talking as if I not in the room!" roared Vanessa, deciding she had remained silent for long enough.

"You stay out of this!" shouted Will and Rachael at the same time.

Vanessa gasped in fright. She hadn't expected both of her professors to snap at her. Vanessa suddenly felt like she was in first grade again. She knew that she was young but both Will and Rachael made her feel as if she were practically a toddler.

"Wait a second! I know you. You're one of my students in my Bio-chemistry class!" cried Rachael as a light popped on in her head.

Vanessa lowered her head in shame. Finnegan had recognized her which wasn't surprising, since Vanessa was extremely outspoken in her classes. Well I guess our little game is up Will, thought Vanessa in distress.

"A student?! Will Riker, you are scum! No, you're lower than scum! I don't think there is a word to describe what you are!" roared Rachael.

"Rachael, I think we need to stop the shouting and talk about this like adults!"

"Adults?! There is only one adult in this room Will and that's me! You've been sleeping with a Starfleet cadet. She is just a child!!"

"I know she's just a child!! I made a mistake!" shouted Will in the heat of anger.

Vanessa Starkey's mouth dropped. She could not believe the words she just heard. A child, he thinks I'm a child and that he made a mistake, thought Vanessa as tears suddenly filled her eyes.

Will quickly realized he had been thinking out loud. He turned to Vanessa with apology written all over his face. Riker didn't know what to say. He had two women looking at him, both with tears in their eyes. Will had to say something but no words would come. Suddenly Vanessa reared back her hand and slapped Will Riker across the face.

Rachael stared blankly at the young cadet. She couldn't believe that the girl had struck a commanding officer, but didn't really blame her. Meanwhile, Riker quickly covered his cheek which had turned the brightest shade of red.

"Screw you Will Riker!" bellowed Vanessa, tears dripping off her chin.

"Vanessa, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that!" replied Will, still holding his cheek.

"Go to hell!" replied the cadet as she turned on her heels and bolted out the front door.

Will wanted to follow her but he still had to deal with Finnegan. He turned to Rachael quickly with anger in his eyes. She stared back at him with the same fiery glare.

"Get out of my quarters, Rachael." Will said coldly.

"Gladly but I have to say one thing before I go. You're a sad pathetic excuse for a man. You felt insecure about your age so you tried to find a way to feel young again. You thought by sleeping with a younger woman, it would make you feel better about the aging process. Well I feel sorry for you Riker. Nothing you do is going to make you feel young again. You make me sick."

Will glared ice daggers at Rachael. He wished that she was a man because Will desperately wanted to ram his fist down Rachael's throat. However, Riker remained calm but he was still fuming.

"Are you done?" asked Will angrily.

"I've said my piece."

"Then get out!" roared Riker.

=====/////=====

Jonathon Hale strolled across the Academy's campus. It was extremely late and he had class early in the morning, but he didn't care. Jonathon had too much on his mind. Thoughts charged his brain like dozens of linebackers. He was jumbled with emotions.

Jonathon took in the night scenery as he continued toward his dormitory. The moon was full and stars speckled across the dark blanket of sky. He sighed to himself. Jonathon was still mopey but he had managed to pull himself from bed, and take a walk.

Jonathon continued to think about Vanessa. He wanted desperately to fix things between them but he had hammered in the last nail in the coffin. There was no turning back now. Jonathon had made a terrible mistake and was forced to live with it. Suddenly, the sounds of crying echoed through the area. Jonathon paused for a moment and listened attentively. The sounds appeared to be coming from a treed area. He turned his head in puzzlement and started walking toward the bellows of distress. The cries were getting louder but he couldn't make out anything in front of him. It was dark and the street lights only illuminated parts of the campus. Jonathon couldn't see who was crying.

Jonathon squinted his eyes and called out to the person crying.

"Hello? Who's there? Are you ok?"

"Go away!" retorted the sad voice.

"Look, I was just walking by and I heard someone crying. I didn't mean to disturb you. I was just making sure you were ok, whoever you are?"

"Just go away!" shouted the feminine voice in between sobs.

Jonathon Hale stepped closer to the outcropping of trees. He was beginning to make out the area and he was certain the girl's voice sounded familiar.

"Look, its obvious your upset. I don't know you but I'd like to help. Would you like to talk about it?" asked Hale as he eyes adjusted to the light.

"I said go away Jonathon!" shouted Vanessa, wiping her nose with a tissue.

Suddenly, everything was clear to Cadet Hale. He quickly realized that he was speaking to none other than Vanessa Starkey.

"Vanessa, what are you doing out here? Why are you crying?" asked Jonathon, making sure he kept a good distance between him and Vanessa. He wasn't particularly sure it was safe to advance. Last time they had spoken, Jonathon ended up with a sore cheek.

"I said go away! How many times must I repeat this sentence to you?!"

"Well forgive me for checking up on someone who appears to be upset! I didn't know it was you but I'm not leaving until I'm sure you're alright."

"I'm fine. Now will you please leave?!" cried Vanessa.

There was a moment of silence. Neither one spoke but their eyes met and suddenly Jonathon had a rough idea of what happened.

"It was him, wasn't it?" stated Jonathon, knowing full well Commander Riker had caused Vanessa's pain.

"Just leave me alone."

"No, not until I get you back to your dorm. You don't need to be out here alone especially in this condition. I'll walk you home."

"Like hell you will! Did you forget that I don't want anything to do with you?!"

"Just let me get you home and then I promise you'll never hear from me again."

"Yeah, right!"

"I promise Vanessa. I just want to make sure you get home safe." stated Hale, putting his hands up in defense.

Vanessa wiped her nose roughly with the wet tissue and sobbed loudly. She didn't know what to think. Meanwhile, Hale stared blankly at her. He saw that Vanessa's makeup was a mess and her eyes were red from crying. Jonathon didn't say anything. He kept all of his emotions bottled up and revealed nothing but a gentle smile.

Vanessa observed him. She swiped away a tear dribbling down her face and coughed lightly. Suddenly, Vanessa didn't seem to care that she hated Jonathon Hale. This was the first time she had ever seen him act genuine. Vanessa returned his smile and nodded.

"Alright, I'll let you walk me home but after that, I want nothing to do with you." replied Vanessa, her smile still etched across her face.

"I promise." said Hale, tracing his heart with an "X" motion, "cross my heart."

That night for the first time, Vanessa Starkey and Jonathon Hale had a real conversation. It wasn't arguing or flirting; just talking. Vanessa told Jonathon what happened but he remained emotionless. He just listened to her story and responded when she asked him to. Hale was done with trying to be some the macho/cocky type. He just wanted to be Vanessa's friend.

=====/////=====

Will Riker stared at his lesson plan PADD and sighed quietly. He was looking at the words in front of him but they didn't seem to decode into anything. Will was having trouble concentrating and couldn't focus on the PADD. He was just looking at it. Memories of the night before lingered in his mind. Things had gone very badly. Riker was extremely depressed and wasn't sure how to deal with the pain. God I wish I was back on the Enterprise, thought Riker.

Suddenly, a young man entered his office. He appeared to be angry but his demeanor was non-threatening. However, Riker quickly realized that it was the Cadet that had vocally bashed him in public. He had to think for a moment but the Cadet's name popped from his memory. Jonathon Hale, he thought. Will's eyes opened in confusion and shock. What the hell, he thought, this guy has got a lot of nerve coming here?

"What do you want and what the hell are you doing in my office?" asked Riker, rising from his desk.

"First of all, I just wanted to apologize for my unacceptable behavior a few nights ago. I was intoxicated and way out of line. For that, I'm sorry." stated Hale.

"Fine, apology accepted. Now get out of my office." snapped Will with a sharp glare.

Hale ignored Riker's orders. Jonathon knew that he shouldn't disobey a command but he had to say the things on his mind. If it meant being expelled, so be it.

"Second of all, I know that you messed up last night."

"What do you mean?" asked Riker, concern quickly overtaking him.

"I talked with Vanessa, sir. She was pretty upset."

Will rubbed his chin. He wasn't sure what Hale was going to say next. The fact that the Cadet had shown up at his office was enough for Will to be concerned about. Riker was almost sure he was about to have a fight on his hands.

"You talked with Vanessa? Well that's great Cadet. I'm glad. But if you don't mind, I have a lot of work to do. Please leave."

"I don't think so Commander. I've come here to tell you to stay away from Vanessa. She's hurt and doesn't need to see you again."

"And she told you this?" asked Will, his brow rising.

"That's right." replied Hale with a stern tone.

"She told you to tell me this?"

"Not exactly."

"That's all I need to hear Cadet. Get the hell out of my office. That's an order!" growled Riker, his eyes set a fire.

Suddenly, all the anger and passion Jonathon had built up inside him. He couldn't resisted his feelings anymore.

"I love her, sir!" yelled Hale, his voice trembling.

Will Riker was set back from the outburst. This guy can't be serious, he thought.

Riker wanted to unleash at series of outbursts. He had just about enough of this disobedient Cadet but Will contained his anger. He understood that Cadet Hale was only trying to let his feelings be known. It wasn't Hale's fault that his professor had made a move on the girl he loved. In fact it must have been damn awkward. Hale had guts confronting Riker.

"What?" asked Will in confusion.

"I love her and I don't want her to get hurt. Vanessa shouldn't be with you. It can only mean disaster and if she stays with you she'll only end up getting hurt. I'm asking you to be the better man and stay away from her."

"Listen Cadet, Vanessa has made it perfectly clear that she doesn't want to speak with me again. Not to say I blame her."

"She'd take you back. I know it. But I also know it's for the best that you stay away."

Riker sighed heavily. His depressed mood had gotten worse. Riker wanted desperately to shoot himself out a photon torpedo bay. How had things come to this, he thought?

Will Riker wanted to turn back the hands of time. He wanted to go back and tell himself not to get mixed up in this stupid child's interpretation of a love triangle.

"Fine, Cadet. I'll stay away. I guess it's for the best anyway."

Jonathon couldn't believe his ears. He almost fell back from shock but suddenly a small smile tugged at Hale's lips. He knew that things would probably never change between him and Vanessa., but he didn't care about that now. All Hale wanted was what was best for her and he knew that Riker wasn't what was best.

"Thank you, sir."

"Not so fast, Cadet. If Vanessa will let me, I'm still going to talk to her. I owe her that much."

Hale nodded. Commander Riker was right. He did need to rectify the situation, make amends so to speak. Jonathon had no problem with that.

=====/////=====

Vanessa sat at the café where she had interviewed Will Riker. She was sad and was having trouble keeping tears from falling. Vanessa felt like she was in a terrible nightmare that she couldn't wake up from. The problem wasn't what happened the night before but rather the fact she knew she'd never speak with William Riker again.

"Hello Vanessa."

The sound of Will Riker startled Starkey. She jumped with fright and quickly turned in her chair to face Will.

"Wow, I must say I'm surprised. I didn't think you'd have the guts to talk to me."

"Well, now I'm the one who's surprised. I thought you had more sense than that." replied Riker, setting in a chair across from Starkey.

"What do you want Will?"

"I want to apologize about last night's showdown. I was out of line when I blurted out my feelings but the fact of the matter is; I was correct in my statement. I made a mistake. We should have never gotten involved. I was way off base when I started fraternizing with the Cadet at the Academy."

"But Will," interrupted Vanessa, tears starting to well up.

"Please, let me finish. Vanessa, you are so wonderful. You're intelligent, witty, and certainly beautiful. Any guy that gets you is going to be an extremely lucky man but that man should be closer to your age. Not some "old" loser like me."

"Will, I don't care about age." pleaded Vanessa.

"I do. Although you make it seem like I can have any woman I want, you also make me appear like a pervert. I should be dating someone my own age and so should you. Besides, I don't deserve you Vanessa and I shouldn't even try."

"Don't you think I should have a say so in this decision."

"No, because I've already made mine. I care about you Vanessa but we can't see each other anymore."

Suddenly, reality hit Vanessa like a tone of bricks. She couldn't hold in her sorrow anymore. Vanessa began to cry openly.

"I'm sorry Vanessa. I really am. I hope one day you can forgive me." stated Will, as he rose from his chair.

Riker came around the café table and took Vanessa by the hand. He slowly helped her from her chair and then wrapped his arms around her. They embraced in a hug that lasted for several minutes.

"Goodbye Vanessa."

"Goodbye Will, I'll never forget you. I promise."

"Ditto." replied Riker, pulling away from the hug.

Suddenly, time seemed to flash by and just like that, Will Riker walked out of Vanessa Starkey's life.

=====/////=====

The End of the Second Semester

"Did you hear, Riker finally got his transfer? He's heading to the Enterprise." informed Hale as he and Vanessa strolled across campus.

"Yeah, I think it was Sor'tok that told me." replied Vanessa, her heart feeling heavy.

"Well, I have to say. I really didn't like the guy but I think he sure had great taste in women." stated Jonathon, as he kissed Vanessa on the lips.

Vanessa smiled. The fact was, she cared about Jonathon Hale very much. She had been too blind to see what she already had. Hale had changed him image completely. He was no longer the arrogant man she had known for so long. Now Jonathon was caring and opened his heart to her. Vanessa hadn't really loved Will Riker. It had just been a crush but something good came out of her Riker experience. Will had made her see the true value of the people close to her and for that, she was extremely grateful.

Vanessa pulled Jonathon close to her and kissed him passionately on the lips. When they parted, both graduating Cadets took each other's hand. They continued their walk across campus. As they did, Vanessa looked up at the blue sky and smiled. Thank you Will, she thought, thank you for teaching me the lessons of love.

The End