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Circling

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Title: Circling
Author: vegawriters
Series: Imzadi
Fandom: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Pairing: Deanna Troi/Will Riker
Rating: General (some mention of war trauma)
Timeframe: Pre-Canon
A/N: This is my attempt to fix the disaster that is the absolutely confusing history of Will and Deanna, and also bring in some of the other history of what was happening in the Federation at the time of them meeting. References to the Cardassian occupation of Bajor and the border wars with the Federation are included.
Timeline Notes: According to Memory Alpha, Deanna Troi and Will Riker meet on Betazed in 2359, shortly after her graduation from Starfleet Academy. I'm making a small amendment to that timeline, putting them on Betazed together from 2360-2362, given that Memory Alpha's timeline for Will is not quite as specific. They are assigned to the Enterprise together in 2364.
Disclaimer: There was a time when Star Trek published fanfiction and they hired unagented writers. Those times are (mostly) gone. So here I am, making no money, and loving every minute of this exploration. But, that being said, if the powers that be would like to make my stuff canon, I’m always taking calls.

Summary: Even though every part of his sense of Starfleet professionalism knew he needed to focus on the work at hand, all he could do was stare into her black eyes and forget his own name.

Betazed, 2360
4 Years before Encounter at Farpoint

Normally, when Deanna left the hospital, she took a hard right and headed back along the transit corridor toward home, catching a transport if she could, but usually walking the 5 kilometers, letting her soul come back in line with her metaconscious. Today, though, she moved down through the university campus, taking her time as she moved through the sweet fragrance of the dusk-blooming flowers. She made her way past the grand buildings that had stood for centuries, and continued on through the city to the Embassy. Maybe it was silly, and maybe she was seeking out someone who hadn’t heard her vent. But she was curious as to where Lieutenant Riker stood on the Bajoran crisis. And, if she was honest, she wanted to see his blue eyes again.

Luckily for her, she didn’t have to navigate the discomfort of finding him in his quarters. The Lieutenant was sitting at one of the tables in the exterior courtyard, finishing up what looked to be a far-too practical dinner. He looked up as she approached and Deanna felt that already familiar rush of emotion from his subconscious. Did it matter if it was just pure attraction? Did it matter if pure attraction was what drove her to talk to him about this situation if something good came out of it? She hated navigating emotion.

“Is it proper to call you Lieutenant even if you are on leave?” Riker asked as she approached.

Deanna chuckled and set her bag on the table between them. “Well, I get enough of labels and titles in my everyday life, so if you’re fine with my calling you Will, you can call me Deanna.”

“Good to see you again, Deanna,” Riker said.

“Even after this afternoon?”

His eyes drifted to his half-eaten dinner and he nudged the plate aside. Deanna took a seat and watched his hands. They were large. Comforting. “I didn’t realize it was this bad.”

“It isn’t as if reporters have been ignoring the crisis,” she challenged, unsure for her sudden defensiveness. Everything in his posture said he was on her side.

“And it isn’t as if Starfleet hasn’t been busy,” he said, raising an eyebrow. “The Cardassians are on our asses, too.”

“I know,” she said, meeting his eyes again. “My first posting out of the academy was as a counselor onboard a ship sent to the front.”

He softened. “I’ll bet you earned your degree in post traumatic stress out there.”

She smiled a bit at his change in tone. “I did. And it’s where I learned just how cruel the Cardassians can be.” She pressed her hands together. “I think every culture has its history of violence,” she said, carefully. “That includes telepathic cultures. Once a person learns they can hurt another, there is a natural tendency to want to push the envelope. Telepathic violence is what led the Vulcans to their complete repression of emotion, and even here on Betazed we have our history.” She sighed. “And the history of the evolution of culture teaches us that all societies have a time of Imperialism through violence.”

“But?”

“To feel the darkness that envelopes the Cardassians, to sense their desire to conquer all, regardless of outcome. To watch them view others as slaves. It’s terrifying.”

“Especially when that outcome ends up in a hospital room on your planet.”

Riker’s tone was gentle and Deanna gave him the credit he was due. “Yes.”

They shared a long look and Deanna forced herself back to the issue at hand. “Have you prepared a report for Starfleet?”

“I’m finishing it tonight.”

She nodded. “Do you mind if I include some of my own notes? I’m still an officer after all.”

“I think it would go a long way. At least get it read by one more administrator.”

“I’ll send you something tonight.” That was it. That wrapped up the discussion. This was why she’d come, after all. It had nothing to do with his smile or his smell or his blue eyes. And it was an insult to both of them and the work they were doing to pretend otherwise. Still, she didn’t want to leave his presence. So she reached into her bag and pulled out the small container of fresh fruit and yogurt she’d grabbed before leaving the house that morning. She hadn’t had time to eat. “Do you mind?”

He shook his head and brought his own dinner closer. “Of course not.”

***

They stayed under that tree for an hour. She ate her fruit and yogurt and he picked at the remnants of a ramen that had sounded good at the time. Other than the Bajoran situation, he couldn’t really remember what they’d talked about. Probably because even though every part of his sense of Starfleet professionalism knew he needed to focus on the work at hand, all he could do was stare into her black eyes and forget his own name.

Up until seeing her, Will had never believed in love at first sight. Lust, definitely. He had no problem channeling his libido toward late night dalliances in some beautiful person’s quarters. He’d cared for his lovers, truly enjoyed their company, but until meeting Deanna, he just hadn’t dared to believe that there was something to the concept of love at first sight. He just … wanted more.

More, his ego taunted at him. Like she’d given him anything other than a gentle smile to this point.

Logic dictated that as she rose to take her leave of him, he asked her to breakfast or dinner or to join him for his morning jog again. Instead, he thanked her for the materials she was going to send to augment his report and rose as she walked away. He almost chased after her, but he also knew that it wouldn’t be the last time he saw her. So he watched until the shadows of the night closed around her before finally resigning himself to taking his work into his quarters for the night. Shortly before 1800 hours, his PADD chirped, a message from her, containing detailed notes to add to his report. He’d made the addendum, sent off the file, and climbed into bed, hoping for a full night’s sleep before his run. Hoping that when he reached the road to the estates, she would be there to join him.

She wasn’t.

He didn’t see her again for two weeks.

Two weeks of endless tours of different cities, of getting to know the leadership of the planet, of trying to find a home in a world so peaceful, it made Earth look like a chaotic nightmare. Even the refugee settlements were comfortable. On most planets, he knew, the Bajorans were outcasts, living in tent cities or sequestered in ghettos. They were pariahs, a bellwether of the coming Cardassian plague. The Betazed government had encouraged each settlement to create their own look, helping with infrastructure building. At first, Riker had believed that all the other settlement worlds could learn something from Betazed, but he realized it was more than that. The political choice was simple. If the settlements looked as natural as possible, the Cardassians couldn’t complain quite as much about their slave labor being resettled.

Still, it wasn’t perfect. The look in little Zilla’s eyes haunted him. He understood now what Verjan had meant by the little girl needing more assistance than perhaps the Bajorans could provide. He also understood now why he’d been sent here. There was more diplomatic experience here than on any ship he could be assigned to.

Starfleet read his report and acknowledged it with a we’ll look into it which, he knew by now, meant they needed to put it in a drawer for political reasons. So he kept notes, approved requests for support as they came in, and finally made his way back to the hospital to check on Zilla.

“She’s been moved to a temporary foster family,” Deanna said, leading him through the hospital gardens. They were between arrivals of refugees and most of the people out in the gardens were in better health than those he’d seen the day of his first visit.

“What will happen to her?”

“Well,” Deanna took a deep breath. “If her father claims her, which is almost impossible, she will be sent with him. But, there is a small farming colony on one of the moons in the system and when she is healthy enough, she will be sent there.”

Riker frowned. “I was only aware of those here on Betazed.”

“See, Lieutenant, the Cardassian government doesn’t want to acknowledge these hybrids. It means to them that their superior genes,” her accent on superior was sharp and sarcastic, “are capable of co-mingling with lesser species.” She sighed and took a seat on a bench under a low hanging branch of a form of Willow. The leaves were lavender and pink in the soft glow of early evening. Riker settled next to her. “So, unlike the refugee settlements on the planet, the settlement on Dorana isn’t a political football. In fact, we suspect they send us the castoffs.”

Riker shook his head. “How could the Federation have let it come to this?”

He felt, more than saw, the sagging of her shoulders. “In my honest and political opinion, the Federation’s hands are tied and it isn’t like they haven’t gone to war with the Cardassians. But getting involved in every battle where an imperialist society is subjugating another can be difficult to manage.” She was quiet for a minute. “This time though, I feel they misstepped. This time, I feel this would have been worth going to war over.”

“A powerful statement from a Betazoid.”

“I’m against violence. I also live in the real world.” She sighed. “So, I do what I can. And if that means hugging terrified children, I do.”

“Is this why you’re on leave from Starfleet?”

“No. I really am here finishing up a degree and it’s making me more dedicated than ever to return.”

Riker nodded, unsure why that statement flooded him with such relief. He sat with her until the silence stretched to a tension point he couldn’t process. Deanna seemed perfectly content to sit and watch the sunset, but his need to keep moving had him rise to his feet. “Thank you for the conversation, Deanna.”

She smiled at him and he almost asked her to dinner and coffee and dessert and back to his cabin. There was no rule about fraternizing with locals, but she was also part of the ruling family. From what he’d learned, her status was similar to historical Terran royalty. Did one just ask a princess out to dinner? Then, she surprised him.

“Are you still running in the mornings?”

“Yes.” He swallowed.

“Same time?”

“Yes.” He swallowed again.

“I’ll see you then.”

Riker nodded, swallowed a third time, and walked away. He could have sworn he heard her laughing, but when he turned back, she was still in her place under the tree, watching the sunset.

***

Are you bringing him to the wedding?

Deanna jumped and looked over at Chandra. Her cousin sat across the study table in the Troi Family Library, blithely ignoring her own studies while she scanned through different honeymoon destinations. She and her Bonded were getting married in four days, and unlike Deanna’s feeling about her own match, Chandra was so excited she was orbiting the planet. Deanna, who was Chandra’s First Maiden, was in charge of most of the festivities. She wanted to be excited for her cousin, but between school and the situation with the Bajorans, and her mother starting to drop hints about her own marriage, her head hurt.

Who? Deanna furrowed her brow. Wyatt?!

Ugh. No.

Why are you recoiling? You haven’t even met Wyatt.

Neither have you! That’s my point. But no. Him. Whoever has those blue eyes you can’t stop thinking about.

A slow blush crept across Deanna’s cheeks and she reached for the PADD Chandra was scrolling through. Why haven’t you and Tabor decided where you’re going yet?

Because we had to reschedule. I have a conference on Vulcan. We’re going in a couple of months. So who has the blue eyes?

Chandra!

Who. Has. The. Blue. Eyes.

Deanna groaned and looked back at the paper she was supposed to be finishing. Your party is going to be terrible if I can’t finish this.

I’ll stop when you tell me his name.

Deanna projected a sigh at Chandra. Will Riker.

The new Starfleet liaison?

Yes.

Your mom is going to kill you.

Why? Deanna officially pushed her work aside and stared at Chandra. Why? It isn’t like she actually wants me to marry Wyatt either.

First, your mother loves all things ritualistic. If she had the chance to plan the wedding of her only daughter and her only daughter’s genetically betrothed, she’d be all about it, and you know it. Second, Riker is in Starfleet.

So am I.

“Oh yeah …” Chandra voiced aloud, a quirk to her lips. “I forgot.”

Deanna stood up and walked to the wide windows that looked into the gardens behind the house. The manor had been in her family for hundreds of years, since before the time of the Federation. The flowers below held most history than some of the cities on the most Western continent. She wasn’t the first Troi in Starfleet. Her great-great grandfather had joined the ranks, as of course, had her father. The difference being that her father had married into the family. But most of the 5th House preferred the Diplomatic Corps. Deanna wasn’t sure what she preferred, really.

Starfleet had been a fantasy since she could remember. Watching her father put on his uniform, feeling his love when he returned home, hearing the stories of the stars where he visited. But after he went away, after he didn’t come home, she’d felt her mother’s resistance. Her act of teenage rebellion had been to apply for the Academy and begin the process while she was earning her first degree at the University. She’d gone to Earth against her mother’s wishes, and when she’d served at the front during the border skirmishes, her mother had refused to speak to her until she’d come back to Betazed in one piece. But, while out there, she'd learned where she belonged. She loved it.

It also didn’t take a degree in psychology to understand that her mother’s outlandish nature was fueled as much by in-born personality as also the trauma of losing her husband, her Imzadi. And that her feelings about Starfleet were, truly, utter fear that she would lose her daughter the same way she'd lost her Ian.

“Can I ask a dumb question?” Deanna turned from the window and regarded her cousin and closest friend. “Really.”

“Sure.” Chandra rose and joined her at the window. She took Deanna’s hands and met her eyes. What’s wrong?

Tabor … he’s your … your one, right?

Warmth spread through Deanna as she felt Chandra’s answer. So much. In every way.

How did you know?

Chandra shrugged. “I just did, Dee. It’s stupid and romantic and dumb but it’s true. At the Meeting Ceremony, we just looked at each other and we knew. I know so many people get to the ceremony and they realize their betrothed is not their soul, but for Tabor and me, we knew.”

“How? What did it feel like?”

Chandra settled on the cushioned window sill and leaned out a bit to touch the vines that crept up the side of the house. “My stomach dropped when we met. Not in a ‘I wanted to sleep with him’ way, although I did. But my stomach dropped and my heart raced, but more than that …” she sighed. The light wind from outside toyed with strands of her golden hair. Our minds touched. We just … it was instant.

Deanna crossed her arms. I’ve had three conversations with Will Riker. But …

You know, don’t you?

What if I just want to get him naked?

Chandra grinned playfully. “Well, then bring him to the wedding.”

Both women burst out laughing. But really, Chandra had a point. It wasn’t a bad idea. Anyway, wasn’t it protocol for the Starfleet liaison to come to political functions? And Chandra and Tabor’s wedding was the political event of … well. The quarter, anyway.

Deanna moved away from the window, back to the desk. Only if you let me finish this paper.

With a laugh, Chandra followed her and grabbed the PADD off the table. I’ll go sit in the gardens. Work! We have parties to plan.

Deanna watched her go but even in the silence, she couldn’t concentrate. Will Riker. At a wedding. Naked. As her date.

Was that really a good idea?

Yes.

Yes. It was.