"Imzadi, you are going to make me crazy." Deanna sighed and leaned
against the entrance to her quarters. She looked up, hitting her head
softly against the door and smiled, almost laughing at herself. She hoped
Will wasn't still standing outside. She couldn't sense him at the moment,
but he'd had years of practice keeping her at bay by now, and when she was
worked up, Deanna felt hesitant about reaching out to him with her mind,
especially for casual reasons. If he couldn't guess what she was doing
right now, she didn't want to accidentally fill him in on it.

To Deanna it was starting to seem that it was the best evenings that
left her feeling the worst. They'd had dinner, both of them ordering
outside of their usual habits. Guinan had particularly seemed surprised
by Will's choice of oysters, but Denna didn't understand why, although she
did think they looked a bit like Klingon food and found some humor in
that, although she kept it to herself. Worf was still a bit of a
sorepoint with Will, and Deanna was increasingly starting to think that it
had less to do with Will's past fears of losing her to Worf, than it had
to do with Will's dismay over the distance it had inserted in his
friendship with the Klingon.

It was the first uninterrupted dinner they'd had in weeks. Most times if
they ate in ten-forward they'd eventually be joined by other senior crew
members and more often than not those conversations would eventually turn
to the job, or some related minutae, Deanna eventually excusing herself to
escape Data's transporter trivia. Sometimes they'd eat in Will's
quarters, but often that was too hard on her. In ten-forward at least
Deanna had the pleasure of feeling the entire room drop away as she
watched Will speak, his eyes dancing. She was more more hesitant to allow
herself such luxuries in his quarters and would find herself instead
concentrating on her awkward posture or more positively, the nuances of
the meals she still let him cook for her on occassion.

Tonight even Guinan had left them alone after their food arrived. While
Deanna had never been particularly able to read the woman, she and Will
had discussed more than once the peaceful and vaguely optimistic sadness
about her, and were always willing to indulge her conversations if not for
their own benefit, then for hers.

Will had immediately started in on Deanna, trying to get her to try the
oysters, which appeared to her to be slimier than she generally perferred
her food; she also knew that if she refused him, he'd see it as a
challenge that she'd eventually lose. She felt disappointment from him
when he realized she was about to give in so easily and then laughed as
he quickly offered her a bet on the matter instead -- if she lost, she'd
have to agree to eat a whole plate of the damn things next time. Betting
on herself to come in second in earnings at the next poker game (Deanna
just felt wrong pinning her bets on anyone else), they shook on it. As
the conversation went on to what passed for gossip between her and Will,
she noticed the way she was resting her hand on her leg. It was upturned,
still slightly curved, as it had been when she shook with him. She
smiled, thinking of times she had lain in bed alone, looking at her
slightly curved hand and noting how reflexively it waited to hold his hand
or touch his shoulder.

"What?" Will had asked chuckling.

"Oh," Deanna said, clearly startled. "Nothing," she said, shaking her
hair out and laughing at herself.

"Deanna, why don't I believe you?" he asked, leaning towards her and
smiling mischeviously.

"Because you know better?"

That had shut him up. And while pleased with the results, Deanna was
slightly chagrinned with herself for just letting that pop out of her
mouth like that.

Will's eyes had brightened then as he flashed his grin at her, but then he
got quiet, leaning back in his chair. Deanna felt him grow both whistful
and somber, and while it worried her slightly, only because of where it
might lead the conversation, it was not an entirely unpleasant sensation.

Then he had begun talking about when they first met, and the man he
had thought he would be by now.

"Are you not happy, Will?" Deanna asked with both concern and a small bit
of surprise.

"I'm not unhappy. It's just...." Will paused. "Well, who the hell ever
knows how complex life is really going to be?"

Deanna had sensed him struggling then, both to understand what he was
feeling and to express it. She nodded slightly, urging him on.

Will shrugged. "By now, I had thought I would have my own ship, and had
thought...."

Deanna had started to interrupt; Will had been offered his own command
more than once. But he held his hand up for her to let him finish, and
closed his eyes briefly.

"I had thought," Will continued, "that by now I would have what I wanted
and known what I didn't want." He paused again. "I'm a lot less
impressed with myself than I used to be." He looked up from the spot he'd
been staring at on the table to study her face.

Deanna had been surprised not to sense failure from him in that statement,
but a kind of relief. "Will," she said, noticing the tendency she had
to draw out the syllable, "I think that's a good thing."

He had smiled at her then, as she took his much larger hands in hers. His
hands had always fascinated her, not just because of her attraction to
him, but becuse of the way she felt they reflected so many of his
contradictions. They reminded her of his capacity for both anger and
tenderness, two things he tried to hide from most people, including her.
And while he was almost always successful, their history and her
background allowed, or perhaps forced, her never to forget who he really
was.

She had looked down at their hands intertwined then, thinking perhaps this
wasn't the best image to be presenting in ten-forward, although the lounge
was relatively deserted at the moment, and the closeness of their
friendship was hardly secret.

Deanna wondered what wants Will had been referring to a moment before.

"Family," he said absently, as if to answer her unasked question. "You
know," his voice regaining its usual confidence and timbre, "considering
my relationship with my father, I can't fathom why I even think about
these things."

"Well, Commander, I think that's a sign of maturity." Deanna had hoped
she didn't sound too forced in trying to lighten the mood, but she was
wary of getting further emeshed in this topic in public.

He groaned at her remark and then they both laughed in unison. Deanna
caught Guinan watching them, which drew Will's brief attention, before he
turned back Deanna.

"Counselor, would you like to go for a walk with me in the arboretum?"

"I think that would be lovely, Will," she said, bringing them back to
their standard informality.

He had wanted to take her hand, but realized that in the public corridors
of the Enterprise this would most likely make her uncomfortable, so he
made sure to brush it once lightly as they began walking together, but did
not actually reach out to grab it.

Walking amongst the trees, Deanna had found herself telling Will stories
about her childhood, mesmerized by having the luxury of doing so. Her job
as counselor meant listening and feeling dozens of autobiographies a week,
and it gave her the opportunity to repress her own nostalgia, which, at
the moment she was unusually enjoying. Deanna was almost outside herself,
cognizsant of her own walk and facial expressions and the way Will was
watching her as he ocassionally brushed his hand along a plant or leaf. A
voice in her head told her this was not how a man looks at someone he
considers to be merely a friend, but Deanna pushed that away as she
continued her narrative. Afterall, they were Imzadi, even if they were
not romanticly involved these days. Certainly there was no merely about
their bond, and therefore nothing she should read into his current
attentiveness, much to her dissapointment.

Will had noticed her distraction, and briefly placed his hand on the small
of her back. "You're distracted tonight," he stated rather than asked.

"I'm just pennsive." She paused. "And content." She smiled up at him.
"These things are contagious for me after all." In her mind she finished
the sentence with "Imzadi", and thought she saw him shiver.

"Someone just walk over your grave, Will?" She asked.

He laughed. Deanna was continually picking up Earth colloquiallisms
lately, probably because of Data's current penchant for and overuse of
them. "Yeah, something like that." He smiled at her then, sat down on a
low stone wall and grabbed her hand.

For a moment, Deanna hadn't moved, but stood there with her arm
outstretched to him behind her. Then she took a step backward and turned,
smiling down at him. He was waiting to see what she was going to do next.
Sensing the challenge, she sat down on his lap. He smiled, and put his
arms around her.

"You're a funny one, Deanna Troi," he said.

"As are you, William Riker."

He had sighed then and pulled her closer for a moment, before setting her
back on her feet and getting up.

"I have to pull a double shift tomorrow and we have an early staff
meeting," he said to her confused look. "We should probably call it a
night."

Deanna nodded her ascent, then smiled, not being able to resist the
opportunity. "See, I told you you've matured." She laughed and hit him
lightly on the shoulder.

"Don't you mean I'm getting old?" he asked.

"Oh yes, absolutely Commander, that too," Deanna responded, nodding
vigorously and trying to keep from laughing.

Deanna caught the look in his eye just before he picked her up and put her
over his shoulder. "Still not too old to do this!"

"Will!" Deanna knew better than to finish her sentence, and Will knew
better than to do anything but to put her right back down.

"Sorry, I couldn't resist."

'And I can't resist that look,' Deanna thought to herself. She shrugged,
smiled and walked out of the Arboretum ahead of him.


"So I'll see you in the morning," Will said.

"Yes Commander, bright and early." Deanna paused, her face softening. "I
had a lovely time tonight, Will, thank you."

Will smiled. "The pleasure was mine," he said, before bending down and
pressing his cheek against the side of her face for a moment before
kissing her chastely on the forehead. "Goodnight."

Will watched her enter her quarters and Deanna made sure to keep moving
until the doors had closed, but the second they had she had found herself
here, leaning against them thinking of all the small things that
endlessly, but perhaps wisely seperated them. She was increasingly less
sure about this, however. Afterall, they were together for all intents
and purposes, and the illusions of their friendship, while designed to
protect both of them from pain, weren't always successful, and also
weren't without their own pains.

"Damn," she muttered, walking herself over to her couch and beginning to
unfold a blanket. She knew this is where she'd end up sleeping
tonight, as she had most nights after seeing Will recently. It was easier
on her to rest if she didn't have to remember she was in bed without him.