By Pamela ( and Robin ( 10/99



The sun's torrid heat penetrated the thick window coverings, to flow into the small living quarters. A slender woman stood basking in its warmth. She found it hard to believe the drastic and dramatic changes that took place from morning until nightfall on this world. The earlier night's frigid temperatures and raging winds lashed at the window, making the lone occupant at the window feel as desolate as the daylight's barren view did now, in the light of day. The golden sunlight's warmth did little to erase the chill that permeated through to her very soul. Slender fingers drew the folds of the thick sweater she was wrapped in, closer to her body. The infrequent sound of the doors opening startled her from her musings to turn, and smile a forced greeting for the visitor framed in the doorway. Beverly Crusher's own smile was tinged with sadness as she entered the quiet, almost sterile quarters with two large travel bags.

Dr. Crusher laid the bags down on the bed before going to the petite woman who had been her closest friend for the last several years. She hugged her firmly, feeling the subtle trembling and stiff tenseness of the younger woman.

"Deanna, I don't know how this happened, but I guarantee you we will have you out of here as soon as possible." She murmured when they parted. "How are you?"


Deanna stepped back and once again tightened the sweater that engulfed her tiny form. It was huge on her; a thick Irish knit, with a rolled collar and cuffs, undoubtedly made for a man.

"I'm fine really, the authorities here have done everything to make me comfortable." Deanna avoided her friend's concerned eyes, and moved away from the window to the bags the ship's doctor had placed on the bed. "Beverly, what is all of this?" she said softly.


"I brought you some toiletries and clothing. Oh, and some chocolate." said Crusher, "I would have brought some personal items from your quarters, but I wasn't sure if you wanted them here." She paused to watch Deanna, noting her disinterest as she went through the motions of looking into the bags. After a brief glance at their contents, she closed them and set them on the floor.



"Thank-you, Beverly." Deanna moved to stand again at the window, her back to her friend; wishing that she would just leave. The searing pain in her chest made the effort to talk, to return to reality too abhorrent to be tolerated. But tolerate it she must, if she wanted to return to the void in her own mind where she efficiently blocked the emotions that clawed at her. Though not the most productive of techniques, it kept her from sensing the emotions of those closest to her as well.


The door opened again, this time she didn't turn to view the visitor, she knew whom it was "I have just spoken to the provost, Counselor, we need to go over the events of the last couple of days." When the woman at the window still hadn't acknowledged his presence, Jean Luc Picard turned to the doctor.


Beverly silently shook her head; she reached for her medical tricorder before closing the physical distance the other woman had put between them. "Deanna, when did you eat last? I'm reading dehydration and fatigue. Have you been mistreated, are they feeding you?" Still only silence. The doctor's eyes pleaded with the captain to enforce her questions.


Jean Luc stepped closer and cleared his throat, "Counselor," he paused, "Deanna, we only have a short period in which we are permitted to visit with you. Please help us to make that time as productive as possible, there is much we need to discuss." His tone carried the authority of the rank he held. That and the use of her given name seemed to break through the icy wall the Betazoid had withdrawn behind.


"I haven't been able to eat. I can't seem to force the food down." Deanna whispered brokenly. "There's a solid knot, here." She gestured to her chest; "It won't go past the knot." Both of her crewmates went silent, Beverly fighting back tears at the anguish in her friend's voice.


"Let me give you some vitamin supplements to keep you from becoming ill." Before the counselor could protest, Beverly had utilized the hypospray and was already putting it away.


The captain watched the exchange and was determined to fulfill purpose that had brought him there. "Deanna, as difficult as this must be for you, we need to know what happened, what brought us to this turn of events. I must know if I am to get to the bottom of it." He stopped talking, watching for some reaction to his words. Deanna took a short breath and let it out.


She half turned towards him. Picard found his chest tightening as a lone tear slipped over Deanna's cheek. She didn't seem to notice. "We, Will and I wanted to use our shore leave to, to.." Her voice failed, it was no use. She couldn't finish that one simple sentence. Nothing was simple now. Nothing would ever be simple again.



She and Will had been spending nearly all of their time together, if not physically then certainly in each other's thoughts. Each contemplating the future with the other, each reveling in the present, cherishing the moments they thought never to be regained, yet always knowing there could never been anyone else. Dinners together were spent quietly, with little actual conversation, but with a subtle intimacy that kept others from intruding upon them. Will Riker stopped eating, his fork stopping midway to his mouth when it froze, he smiled suggestively at the woman across from him,

"Yes, we should take shore leave together while the captain is working out the exchange program with the planet."

Deanna barely smiled as she met his eyes, thrilled and a little shaken that he'd picked up that stray thought so easily. It was going to take some getting used to.

Will continued...

"There's a resort on a large lake in the Southern Hemisphere; we could go there for a couple days. Think of it; no working opposite shifts, no interruptions, just the two of us, spending time together." He reached across the table for her hand, his thumb softly caressing the back of it while his eyes spilled into hers reminding and promising things that had been and were yet to be.

"I think I'd like that. We both have the time coming, I'll speak to the captain about it."

His hand slid up her arm still caressing softly as it traveled. until his comm badge startled them both.

< <<Data to Riker>> >


Will frowned as he acknowledged the page.

"Riker here"


<<You are needed on the bridge, sir>> >


"Acknowledged, on my way."


He moved his hand up to Deanna's shoulder as he stood up,

"Shore leave with you is looking better and better." He leaned down to quickly catch her lips with his before leaving for the bridge.


That afternoon, the captain barely raised his eyebrows as the counselor requested that she and Commander Riker be given shore leave together. He hesitated only a moment before granting her request for those precious three days, since neither would be necessary to finishing the business at hand. After she left, Picard found himself wondering about the turn of events. His two senior officers had been nearly inseparable for the last several weeks; perhaps there was something in the wind. Picard made a mental note to discuss this with his chief medical officer.


The resort at Tsolaris Lake was rustic and isolated from any of the planet's population centers. The main building sat like a jewel in a beautifully landscaped knoll nestled in the trees. Smaller cottages designed to be miniatures of the main structure were scattered across the lakefront. Will Riker knew from the resort's publicity brochure, that the lake was one of the largest in the hemisphere and considered by most to be extremely picturesque. The color alone took his breath away, the lake was bluer than Will Riker had believed a body of water could possibly be. He stood looking out from the porch of their cottage admiring the view when two soft hands slipped around his waist and the warmth of a familiar form pressed against his back.

"Will, aren't you cold without a sweater?"


He turned to smile at Deanna's concern, pulling her around and into his arms,

"No, I'm never cold with you in my arms."


She playfully pinched him, "Here I brought your sweater, I can't have you getting sick on me now can I?" She held the sweater, that had been draped over her arm, for him to shrug into, then lovingly ran her hands down his chest enjoying the feel of the bulky sweater over it. He pulled her to him in a long embrace as they stood looking out over the expanse of the blue water, wrapped in each other's arms and thoughts.


"Let’s go for a walk before dinner." Will said.

He reached for Deanna's hand, at once noticing the coldness, he warmed both hands in his own before taking one to walk with her along the tree line just yards from the lapping blue water. When they had walked far enough along the shoreline that the resort buildings were little more than dots in the distance, Will slowed his step then turned to the woman beside him. She looked beautiful, but far different from her usual immaculate appearance. Her dark hair was loose about her face and shoulders, her cheeks reddened from cold. A thick Nordic print sweater and turtleneck over slender blue jeans and thick cuffed socks rolled over the tops of hiking boots completed her attire. Will looked her up and down and smiled. "It's too bad the crew don't see you this way. So relaxed and comfortable." He kissed the tip of her nose, and grew serious. "Deanna, I've been giving us a lot of thought and I think it's time we make a permanent change to our relationship." Without giving her time to respond he quickly continued, "I want to get married as soon as we can make the arrangements." He smiled again at the look on her face. "Is this really such a surprise to you?"

Deanna shook her head, and reached up to smooth a lock of hair from his forehead.

"Yes, and no. Not a surprise, exactly. I just didn't expect to hear it so soon. We've only been here for four hours. I was hoping that by the time we returned to the Enterprise that we would have made a decision. and marriage was definitely an option I had been contemplating." Again her hands found their way to his chest and pulling at the edges of the sweater to close it around him. "Will, what made you decide to ask me now." she asked him, as she leaned into his chest, her hands between them for warmth. Will urged her closer,

"I didn't decide just now, but two weeks ago, I wanted to talk with you about it then, but never got the chance. So, it seemed best to talk about it here, while we're alone together. I figured that we would have the entire shore leave to work out any differences and then we could make the arrangements when we got back to the ship." He studied her expression, trying to get a sense of what was in her thoughts when she chose not to share them. "I haven't set a deadline. I just don't want to waste anymore time. I love you and I want us to be together." He sighed a sigh of relief as her face turned up to him, her eyes filled with her unabashed feelings for him.

"Will, I love you too, and I agree, we need to talk about us." she whispered. Deanna stretched up to kiss him, thrilling at the way he took her mouth as his own. Will lifted her off of her feet, and held her tight against his hard frame. They were both breathless when the kiss ended, and both wanted far more. Only the chilling wind off the lake inhibited the total demonstration of their too long repressed feelings. They both realized that the time had come. They had reached the turning point in their relationship, where the need to be together physically would no longer be denied. Will glanced back at the resort wishing they hadn't walked so far, when all he desired at the moment was to show this beautiful woman how much she meant to him.

Deanna laughed softly, and pushed hard against him when Will finally set her back on her feet. "Come on! I'm freezing. I'll race you to the cottage." She shrieked happily as she took off down the beach, Will hot on her heels. Will chased her, laughing all the way to their door, where he pinned her against it, and kissed her deeply.

~~~~ Take me inside, imzadi. Whispered through Will's mind. He reached behind Deanna, not breaking the kiss, and released the door. They backed into the room, and let the door close.



Later that evening, the couple sat in a quiet corner of the resort's elegant dining room. The candlelight accenting the graceful beauty of the woman and the ever present smile of her companion. Deanna had dressed carefully, in a deep ruby red sweater that bared her shoulders. Her hair was French braided, only because she knew that Will would be eager to take it down later on. She smiled inwardly, as she fingered the curled end of the braid, where it lay against the curve of her breast. Thoughts of their afternoon brought a flush of heat to her cheeks. She felt fulfilled in a way she had never thought to be again. She fingered the end of the braid again.

Will's eyes slipped to her fingers for the briefest second, then met hers over the rim of her wineglass. "Do you have any idea how much I love to see you in that color?" He said softly. Will lifted his glass and raised it in toast of her outfit.

Deanna smiled coyly, and raised her own glass.

"Really? I didn't think you noticed." Will laughed aloud,

"Yeah right." He said as a waiter brought their entrees. He chatted with the man, giving Deanna a chance to appreciate his dark good looks. Will had chosen a tan cable knit sweater, over dark brown leather pants. He'd pushed the sleeves to his elbows, revealing his chrono on his left wrist, and a heavy gold and latinum bracelet on his right. The bracelet brought a tender smile to Deanna's face. She'd given it to him years before, just before he'd left for the Potemkin. She wasn't aware until that moment, that he still had it. The waiter smiled and left, leaving the two of them to eat in companionable silence. Now and then Will, and then Deanna would reach across to take the others hand. They shared tender smiles and murmured conversation. It was obvious to anyone watching that the couple existed in a world of their own. The meal was a leisurely affair; it filled the body's need for nourishment only. Neither of them even tasted the food set before them, too wrapped up in their shared thoughts and love for one other. Deanna felt a deep contentment welling up inside of her. The sheer "rightness" of what she and Will shared, a relief after the past several years of denying it. They fed one another a rich white chocolate cheesecake, topped with raspberries, then retreated back to their cottage with a chilled magnum of champagne, to spend the rest of the evening trying to make up for the years of denying their need to be together.

Will woke up first the next morning, to find Deanna sleeping so close, so entwined around him, that he wasn't quite sure where she ended and he began. He lay still and quiet, not wanting to awaken her. It was so perfect, almost too perfect. **Don't.** He commanded himself. **Don't allow your own self-doubt to ruin this a second time.** He paused as Deanna murmured softly in her sleep, and eased a long slender leg over both of his. Her breath stirred the curled hairs on his chest, sending shivers of delight down Will's spine. He smiled, and began trailing a long finger along the delicate bones of Deanna's spine; the slight change in her breathing heralded her waking. They didn't speak, just began to further their sensual explorations until Will found himself pinned to the mattress, by his lovely companion. They stared into one another's eyes, reading raw passion, and a voracious need. Will saw a primal side of Deanna, that he was only too willing to give himself up to. Deanna took control, with an intensity and abandon that surprised them both. Afterwards, they lay side by side, fingers intertwined, hearts pounding, their breath coming in short harsh pants. Still they didn't speak. Will got up and held out a hand to Deanna. She rose beside him and they drew the quilt from the bed, wrapping it about them. Will opened the sliding door that led to a small deck and they huddled together on the steps to watch the sunrise. From that few moments, the day continued; quiet, intimate conversations and loving embraces, as each strived to continue the closeness that had only begun to soothe the hunger in each of their souls. Both Will and Deanna realized now, that only with one another could they find the fulfillment they had been searching for.

It was well past noon, and they were sitting in the shade of a huge oak tree, Will's head in Deanna's lap.

"Will?" she said, running her fingers through the stubborn lock of hair on his forehead.

"Mmmmmm." He murmured, not opening his eyes.

Deanna smiled, "Will, this is wonderful, I know. But we really should talk seriously about whatever differences we may still have. That is why we came here, this time away was to enable us to work out all of our differences and strengthen our bond."

Will's blue eyes opened to slits.

"Deanna, what's to work out? From where I sit/lie?" He chuckled. She smiled indulgently. "Seriously, I'm still trying to find the differences that seemed so important before; to work them out and get rid of anything that didn't work. But to be honest, so far everything that I've found, I want to keep. And as for strengthening our bond...if it were any stronger I'd be a dead man." He reached up and pulled Deanna down for a deep kiss. When he released her, he was surprised to find a tear slipping down her face.

"What is it?" he asked.

Deanna smiled through the tears, and shook her head.

"Nothing, I just love you so much, it overwhelms me at times."

Will nodded, "I know exactly how you feel." He kissed her again, and they headed back to the cottage to get ready for dinner. After sharing a bubble bath, Will and Deanna dressed formally for dinner. He in a dark gray suit, with a white shirt and patterned silk tie. She in a deep blue velvet dress. Long sleeved and high necked, the dress had no ornamentation. But the simplicity was deceiving. When she turned, Deanna’s back was bared to the waist.

On their way to dinner Will and Deanna stopped at a small shop just outside the dining room. They wandered around the shop looking for small tokens for one another, as souvenirs of their trip. Each deep in thought, concocting methods to purchase the gift without the other's knowledge. Will asked the shopkeeper to help him by distracting Deanna while he made a purchase for her. The shopkeeper grinned readily and agreed.

"I have just the thing. I've been saving it for just the right person." She said conspiratorially. She returned with an exquisite blouse that was perfect for the Betazoid. Will agreed immediately that Deanna needed to try the article on. She smiled at his enthusiasm and followed the shopkeeper's wife back to another part of the shop. While Deanna was changing, Will had his package wrapped by the co-owner of the shop, the woman's husband, and had it tucked into his pocket before Deanna reappeared smiling, to model the blouse for him. The shopkeeper smiled at the antics Will had her go through, having her turn in one direction then another, before telling her she looked beautiful in it. She and her husband watched wistfully as the couple strolled out of the shop arm and arm. Deanna carried the package containing her new blouse under her arm with the smaller gift tucked into the pocket of her coat. Later after an elegant meal, they sat at a cozy corner table smiling and whispering to each other. Will reached into his jacket with one hand taking Deanna's hand in his other. He raised the hand to his mouth and kissed it tenderly. He then, pressed the small box into her hand. Deanna smiled into his eyes, her hand clutching the small box, while she tentatively searched her own coat pocket for his gift. Finding it, she mimicked his actions in presenting it to him. Will grinned broadly at her, shaking his head in disbelief. "Great minds think alike, I guess." He said quietly. Deanna nodded and laughed softly. For a few moments they both sat waiting for the other to open the gift.


When it seemed neither was going to budge on the issue Deanna suggested, "How about we both open them at the same time."

"Sounds like a good idea to me." Will agreed, but he played with the wrapping on his gift, while he watched Deanna open the small box and take out a holodome of the lake outside. "I wanted you to have a small keepsake of our visit here." He smiled as he saw the tenderness in her eyes as she drew closer for a lingering kiss.


"Now, it's your turn." She whispered against his cheek, moving only far enough away to watch him unwrap the chrono piece. He fingered the engraved lid of the antique looking timepiece. "The Lake" and the date were engraved on the cover. Will reached for Deanna's hand as she did his, no words were needed. They sat quietly, listening to soft music, playing in the background, both savoring the intense feeling of peace that was beginning to dominate their time together. But as Will met Deanna's eyes, he saw a flicker of anxiety in her eyes. She blinked and looked away, to touch the roses that were arranged in a crystal vase on the table.


"Deanna what is it? I felt something for a second. You looked upset. Everything ok?" He asked.

Deanna exhaled slowly and nodded, "I'm fine, just one of those funny feelings. Like deja vu. I'm all right." She smiled back at him.

Will frowned, still feeling a sense of curiosity. Deanna was holding something back. He was sure of it, but he didn't press. She'd tell him what it was when she was ready. So Will decided to ask a question that had been plaguing him.

"Deanna, where do you want to spend our future? If I'm offered a captaincy what would your feeling be about leaving the Enterprise?" Deanna lowered her eyes, a sheepish look coming over her face. It took her a few moments before she answered. The manner in which she gave her answer caused his jaws to clench,

"Will, if you had asked me this question last night, the answer would have been simple. I wouldn't want to stay aboard the Enterprise if you weren't there. I would expect to go with you on your new assignment. But " she left the statement open ended.

"But?" Will said, knowing that there was more to come. He sat back and waited.

Deanna took his hand again,

"I've been awarded the Carl Sagan Fellowship."

Will gasped aloud, in surprise and wonder.

"The Sagan? My God Deanna, that's fantastic! They only give that out once every five years! The competition is horrendous. There must have been.." Deanna nodded, "425 nominees, 50 women. I didn't even know I'd been nominated or that the captain sponsored me, until just before we left."

Will kissed her cheek and signaled their waiter. When the man arrived, he ordered champagne to celebrate. Deanna turned as he began to speak, a frown turning down the corners of her mouth.

"What is it?" said Will, looking in the same direction.

Deanna turned to face him.

"I'm not sure, just the brush of hostility from somewhere behind me. It's probably nothing." Deanna answered. "Will this is a very prestigious award, I can't turn it down."


Will gaped,

"Turn it down! Of course you won't turn it down. Why would you?" He stopped; a look of realization, followed by concern clouded his features. "Oh gods. That means"


Deanna nodded sadly.

"Starfleet Command wants me to assume the position of Head of the Psychology Department at the University of San Francisco, and develop and implement a program for ten Betazoids who are being trained for positions on Galaxy and Sovereign class starships. It would mean at least a year on Earth." She could feel him pulling back away from her before he actually moved physically. Deanna reached for him, "Will, please, I know you're unhappy. I would have mentioned this sooner, but I only received notification of the award, the day before we left. I needed some time to absorb it all, and think through the effects this would have on our relationship." When he didn't appear to soften his reaction she reached to caress his cheek. "I would never have made a choice without considering us. I don't know what to do. I don't want to be apart from you ever again. Not like this, but" she stopped and a glimmer of tears appeared in her eyes.


Will felt his soft heart melting, his own disappointment and anxiety taking second place to the sadness he saw in Deanna's eyes. He held that hand against his cheek then moved it to his lips. "I wish you would have told me as soon as you had gotten word. I want to be as much a part of your life as you are of mine, Deanna. Sometimes you have the advantage of empathy. You need to give me a head start on these things, that's all." He pulled her closer once again. His words were soft and sincere, but the slap of anger and disappointment had long left it's mark. Will hadn't as yet become adept at shielding his emotions, leaving them bare for Deanna to read in his eyes, and feel in the depths of her soul. Though she'd expected the emotions, they hurt nonetheless.


"Will aren't you going to say anything?" Deanna heard the quaver in her voice, and took a deep breath, she wanted to stay in control. Not an easy feat. Taking the position would mean definite separation, from Will and her family on the Enterprise. The latter, while not especially pleasant, was something she could deal with. it was part of life in Starfleet. But the former, leaving Will for a year, right at the very beginning of their life together caused a pain that stole her breath. Dozens of questions flew through her mind, **Did he still want to get married? Would he consider taking an extended personal leave, and joining her on Earth? Would his career be sabotaged if he did leave the ship? Did she dare ask him?** Deanna sighed then stiffened as a sharp jolt of anger drew her shoulders back and snapped her to attention. She turned away, just as Will began to speak.


Deanna peered into the dimly lit room behind her. Hostility beat at her in waves too strong to ignore. Deanna took a deep breath, and focused, trying to home in on where the emotions were emanating from. But it was no use, the room was too dark, there could be anyone standing in the shadows. Will's hand on her arm, and the sharp jolt of HIS irritation brought Deanna back to reality. She turned back to Will, and felt her stomach clench. His eyes had darkened, and a scowl blunted his features.

"Will, I'm sorry. I just picked up an intense feeling of hostility. It was too strong to ignore. It's goone now, please talk to me, I can feel how angry and disappointed you are." Deanna said, reaching out to take his hand He didn't clasp her fingers, as she expected he would, but left her palm lying atop his hand.


"Where does this promotion leave us, Deanna? I can't leave the ship right now. There are two new sovereign class vessels being commissioned in six weeks, one of them will most likely be offered to me. I can't go with you." Will's voice was low and laced with disappointment. Why now? He asked himself. For Deanna to be awarded such a prestigious honor would solidify her career, and prove once and for all, to Starfleet and everyone else, the validity of having an empathic ship's counselor or any ship's counselor on board deep space vessels. Will knew that she had to accept, and the she had no choice but to leave the ship. He finally turned his hand and nestled her smaller hand in both of his. "Deanna I know we really don't have any choice but to be apart for the next year or so."


Deanna interrupted him, "Yes we do have a choice. I'll turn down the Sagan. I'll still be ship's counselor, we'll get married and finally start our life together."

Will was already shaking his head,

"Not a chance. You know that doing that would be professional suicide. No, I wouldn't expect you to turn this down, any more than I'd turn down a captaincy if it had been offered three days ago. No, you have to accept, so that I can be proud when they give you the award. We can talk about when we want to get married, now or later."

Deanna felt a glimmer of anger at Will's somewhat heavy handed attitude. It was her choice after all, whether or not she took the assignment and accepted the award. She pressed him, trying to get a sense of his true feelings.

"Will, I don't mind, really. I'll still have a prestigious post, though that doesn't mean all that much to me."

Will laughed aloud.

"Now who's spouting what I want to hear, not what she really feels. Come on Deanna. You know, and so do I that you'd give your left arm for a plum assignment like this. This validates your whole career, what you've been trying to tell Fleet command all these years. No you'll take it!"

Deanna was about to argue further when the blossoming hostility hit her again, this time tinged with a red hot rage. Now it seemed to be more focused, directed towards someone near she and Will. He was tugging her hand again,


"Deanna, hey, over here? remember me?" When she didn't turn immediately, Will groaned in exasperation, but sat back to wait. She was rarely wrong about these things.

Deanna turned back to him.

"Will this is getting uncomfortable for me. What do you think it could be?" She asked.

Will leaned closer,

"Probably the chef ticked off by something being burned or dropped. I'm sure it isn't anything to worry about." He reached for her hands again, but could see she wasn't convinced. "Deanna do you want to play detective, or talk about us?"


Deanna exhaled and carefully raised stronger shields.

"I want to talk about how sad I am to be leaving you right now. I want to tell you how much I love you." Her eyes shined with tears.


Will smiled and cupped her cheek. "So let's talk." Deanna sat quietly listening to Will began to talk about the wedding he had been dreaming of. Will forced himself to relax and focus on Deanna's face, he held her hand in his loving the feel of her rapt attention and soft skin, as he shared something he had never spoken of to anyone else. He couldn't even conceive of having this conversation with another; in his mind's eye it had always been Deanna; always the one he knew as his imzadi that would be share the making of these plans. He stopped talking abruptly, as her attention shifted yet again, and she looked over her shoulder at the table to the left of them. She continued watching the table's occupants. Will looked to see what was more captivating than their plans for the future.

"Deanna, you're doing it again. I must be losing my touch. I thought our wedding plans would be far more interesting that a little errant hostility from a stranger." Deanna turned back and frowned at him for a second. Then she smiled apologetically.


"I'm sorry Will, but I'm still sensing great hostility from someone nearby, someone behind me."

In the romantically lit room, it was difficult to make out the other diners. The tables were distanced far enough from each other that the features of the other diners were cloaked in the darkness. She smiled sweetly at him trying to ignore the empathic pounding she was receiving.

"Go ahead, I want to hear your plans. Although, I don't need anything elaborate to marry you. You know that don't you?" He kissed the hand he was holding,

"If I remember correctly the dress is optional." She grinned at him,

"You want the Betazoid ceremony? Mother would be so pleased with your choice, however the captain and some crew members won't be."


Will leaned closed to whisper when she turned from him again and looked back through the room. Will felt a rush of his own anger flare up, and his words slipped out before his brain could stop them.

"Deanna, can't you turn your empathic awareness off for just one night." His tone was harsher than he intended and he immediately regretted it when she spun back around to look at him, her eyes huge in surprise.

"What?" she gasped, pain visible in her face. She felt the slap of his anger tinged with disgust. Yes, disgust, at her empathic abilities. How could Will be so callous? The one person in the universe that she thought accepted her and loved her for all that she was, how could he feel such a thing. And she knew exactly what he was feeling when he said it.

"Deanna, come on. Be reasonable.." said Will, reaching to catch her hands as she pulled them away. He knew he had hurt her, that crack had been totally off base.


Deanna flushed, and drew her napkin from her lap, in a ball. "I can't believe that you of all people just said those words. I need to get some air. Excuse me." She started to get up. Will half rose, and caught her hand.

"Hey, Deanna. Please you don't have to go. I'm sorry. It's just..."

"Just what? It isn't convenient for me to be empathic right now? Funny you certainly weren't complaining earlier about my empathy!" Her voice rose, becoming louder than she had intended.


Will shook his head,

"No! Of course not! I didn't mean for that to come out like that. I..."

Deanna felt bile rise in her throat,

"Yes you did mean it Will Riker. Remember, I'm an EMPATH, like it or not! Don't try to lie to me." She stood to leave.

"Deanna, don't leave like this. Sit down." Will got up from his own chair. People were beginning to stare, making him uncomfortable.

Deanna didn't miss it,

"Feeling a little embarrassed Commander?" Deanna hissed.


Will reached for her hand, which she moved out of reach.


"No, now please just try to calm down. We'll talk." Will tried, hoping Deanna would let him explain.


"Don't approach me with that condescending attitude." She pulled away from him and begun to move her chair out.

"Where are you going?"


Deanna threw her balled napkin on the table. "I've lost my appetite. I'm going back to our cottage." Will started to move to go with her,

"No. No, I need to be alone. To think. You've hurt me in a way you'll never understand Will. I have to, oh never mind."


Will wouldn't take that as her final answer. He knew full well how he'd hurt her, and he couldn't stand the thought of her walking away from him.

"Deanna sit down, we can work this out. I love you, just as you are. You know that." Deanna moved around the table, and glared up at him. Will could see that tears weren't far away. He wanted to hold her.

"Excuse me Commander, but I'm not taking orders from you right now. I know, why don't you have me court-martialed for being empathic when it DIDN'T suit you!" Deanna's face was flushed and she knew the hurt and anger was going to spill over in tears if she didn't leave now and center herself. He reached to catch her elbow, causing her to jerk it away from his grasp; nearly knocking over her chair when her freed hand hit the chair's back. She turned and nearly ran from him to escape the shocked attention of the nearby patrons. Will sat down, angry, and embarrassed, not with Deanna's, but with his own behavior. Gradually the other diners attention returned to their meals.


Deanna's tears and anger overflowed once she entered the cottage. She threw herself across the bed, where they'd spent so much time in the last few days. They were becoming closer than they had ever been before. How could he have made such a remark to her? He knew how hard it had been for her to overcome the obstacles in relationships because of what others perceived of her empathic skills. After crying herself hoarse, Deanna sat up. She looked around the cottage, it was a total disaster. Clothing and other personal items were scattered willy nilly. The two of them had been so involved with each other that little time was given to neatness. Deanna grabbed up all of their soiled clothing and put it in the reprocessor. Then, she stripped off the velvet gown, tugged on her jeans and a heavy sweater, and grabbed thick socks and hiking boots. She needed to put some space and perspective on the incident and being in this cottage where the very air was clouded with their closeness was too distracting. She needed to leave. Perhaps once back in the familiar surroundings on the Enterprise she'd be able to think the whole thing through, but if she went back too many questions, especially those of Beverly Crusher would be unavoidable. No, she had to find somewhere down here. She grabbed a PADD and left a note for Will telling him that she would be out walking and that they would talk later.

Hours later, Deanna Troi sat shivering in the spectator's booth of the resort's polo field feeling depressed and confused; she knew the only way to feel better was to go down to the cottage and be with Will, to talk over their scene at the restaurant and try to understand what had happened. She wiped her face, and got to her feet, easing the cramping of the last several hours. She'd spent them trying to undo the affects of her argument with Will. Now she had to get back to their cottage. On her way down thepath through the woods, she stumbled and fell, scraping her cheekbone in the process. the pain of the minor injury bringing tears to her eyes. Twice during the short walk back, she'd needed to stop and wipe a trickle of blood from her face.

"Just what i need, a black eye on top of it all." She said aloud as she neared the cottage. Will would fuss over her for sure. But much to her surprise, it was dark and quiet when she reached the door of the cottage, Will must have gone to bed. She pressed the enter key ,and when no response was forthcoming she entered the access code. The doors parted to reveal a mess; the room was in total disarray, their travel bags overturned, clothing was thrown around and chairs lay on the floor. There was a smell in the room and the remnants of fear and anger, that sent her racing to the bathroom hoping to find Will in the shower. It was empty. Making her way back into the main part of the cottage she stopped at the sight of the timepiece she had given him, lying forgotten on the floor by the hearth. The lid was open and the glass covering was cracked and stained with a sticky red substance. She knew it was blood.

At the moment of her discovery and realization the doors opened and several men came rushing in. One was the waiter at the restaurant he pointed to her. Another of the new arrivals took her by the arm to aid her in standing. Still another began questioning her about what had happened there in the cottage. Deanna stared in shock. She had no sense of Will at all. Panic spread through her veins.

"How'd ye get that cut on yer face miss?" He said. When he got no answer, the man repeated his question, but Deanna's blank look drew a sigh as he shrugged his shoulders and told his superior that this had been another crime of passion. Deanna tried to comprehend all the turmoil around her, men in uniforms were waving tricorder type devices around the room. One walked over to her and did the same, the machine made several low beeps as he pointed it in the direction of her hands. He lifted it up to see the red stain on her fingers, then held it for the others to see. The man that had helped her to her feet, now with a firmer grasp began to lead her toward the doors. "Wait!" She turned to grab the sweater that hung on a peg near the door. The enormity of the situation never struck her, she was numbed by the events of the last couple of hours that all the questions and the remarks meant little to her. "Please? Where is Commander Riker? Where is my fiancé?" The man holding her arm, turned and gaped at her. "You'll find out soon enough miss, now come along, there's a good girl." Deanna followed meekly, too devastated to offer resistance.



The captain sat studying the counselor, as her recollection of the night the commander disappeared ended. It was over, it had happened, and they would inevitably go on with their lives. But the repercussions from the night Deanna left Will in the dining room of the resort would continue to plague them until his disappearance was explained and the commander found..safely. They had all been changed by the events that had taken place in the peaceful resort town, but one person in particular would never be the same until the resolution of the mystery.

"Counselor, can you describe the empathic impressions you were having that night? What exactly were you feeling?" Picard scrutinized Deanna as she lowered her head. He could see the strain in her posture, instinct telling him that had she allowed them to see her face, the emotion of the past days would be clearly stamped on her delicate features. Deanna was completely exhausted, and terrified. She pulled the thick sweater closer, and drew her hands into the rolled cuffs. Picard looked across the room to where Beverly Crusher stood, trying to evaluate the request's affect on her friend.


The doctor met his eye with concern evident in her own, she turned back to the woman before her, as Deanna began to answer. Her tone was flat, wooden as though she could convince them the memories held no power over her now. "I first sensed hostility, then an anger seemed to fuel the animosity into a more aggressive feeling, almost a hatred. I couldn't find the source, but later it seemed directed to someone near us. I was trying to block it, trying to focus on Will."


Beverly could see her eyelashes close, the dark head still bowed down, more than anything Beverly wished she could erase the pain her friend was trying so valiantly to conceal. Beverly asked softly, "Deanna, can you sense Will now? You once told me that you would know if he were hurt or in pain?" Only now did the empath raise her eyes to meet the doctor's, "No. I have no sense of him at all." She heard Beverly's involuntary gasp of surprise. " I have not felt his death either." Her voice fell to a soft whisper, "It's almost like he never existed." . For the first time since they entered her room she looked the captain in the eye and spoke to him in her old tone. "Sir, what is going on? I don't understand any of it."


He stood and went to her, "I don't know. But I promise you we will find out, but we need you to guide us through that last night. It seems to go back to the hostile emotions in the dining room." The captain reached out to take the empath's hand. "Think hard is there anything you noticed on you way to the table?"


She blushed, "I wasn't paying attention to the other occupants then. Will and I were--were pretty much involved, focused on one another at that point." She uttered the last sentence as though it were a past never to be regained again. Not the feelings, the touches, the looks, their special bond, it was all gone, to live now only as a memory. Deanna felt tears welling in her eyes, and fought them back. She was not going to cry over this again. No more tears. She kept telling herself that she would live with the recriminations but not with the tears. No one else would know her pain, no one.

She turned her head away from the questioning eyes of her colleagues and friends. Picard lightly laid a hand on her shoulder, "Deanna, when you were leaving the table, did you notice anyone or anything unusual? Did you sense anything else?"


She turned again toward the window wishing that she could take one more look at the blue lake, one more glimpse back at those couple of days. They moved her to the city where apparently they would be coordinating the investigation. The buildings here were domed and nearly hidden in the sand- like soil. The wind blew so continuously at the windows that the howling prevented her from sleeping during the night and thinking during the day.

"Deanna?" Picard reminded her of the needed urgency of her answer.


"I'm sorry Captain, I can't seem to concentrate."


Beverly rose to go to her with her tricorder, Picard subtly signaled her back for a moment. "Counselor, this is important. You have been charged with Commander Riker's death. We need as much detail as you can give us to find the commander and have these charges dismissed."


Deanna's voice was hoarse with strain, as she asked, "What evidence do they have against me?" She looked from the doctor to the captain. "What proof do they have that Will is dead?" her eyes tearing at the words.

Picard ran a hand over his head, and sighed as he sat down. "They are claiming you two had a fight in the dining room. You left and waited for him in your cabin and fought again there, ultimately you fired a weapon at him and vaporized him. The abrasions on your face didn't help."

Deanna shook her head, a small hand going to the now healed scrape,

"But that's not what happened. I fell, coming out of the woods. i told them that."

"Yes, however, they perceived them as defensive wounds that could have been incurred in a struggle with Will." Picard stated the claims stoically knowing his counselor was not capable of such a crime against an enemy and never against the one she called imzadi. He understood little of their relationship, but he knew her and there was no doubt in his mind she was innocent of this crime. "Deanna, they found residue in the cottage of a disrupter discharge."


Beverly moved to her friend's side at the expression on her face.

"What? What is it? We know you could never harm Will."


"The...the smell. When I returned to the cottage after I went to try and center myself. I opened the door and noticed the awful smell, like...scorched flesh." She felt the room spin, and reached for the window pane behind her. Beverly was beside her gripping her arm and sitting her in a chair before placing a cold glass of water in her hands.


After taking a long drink, Deanna looked at the captain and doctor, "What happened in that room? Have you been able to get into the cottage to see for yourself?"

Picard nodded again,

"Data and Geordi are there now. We'll hear from them shortly. "Counselor, the Provost said that you were found with an item with Will's blood on it. Do you know how you happened to have it, or how the blood got there?" Picard ignored the doctor's look and continued trying to find something to work with in getting his first officer and counselor back on his ship, providing they found Commander Riker alive. Deanna got up from her chair and moved away from her friends.


It seemed to Beverly that she was putting more than just physical distance between them. the gesture was almost symbolic; as Deanna stood across the room from them, to face the door. Crusher wanted to scream, her frustration with the whole situation tearing at her insides. The whole thing was ludicrous, as if Deanna would hurt Will! She shook her head, hearing Picard clear his throat.


Deanna flinched at the sound.

"I know you're trying to help, Captain, and I don't mean to be difficult, really. It's just that it all seems so unreal, so bizarre." Her voice was husky as though it pained her to talk. Beverly watched the expression on Jean Luc's face. He was trying to understand, to be supportive as well as firm.


He frowned. "Understood Counselor, but I need to know even the most minute detail, if I'm to prove your innocence. Now what was this item, and how did it become covered with Will's blood?"


Deanna adjusted the sweater once again, but still didn't turn to face them. She was lost in her own thoughts, seeing the cottage as it looked that night; everything in stark relief. There on the floor was,

"The time piece." She said aloud, "Yes, it was the chrono I'd given to Will in the dining room. I found it on the floor by the bed in the cottage." She shuddered as she recalled the feel of it when she picked it up from the floor. Picard watched closely, as she swallowed heavily. "It was my gift to Will, a token of our time here." She moved stiffly to the chest of doors and pulled the holodome from the top one. "He had a gift for me as well. Besides a beautiful silk blouse, he gave me this." She held up the small domed object. Turning it on she watched the sun raise over the lake. She had forgotten they had allowed her to keep the gift. Now it was the only tangible part of Will she had left. She looked at him then, those wide black eyes, shining with unshed tears. Picard hated to grill her further, she looked so frightened; so small. "Captain, I'd like to have the chrono back."


Picard shook his head, in disbelief. "Deanna, have you forgotten the severity of the charges against you? I doubt the authorities are going to part with the timepiece anytime soon. They are holding it as evidence."

Deanna looked as though he had struck her. Her shoulders curved inward, her arms crossed her abdomen as though she were in pain. "Yes, of course. I wasn't thinking." Deanna turned toward the ship's doctor, "Beverly, was that Will's blood on the chrono? Do you know that it was?"


Doctor Crusher shook her head,

"No, I don't know for certain that it was Will's blood. We haven't been allowed to examine their so called "evidence" yet. It took this long just to get permission from the provost to visit you. Yet one more example of the bureaucracy of a planet of civilized barbarians!"


Picard shot the doctor a warning glance.

"Deanna, it took a while for the government to realize we would like to cooperate in finding the real truth behind this incident, and that we were not interested in covering up the facts. Because it appeared that the only ones involved were Starfleet personnel there appeared little logic behind their previous denials of our requests. Data and Geordi were then given access to the cottage."


<<<Enterprise to Captain Picard>>>


"Picard here go ahead"


<<<Sir, we have a transmission from the Provost.>> >


"On my way" He turned to look at the two women. "Counselor, I'll keep you appraised of any new developments. In the mean time, if you need anything, please get word to me." He pressed a communicator into her palm. He wrapped those icy hands in his own, and squeezed them gently. He met Deanna's eyes directly and held her gaze. "We will be beside you every step of the way to your exoneration. You're not alone in this." He said gruffly, "Now, you will not be able to communicate vocally, but it will send a signal to us that you are in need of assistance."


Deanna fought back the urge to just lay her head on the captain's chest and cry. He was so warm and compassionate. She felt his emotions flowing over her in a gentle wave. "Thank you sir, I'll be sure to use it if necessary."


He looked over her head to the doctor. "I'll wait in the main room for you, doctor."


Beverly moved once more to where Deanna now sat curled into the corner of her cot. Her natural instinct was to embrace her friend, but she held back, and sat on the edge of the small bed. She reached out and patted the booted foot beside her. "Deanna, try to eat and sleep in a more normal pattern if you can, ok? I'll try to get back as often as possible while you are here. We are doing all that we can to get you back to the Enterprise."


Deanna sighed, "I know, Beverly. Let the captain know I appreciate it." She paused giving Crusher a second to get to her feet. "Beverly?" Crusher heard the quavering in Deanna's voice, and turned back to see the first tears slip from her eyes.


"Shhh it's going to be all right." The doctor sat down and opened her arms to pull Deanna close. Deanna huddled there for a few moments, not making a sound, just clutching Beverly's arms and soaking in the deep comfort of her friend's embrace. Finally, she pulled back, and wiped a stray tear from her cheek. "Thank you. I needed that very much."


Crusher nodded and cleared her throat, emotion making it difficult to speak. "Anytime, Deanna. I'll be right here whenever you need me. Now, I have to meet the captain. Take care, all right?" She hugged Deanna once more, and headed for the door.


Deanna sat silently and watched as her friend exited the room, leaving her once again alone. Deanna huddled in the corner, looking around the bleak room. They'd be bringing her a tray soon, and then shortly after that, everyone who worked in the building, save a small security force, would go home. Deanna dreaded the long night ahead, alone with her thoughts; haunted by the memories of the last several days. A harsh trembling shook her slight frame,

~~~~ Imzadi, where are you? Please come back to me, please. Fear, along with a deeper grief, settled over her mind.




Beverly waited impatiently for the doors the ready room to open allowing her entry. Picard sat behind his desk, a steaming cup of tea, she imagined, by his elbow. She felt a sharp pang of fear, when she saw Picard hands toying with the crystal prism that normally sat on his desk. "So? What now?" He raised his eyebrows at her in question. She smiled slightly, and gestured at the paperweight in his hands. "I can tell something has you frustrated, so what is it. It has to do with Deanna and Will doesn't it?" Beverly eased into the chair in front of the desk and wrapped her hands around her knees. She knew that she really didn't want to hear his response.


Picard set the prism on the desktop, and ran both hands over his head. He rubbed his eyes, and sighed aloud. "Doctor, I have been notified that a body has now been found." said Picard, getting to his feet to come around to the front of the desk. He perched on the edge directly in front of Beverly.

"Dear God, no. Jean Luc, when?"

"I'm afraid so, Beverly. Apparently, the discovery was made about an hour ago, in a small shed behind the boathouse. They are claiming it is the body of Commander Riker." He watched as she slumped heavily into the chair.


The captain reached down and took both of her hands in his, squeezing gently as though to give them both strength for the darker moments ahead.

"But they said he'd been vaporized." Beverly gasped aloud, her mind working furiously to make some sense of the information she had just been given. "How could they possibly believe, that Deanna could have moved Will's body to that shed. There's no way she could have done it alone! This is ludicrous, it must be a mistake! I want him brought back here to be autopsied."


Picard nodded, "I asked the provost much the same thing. But nevertheless, we are to go down to identify the remains. The provost was very adamant that would not be allowed to remove the body from the planet at this time." He looked closely at his CMO,

"Beverly, can you find a way to use a tricorder, unobtrusively?"

The red haired woman answered smartly, "Covert Medicine 101? Of course Captain, it was my alternate specialty. Are we leaving now?"

Picard nodded, "Yes, before they change their minds."


The Starfleet officers walked solemnly down a hall in the Provost Marshal's building. It was a somewhat sterile building, in the style of ancient Earth. Marble floors, long straight corridors, and dark mahogany wainscoting gave it an antique look. To Picard and Crusher, it was an ominous place, whose high ceilings gave it a cavernous feeling. The only sound was that of the officer's boots as their soles hit the polished marble floor. Beverly surreptitiously watched the guard who escorted them. She studied him carefully, wondering if he, like so many other officials here were either blind, or so corrupt that they couldn't see the obvious nonsense of the accusations against the counselor. She startled as he tossed a quick glance over his shoulder and caught her studying him so intently. Beverly dropped her eyes, then immediately raised them again. She couldn't help it, she was as suspicious of them as they apparently were of the off worlders. **Take it easy.** she reminded herself. An old saying of Nana's popped into her mind "paranoia will destroy ya". She had to smile at the thought of the rhyme, and at the sense of it. If they were not to be caught off guard themselves they would need all their sense open. Beverly turned to her right and found Picard's eyes on her, a slight frown on his face at her expression. Beverly quickly lost her smile as they approached another guard outside a closed door. The man escorting them, motioned for them to stand back, and he continued ahead to speak in hushed tones with the guard at the door.


As the guards spoke, Beverly and the captain stood back from them and talked quietly. "Jean Luc, what if it is Will Riker in there?" Crusher whispered.


Picard put his left elbow into his cupped right hand, the left palm cupped his chin. He stroked it, as though deep in thought. "I thought the counselor said she knew he was alive? Don't you believe her?"


Beverly frowned, "No, she said that she hadn't felt his death. But, I don't know what to believe-except that I know she would never hurt Will. I don't pretend to understand the relationship the two of them have, but right now she is clearly traumatized and may be unable to sense anything clearly. It's also possible that Deanna is unable to face the possibility of Will's death." Beverly stopped as the guards turned to look at them, then spoke in a softer whisper when they again turned away to continue their own conversation. "The only thing I am absolutely positive of is that Deanna didn't kill him."


Picard nodded his head, "I wonder what we are waiting for, they wanted us here within the hour." He stopped to turn toward the sound of several footsteps. His eyes widened, he heard Beverly gasp, as Deanna was brought towards them, a guard on either side of her. To her friends, Deanna looked like hell. Her hair was tucked up haphazardly, her face was ghostly white, and her eyes; her eyes had the look of a frightened doe. Beverly went to her friend to embrace her. As she approached, one of the guards moved as though to step in front of her, barring her way. Undaunted, the doctor glared at the guard, and continued around giving him a slight shove as the uniformed man tried to discreetly keep the doctor at a distance.


"Allow it." They all turned to see the provost standing at the door they were waiting to enter. The dark man watched as Beverly tried to support her friend by her embrace. Deanna's arms stayed stiffly at her sides, her back ramrod straight.


As she hugged the empath the doctor whispered, "Do you sense anything from inside that room Deanna?"


The empath shook her head. "Not much, really. A feeling of anticipation, and general loathing..I think of me." The words nearly choked her to say them. Beverly tightened her grip around the smaller woman, glaring at the guards in front of them and sizing up the provost. The man was intimidating, to say the least. Tall, well built, and dressed all in gray. He wore his thick blonde hair long, caught into a queue. Thick waves rippled back from shaggy bangs. His features were ruggedly handsome, in a coarse sort of way. But it was his eyes, that drew a person's attention. The provost marshal had eyes, of an almost shiny silver gray.


"Captain Picard, I will have Commander Troi come in first. Then you may enter." The provost moved to enter the room when the captain stopped him.


"Sir, if you don't mind, I would prefer to be allowed in with the commander. I will not have her facing this alone, without one of us with her." Picard stood his ground, watching as the other man studied them, trying to decide if his refusal would ruin his carefully engineered plans. The provost quickly assessed the value of having familiar people with Deanna Troi when she viewed her lover's corpse. It didn't really matter. That decided, he entered first, and proceeded to take his place on the opposite side of the sheet draped body, facing the door. From his place on the carefully set stage, he watched as the others slowly entered the room, dread dogging their every step.




The Provost entered the room, followed by Dr. Crusher. Picard waited in the hall, with Deanna and the guards, to walk in after the others had taken up places around the table in the center of the room. He stayed ahead of Deanna, deliberately pausing in the doorway, blocking her view of the interior. He quickly studied the layout of the room, seeing the arrangement of furniture for what it was, a setup. This entire meeting had been carefully staged, with the sheet draped figure placed in the center of the small room. It's placement no doubt to enable the provost to observe the counselor's reaction to the sight of her dead lover. The doctor stood at the head of the table, her hands in the pockets of her lab coat. The Provost stood just behind the table, upon which the body of the commander allegedly lay. His face was neutral, but to Picard's sharp eye, he looked exhilarated, and intensely excited as he waited for the counselor's entry into the room. Picard turned to his Ship's Counselor who stood just behind him at the door. "Deanna, you are not legally bound to do this. Doctor Crusher and I can identify, the body." He took her hands in his and felt their icy coldness. She was terrified, though only those who knew her well would see it in her face.


Deanna swallowed, and tried to slow the wild beating of her heart. "No. I have to be here, I know Will is not dead." Deanna whispered, darting a glance over her shoulders at the two guards who watched her with keen interest. She turned back to Picard. "I didn't do this, I couldn't kill anyone." Her eyes were pleading, wide and darkened with fear.


Picard frowned, "Of course not! it's preposterous that you should even be suspect. But these people don't know you as we do, but"


The Provost's well modulated voice cut into Picard's response. "Picard, shall we get this underway. YOU were the one who was so eager for this investigation to move forward. If you would be so kind to escort the Commander into the room, we will proceed." As he entered the room, Picard could see that the provost's attention was focused clearly on Deanna. Whatever this man's game he would see to it that he didn't get away with this charade. He seemed intent on causing pain, and that he had already decided that Deanna was guilty. He found himself looking around the room, at the faces of all those present, and feeling overcome with the unreality of the entire situation.


Deanna however, saw only the body as she was led into the room. She couldn't tear her eyes away from it. **no, please gods, let it not be Will. I can't do this.** she screamed inside her head. But to those watching, she seemed emotionless, almost cold. Beverly knew differently, however; her best friend was dangerously close to emotional collapse. Didn't these people realize that this was the man she had chosen to spend her life with? She stood quietly, her eyes never leaving Deanna's too white face. Deanna felt the room fading into a silent white void. Her entire focus was on the shrouded figure on the long table in front of her. She stopped about eight feet from the table, her body unwilling to step closer. Somewhere deep inside her, she clung with every fiber of her being to her belief that it was not Will Riker lying there. Even though combined with the din of her own emotions ,was the awareness that this man was convinced that this WAS Will Riker. She was buffeted by waves of anticipation from the Provost, as well as from some other unknown source in the small disinfectant ridden room. Somewhere hidden from their vision was another with the same perverse joy at her dilemma. She felt it as strongly as she sensed the protective stance of her friends from the Enterprise.


As the last guard filed into the room, the provost watched the counselor carefully, as he nodded for another man to whisk the sheet from the body on the table. In a second, the sheet was lifted off to expose the bearded, battered face of the dead man in a Starfleet uniform. A collective gasp went through the room as the onlookers were startled by the sudden movement, and subsequent exposure of the familiar face.


Beverly went to Deanna and wrapped an arm around the Betazoid's waist feeling the need to support her, but not feeling any difference in the other woman's stance she looked across to the captain to see him also watching their friend's. reaction. He pitied the younger woman, going through all of this and yet admired her for her ability to still function to the degree she was. He watched as Beverly continued walking with Deanna, a firm grip on her friends arm, he saw the doctor's expression at props set before them. It was so well arranged with the idea of unsettling the accused; the sheet draped body, the bright lights the antique medical equipment, giving the room a macabre, almost gothic appearance. The captain tried to channel all his emotions into a comforting buffer for Deanna, as she was led to her marked spot by the guard and the ship's doctor. He narrowed his eyes as Deanna stood staring at the body, her posture rigid and still. There was no sound in the room, as the shock of what they saw, froze the Enterprise officers where they stood.


Deanna couldn't breathe, couldn't hear, or smell anything. Her heart bursting with pain, her mind not willing to give in to what her eyes told it. up! You're not did not die! A silent scream began to build from deep within. There would be no stopping if it reached her lips and was given voice. Deanna moved as though drawn to stand beside the table. She pulled a tissue from her pocket and moved to clean the blood from the face that so resembled the man she loved.


"No!" The Provost grabbed her hand, "Evidence Commander. You cannot touch the corpse."


Deanna looked up at the man. "Please, don't call him that. His face, I have to clean it, I have to touch him, you don't understand." Her chin trembled, and her eyes filled. An edge of hysteria crept into her voice. The Provost merely shook his head and dropped her hand. Deanna let her hand hang in the air over Will, aching with every ounce of her body to hold him close. She stared at the lips, she had cherished, the closed eyes, and the slight scar on the cheek. She turned to Beverly, feeling as though she'd vomit. He was hurt, he didn't die, he couldn't die. Not now. Beverly would fix everything. "Beverly, please..." Pain blossomed in her temples and the back of her neck unlike any she had known before, and everything went dark.



Beverly quickly caught Deanna, but was unable to hold the small woman's dead weight. The doctor held on to her but gradually allowed gravity to slowly carry the counselor's body to the floor. Captain Picard had quickly moved to her other side to aide in gently laying the unconscious woman down. Beverly was fuming at the treatment that had been handed out to them, fuming at her friend's condition, and down right on fire at the emotional toll this travesty was having on Deanna. "I want the Commander back on the Enterprise NOW! She needs serious medical attention." She glared at the provost and his guards, before turning her attention back to the unconscious form in front of her. The counselor's face was gray and the orbits surrounding the eyes were nearly black. The doctor felt the pale skin to find it clammy and cool. "Captain, we need to get her back now!"


"Bring a guard if you wish Provost, because like it or not we are going to the Enterprise, where the woman can have proper care." Picard tapped his comm badge to have an emergency beam up to sickbay.


Once in sickbay the counselor was placed in an isolated room to ensure privacy and for the convenience of the provost to maintain a watch over her. Doctor Crusher began an aggressive and comprehensive examination of the Betazoid, concentrating on her neurological condition above all else. Whatever had caused this physiological shutdown had to be rooted there, in Deanna's Betazoid neurology. All she had to do now, was find that cause. After nearly 90 minutes, she emerged from the private room and walked into her office knowing that the captain and provost awaited her and her diagnosis of the counselor's health. She took a deep breath. "Deanna went into shock, I assume it has to do with her emotional state and the fact she is under so much stress. How much her Betazoid heritage and the bond she shared with Will is involved I don't know." Beverly sat wearily in her chair as she faced Picard and the provost, "I think we have her stabilized for now, but something doesn't feel right about it." The doctor held the captain's gaze for a long moment before adding, "Captain you may want to get the provost and his guards quarters here on the ship, Deanna is in no condition to be moved."


The provost stood, "I'm sorry that is unacceptable, I will have the woman back on the planet under guard."


Picard now stood to face the man, the official may have had height advantage over the captain, but Jean Luc Picard knew how to stand tall with authority and used it put that knowledge to use now. "I'm sorry Provost, but she will remain here where her condition will be monitored and where she will have access to sophisticated medical treatment. We've seen your medical facilities and your lack of compassion. She will remain here until the doctor releases her, you may remain here aboard with your staff. You will be assigned our finest guest quarters, and I too shall post guards outside her room." Picard waited as the Provost seemed to be about to explode.


The official straightened and nodded, "As you wish, Captain."


Picard nodded in return, "One last condition Provost. No one enters without the doctor's permission."


The Provost's gray eyes darkened with anger, but he acquiesced, "Agreed."


Picard called for security to show the provost to his new quarters. After the official had left the captain remained standing, "Okay, doctor what didn't you say." He returned to his seat facing Beverly's desk, and leaned forward, placing his elbows on his knees. His hazel eyes sharp with concern, as he placed laced fingers beneath his chin.

Beverly ran a hand through lank hair and sighed, as she punched up Troi's medical chart on the terminal before her "What do you want first the bad news or the bad news." She was worn down by the events of the day. It was bad enough seeing Deanna looking emotionally beaten before going through the horrific ordeal in that small archaic room, but to have witnessed the her collapse and its results were almost too much to bear.


Picard laid his head in his hands rubbing the forehead before moving the hands back over his head. He stood went to the replicator, ordered his hot tea and an herbal tea for the doctor. He placed it in front of her. Then gently placed a large hand on her shoulder. "Okay, what have you found, I take it you got a reading on the body?" he sat and sipped his tea as she did hers before beginning.


Beverly activated her tricorder, and frowned at the reading that scrolled down it's tiny screen. "The readings appear to be Commander William Riker., but there are minute discrepancies. But that could be because I didn't get a strong pass with the tricorder, because of Deanna's proximity to the table and her subsequent collapse." She stopped and sipped again before pushing the cup away. She propped her head on her hands, "Jean Luc what happened down there? We have got to get some answers, not just for Starfleet but for Deanna's sanity. I refuse to send her back down there with those barbarians. I'll keep her sedated once she is recovered enough to do so. She's not leaving sickbay until she can leave exonerated."


Picard sat staring at his cup he understood Beverly's feelings. "Doctor, what is the other bad news?" he raised his eyes to hers as he awaited her answer.


"Deanna went into neurogenic shock, she suffered a complete paracortical failure. You recall that the paracortex is the Betazoid telepathic lobe?." Picard nodded as the doctor paused for several moments, then began slowly, "Well for some reason, I haven't been able to discover, Deanna's paracortical readings are off the scale, and her metaconscious is nearly dormant."


Picard frowned and straightened. "The metaconscious is the filtering mechanism that would protect Deanna from psychic trauma, if I remember correctly."


Crusher nodded, "Yes that's right. Jean Luc, this is not something that just occurs as a result of a traumatic event, I don't like the feel of this at all."


"Why, what do you suspect, doctor?" Picard knew without a doubt this was news he didn't want.


The doctor shook her head tiredly, "Let me do some further checking with the Betazed data base, give me two hours to try to establish if what I suspect is true."


Picard stood, "Very well, I want a staff meeting in two hours. Doctor, if you learn of anything or the counselors condition changes before that, I want to know."


Beverly Crusher gave the slightest nod of her head before lowering it into her hands as the doors closed behind the captain.


Picard stepped out of the doctor's office and turned to look back through the glass window to see her head in her hands. The day had not been easy on any of them, he would have to break the news to the other senior officers of the apparent death of Commander Riker, news that would be taken hard by all of them. Riker's congeniality had cemented a friendship among the officers, the captain himself was going to miss him deeply. But there would be time enough for that later, now there was so much more to be taken care of. He tapped his comm badge, "Picard to Data."


"Data here"


"Meet me in my ready room in five minutes."





Picard and Data entered the captain's ready room together. "Data, did you find anything out from the cottage?"



"No sir, the premises were cleaned. I believe the furnishings were new. There was no trace of anything belonging to either the Commander or the counselor." Data watched the captain before asking, "Sir, I do not believe it is likely that Counselor Troi would do anything to harm the commander."



"I wish we could convince the planet's officials of that. Data we have the provost on board, while he is here I want his communications monitored. I want to be notified of anything out of the ordinary, also Doctor Crusher has a tricorder readings of Commander Riker's body, that need your attention, would you stop by sick bay and give her a hand with that?" Picard watched as the android, readily agreed.



"Oh, and Data we have a meeting in the observation lounge in one hour, please notify the other senior staff members."


"Yes sir."



When the last officer had taken his seat the Captain spoke quietly of the events on the planet and the apparent death of Commander Riker. He then added, "Doctor Crusher was able to get a tricorder reading from the body believed to be that of the Commander." He turned to Crusher, who sat staring at her hands, clasped in her lap. "Doctor have you been able to learn more from the reading."


Beverly looked at Data before answering, "Sir, even with the modifications that Commander Data was able to provide, there just isn't enough evidence to suggest that the body isn't the Commanders." Her voice cracked slightly, but Beverly quickly gained control.


Picard nodded, he had hoped for more but had anticipated the CMO's response. "And from your research into the counselor's case, what have you found?"


He saw the familiar glint in her eye, and knew that her findings substantiated her suspicions, "The complete paracortical failure, from my contacts on Betazed, could only have come about by a few causative effects. One being the type of withdrawl we saw when Lwaxana Troi became comatose while on board. There are specific types of cortical stimuli that can effectively send a Betazoid into shock. I should receive a more detailed summary of the information from Betazed by tomorrow."


Picard looked around the room, taking a deep breath and letting it out before he began, "The counselor is going to need all of us to do whatever we can to clear this mess up. I would like Data to look into the planet's law, see if there is any way we can examine the evidence. Geordi, make sure that the cottage you were shown is indeed the same one that the counselor and commander shared, also see what you can find out about the area's crime and other problems. Doctor Crusher, I'd like updates on the counselor's condition and the correlation between the information received and her condition. Thank you. Dismissed." He watched the officers leave, then felt another's eyes on him.


"Well, what else?"


Picard rubbed his face looking tired, "Beverly, remember the counselor was talking about the Sagan Fellowship?"


Beverly smiled sadly, "Yes, she explained that it had been the subject of a disagreement between Will and her."


Picard reached for her hand, "Starfleet has revoked it."


Beverly's face paled, and her eyes rounded in shock. "They what! How could they take it back?" Picard sat quietly waiting for her to calm and rational thought to return. Beverly met his eyes, and nodded sadly, knowing why they rescinded the offer.


Picard squeezed her hand, "After all, how would it look if an accused murderer was rewarded with such a prestigious honor? We both know that she didn't commit such a crime. But with a body and the accusations, we need something concrete to counter with." *


"What do you think could have happened down there, Jean-Luc? We both know Deanna isn't capable of killing anyone in cold blood. So where do we go with it? The provost has already decided it was her, he's not going to listen to anything we say." Beverly laid her head against the bulkhead as she stood.


Jean-Luc looked at her, a slight crease in his forehead, "Maybe that is it. Maybe we are looking at this from the wrong angle. Why would someone want to kill Will Riker on that planet, and then pin it on Deanna? What would they have to gain?" said Picard. Beverly frowned at her feet, and shook her head. "We have been tying ourselves up in knots trying to find ways of proving the counselor innocent; though it is becoming apparent, nothing we say or do is going to move the officials, because they aren't interested in her innocence." He paused dramatically, anticipating the reaction that was forthcoming.


Beverly brought her head up sharply and met his eyes. "What? What is that suppose to mean? Are you implying that the provost is involved?"


Picard stared her down, "Beverly consider this: Is it even remotely possible that HE set this up?"


Beverly looked shocked, "Why?"


Picard shrugged his shoulders, "I don't know the answer to that or we would have the counselor acquitted of this crime. Perhaps she and Will stumbled on to something while down there. It's possible someone in the government wanted Starfleet to lose face. I don't know, I do know that we have fresh feet to run with now. Doctor, see if you can light a fire under someone on Betazed, let Ambassador Troi knock some doors down if you need to, I want the cause of Deanna's collapse. Have your personnel in sickbay keep an eye on the provost's men. If this is their game, we don't want any more of their surprise moves. I want a nurse in with the counselor at all times."


She was nearly out the door when the captain called to her. "And get some rest Doctor!" She smiled as she rounded the corridor anxious to get to sickbay and begin to make some progress.


< <<Provost Therkel, you have an incoming message from the planet.>> >


The Provost Marshal jumped slightly as he stood at the viewport in the VIP quarters he had been assigned to on the Enterprise. He stared at his homeworld, spinning slowly just below. "So beautiful from this perspective," he thought to himself. "But such a paradox, as well." He sighed, "Is it possible to have the message transferred here?"


The comm officer's voice held a note of humor. <<<Of course sir, right away.>>>


Therkel strode purposefully to the terminal on the well appointed desk, and sat before it. He accessed his message, and waited as the official logo dissipated, and his legate's face appeared in it's place.

<<<Therkel? Does it go well aboard the human's ship?>> >


Therkel leaned closer to the screen. "Bernal I assume that this is not a social call? What have you to report?" The bearded man on the screen smiled nastily, and leaned forward himself.

<<<Therkel, if I didn't know you better, I'd say you were being rude?>>>

The provost nodded, "I am being rude. I want this nasty mess taken care of and this woman apprehended. What have you to tell me?"


Bernal knew better than to prevaricate further. <<<Well, it seems that there was some confusion concerning your...."cousin's" plans. He had some difficulty along the way, and had met with an accident. The package he was bringing, was lost. We have located the individual who has the package, but he too has been injured. I will keep you informed of the condition of that man, and when the package is expected to be delivered. Bernal out.>> >


Therkel terminated the transmission and stared for long moments at the blank screen.




Beverly sat in front of her terminal, fighting the fatigue and allowing the twinge of hopefulness to warm her. The communiqués she sent to Betazed were beginning to return, so far all but the last one were less than conclusive as far as the counselor was concerned. But as she reread the last communiqué for the third time, something within it prompted her to download the information from the computer terminal on to a PADD. She carried the information with her to the Deanna's room, scrutinizing the contingent of guards outside the door. Flanking the door were four men: two of Provost Therkel's appointed men and two members of the Enterprise security whose task was to watch over the men guarding the unconscious woman. The doctor nodded to the two she knew and moved toward the door to be stopped by the provost's guards. She shook off the hand restraining her and spoke in a cold commanding voice. "If you attempt to stop me from visiting the patient I will have you removed from this area so fast your..."


"She is permitted." The deep voice from behind her irritated her as much as the brashness of his officer did. The doctor never turned to acknowledge his presence or his authority. She moved through the doors into the room where Deanna Troi lay unconscious, oblivious to the frenetic activity that continued on her behalf. Beverly turned as she felt someone trying to enter behind her. Spinning around with her hand up Beverly came to connect smartly with the provost as he thought to gain entrance into the room. "Excuse me but medical personnel only Provost, you will have to wait outside." She place her hand on his chest and literally shoved him from the room closing and locking the doors immediately following his clearance of them.


Nurse Eugenia Martin was frowning when the doctor turned back to check on her and the patient. "He has been trying that with each nurse. I have a bad feeling about that man."


Beverly smiled as she patted the older nurses shoulder, "You mean other than the fact that he is arrogant and annoying as hell." The doctor stopped smiling as she continued, "Not to mention the fact that he is trying to crucify someone we all care about for a crime she could never have committed, let alone come to terms with." Eugenia nodded solemnly as she and Beverly stood over the bed watching the diminutive pale figure.


"I did manage to give her a much needed bath and washed her hair. She showed absolutely no awareness of any of it."


"Thanks Genie, that was nice of you. Now let me see..." Crusher pulled the PADD out and began comparing readouts with the information listed, she began listing tests and results.


The nurse watched for a moment, "Doctor Crusher, do you know what caused this?"


Crusher smiled as she worked, "I think we may have an answer very soon, Eugenia. Has she moved on her own at all?"


"She made a few sounds."


"She tried to talk? What kind of sounds exactly?" Beverly watched the nurse for a second that leaned closer to the unconscious empath. Looking for movement under the eyes that would at least establish a particular brain activity.


The nurse swallowed, "No it was more like a sob, or deep sigh . She groaned as though in pain."

Sound. From the depths of the blackness, she slowly became aware of sounds. No, not sound, voices. That's what it was. Voices. At first the faintest whispers, indistinct and hushed. With maddening slowness, the whispers became soft,indistinguishable words with deep emotions tied to them, like tails to a kite. She forced herself to pay closer attention to them, to catch the individual words. But nothing made sense, to her. It was as though she were hearing words from some unknown tongue. She could feel their pull; the agonizing pull toward something in the distance, something too far away to see. She sensed a presence, fleeting, there then gone. A faint whiff of cologne, then nothing. The sounds continued, pulling her in every direction at once. She turned, frustrated, wanting to scream or cry, anything to make herself understood. And as she fell to her knees, a flare of emotion snatched her breath away. She moved towards where it seemed to emanate from. The closer she allowed herself to be towed to its source the stronger the emotion. The flavor of the emotion was so familiar, she began to relax and bathe in its warmth. Will. She could almost feel his tenderness, love, and without warning, pain. Pain, so intense it made her nauseous; so sharp she couldn't draw breath to cry out. The peak came with the acute emotional turmoil and the return of memory. She sobbed in acknowledgment of the identity, of the source of the emotion, knowing instinctively to believe what her empathic sense told her was the truth. It had to be him. A low moan of pain slipped from her lips, when she saw the spirit of the man in the distance. She cried with the pain of missing him; with the fear of what had happened, and for what they were and still could have been. In her mind she went to him encircled his strong neck with her arms holding him near, never wanting to part from him again. He pulled her back to see her face, to look into those eyes and into her soul, At the same time, he allowed her to see into his as well. Only one word sounded in her mind the single word shared by the two of them, "Imzadi". The most powerful word in her existence. She wrapped her soul around his, holding the essence of him close, so as to never lose her way back to it again. He turned to look away toward another sound, when she tried to turn back he pushed her away. She fought the fear of losing him; of losing the warmth of his love. He shook his head, and smiled, letting her know she would never lose that; it was that which kept him alive. She heard the sounds again, sounds that he'd tried to turn her towards. This time she turned, confident that it was what he wanted. His arms encircled her waist, and a soft kiss brushed the skin beneath her ear. She was seared with the return of her own weakened lifeforce, now bonded closely with his. She would keep him alive, as he would do the same for her.

In Sickbay, Beverly and a small group of her staff, stood rigid with concern, staring at the read outs on the monitor over the bed. "Genie, increase the dosage of the Hydrocordrazine!" Beverly barked. As the nurse leaned over the bed to deliver the medicine, Beverly turned away to make a notation in the chart. She turned quickly, her heart in her mouth when a sharp, startled cry came from behind her. The nurse stood, gasping, a hand over her chest as though experiencing cardiac arrest. Crusher's eyes followed the young nurse's gaze, to the bed, where Deanna Troi lay, staring back, fully conscious. The pale and drawn features, melded into a gentle smile as Deanna whispered hoarsely,


"He IS alive, Beverly. I can feel him. Will is alive!"



In the bowels of a cold and damp cave, a lone figure lay on the damp rock floor. He shivered, gasping for breath, pain clawing at his chest at each new spasm Will Riker was in hell. He was sure of it, though how he got there was a mystery. He couldn't see much in the dim light, the cave being illuminated by a single plasma flare. Riker knew that he was a bruised and bloodied mess. Pain from countless injuries told him more than he really wanted to know. His captors hadn't bothered to tie him up, hadn't needed to, both legs had been broken when they'd thrown him from the ten foot ledge above him. That and a concussion, were the most serious injuries...he hoped. The pain of the injuries,however, didn't distract him from worrying about Deanna. She must be frantic, worrying about where he least he hoped she was worried. She'd been more than a little hurt, and mad as hell when she stormed out of the dining room, what, a week ago. **Damn you Riker, can't stop stepping on your own tongue can you!? As if she could help sensing others. Turn it off!, what an arrogant bastard he'd been. Guilt reared it's ugly head, once more, as Will recalled the dream he'd had earlier. She'd come to him in his dream, Deanna had been wrapped around him, giving him her strength. Will sighed, He had to find a way out of the mess he'd fallen into, and get back to her. Will groaned as a new spasm of shivering caused his legs to jerk. White hot shafts of agony cut him to the core.

"Shit!" He ground out, sweat popping out on his forehead. He wanted to vomit with the pain, but just closed his eyes.

Sounds from above, caught Will off guard for a second, giving him just enough time to see a ladder being lowered from the ledge above him. Two tall and sturdy figures descended, the now familiar clanking of the food bucket reaching Riker's ears. Will could hear them talking as they climbed down to the floor of the cave.

"Damn it Clavin, why'd you have to shove 'im down 'ere at way? E's like to broke 'is neck. Bad nuff 'e's broke 'his legs! Boss is goin' to rag you good this time."


The shorter of the two men dropped from the last rung of the ladder and turned to where Riker lay, now propped against the craggy stone wall. He stared at him and then turned to his companion. "You lissen 'ere, Barkin. I dinna have a choice, "He was spoilin' to shove his fist in my face, already caught me upside me 'ed. Mad as hell 'e was. Besides, you killed your guy. Least the boss can't hang that 'un on me." The taller man grunted his surrender. "I ain't goin' to spar wi' you Clavin. We'll be lucky to keep 'im alive 'til the boss decides what we do next. Damned cold in 'ere, an 'im wit two broken legs." Barkin looked over to their prisoner, he was useless to them if he died before they got the info chip. He hoped the boss got there soon. This little adventure was losing it's appeal. He hadn't intended to kill the other one, but things got...testy. This one like the other, had put up a fight worthy of five men. Barkin hoped to hell that the boss, the high and mighty man imself knew what he was doing. He set the bucket on the floor beside the ladder, and drew out a Starfleet medkit. "It ain't much ya poor bastard, but it's got drugs. Least ye can be mellowed when ye die."



Back on the Enterprise, Doctor Crusher stood looking down at her patient, trying to squelch her surprise, and obvious happiness, and get in a good solid diagnostic assessment. But first things first.

"Welcome back, Deanna, how are feeling?" Beverly smiled and reached for Deanna's wrist; her expression neutral, her eyes assessing her patient's condition visually, even as she ran the tricorder over her. Deanna struggled to open her eyes while struggling to push herself up on the soft mound of pillows at her back.

"I'm all right. Beverly, Will is alive, I felt him, he needs our help." At the doctor's lack of response, Deanna pressed her point. "Did you hear me?" Deanna tried again to sit up to better make her point , but found herself pressed gently back onto the bed, by the nurse on one side of her and the ship's chief medical officer on the other. "I heard you, Deanna, but I expect you to take it slow. Do you know where you are?" She watched as the counselor slowly took in the room around her. She saw the dark eyes widen as Deanna remembered her last moments before losing consciousness. The empath quickly looked around her again, frowning as she began to understand some of what her senses relayed to her slowly awakening brain. "I'm back on the Enterprise, aren't I?" She sensed the doctors confused thoughts and concern. "Yes, for now you're back on the Enterprise." Beverly looked at the readouts on the diagnostic array over the bed, and frowned. Low normal readouts across the boards were indicative of the effects of emotional stress. Not the least of which was a five pound weight loss; weight that Deanna Troi simply could not have afforded to lose. Crusher, began giving orders to the ancillary staff gathered in the room.

"Terry?" She said to a tall red head, "Please set up a rehydrating protocol for the counselor. Her lytes and glucose are low." The girl nodded and turned to leave. "Michael, get a parenteral feeding set-up in here stat, we want the provost to think Deanna needs artificial nourishment. Oh, and get a dinner tray for me. Something light and nutritional." The handsome young nurse grinned, "Aye sir, always good to have dinner in the patient's room while you monitor their tube feeding." He walked briskly from the room. Crusher turned back to the bed, and raised a finger, "No talking above a whisper. No one outside this room needs to be aware that you've regained consciousness. My staff will be discreet." To the remaining medical staff, Crusher nodded and waved them out, gently dismissing them. "The counselor needs some peace and quiet. I think we have her stabilized. Genie, I'd like you to please stay, you'll be the counselor's private duty nurse. The rest of you may go back to your duties." She smiled her gratitude to them as she watched those under her direction slowly leave the room. While the remaining nurse stood her post at the door allowing no other entries; her position at the doors effectively blocked the view of any who may have wanted to see for themselves the progress the counselor was making. After the doors were closed and secured, Beverly sat on the bed beside her friend. She took the still clammy hand in her own,

"We are in trouble here, if the provost suspects for a moment that you have recovered. My people know to say nothing to him, any announcement regarding your condition will come from me." Deanna looked back at her friend, trying to gather her self control around her fear, as the deep seated emotion began to force itself into her mind. **What if they didn't believe her?** Her empathy was behaving erratically for some reason, almost as though she'd been drugged before, and only now was she sensing anything with any sort of clarity. For Deanna, it seemed her senses, perceptions were strangely heightened. Somehow she had to make Beverly and the captain understand. Deanna lay stiffly, watching Beverly's expression grow gravely serious as she gathered her thoughts a moment before continuing with her explanation.

"Deanna, you are here now, because the captain and I insisted on your being beamed back after you collapsed. This was done without the cooperation or permission of the provost. There has been a bit of political tension over the event since your return." Beverly smiled slightly, reveling in that small but important victory, she quickly became very sober as she continued, "We have refused to allow the planet's officials to do more at this point than stand guard outside your room. But that will change if they find you are awake and cognizant, you need to stay here and be still."


Deanna used the small reserve of physical strength she had to push herself up, "Beverly, PLEASE, I understand all that you've said, but you have got to listen to me. We need to get the captain. Will IS alive. He is hurt, and if he is to remain alive, we HAVE to help him. Please, you have to believe me. I felt him." She fought not to give into her emotions, hating the hysterical edge creeping into her voice. Finding Will, in her mind and soul, left her feeling vulnerable. The frustration of trying to make her friend understand that she wasn't experiencing denial; that she wasn't having hallucinations or dreams of her past with Will was taking it's toll on what was left of her fragile strength. Deanna squeezed her friends hand to make her believe that Will was very much alive.


Beverly took that small hand in both of her own. "Deanna, no one wants to believe you more than I do. I want to believe it with all my heart." Beverly stood up to pace around the bed, trying to make sense of the situation. "But, Dee, I saw his body. You did too. I scanned him with a tricorder,it was Will. How can you explain that?" Beverly closed her eyes, against the sight of Deanna's desperate face. She had seen the body, Will's body, laid out before them. Was it possible that Deanna was suppressing the image from her memory?

She sat again beside Deanna and studied her, seeing the determination on the pale face. Beverly knew that she needed to know how healthy Deanna's mental facilities were after all the trauma and emotional strain.

"Okay, listen to me. I need you to answer some questions for me: What is the last thing you remember doing before you blacked out?"

Deanna looked away from the questioning eyes, feeling the doctors reluctant disbelief in her statements. She took a deep breath before delving back into the nightmare that seemed to have become her friends reality.

"We were standing beside Wi, beside a body that the officials claimed was Will." She caught a sob in her throat, trying to force it back, "I saw him there, but in mind mind I could see him laughing, his arms around me. It was almost surreal. Beverly I know that Will isn't dead. You have to believe it too." Deanna sat up, shaking and pale, but determined. She knew in her heart, that the body wasn't Will, but there was a resemblance. That's it! The resemblance, "Beverly! I remember looking at the body, trying to memorize his face, the face…there was a tiny scar on the left cheek. Will doesn't have a scar on his cheek, I'm sure of it. I know every inch of that face, that body, as well as if it were my own. I know that wasn't Will. Even if our bond didn't exist, I would know that wasn't Will."

The intensity, and conviction in Deanna's voice, made Beverly doubt her own perceptions,

"Okay, let me pull up Will's medical records and confirm that. Not that I don't believe you. " She smiled knowingly, she was in the room, and seen with her own eyes the way Deanna looked at Will, she known someone like that herself once, known their body, the attributes and flaws, almost as well as her own. She moved to a terminal at the desk on the wall the furthest away from the counselor's bed. Deanna moved to follow her. "No, I want you to stay put. You're exhausted, and we can't take any chances. I don't want you collapsing again." The empath fell back against the pillows heaving an sigh of frustration but she did as she was told. Deanna lay on her side, watching from the bed as the doctor read the results from the terminal. Beverly turned, "Your right, didn't have a mark on either cheek when he had his last physical two weeks ago. So, that's true, if all that you say you feel is correct, why? Why would these people go to such trouble to concoct this masquerade, and where is Will now?" She and Deanna stared at one another, each trying to absorb the implications of what they were discussing. Neither was aware when Captain Picard moved through the guards into the room. It was small comfort for him, to think that this small room was the only haven they were able to provide for Deanna during this connived tempest. He was stopped by a large hand wrapping around his biceps, and spun on the interloper. Provost Therkel stood just behind him, anger blunting his features.

"Captain, I asked to be kept informed about Commander Troi's progress, why haven't I been informed of her condition? Has she suffered a setback? It must be of some importance for you to be dragged from ships business to her room." The provost stood as though watching the captain would give him a clue as to what was going on behind closed doors. He knew that it was imperative that he get into that room. Jean-Luc Picard glared down at the hand holding his arm, until it was removed, only then did he look at the provost's face. "I'm sorry, Provost Therkle, this is ship's business which I have to discuss with my Chief Medical officer, and due to the way you chose to conduct this investigation on the planet, this is where she is now needed . Excuse me, sir, but at this point I have nothing more to say to you." He glared the man down, until, the provost moved slowly back, Picard didn't miss the look of pure hatred in his eyes. Picard waited until Therkel moved further away down the corridor, and nodded to the security team placed at the entrance to the room. The men automatically moved to the doors making sure to block any attempt from the visiting dignitary to enter. Only when the doors had shut safely behind him did the captain allow himself to search out the subject of the room. He stared, astonished to see Deanna awake and watching him; a determined look in her eyes, and a soft smile on her lips.

"Good morning, Captain." Her salutation warmed him, as her evident recovery removed some of the day's frustration and worry, while at the same time adding a new concern. He looked for the doctor and saw her shrug at his unasked inquiry.

"Counselor, I can't express how good it is to that you are feeling better." He warily watched both women, getting the feeling that something had occurred, which would explain the request for his immediate presence in sickbay. Beverly stood on the opposite side of the counselor's bed, hoping to begin the explanation she knew the captain was waiting on.

"Captain, while the counselor was unconscious her vitals began to drop drastically. Then just as drastically they returned to normal. During that time, Deanna claims to have felt Will's presence on the planet." She looked over, seeing Deanna's eyes shine with life, like they'd done before all this happened. Deanna gripped the sheet with both hands and clenched it tight. It was hard to be still while your life was discussed without your participation. Deanna broke into their conversation, and began to try to explain to the captain about her contact with Will and the issue of the body and the scar. Picard stared at her for a while, lost in his own thoughts, trying to comprehend the statements the Deanna was making He saw her slip from her role as empath and back to counselor.

"Captain, I know it is hard to dispute the appearance of a body so like Will's, but you have to believe me when I tell you It was not him. I knew it on some level then, but allowed myself to fall into the trap of visual acceptance. Until I found that scar, even then I couldn't look at that…" She paused to reflect upon the pain and agony she felt in that room. "Sir, I believe that the terrible pain I felt was Will's physical pain. He is alive and needs us to help him. Sometimes the pain that I feel his overwhelming, but then Will either blocks it or loses consciousness. I don't know.. " Her voice betrayed her own fatigue from the events of the past several days, in a voice barely louder than a whisper she continued, "All I know is we need to help him now!" She closed her eyes, one small tear escaped to slide down her cheek. The captain held her hand in his own to apply gentle pressure, to let her know of his compassion for her and her dilemma .

"Deanna, if Will Riker is alive on that planet. We are not going to leave without him. But what I need from you right now, is to lie low and allow yourself to heal, physically and emotionally. You've been through a lot these past days. I don't want you sent back down there, you must allow us time to put together plan of action. I will need your connection with the commander but will not have it if the provost finds you to be recovering." She nodded tiredly. "Understood sir." She closed her eyes to glide into sleep. Beverly motioned Picard away to talk without out disturbing the counselor. "Jean-Luc, we nearly lost her, then suddenly she seemed to revive. I don't know much about this bond between them, but I do know if we don't get down there and bring Will back safely, I don't know what effect this will have on Deanna and if there would be anything I could do about it." He nodded, "We are finding some interesting clues, exactly what they are directing us to, is unclear. One thing does remain very evident, and that is our provost is up to his ears in this. When you are finished here, come to my ready room, I'll elaborate."


William Riker awoke once again to darkness, having no idea how long he'd slept. His chrono wasn't functioning, so there was no way to check the time. Not that it mattered anyway. It was hard to tell if it were day or night or which day or night. Hell for all he knew it could be the same endless day. The darkness in the cavern was so complete, it was almost tangible; A thick velvet wall that tricked his senses, into questioning whether or not he even existed. An illusion that lasted until he tried to change positions. Then the pain in his legs jolted him into total awareness, as shards of blinding white agony streaked up from his calves to his jaw. The injured limbs allowed little movement without sweat popping agony that made him nauseous in it's intensity. Riker reached out blindly in the dark, trying not to move his lower body while searching out the food buckets he'd placed strategically nearby. He cursed aloud when he overcompensated for his lack of vision and whacked his knuckles against the container's hard oak side, overturning it. Watery gruel splashed over his questing hand, the gruel bucket. He wrinkled his nose distastefully at the slimy texture and smell of the gruel his captors had been passing off as food and leaned toward the water bucket, sliding his hand around until it encountered the tin ladle. After dipping the ladle into the water he poured it over his head feeling the cool water trickling down over his brow he dried his face on his sleeve. Dust wafted into his nostrils, and a tickle began in the bridge of his nose. He had to sneeze. The simple biological reaction had happened only twice since he'd been down here, but it had been an experience Will Riker wouldn't forget for a very long time. The jolt of his body as it gave vent to each sneeze had jarred the bones on his legs. He'd nearly passed out in it's aftermath. Will tried everything he could think of to stop the sneeze, from holding his breath to squeezing the bridge of his nose. **Please god, make it go away!** He prayed silently. And the sensation disappeared. Will wiped his face again then stopped and sniffed the material on the once white shirt. Memories flooded his drug hazed mind, as the soft, musky scent of Deanna's perfume filled his head. Will laid his head on his arm as the scent though very faint, had the power to take him back to that night at the resort. He closed his eyes, remembering how long it took them to dress for dinner; each time Deanna succeeded in putting an article of clothing on, he distracted her enough with tiny kisses and caresses to remove it. Will smiled painfully at the bittersweet echoes of their laughter that filled his memories. Deanna had been so taken that he had her actually giggling out loud! Then she'd hugged him so tightly, and told him how much she loved him. It made him warm from head to toe even now.

Of course with the sweet, came the sorrow, and inner pain of the argument, and the events that followed. Will groaned and wrapped his hands around his aching head. "Deanna, sweetheart, I'll never question your empathy again. I'll never regret your skills. I'll cherish them as I will always cherish you." Rationally he knew that he'd spoken from frustration, and hadn't really meant the words. But the argument still seemed to loom over his conscious thoughts. Will's captivity gave him plenty of time to chastise himself over his behavior at dinner. Damn! Didn't Deanna try to tell him something was wrong? Yes, she had, several times. But Will knew that he'd brushed her concerns away, too caught up in the idea that it was ruining their -no, that was inaccurate, it was ruining his plans. He closed his eyes recalling how incredible she looked, and the fit of her hand in his. Will thought his heart would stop, when Deanna smiled at him that night. She was too beautiful, her eyes all sparkling and bright; full of her love...for him. And then he'd spoiled it, with one stupid thoughtless remark, and her face changed, he'd cut her to the quick. The look that crossed her features when she turned back to look at him, his words hanging between them, was one of raw pain, and pure astonished disbelief that HE could have said such a thing. "Well, I can't believe I did either." Will said aloud, wishing fervently that he were with her now explaining himself and apologizing to her, knowing he would spend a lifetime trying to make it right. "Damn you Riker! You're such an idiot!" Will growled at the darkness, slamming his fist into his thigh. Ragged bolts of pain shot up into his belly, stealing his breath, bringing tears to his eyes. He closed his eyes against the pain, willing his mind to clear in an attempt to do the simple mind over body techniques, that Deanna, as a young Betazed student spent so much time trying to teach him. He smiled in spite of his pain at the memory of hanging from the tree, hanging in pain, because he could only fantasize about the beautiful young woman he watched. The end result of this attempt was much the same. He failed to separate himself from the pain. For as hard as he tried to recall, Will Riker realized he probably never learned the exercise, because he never really wanted to separate himself from the physical.. until now. And now it was more than just his physical pain that he needed to escape. It was also anguish over the way that beautiful evening ended, how he'd hurt his love on such a personal level. He'd violated Deanna's trust, touched a raw nerve that few even knew existed, and made her cry. His own selfishness and quick temper had put him where he was now, injured and alone in the darkness, with only the slight scent of Deanna on the dirty tattered sleeve of his shirt. Will let oblivion wash over him as an image of her filled his thoughts. She was crying, scared, alone...

~~~~ Imzadi...reach out...please...I need you....

The sweet voice slipped into his mind, as pain and emotion severed his tenuous hold on consciousness.




Beverly nodded, and smiled trying to ease his concern without embarrassing him if front of the nurse. Picard allowed the slightest dip of his chin in acknowledgement of her gesture. When he'd gone, she turned back to the bed. Deanna was restless, tossing and turning fitfully in her sleep. Tears slipped from beneath her closed lids, a frown creased her brow. Soft murmurs began to escape as Beverly walked to the bedside. Her bioreadings became erratic, psyllopsinine levels were rising exponentially as Deanna became more agitated. Beverly caught a word here and there, but didn't wake her. Dreams wouldn't harm her, and Beverly would try to sit tight, unless it became absolutely necessary. The neurotransmitter levels stayed elevated, meaning that Deanna was deep in a psionic state once again, she must be trying to reach the commander again. Crusher sighed, IF Will was indeed alive, and that was a BIG if, Deanna would be the one to find him, but how that could be possible, she'd seen his body, Crusher froze as a thought hit her. **I wonder** she thought, getting to her feet and crossing to the terminal near the door.




Sickbay was eerily quiet, with Doctor Crusher having dinner with the captain, no new patients to be attended to, and a skeleton staff in place. The muted beeps and clicks of lab equipment and the few techs going about their work was the only break in the stillness. Until the the shift change occurred and the security team in front of the counselor's door was replaced. The Provost sat in the waiting area to the left of the door, just across the corridor. He hadn't moved from his chair for hours, determined that no one made any attempt to move Deanna troi without his knowledge. She was conscious, he was certain of that, his own telepathic abilities gave him that information the very moment she regained consciousness. but no one, not even Troi herself was aware that he HAD telepathic abilities. Therkel smiled slightly, thinking of how well he'd covered his tracks. Right up to the point when his man killed Riker. How in the hell could they have killed the wrong man? Things were becoming far too complicated. The doctor and Captain Picard, easily read, were beginning to unravel his carefully laid plan. He had to move soon, before they could find anything concrete. By now Crusher must know that Deanna Troi had been given regular injections of a psi-blocker while on the planet. **I have to get the woman back to the surface and initiate the start of her indictment hearing. They have no hard evidence that the dead man isn't William Riker, and plenty of circumstantial evidence against the woman. It would be an easy verdict.





A scream from the medical labs on the far side of sickbay, and a technician calling out for help, drew Therkel into the hallway outside of Deanna Troi's room. The acrid smell of burning chemicals drifted toward the 5 men standing outside the doors. The emergency klaxon began sounding, warning of areas to be sealed off. Inside the room, Genie bolted to her feet beside the sleeping counselor. She had to do something, those were emergency alarms, she had to get the both of them out of Sickbay. She tapped her comm badge,

"Martin to Crusher."

<<<I'm on my way Genie, what the hell is going on down there?>>> Crusher sounded breathless.

"I don't know, but I have to get Deanna out of here. She's out of it completely. I just administered the sedative you ordered twenty minutes ago."

<<<Don't bother to wake her, use an antigrav and get out of there.>>> Crusher commanded. << Get yourself and the counselor to safety. An explosion has been verified in the labs.>>

"Yes Doctor, I'll think of something. Martin out." Eugenia knew that the provost wouldn't be far away from the doors. She disliked the weasely man that waited outside the security of the room doors. Her mind raced to find a way to get them out without sacrificing the counselor's freedom and future.

<<<Martin to Security, I need an antigrav in Counselor Troi's room, stat!>>

< <<Acknowledged.>> >

Genie didn't try to wake the Betazoid from her sedated sleep, as a much louder sound like that of a phaser blast, hit the doors. Genie pulled the covers over Deanna, then kept a protective hand on her shoulder as she watched hands manually push the doors apart. The provost and his two guards entered into the room. Genie straightened and looked Therkel in the eyes. She watched as his vivid gray eyes darted about the room. They finally came to rest on the counselor's still form. Genie quietly jumped into the role she was thrust into,

"Good, someone to help me move the patient to safety. Could you push the doors a bit more open so the security team can bring in the antigrav? We need to get out of here. there's been an explosion." Therkel stared at her, making no attempt to move.

She shrank back from his cold look, suddenly fearful that unless someone else showed up no amount of playacting would help Deanna.

"Oh, I don't think there is really anything you need to worry about." He sneered. The nurse took one last hopeful look at the doors, only to see smoke, hovering over the two prone bodies of the Enterprise security guards. She turned to the provost in time to see him raise his hand, there was no time to shield herself. In the next second, Genie found herself on the floor with her face painfully smarting. "What are you doing? We have to leave!" Genie cried as she got to her feet, and resumed her place in front of her patient.

Therkel took a few steps back, to about a meter from where she stood.

"I suggest you move." He spoke in clipped sentences, he couldn't afford to waste time with explanations on anyone as inferior or insignificant as this woman standing between him and his goal. He raised his hand again.

< <<Crusher to Martin.>> >

Genie looked desperate as she anticipated and tried to steel herself for the next blow, but the force still nearly took her to her knees. She straightened yet again,

"Martin here, Doctor. We have a problem."

<<<Genie, the explosion damaged the circuitry, we can't get into Sickbay.>> >


"That's not our problem Doctor. The Provost is trying to take Deanna from the ship by force. he's killed the guards. I..."


Therkel cut off any further conversation by turning a small hand phaser on the comm panel, and obliterating it.

"No more talking, the guards are merely drugged, I've killed no one...yet. You will wake the Commander, NOW!" He tore the comm badge from the nurse's uniform, threw it to the floor and crushed it beneath the heel of his boot. The action drew a gasp from the nurse as one hand covered her mouth.


Genie froze,

"I can't she's in a coma. There's no.." Therkel smirked, ready to deliver another more deadly assault this time. He once again raised the hand that held the small hand phaser.

"Enough. Consider this your last chance. I know that the Commander has regained consciousness, she is merely sedated. I want her awakened, she and I have much to discuss." He aimed the phaser with a slow deliberateness, that spoke of deadly accuracy. Genie had no doubt that he had every intention of using it. Genie looked down at the peaceful face of the woman on the bed. It didn't matter now, if she refused, the provost would kill her and awaken Deanna himself. She had to go with them, to care for the counselor.

"All right, but I'm going with Deanna, if you take her off ship. She'll need care." Therkel nodded sharply. "Just wake her dammit!" The venom in Therkel's voice jolted Genie ito action. She filled a hypospray with a stimulant and injected the counselor. She brushed the hair from Deanna's face, and shook her gently. Deanna came up through the foggy layers of sedation, her brain screaming for rest. She opened her eyes, and stared dully at her nurse, who bent over her, a protective arm cross her chest.

"Genie? What's going on?" Deanna murmured. Genie's eyes filled, and she darted a look at the foot of the bed. Deanna felt a wave of hostility, so startlingly familiar, she cried out" You!" The blue white arc of a hand phaser flashed, striking Genie in the chest. Deanna screamed as the nurse was thrown into the bulkhead, where she slowly slipped to the floor. Therkel, stepped around the foot of the bed. He stopped Deanna from slipping from it, with a hand on her shoulder.

"Now, now, Counselor. I wouldn't want to have to hurt you. We're going on a little journey, you and I. All right?" Numb from shock, and the effects of the sedation, Deanna nodded dumbly, and stared at Genie's body as the effects of the transporter blurred her vision.

Deanna sat alone on the hard cold floor in a small dank dark room. There was no pretense of hospitality now, only imprisonment. Her head spun with the recent events, she knew she had to stay alert, because this time she was on her own. This time, she would need to rely on her own resources to survive. Poor Genie had done all she could back on the Enterprise, tears burned the counselor's eyes as she recalled the nurse's attempt to shield her from Therkel. Deanna's ears were still ringing with the shimmering whine of the phaser blast that had sent Genie flying into the bulkhead, hitting her head. The woman slid to the floor in a crumpled heap. Her vision cleared as the transporter faded and she found herself here, in darkness. Deanna knew she would need to be strong, to fight the weakness that threatened to overtake her, not just for herself but also for Will. Her sense of Will had faded, and Deanna hoped it was related to her being sedated. She tried to shake off the mental lethargy and expanded her senses outward to contact him. As she slipped into a meditative state, the door slid open revealing Therkel and a guard. Deanna was jerked from her trance, and sat blinking up at him from her place at his feet. She smiled inwardly, the man was such a coward he couldn't even face her alone, but always came with an entourage of one or more armed guards. No sooner had the thought crossed her mind than she became aware of his growing hostility and his anger with her. Deanna looked closer at Therkel; **How could I have missed it? It was so obvious**. She would need to shield her thoughts if what she suspected was true. The Provost grinned down at her, "Yes my dear, it is true. Since you and lover boy stumbled into our midst, we have had to change our plans considerably. But never fear you have merely created a slight detour." Therkel looked very tall as he approached her, he stopped and stood above Deanna's position on the floor and sneered down at her. "I have something I would like to share with you, my dear." She winced as his hand touched her forehead, then settled across the flesh to cover not only her forehead but also her eyes. Deanna tried to shake the hand off, but Therkel wasn't about to be dislodged. He simply closed his fingers on her temples to hold her head still. But Deanna was as determined to evict his hand from her face, and continued to try to shake her head, to move out of his touch. The Provost's barely contained fury erupted, "Stop it, damn it!" He shouted, and then he pushed Deanna's head back slamming it into the rough wall behind her. Flashing arcs of light, melded with the pain waves that extended out from the point of contact. Her stomach clenched, her ears were ringing from the impact, and Deanna had bitten her tongue. As the saltiness of her blood crept over her tongue, everything went still. Therkel's palm was cool and dry on the heat of her forehead. In that one moment of stillness, visions began dancing through her brain, visions of Will.. no .. not Will.


"What? I don't understand..." her speech cut off as Therkel again tightened his grip. "Have no fear, you soon will." Deanna's body stiffened, a soft scream ripping from her throat tried as a flood of words and images poured into her brain. Her senses were overloaded, straining to make sense of the visions that moved quickly through her mind.

Will? No, not Will. A man who looked like Will, talking with Therkel and others. They were friends or so it seemed to Deanna's benumbed brain. Passing a flask of some sort of liquor, the container looked strange. More laughter, a woman, scantily clad, laughing as she too was passed from lap to lap. Will, no not Will kissing her, laughing. Then it changed, Deanna wanted to reach out, and push the Provost's hand away, still in control enough to sense the the hurtful grip on her temples. She tried to cry out, but no sound came. Tears trickled from her tightly closed lids, Therkel stared down at the beautiful Betazoid, and felt a twinge of guilt. So slender but yet so very strong. In her mind's eye, Deanna saw the scene change, the woman was nowhere to be seen, the men shouting, fighting, she gulped as the man who looked like Will fought back even though he was outnumbered, only to be subdued by three of the others.

Deanna struggled, trying to escape the vision of the beating; she felt each blow, heard the meaty thud of each fist as it landed on Will's body. ** isn't Will. Concentrate Deanna. You can stop this. THINK** Therkel grunted with the effort of sending as Deanna began to erect shields around her thoughts. The mind war continued until Deanna's fragile strength gave out, her fragile shields collapsing under the weight of the brutality Therkel forced her to witness. Images, blood streaked and grotesque filled her mind. the cottage, her things, Will's timepiece. NOOO Deanna screamed silently as the blow that killed him, shattered the timepiece. A blossom of blood stained his features, eyes wide and too blue as they stared up from the floor in death. Deanna reeled in shock and helplessness at the monstrous brutality of the group of men. Will was dead. No! It wasn't Will. In a burst of clarity, Deanna knew the identity of the man who was killed. The small mark on his cheek stood out in sharp relief. The image of that small imperfection would always remain in her memory. Grief welled in Deanna's chest as she witnessed the death of the man she once loved, the one who looked so like Will, so much that the others believed he WAS Will; but not Troi. She knew, had always known. The images gradually faded, but the intense pain stayed fresh and sharp. Therkel squeezed her temples more tightly for a brief second, drawing a new gasp of pain, then abruptly dropped his hand.

Deanna was shivering, hard enough to cause her teeth to chatter as she became aware of herself again. The cell was darker than before, it's light diminishing as the sun set outside. Therkel stood nearby, his hands folded across his chest. He looked down at her then, knowing that she was tired, hurt and spent. Deanna kept her eyes down sensing Therkel's pleasure in his handiwork; He gloated silently, looking down his nose at her willing her to meet his gaze. he wanted to see her stripped of her aristocratic Betazoid self confidence and pride. He needed to see the defeat and pain in her eyes. Deanna struggled to keep from vomiting as a wave of nausea poured over her. She would never give him the satisfaction. Therkel caught the subtle change in Deanna's posture and reached down to roughly grip her chin to lift her face up to his. Amazingly, her eyes were defiant and angry. Therkel felt a fury like he'd rarely known and gruffly snapped Deanna's head back before releasing her and turning to leave.

At the door, he turned,

"We have the other one." She couldn't help the sharp intake of breath that gave away her pain. Therkel smiled slightly, "Yes...that's right...your fiance. He was still alive when I last saw him yesterday. Although, barely. I think it would be fair to say that with his injuries, that could have changed by now."

The smile turned evil, into a tight lipped sneer of satisfaction as Deanna darted a glance in his direction tears filling her wide, night-dark eyes. "Ah yes, little bird, now I have your full attention. Think about all that I have shown you, and what I have said." He left the room, closing the door with a minute click. The clanging slide of the bolt being thrown caused Deanna to jump, a spasm jerking her head back into the wall again.

Deanna sat still as the cold floor easily permeated the thin material of her sickbay clothing; as tears of fear and pain slipped unnoticed on her face. Numbly she drew the sweater closer. The sweater, Will's sweater. Her only source of warmth. It was the only personal item they had allowed her throughout the ordeal. She wrapped herself in it as though she

it would protect her own sanity, holding it close to her heart and savoring the memory of the one who wore it last.

Deanna closed her eyes, seeking out the one whose soul was the remaining half of her own. In the darkness of her mind, it was there, though faint, and weak. She could feel the smallest essence of it; waving as a tender shoot in the cold dark earth. Deanna saw herself reaching for it, pulling it toward her until she could warm it with her own body's heat. She cried out for him.

~~Imzadi, reach out, please I need you. I need to know you are with me." She held her breath awaiting a reply.

Finally after what seemed like hours; after repeating it several times, each time more desperate, more frightened than the one before, he answered.

~~~ I'm with you always, you know that I would never leave you.




The buzzing in his mind continued, as though a pesky insect had found its way inside his brain refusing to allow him to remain unconscious. Will slowly became aware of a voice calling out to him, a very familiar voice that wouldn't allow him to sleep.

He sat up abruptly, and he was smacked flat by the pain in his legs. He ground his teeth and fought to ignore it, forcing his mind away from the agony, to listen to the sweet voice. Will Riker knew the

voice and allowed it priority over the pain. Deanna's presence seemed much closer than it had earlier when she'd contacted him. Now, he could feel it, she was frightened for him. He could feel it in the urgency of

her voice and the edge of fear in her tone. He closed his eyes and allowed his mind to for a mental picture of her as she called to him, again and again. Will struggled to clear his mind again, to send her reassurance.

~~~ Don't cry imzadi, I'm ok.

And then the ladder hit the floor beside him, and the harsh light of a pyroflare lantern flooded his lonely prison with light. Will's eyes caught fire as pain slashed through his head. He slammed them shut and groaned aloud..."Too bright. Stop!" A clanging sound sounded from somewhere above, as someone descended to the floor. "Well mate, seems the boss has decided to bring ye up to the world a present fer ye. Me mate is bringin' a litter down. We'll haul yer arse out, and if it dern't kill ye, well you'll get the surprise. If it does kill ye...well not much point in saying anymore is there?" Will felt the room tilting as he realized what the men were about to do. The anticipation of the agony they would inevitably cause, made him weak. "Hey really, can't he bring the surprise down here. It won't be easy to haul my bulk out of here, not with just two of you." Will grabbed at straws, hoping that talking to the would distract his captors from moving him at all. The man called Clavin yelled over his shoulder at his counterpart who stood poised at a point midway down the ladder.

"Ay Bernal, did ye bring the new medkit wi' ye? The commander 'ere sure to be needin a dose of the happy juice afore we move 'im." B The man called bernal grunted in assent and dropped to the floor by Will's feet. The close proximity of the man's boots, to his injured legs, made Riker flinch. "Damn!" He spat as his legs reminded him just who was boss. "Can you be more damned careful!" He snarled. Bernal looked down at him then with an evil look in his eye. "I would'na be too pushy if I were you, Comander. You might find yerself in worse shape than you are now." Will met the man's gaze unblinkingly. "I have nothing to lose, so go ahead, kill me. Your boss might not be too happy, since you haven't yet got what you grabbed me for. Clavin stepped between the two men. "Easy now gents. E's right Bernal. Calm down, the boss will take care of this 'un for you." Bernal bent to retrieve the medkit and filled a hypospray with a heavy dose of narcotic. Then as he moved to inject Will, he accidentally tripped over one of Will's feet. The scream of pain that was wrenched from Riker's throat was loud enough to send rats scurrying form the darkness, and bats to take flight. Sounds of wretching filled the air, as Will struggled to keep from screaming again, as agony coursed upwards from the injured limb. He never saw the man's arm extend but felt only the blessed relief from the pain, seconds after the hiss of the hypospray near his right ear. "I'll kill you with my bare hands for that if I ever get the opportunity." Will rasped as the man straightened. Laughter was the only response. "Ok mate, let's get 'im on the litter and bring him up. The boss will be waiting in the barracks with the commander's surprise. The two men bent and reached beneath Will, lifting him into a fireman's carry. Will promptly passed out.



The sound of voices and the smell of food and clean linens brought Will from his body's self induced stupor. He was lying on something far softer than the floor of the cave. He fought and won against eyes that insisted upon remaining tightly closed, and opened them to a dimly lit cell. The room was small, about 8' by 10'. It contained a cot, which he was lying on, a straight chair, and a small three drawer chest. He was covered with a scratchy woolen blanket, and found that beneath the cover, he wore what looked to be a long shirt and nothing more. His legs, though still aching were propped on cushions. He didn't look too closely at them. Will exhaled and reached out with his mind, trying to connect with Deanna. She was there, stronger, but shrouded in mist. Damn the drugs, he felt so muzzy headed, barely able to control his own movements. But he was sure that she was trying to reach him. After a few moments Will gave up, vowing to keep at it, later when his head cleared. A soft sound from behind the opposite wall drew Riker's attention to that side of the room. It was a woman, ...he listened more closely. Yes, he was sure of it. he could hear a woman crying. **Thin walls** He thought to himself, still unable to shake the feeling that he was missing something very important. He looked back at the wall. The partition seemed flimsy as though erected in a hurry. Will turned away from the strange wall like structure, hoping that whomever was on the other side of that wall was all right. He closed his eyes, only to jerk them open again awhen the door to his cell was unlocked and opened.

A tall blonde haired man, with eerie gray eyes, bent and entered the room.

"'re the man who has what I want." He said quietly. Will shook his head "I don't know what you're talking about. I'm William T. Riker, Commander and..." The man held up a hand, "Yes, yes. I know, First Officeer of the mighty Enterprise. Your brother filled us in quite well. I am sorry about his...accident. I got the impression that you two weren't, shall we say, close?" When Will didn't answer, the man nodded again. "I see. So if you could be so accomodating and give me the info chip that Thomas gave to you. I'll see to it that your legs are treated and you'll be returned to your ship." Will laughed derisively, and ignored the tall stranger, he knew was the "boss". "I don't have anything, I haven't seen my brother in years, until I found him dead in the cottage. Where's my fiancee. Is she's been injured in any way, I'll." Therkel smiled down at the wounded man.

"You'll what? You can't even move Riker. I'll repeat myself, will you give me the info chip?" Will shook his head. "Not a chance without proof that Deanna is all right." Therkel nodded at a man behind him. A strange whirring noise began, and the partition on the opposite side of the room began to slide upwards, slowly revealing the room behind it. Will's eyes snapped to his captor's.."No you didn't, not here not like this!" Will felt hot tears stinging his eyes as he turned to look across the room. There in the room adjacent to his, Deanna sat huddled on a cot identical to his, wrapped in his sweater over a blue sickbay gown. Her hair was loose, her face streaked with tears. "Deanna" He groaned as she looked up. Their eyes met, and held. "Imzadi..." she whispered, "I knew that you were alive. I knew it. Have to tell Beverly." Will could see that her eyes were clouded, not quite focused. Damned drugs. That was why they couldn't send.

"You son of a bitch! What have you done to her? Why? She's innocent, has done nothing."

Therkel frowned.

"Well you see, here's the plan. You give me the chip, I let you both go, after my men and I are long gone. OR You keep it and that pretty little lady is convicted of your murder, and executed. It's your choice Commander. Take your time, think about it."

Deanna struggled to raise her head.

"Don't do it. He killed Thomas, he'll kill you too." That moment filled Will Riker with a sense of despair and desperation the likes of which he'd never experienced before. How in the hell would they get out of this one?



The normally immaculate Sickbay on the Enterprise had the look of a war zone; injured crewmen being helped onto biobeds, a faint scent of burnt material still lingered even though the ships filtering systems had removed the smoke and contained its source. Picard and Crusher walked quickly through the littered room, headed for Deanna Troi's private room.

"Damn barbarians!" She snarled, kicking over the remains of a dermal regeneration unit. The damage to the ship was bad enough, but it infuriated Beverly to consider the unnecessary danger her personnel and friends were subjected to. She quickened her step as fear claimed possession over her anger.

"Doctor! Over here!" A voice cried out over the din of sickbay being put back together. Crusher turned to see where "over here" might be. She gasped softly, and took hold of the captain's arm. Together they hurried to the fallen figure of a woman, being attended to by one of the techs. "Genie! What happened ?" Doctor Crusher swiftly scanned the readings scrolling above the biobed. Another nurse appeared beside her, "She was found in the counselor's room unconscious." Beverly turned toward the nurse, "And the counselor?" The nurse merely shook her head. "Damn!" Crusher spat. She closed her eyes briefly before accepting a tricorder from another of her staff. Crusher ran it over the prone figure, of Genie Martin, and felt a flutter of relief as the nurse began to groan and moved to sit up. "Lie still Genie, let me take care of this." Beverly worked quickly to ease the discomfort of her patient. After applying another hypospray, she turned to speak to the captain, only to find he was slowly walking away.

"Genie, how did this happen?" The woman began to cry.

"I tried to stop them. He made me wake her..He said I could go to take care of her. I'm sooo sorry" She repeatedly sobbed out her apologies until Beverly signaled for a hypospray loaded with a sedative. She delivered the medication efficiently, and put a comforting arm around her in an attempt to calm her down.

"Genie, who did this to you?" Genie raised heavy lidded green eyes, and whispered, "Provost." Beverly scowled, but continued to comfort her until Genie slipped into sleep. She watched as Picard rummaged through the now empty room looking for anything that might be a clue as to what had happened. He stooped to pick up a hypospray that had been kicked into a corner, and straightened in time to see his Chief Medical Officer storm into the small room. She took one look around her, and caught her breath. "How is Nurse Martin?" Beverly turned to look at him, incredulously, "Not bad for someone who had been hit in the chest with a phaser and is suffering from a concussion. She's also very upset that she allowed her patient to be taken from her custody." She jammed her hands into the pockets of her lab coat." Jean Luc, the two guards were given a near lethal dose of Naldantide, an illegal narcotic, banned by the federation fifteen years ago. They should be conscious in a few hours, with a hell of a headache." Picard stood quietly as he listened to Beverly blow off steam. When she finished he gestured around them.


"It's apparent from this, that the counselor has information or some other importance that would prompt the provost to take such action." He handed the empty hypospray to her, "I found this on the floor. See what you can learn from it. Then I'd like a complete work up on the security guards, the drug, and the counselors records, as soon as you can get it together. I'll send a team down to work with your personnel in getting sickbay put back together. I've got Data working on the initial explosion site." The captain walked over to the opened closet, looked in, "Is anything missing from this closet?" Beverly shrugged and moved things around a bit,


"It looks like the only thing that's missing is that the sweater

Deanna was wearing when we beamed her aboard. She must still have her gown from sickbay on her." Picard moved on and was examining anything that had sustained any damage. "There are clues here somewhere. Provost Therkel wasn't smart enough not to leave any. He was arrogant, there is something here. I want a report on anything that is at all abnormal, There is a connection between the Provost, Will and Deanna, we just need to look closer to find it." He turned to begin walking out the door, then stopped to look back at the doctor, "And Beverly don't delay, I fear we may not have much time if we are to get the counselor and commander out of there alive." Beverly raised her eyebrows. He answered her look, "You and I both know of the counselor's empathy and her connection with Will Riker. There is a reason the provost wants her out of our reach, I want to know what that reason is. This," he spread his arms to embrace the extensive damage to this room and sickbay, "is the act of desperation. He either feared the counselor was on the verge of knowing something, or he needed her to fulfill his own ulterior purpose." Crusher nodded and straightened her shoulders.

"I think you could be right. I'll get on it immediately, Captain."



Will Riker watched from across the room, helpless to move closer as Deanna struggled to come to grips with reality. He watched her fight to gain the control the drugs had sapped. They were alone. It made it all too clear to Will that they were involved in a situation which neither he nor Deanna could control. Hell, they didn't have the strength or enough control over their own physical beings to cross the room's expanse that separated them from one another. Will stared at Deanna, taking in every detail of her small form, longing to touch her, to smell the fragrance of her hair and touch its softness. Deanna caught his eye in that moment, and paused, sensing his thoughts. She gathered the sweater around her, and concentrated on the strength of those emotions and her own to move her body to the edge of the cot and attempt to stand. Deanna groaned softly as dizziness made her ears ring. A cold sweat broke out over her skin, her legs felt wobbly and she had trouble standing up without stooping to hold on to the edge of the bed. Undefeated, she slowly forced herself to straighten, all the time fighting to balance herself on unsteady feet. Finally successful, Deanna found Will still watching her, filled with apprehension at the security of her hard won stance. She met the intensity of his blue eyes with her own dark eyes, and slowly placed one foot in front of the other. Will gasped each time she swayed off to the side; Willing her to continue across the stretch of floor that separated them. Deanna never looked at the distance, only at Will. She wasn't going to lose sight of those eyes, or even stop until she felt his heart beating beneath her own hand, and the pulse of his life on her lips. The walk across the room was a minimal distance, that seemed to take hours to complete. Deanna lost track of time but the effort was telling as perspiration began to trickle down the side of her face; but still she continued towards him. Deanna stumbled and wavered unsteadily on her feet, as she slowly closed the distance between them. Will gripped the sides of the cot and tried to move to help her. Helplessness didn't come close to how he felt at that moment. Closer, closer until he could hear the labored respiration, the soft grunts of distress. He didn't make a sound, but only stared until she stood in front of him and held her arms out to wrap them around his neck. He pulled her harshly to him, and lost himself in the warn softness of her body against his. Will inhaled deeply and squeezed her tightly against his chest.

"You're here...oh gods you feel so good." Will whispered, as his hands moved over her back and shoulders. Deanna's hands found his face molding the contours as a though sculpting them from new clay. She turned to lay her head on his chest to find the heartbeat she sought. Her embrace every bit as desperate and needy as Will's. She held on and lowered herself down to kneel on the floor beside the cot. Her tears were flowing as she rejoiced with the beating of his heart beneath her ear.

"I'll never ask you to suppress your empathy again, Deanna. I love you just as you are. I'm sorry to put you through this." The deep baritone of Will's voice broke the dam of self control Deanna had held since her arrest. She allowed a few deep sobs to escape, before reaching up to press her lips against the pulse in Will's neck. Her lips caressed that vital link for precious seconds, until Will heard a soft voice in his head

~~~~ Right now it's enough that you're alive. I love you too.".



"Well, looks like our little bird has flown to a different cage. You were given time to make up your mind Commander, so what's it to be. Are you going to cooperate with me and give me the chip, or is this to be your last night together?" Therkel stood at the opened doorway a gruesome smirk on his face as he awaited an answer. Inside the room, Will Riker lay still and pale, reclining against the few pillows provided by his captors. Deanna sat beside him, brought upright from her place alongside Will, by the Provost's unannounced entry. "What do you want?" She asked through clenched teeth. Therkel stepped inside, large medkit in his hand. "I want what is mine, and when I get it, you two will have this." He gestured to the kit. "Have you reached your decision, Riker?"


Back on the Enterprise, Picard sat uneasily in the senior staff lounge, awaiting the arrival of his senior officers. The hiss of the door announced their arrival, and they filed in quietly, to take their places.

"Okay people, I realize that this is rather abrupt, but we need to begin putting the peices to this puzzle together. Doctor Crusher,what have you learned?" Picard was encouraged when he noted her tight lipped grin; Beverly had found something.


"I reexamined Deanna's tests, her blood work, CT scans, all of it. This time I used data extrapolated from the garbled scan I took on the planet and compared the two."

"And you found what?" Picard asked her.

"I found traces of a psi blocker."


At the captain's raised brows Beverly explained,

"The compound wasn't detected in the previous workup because there so little of it remained, and it's a relatively rare compound. However, when the second workup was compared to the initial scan, Deanna's levels of neurotransmitters were well below normal. The only way that the levels would be so severely depressed would be if a psi blocker was administered. All that I needed to do at that point was to ask the computer to match any chemical compounds of that type to toxicology results of each scan....that's where I identified the blocker. It would explain why Deanna seemed irrational at times and it was definitely the cause of the neurogenic shock. It's also the same medication I discovered in the hypospray container that you found in sickbay after the Provost and his people nearly destroyed sickbay and kidnapped Troi. He must have needed her empathic awareness muted, he knew we were close to something."

Picard nodded, "Closer than anyone apparently knew Doctor." Before he could continue the doctor stopped him,

"Oh, and one more thing, I talked to Genie again, and she maintains that Therkel knew Deanna was conscious and had been sedated, before he entered the room. None of my personnel spoke to him, I checked with them and our security. Data, are there any telepathic races on this planet?" The android frowned.

"I do not know Doctor. I shall need to research the presence of telepathic abilities."

Crusher nodded. "Captain, if Therkel is telepathic, it would explain his familiarity with the psi blocker. I think he needed to make sure Deanna couldn't tell us anything. But what? What the hell is going on down there?"

Data looked curiously at the doctor, "I am unsure as to the nature of the hell down there, doctor. However, from the information contained in my memory banks, and the Federation database, the planet is not home to any telepathic species."


Picard looked around the long table, at the faces of those gathered around it. He watched their expressions change to pure exasperation, "If he is indeed a telepath, or has found a way to develop those abilities, it could tie this information together. It would give us the method the provost used to learn of Deanna's condition and how we were concealing it, and would indicate a need for that particular blocking agent." Picard continued thinking aloud. "It would give him opportunity and means that he has gone to great lengths to kidnap Deanna."


Geordi nodded, And don't forget the use of the illegal narcotic on the Enterprise's security people." Beverly's face flushed with the effort of organizing the conflicting pieces of information.


"Okay, we have a knowledge of a telepathic blocking agent, knowledge learned through an unknown source of the use of banned narcotics, kidnapping of a skilled empath, not to mention holding two federation citizens. All we need to do now is discover WHY Therkel did these things." Picard rubbed the palms of his hands up over his head.

"Data, Geordi, what did you learn of the area near the resort. Are there any social problems or criminal activity that the commander and counselor may have stumbled into?"


Geordi activated a veiwscreen, and got to his feet. "Well sir, there seems to be a lot of activity at night along the shoreline, here, and here." he pointed to two separate inlets on the lake. " I'm not sure what type of activity, but it seemed a bit secretive. The resort it self is well kept and seems to be above suspicion. I don't know if anyone there played a part in the misdirection of cottages." Picard and Crusher sat forwrad.


"Misdirection? Explain Mr. Laforge."

Laforge nodded. "Yes sir, misdirection. The cottage we were shown wasn't the cottage our people stayed in -ever. There was no trace of their biosignatures anywhere in the cottage that we were directed to. No DNA, hair, nothing at all. I'd say that someone is most definitely hiding something."

Geordi returned to his seat.

"Yes our counselor for one." Beverly was fed up with the treasure hunt, her fears over the well being of her best friend were weighing on her. She was responsible for Deanna's safety and had been duped by the most unsavory man she'd ever met. Picard ignored the comment and went on with his quest for answers.


"What of the explosion in sickbay, what have you learned?" Data sat forward,

"The devise used was a simple incendiary mechanism triggered by a timed chemical reaction. All the components used could be found aboard or in a well stocked lab. Any child in an advanced chemical engineering could easily have accomplished the distraction." Data turned to the doctor, "The majority of the damage done to sickbay was completed solely to set off the containment systems on the Enterprise and thereby restrict entrance into sickbay. This would allow the provost time to arrange transport undetected." Picard nodded his agreement with that assessment.


"I want to find out what is going on around that lake, and exactly what our "friend", Therkel is up to. It is possible that the commander is alive and that is one reason the counselor was given those drugs. We need to find answers. Now."


On the planet...


Provost Therkel reached down to take hold of Deanna's arm.

"NO!" Will snarled as he wrapped both arms securely around Deanna's waist and pulled her down onto his chest. "I'll do what ever you want, just leave her with me."


Therkel's sneer broadened,

"You'll do whatever I want?" His voice took on the sound of a senile old lady. He watched closely, looking for any thoughts of betrayal. "You will hand over the info chip. In return, I will allow your fiancee to heal your injuries, but not until I am able to leave the area." Will nodded. "Agreed. But as you see, I don't have the chip on me at the moment." Will pulled at the long shirt. "You let her heal me now, I'll lead you to it in the morning. Just let her stay here with me tonight." He continued to hold Deanna,in place with her head on his chest. Therkel looked doubtful then turned from them, at the doorway he turned again toward the bedridden Riker, "All right Commander, I'll allow this, but if you fail to live up to your part tomorrow, I will show you how I live up to mine. I will kill you both, beginning with HER." His forefinger jabbed the air in Deanna's direction. The threat stood out stark in it's vehemence. He left them alone again. Deanna pulled back and sat up, "Will what are you going to do? Do you have what he wants?"


Will's body went completely still, not a muscle so much as twitched. Deanna felt him watching her, in much the same way a starving man looks over a food-laden table. He studied her features, noting the pale skin, and hollow eyes. She was far too thin, her cheeks having a more angular look. She looked as though she had been through hell and back again, and it was his fault. Well, his and Thomas'. Deanna gently stroked Will's hand.

"Will?" When he didn't answer she shook her head, "You were buying time." Will nodded silently, and pulled Deanna closer.

"Deanna look at me. Are you really okay? You're so thin. You'll fade away before the wedding!" She tried to smile at the old Riker gumption, failing that she took the med kit and began to lift the blanket to look at his injuries. He stopped her with a large hand.

"Answer me Deanna. I need to hear that you're all right." Deanna felt the sting of tears, as she met his eyes. "Will it has been an ordeal, but I'm all I guess that I've made myself ill worrying about you. I'll get the weight back once we're home and safe. Now let me see your legs." The blanket fell away, allowing her a first glimpse of his lower limbs. Deanna gasped aloud, her hand flying to her mouth, at the sight of his legs. Tears filled her eyes, drawing a gasp of pain from Will's lips. "Don't cry, Dee. They don't hurt as badly now. It's the swelling that makes them look so bad! Honey, please." Will watched as Deanna let silent tears slip over her cheeks, while she struggled to manage away her emotions. His legs were grotesquely swollen to nearly twice their normal size, and were a deeply mottled purple blue with bruising. Deanna found that she didn't know where to begin.


"Will." Her voice shook with emotion, all she managed was his name. Slowly she regained her composure enough to continue, "What happened? What did they do to you?" She eyes finally found their way back to his.

He took her hand, "It's nothing, they tried to give me flying lessons and I failed." It was easy to make light of it now, now that she was here in front of him and he could touch her. The pain that nearly crippled his sanity was easily tucked away by her presence. Will lifted her hand, and graced her palm with a kiss. "I'm sorry Deanna, all of this is my fault. We wouldn't be here if I hadn't been so arrogant and self involved." She pulled her hand away to smooth the hair from his forehead. Deanna continued her caress down to his jaw, then leaned forward to lay her forehead against his,


"Shhhhh...we'll talk about it later once we're out of here. Then, Mister, I'll hold you to some serious apologizing." Will moved his arms to encircle her waist pulling her closer, "I promised myself that if I ever saw you again, I'd spend the rest of my life making it up to you." He could feel her quiver and lowered his hands. When she rose above him once again, Will looked up into Deanna's face as she stood beside the bed running a small tricorder over his legs.

"There's no infection, yet...but you have multiple fractures in both legs. All read as simple fractures, and some are slightly displaced." Deanna sighed as Will's hands caressed her lower back. "I can heal the fractures and reduce the swelling somewhat, but you'll need more extensive treatment on the ship." Will didn't respond, causing Deanna to look down at him.


"Do what you can, sweetheart. I can't do a damned thing unless you fix me up some. And Dee? I love you." Deanna bent and pressed a soft kiss on his lips, as his hands drifted down over her bottom. Will frowned as Deanna pulled back, breaking the kiss. He pressed his hands into her thigh and tugged her closer still. Will put his hand into her pocket and pulled out a communicator.


"The captain slipped it to me when he visited, the first time I was held by the provost. Therkel never knew that I had it." Deanna watched then as a familiar expression crossed Will's features. But before you ask any more questions, let me get to work. You need to be whole and healthy if we're going to get out of this mess." Deanna opened the med kit and surveyed the contents pulling out what she needed as Will grinned broadly then activated the homing signal. He settled back, and closed his eyes as Deanna set about healing his wounds.



Deanna surveyed her work, knowing little else could be done with the medical supplies left by the Provost. She was tired, dizzy, and weak; far weaker than Will needed to know at this point. She closed her eyes, and slowed her breathing, trying to fight off a wave of nausea. She opened them slowly.

Will's legs were still slightly swollen along the shins but the small regenerator worked it's miracle and healed the bloodied tissue and broken bones. His legs would be painful until treated with more advanced equipment and anti-inflammatory treatments aboard the Enterprise.

"Okay, Will, I've done everything I know to do." She turned to catch him staring at her, and took a deep breath, "Maybe it would be best to rest a bit before you try to stand and walk." Will nodded without speaking. He'd kept his eyes on her face while she worked on his legs, feeling guilty for the concern and fear he saw there. Her love for him easily observed in all she tried to do. The tender touch, the way she made sure that he was comfortable. Will knew that he'd put the look of haunted fear in Deanna's eyes with his own arrogance. Deanna sighed, and leaned against the front edge of the cot. Will got a better look at her then, and clenched his fists. Deanna looked ready to collapse right there by the bed. She was done in, as was clearly evidenced by the white knuckled grip of her hands on the edge of the cot, and the perspiration beaded on the pale skin of her face.

"Here, come and rest for a bit, lie down with me." He moved over, pleased that only an insignificant amount of pain flared in his legs, minor compared to the agony of the last week. He caught Deanna's hand and pulled her to her feet, then tugged until she lay beside him on the cot. Will reached out and clasped his hands on Deanna's shoulders. Her chin began to tremble as she met his eyes. He eased her closer, to lay her head on his chest, and wound his long arms around her.

"I've been so frightened, Will. I saw you...your body, and..."

"Shh, it's all over. I'm here, alive, and thanks to you well again. Just rest, you looked about ready to pass out." Will turned and pressed his lips to the side of her face.

"I'm all right, just a little dizzy and tired from the medication. My emotions are a little off balance too I guess. Will, tell me what happened that night in the dining room, after I left you."

Deanna eased away enough to see Will cringe, she couldn't tell if it the memory or her request bothered him. Will tightened his arm around her as he took a breath and slowly exhaled. After Deanna laid her head back on his shoulder, he began to explain,

"I was too angry to watch you leave and after about a half hour, and another drink, I decided to go after you. I was leaving the dining room when a waiter stopped me to tell me that I was wanted over near the gift shop. I assumed, hoped it was you." He paused briefly and reached to caress the side of her face, his fingers tracing the along her hair and down her cheek. Deanna turned toward him kissed his jaw as if encouraging him to continue.

"When I got there , no one was waiting, so I decided to head to our cabin. I felt certain that you would be there waiting. As I stepped up onto the porch, someone clubbed me from behind. The next thing I knew I was inside the cottage laying on the floor. The place was being turned upside down by three men. I had been searched, my pockets were all turned inside out. My head flet as though it would burst, so I pretended to be unconscious, to try to find out what was going on. It was then that I heard Thomas' voice. I didn't want to believe that it was him, but then he stepped into my field of vision.. He told the men that he was sure that you had walked out of the dining room, mad as hell at me. Then he held up the chrono, taken from my pocket. Deanna, he laughed about the kind of man who took gifts from a lady. The others went at him to get the timepiece," Will spoke under his breath at the memory of that moment, "pack of ignorant targs. Thomas refused to give it up, saying that it belonged to him, since we were brothers. They argued then about some promised delivery, Thomas winked at me Deanna. But I don't know why. I had no idea where YOU were at that point, but I was sure that you were going to walk into the middle of it all. I prayed that you wouldn't. Thomas told them not to worry, that you had been taken care of. I was certain then that they had kidnapped you."

Deanna stiffened knowing from his tone what happened next.

"So you confronted them?" she held her breath knowing the answer. "Yes, something like that. I had the element of surprise, because they thought that I was unconscious. Thomas didn't seem surprised at all. But the other men, took a few moments to recover. Tom and I got in a few good hits and then one of them pulled a phaser. I hit one of the others, and he went down hard, Tom grinned, then my guys partner hit me from behind again. The last thng I saw was the phaser blast that eventually killed Thomas. Tom fell, I knew that he'd been hit. When I came to, we were out in the woods, side by side. Apparently once the Provost's men moved us they didn't know which one of us was Tom. The rest you know."

Will moved the hand that had been around Deanna's waist from under the sweater to lay over the thin material of the sick bay gown, moving his hand over her side.

"What was Tom doing here, Will? Was he working with these men? What are these people up to?" Will could sense the intense emotions in Deanna and tried to send calming thoughts. She turned to look at him, seeing the pain behind his eyes and she knew he had been shielding the worst from her. She didn't know whether to push for the whole incident or wait until he had finished and learn the other details.

"What I heard of their conversation insinuated that Tom was helping them find a market for a drug they had discovered. But later when we were both laying in the woods, Tom told me that he was working as an operative for the Federation on behalf of a league of scientists seeking to gain information about this new drug."

Deanna turned to look into his face, "Do you believe that he was working for Starfleet?"

"He knew he was dying, why would he lie? He let them believe that he was Commander William Riker, and fought them. The men never knew for sure which one of us was Thomas and which was Will Riker. When Therkel's men realized that Tom was dead, they took his body away, and hauled me away to the cave. That was the last I saw of him."

"When did they figure out that they had it wrong?'

"When they examined me for some sort of subdermal info chip. I of course didn't have it. I guess Thomas hid or got rid of it, since they still believe that I know where it is. See, they thought we were working together as a team. Having the same appearance made it an obvious answer to them."

"What do you think is on this chip?" Deanna asked.

Will frowned and drew her closer,

"Information about this compound they've discovered. From what little I managed to over hear, the drug has some unusual benefits, and will go for a high price on the espionage markets. They are willing to go to some pretty extreme measures to get this chip. One of them mentioned needing information for processing and marketing the drug. That must be what's on the chip"

Will moved his hand around Deanna side, noticing that his fingers could easily feel each rib. He stopped talking as his hand continued moving along her body, skimming over the thin sickbay gown. She had been through far more than he realized. She'd lost at least ten pounds! When he got his hands on that bastard, he'd kill him.

Finally he moved to see her more clearly, "How long have you been down here Deanna?"

She shrugged, "Not long this time. But I'm not sure...the drugs they give me this time, make me so sleepy and lethargic...I'm so confused. Tired. They detained me for several days at first, before officially arresting me for, ...your murder. They said that I killed you. I had your blood on my hands, from the timepiece and my own from a scrape on my cheek." At his frown, she explained,

"I fell on the path when I was coming back to the cabin. Therkel used that as evidence that we had struggled. They kept the chrono. Oh Will, it's all broken." Deanna's voice caught. "It was so difficult, especially when they insisted I identify you...the body. I couldn't sense anything, Beverly believes that they were covertly drugging me. That's why I didn't sense your death. He wouldn't let me touch you. I wanted to, wanted to hold you, tell you I loved you, but...Therkel said I couldn't. That was too much. When the provost refused, I collapsed. Beverly and the captain brought me to the Enterprise for a short time, and then the provost transported me back here. I'm not sure of the time table, things have a way of running together. But don't be concerned, I'm really all right now that I know you're alive."

Deanna drew herself closer to Will's side and struggled not to cry. He felt so good against her. Will had to be.

"Deanna, you did say that the timepiece was broken?"

Deanna sniffled and looked up, her face awash with tears.

"Yes, why?" Will swore through clenched teeth.

"Because I'd bet my last strip of latinum, that the info chip is inside it."



Picard sat holding his head rereading the information on the padd before him. Things were slowly beginning to come together. Everything they knew to this point could only mean one thing. Provost Therkel was not far from the honest law keeper he professed to be. A kidnapper at the very least, Picard shuddered at the thought that one , possibly two of his most valued officers sat in the jands of a murderer.

< <<Bridge to Picard>> >

"Picard here."

<<<Sir, we've picked up a signal from the surface.>> >

Picard raised his head, for some reason without even knowing why, he knew this was the break they were looking for.

" What kind of signal Lieutenant?"

< <<It appears to be a beacon sir, possibly a homing signal.>> >

"On my way. Lieutenant have Commander Data report to the bridge."

The doors to the ready room no sooner opened than the captain made his appearance on the bridge. He wasted little time making his way to tactical.

"What do we have? Have you been able to locate the signal?" Data joined the captain at the station, then moved back to the science station. Picard watched as the android's fingers flew over the computer.

"Data, is it the signal from the modified communicator?" He watched as Data continued working for a few moments longer. The android stopped and looked up at the captain,

"Yes Captain, the signature matches that of the comm badge given to Counselor Troi." Picard allowed himself a smile, finally something in their favor.

"Can you pinpoint the location.?"

"Yes sir. It is located in close proximity to the area where the counselor was originally held." Data paused then turned.

"Captain the signal is no longer being transmitted." Picard frowned...


"None sir, except that the signal could be jammed at it's source, or by some other source already on the surface." Data turned back to his board and began inputting information.

"I am attempting to heighten the sensitivity of the forward sensor array, perhaps making it possible to pick up a residual energy trace from the badge."

"Make it so Mr. Data. I have a feeling that we will need to beam the Cammander and the Counselor out with very little warning. This situation is becoming far too dangerous." Data nodded and began to tab equations into his board. picard returned to the center seat and punched in the access code for starfleet Command. He was overdue with an update on the situation, and Admiral Bracket disliked tardiness for any reason.

"Very good, Data. Any idea when we will be able to transport the counselor and whomever is with her?"

Data shook his head....

"None sir."

"Can you get any reading from the sensors planted in the communicator?"

Picard waited for the for the favorable run to end, though hoping beyond hope that it continued. He watched as Data continued working quietly but nearly too fast to observe what his procedure.

"Captain, I cannot ascertain exactly who has the communicator." Data froze to look over at Picard, "However, there were two humanoids in very close proximity to each other. Sensors indicated two heart beats, for that to be achieved they must be …."

"Yes, Data, I understand." Picard cut him off stopping Data from disclosing more to the entire bridge crew, while knowing that the possibility of snagging both officers had increased tenfold.


On the surface, Will Riker stirred, the sensation of holding something warm and soft, too distracting to ignore. He tightened his arms on his dream...and allowed his eyelids to open, just a tiny bit. And smiled. She's real...she's here....and she's still asleep. Will exhaled slowly and tensed to allow his muscles a minute stretch. Deanna hardly stirred, her breathing deep and regular. Will felt a spark of concern. she must be exhausted, usually she woke seconds after he did. Darkened circles around her eyes and the thinness of her body gave mute evidence of what she had endured in the last few weeks. He adjusted the blankets over her shoulders and lay still, intending to give her every last second of rest, before waking her. The Provost and his men should be returning soon, expecting him to take them to the info chip. With luck he'd be able to stall long enough for the Enterprise to pick up their homing signal. Will didn't tell Deanna what he suspected last evening; that there must be a dampening field in effect if the ship hadn't yet received their signal. The Provost's office would no doubt be free of the field. With a little luck, they'd be home in a few hours.

His mind went to the future, it seemed so simple now, he needed to be with the woman he held in his arms, but would she still want the same future with him.So much had happened since their time in the cabin. His own denial of Deanna's natural abilities would need to be dealt with when they got home. A noise from somewhere outside their cell, alerted Riker to their captors impending arrival. He needed Deanna fully awake before their "guests" arrived. Will touched her cheek, with a gentle finger then followed with his lips. Deanna stirred, but still did not come fully awake. He continued his exploration of her face until she sighed deeply before opening her eyes. He pulled back, watching her ease into wakefullness. Deanna opened her eyes, focusing on Will's face. He saw without difficulty, her love for him, shining clearly in the depths of her expressive onyx eyes. But instead of easing his doubts about her desire for a future with him, he he found himself faced with the realization that he could be waking to face a future without her presence in his life.

Deanna sensed his shift in emotions, and moved to get a closer look at his face, her hand slipped up to caress the nape of Will's neck.

"Will, what is it?"

Will nodded towards the faint sounds from the hallway beyond the door to their room, "I think we're about to have company, are you okay?" He watched her frown, then sigh and slip from his embrace to stand beside the cot. He smiled as she stretched to get the blood flowing throughout her limbs. She sat back beside him and pulled the sweater around her.

"Yes, I'm okay. Let me take another look at your legs." Will paid close attention to Deanna's expression as she lifted the blanket covering his legs.

"Well Doc, what do you think?"

"I think they are still swollen, Will. How is the pain?" She asked as she reached for the medkit near the side of the cot.

"Manageable with you here." Will grimaced as she ran the regenerator over his lower limbs again. Deanna sat carefully beside him,

"Will, we should get you up and let you try walking before they get here." At his nod,Deanna watched as Will carefully maneuvered his body closer to the side of the cot. She lowered his legs to the floor, wincing with each gasp. When Will at last sat on the edge of the cot with his feet touching the floor, Deanna stood in front of him.

"Go slowly Will, it's going to take time for you to get your balance. Lean on me."

Deanna stood with her hands extended to give him some support in his effort to stand. Will slid his hand into hers and got to his feet. It took more work for him to begin moving, Deanna stood beside him with an arm around his waist and his arm around her shoulder for support.

The door slammed open with a resounding crash. Deanna cried out softly, gasping as Will pulled her tightly against him. They both turned wide eyes on their uninvited guest.

"I guess propriety and manners don't exisit on this planet, do they Therkel?" Will snapped. He drew Deanna behind him. It was a slight move, but one that wasn't lost on the Provost. This woman was his trump card. Riker would do anything to protect her from harm. Therkel frowned and concentrated. Nothing....these two had incredibly well developed mental powers. The woman especially, he couldn't pick up any thoughts at all, unless he touched her. Therkel stood at the door, pleased with the attention his entry into their room had earned him.

"Well, I see the medkit has helped. Are you ready to go Commander? I've wasted enough time and energy on you already."

Will watched with a growing uneasiness at the way the provost looked at Deanna.

"I'm not going anywhere without her."

The provost signaled the men behind him, they moved to Deanna's side all too willing to move her no matter how forcibly away from Will. The one Will remembered being addressed as Clavin grabbed Deanna by the arm trying to pull her away. Will tightened his hold around her shoulders. "I'm not helping you do anything without her. If you try to separate us, this will end right here."

He nearly lost his balance as the other man tried to pry his arm from around Deanna. She stood firm holding on to Will with all her strength, while at the same time fighting to loosen the other man's grasp on her arm. Therkel watched from the door as they struggled with his men, both dressed in gowns fighting a hopeless battle. The woman still wore the long sweater reaching down nearly to her knees, but her fighting left little to his imagination. He pulled his gaze from the graceful angry figure before him, and threw a bundle of dark clothing on the cot.

"Here, put this on. I can't have you drawing undue attention to yourselves in public."

He moved back to the door and leaned against it, watching with a glint of lust in his eyes, waiting. Will's ire rose as he realized that the man intended to watch them dress. It was all too obvious which of them drew his interest. Deanna swallowed hard, at the sharp slap of anger she felt from Will. That coupled with her own disgust at the lascivious emotions of the provost and his men nearly drove her to her knees. She felt all too clearly what the provost had in mind. It would be a cold day in hell before she put on a show to appease his warped appetite.

"Provost would it be possible to have ten minutes to change in private?" Her arm around Will's waist tightened while the official took several moments to decide. His men began shifting from foot to foot,

"Come on boss. The chit'll be here for awhile. Let's get the chip first." Therkel grunted his assent and straightened. The woman drew her sweater closer over her chest, making him smirk. He watched her swallow and lean closer to the taller Riker.

"Ten minutes. Then we retrieve the chip without wasting any more of my valuable time. Do we understand each other?" Will and Deanna nodded, waiting for the others to leave before pulling her into his embrace. Deanna cuddled close, allowing the calm strength to wash over her. Her empathic sense drank it in, greedy for the solace it afforded. Will felt the silent desperation in the fragile strength of her embrace.

"Nothing is going to separate us. I promise you." He whispered into her hair. Deanna stood quietly for another moment, then put on a brave face and met his eyes.

She patted his shoulder,

"We only have ten minutes, and it may take longer get you into pants again."

He heard the smile in her voice.

"You know any other time I'd give you reasons to change your mind about getting me into pants."

Shaking her head, Deanna smiled,

"Commander if that's a proposition, I'd like to hear more at another time. Right now, we need to get dressed before our audience returns."

She moved to the bed to examine the contents of the bundle of clothing. Deanna began sorting clothing, by size the larger obviously for Will and the smaller for herself. The clothing was androgenous, made in the same dark shades that she'd seen on most of the civilian population. Will eased his big body back to the cot and sat on the edge.

"It'll be easier for me to dress sitting down. My legs are a little wobbly yet." Deanna nodded, and moved to the other side of the cot to give him room. She was feeling dizzy and a little nauseous herself, and all the bending and moving around was beginning to give her a headache. Deanna finished sliding on the smaller trousers, and found that they were at least four sizes too big, with nothing to tighten the waist. She heard a thump.

"Damn it!" Will swore.

Deanna turned quickly she found him sitting on the floor with one leg in his trousers. A scowl of pain was clear on his face. His teeth were clenched, his eyes tightly closed. Deanna tried to get to him quickly her pace slowed remarkably due to the oversized pants. She knelt beside him, "Are you alright?" She looked quickly at his exposed leg to see if there had been any more damage done to the already injured limb.

He didn't answer, just sat breathing harshly through his teeth, as beads of sweat trickled from his forehead, to disappear into his beard. his face was pale.

"Will, let me help you. I think it would be easier if you could slide back to the bed and use the bed to pull yourself up. "

"Minute....damn these legs hurt!" Deanna watched him frown, before beginning to move backward. "I'm going to need your help Deanna. The legs don't feel strong enough to stand on just yet." Deanna put a gentle hand on Will's cheek and nodded.

After working together for several long moments they were finally able to sit on the small bed. Deanna helped Will get his other leg into the trousers and get to his feet. She didn't realize until it was too late, that with both hands occupied, her own attire suffered. Will frowned as a sudden odd expression crossed her features.

"Deanna, what is it?" He followed her gaze to the floor to see her pants at her ankles. Deanna shrugged, then bent to retrieve the offending garments,

"Don't you dare...." she began as she straightened. She didn't get any further before a wave of dizziness and nausea flowed over her. A soft gasp, slipped from her throat as her hands reached blindly for purchase on Will's chest.

"Going to be sick!" She whispered, swallowing repeatedly. Will stood still, and let her lean her forehead against his chest. He rested his hands on her shoulders then rubbed them slowly up and down her back.

"Easy...just breathe. Try not to move, Dee. Just concentrate on breathing. It'll pass. You stood up too fast. Take your time." After several minutes, Deanna raised her head. Her face was pale and a fine sheen of perspiration dotted her brow.

"Deanna you're very weak. We're not going to get out of here, if we can't stand on our own two feet. We'll need to be more careful from now on, okay?" Will said. His tone indicating the seriousness of the situation.

Deanna nodded slowly,

"I'll be all right." She pulled the oversized pants back up, then tore the side seam open about 6 inches down. She used the two raw ends to knot the waistband of the pants securely against her slender waist. There wasn't much she could do to tighten the fit of the tunic she wore other than to draw Will's sweater close and belt it. When their clothing was adjusted, Will sat heavily on the cot, trying to massage the aching tautness out of the muscles in both calves. Deanna curled up beside him, and lay her head on his shoulder.

"You know, there was a time when you'd have taken advantage of my pants being around my ankles." Deanna whispered, chuckling softly. Will smiled..." There was a day when YOU would have taken advantage of OUR pants being around our ankles." His laughter joined with hers, as the door opened again, and Therkel and his men strode inside.


"I'm so glad you're enjoying your stay with us, though I find your taste in accommodations somewhat unusual. On your feet! I've delayed long enough." Therkel nodded at the man to his right, who moved forward and pulled Deanna away from Will. Neither had a chance to protest before a hypospray hissed it's contents into Deanna's neck.

"Before we go, I wanted to give you a little something to, shall we say, relax you?." Therkel sneered down into Deanna's face and watched as the medication took effect. She swallowed, then swayed on her feet. her eyes taking on a glassy look. The man held her elbow, until Deanna steadied herself enough to jerk her elbow from his grip.

"What have you done to her? So help me you harm one hair on her head, I'll never show you anything." Will struggled out of his guard's hold and reached Deanna as as she swayed dizzily towards him. He held her close glaring at the provost,

"What did you give her?"

"Relax Riker. It won't harm her a bit, but your girlfriend will feel a little out of touch. It's a little something to keep her Betazoid skills on a leash. Now, let's get a move on." Therkel moved up to push Deanna toward the door, "I said now." He was finding it difficult to keep his temper in check. Seeing these two together added fuel to an already well stoked fire. Therkel's mood had become dangerously volatile at finding Will and Deanna laughing. As he reached to grab her arm, Will batted the intruding hand away.

"We're coming. Leave her alone." He ground out through clenched teeth.

Deanna put a hand on Will's chest.

"Will, don't provoke him further. I'm all right. Just dizzy....out of focus." The softness of her voice drew a concerned glance from Will. He looked down to see her eyes sheened with tears.

"I can't sense anything....not you, not them....nothing. I'm fine otherwise."

Will eased her closer,

"I'll get you out of here Deanna. You have my word."


Therkel spun on Will,

"Listen lover boy, if you know what is good for you, you'll take us to the chip now, or you and your girl friend will part company for a lot longer than either of you can count." He stepped back allowing Will and Deanna to walk past. Will kept his arm wrapped protectively around Deanna's shoulders as much for support as for his own comfort as they exited into the hall.

"Okay, where to?" Therkel stepped in front of the group, effectively stopping everyone.

"Your office." Will stood up to him toe to toe, glaring into Therkel's eyes, even as he leaned on Deanna for support.

"This had better not be a game Riker or it will be the last game you ever play." The provost leaned closer to him trying to learn more, he then nodded toward the door down the hall from where they were standing. "Lets move then."

The group stopped in front of the door as Therkel punched in an access code allowing the doors to open. He shoved Riker and Deanna into the room as the lights quickly came on. Will staggered, and Deanna slipped from his grasp to collide with a large desk just inside the door. A sharp gasp of pain brought Will to her side.

"I'mm ok...just give him what he wants." Deanna whispered.

"Well?" Therkel watched as Will scrutinized the room looking everything over carefully. When he didn't see the object he sought he asked,

"Where have you stored the evidence against my fiancee?"

The provost stood glaring at them

"Why? What could you possibly want with that?"

Will met his arrogant stare.

"You want the chip don't you?"

Therkel nodded at one of his men, who hesitated before going to a cupboard in the wall. The man looked back again to see if Therkel did indeed wnat him to open the cupboard. At the Provost's nod, he punched in a code releasing the lock. He left the door open, and stepped away from it. Deanna lurched to one side as the man passed her to avoid the hand that attempted to cup her bottom. Will grabbed the man and slammed him against the nearest wall, his legs nearly collapsing from the suddenness of the movement. The other guards stopped in midstep, intending to remove the prisoner from their comrade.

"No, stay back." Therkel snapped. He watched not Riker, but the woman, who stood beside the desk. Her eyes were half closed, and she looked ready to fall down. The meds he'd given her were affecting her more than he'd intended. No matter, this way she couldn't interfere. He turned to Riker, who had his man in a choke hold.

"Try that again, any of you, and I'll personally break you arm. Got that?" The man struggled to answer, but couldn't with Will's forearm pressing against his throat. Therkel answered for him.

"Dorance, I have warned you about fondling the prisoners. You are dismissed. Release him Riker." Will dropped his arm. "Report to Training." He turned his back on the man, not caring the the accused was pale and staring in disbelief.

"Trraining? Boss, I'm sorry. I slipped, it won't happen again, I swear." The man's voice carried a desperate quality. "Please sir, I have a wife."

Therkel waved the man away, noting as he did so that the others guards were carefully avoiding any glances in Deanna's direction.

"Okay, now prove to me you know what you're looking for and that this wasn't a complete waste of my time."

"What's training? Why was he so scared?" Will asked, crossing to where Deanna was standing, almost asleep on her feet.

Therkel stared at them,

"You don't need to know Riker, but I will tell you that he won't be of much use to his a ...marital sense of the word." He was about to protest the brutal punishment, after all the man had behaved rudely, but Deanna was an attractive woman.

Therkel shook his head.

"Don't get involved, you wouldn't want to end up the same way, would you?" Will felt a crawling sensation in his lower belly, at the message Therkel was suggesting. "No."

Will moved with Deanna over to the cupboard, taking no chances with her safety. He looked into the cupboard and easily found the chrono, and turned to show it to Deanna. Her glazed eyes barely focused on the piece. Will stopped and looked at her. "Deanna, are you okay?"

"Of course she get moving. what does that have to do with the chip?"

"The chip is embedded in the watch mechanism. "I think." Will said under his breath.

"Then take the chip out, if that is where it is." Therkel was losing his patience fast. "Just a minute, you promised that you didn't give her anything that would harm her. I want to make sure of it." Will leaned into Deanna and looked closely at the dark glazed eyes.

"Dee, are you okay?" She let her head fall back, and tried to focus on his face. At first she tried to speak, then nodded her head. Will crushed her to him and wrapped his arms around her lower back. Deanna didn't have the strength to hold him. She leaned closer, resting her cheek on his chest. Will slipped his hands around to her thighs and he slid his hands into her pockets, holding her to him.

"That is enough, unless you're willing to share her?" Therkel grinned hungrily.

Will glared,

"I need to know if she'll be alright or the deal's off."

"And I told you the drug is harmless, now if you want her to remain unharmed I strongly suggest you find the chip."

Therkel moved to stand on the other side of Deanna. Where he watched Will pry the glass cover off the time piece followed by the face. Therkel watched as the time piece was dismantled and a small chip fell from the body of the chrono to his desk. Will picked up the chip, and spotted the provost's computer. He kept an arm around Deanna and moved to the computer. He found a small aperture and placed the chip into it.

Will forced himself to smile triumphantly at the provost.

"Fine access the information." Therkel stood behind them.

Will accessed the terminal keypad and began entering words he thought Tom might have used as the password to access the chips secrets. Nothing worked. Finally after the fifth try, it became evident that Will didn't have the information needed to decode the data locked within the chip. Therkel swore aloud, and reached for the delicate Betazoid. Will caught the movement, and pulled her into his arms. Therkel and his men stared as the two prisoners shimmered in a pale blue sparkle, and disappeared.


Doctor Crusher stood with tricorder in hand anxiously waiting the beam in of her crewmates and friends. Finally, the eerie glow that occurs during a beam in began in the middle of the sickbay. Beverly quickly made her way to the couple, wasting no time in getting a preliminary reading. Will Riker stood holding on to Deanna Troi, her eyes were closed, and it appeared that Will was supporting her weight.

"Will, Deanna let's get you checked out." When Will remained holding on to the petite woman, Beverly stood close to him and took his arm, "Come on help me get her over to a biobed. Then you need to be checked over too." They made their way to the biobed where Beverly's staff waited. After gently easing Deanna up on the bed, Will nearly stood looking down into her face.

"Number One, it is good to see you." Picard warmly greeted his first officer. Will turned to see the genuine affection in his captain's expression. "You two gave us quite a scare. One I know I could have easily lived without." Beverly motioned them over to the next biobed. Will's legs ached more than he wanted to admit, each step caused pain he could barely tolerate. Without a word, Beverly and Picard each took an arm and helped support him for the last few steps when it became apparent that Will couldn't make it unassisted. Crusher quickly sheared off his trousers and began to examine his legs.

"Will, I'm going to need to sedate you to realign the breaks. Who treated you?"

Will turned to look at the other bed.

"Deanna. She didn't have much more than a mini knitter to work with. She did a hell of a job!"

Beverly nodded. "Yes she certainly did, or you'd be half dead from infection." She prepared a hypospray.

"Wait." Will put up a hand to block the injection." What about Deanna, how is she?" Will stretched to see past the medical personnel working near both beds. To Will it looked as thought she were unconscious and by the movement around her and the look on Doctor Selar's face, it was serious.

"I'm not sure yet. We're working on her. There are several compounds in her blood, most administered within the last 48 hours. In addition, she is dehydrated, emotionally and physically drained. Those things I can heal, it's the drugs in her system that have me concerned. They are wreaking havoc with her higher brain functions and causing a neurological shutdown. She's slowly slipping into a coma." Beverly paused, "Why would they give her something like that. I didn't read any of that in your system. You have traces of narcotics but I'm assuming they were given as pain relief?" Riker nodded his agreement of her assessment.

"When Therkel administered the last hypospray, he said it was to keep her Betazoid skills on a leash, or something like that." Will looked at the doctor, then back over to the woman that was to be his wife, "Will she be okay?"

Crusher patted his shoulder, "Selar is the best when it come to drug toxicity. She'll do everything she knows to do. Now you relax and lets get started on the legs."

Will grunted his assent, though unsatisfied with her answer. He knew full well he wouldn't get anything more until Beverly had definitive answers based upon Selar's assessment and the lab work that was already being done. He lay back on the bed and winced as the hypo hissed anesthetic into his neck.




Therkel paced like a caged animal on the planet below. The ship that would take him away from the mess into which he'd fallen was not scheduled to arrive for another five hours. Until then he needed a place to lay low. The chip was lost..lost to that damned Federation bastard Riker. Thomas Riker won was he supposed to know that Thomas would contact his twin? And the woman...a Betazoid! Leave it to her mind raping race to know that it wasn't her fdiancee that lay on the morgue table! Therkel felt the bitter acid of defeat eating at his gut. Somehow, someday he vowed revenge on Deanna troi, her "imzadi" and any other federation pig that got in his way. The only positive outcome was the certainty that no one would be able to access the info chip's database without Riker's password, and that had gone to the grave with him! Therkel turned and hefted a large black travel bag to his shoulder. His men would no doubt be lurking in the nearby caves awaiting further orders. He would wait with them and catch the transport ship off planet. He left the public house and headed down the crowded thoroughfare out of town.


Deanna Troi lay in a drug induced nightmare filled with images of Thomas and Will fighting. Meaty thuds from their large fists hitting one another turned her stomach. Therkel sat in the background, a naked version of herself draped over his lap. He fondled her openly, laughing at the two men who fought each other for her honor. ** No! Leave me alone, stop them, their killing each other**, she screamed in her dream. The images faded into a long, dimly lit tunnel. Therkel stood on one side, Picard on the other. They walked sedately along the hallway, boot heels echoing in the shadowed passageway.

**Please Captain, help me. He's trying to frame me for Will's murder. It isn't Will. I didn't do anything wrong! You have to believe me!** Deanna stared in horror as Picard turned to face her, raising an arm, a long slender finger pointing in accusation.**You are a murderer Troi. You killed my Number One. He loved you and you killed him.**

**No...No...It wasn't's Thomas. Please...It was Therkel..." Help me...HELP ME!!!!!!!***


Beverly Crusher bolted through sickbay on a dead run. The sound of Deanna's screams jolting her from the sound sleep she'd fallen into after Will's surgery. The night nurses and techs were just ahead as the hysterical shrieking continued.

" wasn't me! I love Will. He's alive! I didn't kill anyone. Thomas is dead! Not Will....oh gods...not Will." Crusher rounded the corner of the private room, finding Selar trying in vain to restrain the struggling Counselor.

"Deanna! It's me Beverly. It's all right, you're safe. Wake up...come on wake up." She turned to Selar who held the slim form of Deanna Troi firmly, but still unable to halt the flailing arms or stop her harsh sobs.

"What the hell happened? She was practically comatose three hours ago!" Crusher reached out and grasped her friend's shoulders. Between the two of them, she and Selar managed to get Troi onto her back on the bed and activate a restraining field. Deanna thrashed within the field, crying softly, whispering a litany of phrases professing her innocence and love for the commander who lay asleep in the next room.

Selar frowned,

"I believe that this is artificially induced narcosis. The drug that the Counselor was given is producing a hallucinogenic state. She will be unable to awaken until the drug has run it's course through her system. I regret to inform you that as of yet, I have been unable to determine the appropriate decontaminant with which we could eliminate the drug."

Crusher nodded, looking down at her friend who lay in the throes of psychic torture on the biobed before her.

"Let's wake the commander, maybe he can reach her." Crusher checked the controls above Deanna's bed. Selar frowned, but nodded and followed the doctor to Commander Riker's room.


Selar went to Riker's side with a hypospray ready as Crusher ran the tricorder over the prone man's form.

Beverly looked up as she approached,

"All of his biosigns are normal. I can't believe it, considering what he's gone through in the last couple of weeks. Go ahead and wake him."

The Vulcan administered the stimulant and moved to stand beside Beverly Crusher while she continued to monitor the bioreadings as Riker slowly began to regain consciousness. Crusher moved to his side as Will's eyes opened.

"Take it slowly Will. Can you hear me?"

Riker nodded, licking his lips and swallowing. his eyes opened and closed slowly as the medications took effect and his vision cleared.

"Yeah, I hear you Doc. How am I doing?" Riker's voice sounded hoarse. Crusher smiled,

"You are an amazing man Will Riker. Seems as if you're as storng as an ox. You're in excellent shape, even after what you went through. But...



Crusher sighed,

"But, I need you to help us with Deanna."

Will immediately struggled to sit up,

"Why? What's happened to her? Is she okay?"

Beverly held his shoulder firmly,

"Easy, Will. Deanna wasn't as fortunate....emotionally. Physically she's going to be fine. But the drugs Therkel administered to control her empathy were far too strong. The aftereffects of the overdose are causing hallucinations. I need you to try to break through to her and help her to feel safe. She seems to be reliving her arrest and imprisonment when she was accused of your death."

Will closed his eyes in painful regret,

"I need to see her."

Selar halted him in mid sentence,

"Sit still Commander, I will find an anti grav chair to take you to the counselor." Selar left to return moments later with the device. Moments later, Will sat safely ensconced in the AG. He led the way to the suite of private rooms at the rear of sickbay.

"I figure you've put Deanna in a private room, right?" He smiled a tired smile. Crusher nodded. "Beverly a lot of what happened is a result of my arrogance. Deanna told me about the fellowship."

Crusher frowned and looked down.

"They've revoked the fellowship Will." She said.

"Shit!" Will snarled..."It figures. Come on, let's get in and help Deanna. I'll break the news to her later when she's stronger."

They found the counselor still fighting against the restraining field, crying pitifully. She murmured frequently that she didn't kill the man she loved. Will sat still his chest tightening with each utterance. "Commander, you are in no way responsible for the counselor's dilemma. The one responsible is the person that administered the medications into her system. You must deal with this with a clear head if you are to help bring the counselor out of this state."

Will looked up at the Vulcan doctor, and nodded his understanding.

"I know Selar. But it won't be easy. I hurt her in a way that no one else would understand."

He moved closer to the bed, as Beverly stood ready to release the restraining field. Will spoke softly to Deanna, trying to clear his mind and reach her as she had taught him so long ago.


Back on the planet.....


Therkel entered the dark recesses of the cave with every sense heightened, every nerve ending alert and at attention. Silence greeted him, and a darkness so complete that he panicked for a few brief seconds while his mind grappled with the sudden blindness. Therkel slipped the travel bag from his shoulder, fumbling in the blackness for the clasp that opened the large equipment pouch. He knew that he'd find a plasma flare within the pouch, but still experienced several desperate moments until he activated it. The luminessence from the flare brought the cave's craggy walls into sharp relief, and once again Therkel found himself blinded; this time by whiteness. His eyes slammed shut against the glare, tearing up as he repeatedly tried to blink them open.

"So you's decided to join the ranks of the lowly, 'ave you?" The former Provost jumped and whirled, struggling to see the owner of the voice through his streaming eyes. When his vision cleared enough to see, he found Clavin, Barkin and the rest of his men ringing the dingy recesses of the main cave.

"Good you're all here. We have some time to kill before the transport arrives. Did you all retrieve your emergency packs? You'll be needing them if we have to make a run for it."

One of the larger men stood off to the side of the entrance as Therkel talked. As unobtrusively as he could,he moved behind the former provost to block the only exit. Therkel caught the movement out of the corner of his eye but took the action as a security action. Barkin stepped away from where he leaned nonchalantly against the wall at the back of the cave.

"Is that so? Well ye see, Boss. We've all been talking here while we waited for ye. And imagine our surprise when we found that with the chip gone, there will be nothing for us to go home with. Is that the way of it? We did all the dirty work and there's nothing for us now but to return home and face the real government?" The bitterness in the man's voice was becoming more and more pronounced as the futility of the situation dawned on him even as he spoke.

Therkel raised a hand, as the other grumbled and shifted their feet in the shadows. murmurs of "bastard, low life...murdering ass", filtered back to his ears. The mood in the cave was beginning to feel unpleasant. Ever the diplomat, Therkel attempted to soothe the ruffled feelings of his men.

"Settle down now. You know as well as I do that there is nothing more to be done here. We still have samples of the plant we can still market it, it's just going to take a little more time to get our selves situated that's all. Then we can take care of Riker and his Betazoid bitch."

The men looked at one another, shifting weapons and travel bags in a stealthy dance of preparation. Therkel sensed that things were quickly escalating out of his control. The faces surrounding him, masks of the men that had formerly done his bidding, without question. True their obedience came mostly out of fear of reprisals, but the knowledge of the bars of latinum each would recieve aided their motivation. The Ferengi alone laid out a deal that would have made each of them richer than any could have dreamed. Now, looking at their faces in the eery light of the flare, Therkel could feel the sweat of fear beginning to trickle down his neck as the group began closing in on him. The waiter from the restaurant stood close to Therkel. "I lost my job there, worked there for five years. I got fired when they found out what I did for you. Those Federation people know my name and it won't be long till they come hunting me and everyone else. You weren't expecting us to be here early were you Therkel? You thought you would leave us here to face it all."

Therkel tried to back away from the men, he looked around for a weapon, something he could threaten them with. Finally he reached around to the travel bags and toss out several of the bars of latinum the Ferengi had given him as an advance on the chip. The group swarmed around, each man trying to snatch up a bar. The offering did little more than feed the murderous mood of them men, they continued to move toward Therkel until his back collided with the massive wall of Barkin's chest and there was no where else for him to go. He watched stoically as the first blow fell, and felt the impact of the fist in his stomach, but after that he was conscious of a thunderous roaring, then he knew nothing else.



Sickbay gleamed in the dim light of ship's night. In a private room in the deepest recesses of the bay, Doctor's Selar and Crusher stood watching as Will Riker continued his attempt to reach Deanna's mind. Perspiration dotted his brow, his skin pale in the low light. They watched both patient's vitals carefully for any drastic change. Riker ached to hold Deanna's hand in his, as wave after wave of fear battered his thoughts. He had a strong sense of her in his mind, though so far she seemed unaware of his presence beside her. Deep anguish, and a sense of desperate loss brought tears to both their eyes. Selar nodded, drawing Crusher's attention to the tear streaked faces of both Riker and Troi. She laid a quiet hand on Riker's shoulders and closed her eyes. Crusher kicked herself mentally for not asking the Vulcan's telepathic assistance before she'd offered it herself. Moments passed with no sound save Troi's whimpered gasps of anguish. Once again Cusher looked for signs of improvement.

While the thrashing had become less; the bio readings from the Betazoid's diencephalon were erratic, fluctuating from too frequent high readings to sudden bottoming out of other levels on the graph. She itched to shake Will Riker and break the spell he'd slipped into. Instead, she watched as Selar broke contact, and turned away, her forehead creased with concern. Will remained oblivious to both doctors, as he fought to gain entrance into Deanna's thoughts.

Beverly moved around the bed, checked the readings over the biobed with the tricorder, a sudden drop in neurotransmitter activity drew her attention.

"Will, let's try again later, she's doing a little better, you can get some rest now."

Riker's eyes remained closed, his face a study in concentration. It seemed clear how deep his devotion ran for their counselor.

Beverly tried again,

"Will, you need to rest to recover. She is going to need you healthy."


Selar spoke just loud enough for Beverly's ears. Crusher turned to look at her colleague, then in the direction Selar pointed. The readings on the panel above the bed, changed rapidly as she watched. Neurotransmitter, and seratonin levels slipped closer to normal limits. Glucose, potassium and electrolytes read normal. Pulse, blood pressure, and heart rate stabilized, as Beverly looked at the figure on the bed. Deanna lay quietly, only her head moving slowly from side to side. The doctors watched for several minutes to see whether this change was a transition to something positive or more grave.

Will eased back from his tense posture, into the deep seat of the AG. He exhaled, and let his chin drop to his chest. His eyes stayed closed for long seconds. Beverly deactivated the restraining field as Troi suddenly went completely still. Color returned to her pale face.

Will immediately grasped the hand that lay quietly on the bed, and brought it gently to his lips. He held it there, finally opening his eyes to smile up at the CMO. Deanna slept peacefully now, an identical smile on her face. The three officers watched impatiently, each willing the woman on the bed, to open her eyes and grace them with the spark of life that seemed so uniquely Deanna.


After several moments of pensive silence, Selar slipped from the room. Beverly gently squeezed Will's shoulder,

"I'll never understand the relationship between you, but right now, I'm extremely glad that you have it." Crusher reached out and smoothed stray hairs from Deanna's forehead. "She may sleep for a bit. Now how about getting some rest yourself, commander?"

Will continued holding Deanna's hand,

"Not yet, Doc. Being near her is restful for me. I 'd like to stay a little longer." Crusher looked over his head at the readouts on the diagnostic array. Deanna's bioreadings continued to recover. Will's presence seemed to be offering the counselor a healing strength as well.

"Okay then, but not too late, okay?" She said, waiting until he nodded in response, straightened the blanket over Deanna's still form, then patted Will's back. She headed out the door, looking back to see Will still looking intently at the woman in front of him, holding her hand between his two larger ones.

After hearing the doors hiss closed Will eased himself from the AG to sit on the side of Deanna's bed. He touched the side of her face and ran a finger along her features.

"Sweetheart, I don't know what's in the future for us, or if you can ever trust me with your soul again, as I trust you with mine. But please, come back to me. I know that I've hurt you. But let me try to make it up to you." Deanna showed no response, neither to his voice or his touch. Will persisted, staring into her face, needing her to absolve him of the pain he caused her. He wanted more than her friendship but if she found it impossible to forgive him for what he said, he'd settle for that alone rather than live without her in his life. He'd felt the pain she felt when he asked her to stifle her empathy. Though he'd already suspected how much she'd been hurt, experiencing it while linked with her, stole his breath. it was the one and only area of true insecurity for Deanna. The pain and frustration of years of trying to make people trust and accept her, in spite of her abilities; of feeling as though she needed to be twice as good at everything she did, to prove herself as worthy as her full Betazoid counterparts were buried deep inside of her. His selfish and inconsiderate remark cut her to the quick. Will realized in those few moments that he touched her mind, that he was the only person that Deanna completely trusted to accept her for all that she was; he'd thrown that trust back into her face, in a split second of jealous anger and knew that he could be paying a very high price for that carelessness very soon.

The chrono chimed three when Alyssa Powell found him asleep in the AG, his head on the bed beside the counselor. Not having the heart to wake him, she went to a side cupboard and removed a fleece lap robe. The thick fabric would keep the chill from his shoulders while he slept. Will never stirred as she smoothed it into place. Alyssa smiled, lowered the lights and left the room.


Warm hands massaged his aching neck, strong fingers caressing his shoulders, finding each tender area with unerring skill, the sweet familiar music of her voice whispering that she would always love him. Will reached out and drew her to him, marveling at the way her body blossomed under his touch. They moved in desperate rhythm, as though seeking for some long denied relief from the tension within them. She murmured soft and low arching into the curve of his body. Those hands reaching, searching, grasping his shoulders now for support as her body bowed beneath him, they cried out in unison.

Will's breath came in gasps as he slowly pulled his eyes open, each small movement taking more strength and time than should have been needed. He realized that the heated moment of passion was a dream, when his eyes were finally open in the low lit room. He lay quiet, catching his breath, until a small sound from above him drew his head up. Will looked up from where his head rested on the bed's edge to find dark eyes watching him. He didn't speak, but instead found her hand still resting on his. He captured it gently within his own hands, allowing that small touch to reunite them. He tried hard to read Deanna's expression, her body language; frustration flared, he couldn't read much of anything. Oh, he could see that her eyes held affection for him, but there was also something else, it too seemed clear....regret. As that split second registered in his mind, a sense of fear like he'd never known filled his chest. Will Riker felt their fear of not knowing what their future would hold for the first time in their renewed relationship. On the heels of that fear, came a profound feeling of grief, shared grief, and then nothing.

"Will Riker, didn't I tell you last night to get some rest. You were here all night weren't you?" Beverly Crusher's voice broke the self imposed silence. She stood with hands on hips, just inside the door of the counselor's room. Seeing Deanna awake she moved immediately to the bedside with tricorder in hand. Crusher spent a few minutes studying Deanna's bioreadings.

"I take it back, your presence made a big difference in one patient. What exactly it did for the other, I'll know soon enough." She turned to him expecting to see a smug smile but instead found a serious, almost defeated look on his face.

"Okay mister, I want you back in bed now." She called for Alyssa Powell to escort him back to his bed.

"I want a complete diagnostic, everything, especially his legs, Alyssa." The nurse activated Riker's AG, and guided the chair from the room. Crusher stood with her mouth hanging open, amazed that Will hadn't voiced any complaints.

After Will had gone Beverly turned to Deanna,

"Hi there its good to see you back with us in every sense of the word. You're certainly much better today, but I don't know about Will." Crusher continued checking her patient over visually, now and then monitoring the readouts over the bed. Finally satisfied, Beverly turned to look at her friend, "Well Deanna, you haven't totally recovered , but these results and along with the new information we have concerning the drug you were injected with and the data from the last time you were examined in Sickbay should give us what we need to complete your treatment."

Crusher watched as tears formed, ready to slide down Deanna's cheeks. "What is it Deanna? Are you in pain? What's wrong?" Beverly sat on the bed beside her to wait for her response. The empath shook her head turning to face away from her friend. "Deanna, it's understandable for you to be a little off balance emotionally. you've been through alot. Try to relax, things are going to get better, I'll do my damnest to see to that. In the mean time you need to rest and let the people that love you care for you. Especially Will. Dee he spent the night sleeping in that chair. He said you needed him and he wouldn't be anywhere else but here with you. Gods you're so lucky. He really loves you. I see a wedding in the future or I'm not the chief medical officer on this ship."

To the doctor's confusion, the tears began to flow, "What is it, Deanna?" Once again Beverly got no response, except that her patient turned onto her side, and cried quietly. She rested a gentle hand on Troi's shoulder. "'s really all right. I won't press you now, but after you rest for awhile, Deanna. I'd like to help. Whatever is wrong, you can tell me. I'm your best friend remember?" Beverly looked over her shoulder as the day nurse started to come in with a breakfast tray.

"The Counselor isn't ready for breakfast just yet, Carol. Give her a little while." The nurse nodded, and turned on her heel, closing the door as she went. Beverly got up from the edge of Deanna's bed,

"Listen I want you to rest, if you don't or can't talk about it right now, we will talk later, after you rest for a while. That's an order counselor." Beverly leaned over to press a hypospray to Deanna's neck, but a slender hand held it away.

"Ok, no drugs, but sleep if you can. I'll send Carol in with some breakfast in an hour, all right?" A silent nod was the only response. Beverly watched for a few seconds until Deanna slowly closed her eyes. She left, and after a few brisk strides across the main bay, she strode into the room assigned to Will Riker.


He sat in a reclining chair, his injured legs elevated, submitting quietly to Selar's eexamination. "Okay, Will. Just what in the hell happened down there? What's going on between you and Deanna?" Doctor Selar raised her eyebrows at Crusher's audacity. Will Riker stared at his hands,

"I'm not certain that there's ANYTHING going on between Deanna and I any longer, Doc, and it's completely my fault."


Beverly looked at the misery in etched in his face and knew Will Riker believed everything he told her. She sat on the bed and watched as Selar continued with his examination, she stayed silent while activating an anti-inflammatory treatment. In a much softer tone she inquired, "What's going on with you two? You look devastated, and I just left Deanna in tears. Despite the fact that it's quite evident something is wrong, there's no doubt in my mind how much you two love each other."

"Maybe we can't sustain that kind of love. Maybe the bond we share is too intense for mere mortals. I don't know. But it seems we're destined to be miserable with or without each other." Will sat slouched into the chair, his elbow on the arm rest as his hand held the tousled head.


Eyebrows raised, Beverly looked at him in total disbelief. "Come on Riker, I don't believe that and neither do you. What in the world is going on with you. Did you tell her about the fellowship being revoked?"

Riker didn't look up at her, but continued staring down at his legs as Selar ran a tricorder over them to contemplating the results from the treatment. "No. I never got a chance to say anything, I just looked at her and I knew that she regretted everything about our relationship."


Selar stared at him openly, her dark eyebrows raised, "Commander may I ask on what you have based that presumption?"

"On Deanna. I know that look, I know what I saw in her eyes. It was regret." Will was beginning to lose patience with the two doctors.

"Commander would you like some advice in your endeavor to regain what you foresee as a lost romantic relationship with the counselor?" Selar stood up as she finished gathering her medical tools. Both Will and Beverly looked at her with varying degrees of surprise.

Riker mutely nodded.


"I suggest you speak honestly, with her, about your feelings and your bond." The Vulcan left the room without saying another word, leaving the other two occupants to stare after her.

"Will, I want to see you two happy, and frankly I don't see it happening if you don't get this worked out. What happened down there?"


Riker sighed, "I made a rude comment about her empathic abilities. We were trying to discuss our wedding, and she kept getting distracted by feelings of hostility from somewhere behind our table. I got frustrated because she kept turning around, interrupting our conversation. We had words over it during what should have been a very romantic meal at the resort."

Crusher nodded, "That is what the disagreement was about. The captain had her go over the events up until the time of your disappearance she would only say you had a disagreement. You must know that she would never stop loving you over that."

"Yes, I know she still cares for me. But will she ever entrust her heart to me again? You see Beverly I know that's her Achilles' heel. The one place she is vulnerable, and I attacked it." He rubbed his hand tiredly over his face, "If ever there was something I wish I could take back, that's it."

"Looks like you have some serious work cut out for you. We have a senior staff meeting with the captain in two hours. Get some rest, the Captain expects your presence there." Beverly Crusher hopped off the bed and helped Will back into it. He didn't protest, just shed his robe and lay back allowing her to cover him with the thin flannel blanket.

"Will, you need to get past your own guilt. Deanna is hurt, no doubt, but she's also very intelligent, very well adjusted, and very much in love with you. Don't sell yourself short, Riker. Deanna fought too long and too hard for your relationship, and I doubt that a thoughtless remark made in anger is going to change the way that she feels. Just give her some time...but don't wait too long."


Will tried his trademark grin, but it seemed to hold only a shadow of it's usual sparkle. "Why not Doc?"


Beverly nailed him with her direct blue gaze, "Because, Deanna knows her worth as a woman Will. She's not going to believe that you love her for herself, and not out of guilt, if it takes too long for you to figure it out."


Will swallowed the quick comeback he'd readied, knowing that Crusher was right. If he gave her too much time to think, all of the old barriers would be firmly in place, and Deanna would think he wanted her back out of guilt over his remark. He sighed and closed his eyes, and as he punched the pillow trying to get it comfortable under his aching head, Will concentrated on his love for Deanna, and sent his thoughts outward.

~~~~ I love YOU, imzadi....ALL of you.




Deanna cried quietly for a long time after Beverly slipped from her room. How could she possibly explain to Beverly or to anyone else, the terrifyingly empty feeling in her heart; the void left in the place where her trust in her imzadi once resided. Throughout their time together in the Provost's custody, Deanna somehow managed to suppress her hurt and betrayal, in order to help them both survive. Now that she and Will were home, and safe, all of her old doubts and insecurities came roaring back to life. She loved will Riker with every fiber of her being. Deanna was too intelligent to deny her feelings. She knew deep within that he was her destiny, that she wanted to have his children, to share her heart and to grow old with him. She'd thought that he wanted that too, that he had accepted her as not being completely human. Will had accepted her "alieness" from the start....or so she'd thought. And then came the night in the restaurant, when he'd demanded that she "turn off" her empathic sense.....Tears welled again at the memory of the wrenching jolt of pain at his words. It literally stole her breath. Deanna lay still, struggling to breathe, to clear her head, while keeping her empathic sense solidly shielded from anyone aboard. Her attention focused within, and gradually as she returned to rational thought, a hot wave of anger slowly began to replace the despair and hurt that Will's words had caused. How dare he treat her in such a way? He claimed to love her, to want to be with marry her? Well then he would have to get used to the idea that his fiancee wasn't human, and had heightened mental abilities. She could no more turn off those abilities than he could turn off his musical ability or even his ability or desire to be a leader. No...if Will Riker truly loved her...he'd need to prove the depth of that love for her both as a Betazoid, AND as an empath; not simply as the woman he claimed to love....when it was convenient for him. She would be away from the ship for a year fulfilling the Sagan, making theirs a long distance relationship, she would need to be sure before she left, that there was a future for them....or not.




Beverly Crusher stopped in to check on the counselor before sitting down to her own dinner. Deanna Troi was sound asleep. She had hoped to find her awake, and gently encourage her to move slowly in making any decision where Will Riker was concerned. **I suppose that I should be grateful, she does need to get as much rest as possible to fight of the residual effects of the drugs in her system. Crusher sighed aloud. It wasn't often that she thought of her best friend as anything other than just that, her friend. Deanna worked hard to make everyone around her feel comfortable with her Betazoid abilities. It was one of the things she worried about most. She and Beverly spent many nights sipping wine, and sharing their innermost anxieties. Now Crusher sat facing the bed thinking about what Will had confided to her. She felt certain that he and Deanna could get past the anger and hurt. Both were strong, capable and intelligent people, though both sometimes needed a good swift kick when it came to dealing with their relationship, and with each other. Crusher sighed, then stood to leave, stopping when she became aware that the counselor lay awake, watching her.

"Hi there, are you feeling better?" Beverly stood beside the bed, noting that Deanna's face was no longer clouded with restrained emotions. Deanna nearly smiled,

"Yes, a bit." Troi said, as she attempted to sit up. She never quite made it, but felt the doctors scolding look even before it was verbalized. Deanna laid back down into the comfort of the bed.

"I want you to relax a bit. There are some things I need to go over with you before you leave this bed." Beverly outlined the results from the examination and the steps she had already taken to counteract the effects of Therkel's drugs. "I don't believe that there will be any residual effects from them, however I expect you to take it slowly and adhere to your doctor's prescribed routine." Beverly towered over the bed to give the impression of a threat, "Understood?"

Deanna managed to keep a smile from appearing as she answered, "Yes Doctor".

"Good." Beverly hesitated a bit more then as if she couldn't make up her mind, she turned once more toward Deanna.

Troi sat up seeing the concern in her friend's eyes.

"Beverly, what is it? Is it Will, is he okay?"

Beverly moved closer to her friend.

"No, it isn't Will, he's doing just fine. No Deanna, it's something else. Will wanted to tell you himself, but he was given orders not to venture out of his bed until it was time to meet with the captain. I think you should have some time to yourself before the meeting."

Deanna's eyes widened, she could sense the news was not good, that Beverly was anxious and undecided about speaking to her concerning the matter.

"Beverly, please tell me. What is it?"

"Deanna, Fleet Command has rescinded the Sagan Fellowship."

Deanna's audible gasp flilled the room.

"What?! Why?" she said.

"I'm sorry Dee, but they decided shortly after you were indicted and held for Will's death." The captain and I went to bat for you, knowing full well that you were innocent," Beverly reached for her friend's hand, "But they were adamant."

Deanna sat rigid with shock, and disappointment. She was an innocent victim in this whole affair, and now her career, her spotless record would carry this blemish forever.

"This is wrong. I am a victim in this, as is Will, and....Thomas...oh gods, Beverly. Thomas DIED for the Fleet, to keep this drug out of enemy hands! And they repay us all by doing this?!" Her voice trailed off as her own personal disappointment kicked in. "I wanted that assignment. More than you could know!"


Crusher nodded, "I know. But I expect that they will change their minds once everything is brought out." She watched as the Betazoid looked down, disappointment furrowing her brow and sagging the shoulders. Deanna slid lower into the welcoming warmth of her bed,

"No, it doesn't matter now. I suppose that I should have expected this." Crusher watched her, trying to gauge the depth of her disappointment; wondering if perhaps Will should be here with Deanna now. Troi sensed that deep concern and shook her head, "Beverly, really I'm fine. How long until the meeting with the captain."


The physician grew pensive for a moment before answering, "A little longer than the captain anticipated. I think we need to talk Deanna." Crusher disappeared for several minutes then reappeared carrying a dinner tray. "I spoke with the captain. He has given us a bit more time." The doctor spread the food out on two plates, then sitting on the bed facing her patient, they began to eat, Beverly waited until she had seen that Deanna had finished the small amount of fruit and slice of bagel, before she began to talk in earnest to her friend. "Deanna, what is going on between you and Will?"

Deanna stopped cleaning up the tray to look across at Beverly and sighed deeply, letting the napkin and plate drop back on to the tray. "Will and I ....things are difficult, I guess our relationship hit a snag."

"And your giving up on it."


Deanna quickly flashed the doctor a meaningful look that may have kept others from continuing in that line, but did little to slow Beverly from what she had to say.

"Deanna, you waited how long for this relationship to gel, and now your giving up because you hit a snag!" Beverly stood up and removed the tray from the bed laying it on the small table near the door. She turned to the empath to look sternly at her, "Counselor, tell me how many relationships go without hitting a "snag"? How often is there a union between two people that has no difficulties? Is this how you counsel your patients, to turn their back on someone who loves them the minute things get rough?"

"Just a minute Doctor, you have no idea what went wrong, or how things went." Deanna's defense mechanism kept her from sensing that she was responding just as her friend had hoped. "You might understand that sometimes words said cannot be taken back, but it's different for me. As an empath, the memory and feel of those words cannot be so easily erased." Deanna began to soften, remembering Will's presence and the love he projected earlier, "Will said something, that hurt me in a way you couldn't possibly comprehend Beverly. And now, I don't know what to think of our relationship or our future together."

"I know. Earlier I jumped the commander about what was going on, he confided what had happened on the planet. Deanna you couldn't possibly punish him anymore than he is punishing himself. You mean more to him than I think you can begin to imagine. I've seen the commander come into sickbay with many serious wounds, but right now, this thing between you is causing him more pain than any of those near mortal injuries." Beverly left and returned with the counslor's uniform, helping her to dress. "Before we go to this meeting, I have one last think to say, then I'm done." She caught the raised eyebrows from the counselor. "Okay, I'm done for now. But for both your sakes, I think you should talk to him before you make any decisions about the relationship."

Deanna stood stiffly beside the bed, rank pins in hand, watching her best friend walk from the room. She knew instinctively that Beverly was right, but her heart told her differently. Will's gut reaction that night stabbed at the very deepest insecurity she possessed. He alone, of all of her friends and family, knew how important it was for her to be accepted for herself. He was the one person who loved her without reservation or resentment, until that second, when he demanded she "turn off her empathy for one night". A soft gasp and Deanna sat on the edge of the bed, her chest aching at the memory of the stabbing pain Will's words caused that night. Her breath began to hitch as she struggled to hold back tears of pain, and anguish at the thought of living her life with him, feeling awkward about using her empathic skills. Worse, would be not sharing her life with him at all; going back to empty quarters every evening, not having a home or children of her own, of growing old and living like her mother. Tears slipped down, unnoticed as gasping sobs broke from Deanna's chest. Outside her door, Beverly Crusher stood against the wall, labcoat in hand, crying , sharing her best friend's pain.



"So, we'll get started as soon as...." Picard began as the doors to the observation lounge opened allowing Beverly Crusher and Deanna Troi to enter. Both women looked upset, Troi's eyes seemed slightly reddened and puffy. They took their respective seats, Crusher to Picard's right, Troi to his left, beside Will Riker. Their eyes met, and Riker's dropped first. He knew full well why Deanna had been crying, and would have given his left arm, never to have spoken the words that caused her such pain. Crusher looked at him with sympathy radiating from her blue gaze.

"Doctor Crusher, Counselor's good to have my entire senior staff, back well and healthy. Deanna, how are you feeling?"


Deanna broke Will's gaze, and met the concerned eyes of the captain.

"I'm much better sir, thank you. I'm sorry to be late."

Picard waved her off,

"No need to apologize, Counselor, this is an informal meeting. Strictly to share what we've learned about the infochip, nothing more." Deanna smiled slightly,

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir." Her eyes darted once again to Riker's, Picard didn't miss the wistful expression in his counselor's eyes. What had happened? He leaned forward,

"Yes, well, it appears that the chip contains the formula, distillation protocols, and marketing strategies for a sort of longevity enhancer."

"A longevity enhancer? You mean a drug that could extend life?" Will Riker looked skeptical. "Why would Thomas get mixed up in something like that? It hardly seems like something to be killed for."

Picard nodded, with a hand raised in a "wait and I'll explain", gesture."Normally I would agree, but Mr. Data, has been able to break the code of the chip, and apparently there are some very serious side effects associated with this drug, which is why Starfleet banned it several years ago." Riker rested his elbows on the table.

"What did my brother give up his life for Captain, it had better be something worthwhile." This he said aloud; to himself, Will muttered, **damned good, because of I lose my relationship with Deanna over this drug, Therkel won't be safe anywhere in the universe.**


"Number One, one of the most serious side effects of the drug, is irreparable dementia. You see, the drug is addictive, and an aphrodisiac. A sort of "do-it-all drug". It enhances all of a person's abilities to heightened levels, but the effect is transient and temporary. Eventually the user becomes mentally unstable and vegetative, some become catatonic, others hopelessly insane."

Deanna leaned forward, "Why would anyone want such a drug? It seems far too risky for even casual use. I don't understand the value, or why someone would be willing to kill for it."

"It is actually quite simple, Counselor," Data interjected. He nodded at her questioning frown.

"You see, according to the information on the chip, both the Ferengi and the Romulans paid dearly for the right to market the drug. Lieutenant Riker discovered that they planned to seed the drinking water of their enemies, then sit back and wait for the affects. It would have taken less than a year to turn any one planet, or species into babbling idiots, then the Romulans or Ferengi could easily vanquish their enemies." Deanna sat staring openmouthed in shock, the CMO slammed a hand on the table.

"That would have been genocide! of all the..."

"Yes, Doctor," Data agreed, "precisely right. That is why Therkel kidnapped the Counselor and Commander Riker, and ultimately killed Lieutenant Riker. It is logical to assume that Therkel was himself addicted to the drug. It enhanced the rudimentary telepathic abilities that he possessed. His father was one quarter Betazoid, Counselor." The table buzzed with the shocked reactions of the remaining bridge crew. Picard allowed them time for brief discussions and then called the meeting back to order.

"I have additional news. It seems that Provost Therkel was found beaten to death in a cave just outside of the city. His men were arrested attempting to board a transport freighter, approximately four hours ago. Therefore, this incident, for all intents and over. Commander, Counselor, Starfleet has placed official commendations in both your records, and Deanna?"

Troi met his eyes,

"Yes, sir?" she said softly.

"I am truly sorry about the Sagan." Picard's voice was gentle. "It is unfair of them to assume your guilt or innocence before it was proven."


Deanna's eyes dropped to the table, stinging with tears of disappointment. "Thank you sir."

Murmurs of comfort and support filled the room. Will reached over and lay a gentle hand on her forearm. Deanna felt her eyes welling, and dropped her eyes to his hand. Picard and the others grew silent for a few seconds, then Picard got to his feet.

"That is all for now. You are dismissed." He looked to Riker and Troi, neither of whom moved as the rest of the senior staff, exited the room.

"Number One...take the rest of the day off, the Counselor as well. get some rest. I'm very proud of the way that the two of you handled yourselves down there. Fleet Command should be as well."

He left for the Bridge leaving the couple alone. Will tightened his grip slightly, as Deanna allowed her tears to fall for a few seconds.

"Deanna..." he began as she wiped her cheeks. "I'd like to come to your quarters if it's all right with you. I need to say some things that I think you need to hear." He sounded so desperate, so unlike himself that Deanna found herself unable to refuse.

"All right."

Will heard the note of hesitancy in her voice, and a slight withdrawal of her arm. "I'll need a few minutes to change...I'll come by in half an hour."

Deanna simply nodded, and got to her feet. Will watched as she left the lounge. When the doors closed behind her, he dropped his head into his hands. "Riker, how in the hell are you going to convince her that you love her for all that she is, and for all that she has helped you to become?" Will heard his voice as it echoed in the empty room. "How can I face losing her now. I can't stand the thought of my empty quarters. I want babies with her, a home all of it...but now? Hell, I hope she'll just talk to me." He got to his feet and walked out, heading for his quarters.


Will Riker pressed the chime on Deanna's door; something he hadn't done since they had become close again. He heard her soft response and slowly stepped inside. Glancing around the semi-darkened room, he found her looking out at the stars. Her comfortably modest sweater and slacks, gave him no clue as to her frame of mind. He felt adrift, off balance only then realizing that she held her mind and thoughts shielded from him. The absence of her in his thoughts leaving a hollow feeling where his heart used to be. Will swallowed hard around the lump in his throat, realizing just how deeply he had hurt her; knowing he had only an inkling of the depth of her pain, until she turned to face him. Will gasped at the haunted, insecurity on Deanna's face. The normally composed and unflappable counselor of the Enterprise looked as though she were shell shocked. She ran her eyes over him, watchful of his facial expressions and his every move. Deanna's dark eyes were huge in her pale face, and clouded with pain. He reached out and she flinched, almost as though she feared his touch.

"Hi." He said softly, his voice gruff with emotion. "Sorry I took so long. I couldn't seem to get anything done right this afternoon."

Deanna shook her head,

"Hi, how are you feeling. Beverly said you may still have problems with your legs over the next twenty four hours?" Deanna tried to sound casual as though as though nothing had happened that would cause her to doubt the man in front of her or her future with him. "You'll need to go slowly and ease back into active duty, maybe even take a....leave..."

She stopped herself, her voice shaky and worn with the emotions she was trying to quell. He would have a leave if they were going on a honeymoon. But now...things were strained between them, almost to the point of pain.

Will ignored the question. He couldn't pretend things were fine, that nothing had happened. This was crunch time. He had to bare his soul, make her understand. For once in his adult life, he couldn't go around what he wanted to say, and hope that she would figure out what he felt. She was good at that, knew him better than he knew himself; but not this time. No, he had to say the words and mean them. He needed to explain why he said what he had, and hope that he would be forgiven.

"Deanna, I wouldn't blame you if you threw me out of here, without hearing any of what I came here to say. I know that I acted like an ass. I was selfish, and inconsiderate of your feelings, as well as your empathic skills. But please...hear me out? I have so much that I need to say to you. Will you give me a chance?"

Deanna took a quick breath knowing, her eyes were filled with tears, how uncomfortable he was when she cried. There was no need to make this more difficult for either of them. Deanna knew that Will was being honest with her, completely so. His emotions were running so high, that even with her mind well shielded, they continually bled through. He felt her pain, and matched it with his own. Will would be an open book to her if she cared enough to do anything about it. For Deanna, at that moment it was a far more difficult choice than she could have imagined. What if she discovered that he wanted to let her down easy? What if he couldn't deal with her empathic abilities on a personal level in his own life? How would she go on? How could she possibly pick up the pieces of her tattered heart again? Still she knew that she had to way or the other.

"Will, I have spent the last several hours, trying to come to grips with what is now our reality. Your brother, your twin died. I loved Thomas, Will. Not as a lover, but as a dear friend. I haven't even begun to deal with his death; I was arrested and accused of murdering you....the man I loved with all of my heart and soul. I saw your body...though I was certain almost from the start that it wasn't you. I was given drugs, humiliated...all of it...why, because you wouldn't...or couldn't relinquish your own needs for the sake of" The pain her words caused, came through in Deanna's voice. It was low pitched and husky, her tears remained poised on her lids. "I don't know how to put this behind us, to trust you again. I am who I am...who I have always been. I have never hidden my abilities from you, and I thought that you had accepted me for all that I am. It hurt in ways you can't imagine when you said those words in the dining room. How? How could you say such a thing, and claim to love ME?"

Will couldn't move or speak as Deanna halted her tirade. There really was no defense for what he said. Anger is no excuse for hurting someone you love. They stood as strangers, meters apart physically, and lightyears apart emotionally.

"Dee, I'm so sorry. I should have listened, paid attention to and validated your feelings. I know better than to doubt you or to trivialize your skill. I know that if I had heeded your warning, Thomas might still be alive, and you and I would be planning our wedding before you left for Earth to accept the Sagan. I'm sorry about the Sagan Deanna. You deserve that fellowship now, as much as you did before this mess happened." He paused and dropped his eyes, to study an artifact on her table. "The Captain has submitted a formal complaint with Fleet Command that they issue a statement absolving you of any wrong doing. And, I put it in my report that had I listened to you, none of the events of the last few weeks would have taken place. I'm expecting some sort of reprimand...but I don't care. none of the professional side of things concerns me. It's you...only with you that I feel this all consuming need to set things right. I need you to know that I love you, all of you."

He tried to relax but couldn't, he tried to smile, but couldn't. Will knew without a doubt that she loved him, but would she still give him the opportunity to make it up to her, would she even consider marriage to him now. "I never meant what I said, you have to believe me. You entrusted your life to me down there, can you ever trust me again with your heart, your soul?"

The intensity of his eyes seemed to burn into Deanna's mind. She swallowed and attempted to speak, and failing, swallowed again.

"I don't know Will. I want to, but I don't know if I can." Deanna turned from his gaze and looked back out at the stars, unable to bear the pain in his eyes, and not wanting him to be confused by hers.

Will closed the distance between them and stood behind her, his breath in her hair as he whispered, "Please don't turn away, Imzadi. Can we try to go back to the lake before the dining room, before I spoke without thinking?"

Deanna shook her head, speaking just as softly,

"I don't know Will."

He placed his hand on her shoulders,

"Do you remember how incredible those days were, or have I completely erased even that." He gently moved his hands down her from her shoulders, fully conscious of the tense posture and trembling of her body. His hands continued running the length of her arms until coming to her wrists, then he wrapped her arms around her midriff, stopping only when he held her completely within his embrace. Will didn't speak, just continued to savor every moment of closeness as though it might me the last time he had the opportunity to hold her in his arms. He felt Deanna begin to relax and lean back against him,

"I love you imzadi." he whispered into her ear.

Deanna said nothing, and finally allowed herself to lower her barriers and sense him completely touching upon his thoughts and emotions. She closed her eyes and searched her own heart to find a direction in which to go. She opened her eyes to the reflection of the two of them. She knew then where her future lay.

"I don't remember much about the days on the lake, most likely because of the emotional stress, and the drugs. So much has happened since then." She turned her hands so that they rested on Will's arms and pulled them more firmly around her.

"I'm so sorry you lost those memories, Deanna, because they will live with me until I die. If you can find it in your heart to forgive me, I promise we'll make new memories...better ones."

He turned her to face him, and slipped his hands around her back and under her sweater to feel the silky softness of her skin. Deanna looked up into his eyes, seeing the sheen of unshed moisture, she raised her hands to cover his cheeks.

"I love you too, and yes...I forgive you." she said softly.

Deanna closed her eyes as Will lowered his mouth to hers. After several long passionate kisses he looked down at her,

"If you're willing, I think I might know a way to retrieve those lost memories."

Deanna frowned,

"What are you talking about?"

Will grinned slightly, a glint in his eyes,

"I have some memory retrieval techniques we can employ that may be helpful." She looked up at him seeing a smile finally working at the corners of his mouth. He bent to kiss her again, moving his hands in an intimate caress over her, as he felt her tears on his face, he pulled back again in concern to look at her,

Deanna whispered, "I think it's working. Kiss me again?" Will happily obliged, and when he finally released her lips, Deanna sighed,

"Yes, it's all coming back to me now."