Eiralond
by antoa

Keywords: R/T Rating: PG-13
Feedback: Yes please! I live for feedback. Drop it here
Disclaimer: In the form of a really bad haiku -
Paramount owns them
If I did, they would have been
Hitched long, long ago

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Part 1

Bright. Blinding light. Reflex brought Riker's arm up to shield his eyes against the assault. As suddenly as it came it was gone, replaced by an all-consuming darkness.

Sickness. Spinning vertigo. Closing his eyes and placing his hands on his knees, Riker forced himself to take deep breaths. As his body began to calm again, a strange sensation washed over him. The darkness that had threatened to overtake him was gone, but something was wrong, very wrong. Using Betazoid techniques, he focused his mind, trying to calm the turmoil that was attempting to devour him.

What the hell is going on, thought Riker.

All he could remember was that he had been on an away mission on Hervegla VI. He was working crowd control when all hell broke loose.

And where is everybody?

Taking in his surroundings he found that he was now standing on the edge of a beach, and he was still wearing his Starfleet uniform. The calm blue water lazily lapped at the shore in front of him. Shining brightly in the sky, the sun's rays of heat were quickly dissipated by the gentle breeze that came off the lake. He suddenly realized he was at Lake El Nar on Betazed. The rest of the away team was nowhere in sight.

What could have happened to them? More importantly, what is happening to me?

His worries over his crewmates and his situation were quickly quelled by a reassuring warmth that washed over him.

Light and floating, a beautiful song reached Riker's ears.

"Hush little baby, don't say a word, Papa's going to buy you a mocking bird."

The woman's voice was calm and beautiful. Riker turned, searching for the source of the soothing song.

An exquisite old-fashioned, Victorian style house stood majestically before him. The large white porch, running the entire length of the bright yellow three-story house, made the house very welcoming and inviting.

Riker had never seen this beautiful house before, but the same strange sensation washed over him as he took in the scene before him. A vague sense of familiarity- maybe - he couldn't quite pinpoint exactly what it was.

The beautiful voice continued its song as Riker walked towards the house.

"And if that mocking bird don't sing, Papa's going to buy you a diamond ring."

A young woman was sitting in a swing on the porch. Her black hair fell in soft curls around her face and shoulders. Hanging from her slim shoulders was a simple blue sweater, and a pair of black slacks completed her ensemble. Her attention was focused on the small bundle that was in her arms. They gently swung back and forth as she sang quietly.

"And if that diamond ring turns to brass, Papa's going to buy you a looking glass."

She looked up at him as she finished the phrase, a beautiful smile brightening up her face. Although her smile was genuine, her crystal clear eyes told the story of an exhausted new mother.

I have never seen eyes so blue, Riker thought, they're bluer than mine even.

"I just got Andrew to sleep." The young woman stood up slowly and delicately placed the small bundle into the bassinet that is next to the swing. Turning towards Riker, she extends her hand.

"Come with me. I have to find mother."

Without knowing why, Riker took the offered hand and allowed the young woman to lead him across the porch to the house. As he stopped to look at the tiny sleeping form in the bassinet, he didn't even notice when the woman's hand slipped silently from his. Looking into the bassinet Riker reaches out his large hand to gently caress the baby's cheek, being careful not to wake him.

What a beautiful baby, he thought. Suddenly the strange sensation washed over him once again.

"Hush little baby, don't say a word, Papa's going to buy you a mocking bird."

There is that same song again.

Looking towards the house for the mysterious young woman, he realized that he was now alone on the large porch. Even the bassinet and the baby were gone.

What the hell is going on, he questioned once again. For a moment his mind spun with confusion. The confusion was quickly replaced by a sense of reassurance and peace.

"And if that mocking bird don't sing, Papa's going to buy you a diamond ring."

The song continued and Riker turned towards the new source of the serenade. The voice now belonged to a little girl who was no older than nine. She was on the walkway leading up to the house playing with a hovering skipping rope. The slap of the plastic rope against the stones kept a steady beat for her song. Dark shiny curls bounced around her shoulders every time the little girl expertly jumped over the rope.

"And if that diamond ring turns to brass, papa's going to buy you a looking glass."

The girl's game came to a sudden stop when she spotted Riker on the porch. A bright smile lit up her face as she ran to him at top speed.

"I can sing the song five times without missing a jump or getting tired. I'm hungry now though." Her blue eyes sparkled as the words tumbled from her mouth so quickly that Riker had a hard time understanding her.

He couldn't help but smile along with her. What a charming little girl, Riker thought. And she has the same beautiful blue eye as that young woman.

Slipping a small hand into his, she pulled him towards the house. "Come with me. I have to find Mom."

The little girl lead Riker trough the front entryway and into the large living room. The room was tastefully decorated. A dark green and blue couch sat along the wall with an oak coffee table in front of it. Opposite the couch there was a loveseat of the same color. A beautiful antique winged-back chair and an end table were situated at the far end of the room. The wall directly in front of him held a wood fireplace under a simple oak mantle that complemented the rich wood floor wonderfully. Sunlight from the large window over the couch filled the room with a warm glow.

As he looked around at his new surroundings, Riker's attention was drawn to a small holo sitting on the table at the other end of the room. Releasing the little girl's hand, he walked towards it, trying to see who was pictured. He got close enough to make out three figures in the holo before he senses were assaulted once again with that strange sensation.

"Hush little baby, don't say a word, Papa's going to buy you a mocking bird."

The young voice that began singing the song came from behind Riker. When he turned around he saw that the young girl was no longer with him, but an even younger girl around the age of four was sitting on the couch. The little girl gently rocked her doll back and forth as she sang to it.

"And if that mocking bird don't sing, Papa's going to buy to a diamond ring."

Riker was amazed that a girl so young could sing a song as well as this child did. The bright sunlight from the window illuminated the mop of dark curls on top of her head. She looked up and before Riker could say anything she placed a finger over her mouth.

"Shhh. The baby is sleeping." The little girl's clear blue eyes sparkled with the seriousness and innocence of a child playing. Carefully getting up off the couch, being careful not to disturb her doll, she placed it in the small cradle that sat on the floor.

She has those same blue eyes again, Riker realized. His questioning mind was quieted again as he watched this beautiful little girl walk up to him and place her tiny hand in his.

"Come with me. I have to find Mommy." Once again, he followed willingly.

The doorway next to the far end of the couch opened up into a smaller room. There was a couch against the opposite wall and a massive desk sat in front of the wall on the right.

"Mommy! Mommy!" The little girl yelled as she bounded towards the woman sitting behind the desk. Lifting her head from her the PADD she had been looking over, Deanna pulled the energetic child into a tight hug.

Riker froze. A barely whispered "Imzadi…" was all that managed to get past his lips.

"I found him mommy. I brought him back to you just like I said." The girl took her mother's hands and pulled. Deanna got up from behind the desk and walked towards the stunned Will Riker. Her dark eyes were sparkling with unshed tears.

"Hush little baby, don't say a word, Papa's going to buy you a mocking bird."

Her sweet voice filled Riker's senses. Something was different about her, but he couldn't put his finger on it. Then it hit him. As she sang her right hand absent-mindedly rubbed gentle circles on her slightly swollen abdomen. It was very clear that Deanna was at least seven months pregnant.

"And if that mocking bird don't sing, papa's going to buy you a diamond ring."

Taking Riker's hand, she placed it over her stomach and looked up at him with her most radiant smile. A slight flutter was felt under Riker's hand as another wave assaulted his senses. The dizzying confusion was too much for him to handle and he succumbed to the blackness.

Deanna's voice penetrated the darkness surrounding Riker. Soft beeps were now the accompaniment for Deanna's serenade.

"And if that diamond ring turns to brass, Papa's going to buy you a looking glass."

Opening his eyes, Riker pulled all the information together. He was now in sickbay on the Enterprise.

How in the universe did I get here, and what the hell happened? Frustration and confusion threatened to overwhelm him, but he calmed when he felt the soothing wave of comfort that Deanna sent over their link. He looked over to his left and saw her beautiful smiling face. She was sitting in a chair next to his biobed holding his hand against her rounded stomach. Another flutter was felt against his palm. Looking down at his hand and then back up to Deanna's beautiful face, his jaw dropped.

Deanna's silent laughter echoed inside his head. **Welcome home Imzadi,** she thought cast to him. **A lot has happened while you were gone. We have to talk.**

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Part 2
Six months earlier

Sitting at their usual table in Ten Forward, Will Riker and Deanna Troi stared intently at one another over a shared chocolate sundae. Their exchange was silent, punctuated by the occasional light laughter. Once in a while the First Officer would reach across the table and delicately caress a stray dark lock of hair, winding it around his finger. As far as the two of them were concerned, they were the only ones in the crowded room at that moment.

Dr. Beverly Crusher observed the couple from her spot at the bar. "That is just spooky sometimes," she said to no one in particular. Shaking her head, she turned back to the bartender.

"What is?" Guinan asked as she handed the doctor a mug of hot lemon tea.

"The way those two can have entire conversations without saying a word, even though neither of them are technically telepathic." Looking back at her friends, she took a small sip of her drink. "I'm not inferring that it's a bad thing." She sighed. " I guess I'm just a little jealous. If only I could have something that was even a half as special as what they have…" She trailed off, finishing her statement with a slight wave of her hand.

Guinan simply nodded. "You're not alone."

There was a pause in the couple's conversation and Deanna looked over at Beverly, indicating that she should join them.

Pulling up a chair she said, "Are you sure I'm not intruding? You guys looked like you were in a completely different world together." She smiled as she took her seat.

The couple beamed at each other once again. It was Deanna that responded. "Of course not Bev. We were just talking about the latest mission before us."

"So you two even talk about business telepathically?" Crusher smiled, an air of teasing in her voice. "Do you guys ever talk to each other aloud anymore?"

"Of course we do, thought casts are just easier when we have our mouths full," Riker said with his trademark grin, causing the two women to laugh.

It had only been just over three weeks since they had renewed their closer relationship, and they never tried to be subtle while they were together socially in public. By now, the entire ship was aware, and some had gained small fortunes in the various betting pools. Although the thought of their relationship being ship wide gossip didn't please the couple, they'd learned to accept it.

A comfortable silence fell over the trio, and Will's thoughts shifted back to the mission that was ahead. Sensing the shift in his emotions, Deanna raised a questioning eyebrow.

**I'm just thinking about the mission again** He gave her a reassuring smile.

Nodding, she took another bite of the dessert that sat between them. **It should just be a simple peace negotiation.**

Beverly's soft laughter brought the couple back to Ten Forward. "You two are doing it again, " she said before taking a sip of her tea. "Incorrigible, absolutely incorrigible."

Slight color crept into Deanna's cheeks. "Sorry Bev," she smiled. Waving her fork to indicate Riker, she continued. "Sometimes, we don't even realize that we're not speaking out loud."

"It's alright. I just wish that the connection you two share was a bit more commonplace." Beverly smiled at Riker's questioning look. "So I would at least have a slight chance of experiencing it."

With a wave of her hand she changed the subject. "What do you think about this mission?"

Riker answered her question. "It seems to be a fairly routine peace negotiation. The Perig and the Nahlu have been at war for centuries. The leaders of both sides are tired of fighting and want to pursue peace, so in steps the Federation flag ship," he said with a sense of familiarity bordering on redundancy.

Beverly nodded. "Pretty routine. I just hope there are no surprises."

<<Senior officers please report to the observation lounge.>>

At the request of the Captain, the trio stood in unison and headed towards the bridge, their dessert and drink forgotten.

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"The Perig are a monotheistic culture, believing in a single deity which they call Hodra. The Nahlu, on the other hand, are polytheistic, worshiping the many gods they believe exist within all things in nature. Though these two cultures are very different, they both fundamentally believed in a life of nonviolence and tolerance up until the outbreak of this war."

"Do we know the original cause of the hostility between them?" Picard interrupted Data's explanation of the two cultures.

"The exact catalyst the brought them to war is unclear, though currently it seems to be an issue of power and general ill feelings towards each other. Both sides view themselves as the superior culture on Hervegla VI."

Picard nodded. "It's strange how there is no explanation about how this war erupted when it only began two generations ago." He voiced the concern that was on everybody's mind.

There was a brief silence before Riker spoke. "It seems as though this might not be as cut and dry as we had originally thought."

Nodding again, Picard made a sound of agreement. "Very well. Number One, assemble an away team. You will be outside the negotiations controlling the crowd." The Captain turned his attention to Dr. Crusher. "Beverly, ready sick bay, just in case anything happens down there." Deanna was the next one to get his attention. "Counselor, you will be in the proceedings with me. Have you had any experience in reading the Perig and the Nahlu?"

"I have only come into contact with a handful of them," she tilted her head thoughtfully, "but they seem to be as easy to read as most humanoids."

"Very good." Picard nodded again. "Data, you will monitor everything from the bridge. Be ready to beam us up if anything happens. Number One, Counselor, we will meet in transporter room two at 0800 hours. Dismissed."

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**What do you think about asking the Captain to assign us larger quarters?** Deanna's question rang in Will's mind, never breaking the comfortable silence that sat between them.

After the briefing they had shared a wonderful meal with Picard and Dr. Crusher in the Captain's quarters. Currently, they were relaxing on Riker's couch, reviewing their notes on the mission. Riker's feet were propped up on the table. Deanna was curled up next to him, her bare feet tucked securely beneath his legs for warmth.

The Counselor set her data PADD down and stretched slowly. **Or maybe we can just combine our quarters.**

Riker never looked up from his PADD. **What brought this up?**

**I was just thinking about how we hardly ever use both quarters at the same time anymore. We're together every night. Why not so something to make things more convenient and simple?**

**Can we wait until this mission is over to discuss this?** His eyes remained focused on his notes.

Deanna felt his apprehension, though it was only a slight tickle on her empathic sense. Riker was getting better at shielding his emotions when he wanted to, a fact that was frustrating for the Counselor.

**Okay, we'll talk about it later.** She sent a wave of reassurance over the link causing Will to look up. He returned her warm smile and leaned over, lightly kissing her lips. Picking up her data PADD again, Deanna resumed reading.

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The next morning the away team beamed down to the planet surface, and the negotiations began without incident. During a break, Picard pulled Deanna aside to get her feelings about the situation.

"I sense no deception from either race, but there is something strange going on. I can't put my finger on it, but my sense of them is a little different than I remember. But as I said before, my exposure to the Perig and Nahlu is very limited, so it could be nothing." Deanna shook her head, trying to unscramble the bizarre feeling that swirled around her empathic sense.

Picard nodded curtly. "Very well, just keep me informed and let me know if you can get a better idea about what you sense."

Just then the chimes sounded, signaling the recommencement of the proceedings. The delegates from both sides made their way through the massive doors that lead to the inner room of the massive hall and took their places once again.

Outside the hall, the crowds that gathered remained calm and peaceful, as the Starfleet Officers stood ready and waiting for any sign of trouble. Will was stationed at the top of the steps at the entrance to the building. From his vantage point he could see the entire courtyard before him. He scanned the crowd, looking for anyone who might pose a threat, but he found nothing out of the ordinary. It was hard to believe that these were two groups of people that were at war with each other. The Perig were on one side of the courtyard, the Nahlu were one the other, and not so much as a slanderous word had passed between them.

Relaxing a little, Riker cleared his mind and sought out Deanna. **How are the negotiations going?**

**Quite smoothly actually,** she thought cast back to him. **It seems as though both sides would just be happy to put things back to the way they were before this war started.**

He felt her unease. **Then what's the problem?**

Sighing inwardly, Deanna tried to explain. **I'm just that my sense of them is just a bit off. I can't quite figure out what it is though.**

Will sent a wave of reassurance over the link, quelling her frustration. **Just relax and don't let it get you worked up. I am sure that you will figure out what it is.**

Deanna took a deep breath, allowing the calming effects of his emotions wash over her. **Thank you.** She turned her full attention back to the proceedings.

Suddenly all hell broke loose. Before Riker could react, the peaceful gathering erupted into an angry mob. The serene courtyard became a bloody battlefield in the blink of an eye. The abrupt chaos extended into the great hall. The peaceful negotiations turned into a barroom brawl as unarmed delegates were forced to use what ever they could get there hands onto.

Fleeing for the safety of the outer room, Picard grabbed the Counselor by the arm. Just as he was about to signal the ship to beam the away team out of there, Troi yanked her arm from his grasp, stopping dead in her tracks. Her face was ashen and her dark eyes were wide with unspeakable terror. A blood-curdling scream tore from her throat the instant before she crumbled to the floor.

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Part 3

Deanna awoke to the soft beeping of a biobed and the hushed voices of her best friend and the Captain.

"What should we tell her?" The concern was evident in Picard's voice.

"All that we know. With the connection those two share, I wouldn't be surprised if she knew more than we did."

Their conversation abruptly stopped when the biobed beeped quietly, signaling that Deanna was waking up. Dr Crusher moved quickly to her side, checking the readouts on the panel above her head.

"Welcome back." Beverly's smile didn't quite reach her eyes, and Deanna sensed her apprehension. "How are you feeling?"

Deanna swallowed, trying to clear her throat. When she spoke her voice was raspy and weak. "What happened to me? How long have I been out?"

The Counselor did not miss the look that passed between the doctor and the Captain. It was Beverly that finally spoke. "What do you remember?"

Closing her eyes, Deanna tried to focus her mind. "I remember the peace negotiations on Hervegla VI. Things were going really smoothly, but then something went wrong." She strained to put the fragmented images together. "Fighting broke out. The captain pulled me out of the hall and then… Oh Gods!" A sickening terror consumed her and she sat bolt up right, dry heaves wracking her small frame.

When the fit had subsided, Beverly was at her friend's side with a glass of water. Deanna took the offering with unsteady hands. "He's gone." Silent tears flowed unheeded down her pale cheeks.

p>Picard cleared his throat. "We are doing everything we can to find out what has happened to him. So far neither side is taking responsibility for his disappearance." Placing a comforting hand on her shoulder, he looked directly into the despair in her eyes. "We will find him." He exchanged another look with Beverly before making his exit.

The silent tears continued to fall. Crusher sat down next to her on the biobed and pulled her into a comforting embrace, helping to fight off the silent agony that threatened to overtake the Counselor. The two friends remained like that until Deanna ran out of tears.

"There is something else that you aren't telling me." It was not an accusation, just a simple statement.

"Yes, there is." The concern was evident on the doctor's face as she continued. "How have you been feeling lately?"

"What? Why?"

"I was hoping you would be able to tell me. Have you been tired at all?"

"Bev, why are you looking at me like that? I've been fine. Better than fine actually, ever since the Briar Patch."

"By your reaction to my questions I would presume that you don't know you're pregnant."

Deanna's eyes went wide as her hand shot up, covering her mouth in shock. It took a couple beats for her to recover her voice. "But how? It's impossible. Will and I are both on fertility inhibitors."

"The only thing I have been able to come up with is the Briar Patch. The effects must have somehow counteracted the inhibitors. Besides, it had been a while since either of you had come in for a boost." She ran a tricorder over Troi to double check the results. "You are just shy of a month pregnant, which would make the timing right for my theory. I have a feeling you're not the only one that was affected in this way."

Deanna remained motionless, the shock of her situation not quite tangible. Her entire reality was tossed aside and replaced by a hallow nightmare.

"Hey," Beverly placed a comforting hand in her friend's shoulder, "you are not alone. I am here, and we will find him." She returned her tricorder to her pocket. "There is no need to keep you here any longer. Why don't you return to your quarters and get some rest. I am sure the Captain would like your assistance as soon as you are feeling up to it."

Deanna stood slowly, accepting another comforting hug from her friend. "Come one, I'll walk you to your quarters."

The two women left sickbay and headed towards the turbo lift, silence clinging to them like a thick fog.

When they reached her door Beverly pulled Deanna into another embrace. "If you ever need anything, ever, you know where to find me."

Deanna nodded numbly. "Thanks Bev." Her voice was quiet, barely above a whisper. She watched as Crusher retreated down the corridor.

Turning towards her quarters, she raised her hand to the access panel. Instead of keying in the code to allow her access, it hovered in a moment of indecision. She looked to the door that lay directly next to hers. Dropping her hand with a sigh, Deanna walked to his quarters and deftly keyed in his access code. The door slid open in an eerie welcome. She stepped through. The door barely slid quietly closed behind her before she fell to her knees.

Empty. Her soul was a hollow void. The pain was unbearable. She shook uncontrollably, finally allowing herself to feel again. Panic overwhelmed her. She couldn't sense him at all. It was as if her soul had been savagely torn from her. Her mind was unable to focus enough to determine if he was alive or hurt or dead. Reality was a dizzying vortex.

p>Somehow she made her was to the bedroom and onto the bed. Fully clothed, she fell into a fitful sleep plagued with confusing, disjointed images.

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The next morning, after she finished her customary breakfast with Jean-Luc, Beverly Crusher went to check on her friend. When Deanna didn't respond to her door chime, Crusher called out, "Computer, location of Counselor Troi."

"Counselor Troi is currently located in Commander Riker's quarters," came the dutiful reply.

A sigh escaped her lips. "I should have known." She moved to the next door and tapped the chime. When there was no response, she tapped it again. After a few moments the door slid open and Beverly stepped through. "Deanna?"

A small figure emerged from the bedroom. Her normally immaculate hair was a tangled mass, her uniform was a crumpled mess. Deanna Troi looked like hell. She walked directly over to the replicator and ordered herself a hot chocolate, barely acknowledging her friend's presence in the room.

Beverly cleared her throat, trying to gain her attention. When Deanna didn't turn around, Beverly asked softly, "How are you feeling?"

Her hands shook as she retrieved her cup from the replicator. Closing her eyes and taking several deep breaths, she willed her herself to calm down. When her eyes opened again, the pain that Beverly saw reflected in them was so intense her breath caught in her throat. It was gone in the blink of an eye, replaced by an eerie calm.

"I'm fine." She sensed the doctor's incredulity. Looking at her directly she amended, "I'm better."

Crusher pulled her tricorder from her pocket and began scanning her patient, seamlessly slipping into her doctor role. "We should start you on a regimen of prenatal hyposprays. I really don't have much experience with Betazoid pregnancies, and since you are half human your pregnancy might not progress like a text book case." Beverly kept up her monologue while Deanna sat on her couch in silence staring into her cup of hot chocolate, her friend's words not quite reaching her.

She jumped when Beverly placed a hand on her shoulder, bringing her back to the moment. "Hey," she returned her tricorder to her pocket and sat down across from the Counselor, "do you think that you are feeling up to helping the Captain? We are at an impasse. Neither party is willing to take responsibility. Instinct tells us that they are telling the truth, but we need to know for sure so we can move on and figure out who is responsible."

"I want to help. I need to help." She rose from the couch. Looking down at herself, she realized the state she was in. "Just let me get cleaned up."

Twenty minutes later she emerged from the bedroom. Once again she was Commander Deanna Troi. After a quick hug between friends, the two women headed for the bridge. Deanna allowed her professional façade slip firmly into place.

=======================================

When they exited the turbo lift the Captain rose from his center seat. "Can I see you both in my ready room?"

Crusher and Troi fell into step behind Picard, allowing the door to slide shut behind them. Taking a seat, the Captain motioned for the two women to sit on the couch opposite him. Deanna's chin was held high, but her dark eyes seemed distant and unfocused. Once again his heart went out to the woman. He could only imagine the pain that she was going through, yet she still held herself together.

Picard cleared his throat before he began. "I am sure Dr. Crusher has kept you apprised of the situation." Her nod was barely perceptible. "We will be meeting with both the Perig and Nahlu in an hour. I'll understand is you don't think you will be up for it, but your empathic senses will be valuable in determining the truth behind this situation."

Deanna's gaze finally focused on Picard. The determination that suddenly flared in her dark eyes startled the Captain. "I will be fine. I need to help."

Picard nodded. "Very well. We will be meeting in transporter room three in one hour." He turned to Beverly. "I want you to join us as well. Dismissed."

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Part 4

"We have just enough time to go grab a bite to eat." Beverly's forced cheeriness fell flat in the confined space of the turbo lift.

"You can go ahead without me. I'm really not hungry." As if on cue Deanna's stomach let out a horrific growl.

Beverly raised an eyebrow and called out, "Deck ten, forward." She turned to Deanna, raising a hand to silence any objections that would be forthcoming. "Don't argue - doctor's orders."

The counselor swallowed her protest and accompanied her friend down the corridor that led to Ten Forward.

The lounge was just beginning to become busy with the early lunch crowd, but the buzz of conversation was minimal. The crew's concern for the ship's first officer hung thick in the air. Deanna could feel the pity and concern begin to be directed towards her as people began to notice her presence. The emotions crashed against her empathic senses in waves. Such powerful emotions aimed directly at her by a room full of people were a bit overwhelming. She faltered slightly before she was able to raise her shield to quell the onslaught.

"Are you all right?" Beverly rushed to her friend's side, but Deanna had already recovered.

"I'm fine." she didn't have to look at her friend to know that Beverly's face held a look of disbelief. "It was just a slight empathic overload. Let's find a table."

When the waiter returned with their orders Deanna simply continued to stare out the view port. Lost in thought, hand idly resting on her abdomen, she watched the stars dance and the beautiful blue and green planet roll lazily beneath the ship. The emptiness overwhelmed her and she called out with her mind, **Imzadi, where are you?** She held her breath for a response. Emptiness. Nothing but the same hallow void. A single tear slid down her porcelain cheek. She wiped it away quickly before turning to Beverly.

"How many people know about my condition?"

"Just you, me, and the Captain. Why?"

Deanna picked up her fork and began to push her salad around on the plate. "I just want to keep my personal life out of the ship-wide gossip pools as much as possible."

"Understandable. I can make house calls for any checkups that you require and I'll make sure your medical records cannot be accessed by anyone but myself." She reached across the table and placed a comforting hand on Deanna's. "We'll do everything we can to keep this under wraps for as long as you want us to."

Squeezing her friend's hand, Deanna attempted a forced smile. Unshed tears perched precariously causing her dark eyes to sparkle with a fathomless depth of sadness. She quickly swiped them away and lowered her eyes to her lunch. "Thank you."

The remainder of their meal was spent in companionable silence.

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The Enterprise away team, consisting of Captain Picard, counselor Troi and Dr. Crusher, beamed directly into the outer room of the great hall where the earlier negotiations had taken place. Counselor Troi immediately recognized the leaders of the two factions as they stepped forward to welcome the group. Nodding politely at their greeting, Deanna concentrated on the emotions of the two politicians. Absolutely none of the hostility remained in either of them. It was as if there had never been any tension between the two races.

"We are sorry about what has happened and we would like the Federation to know that they have the full cooperation of both the Perig and the Nahlu. We will do all that we can to help resolve this situation." The Perig leader spoke on behalf of both parties.

"The Federation thanks you for your assistance in investigating this matter." Captain Picard indicated the inner chamber with a wave of his hand. "Why don't we proceed?" The two leaders of the planet lead the way through the great doors.

While the Captain questioned the various members of both delegations, Troi focused on the various emotions that emanated from the individuals being questioned. She sensed worry, concern, confusion, but she sensed no deception, no hostility. Both sides were telling the truth - neither of them was behind the disappearance and no one knew who was responsible. As Picard questioned the final delegate a severe sense of hopelessness and loss caused her breath to catch in her throat. Her stoic, professional front never betrayed the turmoil that was churning within her.

When the inquiry was concluded the away team beamed back to the ship and convened in the observation lounge to discuss their findings. They were joined by the rest of the senior staff, Commander Riker's empty seat a painful visual reminder of the profound loss that permeated the air.

"The thing that seems strange was the utter lack of tension or hostility between the Perig and the Nahlu. I sensed none of the emotions one would expect between two warring peoples. This is surprising especially considering the fight that broke out at the negotiations. It's as if it never happened, like the entire war never happened." Deanna's frustration with the situation was increasing exponentially every time she attempted to sort out the empathic reading she received from the inhabitants of Hervegla IV. There was something more going on here than what was immediately perceived, that she was sure of, but she just couldn't put her finger on what it was. Her train of thought was interrupted by the COMM.

<<Bridge to Captain Picard.>>

"Picard here, go ahead."

<<We are getting some strange energy fluctuations emanating from just above the northern pole of the planet.>>

"On my way"

With a nod the meeting concluded. The senior officers followed the Captain on to the bridge and took their stations.

"Report Mr. Data."

The android's hand skimmed quickly over the consol. "The energy reading seems to be emanating from some sort of vessel."

"On screen." Standing, the Captain gave his uniform a sharp tug. "Why didn't the scanners pick up any vessel before this?"

"Unknown sir." Data's fingers continued to fly over the controls. "It is possible that it had been utilizing some sort of cloaking device up until the energy fluctuations occurred."

Deanna sat in her customary chair going over the readings that were displayed on her consol. A sudden wave of nausea washed over her almost causing her to pass out. She tried to center herself by taking long, deep breaths, but another, very familiar sensation pushed against her empathic senses.

"Will." Her voice was nothing more than a choked whisper.

Beverly turned to her friend. "Deanna, what is it? What's wrong?"

"Oh Gods," she stood and walked to the center of the bridge. "It's Will. He's on that ship." She faltered slightly and Picard grabbed her to steady her. "He's in terrible pain. I can sense him very clearly now. We have to help him!" She was becoming frantic, desperate. **Imzadi! I'm here. We will help you. Just don't give up.**

This time she received a faint response. **Deanna, Imzadi, please help. Make it stop. Pain. So much pain.**

It was all too much for Deanna to handle. Riker's pain and helplessness slammed against her until she could take it no longer. Captain Picard was quick enough to catch her before she hit the floor. Beverly was beside her friend in a flash, her tricorder in hand, gathering information.

The ship on the view screen suddenly radiated an intense blue light and then vanished.

"Mr. Data, what happened?"

"The readings indicate that the ship created a type of worm hole and then traveled through it."

"Is there anyway to follow it?"

"Negative sir, the worm hole closed in on itself after the ship passed through it."

"Jean Luc, I need to get her to sickbay immediately."

"Data, help Dr. Crusher get the Counselor to sickbay and then return to the bridge. We need to go over the readings from that ship and figure out where it has gone."

Data picked up the Counselor and carried her still form to sickbay. The entire length of the short trip Beverly called out orders over the COMM system, readying the medical team for their arrival.

=======================================

Deanna regained consciousness two hours later. She was consumed once more by the hollow void that filled her. Her Imzadi was torn from her yet again. Beverly kept her overnight for observation, but since there was nothing medically wrong with her, she released her to minimal active duty for the next two weeks.

==============================================================
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Part 5

The investigation into the disappearance of Commander Riker was tedious and slow. Within a week they had determined that the same beings that were responsible were also responsible for the outbreak of war on the planet. By utilizing a mind control technique, they were able to manufacture hostility between the Perig and the Nahlu. Who these beings were and why they caused the war and took Riker still eluded them. The Enterprise remained in orbit around Hervegla IV for two months heading up the investigation. It was becoming painfully obvious that they were at a dead end. Starfleet was growing impatient with Picard's requests to remain at the forefront of the search.

"Captain Picard," Admiral Blackwell's stern face filled the COMM screen in the Captain's ready room. "The Federation would be better served if her flagship was not tied up in a matter that could be handled by a small investigative team." Picard opened his mouth to protest, but was cut off as the Admiral continued. "I understand that you have a personal stake in this, but your investigation has been at an impasse for over a month. The investigation will still remain open. We've sent the USS Grant to take over. You are to proceed to Sector 21305. There have been some reports of possible Cardassian aggression that you are to look into and neutralize. Blackwell out."

Jean Luc Picard sat back in his chair and let out a heavy sigh.

=======================================
1 week later

Deanna Troi had just gotten off of her late evening bridge rotation. Entering her quarters, she immediately unfastened her constrictive uniform.

I really need to replicate a bigger uniform, she thought as she peeled the offending garments from her body.

Beginning her nightly routine, Troi stopped in front of her full-length mirror. She stood like that for several seconds simply staring at her reflection. Bringing a hand up to her face, she lightly ran her fingertips across the new lines that had formed under her eyes. Her focus then shifted to her torso. The first thing she noticed was how her breasts were becoming fuller.

Great, she thought wryly, just great.

Continuing on her path downward, she smoothed her hands over her abdomen. Her waist had thickened a bit and her stomach was just starting to round out. For the past few weeks she had been able to pass off the changes in her body as simple weight gain, but she knew that she was not going to be able to keep her secret for much longer. There were already some people whom she sensed were becoming suspicious, though no one dared to ask her about it directly. The morning sickness had thankfully been minimal so she had had no trouble hiding that. To keep her secret safe for as long as possible she had simply avoided being around fellow officers outside of her regular duties and appointments.

The only person's company that she welcomed was Beverly's. Twice a week before the Counselor's bridge duty, the Doctor would come to her quarters to administer a prenatal hypospray and get a quick scan with her tricorder. The two women would then have a light meal followed by some herbal tea. They would relax for an hour, talking about everything and nothing with Beverly doing most of the talking, of course. Deanna enjoyed their time together and she found herself looking forward to it more and more. It was one of the few times where she actually felt normal. Most of the time she felt like she was simply going through the motions. The hollow void that plagued her prevented her from doing anything beyond just existing. Her ability to perform her duties had not wavered, but her inner essence had been shattered almost past the point of repair.

Having concluded her inspection, Deanna went to her bedroom and pulled a roomy cotton nightgown over her head. She retrieved her brush form the bathroom and sat on her bed and proceeded to work the tangles out of her hair. The added hormones in her system had reversed the straightening process, causing her hair to curl up again so brushing through her hair had once again become a necessary task before she went to bed.

She was working through a particularly stubborn tangle when she felt a slight tickling on her empathic senses as if someone was in the room with her. Startled, she dropped her brush and called out, "Who's there?" When there was no response she tried a different route. "Computer, who is currently located in these quarters?"

"Commander Deanna Troi is the only person located in the specified quarters."

Deanna calmed her mind and attempted to quell her nerves. The sensation had disappeared and she once again sensed that she was alone. She put her brush away before crawling into bed and calling for the light to turn off. Soon she fell into an easy sleep.

=======================================

Deanna Troi was standing on the shore of Lake El-Nar, the slight breeze causing her hair and cotton nightgown to dance about her. On the wind was the faint scent of the sweet flowers of the Jalara Jungle. Wiggling her toes in the warm sand, Deanna looked out over the vast blue lake. An intense feeling of calm filled her empathic senses just before she felt a slight tug on the bottom of her nightgown. She looked down to see who was trying to get her attention and found herself lost in a pair of eyes as blue as the waters of the lake she stood before. The eyes belonged to a small cherubic face that was surrounded by a mass of dark curls. The little girl motioned for Deanna to come closer. Kneeling in the sand, she brought herself to the child's eyelevel.

"You lost him." The little girl stated matter-of-factly. She couldn't have been any more than three years old, but she spoke with an adult-like seriousness. "Don't worry, he'll come back. I promise." Her small hand reached up and brushed away a tear that had made its way down Deanna's cheek.

Joyous laughter filled the air and Troi turned around, searching for the source. On the beach behind her was an older girl building a sand castle. She was wearing a blue swimsuit and her dark curly hair was a tangled mess filled with sand.

Troi looked back to the little girl only to find that she was no longer there. The only thing that remained was the small footprints in the sand at her feet. Scanning the length of the beach, she tried to determine where the child had gone. Almost before it began, her concern for the small girl was quelled by that same feeling of peace that had bombarded her empathic senses earlier.

"Come help me build a sand castle!" The young girl tugged excitedly on Deanna's sleeve. Looking down into the bright smiling face of the young girl, Deanna became mesmerized by the pair of intense blue eyes that seemed to sparkle with delightful mischief. The persistent tug from the young girl continued until Deanna followed her over to the pile of pails and shovels.

The pair worked in silence until the massive structure was complete. As they stepped back to admire their creation, the young girl finally spoke. "You miss him terribly." A deep sadness was reflected in her blue eyes. "Don't worry, I'll bring him back to you." The sensation washed over her once again. Deanna closed her eyes, allowing the force to calm her.

A woman's voice brought Deanna back to awareness. "Do you have any sun protectant for the baby?" Opening her eyes, she was startled to find a young woman with a baby standing where the girl had been just moments before.

The woman's attention was focused on removing the handful of her dark curls that had found its way into the baby's fist. Her blue eyes shone with a deep love as she made soft cooing noises to calm the baby as it began to fuss. When the child had calmed down, the young woman shifted her attention back to Deanna. "Actually, I think I might have some in the bag. Can you hold Andrew while I check?" Before she had a chance to respond, Deanna found herself with a baby in her arms. The young woman knelt down in the sand and began rummaging around in the bag that had been slung over her shoulder.

"I understand how you feel right now, so lost and incomplete." She stood up again and her fathomless blue eyes locked with Deanna's. "I will find him, and I will bring him back to you. I swear." Gently, the young woman took the child from Deanna's arms.

"You may wake up now."

=======================================

Counselor Troi woke with a start, sitting bolt upright in bed. Someone else was in her quarters again. The presence she perceived was barely a whisper on her empathic sense, but she was certain she was not alone. A small gasp escaped her lips as a slight fluttering sensation made its way across her abdomen. She recognized the feeling from the morning of her brief pregnancy cause by an alien life form. The presence she was sensing was not of some intruder in her quarters. Reality slammed down upon her with such force that she could scarcely take a breath. It was then that her pregnancy finally became a reality and not just some distant dream. She could sense her child's presence and though it was only faint, she knew that it would only get more powerful as her pregnancy progressed.

Although it was only 0700 and she did not have an appointment for several hours, Counselor Troi was far too restless to sleep any longer. Tossing her blanket aside, she got out of bed and began her morning routine. After her brief sonic shower she avoided putting on her constricting uniform until the last possible moment. Sitting at her table in her pink satin dressing robe, she read over her appointments for the day as she finished up her breakfast.

This was the morning when she finally lost the battle with her uniform. She was showing just enough that the fabric was no longer able to stretch over her expanding midsection. With a frustrated sigh she tossed the offending garment into her closet and stepped up to her replicator.

Wearing her crisp new uniform, Deanna Troi studied her reflection in her full-length mirror. She had been planning on getting her standard one piece uniform just slightly larger to compensate for her increased size, but after taking her new measurements, the computer made a different suggestion. The overly helpful measurement system compared her new specs to her former ones, put two and two together, and offered to replicate her a more comfortable alternative that was often worn by pregnant crewmembers. After much consideration she decided that it would be more practical, not to mention comfortable, to wear that uniform. She was fooling herself if she thought she would be able to keep her secret any longer.

The new uniform was much more flattering and had more room to comfortably move in. The slacks were cut a little looser and the tunic was slightly longer and flared over her hips. It still had the standard gray shoulders and blue undershirt that indicated her place in the medical field. To wear this style uniform was to announce to the entire ship that she was pregnant. She would not make any sort of official announcement, but she would no longer be able to deny anything if anyone directly asked her.

=======================================


The months passed and there was still no break in the search for Commander Riker. Five months after his disappearance the case was deemed unsolvable and the investigation was halted. The day Commander Deanna Troi received notification of the halt in the investigation was the day she was forced to admit to herself that her Imzadi was not coming home, and that she would have to raise their child alone. As long as the federation had still been searching, she still had hope. That last part of her soul that was clinging to that hope finally died away and despite the growing life within her, she had never felt more alone.

==============================================================
==============================================================

Part 6

In the weeks that followed Counselor Deanna Troi's life settled into an equilibrium of normalcy. Her time was mostly filled with appointments and bridge duties. The Enterprise was on a routine mapping mission so the stress level on the ship was relatively low. The small amount of off-duty time she afforded herself was spent in her quarters reading or sharing a meal and conversation with Beverly.

Sitting in her quarters, the Counselor mulled over her notes from a particularly interesting and enlightening session with Lt. Hetherington. Her feet were propped up on the small table in front of her, her boots removed a long time ago. A small cup of steaming hot chocolate was propped precariously on her rounded stomach, her left hand preventing it from tipping while her right held her data PADD. She could feel herself at the edge of an epiphany involving this patient when her thoughts were interrupted by the COMM.

<<Picard to Counselor Troi>>

"Troi here," she stifled her sigh of frustration.

<<Please report to my ready room.>>

"I'm on my way." When the COMM channel closed Deanna let out a groan of frustration at the thought of having to put her boots back on her feet.

Stepping into the Captain's ready room, the first thing that Counselor Troi noted was the interesting myriad of emotions she was sensing from both Beverly and Picard. On the immediate surface there was the typical worry and concern, but underneath she sensed relief and a hint of elation and joy.

"May I get you anything to drink Counselor?"

"No thank you, Captain. I'm fine." At the Captain's indication Troi took a seat next to the Doctor.

A small, almost imperceptive look passed between the doctor and the captain before he began to speak. "We have received a sub-space communication from Starbase 42. A few days ago during the night watch a comatose individual suddenly appeared in the station's sickbay. No transporter trace was left and no one outside of the normal medical staff was reported in the area at the time."

Another look passed between the pair and Beverly continued. "The patient was in bad shape - extensive bruising, extreme dehydration and malnutrition, but the team was able to get his vitals stable, though he still remains in a coma. Through DNA tests there were also able to make a positive identification."

Realization slowly began to push through Deanna's conscious mind. A gasp of surprise caught in her throat as her hands flew up to cover her mouth. Her black eyes shone with barely restrained tears as they met Beverly's and asked the silent question. The doctor's slight nod was all that was needed for the first tear to make it's way down her cheek.

Picard continued in a soft tone. "We have already set course to Starbase 42. Our ETA is approximately nineteen hours. There will be a short briefing at 1100 hours. Until then, I suggest you return to your quarters and get some rest."

=======================================

Deanna Troi was restless, unsettled. Pacing her quarters, she desperately wished to find her center and calm her nerves. Five hours had passed since her meeting with the Captain and although ship's night had already begun, she was still unable to capture that rest that had so successfully eluded her all evening.

"Troi to Crusher."

There was barely a pause before she received her answer. <<Crusher here. What is it Deanna?>>

"I can't seem to get any sleep. I was thinking about heading to Ten Forward for some chocolate and I could use some company."

<<Sure Deanna, I'll swing by your quarters in about ten minutes. Crusher out.>>

Although it was ship's night, it was still early enough for a slight crowd to be gathered in Ten Forward. Crewmembers were relaxing, unwinding from the day shift by having a drink with their friends. Small clusters of people were scattered throughout the lounge, their conversations muted. The air seemed light and worry-free.

Beverly and Deanna found an empty table and ordered a round of chocolate sundaes from a passing waiter.

Sensing that Deanna just needed the company, Beverly kept up an easy chatter talking about her work in sickbay and the latest play she was putting together. For her part, Deanna simply nodded occasionally to let Beverly know that she was still paying attention to the extremely lop-sided conversation. Her chocolate ritual was performed automatically, without thought.

When Beverly eventually ran out of topics of conversation, the two sat in silence. Deanna stared out at the stars streaming past at warp speed as she once again tried to relax and center herself. Her meditation efforts were interrupted when the baby shifted slightly and then kicked her sharply in the side. Startled by the sudden movement, Troi let out a yelp and her hand flew to her stomach.

"Are you all right?" Dr. Beverly was already reaching for the tricorder in her pocket.

Deanna raised a hand to stop her. "I'm fine. That was the first time she's kicked me with any force and it just surprised me a bit."

"That's understandable. I nearly jumped out of my skin the first time Wesley kicked me that hard. I was so excited that I immediately sent out a communiqué to Jack to tell him about it. He had been so disappointed that he hadn't been there, but I assured him that there were many more milestones to come and they would be a lot more exciting." Beverly placed her hand over Deanna's. "Just like there will be many memories and firsts that you will be able to share with Will. He is back and he is alive and I plan on keeping him that way. I promise you that as soon as he is in my sickbay I will do everything in my power to figure out what has happened to him." A small smile spread across her face. "He has got so much to live for Dea, and I know he will fight this."

A tear forged a trail down her cheek and in a shaky voice she replied. "Once again my world has been completely turned on its end. I no longer know which way is up. I had just begun to tread water again after his disappearance. Just when I had finally figured out which way was up everything is flipped again. Finally I had accepted that he was gone, I was beginning to feel like I could handle life again, alone. Suddenly he's returned and I am drowning once more." The silent tears were falling freely down her face and she made no move to wipe them away. "I don't know how much more I can take, how much longer I can be strong."

Beverly rose from her chair and pulled her best friend into a hug. "You don't have to be, you never had to be." She pulled back and met Deanna's eyes. "We have a big day tomorrow. Do you think you can get some rest now? I can give you something light to help you sleep that won't affect the baby."

"I think I will actually take you up on that offer."

"Good. We'll make a stop at sickbay on the way to your quarters."

=======================================

Counselor Troi awoke the next morning more relaxed. The morning hours were spent deep in a meditation ritual trying to center herself and free her mind. At first it seemed as though the minute she began reaching the meditative state, the baby would shift and break her concentration. She had never been so easily distracted, but she tried not to let her frustration build and compound her problems. Instead, she shifted her focal point for her meditations from the melodic Betazoid chant to the almost rhythmic movements of the life within her.

When Beverly arrived at her quarters at 1045 hours Deanna was in a considerably calmer state of mind than she had been the previous night. After a quick scan from the doctor's medical tricorder, the two headed to the observation lounge for the morning's briefing.

The last to arrive, Troi and Crusher took their respective chairs around the table. When everyone was settled the Captain indicated to Data, who had taken over the duties of the First Officer since Riker's disappearance, to begin the meeting.

"Currently very little is known about the events surrounding the disappearance and subsequent reappearance of Commander Riker. Commander LaForge and I have been analyzing the data gathered from the mysterious ship that was cloaked above Hervegla VI. From the energy readings that were recorded before the ship disappeared we have determined that it utilizes a propulsion system not unlike our warp drive." Data moved to the screen behind him and called up some images to further illustrate their findings. "The creation of the worm hole though leads us to the conclusion that this species is in some ways technologically superior to the Federation. They also seem to have the ability to manipulate the thoughts of humanoids as witnessed on Hervegla IV. Their motivations behind causing the war on that planet as well as their motivations for kidnapping Commander Riker are still unclear. We have speculated however, based on Commander Riker's current medical condition, that they are interested in testing and observing humanoid behavior and responses." Taking his seat again he nodded to Dr. Crusher to begin her report.

"When Riker appeared on Starbase 42 he was severely dehydrated and malnourished. There was extensive bruising on his arms, legs and torso. Two ribs were broken and his left lung was punctured. Brain scans revealed minor anomalies mostly in the form of chemical imbalances possibly as a result of mind probing and thought manipulation." Taking a deep breath she looked to Troi whose face was surprisingly calm and impassive, before continuing. "The medical team was able to get him stabilized and his vital signs are strong, though he still remains unconscious. After I examine him myself I will determine a course of action. I don't think I would want to attempt to revive him prematurely because of the unusual brain activity."

"Thank you Doctor." Picard leaned forward slightly in his chair. "Data, what is our current ETA?"

"Approximately forty three minutes, sir."

"Very well. Dr. Crusher, Counselor Troi, you will be accompanying me to the Starbase. We will meet in transporter room three when we arrive at our destination. In the mean time, I will be in my ready room. Data, you have the bridge. Dismissed."

=======================================

The Enterprise away team was greeted in the Starbase transporter room by two individuals. A tall, regal human female with light brown eyes and chestnut hair stepped forward and addressed the group.

"Greetings Captain Picard. I am Captain Ilianna Raatko and this is my Chief Medical Officer Dr. t'Srawpt." She indicated the short, squirrelly humanoid male from a species called the Bretissians that stood next to her. His short purple hair, typical of his race, stuck out from his head at every imaginable angle. Intense green eyes regarded the away team as he inclined his head in greeting.

The trio stepped down from the transporter pad as Picard acknowledged their hosts. "Captain, Doctor, this is my CMO Dr. Beverly Crusher and ship's counselor Deanna Troi."

Polite handshakes were exchanged, but the usual pleasantries were kept short. "Well, I am sure you are all anxious to see the patient. Dr. t'Srawpt, please lead the way."

During the walk to sickbay the two doctors kept up a continuous dialogue about the latest developments in Commander Riker's condition while the captains discussed the circumstances revolving around his mysterious reappearance. Counselor Troi was the only one who remained silent, focusing her thoughts inward, desperately holding on to that thin string of calm and balance.

When they arrived at sickbay it was quite and calm, the minimal activity was centered around a biobed in the far corner. The technician stepped aside and Deanna's breath caught in her throat. Even though he was unconscious, her pull to him was overwhelming. Walking ahead of the group she made her way to his side. Afraid to touch him, afraid she would break the illusion, wake up from her dream, her trembling hand hovered over his forehead. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath and opened up her mind, expanding her senses. There he was, her sense of him was faint, but undeniable. Finally convinced that this wasn't a dream, Deanna let her trembling hand brush tentatively over his forehead smoothing away a stray lock of hair. When he stirred slightly at her touch she let out a breath that she hadn't even realized she was holding.

"Unbelievable." Dr. t'Srawpt whispered as he swept past the group to check the readings on the biobed. "He has not moved on his own since he arrived here."

Captain Raatko observed the two officers for a beat longer before turning back to Captain Picard and Dr. Crusher. "She's a Betazoid." It was more a statement than a question. "But that still should not have been possible, Commander Riker is human." Her gaze returned to the biobed in the corner and realization hit her at warp speed. "He must be the father of her baby then." Her voice was barely above a whisper, but she still saw the nod of confirmation from Dr. Crusher out of the corner of her eye.

=======================================

Six days had passed since Commander Riker had been beamed up from the Starbase and settled into a private room in Enterprise's sickbay and there was still no change in his condition.

Deanna kept up a vigil by his side alternately trying to reach him through their link and talking to him about the mundane day-to-day ship happenings that occurred while he was gone. She only left when Beverly forced her to get some rest in her own cabin or when the good doctor dragged her to Ten Forward for something to eat and to take a break.

Sitting in her usual spot next to his biobed, Deanna was in deep meditation trying to contact her Imzadi when the baby gave her another sharp kick in her side, breaking her concentration. She rubbed her hand over the location of the kick and was rewarded with another jab. Reaching for Riker's hand, she placed it on her abdomen where her hand had just been. As the baby continued to stir an old Earth melody that her father used to sing to her enter her mind and she began to sing softly.

"Hush little baby, don't say a word, Papa's going to buy you a mocking bird. And if that mocking bird don't sing, Papa's going to buy you a diamond ring. And if that diamond ring turns to brass, Papa's going to buy you a looking glass." Wonderful memories form her childhood came rushing back to her. Trying to remember the next line of the lullaby she practically jumped out of her skin when she felt the almost imperceptible movement of Will's hand on her stomach. Her sense of him gradually shifted and intensified as he struggled back into consciousness. Finally his eyes fluttered open and she immediately felt a wave of frustration and confusion. Sending her comfort and strength through their bond, she finally felt him relax. Her smile lit up her face as he slowly turned his head towards her. As if on cue, the baby kicked her again causing Will to look down at his hand and then slowly back up into Deanna's eyes. His jaw dropped and Deanna couldn't help the soft laughter she sent echoing in his head.

**Welcome home Imzadi,** she thought cast to him. **A lot has happened while you were gone. We have to talk.**

==============================================================
==============================================================
Part 7

Three days had passed since Will Riker woke up and Deanna still had not had a chance to sit down with him and discuss the baby and their future together. The doctors kept him busy with physical therapy and there always seemed to be at least one member of the medical staff in the room making it impossible for the two of them to have any sort of personal conversation.

Deanna had resumed her normal duties though her appointment schedule was kept light so that she may spend as much time with Will as was possible. When they were together they talked mostly of the mundane events of each other's day, carefully avoiding any subject involving the events that had transpired while he was gone. Deanna could sense that some vague and frightening memories of his imprisonment had slowly begun surfacing, but she also sensed that he was still unable to articulate these disjointed images. She just hoped that he would talk about it when he was ready. What worried her most though was the mental block he had placed up around him, intentionally keeping himself distant from her. She tried to look past it, but the distance was getting to great to ignore. They had to talk soon before the distance became insurmountable.

Riker made wonderful progress and was released to his quarters on the fourth day. Deanna came off of her bridge shift to find Will packing up his belongings.

"Finally drove the sickbay staff crazy enough to get yourself kicked out." Deanna stood in the doorway of his private room, a playful smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.

Will looked up from his task, startled by her presence. "I still am not cleared for duty, but at least I can sleep in my own bed and be without people constantly hovering over me."

Not knowing how to interpret his last statement, her sense of him still vague because of the blocks he kept firmly in place, she simply nodded. Deanna was getting frustrated, but she did not let her frustration show. He had a lot to deal with and her vague sense of him was enough to let her know that he was on the edge and he really did not need to be pushed off the cliff right now.

"Would you like me to walk with you to your quarters? I could make you some dinner." Off his look, she amended her last statement. "OK, I could replicate you some dinner."

His shrug was noncommittal. "Sure, why not." He snapped his case closed and slung it over his shoulder. "After you." The grand gesture he made towards the door was over the top and a bit forced.

Exiting out of the turbo lift, the pair fell into step, Deanna's short legs moving twice as quickly just to keep up. A few feet from Riker's quarters Deanna stopped suddenly stifling a cry of pain. Hunched over, one hand instinctively shot to her abdomen the other one steadied herself against the bulkhead. Riker was instantly back by her side.

"Are you all right?"

Taking a few breaths to steady herself before straightening up again, she nodded. "Yes, I'm fine. Either she just kicked me really hard or that was my first Braxton-Hicks contraction." Her hand smoothed over her stomach. "At my last appointment Beverly warned me that I might start experiencing some of those."

Riker suddenly felt as though he was caught in a haze somewhere between dream and reality. "She?" Deanna looked up at him in confusion. "You said that she kicked you. It's a girl?"

Troi immediately felt the strange shift in Riker's emotions and there was no denying the raising sense of panic within him. The only response she could manage was a slight nod.

Will quickly became overwhelmed. He closed his eyes to try and calm himself, but all he saw was the little girl from his dream. A dream that he had forgotten about, pushed it to the back of his mind. Shaking his head sharply to rid himself of the image, he finally opened his eyes again only to be met with a tear-filled pair of the most beautiful obsidian eyes he had ever known. In that instant Riker knew that he had let his guard slip and that Deanna had felt his panic.

He opened his mouth to apologize, but instead he said, "I'm really exhausted, I think I am going to call it a night." And with that he keyed in his access code and let to door slide shut behind him, leaving a bewildered Troi alone in the crowded hallway.

=======================================

"I understand where he is coming from Bev, but I can't help the incredible ache that I feel here." She pressed her hand against her heart.

After a fitful night alone in her quarters Deanna was in sickbay for her scheduled checkup. When she had arrived Beverly immediately become concerned for her friend. Although her hair and uniform were their usual immaculate selves, the weariness and exhaustion were evident in her face and posture. Without saying a word Dr, Crusher led her over to a biobed and pulled out her tricorder. Frowning at the results of her initial scan, that was when she began to pry information out of Troi. With only a minimal amount of initial resistance Deanna quietly recounted the incident in the corridor.

"After he has had some time to adjust to the situation, I am sure he will come around." Beverly placed a comforting hand on her friend's shoulder. "And when he does, you two will talk things out and the air will be cleared."

"I just can't share your optimism, Bev. You didn't feel the overwhelming sense of panic that overcame him when I began talking about the baby." Slowly shaking her head dejectedly, she let out a deep sigh. "It wasn't the sort of apprehension one feels when thrust into a new and strange situation; it was the panic one feels when facing certain death." A shudder ran through her body.

"Dea, we both know that the physical scars are easy to heal, but the mental ones could be with him for a long time. No one even knows the extent of the damage to his psyche, not even Riker himself. He doesn't remember most of what happened to him." Pulling out her tricorder, she once again ran it over her patient. "Now, how about we take a look at this baby?"

Troi laid back on the biobed as Dr. Crusher positioned the imaging scanner over her abdomen. A soft blue light emanated from the device and soon a three dimensional image of the baby appeared on the monitor above Deanna's head.

"The baby looks very healthy. She's a little smaller than the average human at this stage, but that could be because Betazoid babies are typically smaller." She helped Deanna back up into a sitting position so that she could see the image herself.

Troi's face lit up with a smile as she ran her fingers over the image of her child. "It just still doesn't seem real sometimes Bev."

"I know exactly what you mean." Beverly's own smile was soon replaced by the stern look of a doctor. "You need to start taking care of yourself. Your cervix has thinned considerably since your last exam. I insist that you to take the day off and go get some rest."

"But Bev -"

Raising a hand to silence her, "No 'buts' about it Dea. Do I have to make it an official order?"

Deanna shook her head in resignation. "No, I'll cooperate."

"Good." A small smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. "I will give you something to help you sleep."

Deanna remained sitting on the edge of the biobed as Dr. Crusher went to retrieve a hypospray. Beverly returned just as the door to sickbay opened and Will Riker walked in. Her attention immediately drawn to the room's new occupant, Troi barely heard what Beverly was telling her.

"This should take effect in about twenty minutes. I want to you come back tomorrow for another exam and if things have not gotten worse I will let you return to duty." Realizing her patient's attention was no longer focused on her, Beverly followed Deanna's gaze to find Will staring at the image on the screen above the biobed. She cleared her throat causing the two to jump. "Well, I will let the physical therapist know that you are here Will." With a nod she left quickly.

Will dropped his gaze and shifted his weight uncomfortably from one foot to the other. "Is everything all right?"

"Everything is fine. Beverly is just being overly cautious." She hopped off the biobed and smoothed out her uniform tunic.

His eyes once again locked with hers as an uncharacteristically uncomfortable silence followed. Finally it was Will that ended their silent standoff; he tore his eyes from hers and swallowed audibly. "Well, I have an appointment." And with that he turned and headed for the physical therapy room.

Troi barely made it into her quarters before she began to feel the effect of Dr. Crusher's hypo. Crawling into bed with her uniform still on, she quickly fell into an easy, dreamless sleep.

=======================================

Crimson red. Blood was everywhere. Riker chocked back a sob as he cradled her dying body in his arms. He had been powerless against their attackers, there had just been too many of them. She had held her own fighting next to him, but she didn't see the knife until it was too late. A soundless scream shook her as the cold metal tore deeply through her flesh. Rushing to her side, Riker was only half aware that their attackers had disappeared. Her breath was shallow, uneven and her pulse faint. He gathered her close, pressing his lips to her forehead, repeating his words like a mantra.

"Hold on Imzadi, please. Don't leave me."

For a moment the life seemed to return to her eyes as she turned her head towards him. **Imzadi** was heard softly in his head before the light left her dark eyes and her body went limp in his arms.

An anguished scream tore from his throat as Riker sat bolt upright in bed. A dream, it was only a dream. Riker shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. There had been something eerily familiar about that scene that had just played out in his subconscious mind.

In her cabin next door, Deanna woke up suddenly from her nap confused and disoriented. When her head cleared she reached out with her senses trying to determine what had woken her. Singling out Riker immediately she noticed that he had let his blocks down slightly. Unable to resist the opening, Deanna pushed past what was left of the wall between them and entered his thoughts. She knew what she was doing was wrong, but she was desperate to know what was causing his incredible distance. The images surrounding her were still disjointed and fuzzy and she was unable to make any sense out of them.

Riker got out of bed and stumbled over to the sink in his bathroom. Splashing some cold water onto his face he stared unseeing at his reflection in the mirror. Suddenly, as if they were being pushed from the corners of his mind, the images and memories from his time of imprisonment came slamming to his conscious mind. Anguish, darkness, death, despair, everything became clear and he could remember all of the details of his torture. Retching from the sudden rush of memories, he emptied the contents of his stomach before falling to the floor in a heap. After a few deep breaths he was able to calm himself and that was when he noticed that familiar sensation within his mind. Driven by anger and hurt he burst from his quarters and within seconds was next door face to face with a pale and trembling Deanna Troi.

"WHY?!" The venom in his voice startled even himself. His eyes slid shut as he tried to calm himself, his fists repeatedly clenching and unclenching. "Why?" He repeated, this time barely above a whisper, the naked anguish apparent in his voice.

Deanna swallowed audibly. "I… I'm so sorry Will," she stammered. Taking a step forward she reached out to him. "Imzadi."

"Don't." Their eyes locked and his anger slammed against her senses. "Just don't." He began pacing the small space. "What you did was…"

"Wrong, I know."

"Inexcusable." He stopped, his eyes boring directly into her soul. "Do you really need to know what happened to me? Is that why you invaded my thoughts tonight, pushed past my block?" His voice was clam and even. "Fine."

The hazy images she had sensed before suddenly slammed into her mind once again with such agonizing clarity that she couldn't help but stagger backwards. Along with those images came all of the pain and fear. She fell to her knees, covering her ears and squeezing her eyes shut, trying desperately to rid herself of the horrible images. She looked up at Will, tears streaming down her face, anger flashing in her dark eyes. "That was completely unnecessary."

"Oh, was it? I thought that it was exactly what you had been searching for when you violated my thoughts." Ice dripped from his words stinging her to the core.

"I was worried, concerned for your mental well being." Her anger continued to boil as she rose to her feet. "I am sick and tired of you shutting yourself off from me. Did you think that I couldn't handle it? Or were you just too busy wallowing in your own pool of self-pity. I hate to break it to you, Imzadi," she practically spit the word out, "you aren't the only one that has been affected by this. I know that whatever happened to you must have been horrible and you are only now beginning to remember all of the horrors. I am not trying to belittle your pain. I am just trying to make you see that you are not alone in your suffering. You need to talk about it. Now." She moved to the couch, made herself comfortable and waited for his response.

Stunned into silence by her outburst, he sat down next to her and then, changing his mind, he sprang up and began to pace again.

"Six months of my life were taken from me. Stolen, ripped away. I was happy, truly happy. Our renewed relationship was blossoming; I was serving on a wonderful ship surrounded by people that I consider my family. All of that was taken from me." He ran his hands through his hair. "When I was returned I had no recollection of what had happened. I believe your little intrusion has forced much of it back to the surface."

Finally sitting down in the chair, he took a deep breath before continuing quietly. "The experiments they performed went beyond any pain that I had thought possible. First they began by inflicting physical harm and gauging my reactions. When they tired of that game they began messing with my mind. They -" He choked back a sob. "They made me watch you die over and over again. Everyone that I care for, I had to watch them die. Sometimes the deaths were quick and merciful, but mostly they were drawn out and excruciating. It was always the same agonizing conclusion no matter what I did." Deanna reached out a comforting hand, but the minute she made contact he sprung up from the chair and continued his pacing. "I gladly welcomed the times where they would lock me in my dark cell. There were no windows and no lights. It was just an empty room no bigger than a closet.

"They never fed me, only injected me with enough fluid and nutrients to keep me alive. It became so bad that I didn't know what was real anymore. The images they were feeding into my brain began to mix with memories. Hell, I don't even know if this is real. This could just be another one of their experiments to see how I would react to this new situation."

Deanna rose from the couch and cautiously approached him. "Will, look at me." Grabbing his arm to stop his pacing, she forced him to face her. "I am real, please believe me." He refused to meet her gaze. "Damn it Imzadi, open your mind. If you let down your block completely you will see that I am real." Theirs eyes locked and Deanna felt the wall slowly crumble away. She reached across their open link and surrounded him with her soul.

Several moments passed before a tentative hand reached up and caressed her cheek. The familiar electricity passed between them and Riker was emboldened by the slight contact. Bringing his other hand up he gently brushed the curls from her shoulder and ran his fingers over her neck and collarbone. As if being pushed together by an unknown force their lips met. The first contact was minimal, just a slight brushing of lips. Breaths mingling, they remained mere millimeters from each other. Deanna slowly ran her tongue along Will's lower lip causing a low moan to emanate deep within his throat. In one swift movement he threaded his fingers through her hair and captured her lips in a soul-searing kiss. Raking her nails along his neck, she let out a moan as his lips and teeth continued a path down her jaw to the sensitive flesh of her neck. Running a hand down to the small of her back, he pulled her body flush against his. He froze. Deanna's rounded abdomen shifted slightly against him bringing him back to the reality of his current situation.

He staggered away from her embrace trying to ignore the hurt and confusion he could clearly see in her eyes. "I… I just can't. Not right now." That was the only explanation he offered her before making a hasty exit.

Unable to quell the anger and frustration, Deanna picked up the nearest object and hurled it at the door. With a satisfying crash, the vase smashed into hundreds of pieces and the delicate white flowers fell silently to the floor.

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Part 8

Fists clenched tightly at her sides, Deanna slowly counted down from one hundred. When she reached zero her anger had not dissipated, in fact, it had increased. Slamming her hand against the door release she walked across the shattered glass and made the short trip to the cabin next door. Not even bothering to ring the chime, she simply keyed in the access code and stepped through the door. Startled by her sudden intrusion, Riker jumped up from his position on the couch.

"How dare you?!" Her body shook with barely contained rage. "How dare you run away from me every time you are faced with the fact that I am carrying your child. This child is not going to disappear just because to refuse to accept its existence. In about ten weeks, whether you like it or not, you are going to be a father."

"Deanna, I -"

"No, let me finish." Her dark eyes contained an anger the likes of which Riker had never seen before. "When you disappeared, when all sense of you was torn from me I had no idea how in the universe I was going to live each day without you." Tears began to form, but she fought them back. "When Beverly told me that I was pregnant, the same day I had lost you, I didn't want to accept it either, but I knew that I couldn't just ignore it, couldn't make it go away." She took a shaky breath, finally loosing her battle with the tears. "It didn't take long for me to realize that I didn't want it to go away. This baby was the last connection that I still had with you and I discovered the one thing that would get me through the days." Forcing herself to meet his eyes once again she continued, "I am not going to force you to accept this child and help to raise it. All I am asking right now is for you to acknowledge that she does exist and to promise me that you will stop walking out on me like that."

Riker took a deep breath and opened his mouth to respond, but no words wanted to form on his lips. Closing his mouth once again, he sighed heavily and dropped back down on to the couch, his head cradled in his hands.

"Fine. When you want to talk, you know how to find me." With that, Deanna turned on her heel and stormed out of his cabin.

Several moments passed after the door shut behind Deanna before Riker regained his power of speech. "Deanna wait!" But he made no move to go after her. "Damn it!" Another vase fell victim to their fight as it smashed against the bulkhead with a wholly unsatisfying crash. Still frustrated by his anger, but lacking the energy to hurl any more objects, Riker slumped dejectedly on the couch.

Will Riker was not ready to be a father. Aside from the feelings of inadequacy brought on by his horrible childhood and the fear of becoming his father effectively ruining the poor child's life, his entire existence had been turned completely upside down by the recent events. He no longer felt comfortable in his own skin. The ordeal had left him with a complete feeling of unease. The line between reality and imagination had been erased by his captors and he wasn't sure where he should draw that line again. He was scared and he was angry, angry with himself for letting a small child, not even born yet, scare the absolute shit out of him. On a purely intellectual level Riker knew he was pushing Deanna away as a result of his own feelings of inadequacy and fear, but he could not simply push aside the incredible panic that ran through him whenever he was faced with his future, as uncertain as it was. He still loved her. He knew that much to be true, and perhaps it would always be true.

"Damn it!" Those seemed to be the only words his mouth was capable of forming at the moment. He made a decision and activated his COMM badge. "Riker to Troi." Waiting patiently for her reply, when none came he repeated, a bit louder and with a hint of irritation. "Riker to Troi, please respond." Another pause followed.

<<What is it Will?>> He could still hear the tears in her voice.

He cleared his throat. "You have had over six months to process the… situation. I have barely had a week. I need you to understand that I need time and I am terribly sorry for any hurt that I have caused you. My life needs to be set upright again before I can look ahead. Riker out." He closed the COMM channel abruptly, not giving her a chance to respond.

**I will give you the time you need, Imzadi.** Her voice echoed in his mind accompanied by a wash of calming love and forgiveness with still a measure of hurt and sadness. It seemed as though a truce was achieved, for the moment.

=======================================

The weeks that followed passed by quickly. The Enterprise returned to its mapping mission and Commander Riker's life began to return to some state of normalcy. In order to appease the good doctor so that he could return to duty as quickly as possible, Riker even began seeing one of the psychologists on Deanna's staff. After eight weeks of physical and psychological therapy he was given a clean bill of health and allowed to return to active duty with the promise that he wouldn't over do it.

Deanna was on strict orders from Dr. Crusher to take things easy and her bridge shifts and appointments were reduced slightly. The extra free time only served to make her even more restless. There were only so many times her quarters could be cleaned from top to bottom.

The couple's uneasy truce remain in tact and Deanna was silently relieved that Will was finally talking to someone about the events of his abduction, but the hurt remained because that someone was not her.

The two slowly fell back into an easy friendship. At first they were courteous and polite when their paths crossed, but neither were actively seeking out the company of the other. As Riker began to feel more and more like his old self they found themselves thrust together in social situations, mostly gatherings in Ten Forward and the weekly poker game, and an easy banter was formed once again. Deanna began noticing a subtle shift in his state of mind every day that passed. Though it seemed to the average outsider that their relationship was normal, there was still an unexplainable underlying tension that prevented them from simply picking up where they left off. It was this tension, combined with the love that she knew still remained between them that was slowly driving Troi mad.

It was poker night and this week the game was to be held in Commander Riker's quarters. Since she had already cleaned her quarters earlier that day, Deanna decided to head over to the game early and help Will set things up. If she played her cards right she might be able to get him to talk.

Ringing the chime on his door she didn't have to wait long for his reply and the door slid open to allow her access. When she stepped into his quarters Riker was nowhere to be seen. "Will," she called out and he suddenly emerged from the bedroom pulling a gray shirt over his head, obviously just coming from the shower. "I, uh -" Deanna swallowed hard. "I thought you could use some help setting up."

He ran his hands through his wet hair causing it to stand on end and flashed her a disarmingly brilliant smile. "Sure, that would be great. You know where the poker supplies are."

Deanna pulled open the storage unit as Will disappeared back into the bedroom. As she was setting out the poker chips and cards he emerged from the bedroom once again with his hair neatly combed and his uniform jacket in his hand. Tossing the garment over the back of the chair, Riker headed over to the replicator.

"One hot chocolate and one coffee." The beverages shimmered into solidity and Will turned to offer a mug to Deanna only to find her hunched over, steadying herself with one hand on the table and one hand on her abdomen. Riker was by her side in an instant. "Dea -"

After a couple deep breathes she straightened up again. "I'm fine, just a small contraction. I have been having them sporadically all day." She chuckled slightly at the look of panic that graced his features. "Don't worry, it's perfectly normal. I'm not in labor yet; the contractions would be a lot more intense and more frequent. Beverly warned me about this. She says that it's just my body's way of preparing for the event. Oh chocolate!" She greedily took the cup from his grasp and moved to sit on the couch.

Riker watched her intently as she sipped her hot chocolate until he was convinced that she indeed was not going to drop the kid right there in the middle of his quarters. Deanna unflinchingly returned his gaze, her feet propped up on the table in front of her and her hot chocolate resting on her rounded abdomen. Riker became mesmerized by the site before him.

"Deanna, I -" The door chime interrupted, breaking the spell. "Come." Riker pulled on his uniform jacket as the door slid open allowing Dr. Crusher and Captain Picard to enter the room.

"Hi Dea." Beverly greeted her friend warmly. "You look comfortable. Any more contractions since this morning?" She pulled out her ever-present tricorder.

"Another small one hit a couple minutes ago." She lowered her voice so only Beverly would hear. "It scared the hell out of Will." Beverly caught the wicked glint in her eye and the two dissolved into a fit of giggles.

The two men exchanged a look. "Can I get either of you anything to drink?" Riker easily fell into the role of the host. As he retrieved the beverages from the replicator Geordi and Data arrived and everyone took their seats at the table, everyone that is except for Deanna.
"Uh guys, can I get a little help over here, I think I'm stuck." The group burst into laughter as Riker came to her aid. "You guys try carrying a squirming three kilo kid in your abdomen and see how graceful you are." Deanna took her seat at the table next to Riker and threw her anti into the pool as the first hand of the evening was dealt out by Picard.

Deanna delightfully watched her pile of chips slowly increase as the evening wore on. It had been a while since she had had a decent night at the poker table. To further her delight, Riker was right in the middle of a pretty bad loosing streak.

"I will see your twenty and I will raise you another fifty." Deanna threw her chips into the pool and flashed an enigmatic smile to the player on her left. "Your bet Will."

His jaw twitched slightly, an almost imperceptible movement if you didn't know him as well as Deanna did. He didn't have the straight.

"I call and raise another fifty."

Everyone at the table folded and the bet quickly returned to Deanna's control. "Call." She deftly tossed her chips to the exact center of pool. "Let's see what you have."

Riker flipped his hold card. "Ten high." He eyed Deanna suspiciously. "How did you know? You didn't use your empathic sense did you?" There was a slight teasing tone in her voice.

"I'm just a better poker player than you think." She smiled sweetly as she stood to collect her winnings. As she reached across the table a sudden, intense contraction hit and she cried out in pain. Riker was immediately on his feet helping her back down to her chair. "I'm fine, thanks. That one was just a little bit stronger than the others and it took me by surprise."

Data tilted his head to the side. "Are you in labor Counselor?"

"I've been having small contractions all day, but none of them have been anything significant until just now."

Dr. Crusher already had her tricorder out. "The baby has dropped so she should be here any day, but there is no indication yet that it will be now." She patted her friend on the knee. "Just let me know if another hard contraction hits."

Everyone returned to their seats and Picard began dealing the cards once again. "The game is five card stud, deuces wild."

"I think I am going to sit this one out. If you will excuse me for a moment." Deanna rose from the table and disappeared through the bedroom and into the bathroom to freshen up.

Riker's luck began to turn and he won the next two hands. He was holding a flush, trying to determine whether or not Beverly had the cards she seemed to be betting with when Deanna's voice called out from the bedroom. "Bev, you might want to come here."

Dr. Crusher exchanged a puzzled look with the Captain before excusing herself from that table. Peaking her head into the other room she found her friend sitting calmly on the edge of the bed. "What is it Dea?"

"Since I left the table ten minutes ago two contractions have hit and my water broke."

"Are you sure?" Deanna shot her a wry look. "Of course you're sure, it's just that when I scanned you there was no indication that this would be happening so soon. Lie back, let see if you are dilated at all." Troi made herself comfortable as Dr. Crusher ran the tricorder over her once again. A small smile played across her lips. "You are at about two centimeters. Congratulations Dea, you are officially in labor." As if to punctuate her statement another contraction hit causing Deanna to roll onto her side and curl up into a ball.

It was at that moment when Riker stepped into the doorway. A look of panic crossed his features at the sight of Deanna. "What's going on?"

"Her water broke, and that," she nodded towards her friend, "is another contraction."

"She's in labor?" Riker's voice went up an octave. "Shouldn't you be going to sickbay or something?"

Dr. Crusher let out a low chuckle. "Relax Will. She's only at two centimeters; she has about eight more to go before anything more will happen. Depending how quickly she progresses, I think I will keep her here until she's at about six centimeters. It would just be more comfortable for her."

"I hate it when people talk about me like I am not in the room." Deanna was now comfortably sitting cross-legged in the middle of the bed.

Beverly gave her a sheepish look. "Sorry Dea. Would you rather we go to sickbay?"

She tilted her head in thought. "You're right, it would be a lot more comfortable here and besides, it's going to be a while right?"

Beverly nodded. "Do you want anything for the pain?"

"I'm doing fine for now, but I will let you know." Her eyes slipped shut and she began the meditation her mother taught her that was to ensure a stress free birth.

The poker game disbanded and Geordi and Data left. Captain Picard remained and kept Riker company in the main room. The two sat drinking coffee and talked about ship's business. Beverly split her time between the rooms, chatting with Deanna between contractions and meditations and constantly running a tricorder over her. She shared a few cups of coffee with the Captain and Commander whenever Deanna was deep in her meditation. Three hours into the scene, after a not-so-subtle hint from Beverly, the Captain returned to his quarters for some much needed rest before duty the next morning.

The whole scene was incredibly surreal for Riker. Some how he expected thing to be a bit more chaotic. Deanna remained incredibly calm due mostly to her meditations, but the comfort of being in quarters surrounded by friends also helped. In between contractions you wouldn't even know that she was in labor. When one hit she would curl up into a ball, breathing deeply and whimpering from the pain. Every once in a while, when a particularly powerful one would hit her by surprise she would cry out in a string of profanities in her native tongue. Beverly was astounded that such a peaceful race would have so many strong, colorful words.

Riker on the other hand was a basket case. He didn't know what his role was supposed to be in all of this so after Picard had left he spent most of his time pacing restlessly. He would poke his head into the bedroom occasionally to see how Deanna was doing, but he didn't dare get too close. After about six hours he fell into a fitful sleep on the couch.

Deanna had been in labor for ten hours before Beverly declared that it was time to head down to sickbay. Once they had arrived, the Counselor became almost as restless as Riker. She wouldn't sit on the biobed, instead she walked the small space of the private room stopping only when a contraction hit.

Much to Deanna's continuing frustration Riker still kept his distance. Instead of joining her in the small room, he remained in the main area of sickbay, hovering just outside the door. She desperately wanted him to be a bigger part in this whole event, but she feared that it would be too much to ask of him. His anxiety and concern over the situation was readily apparent and she didn't want to push him into anything he couldn't handle.

After two more arduous hours Deanna was fully dilated and sitting in the birthing chair. Exhausted from the twelve-hour ordeal and the lack of sleep, Troi had trouble finding the energy to bear down.

**Imzadi** she called out with her mind, desperate to find that connection.

At the sound of her voice in his head, Riker finally found the courage to step through the door and join the scene in the private room. Remaining by the door, he observed from a distance. Controlled chaos played out before him. Various medical technicians hurried around the room preparing the swaddling and warmer for the newborn. Deanna was in the birthing chair, her eyes were closed and her breathing labored and shallow, a sheen of sweat covered her face.

"OK Dea, you are doing wonderful. I can see the head, so on the next contraction you need to push as hard as you can." Beverly tried to hide her concern over her friend's current state. When the next one hit, with all of the energy that was left within her, Deanna did as she was told. The force of her exertion left her breathless and light headed, she began to fade into unconsciousness. "Damn it Deanna, you need to stay with me!"

Riker closed his eyes and breathed deep. Concentrating solely on the beautiful Betazed, he opened up his mind. He could still feel their connection, it was still there, only narrowed. Opening his eyes once again he locked gazes with Deanna who had been startled back into consciousness by Will's actions. He knew instantly when the next contraction hit and when it did, he sent Deanna all of the strength and encouragement he could through their bond.

"Great Dea, you are doing great. The head is out and during the next contraction I just need one more push."

It didn't take long for the next contraction to come and accepting more support from Will, Deanna pushed one last time and was rewarded when the loud cry of a newborn filled the air. Tears filled her eyes as Dr. Crusher placed the squirming, fussing newborn on top of Deanna. The new mother tenderly ran her fingers over the tiny head of dark curls and instinctively counted the fingers and toes. Calming from the gentle touch, the newborn opened her eyes and let out a big yawn. "Me too Little One."

Thirty minutes later mother and baby were resting comfortably on the biobed. The newborn suckled at Deanna's breast as she marveled at the tiny person in her arms. Riker still had yet to move from his spot next to the door. The room had quieted down considerably and the only staff member present was Dr. Crusher herself who was running a tricorder over the pair on the biobed.

"She's absolutely gorgeous Dea and perfectly healthy to boot." Beverly's smile lit up her entire face. "I will hold off on that birth certificate until you've decided on a name. In the mean time, get some rest."

"I will. Thanks Bev."

"No thanks needed, you're the one that did all the work." With that she turned to leave, but right before reaching the door she turned to Riker and gave him a push. Not expecting the action, Riker stumbled forward.

"Hello, Will." Deanna's face held a bemused smile. "It's safe to come out of the corner now." Moving over to the far side of the biobed, she patted the spot next to her. Hesitantly Riker stepped forward and sat down next to her, facing her, but not meeting her eyes.

Troi let the silence hang between them for a moment before she spoke. "Thank you." Her voice was barely above a whisper. Riker opened his mouth to respond only to be silenced by a single finger on his lips. "I know I couldn't have gotten through this without you." She took a deep, shaky breath and let her hand drop. "I've missed you terribly and to have that connection back, even if it were only for a moment, it was when I had needed it the most."

Will reached out and cradled her cheek in his large hand, gently wiping the tears away with his thumb. Leaning forward he placed a tender kiss on each of her eyelids before placing a feather light kiss on her lips. Pulling back just enough to meet her eyes he said in a low voice, "I should go. You need to get some rest." Deanna nodded mutely and he rose from the biobed, tugging on his tunic. He drank in the site before him before he turned to leave.

Moments after he had gone, an image of her and the baby floated into her mind and his voice rang loud and clear. **Thank you**

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Part 9

The baby was now just over five weeks old and she still did not have a name. Deanna of course had taken to calling her Little One, but she would also call her Hirlara, the Betezoid word for 'baby girl.' She was a very good-natured baby, but like all newborns she was very aware of the moods of those around her, especially Deanna. Whenever the Counselor was stressed or agitated, the baby would pick up on that and begin to fuss, successfully escalating the tension. This was one of those nights.

Deanna was scheduled to return back to light duty the next day and she was worried about being separated for the first time. Though the child would only be a few decks away in primary care, this would be the first time the two would be apart for a significant amount of time.

She was at the end of her rope. It was past midnight and she had her first appointment at 0800 hours. Sleep had been but a distant memory for the past two days and she couldn't get the baby to calm down. Her nerves were frayed and the child new it.

Setting her daughter down into her play set, Deanna futilely hoped that the shiny toys would distract her enough to make her forget her mother's distress. When that didn't work she called out, "Computer, location of Dr. Crusher?"
"Dr. Crusher is in Captain Picard's quarters."

Deanna's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "My my, I will need to have a little talk with her tomorrow." Her heart sank. "Damn! She would kill me if I interrupt." She began pacing the room. "Data and Geordi are on shift and Guinan would still be working in Ten Forward. That leaves one person, and I know he's still up."

Turning to her daughter who's cries still has not ceased, "Looks like we get to pay a visit to daddy so that I can get some sleep and keep my sanity." She gently scooped up the fussing child and headed next door.

=======================================

Will Riker was sitting comfortably on his couch reviewing the last of the day's reports from their survey mission. As soon as he got through the final data PADD from astrophysics he was going to call it a night. He felt his plan being pushed out into the vacuum of space when his door chime sounded.

"This had better be important," he said with a yawn. "Come."

His door obediently slid open to reveal a very frazzled Deanna Troi desperately trying to calm her extremely unhappy baby girl.

Riker opened his mouth to speak, but before he could form any words Deanna entered his quarters and placed the fussing infant on his lap. "Will, please. I am desperate. I just need a couple hours of sleep and I know you don't have bridge duty until 0200 tomorrow. Please." The last word was said with such quiet desperation that when combined with the pleading look in her large, luminous, tear-filled eyes, he could do nothing to resist. Before he could stop himself, he nodded mutely.

"Thank you!" Deanna kissed him quickly, but firmly on the lips. Placing the small bag she had also been carrying on the table, she quickly exited his quarters.

Riker looked down at the squirming bundle in his lap whose ear-piercing screams had died down to frustrated whimpers.

"Hello there, well I guess you don't have a name yet do you?" At the sound of his voice she stopped fussing and stared at him intently. He positioned her so that she was facing him directly, cradling her small head in his large hand. "Well, if you are anything like your mother then I am sure 'Princess' would be appropriate."

The pair continued to stare at each other. "You really do look just like your mom." He gently ran a finger down her tiny, perfect nose and over her O-shaped mouth, an exact miniature of Deanna's. She had definitely inherited her chin from Riker though. Large blue eyes regarded Will with curiosity. Although her eye color was almost identical to her father's, the size and shape reflected her partial Betazoid heritage.

"You are being an angel now Princess. Why were you giving your mom such a hard time?"

He spoke too soon. The big blue eyes shut tightly, and she let out a yell that would have made a Klingon proud.

"Whoa, hey I'm sorry. Whatever I said I take it back." Riker was on his feet. Holding the baby close, he began walking the confined space bouncing the screaming child slightly with each step in the hopes of calming her down. When that didn't work he switched tactics. Repositioning the baby so that he was able to cradle her with one arm, he used his free hand to open up the small bag on the table. Reaching inside, he pulled out the first object he came in contact with, a bottle. "Are you hungry? I hope so because that is something I can easily fix." To Riker's delight she immediately ceased her fussing and greedily took to the bottle. Will breathed a sigh of relief. "OK, maybe I can get the hang of this after all."

Riker sat down on the couch making the two of them comfortable. "I'm not sure if you know this Princess, but I'm your father." She hiccupped in reply. "I know I haven't really been around the past weeks, but that's because things are kind of complicated between your mom and me right now." He let out a heavy sigh.

"Don't tell anybody that I told you this, but I am afraid. I'm scared shitless about how much I love your mother, about doing something stupid and hurting her again, about becoming my father and screwing up your life." He placed a finger in her palm and the tiny fingers immediately wrapped around it. "Funny how such a little thing like you can scare a big guy like me so completely."

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"The time is 0700. The time is 0700." Soft beeps accompanied the computer's announcement.

Deanna Troi rolled over and hit the panel next to her bed effectively silencing the offending announcement. She stretched slowly, not yet willing to raise. Something was different, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it.

The baby! She hadn't been woken up by the baby. Leaping out of bed, she threw her robe on. When she reached the empty bassinet it hit her. "Riker! Oh damn, I left her there all night." She dashed out the door.

When there was no answer to her chime she deftly keyed in the access code and the door slid silently open.

Deanna couldn't help but smile at the sight before her. The two were sound asleep on the couch, Riker on his back snoring softly with an arm protectively around the infant on top of his broad chest.

Sitting on the low table in front of them, Deanna leaned over and placed a kiss on her daughter's head. Brushing a stray lock of hair from his forehead, she called out his name softly so as to not startle him. "Will, wake up." He didn't even stir so she tried again a little bit louder. "Wake up Will." Once again there was no response. She decided to try a different approach. He looked so sexy lying there that she couldn't resist. Leaning forward she placed a light, lingering kiss on his lips. She was rewarded with a slight stirring and a low moan. Emboldened by his response, Deanna pressed another, firmer kiss against his lips. Another low moan sounded in his throat and he was soon kissing her back. The couple separated, breathless.

"Good morning." Deanna broke the silence that followed.

"Morning? What time is it?"

"Just after 0700. I'm sorry Will. I didn't mean to sleep through the night." She moved to take the sleeping infant from him, but he stopped her. Sitting up, he repositioned the baby to rest in the crook of his arm. She stretched and opened one eye at the intrusion into her slumber, but then quickly fell back asleep. Deanna marveled at how Riker's large frame seemed to dwarf the infant even more.

"It's all right." He smiled down at the sleeping baby. "We came to an understanding, a small agreement, if you will." Deanna raised a questioning eyebrow causing Will to let out a low chuckle. "She is going to stop driving her mom nuts, and I," he cleared his throat, "I am going to start being a better father."

Deanna couldn't stop the tears brimming in her eyes. "Are you sure? I don't think I could take it if..."

Riker took her hand in his. "Dea, I know that I, that we still have a lot of things to work through, but I do want to work through them."

A sharp cry filled the cabin as the baby made it clear that she was now awake.

"She's hungry." The two said in unison.

Deanna settled onto the couch and when she had the top of her nightgown unbuttoned Will handed her the baby. The screams stopped abruptly when the child began nursing. Pulling Deanna to him, Will propped his feet up on the table and settled back. He ran a hand over the teeny head of dark curls. "She has my ears," he stated quietly. Deanna merely nodded in response.

Another long silence passed. "Dea, what exactly am I supposed to call her? Beautiful would be fitting, but that might get confusing because I know her mother could answer to that too." Riker smiled when he felt her silent chuckle.

"Always the sweat-talker." She gave him a playful elbow in the ribs before growing serious.

"There is an ancient Betazoid myth about a goddess who would watch over loved ones while they were apart and she would ensure a safe reunion." She paused to gather her thoughts. "When you were gone, I had a dream one night. It was the image of our daughter trying to let me know that you would return to me, that she would bring you home. I didn't want to believe in and false hope so I just dismissed it."

Will pulled her closer. "I had a similar dream right before I woke up in sickbay. A little girl led me to you."

Deanna shifted until she was able to look into his eyes. "For some reason the story of this goddess came into my mind a few days ago. I hadn't thought about it in over twenty years." She looked down at her daughter in her arms. "I realized that the story was a lot like my dream so I have decided to name her after that goddess. Eiralond Elizabeth Troi, Daughter of the Fifth House of Betazed."

"Eiralond Elizabeth?" Riker raised a questioning eyebrow and Deanna nodded.

"Elizabeth in honor of her human side and her paternal grandmother."

"Eiralond Elizabeth Troi." He tested it out. "That's a very regal name. If she turns out to be anything like her mother, it will suit her well." Riker let out a yelp as Deanna's elbow found his ribs once again.

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The End