Chapter 9: Party Time

That had been yesterday. Just like that, four years had been washed down the drain. Dani wanted to cry, but she didn't want to give Will the satisfaction of seeing that he had made her cry.

Everyone listened to Rear Admiral Camden as he spoke.

"And now, I'd like to present to you a group of cadets who have more than excelled in the areas of leadership, scholarship, and command. These students have proven that they have what it takes to lead others successfully. These Academy graduates are not only at the top of their class, but also Command School graduates. Cadets - as I call your name, please step forward." And he started announcing the names of the command school graduates. It didn't take him long to call out the names. Out of the class of 300, only fifty had applied to command school. Out of fifty applicants, only 23 were accepted. Out of 23, only 10 completed the program successfully.

The admiral made it to Dani's name, which was number five on the list.

"...Cadet Danielle Janeway..." Camden announced.

Will had been watching Dani even before she stepped forward to take her place with the other command school graduates. He couldn't believe that she'd walked out on him just the night before. He'd wanted to cry then, and he wanted to cry now, but he didn't want to give her the satisfaction of seeing him cry. He had always been close to Dani, even before Voyager had been stranded in the Delta Quadrant. But they'd grown even closer over the past four years. Joined at the hip almost...

Xxx

"Dani, where are my boots?" Will asked. He was running around his quarters frantically searching for his uniform boots. He was to attend a diplomatic function in twenty minutes, and he couldn't find his boots.

Dani, who had dressed at Will's, was attending as Will's date. Right now, she was putting her earrings in. From the bathroom, she yelled, "They're in the closet."

Will searched the closet frantically but didn't see them anywhere. "Where?" he yelled. "I don't see them? Are you sure they're here?"

Dani put her second earring in. "I put them there myself," she said. He is so clueless, she thought. "Check the floor, the right side."

Will looked on the floor of the right side of the closet and, surely enough, found his boots neatly waiting to be worn. He picked them up and then sat down on his bed. It was only when he went to pull his boots on that he realized he wasn't wearing any socks. He looked over the bed. They weren't lying out anywhere.

"Dani-" Before he could even ask, she was out of the bathroom - and she had socks with her. She walked over to him.

"Here," she said, handing him one of the socks. The other in hand, she bent down and socked his bare foot. She picked up the corresponding boot and slid his foot into it. Standing up, she said, "There."

Will stood, now completely dressed.

"Are you ready?" Dani asked, inspecting Will's dress uniform. She absently straightened the jacket and brushed imaginary dust from his shoulders.

"Do I look alright?" Will asked.

"You look fine," Dani said.

Will looked at Dani. Instead of a dress uniform, which she wasn't obligated to wear because she was not yet an officer, wore a long, sleeveless, royal blue gown. "And you look gorgeous."

"Thank you."

"Maybe we should just blow off this party and stay in tonight," Will suggested, moving in on Dani. She stopped his advance with her hand.

"No way. You're not missing this and getting into trouble because of me."

"So by-the-book. Starfleet Academy is doing something to you." Will smiled. "Let's go. We're going to be late."

Xxx

Dani and Will walked into the Zikonian ballroom arm-in-arm. Neither of them had expected quite so many people to be in attendance at a diplomatic function, such as a dinner, but maybe diplomatic dinners were a big deal on this planet. Or in this city, at least.

"I hate these things," Will whispered to Dani, as he and she walked through the large room.

Dani's smile seemed frozen on her face as she whispered his reply. "Don't worry - it's only a few hours."

A man whom Dani and Will both took to be a waiter approached them. "Beverage?"

Dani and Will each picked up a glass. Will nodded slightly to the waiter. After the waiter left, Will said, "At least they give us something to make it through the night with." He took a sip. "Not bad."

Dani took a sip, as well. "Alcoholic?" she asked.

"I think so. Whatever it is, it's strong and highly potent. I'm already getting a bit of a buzz."

"Yeah, me too."

"I think that's enough of whatever this is," Will said. He dreaded the thought of what could happen if he and Dani happened to get drunk on this occasion. Dani handed him her glass, and he deposited both on a passing waiter's tray.

"Will?"

Will turned at the call of his name. Captain Picard was making his way toward him and Dani. A Zikonian diplomat was with him.

"Will - I'd like you to meet the Zikonian chancellor, Litus Spar," Picard introduced. "Chancellor Spar, this is my first officer, Commander William T. Riker." Spar and Will shook hands.

"Pleased to meet you, Commander," Spar said.

"A pleasure," Will said.

Picard continued. "And from Starfleet Academy, Cadet Danielle Janeway."

"How do you do?" Spar greeted Dani, shaking her hand. Dani smiled and nodded.

"If you all would excuse me," Dani said. Will looked at her. She leaned into him and whispered, "I'll see you at dinner." Before Will could protest her departure, she was gone. She'd gone and left him to his own devices. He looked at the Zikonian chancellor and pasted a smile on.

Xxx

At dinner, 30 minutes later, Dani rejoined Will at a large table.

"That was dirty," Will said to Dani, as they sat.

"I never agreed to stay with you the entire night," Dani said. Will looked at her. "Besides, you did pretty well without me, didn't you?"

"I would've done much better with you by my side," Will said. "You're more of a diplomat than I am."

"Really? That's news to me."

Xxx

Will rolled onto his back, taking Dani with him. They had returned to the ship from the Zikonian diplomatic dinner over an hour ago. Dani now sat atop Will, kissing him. His fingers were immersed in her long, dark tresses.

Dani sat up and leaned back down again to rest her head on Will's bare chest.

"Marry me, Dani," Will said.

"I will," she said. "I already said I would."

"No. I mean sooner. Now."

Dani sat up. "What's the big hurry? It's not like I'm going anywhere. Are you?"

"I just don't want some younger guy to take you away."

"I don't want a younger guy - I want you." She once again place her head on Will's chest. "You know you're the only captain of my ship."

"Yeah. For now."

Dani sat up again. "What does that mean?"

"In a few years, when I'm in my fifties, will you still feel that way?"

"What about when I'm in my fifties? Are you sure you won't want someone younger?"

"When you hit fifty, I'll be in my...let's just say I'll be pretty damn old. I'll be lucky to have anyone."

"I believe that when you love a person, you never stop loving them, no matter what happens. No matter if they've sprouted a few gray hairs here and there, or they've formed a few wrinkles, or put on a little weight - you always love that person." Dani leaned down so that her face was close to Will's. "I love you, Will."

"I love you," Will replied. Dani kissed him.

Xxx

That had only been a year before. Only a year. Will believed what Dani had said, about loving someone forever. He still loved her, and he knew that she still loved him. But sometimes, love just wasn't enough.

Will looked down at the field.

"And now, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the graduating class of Starfleet Academy," Camden said. "Cadets - Atten-tion!" The cadets snapped to attention. "Each of you entered this Academy cadets, and now each of you shall leave as Starfleet Ensigns. By the power invested in me by the United Federation of Planets and by Starfleet, I now proclaim you graduated."

The audience members stood and clapped and cheered. It had been a long road, but they had finally made it. Another chapter of Dani's life was coming to a close. Despite the new ensigns' efforts to maintain straight faces, many of them broke into smiles. But Dani wasn't smiling this day.

It was the night of graduation. The general sentiment among the Academy graduates was that everyone was entitled to have a good time after working their asses off for however many years it took them to get through the program. If that just happened to involve getting drunk, so be it. And for Dani Janeway, on this particular night, it meant exactly that.

Xxx

'I've made it through the Academy,' Dani thought. Through command school, Emma Shale...Nimembeh. 'I deserve to kick back and have some fun for once.' She kicked back the last of her first bottle of Romulan Ale. Dani Janeway was now officially drunk.

"Way to go, Dani!" Kyle said. Their whole little group was at one of the many parties sure to be taking place around San Francisco that night. "I knew you had it in you," Kyle continued. He offered her another bottle of ale, but she promptly refused.

"No," she said. "But keep it handy in case my buzz starts to wear off." She and Kyle were shouting over loud music, and her speech had the tiniest hint of a slur in it.

"Now that's what I'm talking about," Kyle said. He was proud. Dani had finally learned how to drink.

Dani retreated to a balcony outside the apartment. Rane followed. "Dani?"

Dani turned and watched Rane approach her. "Hi," she said.

"Are you okay?" Rane asked.

"Of course," Dani replied. "Why shouldn't I be?"

Rane studied her drunk friend for a moment. "I don't know. You just seem sort of down for a person who just graduated from the Academy - and command school - at the top of your class. You should be one of the ones having the most fun."

Besides Emery, Dani hadn't told anyone at the Academy about her and Will. Now, she decided, was as good a time as any.

"Will and I broke up," she said.

Rane couldn't believe her ears. "When?"

"A few days ago," Dani said.

"I'm sorry," Rane said. She noted that Dani seemed awfully calm about having ended a four-year long relationship with a guy she'd been crazy about and who'd been crazy about her.

"It's okay," Dani looked at Rane. "It was good while it lasted."

Someone inside the apartment announced, "It's time for Suck and Blow!"

Dani looked at Rane and smiled. "Come on - we don't want to miss all the fun, do we?" She went back into the apartment with Rane following close behind.

Xxx

Will stood, in dress uniform, in the middle of the Academy ballroom talking with a group of professors. One really couldn't call it talking, though. Will was mostly listening. No, he wasn't really doing that, either. His mind was elsewhere that night. It was the night of the Academy graduation, and Will was attending Starfleet's annual gala to commemorate the event.

Will realized that one of the professors had addressed him. Will did little more than nod and offer a fake smile.

"Would you gentlemen excuse me please?" Will said, excusing himself from the group. As he walked away, he took a drink from his glass. That was when he noticed that the color of the drink was the same color as Dani's eyes. He quickly found that he was unable to down the rest of the beverage, and deposited it on a nearby table.

I should be with her, tonight, Will thought. I should be with her right now, celebrating her arrival on the Enterprise.

Instead, he was sulking because they'd broken up-and because Dani was going to Deep Space Nine instead of the Enterprise. Because he'd been a fool. He sighed and wondered what she was doing at this very moment.

Xxx

At the party, Dani was lying face down on somebody's bed. She giggled for the fourth time in two minutes.

"If you don't stop moving, this isn't going to look right," Khatain said.

"I can't help it," Dani said. "It tickles." She buried her head in a pillow as she felt another wave of giggles coming over her. The Klingon shook his head and continued with his work.

Dani lifted her head once the giggles had passed. "Khatain, how much longer will this take?" she whined.

"I am almost done," the Klingon said. "If you didn't want it so detailed, I would have been done eons ago."

"It has to be detailed. Any other way wouldn't be right." Dani rested her head on the pillow once again.

"I can't believe you're actually doing this," Rane said. She was seated in a chair beside the bed.

"Why?" Dani asked. "My father did it."

"Your father did it for a reason."

"And I'm not?"

"You're drunk."

"I am not," Dani argued. She lifted her head and realized that the room was suddenly spinning. "Okay, maybe I am." She lowered her head onto the pillow again. "But I know what I'm doing. I've always wanted to get the mark of my father's people."

"Yeah, but on you a-"

"-Back!" Dani interrupted. "It's my lower back."

"There," Khatain said. "It is complete." Dani looked up at Khatain. She hopped out of the bed and hurried over to the nearest mirror, which was mounted beside the closet. She turned around so that her back was facing the mirror. Looking over her shoulder, into the mirror, she spotted the symbol on her lower back. It was the same triangular-shaped symbol that appeared on her father's forehead

above his left eye.

"Is it satisfactory?" Khatain asked.

A smile slowly appeared on Dani's face. "It's perfect," she said. Khatain handed the necklace he had used to draw the design back to Dani. Dani turned around and looked at herself in the mirror frontally. She looked at the charm she was holding and back at herself again. She was ready to start over again. It seemed that her life, so far, had been a series of new beginnings. Voyager, the

Academy, Will...and now Deep Space Nine.

"Deep Space Nine, here I come," Dani muttered.