by Diane Bellomo
Lwaxana Troi stirred in her sleep on her palatial bed on Betazed, brows knit in disquiet known only to her subconscious. And then not five minutes after that, Lwaxana dragged herself out of sleep and shouted across light years, *Little One*!
Deanna Troi came completely awake in her bed on the *Enterprise*, jerking up hard, as if an electrical current had passed through her pillow. Sweating and trembling, she willed her heart to cease its hammering, even as hot tears squeezed their way past her tightly-shut lids. She knew nothing but the strongest emotion would enable her to reach her mother on Betazed, and she also knew that this nightmare was nothing new. What was new was the combination, which meant trouble for Troi. She covered her eyes with her hands and set to thinking stern thoughts to pull herself together. As her trembling eased and her heartbeat slowed, she risked a thought to Lwaxana, making very sure her mental barriers were firmly in place beforehand. *It's all right, Mother, I'm okay. I didn't mean to wake you. I'm sorry*.
Lwaxana chose to ignore the fact that her daughter was blocking her, fully intending to investigate further at first light.
*Deanna, oh baby, don't apologize. You can wake me anytime. Try to relax now and go back to sleep*. The whisper of her mother through Deanna's mind faded and was gone.
Troi filled her lungs and exhaled, too distracted to realize her mother had surrendered way too easily. She wiped her damp eyes on the sheet, twisted to plump up her pillow and lay back down - only to huff in frustration as her eyes refused to stay closed. She sat up, threw her legs over the side of the bed, and stood. Padding barefoot to the replicator, she asked for a mug of hot chocolate and sat down with it on the couch, curling her legs beneath her and holding the mug near her face to inhale the rich chocolate aroma. But instead of taking a drink, she began to weep salty tears into it. A moment later, she heard her comm unit beep faintly from across the room.
"Deanna, *Imzadi*? Are you all right?" Riker's voice pierced the hush, his concern bubbling up through every syllable.
It still surprised her when Will responded to her emotions, but she was grateful he had this night. She set the cool salty chocolate aside and coughed to clear her throat. "Yes, Will, I'm okay, but I feel I'm losing control, and you know how I hate that. I wake up crying, and now, *now* the very thing I *didn't* want to happen has happened: I've disturbed my mother."
It was the middle of the night, and Will knew by her voice that Deanna was exhausted and upset with herself. He decided he would risk repeating a suggestion he had already made. "Deanna, you and your mother have recently been through an awful lot. You learned you had a sister you never knew, and you had to meet her and lose her in the same breath. Your mother has finally been able to come to terms with Kestra's death, but she's also had seven years to be with her. You had no time, and you really haven't allowed yourself to grieve for her. Maybe it would help if you talked to Lwax--"
"NO," she said fiercely, stepping on the end of his sentence. "We've been through this, Will! It's *my* problem, not hers, and I will get through this myself!"
You could almost hear Riker backpedaling through the comm. "Okay, Deanna, okay."
* * *
Since a few days after she had learned about her older sister and the circumstances surrounding her death, Troi had been fighting a desire to place blame squarely on her mother and, of course, suppressing the resulting guilt. At the same time, she was ignoring her own grief. Professionally, she knew this was irrational, illogical and downright unhealthy, but she could not stop herself. In a closed environment such as a starship, it was often difficult for any ship's counselor to find an outlet for rampaging emotions. With Troi's Betazoid physiology playing further games with her psyche, she found herself quite between a rock and a hard place, with nowhere to turn but back inside.
Now this internalizing was generating pressure, and the pressure was doing what pressure always does: building to a grand explosion. During her waking hours, the internal battle had grown to merely a pounding ache in her head. Asleep, it had become pure hellfire and brimstone, affording her no unbroken night's sleep in many days, including this night when she had also broken her mother's sleep, and Will's as well.
* * *
"Will, would you mind. . ."
After all these years, he no longer needed her to finish. "I'm there."
Upon Riker's arrival seconds later, Troi surrendered entirely to her tears, and they flowed freely against Riker's robed shoulder. When she quieted to infrequent, muffled sobs, he spoke.
"Deanna, I'm going to say this again and again, until you hear me. Why don't you talk to your mother? You can't keep this up. You're tapped out, and it's affecting your ability to function normally. Do you think I'm the only one who's noticed? Have you been to see Beverly? How long's it been since you've had a proper night's sleep?"
Troi chuckled in spite of herself and felt the pressure ease just a little at his sincere concern for her. "Counseling the Counselor are you, Will?" But even though they were Imzadi, she just could not bring herself to explain what was going on, any more than she could explain it to Beverly. It was more of a pride thing than anything else. She did not want her peers to think she was unable to handle her own affairs, no matter how true it might be in this case. It occurred to her that they might simply care about her, the same as they had when she lost her empathic ability, but that still wasn't enough.
When it became clear Troi wasn't going to say anything more, Riker wrapped his arms around her and held her. Even after he felt her go limp in sleep, he kept his arms around her, straining his woefully inadequate Human mind to insure her an undisturbed slumber. Careful not to jostle her, he adjusted his big frame next to her on the couch, getting as comfortable as he could, preparing to stay there the rest of the night.
As Troi slept in his arms, Riker made a decision. He'd had it with her stubborn refusal to do what needed to be done. He was going to take some action towards her recovery before she killed herself with repression - and to hell with what she might think about it.
* * *
Troi went to Ten Forward immediately after her shift and took up a stool at the bar, as she had done the previous two evenings. Her body screamed crisis, from the uniform that was beginning to hang on her, to the puffy dark circles beneath her eyes. All of the senior officers were aware of the recent events in Troi's life and it was more than evident to even the casual observer that something was wrong, but aside from Riker's attempt, no one felt comfortable approaching her. Beverly Crusher made a report to the Captain, but Picard, too, was hesitant to engage her, trusting Troi to come to him when she was ready. They were all pretty much walking on eggs.
There *was* one person, however, who felt perfectly comfortable with this task, and she was already at her post, waiting for the inevitable, as if she had known from the start it would come to this. The lounge was empty at this early hour, save for a smattering of people at tables having a bite to eat.
"Hot fudge sundae again tonight, Counselor?" Guinan asked, gliding up from nowhere.
"Not tonight, Guinan. How about a Samarian Sunset? Real alcohol."
Guinan's left eyebrow shot up at this request, but she prepared the drink as ordered. She placed the glassful of clear liquid in front of Troi and gestured invitingly to her. Troi smiled and *pinged* the edge of the glass with her fingernail. Immediately, the crystal fluid transformed itself into a cascading "sunset" of reds, oranges, and yellows. She raised the glass, said a few Betazoid words of cheer, and downed most of it in two smooth swallows.
Guinan fixed her with a steady eye. "Is there anything on your mind, Counselor?"
"No." She avoided that stare, finishing the drink, asking for another, and twisting on the stool to gaze at the starfield beyond the huge window on the far side of the room. A few people wandered out of the lounge. Guinan made another Sunset and sent the riot of color down the glass herself. She leaned over the bar, handed Troi the drink and then stood back to observe her. Although Troi was drinking this one considerably slower than the one before, she was drinking at a steady pace. A few minutes after the glass was empty, Troi turned on the stool to face Guinan again. Her eyes did not quite make it back around at the same time as the rest of her.
"I would like another," she announced, her words slurring as she attempted unsuccessfully to focus on the gentle lines of the dark woman's face.
Guinan captured Deanna's black eyes with her own, giving her something to center on. "How about some dinner first, Counselor? Special tonight on Ensign Hostetter's great-great-grandmother's meatloaf. Just the thing."
"No, Guinan, just another Sunset, same as before." Knowing how she sounded, Troi struggled to maintain an image of sobriety and control, but she was too far beyond it to be very convincing. Without any other signal but this request, she carefully placed both elbows on the bar, put her face into her hands and came quietly apart.
"Ah, now that's my girl," Guinan said with satisfaction. She walked around the bar and gently eased Deanna off the stool and around to the little office beyond the bar, away from curious eyes. It was a small room, warmed by the light of at least a hundred oil candles, their spicy scent filling the air. Guinan carefully deposited Deanna in a chair, handed her a white cotton hankie, and took a seat directly across from her. She let Troi cry it out, and when it looked like she was coming back together, she spoke.
"Okay, Deanna, spill it. Why are you trying to get drunk and disrupt my nice quiet bar - nevermind the nice, quiet opinion the rest of the crew has of you?"
There was hesitation in Troi's manner, but somewhere behind the alcohol haze was the knowledge that this was exactly the therapy she needed. For the first time in a long time she allowed herself to think about her anger at her mother for Kestra's death. She coughed, sniffed and gave the hankie a twist, relief seeping into her body language. She leaned back in the chair, blowing out a mouthful of air, and looked up at the candles' reflective patterns on the ceiling, uncharacteristically slapping the little hankie against her thigh.
"Mother and I talked for hours after I learned about my sister. At first, I was simply relieved for her. Mother was finally able to share all the things about Kestra that she had been keeping from me for all these years. She told me so much it took me awhile to absorb it all.
"When I finally did take it all in, I couldn't stop thinking about that one particular moment when the dog was acting up and Kestra was having a hard time holding him. I realized I was thinking exactly what Mother had been thinking - that she should have been watching her more closely. Then I would catch myself and tell myself it was an accident! Guinan, I *know* it was an accident - I *saw* it - but I couldn't keep the thought at bay and then I couldn't stop the guilt. Then Mother would contact me to share something more about Kestra, which she is still doing. And I have to listen and pretend nothing is wrong!"
Relief fled as Deanna sat up sharply in the chair, her hands balled into fists in her lap, the hankie balled in there, too. She leaned forward and yelled thickly through fresh tears and an awful ache in her throat, pounding her thighs, "I am a trained psychologist. I am *Betazed*. I should be able to handle this, but I can't, *I can't*!"
"Whoa!" Guinan reached out and covered both fists with her warm hands, effectively stopping the pounding. "Deanna, look at you, listen to yourself. Do you really want to sacrifice your own health just to maintain a facade for your mother? I mean, we're talking Lwaxana Troi here, a woman who *had sex with a Ferengi* to get you guys out of a jam.
"Deanna, you must tell your mother what's been going on with you, before you end up in Doctor Crusher's rubber room holo simulation and your mother ends up with nothing but her memories and Mr. Homn." She paused to let her words sink in. "Hey, I think she can take a little honesty, especially from her daughter." Guinan brought her hands back into her own lap.
Troi blinked. Well, now, that made sense. Excellent sense. She had completely forgotten about DaiMon Tog and his twisted little fascination with Lwaxana, and what Lwaxana had done for she and Will. She almost laughed at how this small reminder suddenly made things clear. Lwaxana was a remarkable woman, and even though she could be an infuriating mother at times, she certainly deserved better than this, especially, as Guinan so succinctly pointed out, from her own daughter. She released the poor hankie, dried her eyes and took a deep breath.
"You know, you're right, but I suppose you knew that all along, didn't you?" Guinan just smiled. But even after all this, Deanna was still not quite ready to face the music of her mother. She cast about for an excuse.
"Well, Mother is on Betazed and the ship is not. . ."
"Perhaps she is not on Betazed."
Guinan stretched out and tapped the comm unit on her desk. A minute later the door hissed open and Lwaxana Troi stepped into the room.
"Oh, Little One," she whispered, holding her arms out to her surviving daughter. Deanna walked up to her mother and fell into her arms.
"Mother, this is unfair."
Lwaxana went straight to it. "No dear. Do you think I have not known what you've been going through, from the very second you began to blame me?"
Troi shuddered at her mother's straightforward words, but did not say anything. Guinan slipped from the room, leaving the two women alone.
"I don't know what I was I expecting from you, Deanna. I guess I thought your Starfleet training would override your personal feelings, but I was a fool to think that. You are my daughter, and I know how I would have reacted if my mother had told me what I told you. I know you've been in turmoil for weeks. You don't know how many times I wanted to tell you, but I was determined to let you work this out for yourself, knowing you would come to me if you needed to. But after the episode in the middle of the night, I knew better. It didn't matter that Will summoned me, I was already packing." She paused and held her daughter at arm's length. She sighed and went on, softening her tone. "I love you, Deanna, and I loved Kestra. I *was* watching her that day, but the dog. . ."
Something snapped in Troi at the mention of the dog, and without warning she exploded. "That stupid dog, Mother!" Troi shoved away from her mother, shouting. "Why didn't you let father take the dog? Why didn't you take the dog?" She stopped and took a huge breath.
"It wasn't the dog's fault, Mother, it was *your* fault!"
Deanna vaulted at Lwaxana, fists raised chest high, and began to beat her. Everything came out through her fists - all her suppressed thoughts about the accident: why it happened, who's fault it was, her anger at being robbed of a sister, her anger at Will for stepping in where he didn't belong, and every other piece of bitterness that had been festering inside of her for many weeks. Rage oozed from every pore and the loathing she projected telepathically caused sweat to break out along her hairline. She continued relentlessly pounding at her mother.
Lwaxana stood there and took the beating, both physically and mentally, her eyes dry. She let her daughter go until Deanna had completely exhausted herself, then took her wrists as she slowed and shook her, speaking with force.
"Deanna, you listen to me. I trusted that little dog without question. Marshall kept Kestra out of harm's way more times than I care to count. I had no reason to think it would be any different on that day, even though he was all worked up about some silly cat that was prowling the opposite bank. The poor boy had no idea he was leading her into something he could not save her from. It happened so fast. She slipped, she fell into the water, and she was gone, all in the blink of an eye. Ian had to drag Marsh from the water's edge, or he would have drowned right along with her.
"Afterwards, at home, Marshall was inconsolable. He whined and searched the house for her for days. He stopped eating. No amount of coaxing or forcing would bring him around and, believe me, we tried everything. He died in a matter of weeks."
Lwaxana now let her own tears glide down her face, hands still encircling Deanna's wrists, waiting. In the silence, Deanna found her voice and her understanding. "I didn't know that, Mother. Of all the things you told me, why didn't you ever tell me that?" She finished in barely a whisper.
Lwaxana released her hold as Deanna began to lower her arms. She fell against her mother again, allowing Lwaxana to fold her arms around her and stroke her ebony curls.
"Little One, the truth is, after Marshall died, I didn't think about him anymore. I still had you to take care of, Ian still had to go to work everyday, and life just had to go on, even though everything was so *hard* for me. And even after all we've talked about recently, I never gave him a single thought. When your nightmares began, I was afraid I was losing you, too. I could never bear that. You're all I have."
Lwaxana took a step back and cradled her daughter's face in her hands. Looking into her dark eyes, she saw her life reflected there - her husband, Kestra, and Deanna's own son, Ian Andrew, whom she never got to meet. "We're all we have for each other."
Lwaxana dropped her hands into her daughter's and paused a moment. Then she lifted one hand to run it across Deanna's forehead, drying the small beads of sweat still present there, smiling wearily. "It's good to have you back, Little One."
Deanna returned the weary smile. "I used to hate that nickname. Now I never want you to stop using it."
The door slid open and stayed open, revealing Guinan and Riker. They stepped into the room, filling the tiny space. Riker put his arms around the two Troi women, immediately aware that the cloud of despair had been lifted. Lwaxana smiled at him, patted his shoulder, and left the circle of his arms to join Guinan as she began to extinguish her candles.
"How about we go back to Ten Forward," Riker suggested, his grin lighting up the darkening room. "I still owe you my sorry rendition of 'Night Bird'!"
"We can also discuss your mother-hen tendencies," Deanna said sternly, but she raised up on her toes, kissed him lightly on the lips, and whispered, "Thank you, *Imzadi*."
They turned together into the corridor's beckoning light.