A/N: This isn't going to be a fix-it fic, exactly, although it will go in a different direction than the show at the end. This is, rather, my way of dealing with disappointment with the most glaring absence from Picard: from the show, and from the character's life. Spoilers for all of S1 and The Last Best Hope by the excellent Una McCormack.

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"Kestra, have you seen your mother?"

The rumpled, blonde-haired girl on the far side of the sunlit great room afforded her father perhaps a half-second of dubious attention before returning it to the intricate weaving project in her hands. "Nope."

"Thanks. So sorry to disturb," William Riker told his daughter dryly, earning at least a sheepish smile in reply. To a degree unlike either of her parents, but very much like her late older brother, Kestra Troi-Riker tended to immerse herself completely in whatever sundry topics captured her interest, to the exclusion of more or less everything else. He shook his head and continued his search down the back hallway. He could simply have asked the computer, but their home was much smaller than a starship, after all, and there were only a handful of places to check.

He found her in their bedroom, standing quietly in front of the dresser, fingers curled around the hairbrush she'd set down after styling her hair for the day. "Deanna?"

"Hmm?"

She hadn't turned at his arrival, but he continued anyway with what he'd come to tell her, folding his arms and leaning his tall frame against the doorjamb. "I've had the computer running continuous sensor scans since Jean-Luc and Soji left yesterday, and I just checked again. Still no sign of the Tal Shiar—it looks like Jean-Luc's ship wasn't followed here by the Romulans, or even if it was, they didn't have any interest in us."

"Just Soji," she agreed softly. "Well. It's good we're safe."

Riker frowned, concern deepening the lines of age on his forehead as he recognized the familiar waver of unshed tears in his wife's voice. Sorrow, anxiety, grief—all had become too-constant companions for them both in recent years, and the past two days had stirred up these, and even more, emotions. Still, he'd thought she was doing well, all things considered... "Imzadi?"

She heard the floorboards creak as he crossed the room towards her, felt the warmth of his large hand settling on her shoulder; and Deanna Troi finally looked up at her husband, ebony eyes damp as she tried to smile.

"Hey," he said gently, lifting one hand to brush the dark fringe away from her eyes. "What is it?"

She let go of the hairbrush and gestured to a framed photograph on the dresser. "I was just thinking about Beverly." A fresh wave of sadness rose in her as she spoke the words aloud.

Riker glanced past her at the photograph and understood immediately, the sight of the four smiling faces there hitting him like a blow.

The snapshot had been taken at their wedding reception, nearly twenty years ago now, on an unseasonably warm late spring day in his Alaskan hometown of Valdez. Data and Geordi La Forge were just visible chatting with Guinan in the background, but the image was dominated by the four senior officers in the fore: Deanna, hair swept up, was radiant in a scalloped, sleeveless, pale pink dress. Riker himself, laughing, had one arm securely wrapped around his bride's waist. To his other side, in full dress whites, smiling broadly, was his then-captain, best man, and mentor, Jean-Luc Picard—the man who had, just two days ago, suddenly appeared here at their home on Nepenthe via assimilated spatial trajector technology from a Borg cube dozens of light-years away. In the photograph, Picard held a champagne flute in one hand; the other rested at the small of the fourth figure's back.

Doctor Beverly Crusher, slender and elegant in her trim commander's blue-and-white dress uniform, smiled happily at the camera, leaning comfortably against Picard as she lifted her glass. The evident intimacy both defined, and yet belied, their closeness. The two of them weren't—never had been—a couple, but their relationship otherwise defied easy categorization. For fifteen years on the Enterprise, for years before that and years after, they'd had one of the deepest friendships Riker had ever known.

Looking now at the closeness of his old friends in that moment, Riker wondered again how the rift between them had ever grown so vast.

He dropped his gaze. "You think we should tell her," he said finally. He didn't need to clarify what. Picard's unexpected visit here, the discovery of Data's "daughter" Soji, the damn fool mission to find her homeworld ahead of the Romulans—all of these mattered, of course, but they weren't what their friend needed to know.

Deanna nodded. "I know she's coming next month, but I don't think we should wait because—" She stopped, composing herself before continuing quietly, "I don't think he has that much time."

Riker moved away abruptly, running a hand over his graying beard, then looked back at her intently. "Deanna, this is Jean-Luc Picard we're talking about. He's too damn stubborn for something like this...this condition to get him."

It hurt to push back, but she'd felt the truth from him, and they had to acknowledge it. "Will, you saw him…"

He jabbed a finger at the sunny sky out the window, as if Picard's ship was still in orbit there above them. "I saw that he's determined to finish this mission, and I have absolutely no doubt he will."

"I believe that too, but he needs help."

"Then I can talk to Admiral Clancy. If Jean-Luc needs Starfleet's help, she can shove her personal prejudice against him right up—"

"Will!" Deanna stopped him with a hand on his chest, and now her dark eyes were sympathetic, as she felt his fierce denial. "Will, I know you might be able to help with bringing in Starfleet, but you know that's not what I meant."

His shoulders sagged and his hand dropped to his side. "No." They locked eyes for a moment, and finally he let out a breath, turning away. "All right. I'm going to reach out to Clancy. You…you should call Beverly."