"Deanna. I don't know what else to tell you. Both of you seem to want
things both ways, and if that makes you and Will happy, that's great,
but you can't blame your friends for being worried or curious or a little
fed up." Beverly raised her eyebrows and smiled, hoping she didn't sound
too harsh. Mostly she found the ongoing soap opera that was Will and
Deanna entertaining, but she knew it was causing Deanna pain and was an
increasing source of eyerolling from their mutual friends.

Deanna smiled. "I know you're right Bev." She paused. "Sometimes I feel
Will and I are like children, always saying the opposite of what we mean."

Beverly waited for Deanna to continue, and when she didn't, said "And?"
knowing there was more.

"Well, truthfully, I wonder if Will is like this because I'm not the type
of woman he ever intended to end up with."

Beverly chuckled.

"What?" Deanna asked, a little outraged and ready to laugh herself. She
could tell her friend had potentially humorous commentary on her moment of
insecurity.

"I'd imagine," Bev began slowly, "if someone had asked Will, before he
met you, if he'd want to spend his life with a woman who could keep tabs
on his thoughts, and um, desires, who would also be a formidible Star
Fleet officer, that he would have looked at whoever was asking as if they
were crazy!"

'I wonder how often,' Deanna thought, 'it turns out one's Imzadi is their
worst nightmare.' She laughed slightly, but Bev saw her wince.

"It'll work itself out, Deanna," Beverly patted her friend's hand, "but I
think you need to help it along."

"I hope so, Bev, I hope so. Thanks for listening." Deanna got up to
go.

"Any time, Counselor. By the way, I think you should stop letting him be
in control of this thing."

Deanna turned and smiled, amused with the thought. "But Doctor, that's
why I like him," she said coyly. Beverly shot her a look and they
both giggled.

Deanna felt badly for relying on Beverly so much, especially knowing that
Beverly's life was filled with similar, if slightly less pressing,
ambiguities, but there was only so much emotion and frustration
she could defuse on her own. Plus, she knew an outside perspective was
something she and Will desperately needed, although she doubted he had
anyone he regularly confided in. If he did, she certainly wasn't aware of
who it could be.

* * *

"Counselor," Will said by way of greeting, as he stopped in front of her.

"Commander." While Deanna was used to greeting Will formally, and was
comfortable working with him, she often wondered if these exchanges in the
corridors of the Enterprise struck him as oddly as they struck her.

"I trust you'll be joining us this evening for the reception for the
Mitran delegation," he said with a slight smile.

Deanna surpressed the urge to roll her eyes. He knew damn well she had to
be there, and also knew how little she relished making small talk after a
long day. "Yes, of course, Commander. 2100 hours."

"Perhaps we can meet briefly to discuss your impressions afterwards. I'm
sure it would help me prepare for the upcoming negotiations." She caught
Will's eyes flash.

"Certainly, Commander." Deanna smiled, nodded and continued towards her
offices, realizing that he was still standing in the corridor, mulling
something over.

It wasn't unusual for Will to ask for her company on the pretense of work,
especially when the ship was busy with outsiders, but she thought this was
a particularly poorly formulated excuse, since she'd be giving the very
report he mentioned at the next morning's meeting. Sitting down at
her desk, Deanna smiled, realizing Will was actually nervous about these
negotiations. Normally the Captain took the lead on such endeavors, but
he had confessed recently to being concerned that Star Fleet was trying to
turn him into a diplomat versus a captain and had asked Will to focus
on the Mitran-Sardragian trade negotiations while he prepared for the
upcoming archaeological survey, which was substantially more to his taste.
While Will was a capable mediator, he was less patient than Picard, and
the captain knew his first officer could use the practice. Will knew this
as well, and had thus far been excellent at keeping both his nerves and
annoyance at the assignment under wraps, even from Deanna, although she
now suspected he would want to vent to her about it before the evening was
over.

* * *

The aide to the Mitran ambassador was a rotund and slightly
feathered little man who was plying Deanna with ostensibly inside
information (too bad she knew he was lying) while she watched Will work
the other end of the room. He seemed not only comfortable, but totally in
his element. She noticed the captain also making his rounds; he was
noticeably more relaxed than he usually was at these functions, although
he was clearly keeping a sharp, yet approving, eye on Will. It was rare
Picard was so obvious about his mentoring, but she suspected he knew as
well as she did that the only other non-involved party who would notice
would be Beverly, who was currently preoccupied by entertaining the
ambassador's second and third wives.

'I'll have to tease Will about that later,' Deanna thought to herself.
Although she knew it might make him cranky, she definitely thought there
was humor in his being chosen to mediate a trade dispute between a
polgyamist race and another that didn't even have the concept of formal
bonding, pair or otherwise.

"Counselor, Lieutenant Commander Data has a variety of cultural questions
about different races' conceptions of jealousy, I was wondering if perhaps
you and your guest--"

Deanna interjected to make the proper introductions. "Oh, excuse me.
Lieutenant Commander LaForge, this is Ginn Lenara, aide to Ambassador
Jaraone; Ginn Lenara, Lieutenant Commander Geordi LaForge, our chief
engineer."

Lenara bowed. "It's a pleasure to meet you Lieutenant; I've been looking
forward to the opportunity to meet your commander Data. I hear he's a
fascinating conversationalist."

Deanna sensed Geordi's mental laugh and nod of agreement before he started
leading Lenara over to where Data was animatedly conversing with another
member of the delegation.

"Counselor Troi, won't you join us?" Lenara asked holding his arm out for
her to walk beside him. She smiled, first to him and then to Geordi
as they walked over to Data.

* * *

"Geez, Deanna, I'm sorry, I wish I could have rescued you," Will said
smiling over his cup of coffee at her and chuckling. They were sitting at
the table in her quarters, realizing it was best not to post mortem in
public what had evolved into a very surreal night.

"It's alright Will, it wasn't a big deal and there was nothing you could
have really done," she put her hand on his arm, appreciating the excuse to
do so.

Ginn Lenara's interest in her would be much funnier to both her and Will
after he was off the ship. While her displeasure over it kept Will from
feeling threatened, it didn't keep him from worrying about possible
glitches the situation would bring to this mission.

"It's not going to cause any problems, Will. We've both dealt with worse.
At least my mother isn't here trying to set me up with him."

He burst into laughter at this but felt her bringing up Lwaxana was
definitely pushing their luck. Deanna shot him a lot as if to say 'I know
she's difficult, but she's still my mother.'

He shook his head. "I think you'd be safe, Dee, either the feathers or
the polygamy would keep her matchmaking skills at bay in this case."

Deanna giggled and put her hand over her mouth.

Will smiled at her warmly then. He found her overwhelmingly attractive
when she made gestures like that, in large part because he knew no one
else ever really got to see this Deanna. The notion that no matter what
happened they had a relationship and a closeness that couldn't be changed
was a comfort to him. Imzadi aside, he just couldn't imagine either of
them being this comfortable with anyone else; too much had happened in
both their lives for either of them to completely let their guard down
with anyone new. It was possessive and old-fashioned of him, he knew,
but it went a long way towards both alleviating his pain when she was
seeing someone else, and reassuring himself that the casualness of
virtually all of the relationships he had had since meeting her was
acceptable. The exception to this of course had been Soren, and while that
had been both brief and chaste by his standards, it had had an emotional
impact that had stayed with him a long time. While Deanna had been
miserable during that time because of her empathic link to him, she had
also been his lifeline. Perhaps because he had actually felt deeply about
Soren or perhaps because Deanna didn't view Soren as competition because
of the nature of her androgynous race, she had gone all out trying to help
him through the loss. Will had felt so guilty that he hadn't been able to
rescue Soren and had been horrified by the way her feelings and identity
could be changed so suddenly. It had caused him to question and risk many
things, including his relationship with Deanna and his role within Star
Fleet.

"You're thinking about Soren," she said quietly.

"Hmmm?"

"You're easier to read when you're tired." She smiled understandingly.

"Actually," he said, "I was thinking about how grateful I was to you
during that time." Will placed his hand over Deanna's and squeezed.

"I learned a great deal about you because of Soren, Will. I owed both of
you at least that much." It pleased Will that she still held affection for
Soren too.

"What did I do to deserve you, Imzadi?" he asked thoughtfully.

Deanna almost gasped; it was very strange to hear him say that word after
all these years, and it forced her to work very hard at keeping her
emotions under control. She could tell from his face that he sensed this.

"It's still true, Dee" he said. "Regardless of our," he paused to choose
the right word, "friendship. I'm a very lucky man, but I worry that I've
hurt you."

"No more than I've hurt you, Will."

He winced and smiled, almost at the same time. She realized that no
matter how angry or dissapointed they'd been with each other in the past,
that they each blamed themselves entirely for the course of events that
had become their lives.

Deanna stood up, about to walk over to the replicator to get herself some
more hot chocolate.

"Dee, come here." It was almost a question, but not quite.

"What?" she asked coyly, feeling like she needed some sort of warning as
she walked around the table to him.

Will took her hand, played with her fingers, noticed the friendship ring
he had given her several years ago which she almost always wore on her
right hand when she was off duty. He looked up at her. "I love you
very much Dee, I hope you know that."

"I know." She smiled and placed her left hand against his face and then
ran it lightly through his hair before returning it to his cheek.
She bent down then to kiss him him chastely on the lips, but they wound up
sharing several small kisses before he would let her pull away.

"I should go, Dee," he said apologeticly. He stood up, still holding her
hand.

"Yes. Yes, you probably should." She agreed, feeling both a little
sadness and fear.

They walked to the door of her quarters. He was going to kiss her again,
but thought the better of it. He knew they'd both have a hard enough time
sleeping now as it was, and he was under too much pressure right now to
risk complicating his one consistant refuge. He ran his hand over her
hair, and whispered "Goodnight," to her before leaving.

Deanna sat down on her couch and sighed, resting her head against its
back. "Computer, locate Dr. Crusher."

"Dr. Crusher is in ten-forward."

* * *

"Deanna! Over here!" Beverly waved acorss ten-forward to her friend.
Picard rolled his eyes. "Jean-Luc," she admonished.

"Sorry Bev, I just know she's here to talk about her and Will, and quite
frankly, I hear enough of it from him as it is."

"As I recall, Will has been confiding in you because you expressed an
interest. And knowing Will, you would have had to have been quite
persuasive."

"Yes, yes, that's true. It's just amazes me that for such a fine officer
he has so much trouble making seemingly obvious decisions about his
personal life." Picard stopped suddenly as Deanna approached. "Deanna,
won't you join us?"

"Thank you, Captain."

"You're up late considering, the, uh, excitement of tonight's gathering."

Deanna smiled while Beverly raised her eyebrows at Picard.

"Yes, I just finished going over the proceedings with Will, and I thought
I'd drop by and see who was still awake."

Picard looked from Beverly to Deanna nervously, from their facial
expressions he could tell they both had things to say which they weren't
going to say in front of him. "Well," he said, clearing his throat, "I
was just heading off to bed myself. I'll see both of you tomorrow," he
said getting up and nodding before turning to go.

"Goodnight, Jean-Luc," Beverly said, trying not to sound as amused as she
obviously was.

"Goodnight Captain," Deanna called after him. He waved without turning
back towards the women.

"So?" Beverly asked like a schoolgirl, drawing out the word.

"Is it that obvious?"

"That you came here with news? Well, yes. Come on, Deanna, spill."

"Alright." Deanna paused, took a deep breath, and realized how silly she
was about to sound. "We kissed."

"You kissed? Just how involved of a kiss was this?"

"Well, not particularly, Bev, but it wanted to be, and then he left."

"He left?"

Deanna sighed. "Yeah. And he told me he loved me."

Beverly rolled her eyes and made a noise of frustration.

"How do you think I feel?!" Deanna exclaimed, and they both chuckled.

"What are you going to do?"

"I'm not sure there's anything I can do, Bev, other than go about my
business."

Beverly stared at her.

"Alright. And try to be a little less timid." Deanna was glad to see her
friend smile at that. "It's a strange thing, eventhough he should know
better, it's almost as if he thinks he's not good enough for me, that what
I see in him is somehow false, that he's tricked me."

"Gods! He is so arrogant," Beverly said lauging. "As if he could hide
his nature from a Betazoid, and especially you of all people."

"Yes, it's a bit silly. I would be insulted, this notion that I can't see
him as he really is, but that's how he considers all people. It's
protection."

"But from you? It's ridiculous."

"It's necessary to who he is, at least right now."

"And until he gets over it?"

"You and I will be having this conversation in ten-forward."

Beverly smirked. "Indeed."

"How are you and Jean-Luc doing?"

"Well, since all we ever talk about is you and Will, we're as studiously
avoidng the topic as ever."

* * *

Will Riker had spent the last 3 hours staring at his ceiling, not even
particularly mulling his situation with Deanna over. Afterall, mulling
would imply thinking about details, considering plans, options, actions.
Instead his head was an unfocused mishmash of desire, frustration,
confusion and exhaustion.

He sat up in bed.

"Computer, locate Deanna Troi."

"Deanna Troi is in her quarters."

'Well, at least one of us can sleep,' he thought to himself bitterly
before getting out of bed, dressing and heading to ten-forward.


Guinan was at her usual post beind the bar. Apparently she wasn't much for
sleep either.

She looked up at him and smiled, almost as if welcoming him to a
pre-arranged appointment.

"Trouble sleeping, Commander? You look nice in blue by the way."

Will smiled, squinted his eyes at her and then looked down at the shirt he
had tugged on. Deanna had given it to him a couple of years ago.
"Thanks," he said.

"Can I get you something, Will?"

"Sure, but whatever it is better let me get a couple of hours of
sleep before my next shift or keep me up for the next 24."

"You look like you need the sleep," she said as she got to work on one of
her infamous concoctions. "What's troubling you anyway?"

"Just too much rattling around in my head, Guinan."

She shot him a look and went back to her preparations, humming. She found
it amusing that he had never really grasped that his poker face only
worked for poker. As she turned to hand Will his drink she asked, "when
was the last time you had a dream?"

He looked puzzled for a moment and then commented that he could remember
one or two from the past week.

"No, not that type. Like a secret desire, a crazy objective..."

He smirked. "You mean like beating Kirk's record?"

"Yeah. Or marrying Deanna Troi."

Will pretended to become fascinated with the glass his drink had been
served in, and Guinan went back to humming.

"What the hell is that you keep humming Guinan?"

Guinan smiled. She could tell she was getting under Will's skin. At this
she started singing in a soft voice - "haven't had a dream, in a long
time, seems the life I've led, could make a good man turn bad, so please
please please let me get what I want, lord knows it would be the first
time."

"Well, that's cheery," Will paused.

"You're the one that loves the Blues."

Will shurgged. "So what is it you want Guinan?"

She just smiled and Will made an annoyed faced by way of response.

"Commander, as long as you keep smiling enigmaticly at me, I'll keep
smiling enigmaticly at you, now drink your drink, go back to your quarters
and get some rest."

* * *

"Dismissed," Picard announced as he started to neaten up the stack of
padds in front of him. "Number One, a moment."

"Yes, sir."

Picard glanced up at him while going over something on the padd in front
of him and waiting for the rest of his senior staff to leave the meeting
room. "Sit back down, Will, we'll all be on our feet enough later with
this damned diplomatic nonsense."

Riker sat and raised an eyebrow at Picard questioningly.

"Yes, I confess, I'm annoyed with this whole process. Especially this
business of having to fly out into the middle of nowhere after retrieving
the Sardragians."

"Considering some of the other requests we've dealt with from diplomats,
sir, the Mitran are quite good natured."

"Yes, Number One, I agree with you." Picard paused for a moment lost in
thoughts. "How is the situation with Ginn Lenara?"

Riker made a point of keeping his face very still while answering,
conspicuously so, but Picard refrained comment. "The Counselor is
concerned that he may view her interactions with the Sardragians as a
personal betrayal, and while that wouldn't be in keeping with our
understanding of their culture, she feels that he is personally
machiavellian enough for it to be a concern."

"Could it disrupt the negotiations?"

"Unlikely, although it might make her work a bit harder."

"And she's comfortable with the situation?"

"More so than the rest of us, sir."

Picard looked at Riker in a way that demanded an explanation.

"Deanna feels the situation is essentially minor, and that Lenara takes an
interest in potential companions frequently enough that she could not be
important enough to him that her actions during these negotiations would
make him or his government upset, or to put her in a difficult position."

"And how do you feel about it?"

"Sir?"

"Will, I know your patience for these negotiations is at least as low as
mine, and that," Picard paused and sighed. He didn't want to imply that
his first officer couldn't handle this situation professionally, yet he
also felt obligated to express concern for his friend, who was generally
as disinclined to discuss his feelings as himself. Picard started again,
"and that your concern for the Counselor--"

Will raised an eyebrow quizzically at Picard, but kept silent.

"might make you uncomfortable."

Will noted that Picard was visably relieved to have finished that
sentence. "I appreciate your concern, sir, but it's not necessary."

Picard smiled. "Very good then," he said standing up and heading towards
the bridge. "Oh, and Will, thank you."

"Sir." Riker nodded and followed him to the bridge.

* * *

"Come in," Troi called from her bedroom as the door chimed. "I'll be
right there, I'm just trying to find an earring!"

Will chuckled to himself.

"I am not turning into my mother!" she exclaimed in response to his
unexpressed thought. "Now what is it you want Commander?"

"I thought you might be interested in escorting me to the Sardragian
event."

Deanna held out her arms and looked down at herself. "How convenient, I'm
even dressed for it." She smiled at Will then, but he could tell she
wasn't in the best mood, although on the plus side her aggravation didn't
seem directed at him.

Will offered her his arm. Deanna smiled, patted his shoulder and said
"Sorry, Will, that wouldn't be wise right now."

Will frowned, grabbed her hand for a moment and nodded. "Right as ever,
Counselor. Shall we?" he said motioning to the door.

He wanted to cheer her up, or at least find out what was bothering her,
but he knew this wasn't the time. It wasn't as if they could ever have
just a brief conversation about each other's emotions, even when they
weren't about their relationship. There was an ever tightening spiral of
concern they'd get into, that if interrupted would leave them distracted
and impatient during an event where they had to be at their most
congenial.

Lost in thought, Will was chagrined to have rounded a corner with Deanna
and almost smacked directly into Ginn Lenara who was, Will realized,
insisting that he needed Deanna's immediate attention to some matter.
Will looked at her, opened his mouth to say something, and hoped she'd cut
him off with a response that would actually be appropriate.

"Commander, why don't you go on ahead, I'll be there as soon as I can,"
Deanna said looking at him pointedly.

He supressed a concerned smile and replied, "Very well, counselor," nodded
and walked off, back even straighter than usual.

Deanna sighed and then turned her attention to Lenara. "And what can I do
for you?" she asked trying to sound as friendly and casual as possible.

* * *

"Where's Deanna?" Beverly asked Will quietly as he arrived at the
reception for the Sardragians.

Will sighed, not sure if he should mention their encounter with Ginn
Lenara. This certainly wasn't the place, but he couldn't help but feel
slightly uncomfortable about the incident as he was fairly well convinced
the timing was not coincidence. He frowned then, "She should be along in
a bit, Doctor," and walked off, leaving Beverly momentarily stranded and
looking puzzled. She just hoped they hadn't had another fight.

* * *

Lenara took Deanna's hand. She decided it would be best to let that pass
until she heard what he had to say, as ridiculous as it was. She only
really began to feel uncomfortable when Lenara started massaging her hand
and insisted she walk with him, in the exact opposite direction of the
Sardragian function.

"You are unused to this," Lenara stated flatly.

Deanna decided it was best not to respond, in hopes that he would explain
himself more thoroughly.

"Having someone interested in claiming you, being part of a family,
acquiescing to something other than duty."

It was the hopefulness, almost greediness in Lenara's tone that disgusted
Deanna. That said the remark about acquiescing did hit a nerve, just not
one related to him. She was also wondering why she had to have this
conversation now. Deanna stopped and turned to face him. "Ginn," she
said taking both his hands, "clearly we need to talk, but I can't right
now. I'm already late to the reception I know you're aware of and the
negotiations begin in 37 hours. This is not the time. We both
have jobs to be focusing on. Alright? I will make time for us to discuss
this later." She hoped she didn't sound too condescending.

"You're pledged to Riker aren't you?"

Deanna had to stifle her surprise and even a small laugh, and noted once
again how men said his name with contempt as often as with admiration.
"The Commander and I have been close friends for a long time." She
paused. "Please, Ginn, tomor--"

Ginn cut her off. "As you wish," he said and turned and walked off.
Deanna just stood there, conflicted about her various roles in this
situation. She sighed and turned to head back towards the reception.
While difficult, she guiltily ignored the sound of Lenara's hand slamming
into the corridor wall as he rounded a corner.

Tomorrow was clearly not going to be pleasant.

* * *

Will visibly relaxed as Deanna entered the reception. He caught her eye
and realized she was considerably annoyed, so he began chatting his
way across the room towards her to find out what was going on.

Beverly, on the other hand, saw Deanna and her thinly masked scowl arrive
and presumed it was directed at Will. This was not going to be a fun
night. If everyone was lucky, she could keep them away from each other,
otherwise they'd be throwing barbs at each other over the heads of the
Sardragians for hours.

Will found himself getting more impatient as he got closer to where Deanna
was chatting somewhat distractedly with two of the more junior members of
the Sardragian delegation. At this at least Will had to smile, as it was
one of his own tricks. Junior officers tended to overhear the most and
have the least to hide, and in too many cases their opinions were
solicited infrequently enough that they were more than eager to talk,
often in ways that were quite out of line. This was also one of the
reasons Will went out of his way to befriend, or at least be friendly to,
the Enterprise's junior crew members.

Just as he thought he was going to be able to slip into Deanna's
conversation, Beverly appeared in front of him and was instantly steering
him off in another direction. Why, he wasn't entirely sure, but he
suspected she had a motive other than social mixing.

Trying his best not to sound annoyed, Will leaned down and whispered to
her, "What's so urgent Doctor?"

"Just trying to keep you and the Counselor from driving each other crazy."

Will gave her a puzzled look. He knew Deanna confided in her about their
relationship, but now he wondered what she had said. He thought things
had been going well between them, even if they were flirting with the
boundaries of their frienship yet again.

Beverly patted him arm absently, as if to say, 'not now, Will.'

Will glanced back to Deanna who looked slightly deflated to see him being
led across the room by Beverly. In his mind he heard, 'Don't worry so
much, we'll talk later.' He smiled then and let his mind get back to
the task at hand.

* * *

"I hate this, I feel like I'm in high school," Deanna said tapping the
hairpin she'd been fidgetting with on the glass tabletop.

"Speaking of high school, what's with Bev?"

"Oh, she thought you and I were fighting because we both looked so pissed
off when we arrived. She was trying to protect the Sardragians from the
fray."

Will chuckled.

"She was pretty embarassed when I explained."

"Well, she should be."

Deanna leaned over the table, laughed and slapped him playfully on the
arm. "That's not nice."

"You know," he began, a sly look coming over his features, "if you ever
hit me, and I find out about it --"

Deanna giggled and kicked him under the table before he could finish the
sentence. Will grabbed her foot, brought it up to rest on his thigh and
began massaging the arch.

"Oh, Commander, _that_ is very good."

Will gave a self-satisfied smile that Deanna missed as she rolled her eyes
closed, which he took as a sign of her letting her guard down. Will
continued with what he was doing, working his hands towards her ankle, and
let his mind wander, probably more than he should have, but it was hard
after her last remark not to indulge the particular fantasy it had
conjured up.

Deciding to see just how much he could get away with, Will slowly let his
hand encircle Deanna's ankle. He watched her face, saw her breath catch
in her throat and her eyes open for just a second. She was letting him
know that he could continue the game. He wondered then, just how much of
his thoughts she had picked up on.

Some, but not all, clearly. She was emanating curiosity, but Will wasn't
sure what to do next. There was a table between them, among other things.

Deanna sensed his hesitation and immediately thought of Beverly's recent
admonishments and her own responses. Beverly had encouraged her not to
let Will control their interactions. Deanna had protested, saying she
liked things that way, which of course wasn't entirely true. And then
there was Ginn Lenara's remark about acquiescing, and now the muddled
images flickering through Will's mind. It was time to act.

She slowly slid her leg off Will's lap. While her eyes were open now,
looking him in the eye seemed out of the question, at least for the
moment. She stood up, and steadied herself against the table for a
moment.

Will, for his part, couldn't take his eyes off her, mainly because he had
no idea what was going to happen next. There was a part of him that
wanted to stammer apologies and bolt, but a voice in the back of his head
told him not to move, breathe or speak. The only thing he was sure of was
that whatever happened next was absolutely tenuous, and any sudden action
on his part could change the course of events in a way he would regret.

He let his breath out a little too loudly as Deanna knelt beside his
chair. She looked up at him, her eyes almost too wide, and asked "what
would you like to do next?" before glancing down.

She hoped she was doing the right thing, both in terms of what would
interest Will, and what was actually prudent within their relationship.

Will smiled off to the side, towards nothing and no one in particular, as
if looking for someone to confirm for him that this was actually
happening. He ran his right hand through her hair, almost stalling for
time. Deanna sighed and her posture relaxed. He did it again, this time
grabbing a handful of her hair and tugging on it lightly so he could look
into her face. He let go and ran his hand down the side of her face. Her
lower lip quivered and he brushed two fingers against it in response. Her
tongue flicked out to capture them and draw them into her mouth. Will
moaned as she sucked on his fingers.

He eased himself out of his chair and onto his knees beside her. Taking
her face in his hands he kissed her, slowly, but not gently, biting on her
lower lip until she squealed with surprise, but she made no effort to
pull away.

Deanna felt off balance. Will's mind was open to her in a way she wasn't
used to. So often when they were even remotely intimiate he would wall
himself away from her and she would feel like she was lost in a dark
corridor with him just out of reach. That feeling of mentally chasing
him would make her sick. At the moment though, the sensation was
closer to falling through water and she hadn't the slightest idea when or
how she would land. 'Don't think,' she reminded herself, as he had so
often tried to tell her long ago and far away. Even the way he was
kissing her was an indication of how much they had both changed.

He eased her back down onto the floor and began running his nails up and
down the side of her thigh. Deanna figured that would bruise, but it
almost pleased her. A souvenir of this, even a temporary one, suited her,
although she hoped that maybe they would sort things out well enough this
time that she wouldn't need souvenirs.

She opened her eyes and found him looking right into hers. That was
unlike Will, and she kept waiting for him to look away, but he didn't.
Eventually he said, "hello," softly and with a slight laugh. She smiled
and grabbed at his hair. His eyes danced.

"So now what, Imzadi?" he asked.

Deanna found it hard to believe that she had never noticed before how
careful Will was of her. Of course he always worried about her, but
suddenly she was aware that he also worried about hurting her, and not
just emotionally.

She kissed him again, but he wouldn't accept that as an answer. Will
propped himself up on his elbow and with his other hand turned her face
towards his. "Dee?" She projected a flood of images and feelings at him,
and he smiled and sighed, but then shook his head. "I've learned to speak
your way, learn to speak mine."

"Will," she paused. "I, I want to be with you, tonight. I-- I want you
inside of me." She looked away.

At that Will had to catch his breath. He got to his knees, gathered her
up in his arms and stood up to carry her into the bedroom. He sensed her
fear for a moment, but relaxed when he realized it was just from the
sensation of being picked up and not about what was going to happen
between them.

She laughed when he set her down on the bed. Wasn't there an earth
tradition in this? Didn't it mean she was supposed to be a bride or
something?

Deanna watched him undress, but didn't move to do the same, knowing Will
would rather help her. She got up on her knees and ran her hands up his
chest. He pulled at her dress for a moment, trying to decide on the best
avenue of attack. Deanna smiled. This was Will Riker to a tee -- both
little boy and master battle strategist and as usual there she was, caught
somewhere in the middle of it.

She shivered slightly as Will ran his hands up her sides and under her
dress, pausing for a second to stare at her breasts before lifting it over
her head. She leaned into him then, feeling relief and recognition as
their skin touched. '_This_,' she thought, 'is how I remember who I am.'

Will held Deanna against him, his arm tight against her lower back, as if
he would bend her over it. She tried repeatedly to kiss him, but he
kept pulling his mouth away by mere milimeters and grinning. She
whimpered his name, overcome with need.

"You belong to me, don't you?" Will asked in a way that indicated he not
only knew the answer, but was waiting for her agreement so he could
demonstrate that fact to her.

"I always have," Deanna whispered. "I always have." She felt herself on
the verge of tears from the relief of being able to tell him that.

Taken aback at the urgency of the confession (he had merely expected a
'yes'), Will wrapped her up in his arms and held her to him, until he felt
her relax and understand that he would always act with that knowledge in
mind. "I love you so much, Deanna," he said and she let herself believe
him in a way she usually didn't.

They lay down on the bed together, and Deanna clutched at Will's shoulder
as he slipped one finger and then another inside her. He eased himself
down towards her hips, laying the side of his face against her belly as
he slipped his hand in and out of her. Deanna looked down at him
listening to the sound of himself inside her, grasped his hair and felt
tears roll down her face, partly in joy, and in part because for the first
time in years she felt herself remember how badly she wanted to have this
man's children.