The Only Answer

Based upon Star Trek: The Next Generation

Takes place between Insurrection and Nemesis.

I have finally finished this long awaited story. I know it will not live up to the hype that I gave it. I'm just glad it's finally done bouncing around my head like it had been for years. I hope you like it.

I swear on the Star Trek Encyclopedia that Elizabeth Hughes is NOT - repeat NOT - a Mary Sue. This is an Imzadi story, not a Will/OC story.

- /.\ - /.\ - /.\ -

Will glanced over his shoulder, subconsciously taking a head count. Three. There were three men behind him, as there should have been. Looking over the shoulders of the men in front of him, he counted them as well. Four, as there should be.

It was dark in the corridor, only every other - or so - emergency light actually functioning. Gargoon had a thick atmosphere, and therefore it was much darker than what most humanoids were used to. This gave the Gargans a massive advantage and, more-likely-than-not, is why they took out most of the lights.

To minimize the chance of being ambushed, the lights on his team's rifles were out. They were trying to even the odds, and only being marginally successful.

The four men in front of him threw up their left hands in the silent signal to stop. He mirrored the gesture and waited for the Lieutenant in front to make his way back.

"There's a fork, Sir" he whispered. "Should we split up and cover both, or pick one and maintain our numbers?"

Will considered it. Maintaining numbers was almost always preferable. However, they had picked up two human and one Vulcan biosignature from base camp, and there was no guarantee that all three survivors were together. He, once again, silently cursed Gargans for effectively scrambling 85% of all communication and tricorder signals in the compound.

"Take your team left, we'll cover the right."

The Lieutenant nodded. "Aye, Sir." He made his way back to the front of the formation and took the three others in front of Will to the left. Will glanced behind him, counted three, and headed right.

Only ten meters down the corridor was a door that stood partially ajar, the automatic doors having no power. Will stopped his team and peaked his head inside, surveying the room. It appeared to be one of the auxiliary medical bays. He allowed a small smile for himself as he planned on raiding it - for two reasons, really, not only to get the supplies for his own team, but removing them from the use of the Gargans.

He snuck through the door, and kept watch as his team followed.

All four of them froze as they heard a sound from the corner of the room, behind a biobed. He crept to find and angle in which he could see what made the sound, a slight scuffle. The figure was hard to make out in the dim light, but it was definitely too small to be Gargan. He saw a whisp of dark hair and knew for certain that it couldn't be Gargan.

He froze again when he heard - and saw - the door at the far end of the room shudder. Will signaled his team to take up defensive positions and ran for the biobed. He nearly pounced on the figure and put his hand over its mouth.

The figure let out a slight, decidedly feminine shriek, and attempted to bite him.

"My name is William Riker, I'm here to help you," he whispered in her ear. He leaned over her shoulder and smiled.

She nodded, wide-eyed.

He maneuvered between her and door, allowing himself a viable line-of-sight to the entry way, which started to sneak open. A figure appeared in the crack and he tried to make it out, his finger itchy on the trigger housing of his Tetrion Pulse Launcher.

The figure made its way through the door, followed by another, and another. Will tried to make out the details of their uniforms or the features of their faces, he couldn't make out either. He then concentrated on their weapons.

One of the figures took his hand off his weapon and signaled to the other. That was it. Will was sure. The weapon clung to the soldier's arm, very unlike the standard issue Starfleet weapon. He opened fire.

His team quickly followed suit, and in mere seconds, the Gargans were all down without having fired a return shot. His team worked quickly to pull the bodies inside the medical bay and close the door behind them.

Will turned on the light on his rifle and turned to the woman behind him. Her dark hair was pulled behind her, though most of it flew loose now. Her face was filthy, and she was cradling her left arm.

He glanced around for a medical scanning device, found one near by and scanned her arm. "Are you okay?" he asked.

She nodded.

"What's your name?" he asked.

"Lieutenant Hughes. Elizabeth Hughes," she breathed, obviously in a state between pure terror and shock.

"I'm Will," he repeated with a gentle smile. According to the readings he was getting, her arm had several fractures. He turned slightly, "Keo," he called his Trill medic. "Her arm's broken, see what you can do."

Keo rushed over, slinging his rifle behind his back. "Yes, Sir." He pulled his med pack in front of him and started to work.

"Liz," she said. "Will, you can call me Liz."

"Alright, Liz," he put his hand on her good shoulder, "We're gonna get you out of here."

- /.\ -

Deanna practically fell into her bed; Will's bed, actually. She had unofficially taken up residence in his quarters while he was on temporary assignment. The entire room felt of him, which comforted her. She was worried about him. He was in - quite literally - the most dangerous place in the quadrant at the moment, and she hadn't heard from him in weeks.

Everyone on the Enterprise was getting frustrated. Captain Picard had spent much of the time arguing with Starfleet Brass. No one knew who's bright idea it was to send in small swat teams instead of sending in a massive occupational force and cleaning out the three compounds in one giant sweep. The Enterprise had supplied eight crewmembers, including her First Officer, and had lost a confirmed two, as well as suffering one med evac.

They had been dispatched three and a half weeks ago, which was the last time Deanna had heard from Will.

She closed her eyes and attempted to meditate. She had been meditating a little more since he had left, trying to find her center. She couldn't, not with any degree of success.

She wanted to stop worrying about him. She wanted him to come back, safe and sound to the Enterprise, away from the warzone. She wanted to get married in Alaska and then head to Betazed for a traditional ceremony with her mother. She wanted to spend fifteen long days on a yacht in the Opal Sea without a care in the galaxy.

She was about as far from that yacht as she possibly could be.

Deanna remembered back to the day that Will had left. He had been so confident, so sure of himself and the mission. She knew it was his brave front, but she wasn't sure that he knew it was his brave front. The man was a good enough actor to fool himself.

They walked to the Transporter Room together, meeting up with two others on the way. They all stood together, all pretending that they were being asked to a cake walk. The room was fully of false-bravado.

Captain Picard arrived moments later with Worf on his heels. The Captain gave a 'farewell and good luck' speech. Worf expressed his regret in not being able to accompany them.

Will promised the Captain that he would take care of the seven crewmen accompanying him to Gargoon.

"I have the utmost confidence in you, Number One," Captain Picard had replied, "As I do in all of you."

Deanna could sense that the Captain knew that not all of the crewmen before him were returning. She also sensed that he knew they were all terrified.

"I would not be asking you to do anything I knew weren't capable of." With that, he turned to Chief Thompson and in two groups, they were gone.

So, here she was, twenty four days later and still waiting for word on an almost impossible mission. As Deanna lay on her fiancé's bed, time seemed to slow and she could only pray to whatever of the Four Deities were listening to her at the time, that the five Enterprise crewmen could return, especially her Imzadi.

- /.\ -

Will blinked several times, trying to reorient himself after the blast had sent him flying across the room. The entire compound had shook violently during the air raid - which they hadn't seen coming - and a conduit had ruptured.

He slowly stood up, making sure his vision wasn't blurry or spinning. He then looked around for Lieutenant Hughes - Liz - whom had been in the Command Center with him. They had finally retaken one of the compounds and were using it as a forward base to attempt to retake the other two. Everyone knew that they simply needed more men, they also knew that it was a long shot at best.

"Liz!" he shouted through the smoke, exhaust, and retreating aircraft. He waved his hand in front of his face, trying to clear some air. "Lizzie! Where are you?"

"Will!" she finally responded.

He turned, trying to localize her voice. "Where are you?"

"Stuck under a console behind a deck plate!"

He quickly located where the deck plate had been blown out and where it was pinned under a console. He knocked on it.

"Who's there?" she responded, mocking the children's game.

"Let me find something to pry this out with." Will stood back up and looked around. He found a long piece of conduit that, at one time, had been supplying coolant. He took of his jacket and wrapped it around the conduit, to protect his hands from the corrosive coolant undoubtedly still on the pipe. "Alright," he said, wrenching the conduit behind the deck plate, "hang on a second."

Using muscles he didn't know he had, Will shoved on the conduit and loosened the deck plate's death grip on the underside of the console. "That's all I can give you," he said through gritted teeth.

"I can fit," she said, inching in his direction.

"Mind the pipe, it had coolant in it," he warned.

She squeezed out next to him, letting out a small hiss as some coolant got on her arm and started to eat through her sleeve and onto her skin. She ripped off her jacket, leaving her skivvy shirt, and wiped her arm as best as she could. "That's gonna leave a mark," she said.

He dropped the pipe and the deck plate settled back into place without a resounding metallic thunk. "Are you alright?" he asked, surveying her quickly.

She smiled. "I'm fine." Liz looked around. "So much for holding the Command Center."

He held his hand up. "Sh." She fell silent and tried to listen. "Do you hear that?" he asked.


"Take cover!"

They both bolted underneath a nearby console and covered their faces as the room around them went up in sparks again.

- /.\ -

Jean-Luc rushed to the nearest Turbo Lift, settling his jacket over his shoulders and zipping it up. He hadn't bothered to get fully dressed in his quarters and had put on one of his shoes in the corridor.

This was the call he had been waiting for.

Admiral Jerek, the main player in the "Gargoon Situation" - as they were calling it - had finally conceited to his bad decision concerning the surgical sweep of the Federation Science Association's compounds on the planet. When the Monarchists, a minor and fanatical political party, had attacked The Living Palace, imprisoned the Emperor, and then turned to the FSA's compounds, killing or imprisoning the scientists and Starfleet personnel there, Jerek had made the decision to go in with small teams to minimize loss of life. However, the loss of life was already too great.

While Gargoon was not a full-fledged member of the Federation, the Emperor had gotten assurance from the council that his government would remain in power, as the Monarchists would surely expel the Federation, most likely in a violent manner.

He was, indeed, correct.

Jerek finally decided that in order to put the Emperor back in power, they needed to send in large numbers of troops, instead of several surgical teams. Therefore, the Enterprise, Sutherland, Coral Sea, Ghandi, Yamato, and Farragut, as well as four Oberth Class troop transports were being sent to Gargoon to occupy the planet until the Empire was restored and the Monarchists were subdued.

Granted, Jean-Luc didn't approve of crushing a legitimate political party, but - to be honest - he wasn't too concerned with the politics of the planet. He was simply pleased that he could finally get his people off that planet. Whatever the correct course of action was concerning the Gargan political situation, his people had nothing to do with it.

"Mister James," he said upon entering the Bridge, "set course for Gargoon, maximum warp, and engage when ready. Mister Carris," he said to the Lieutenant at OPS, "set up a communication hub between the Enterprise, Sutherland, Coral Sea, Ghandi, Yamato, Farragut, and the Oberth flotilla. Inform me when they arrive in the Gargan system. Mister Data," he finally turned the Officer of the Deck, "awake the senior staff and assemble them in the briefing room."

"Aye, Sir," Data responded.

Jean-Luc quickly surveyed the Bridge before heading to the Observation Lounge. He inhaled deeply, pleased with the new situation. His crew was coming home.

- /.\ -

Will woke up more rested than he had been since he left the Enterprise a month ago. From behind his closed eyes, he could see that the room was bright. That didn't make much sense. The last thing he remembered was stalking down a long dark hallway as night fell. He, Liz, Keo, and Lieutenant Tryg were making one last sweep of the perimeter before settling back into watch positions for the night. Something must have gone wrong.

It wasn't only the change in scenery which told him something was gone wrong, his face was itching as well.

He listened intently.

"Good afternoon, Doctor," a familiar voice said.

"Good afternoon, Alyssa, how are our wayward friends?" another familiar voice asked.

"Well," Alyssa - Ogawa, no doubt - answered. "Everyone is stable. Lieutenant Hughes' arm is setting quite nicely, and Commander Riker's burns are almost completely healed."

"Commander Riker will be pleased that he won't have to spend any more time here after he wakes up," Beverly said with a good hearted laugh.

"No kidding, Doc," he said, opening his eyes and sitting upright, slowly.

"Sir!" Alyssa exclaimed, turning around in complete shock.

Beverly smiled at him. "I knew you were faking," she said with a smile.

"How long have I been here?" he asked as she scanned him with a tricorder. He reached up to scratch at his face.

She gently swatted his hand. "Don't itch or it'll scar. We arrived yesterday morning and sent down a detail of 30, which was joined by another 370 from other ships and all the standing personnel were beamed up yesterday afternoon. There are still minor skirmishes going on down there, but it's generally over."

Will relaxed, visibly he was sure. "What about my team?"

The light in her eyes dropped for a minute, "Lieutenant Tryg didn't make it. The majority of his body was covered in burns but he had a cut on his leg that had festered and the blood poisoning had traveled to his heart. I got to him too late."

Will closed his eyes for a second. Damn him, he thought. He remembered Tryg getting cut when he was helping Liz and himself out of the Control Center after the second air raid. Tryg told him it was nothing, but that he would get it checked out none-the-less. Will should have followed up. Tryg was dead because he didn't.

Beverly shook her head, obviously reading his face. "It's not your fault. A lot of things happened down there that shouldn't have, none of them were your fault."

"I wish I could believe you."

Beverly smiled comfortingly. "Maybe you need a few sessions with the Counselor, you know, to help with the post traumatic stress," there was a tone of sarcasm in her voice; she was playing with him.

"Counselor?" he repeated with exaggerated distaste. "Are you sure?"

"The one we've got is pretty good. You'd probably like her."

"Her?" he repeated. He was about to make a comment about being a notorious ladies man, but a tingle at the top of his neck made his brain hiccup. "Speak of the devil."

He looked at the door to watch it open and an angel step through. "And she shall appear," Beverly said, stepping away from him, making room for Deanna.

She simply walked over to him - as if nothing was different, as if he hadn't been gone - and took both of his hands, holding his gaze.

Will inhaled deeply, breathing in her scent. He loosed one of his hands from hers to run it up the side of her face and tangle it into her hair.

"Imzadi," her voice echoed in his mind as she tilted her head ever so slightly towards his touch.

Time seemed to slow as they simply stared at each other. Then, without warning or preamble, she threw her arms around him and tucked her face into his neck. He gripped her tightly. "I promised I'd be back," he whispered.

He smiled as he felt her gently probe his mind, making herself at home once again.

Another voice distracted them both, causing them to loosen their embrace and turn towards the voice.

"It's alright, Lieutenant, I'm Doctor Crusher. You're on the Enterprise."

"Enterprise?" Liz repeated.

Will got up off the bed and walked over to here. "My starship is your starship," he said to her.

"Will," she said with a smile. "Does this mean we're not going back?"

He was slightly taken back by the question. He had not thought of that. He was too overwhelmed by being home again to ask if he was staying. He looked at Deanna.

She smiled. "The Admiralty made a few changes in our strategy. They sent down much larger teams, ten ships worth, in fact. You don't have to go back."

"Oh thank God," Liz breathed and buried her face in her hands for a second. She looked back up after a second, tears in her eyes.

He put his hand on her shoulder comfortingly, "It's alright," he told her, "it's over."

She inhaled deeply, composing herself. "I'm sorry, I'm just . . ." she justified, "I'm just glad that home is no longer an alien warzone."

"You're from Gargoon?" Deanna asked, furrowing her brow.

Liz shook her head. "My mother always told me 'Home is where your family is, or your friends.' In my case, Will and Tryg."

Will shook his head slowly. "I'm sorry, Liz, Tryg didn't make it."

Liz's eyes slipped closed for a second. "I'll miss him," she said after a moment.

"Me too," he said. Silence fell as no one knew what to say.

"Why don't we go get something to eat?" Deanna suggested, breaking the silence. "I'll bet you would love a good meal."

Liz forced a smile and stood up. "Sounds delicious."

Will slid his arm around Deanna's waist, and held his arm out, motioning for Liz to walk with them, she fell into step next to him.

"I'm Deanna, by the way," she said, looking across Will at Liz.

"Oh!" Will stopped, as Deanna and Liz faced each other. "Liz, this is Counselor Deanna Troi. Deanna, Lieutenant Liz Hughes."

Deanna offered her hand, which Liz took.

"I've heard so much about you," Liz said.

"Really?" Deanna eyed Will, "You'll have to tell me what he said."

When Liz shared a smile with Deanna, Will eyed them both. "Why am I afraid of you becoming friends?"

- /.\ -

After Will and Deanna shared a nice meal with Liz, they dropped her off at her temporary quarters and headed towards Will's.

They stopped just far enough into the room to have the door close behind them. Will just stared at him room. He couldn't tell if it was exactly how he had left it or not. Everything appeared the same, but it had been a month and - after they left Liz - Deanna mentioned how she had been sleeping there.

Deanna took his hand and squeezed it gently. "You're not dreaming," she said.

He forced a smile. "I know, it's just . . . I'm tired, Deanna."

"I know, but things are easy again."

"Since when are things on this ship easy?"

She chuckled softly and gently led him to his bedroom. "Come on, sleep will be good for you."

He fingered a few strands of her hair. "I'm not that tired."

She turned and slung her arms around his neck with a smile. "You haven't changed at all, Imzadi."

He allowed his eyes to slip shut as the word echoed in his mind. She gently tugged on him, bringing his face down to her. "Imzadi," slipped from his lips before he kissed her. He was glad to be home.

- /.\ -

Will groaned at the noise that disturbed his slumber. He rolled over, hoping it would go away. It didn't.

The noise sounded again.

As he began to regain consciousness, he realized it was the alarm to his door. Deanna moaned as well, also waking. Knowing it was the middle of the night, he rolled over again, throwing an arm over Deanna. "Go back to sleep," he said, kissing her neck before rolling out of bed.

He grabbed a pair of sleep shorts from one of the drawers and grabbed his robe, making his way to the door.

The door sounded again.

"I'm coming, I'm coming," he muttered. He finally reached the door and opened it to see a distraught Liz.

She looked up from her feet, taking quick notice of his attire. "Oh! I . . . I shouldn't have . . ."

He shook his head. "Don't. It's fine." He glanced back into his quarters, so a sleeping Deanna. "Come on," he said, stepping into the passageway, "I know a place where we can sit."

Liz followed him down the corridor to Deanna's quarters, where he keyed in the code and gestured for her to sit on the couch, which she did. He went directly to the replicator, stifling a yawn. He ordered her chicken broth, it had always seemed to calm her on the station. He ordered himself a hot chocolate, thinking of Deanna.

He handed her the mug as he sat down next to her. He knuckled the sleep from his eyes. "Do you want to talk about it?" he asked. She took a sip and shook her head. For a second, she was silent, before the tears burst from her eyes and she slumped over in sobs.

Will took her mug, set it down, and pulled her to his chest. He shushed her gently. "It's alright, it's over now."

"My mind just won't turn off," she sobbed. "I can't not dream. It's always the same."

He rubbed her back. "It's okay, and it will get better. Tomorrow, why don't you talk to Deanna?"

"I don't want to talk to Deanna," she said without missing a beat.

Will pulled her back a little so he could see her face. He wiped a few tears from her eyes. "She's good at what she does, and she can help you. She can help you a lot more than I can."

Liz forced a smile, and sat back. "Does she give as good hugs as you?"

He let loose a light chuckle. "Of course not, but I'm a professional." He let his joke stand for a moment before continuing. "Seriously, go talk to her. She's going to be talking to everyone else we brought back, including me."

Liz nodded. "Alright, I will."

Will smiled. "Good."

She picked up her mug again and took a few sips. Will said nothing. Finally, Liz spoke. "I'm gonna go back to bed."

"Are you sure you're alright?" he asked.

Liz smiled, though Will was sure it was forced. "I'm fine. We can both go back to bed. Breakfast?"

"Actually, Deanna were going to have an early breakfast because she has a few early meetings. Lunch?" Okay, so Deanna didn't have any early meetings, and he just lied to Liz. But that was okay. It was a harmless lie.

Liz nodded with another forced smile. "Sounds wonderful."

"Alright," Will said, standing up, "I'll walk you back to your quarters."

She replied with her thanks and they walked in silence back to her quarters. He bade her goodnight and headed back to his own stateroom. He smiled at the asleep Deanna in his bed. She did not wake when he rejoined her. He sidled up to her, throwing an arm around her, and placing a kiss on her hair.

Will was a deep, peaceful, sleep in moments.

- /.\ -

"Well," Deanna said, setting her PADD on the table beside her chair, "it looks as if that is all for today."

"Actually," Lieutenant Hughes said, looking at her hands. "There was one thing."

Deanna didn't have to be an empath or an expert in humanoid behavior to tell that Elizabeth was uncomfortable and concerned about what she had planned to say.

"I wanted to talk to you about Will."

Deanna didn't react, not knowing how to. There was nothing Elizabeth could reveal about any potential . . . anything . . . between her and Will. Maybe she thought she could give Deanna some insight on his closed behavior, though Deanna knew it all already.

"You two are . . . in a relationship." Elizabeth paused. Deanna could tell she had planned to use other words but had gotten nervous and changed her mind. "But he spends a lot of time with me. I just wanted to tell you that you don't have to be concerned."

Deanna smiled. "It's alright. I understand."

Elizabeth offered a nervous chuckle. "I know I would be suspicious as hell - if my guy was spending a lot of time with another woman, I mean."

"No really," she reached across and squeezed Elizabeth's hand. "It's alright. The two of you experienced a great hardship together and I wouldn't be much of a counselor if I didn't recognize that." She paused for a second, that didn't exactly sound like she wanted it to. "And I know Will."

"I wanted you to know that, if things had been different, I would have definitely made a move, but . . . He is head over heels for you."

Deanna smiled at that.

"No, he is."

Deanna shook her head. "I don't dispute that. It's just been a long time since anyone described our relationship in such - pardon the expression - juvenile terms."

Elizabeth looked at her hands. Deanna could feel the waves of embarrassment fuming from her. "I just wanted you to know that you don't have to be jealous," she said in a small voice.

Deanna took her hand again and smiled. "He loves you," she said quietly. "He does. And you're right, maybe if things were like the way they once were between Will and myself; things could be different for you." She knew the statement brightened Elizabeth's spirits a little. "But, for now, he values you friendship, and so do I."

"Thank you, Deanna. That means a lot to me."

- /.\ -

"Good morning Lieutenant," Commander Data said as he walked into Engineering.

Liz looked up and forced a smile. "Good morning, Sir."

"How are you adjusting to life on the Enterprise?" he asked.

"Sir?" She wasn't at all prepared for that kind of question to come from her android boss.

"It is customary to make a general inquisition rather than ask specific probing questions when one does not seem to be fitting in," he explained.

"I'm not really sure what you mean, Sir." She wasn't. Did she really appear to be the odd man out?

"You often seem distracted, uneasy, or uncomfortable. Is there something on your mind?"

"Am I that obvious?" she asked.

He seemed perplexed by her question, if only for a moment, long enough for the expression to register on his face. "Abnormalities in behavior are not difficult for me to notice or to identify. Because I have a standard reference of which to compare your behavior, yes you are that obvious."

She closed her eyes for a second, forcing away the tears. Over the past few weeks, she had tried to tell herself that she didn't need him. She had tried to tell herself that she was okay with him being with someone else, belonging to someone else.

When they were on Gargoon, it had been easier. It was just them and it was chaotic. It wasn't hard to imagine that he wasn't unattainable.

"I'm sorry, Sir."

He regarded her with a look that said if I could smile, I would. "If you are unhappy here, perhaps you should move to remedy that."

"What do you suggest, Sir?"

"You are a competent officer and an excellent addition to this division. However, you could seek reassignment, if you so desired."

She considered it for a second. She could leave. If she didn't have to seem them together all of the time, it would be easier. If she opened herself up to a new world, she might be able to get over him. She forced another smile. "Thank you, Sir. That may be my last resort." First she was going to talk to Will Riker.

- /.\ -

"I am so in love with you, I can't stand it anymore," Liz said through tears. "I can't be just your friend anymore, Will. I need you to choose."

He was shocked. She admitted that he had a right to be. She just barged into his office - well she had knocked - in the middle of the day, with no warning at all and laid her heart on the ground in front of him. She waited for him to either pick it up or stomp on it.

"Liz," he said in a soft voice, rising to his feet slowly.

She cut him off, still afraid of what he was going to say. "I know it's a lot to ask. To ask you to leave a beautiful, smart woman, but I'm smart, I'm beautiful, and I'm so in love with you I can hardly breathe."

He shook his head slowly. She could see the sad emotion in his eyes. "I'm sorry, Liz. I won't leave her. I can't."

"Why?" she shouted. Her hands were pinned to her sides, shaking in quite rage. "What is she to you that I can't be?"

"Imzadi," he said simply, as if it was the only answer, as if it was an answer she should have known. He sighed, sensing her frustration with his answer. "And I'm sorry you don't understand what that is. But there is no choice here for me to make."

She stood dumfounded. Had she really been that wrong? Was there really absolutely nothing between them?

"Then I have to leave." She turned to leave.

"I hope you find someone, Liz," he said before she could leave. "Because when you do, you're going to make someone very happy."

She stormed out of his office. She was sure it could never happen, and at that moment she was determined to ensure it never happened.

- /.\ -

Deanna was waiting in his quarters when his shift was over. She sat quietly on his couch, no doubt having felt the emotional conversation he had had with Liz. He joined her on the couch, laying on his back with his knees bent and his feet on the cushion. He rested his head in her lap. She fingered through his hair, staring into his eyes.

"She was in love with me," he said at great length. "I don't know how I didn't see it."

"I didn't think it was this bad," she said, continuing to run her fingers through his hair.

He felt awful, and he knew Deanna knew he did. But Liz had left him with no options. Even if he had had greater feelings for Liz, leaving Deanna just wasn't an option. He had done it before and lost fifteen years of their lives.

He flashed her a patented Riker Grin. "I love you," he said somewhat sheepishly.

She leaned down and kissed his lips. "Imzadi," she said simply, as it was the only answer.

He twined his fingers with hers. A smile grew across his face. It was the only answer, to any question he could ever ask.

- /.\ - /.\ - /.\ -