Disclaimer: Paramount owns all Star Trek characters. I make no profit from this story.
The Imzadi book belongs to Peter David. I just quoted it a bit.

Spoilers: A few lines and quotes from the Imzadi book by Peter David.

Rating: umm, dunno... PG, maybe PG-13

Author's note: I want to thank Pia, Carol, Dawn and Liana for helping me with this story.
I've been writing this for so long that I can't remember everyone who helped me (and probably some of the helpers don't even remember helping me, lol) but if I've forgotten someone, it doesn't mean I don't appreciate your help! So, thank you everyone! No matter if you have helped me with just one word, I still appreciate the help a lot! :)

All feedback is welcome and hoped for but please be gentle.

Dedication: This one is for Emma – Happy Birthday! :) hugs

Setting: Story takes place...let's say... after Generations.

The Ultimate Choice
by Sunstar 2002 - 2003

"I'm fine. Go away!"

"No, I won't. What's the matter with you, Deanna? You've been snappy all day!"

"I told you, I'm fine! I'm just having a bad day. I'm really not in the mood for company. Just leave Will, please!"

"Dee, I know something's not right..."

Deanna walked to the door and pressed the release button.

"Please leave," she said trying to keep her voice calm.

Will sighed and shook his head but said nothing more. Slowly he stepped out into the corridor.

----------

Inside her quarters Deanna was unsuccessfully trying to control her anger. She walked around attempting to slow down her heartbeat and let go of the rage she was feeling, but she could not. Breathing exercises were not enough this time. She needed to break something and see it shatter. Without thinking she headed towards the three glass vases on her living-room table and grabbed the first one. With more force than she knew she had, she threw the vase to the opposite wall and turned to pick up the other two.

----------

Will was still standing outside Deanna's quarters when the first vase hit the wall. He heard her cry out in anger and her outburst was followed by the sound of breaking glass. He reacted immediately.

"Deanna!?!" He called, running back through the doors to her quarters, just in time to see the second vase in the air.

The heavy glass object hit him squarely in the forehead, smashing into thousand pieces. As Deanna watched in horror, Will fell back as though in slow motion. His head hit the wall with horrible force and Deanna could feel his consciousness slipping away before he slumped to the floor.

"Oh my God! Will!"

The sound of breaking glass could be heard a third time as Deanna let go of the other vase in her hand and ran to Will's side. His temple was bleeding badly, and a huge bump was forming on the back of his head.

"Troi to Sickbay! Medical emergency in my quarters!"

"Acknowledged," came the Doctor's reply through the comm badge.

Tears fell down Deanna's face as she watched Will's unmoving body and the blood that was flowing down the side of his face, staining her carpet.

"Will... I'm so sorry..."

With trembling hands she took off her uniform jacket and tried to stop the bleeding with its sleeve.

"Oh, God! please wake up. Will, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to..."

----------

A minute later Beverly Crusher and two nurses burst through the door and gasped at the sight that greeted them. Will was lying on the floor in a puddle of blood, and there was broken glass everywhere. Deanna was sitting next to him crying and shaking, obviously in shock.

"What happened?" Beverly demanded to know, taking out her tricorder and scanning Will.

"He... he got hit by a vase on the head. I ... I threw it. I didn't mean to hit him! It was an accident!" Deanna said frantically. "And then he fell and hit his head again... on the wall..." Deanna managed to get out between sobs. "How is he? He's going to be okay, right? Beverly?"

"He has a severe concussion and a deep cut on his forehead. We need to stop the bleeding and then remove those small pieces of glass." Beverly said while putting the tricorder back in her pocket.

"But, is he...?" Deanna asked, seizing the Doctor's arm.

"Deanna, calm down! He's going to be just fine." Beverly answered, placing a hand on her hysterical friend's shoulder. "Let's move him to sickbay!" She told the nurses.

----------

In sickbay Beverly removed the glass pieces from Will's head and sealed the wound. Deanna was standing by his bed and refused to budge. She had her hands wrapped around herself and she continued the soft sniffling and sobbing as she spoke.

"He was just trying to help, I had no reason to be mad at him. It was all my fault, I should be lying on that bed, not him! It's not fair! All my fault...Why is he still unconscious? Beverly, why isn't he waking up?"

"Deanna, he suffered quite a blow. He won't wake up for a while. His head needs time to heal. The concussion caused swelling that has to go down. He needs to rest now. Why don't you go back to your quarters and rest a little too. I'll let you know when he wakes up, okay?"

"NO! I want to stay here! I want to be near him! I won't leave." Deanna yelled at Beverly causing the Doctor to take a few steps back.

She looked at her friend. She was clearly in shock and showing signs of fatigue. She was mad at herself and mad at the situation. The Doctor took out her tricorder again and quickly scanned Deanna.

"When was the last time you ate anything, or slept?" she asked concerned, but did not get an answer.

"Deanna?"

"I'm fine! There's nothing wrong with me! Leave me alone!" She snapped, but then seemed to realize her bad behaviour and continued more calmly. "I'm sorry, Beverly, I shouldn't be yelling at you, I'm fine, really. You don't need to worry about me."

Beverly eyed her suspiciously but let the matter drop since Deanna obviously was not willing to talk. Instead, she went to the replicator and asked for a hot chocolate and a sandwich. Coming back, she placed them in front of Deanna.

"If you don't want to talk or sleep, at least eat something. It will be several hours before Will wakes up, okay? Please, Deanna..."

The Counselor looked up at her friend for a while before reaching out and accepting the food.

"Thanks Beverly." She said quietly.

----------

When Will started to regain consciousness, the first thing he saw was Deanna's black eyes staring down at him.

"Will?" She whispered. "Are you awake. Do you remember what happened?"

"Yes," he said after a small pause. "I heard you scream and thought you were in trouble, and then I saw the vase in the air. From my headache and the fact that I'm in sickbay, I'd say you knocked me out!"

He grinned weakly at her.

"Oh, Will, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to hit you. I just... " She said with watery eyes, placing a gentle hand on his cheek.

"I know Dee, it's okay. Don't cry." He said growing serious too. "I wish you'd talk to me. Throwing things at innocent people isn't really your style. What's wrong? Please tell me."

"Nothing, Will. I told you that. I'm just having a bad day. I didn't sleep well last night, and it just seems that everything has gone wrong today. I'm sure I'll be fine tomorrow. Don't worry about me."

Will captured her face between his hands and looked into her eyes.

"I don't believe you. I know you, and I know when something's wrong. I can feel it."

"Betazoids never lie Will," she said and kissed his lips tenderly. "I have to go now, I'm sure Beverly will let you go soon. I'm sorry."

"Deanna!" He called after her. She stopped and turned around. "You know where to find me, if you want to talk, I'm always willing to listen."

----------

A week later...

Deanna turned restlessly around in bed. Strong emotions haunted her mind, not letting her rest. For almost two weeks now she had been unable to sleep except for a few hours and even then she was plagued by nightmares. She tried to concentrate, tried to block out the offending feelings but she could not. For some reason she was unable to build a shield against them. She was so tired! She wanted to sleep but she was scared. She did not want to surrender herself to the nightmares. She was afraid she would lose herself, and the powerful, dark feelings would take over.
At first she had thought isolation and meditation would help, but as the days passed by and the feelings continued to haunt her, she realized the last thing she needed was solitude.

During the days she tried to stay close to her friends. That was the only time when her mind had peace. Their emotions were calm, relaxed and happy; the darkness could not get through them. She tried to pretend that everything was fine but she could not lie to her best friends. Beverly had noticed the dark circles around her eyes and tried to scan her every time she passed by, and Will continuously asked if she was okay. She had just told them that she was fine, that she had been up late working, and that that was why she was tired. And she was not really lying, part of her words was true, she was fine during the days.

But now, now was night and she was alone again. Alone and vulnerable, out of the protective circle of her friends. Tears flowed down her face as she struggled to keep control. She felt like someone was watching her from the darkness, like someone was in the room with her trying to get to her. Her heart raced and her breathing was fast. She was starting to panic and get paranoid. She could not stand it anymore! She bolted up from the bed and ran out of her quarters.

----------

Will Riker had just gone to bed when he heard the doors to his quarters open and someone coming in. He got up immediately and went to see who had barged in in the middle of the night, assuming it was probably Worf coming to warn him about something. But the intruder was not a Klingon, not even close.

"Will?"

She was a mess. Will had never seen her like this before. Her face was tear-stained and her hair was loose and wild. The big T-shirt she was wearing was old and wrinkled. She was shaking and crying and looked extremely tired, upset and ready to collapse.

"Deanna? My God, what's the matter?" Will asked, moving closer.

"Will, please, you've got to help me! I can't stand it anymore! I just can't! I want to sleep, I have to sleep!" She sobbed, coming to stand in front of him and pressing herself against him.

He wrapped his arms around her and tried to calm her down.

"Deanna... of course I'll help you but please, you've got to tell me more. What's going on?"

"Will... I'm so sorry, I'm sorry I didn't tell you before. I know you offered your help and I didn't want it, but, please, if you still want to help, I could really use it now."

"Of course, honey, I'm here, you can tell me anything."

"I can't sleep... every night I hear these voices and feel the emotions. Horrible, dark, evil emotions! I can't block them, they're too strong! I don't know where they are coming from. I'm scared. I don't want to lose myself!"

Deanna's explanation was very difficult to understand because she was crying so hard, but Will had heard enough for the night, he could get more information in the morning.

"I want to help you, Deanna. What can I do?" Will asked holding her tightly.

"I want to stay here. Please let me stay here tonight, please Will! When I'm with you I can concentrate on your feelings and the darkness can't get through! I just want to sleep!"

Deanna was totally hysterical and Will was considering whether he should call Beverly or not but decided against it.

"Okay, Deanna, okay... shh... just calm down, honey, take it easy." He said lifting her up and carrying her to his bed and gently laying her down.

He laid down next to her, and wrapping an arm around her middle, he pulled her back tightly against his chest and stomach. He smoothed her hair and whispered calming words in her ear.

Gradually, she quieted down as her mind filled with his concerned, loving and peaceful thoughts. Slowly her trembling and crying ceased. After half an hour she was sound asleep, finally able to rest.

Will watched her sleep and quietly told the computer that he and Deanna would be taking the next day off.

----------

It was 10 am the next morning before Deanna woke up. She tried to get up, but found that she could not, because Will's arms were still wrapped tightly around her. Stopping the struggle she relaxed and turned around, knowing that he was awake.

"Hi, what time is it?" She asked quietly, staring into his clear blue eyes.

"It doesn't matter." He answered. "I know what you're thinking. You're not going to work today and neither am I. We're going to talk." He continued seriously, gently touching her face.

Deanna sighed, but did not argue. She knew Will would not change his mind. So instead she just nodded okay and pressed her forehead against his bare chest.

"Will... thank you for letting me stay here. You have no idea how much it means to me."

"I would do anything for you Deanna, you know that." He said, lightly stroking her hair.

"I know, but still...I'm so scared, Will. I don't know what to do."

She raised her dark, sad eyes to look at him.

"It's okay, don't worry. We're going to figure this out together." He lifted her chin up and softly kissed her lips, trying to assure her, and himself, that he was right.

----------

After eating breakfast Will sat Deanna down on the couch and tapped his communicator.

"Riker to Doctor Crusher, please report to my quarters."

"Acknowledged. I'm on my way." Came the Doctor's reply.

"Will! Why did you call her here?" Deanna asked surprised and a bit angry.

"Because, I want you to tell us what's wrong. Beverly is a doctor and she is your friend. I really think she should hear this too."

Deanna was about to protest, but after taking a deep breath she realized that Will was right. He and Beverly were her best friends, and they had been worried about her. They deserved to know, and maybe they could help. So, instead of arguing she just hang her head and waited for Beverly to arrive.

----------

After stepping through the doors to Will's quarters, the first thing Beverly saw was Deanna and Will sitting, hand in hand, on the couch. They both looked serious and worried.

"What's wrong?" She asked, moving cautiously inside.

Pointing to a chair, Will asked her to sit down before he started to speak.

"Last night, after midnight, Deanna came here. She looked like hell and she was crying her eyes out. She was so hysterical that I thought about calling you then, but I didn't. Because of her crying I didn't really understand what was wrong, except that it had something to do with her empathy, and that she couldn't sleep. She asked to spend the night here with me, so she could concentrate on my emotions. I agreed, and it seemed to help because she calmed down and fell asleep. Now she has promised to tell me, and you, what has been bothering her. Deanna?"

Deanna looked down at her hands and bit her lower lip.

"I... I've..." She stammered, not really knowing what to say or how to begin.

She lifted her gaze to Will and looked at him with pleading eyes, begging that she would not have to say anything.

Will traced the back of his hand down the side of her face.

"You have to tell us, Deanna. It's the only way we'll be able to help you. Please, tell us what you're feeling."

"I... For about two weeks now, I've been sensing very strange feelings. I mean, they're so dark and powerful. Evil might be the right word. I'm so scared. I feel like someone's haunting me, like someone is hovering over me all the time. When I'm alone, I feel like there's someone else in the room too. I can't really explain..." A tear slowly slid down Deanna's cheek.

"Do you know where these feelings are coming from. Is it someone on the Enterprise?" Beverly asked, shocked and concerned.

"No! No. I don't know where they're coming from, I'm not even sure if the feelings are projected to me intentionally, if I am supposed to feel them or if I am just picking them up because they're so strong. It feels like someone, or something, is deliberately trying to hurt or torture another being and they are enjoying it! Enjoying the others terror. And the worst part is that I can't seem to block them, not when I'm alone." Deanna said trying to hold back the flow of tears.

"What do you mean you can't block them?" Beverly was getting confused and very worried for her friend.

"Well..." Deanna sniffed "normally I can choose which emotions I want to feel. I can build a wall around my mind and let in only the ones I want. Without shields, Betazoids and other telepathic races would go mad from constantly hearing everyone's thoughts. They would lose themselves...their identities to the chaos."

"I see. So what you mean is you can't build a shield against these thoughts?"

"Exactly. I just can't do it! I can't do much of anything! I can't sleep! I can't eat! I can't think! And I don't know why! They must be so strong, and it's driving me crazy because I don't want to lose myself! If they were feelings of love and joy I wouldn't mind so much, but these thoughts are horrible, terrifying, and unbearable! And I can't just feel the tormentor's feelings, I can also feel the victims' fear and terror!

During the days when I'm close to you, I can concentrate on your feelings and manage to filter most of the dark emotions out, but in the evenings and at night... I can't sleep. I start to hear voices and if I fall asleep, I have nightmares, the kind of nightmares I have never seen before. I wake up shaking and sweaty and terrified! I just can't take it anymore! I've been so tired I can hardly stay awake but I don't dare to fall asleep."

"Last night was the first night in a long time that I have been able to sleep." Deanna sobbed openly now and Will wrapped his arms around her, pulling her into his embrace.

"Shh... it's okay. You're not alone now. Try to focus on our feelings, it'll make you feel better." Will said, while Beverly took out her tricorder and scanned Deanna.

"This doesn't look good. You're stressed, tired, you have lost weight, your paracortex activity is off the scale. We need to find a way to get you better and soon, before you collapse."

----------

After a thorough examination and a long discussion with Beverly, Deanna had agreed to move in with Will until they could find out what was wrong with her. The Doctor had also relieved her from duty, a fact which annoyed Deanna a great deal.

In the evening when Deanna returned from sickbay, Will was waiting for her in his quarters.

"Did Beverly find out anything?" He asked, hoping she had good news.

"No," she sighed "at least not yet. Some of the test results won't be back 'til tomorrow."

"Well, don't worry. She's a good doctor, I'm sure she'll find the answer soon."

Will wrapped a comforting arm around her shoulders and guided her to the table.

"I've been prodded with hyposprays and scans all day! Beverly didn't let me out of her sight for even a second!" Deanna huffed.

Will smiled at her and placed a food tray in front of her.

"Here, I made some hot chocolate for you. Hope it makes you feel better."

----------

When it was time for bed, Deanna laid down on the couch and pulled a blanket over her. Will headed towards his bedroom but stopped by the door.

"Are you sure you'll be okay? The couch isn't the best place to sleep. Why don't you sleep in my bed? I could sleep on the couch." He offered.

"No, Will. How many times do I have to tell you? I want to sleep here! I'll be fine, really. You just go to bed!"

"But..."

"No buts! It's your bed and you should sleep in it. Now go!"

Will sighed and obeyed. He did not want to push her. Last night she had not minded sleeping in the same bed with him, but tonight was different. She was not hysterical anymore and wanted to sleep alone, so there was nothing he could do about it. At least he would be close in case she needed help.

Three hours later, Will woke up to the sounds of soft whimpering and sobbing. He got up and ran to the living room. Deanna was crying in her sleep. She was tossing and turning tangling herself to the blanket while restlessly murmuring "No...no!"

He kneeled by her side and softly touched her shoulder.

"Deanna? Deanna, wake up!"

She turned around slowly and half opened her eyes.

"Deanna, wake up honey... you're having a bad dream." Will said quietly while gently stroking her hair.

Deanna opened her eyes fully and Will could see they were red from crying and glistening with unshed tears. She looked into his blue eyes and felt his concern wash over her senses. Her lower lip began to tremble and she sniffed loudly trying unsuccessfully to hold back the sobs of terror that tried to escape.
She sat up and wrapped her arms around Will's neck burying her head into his shoulder.

"It's okay Deanna, let it out. I'm here..."

Lifting her up from the couch, Will once again carried her to his bed and held her tightly. This time it took an hour before she fell asleep.

----------

The next day.....

Deanna was pacing Will's quarters restlessly. She had just come from sickbay. The Doctor had gotten the test results, and, according to Beverly, there was nothing wrong with her. Her paracortex readings were too high and she showed signs of stress, but Beverly could find no other cause than the lack of sleep.

Deanna knew there had to be another reason but she could not concentrate on thinking because the odd feelings were beginning to encase her again. She wished Will could be there to drive them away but he was on the bridge working, so she had to survive on her own for a while.

Suddenly the computer peeped announcing an incoming transmission. Deanna sat down in front of the terminal and turned it on. Her mother appeared on the screen.

"Hello Little One!"

"Mother... This is a surprise." Deanna said trying to suppress a sigh. She did not want to talk to her mother right now but she did not really have a choice.

"How are you, darling. Is everything okay? You don't look so good." Lwaxana asked, looking concerned.

"I'm okay, Mother, I've just had some trouble sleeping, that's all."

"Deanna, I can't read you from here, but I still know you're lying...or you're holding something back. What is it, dear?"

"Nothing. I'm okay, really." Deanna said, faking a smile. "Is there something you wanted to tell me? I mean, it hasn't been that long since we last talked... Not that I'm not happy that you called. Did you have some news for me, has something happened?"

"No dear, everything is the same here. I actually called because of you." Lwaxana told her seriously.

"Me? What do you mean?"

"I've had this nagging feeling that something's wrong with you. That you're not well. And I can see that I'm right. Honey, please talk to me."

Deanna thought of repeating that everything was fine, but she was too tired, and she knew Lwaxana would not be satisfied with that. Neither had she ever seen such a pleading and concerned look on her mother's face. Deanna knew her features betrayed her true feelings, she could not hide the truth from her. She looked into her mothers eyes just as a strong feeling of pain passed through her, making her gasp and shudder.

"Deanna...What is it?!" Her mother asked alarmed.

"I don't know!" Deanna managed to get out before she burst into tears.

----------

Will was tired. His eyes closed and he almost fell asleep. His thoughts drifted and images of Deanna flashed through his mind. He saw her in the Jalara jungle, trying to escape from the Sindareen raider, Maror's grasp. Maror was pressing a blaster against her stomach and yelling at her, 'Shut up! I'm going to blow a hole in your –'

"Number One?"

Riker snapped out of his memories with a start. "Sir?"

"Are you alright?" Captain Picard asked looking at his dazed First Officer.

"I...yes, Sir. I'm just tired, that's all." Will answered while blinking his eyes several times in order to get rid of the old images his mind had brought to the surface.

Picard said nothing more but continued to keep an eye on Riker.

Will did not know what he was supposed to do. His chair on the bridge, normally so comfortable, a place he did not leave easily, suddenly felt very un-comfortable. He could not sit still. He twisted and turned, stood up, sat down, stood up and sat down again. He felt restless and uneasy without any apparent reason.

'I'll kill her. I swear!' Maror's angry face and voice flashed in Will's mind again.

"Commander? Is there something wrong with your chair?" Picard raised a questioning eyebrow at Riker again.

"Permission to leave the bridge, Sir?" Will asked, suddenly bolting from his chair once more.

"Granted." The Captain agreed with a sigh.

Will headed straight for the turbolift and his quarters. He had finally figured out that the discomfort he was feeling was not really his at all.

----------

A half an hour had passed since Lwaxana had contacted her daughter. Deanna had managed to explain what had been going on during the last two weeks and Lwaxana had listened carefully and asked several questions. She looked at her teary-eyed daughter with worry. She wished she could hold and comfort her, help her shield her mind, but of course, because of the long distance between them, she could not. She could only watch helplessly as her daughter suffered.

Suddenly Lwaxana saw Deanna lift her head and look behind her. A look of relief crossed her face and a second later she saw William Riker wrap his arms around her daughter, pulling her into a tight embrace which Deanna gladly returned. William had not noticed her, so she could watch and observe the scene quietly. In a matter of minutes Deanna calmed down and stopped crying. Her body relaxed visibly.

Lwaxana cleared her throat loudly. Deanna whirled around and faced her mother again.

"Mother, I'm sorry I..."

"It's okay Deanna. I think I know what's wrong with you, but I need to come aboard to be sure."

"What?! You do? You don't need to come aboard, just tell me." Deanna urged.

"No, I want to be sure first. Besides if I told you, you probably wouldn't believe me anyway, so I have to come aboard. And, even if I were wrong, I can probably still help you because this definitely sounds like a telepathic problem. I'll see you soon dear. Nice to see you, William. Bye!"

"But...I...."

Lwaxana was gone before Deanna could utter another word. Will just stood behind her looking surprised and confused.

"What was that all about?" He asked after a moment.

"I told her what has been going on, but she wasn't sure what it could be. Then you came in, and now she seems to know. She wants to come aboard." Deanna explained, "I don't know what to think, when she's involved ...."

----------

When evening came again Will was prepared for another round of arguing about Deanna's sleeping arrangements but to his surprise and relief, she climbed in next to him and snuggled up close without a word. He kissed her hair and enveloped her within his arms. A few minutes later they were both sleeping peacefully.

----------

When, five days later, Mrs Troi shimmered onto the platform Deanna stepped forward to greet her. Lwaxana embraced her daughter tightly and then held her at arm's length looking at her from head to toe. She noticed that her dark eyes looked paler than usual and held a haunted expression in them. She could also feel the stress and tiredness within her and the desperate need and hope for help. Will was standing behind Deanna and Lwaxana smiled at him saying hello. Will smiled back and to a non-telepath he might have looked perfectly fine but Lwaxana was not fooled. She could feel he was worried and wished for help too. For himself, yes, but mostly for Deanna.

Without wasting any time Lwaxana stepped down from the transporter pad and took Deanna's hand in hers. She pulled her daughter towards the doors.

"Come on dear, let's find out what's wrong." She said, and with a nod of her head, indicated to Will that he should follow them. "You'd better come along too, Commander."

----------

After reaching the safety of Deanna's quarters, Lwaxana sat both Will and Deanna on the couch and pulled a chair for herself in front of them.

"Okay you two. I'm going to try to find out what's wrong. Or, actually, I'm going to see if my suspicions are correct. I assume nothing has changed since the last time we talked?" Lwaxana asked, looking from Deanna to Will.

Both shook their heads.

"No, Mother, nothing has changed. In fact, the symptoms are only getting worse and they are affecting Will as well." Deanna sighed looking at the floor.

"That's what I thought. Hmm...Okay, now I need both of you to relax and open your minds. I need to read your thoughts in order to find out the cause. William, you go first. Give me your hands." Lwaxana held out hers.

Will looked at her with apprehension but did what she asked.

"Good. Now close your eyes and relax. Let me into your mind, don't fight against the feeling. That's it...good..."

Will felt Lwaxana enter his mind and rummage around. It was the strangest sensation. He felt like someone was running around in his brain and digging out all the information he could give. Even though the sensation was odd it did not hurt or cause any discomfort. He felt warm waves and soft brushes move around faster than light. It was like someone was gently stroking his head from the inside. Soon Will was able to relax completely and let Lwaxana do her job.

Mrs. Troi spent five minutes probing Will's mind and then did the same to her daughter. It was easy to see that Deanna was used to people probing her mind because she relaxed immediately and Will could almost see the telepathic energy that flowed between them.

After releasing Deanna's hands Lwaxana looked down and sighed. "That's what I was afraid of."

"What?" Will and Deanna asked in unison.

"What's wrong with me? Mother, what did you find out? Please tell me." Deanna pleaded.

"You? There's nothing wrong with you dear. Well, not really."

"Then what is it?" Will asked looking very confused and worried.

"There isn't anything wrong with you or Deanna, but you two are the cause of the problem. You're the ones causing the pain and suffering. You are doing it to yourselves and to each other without even knowing or realizing it."

"What?! Mother, that is totally absurd! How could we possible be hurting ourselves?" Deanna asked shocked.

"It's not really you. It's your subconscious minds. It's the bond." Lwaxana stated.

"The bond?" Will asked. He was afraid to hear more.

"Yes, your Imzadi bond. That's the cause of your problems."

----------

After a moment of silence Deanna found enough strength to ask her mother to explain what she meant.

"The Imzadi bond," Lwaxana began "is a very strong mental bond between two people. It connects two souls together in a way that... that is hard to describe with words. It ties you together, and the bond, once complete, is very hard, almost impossible to break, or reverse. Because a true Imzadi bond is very rare, very sacred, it's something that is meant to be, it's fate. And if a couple is lucky enough to be blessed with the bond, it means that they belong together. They're soulmates. You have found the other half of yourself so to speak, you're whole. And those who have that, would not want to give it up. It would be like giving a piece of yourself away..." Lwaxana's voice faded away as she stared through the window to space, lost in thought.

"I don't understand," Will said quietly. "What has this got to do with our bond?"

"I was just coming to that, William." Lwaxana said, shaking herself out of her thoughts and memories. "What you have with my daughter is something very strong, a very special bond.... the beginning of a true Imzadi bond, I believe. But it's not complete. And that's the problem."

"You see, all mental bonds grow with time, and your bond has existed for so long already that it is trying to grow, but it can't. It can't because you're resisting, you're not letting it form properly. You're fighting it. That is the reason for your sufferings. You're fighting something you really should not be fighting. Something so precious... something that should be held gently and nurtured, but you are not doing that, are you? So, simply said, you're suffering from side-effects caused by your bond's attempts to grow."

Will was silent for a moment but raised his voice again.

"Let's assume for a moment that you are correct. What could we do to stop the side effects?" He asked, already dreading the answer.

"Well, you have only two choices." Lwaxana stated matter of factly. "You can either let the bond form and grow to a full bond, or... remove it completely."

----------

It was as if Lwaxana had dropped a bomb. Deanna and Will sat motionless on the couch, both supporting a look of horror on their faces, neither saying a word. Could it be true? Was it possible? Both were thinking the same thing. It did not make sense. But what other explanation could there be?

Lwaxana looked from one stunned face to the other and knew they had trouble accepting the truth.

"I know it's hard for you to understand this, but I'm not lying to you. William, it's NOT a scheme to separate you two! You should know I'm wise enough not to try that anymore, but under the circumstances, I don't blame you for the thought. If you think about all the things you've been through during the past few weeks, I'm sure you'll see that they all have something to do with Deanna and pain, and the fear of separation, fear of losing her. Am I right, Will?"

After thinking for a moment Will realized Lwaxana was right, so he nodded slowly.

"I've been feeling restless. I've seen flashbacks of the time when Deanna was captured by the Sindareen. I haven't slept well if I'm not near her, and lately, that hasn't helped either."

"That's because you're resisting the bond. At first, being close to her helped because the bond thought it was allowed to grow, but since you continued fighting it, the pain's returned." Lwaxana explained quietly and calmly.

Will slumped back against the couch for a second but then pushed himself up. He looked at Deanna and saw her still staring in front of her looking like she'd seen a ghost.

"I...I think I need some time alone... to sort this out in my head. I'll...I'll see you later, Deanna, okay?" He asked touching her hair.

She did not say anything. It looked like she was in a trance of some sort. Will glanced at Lwaxana as if silently asking her if Deanna was okay. Lwaxana gave him a reassuring nod with a small smile and patted his arm.

"It's alright, go. You'll have time to talk later."

With a final look at Deanna, Will left the room and headed for his own quarters next door.

----------

Will did not put the lights on. He stood in the darkness of his quarters facing the windows, trying to comprehend everything that had just happened. Could it be possible? Was the bond, their link he loved so much, responsible for all the awful things they had been experiencing?

The stars streaked by him in small flashes of light and Will moved closer to the window. He did not know what he should do. He loved the bond, and he loved Deanna. Things would be so perfect, if she only felt the same way. But she did not, and Will knew it. She did not want a relationship while they were serving on the same ship. She only wanted his friendship.

Even though Will was not a Betazoid he knew that the bond he shared with Deanna was something special and rare. Something that should not be tampered with. The thought of never feeling Deanna in his mind again made him feel like someone had died. The loss would be enormous. Their minds would never merge again, and he would never sense her presence again. He would not hear her silent laughter or feel her caress his soul. If they broke the bond, he would lose her forever.

----------

In the quarters next door Lwaxana sat down next to her petrified daughter.

"Deanna...honey, are you alright?" She asked quietly but aloud.

"No, Mother, I'm not." Deanna finally answered, turning her head to face the other woman. "Are you sure, Mother? Are you absolutely sure about this? Is it even possible?"

"Yes, dear, I'm sure, and yes, it's possible." Lwaxana sighed sadly.

"Then how come I've never even heard about such a thing?!" Deanna argued.

"It's very rare, Deanna. I've only witnessed one other case like yours, and it was a long time ago, before you were born. All bonds grow, and usually they don't cause any harm... just the opposite, actually." Lwaxana smiled for a moment. "Usually all bonds are wonderful and the older they are, the better. We're not meant to fight against them! A bond like yours is a gift from God. No one else could create anything so beautiful."

"I know." Deanna whispered. "I know." She broke down sobbing, hiding her face in her hands.

"Is there anything I can do?" Lwaxana asked putting a comforting hand on Deanna's shoulder.

"No, Mother.... I.... Could you just leave me alone for a while? I need to think."

"Of course, dear. I'll come see you tomorrow." Lwaxana left her daughter alone in the room.

When Deanna was alone, she took in a long trembling breath and stood up. She started pacing around like a caged animal trying to think clearly.

What would happen if they broke the bond? What would it be like? Deanna did not even want to think about it. Losing Will's presence in her mind would be like losing a part of herself, just like her mother had said.
She would be so alone. She had gotten used to having his presence in her mind for so long, she did not know how to live without it, without him. He gave her so much strength, comfort, love, courage, happiness and joy, and such a feeling of peace and contentment. He was the one she sought out in times of stress and worry. He was always there for her, no matter what. But if they broke the bond, all that would change. She would not be able to sense him from far away, only when they were face to face. She would not be able to send thoughts to him. He would not hear her, not be able to send to her. If they broke the bond between them, if they ceased to be Imzadi, all those precious things would be lost.

Deanna sank to the floor and started crying again. She did not want to give up the bond! It would be like taking all the colours away from her life, leaving her alone in the darkness. But what choice did she have? Will did not love her, not enough to commit to her. His first priority was Starfleet and becoming a Captain. He did not want to be tied to someone who would slow down his career. Serving on the same ship would only complicate a relationship.

Deanna used to think like that too, but she had realized that nothing is more important than love. If the love is strong enough it can overcome all obstacles. Living without love is like not living at all. But Deanna could not force Will, no matter how much she loved him. There was nothing she could do. Will did not want a relationship, so the only option was to break the bond. They could not live like this, not with the pain and torture. Breaking the bond was the right thing to do, for Will's sake and for hers.

Deanna curled up in a tight ball on the floor and cried till she had no more tears left, cried until she fell into an exhausted sleep.

----------

The next evening Deanna went to see Will. She found him alone in his quarters, standing by the windows.

"Will?"

He turned around and looked at her.

"How are you?" He asked quietly.

"I'm okay. I just needed some time to think about what mother told us." Deanna said, looking at the floor.

"Yeah, so did I. It's hard to believe, isn't it?"

"Yes, but it's true. I know that now."

"So, what do you think we should do?"

"Well... we certainly can't live like this; with the pains and stress," Deanna began slowly. "and we can't go on like we used to if we let the bond form either."

"I agree. So, the only solution...?"

"Is to... to.... break... the bond." Deanna finished Will's sentence, her voice trembling.

A very quiet "yes" was the only thing Will managed to get out.

He looked at her face and saw she was crying. His own eyes stung as he moved forward and enveloped her in his arms.

"I'm going to miss it." He whispered to her hair, holding her tightly.

"Me too." She sobbed pressing herself closer to him, trying to imprint the feel of his spirit deep into her mind.

----------

"William, we need to talk."

Will turned around at the sound of Lwaxana's voice and silently made a gesture for her to sit down.
There was no one else in Ten Forward.

Lwaxana studied him for a moment before speaking up again.

"It's not going to work you know. It's not going to help."

"What isn't?" Will asked confused.

"The ceremony. Deanna told me you want to break the bond. I just don't think it will help."

"But....but, you're the one who suggested we should do it!" Will said incredulously, raising his voice.

"Only as a last option! If you really want that! I never thought you'd do it." Lwaxana answered matching his angry tone.

"Well, I do want to do it!" Will almost yelled.

"Oh yeah?!" Lwaxana retorted. "Then what are you doing here drinking at 3 am looking like you've just lost the reason to live!?"

Silence fell. For a while neither said a thing. Then Lwaxana sighed,

"I'm sorry Will. I just don't want you to do something that you'll regret. I really think this is a bad idea.
The ceremony has never been performed on a bond like yours. God knows what will happen.
All I ask of you is to reconsider your decision. Please!"

"I can't. I'm sorry Lwaxana but I just can't. Deanna is suffering and she wants this done. I'll do anything for her."

He stood up to leave.

"But Will, it might cause more damage than good! It won't solve the problem!" Lwaxana was almost pleading.

Will just looked at her. She thought he was going to say something but then changed his mind at the last second, settling instead for a quiet, "Good night, Lwaxana." and left.

Once she was alone, Lwaxana let her body slump in the chair and she stared out at the stars.

"It won't solve the problem. It won't change the fact that you love each other. You're just too afraid to show it." She whispered to the empty room.

----------

Late in the following evening, Lwaxana, Will and Deanna headed to the holodeck to perform the bond breaking ceremony.

The room was programmed dark, lit only by candles. The floor was full of soft velvet pillows.

They stood in a circle facing each other. Lwaxana's voice was quivering when she asked Will and Deanna to kneel down and hold hands.

Will thought he was going to be sick. He felt light headed and his skin was cold and clammy. His mind was a mess and the only thought in his head was that he did not really want to do this, but that he had to, for Deanna's sake. His heart beat so fast it almost hurt. He watched the candles' flames flicker all around them, but their heat seemed almost nonexistent compared to the ache that burned within his soul. The ache that would surely kill him if the bond was broken.

Deanna did not feel any better. As she knelt down in front of Will she trembled so badly she could hardly keep her balance. Her breathing was erratic and she could not help the tears from flowing down her face. She bit her lip trying to stop the sobs but could not. Will and Lwaxana looked at her with questioning looks.

"Let's just do this, okay?" She said and after taking a deep breath she offered her hands to Will.

The second Will took hold of her hands Deanna felt dizzy. His current feelings of pain and suffering were pouring into her mind along with all their memories. She shook more violently and closed her eyes trying to block out the images bouncing around in her head. Her heart hurt so badly, she wished she could just rip it out and stop the pain.

Somewhere in the background she heard her mother's voice, chanting something.

Deanna felt a burning sensation in her mind and the images moved around even faster. She was filled with sounds, voices, pictures, memories. Everything was being collected, packed in a bag and someone was starting to pull it away.

A heat wave was moving up her body making her weak. Her limbs seemed to lose their strength, and her mother's voice seemed more distant every second.

Suddenly she felt Will's presence. She felt it clearer than anything else. She saw him in her mind and he was smiling at her, his eyes twinkling with happiness. He was holding out his hand, reaching out to her.

But, just as suddenly, the image of him moved backwards and faded. Deanna felt someone pulling at him, pulling him away from her. She tried to get a hold of his outstretched hand, but the distance between them was growing every second. He was slipping away.

She would never feel him in her mind again. Never hear him whisper to her thoughts. Never feel him close again.

"NOOOO!!!" Deanna screamed.

She jerked back and pulled her hands out of Will's before the image in her mind faded completely.

"No. No. I can't... I can't... I'm sorry... I can't!"

She stumbled up and took a few weak steps towards the doors. Her head felt heavy, and her vision was blurred with tears. She wanted to run as far as she could, but her body did not seem to want to obey her orders. She swayed where she stood, and a few seconds later she was falling.

Will moved like lightning and caught Deanna before she hit the floor. Lwaxana was next to them in an instant.

"Deanna?! My God! Put her down, Will."

"No. She needs medical attention, I'm taking her to sickbay. She's burning hot."

Will adjusted Deanna to a better position in his arms.

"Computer, end program!" He barked and the darkness dissolved into yellow grids.

----------

Three minutes later they arrived to sickbay, and Will gently laid Deanna down on the nearest bio bed.

"What happened?" Beverly asked, alarmed as she rushed to her friend's side.

"She passed out. It's a long story." Will sighed and leaned against a wall. He was exhausted.

"Is she going to be okay?" Lwaxana asked, stepping closer to the bed.

Beverly was running a tricorder over Deanna and shaking her head.

"WHAT were you doing before she collapsed???" She angrily demanded to know. She's got a fever and her paracortex readings are so high her mind couldn't take the pressure anymore! And...and ... ALL her vital signs are off the scale!" The doctor said while pressing a hypospray to Deanna's neck in order to stabilize her.

Lwaxana and Will looked shocked and pale.

"We...we were trying to break our bond." Will said quietly and looked to the floor.

Beverly turned her head around in astonishment and stared at them wide-eyed "You were what?! My God! No wonder Dee's in this condition. You didn't succeed, did you?"

"I don't know. She pulled away at the last minute." Will whispered and turned to look at Lwaxana. "Did we break it?"

"No, we didn't. It still exists." Lwaxana said and Will let out a relieved breath.

'Thank God!' He thought and took hold of Deanna's hand. "How is she?"

"Well, she's stable now, and her body temperature is slowly dropping, but she needs to rest! I want both of you to go to your quarters." The Doctor answered. "Looks like you too could use some sleep."

"But I want to stay with her..." Will and Lwaxana said at the same time.

"No!" was Beverly's stern reply. "I don't want you anywhere near her until she wakes up! Now go! I'll let you know when she comes around."

Without a choice, Will and Lwaxana left sickbay.

----------

Six hours later Deanna was awake, and her vital signs had returned to normal. The Doctor would have liked to keep her a few hours more for observation, but Deanna did not agree so Beverly decided to let her go.

After the sickbay doors closed behind her Deanna headed towards the nearest turbolift. She had to see Will. The pains and oppressive feelings had begun to rise again.

Even though Deanna knew their bond was not broken she needed to be sure. She had to see Will face to face and be able to probe his mind.

When the turbolift arrived, she stepped inside and was about to call the deck 8 when she suddenly got a feeling of Will, but that feeling was not coming from the direction of his quarters.

"Computer, location of Commander Riker." She asked.

"Commander Riker is in arboretum."

'Arboretum?' Deanna wondered raising her eyebrows. 'What's he doing there?'

"Please state your destination." The computer interrupted her thoughts.

"Oh, yes. Arboretum."

----------

Deanna found Will in the farthest corner of the garden, standing under a big tree.

"Will?"

He spun around.

"Deanna!"

He ran towards her and instinctively pulled her in his arms.

"Are you okay?" He asked, looking into her eyes. "You scared the hell out of me when you collapsed!"

His feelings were a mix of relief, worry and joy.

Deanna smiled, hugging him back.

"I'm fine Will. I...I just felt a bit sick, that's all."

"A bit sick?! Deanna, you fainted, and you had a really high fever! You looked paler than most seriously injured people I've seen!"

"I know, I'm sorry I scared you." Deanna said, looking down.

Will took her hand and pulled her into a sitting position by the tree trunk. For a moment, both of them were silent.

"So, what brought you here, to the Arboretum?" Deanna asked, looking at him.

"I just needed to think, and I didn't want to be in my quarters. Why are you here? Shouldn't you be resting? It's not even morning yet."

"I came to see you. I wanted...needed to see you."

"Any special reason?"

"I felt you were worried, and I... I needed your strength."

"You feeling the pain again?" Will asked, lifting her chin up with his free hand so he could see her eyes.

"Uh-huh." Deanna nodded, sighing.

Will squeezed her hand a bit tighter trying to comfort her.

"Deanna, what exactly happened to you in the holodeck? Why did you collapse?"

"I.... I....just...." Deanna stammered trying to find a way out of the situation.

"Don't lie to me." Will's voice was quiet but stern.

She glanced at him and saw the genuine concern shining from his eyes. She looked back down and her shoulders slumped. Taking a deep breath, she began again.

"I felt really bad. When my mother began the ceremony I started to feel really sick. My head got foggy and I could feel her pulling you out of my mind. It was like my brain was on fire. It hurt so much. I felt really dizzy and the agony was indescribable, like someone was pulling my heart out. I couldn't do it. I couldn't let you go. I'm sorry."

"You're sorry?! Deanna, no, don't be! I felt the same way! I hurt like hell too!"

"You did?" Deanna asked, surprised.

"Yes! I wanted to pull away too."

"But you didn't...." Her voice was sad, defeated.

"No, I didn't, because I thought that's what you wanted!" Will said gently, but his voice was edged with frustration and exasperation. "But...that's not what you wanted. That's not what you want... is it?"

Deanna bit her lip unable to meet his eyes.

"Answer me! Please! I want to know, I need to know!"

"No! That's not what I wanted!" Deanna yelled and began to cry again. "I don't want to break the bond! Breaking the bond would probably kill me." She sobbed and buried her face in her hands.

"Why?" Will whispered. "Why don't you want to? Why would it kill you?"

Deanna lifted her head and looked into his eyes. Did he really not know. Did he not see it in her eyes?

"Because I love you." She said simply.

"You....you love me?" Will asked amazed, his eyes wide.

"Yes."

"Oh Deanna..." Will sighed and pulled her into his arms again. "Why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you say anything?"

"Because it wouldn't have been fair to you."

"Not fair. What are you talking about?"

"The only other option was to let the bond form and that wouldn't have been fair to you. You would have been tied to me forever. That would have been a big obstacle to your life and career."

"An obstacle? Deanna, our bond could never be an obstacle! Just the opposite! Nothing would make me happier than to share a full bond with you!"

"What? But...you said..."

"Deanna, I love you too! I don't want to break the bond! I only agreed to break it because I thought that was what you wanted."

"Really!?" She raised her eyes and he could see a tiny glimmer of hope in them.

"Yes! Really!" He said smiling widely.

"But what about your career? You wanting to be a captain."

"I still want that but not if I can't be with you. You mean more to me than anything, even being captain. I don't care what I do or where I live as long as you're there with me. We can make it work, I promise."

"You really love me?" She still could not believe it.

"Uh-huh." He grinned. "I'm head over heels in love with you!"

Now she smiled too. She could feel his love penetrate her heart and soul.

"Will.... I think we made the wrong choice yesterday...the ultimate choice, and we blew it."

"Yes, we did, but luckily we've been given a second chance, and this time, we're going to choose differently."

"Yes, we are. Will, Imzadi...I choose you, I choose us and our bond."

"So do I. I never want to spend another day away from you!" He whispered lowering his head to hers.

Deanna wrapped her arms around his neck and bridged the remaining distance between them.

----------

To say the kiss was earth shattering or mind blowing, would be an understatement. There are no words for Imzadi, just feelings and emotions. Just RaBeem.

While Will's and Deanna's bodies sank to the grassy surface beneath them, their souls entwined and danced among the stars.

In her quarters Lwaxana cried tears of happiness to be privileged enough to be witnessing the forming of the true, powerful and sacred Imzadi bond.

The End