By Clare Holborow
Captain Jean Luc Picard frowned as he watched his First Officer at work. There was something not quite right that he couldn't put his finger on. He had noticed how Will Riker had become less sociable over the last month. To begin with he had thought it was nothing, but now other people had began to wonder what had happened to his easy-going manner and joviality.
A week ago, Beverly Crusher had been pressuring him into talking with Will. She had been surprised at the shortness of his replies to any attempts at conversation and his general moodiness. And just an hour ago Geordi La Forge had been worried enough to make a comment to him. It was time to take action. He had hoped that Riker would have sorted out what ever the problem was, but it was obvious that he hadn't. Picard had hoped that his "Number One" would have voluntarily decided to talk to him, but that hadn't been the case. It wouldn't be long before the mysterious problem affected his performance as First Officer.
The Captain looked across from the doorway of his Ready Room at Will, who was sat - or rather sprawled in the Captain's chair with a horrible scowl on his face that would have held a tactical advantage if the Enterprise came across any enemies suddenly. Picard tugged on his uniform top. "Commander Riker, may I see you in my Ready Room?" He did not wait for a reply, or even an acknowledgement. Instead, he turned and walked back into the small room he often considered a welcome retreat from the bridge.
Riker had indeed followed his Captain, leaving Commander Data in charge of the bridge. "Yes, Sir?"
"Will, is everything all right?" He asked, using his first name to make it clear this wasn't a formal conversation.
"Yes, Sir." He refused to say more.
"I am always here if you need to talk." Picard insisted. He could hardly force the man to tell him whatever was bothering him.
"I'm fine." He insisted with a fake smile.
"Then you're dismissed." He had tried his best. This sort of thing was Deanna Troi's job. He made a mental note to talk to her as soon as he could.
Riker walked back on to the bridge. They all knew something was wrong. Beverly, Geordi, Picard, Guinan and even Data had tried to talk to him. But he had his pride - if nothing else he still had that. The only one who hadn't said anything was Troi. He was grateful for that.
The Captain found Deanna Troi in her office, her dark hair falling down around her uniformed shoulders, her appearance as immaculate as ever. He had never thought about how much more she would fit in just by wearing the standard uniform until Captain Jellico had forced her to do so during his horrific encounter with the Cardassians. She had always been an essential part of the crew, but he had to admit that people responded to her better now she wore the standard uniform.
The smile she gave him as he entered the room and sat down was surprisingly similar to the one he had received from Riker only minutes before. Fake, covering something up - the real feelings behind the smile.
"Counsellor, is everything all right?" He asked, concerned.
"Not really, Sir." She admitted, looking at the floor. "I have just broken up with Worf. It was not a mutual decision, but things will get back to normal soon."
"I'm sorry." He said immediately, although he had never understood what she and his Chief of Security had in common.
"It's for the best." She replied. Then she looked back at him. "What was it you came here for?" He rarely visited her office. It's Will, I'm worried about him. He hasn't been himself for a while now. He's irritable, snappy and moody. Have you noticed anything? I know you two are close."
She sighed. "I haven't seen as much of him recently as I used to. I have been very busy for some reason. Everyone seems to be making appointments, and I can't understand where all these problems have come from. If it continues I may have to request that you assign me an assistant."
He nodded, fully appreciating the job she dedicated herself to so wholeheartedly. Some officers took her for granted, but he would never do that. She had been the only one who could help him after the Borg had transformed him into Locutus. Beverly had healed his physical wounds, but the psychological ones were far worse. Without Deanna, he would not be the man he was now. After that there had been the kidnap and torture by the Cardassians. She had been strong enough to guide him back to mental stability again. He shuddered slightly at the two most horrific memories of his life, but then he turned his thoughts back to his First Officer. "Would you talk to Will for me? I'm sure he won't volunteer for an appointment, but an informal chat with him might give you some insight into his odd behaviour."
"Of course I will. I had no idea anything was wrong."
He could tell she was chastising herself for not noticing. "Deanna, you can't watch every single crew member every moment waiting for unusual behaviour." He smiled warmly, and left her alone again, wondering what could possibly be wrong with her Imzadi.
Deanna waited until Riker had finished bridge duty and had returned to his quarters. Hers was virtually next door, so she was able to ring his door chime seconds after he had entered the room.
He turned and said. "Come in." He was tired, and hoped whoever it was wouldn't stay long. He collapsed on the chair beside him, and looked to see who had entered the room.
"Counsellor." He acknowledged as she walked towards him. He could tell she was trying to get into his head, find out what was wrong. She was the last person he wanted to see, and constructed barriers in his mind to prevent her finding anything he didn't want her to find.
She searched his face with her ebony eyes, surprised at his barrier. He had always been someone she could read easily, but now she could only sense his tiredness and defensiveness. Both of which were evident from his dark expression. Something was very wrong.
"Will, I want to help you. Whatever it is, you can tell me." She was having trouble maintaining eye contact with him, which was extremely unnerving for her.
"There's nothing wrong." He shouted, causing her to move away from him slightly in surprise. "Why can't everyone just leave me alone. Especially you." He added.
Her eyes were watering. "What have I done?"
"What have you done?" His voice was growing louder, and she hoped no one in the corridor would overhear. "You and Thomas was bad enough, but at least I was able to console myself that he wouldn't stick around for long. Now it's you and Worf? Whatever happened to your insistance that colleagues shouldn't be involved?"
"Will...." She wanted to tell him that it was over between her and the Klingon, but he interrupted.
"I realise now it was just an excuse. You never really loved me, you just wanted to let me down gently. I must admit you had me fooled there for a while." He shouted accusingly.
She couldn't hold back her tears. "Imzadi.." She pleaded, wanting him to stop.
"Don't ever say that word to me again. You taught me what it means." He shook his head. "We never were Imzadi."
"Will, listen to me."
He stood up and wrenched her to her feet. For a moment she was frightened by the savage uncontrolled look in his eyes. "Just go." He yelled at her.
Realising that he was not in the mood to listen, she left, running the short distance to her own quarters. It was nearly a full hour before she stopped crying. To be rejected so harshly by one's Imzadi was unheard of on Betazed. It hurt, it hurt more than she could ever have imagined.
Deanna awoke the following morning, with last night's events fresh in her mind. She had to do something, and fast - or risk loosing Riker not just as her Imzadi but as her friend too. She still loved him, she knew that. She wasn't still in love with the Riker she had been involved with all those years ago, being with Tom had proved that. No, she was in love with the Will Riker as he was now. But somehow amongst all the pain and hurt he had been responsible for, she had never been able to trust that the same wouldn't happen again. She had thought her Imzadi had given up on them long ago. He had certainly displayed an enthusiastic effort to forget her and be with someone else.
It hadn't worked, of all the women he had met none had compared to Deanna. He had rejected each one when he realised that it was just lust, nothing more. Now that he was getting older he needed more than that. It had taken him a while to admit that to himself, but he did not have the courage to tell her about it. Yet he had still held the belief that she would wait for him, for them, for the right time for both of them.
All that had been shattered when she began seeing Worf. Riker had been unable to look at either of them, and felt physically sick when he saw them together, Worf enjoying what should have been, and once had been his. Slowly Worf had taken up more of her time until the only time Will could guarantee seeing her was on the bridge. Apparantly Deanna had no idea how he felt.
Will strolled out of his quarters, having decided that he needed to apologise for the night before. There was one way to make her understand how he felt about her.
He entered her quarters cautiously, hoping Worf hadn't stayed the night. The Klingon's presence would be the only thing that would stop him now.
"Hi Will." She said somewhat hesitantly, hoping he was in a better frame of mind than the previous night.
"Deanna." He said in a soft tone, calming her instantly. Her eyes were wide and he could tell she was trying to sense something. "I'm sorry." He said. "I was just angry. You have every right to be with whoever you want. I was the stupid fool who left you. I don't deserve you."
She took his hands and pulled him towards her, forcing him to sit down on the large sofa she was sat on. "I broke up with him yesterday. We just weren't right for each other."
"I'm sorry." He said, although his suddenly sparkling eyes belied his real feelings. He was only sorry that the break-up had caused her sorrow.
She sensed his symapthy for the pain she had suffered. "The problem is that I'm more upset about out argument last night than I am about losing Worf." She admitted.
"I shouldn't have pushed you away like that." He said. He did not mention what had caused him to want to apologise so soon. He tried to forget the horrible dream which he now considered as a warning to him. He had been standing on a clifftop with Deanna, and suddenly had the urge to push her over the edge. She fell, screaming his name. He realised too late the mistake he had made, and his screams joined hers. Then it was silent - he had heard the sickening thud as her body hit the rocks below. And he felt her death, as if a part of him had died. It had been enough to make him want to sort things out with her.
"I'm sorry too." She said. "I've been so insensitive. I can't understand why I didn't know how jealous you were. Things would have been different if I had."
"Let's not dwell on the past, and concentrate on the future." He replied with his characteristic grin that she had fallen in love with all those years ago.
"Have dinner with me tonight." He said.
She knew that he had missed all the time they used to spend together as friends, and she had too. Somehow it had not been appropriate to continue whilst she was seeing Worf. But now, they could continue, and if their relationship developed into something more, then she was quite happy with that. "It will be my pleasure." She smiled.
They continued talking, both happy that their friendship had survived the recent events that had nearly led them to hatred.
After about an hour Will realised that he was late for a meeting with the Captain. "I've got to go." He said, rising. "I'll see you later, Imzadi." He bent down to kiss her, a friendly gesture that they were both familiar with.
She smiled as he left the room, knowing that things would work out for the best. They were both in a position to be honest with each other, to express their feelings. She knew she was still in love with him, and he with her. This time she intended to take things slowly, it would be worth the wait in the end.
The problem was she wasn't sure she wanted to wait.