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The Lake

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Title: The Lake
Author: vegawriters
Series: Imzadi
Fandom: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Pairing: Deanna Troi/Will Riker
Rating: Teen
Timeframe: Menage a Troi (Season 3)
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: He took a sip of the wine and looked out over the lake. It had been here that their mental connection had first become tangible, here that she’d first called him Imzadi, here that he’d realized he couldn’t live the rest of his life without her. “I made a mistake five years ago and I want to be with you again. As a partner.”

2367
Betazed

The smirk on the Captain’s face followed Will back to his quarters, stayed in his mind’s eye as he packed, and walked with him the entire way to the transporter room.

“I just got sent on shore leave,” he told Deanna across video screens. She was already in the house on Lake El’Nar, he could tell. She’d wasted no time, it seemed, in taking off for the week. “You want some company?”

Her giggle warmed him. She leaned close to the screen, her chin in her hand, and all he wanted to do was tangle his fingers in her curls and kiss her forever. “You know the coordinates,” she’d teased before cutting the communication. Will grabbed his pack and all but ran toward transporter room three. If Chief O’Brien looked a bit more amused than usual, he was willing to overlook it.

The beam took him, transporting him down to an all too familiar location. Will took a breath as he always did after transport, confirming his lungs were working, and felt the ease and comfort of Betazed wash over him. It was more than his connection to Deanna or good memories of his time stationed here. No, Betazed truly was idyllic. With the pale pink clouds in the ever light-blue sky, the just-shy-of-tropical breezes that always rustled through the trees and grass, to Will it had always been the real-life setting of the unicorn woods from old Earth legend. Here, the lake house (truly, it was an estate), wound around the shores of Lake El’Nar, the white stone reflecting back the sun, the windows open to the natural cooling of the breezes. Deanna was sitting on the steps to the side entrance, a glass of wine between her fingers. The wind toyed at the edges of the long, pink dress she wore.

“I have your room ready to go,” she teased as he approached. Well …. he heard in his mind. If you don’t want …

Gods above and around, it was good to be back here, with her. Slowly, Will approached, his pack still slung over his shoulder. Deanna took a slow sip of wine, but she couldn’t disguise the sparkle in her eyes. When he arrived at the base of the stairs, he dropped his pack and moved to sit next to her. Deanna reached behind her for a glass of wine she’d already poured for him.

“Deanna?” He asked, suddenly nervous, the memory of their last conversation about their relationship still fresh in his mind. Since that night in his quarters, they’d taken it slow. Long dinners in Ten Forward, late night walks on the holodeck. Nothing stated, nothing definite, but they were drifting closer and closer to each other with each day that passed.

“Yes, Will?” Her voice was light, musical. Giving them both permission.

He took a sip of the wine and looked out over the lake. It had been here that their mental connection had first become tangible, here that she’d first called him Imzadi, here that he’d realized he couldn’t live the rest of his life without her. “I made a mistake five years ago and I want to be with you again. As a partner.”

Her long fingers stroked gently along the back of his neck. “I want that too,” she said. “I’m tired of being scared that I’ll be hurt again. I know it isn’t going to be easy, but these last few weeks with you, they’ve been almost perfect.”

“Almost?”

He sensed her amusement before she spoke. “Well. It isn’t like you’ve shared my bed since that night.”

“Do I get to share it now?”

“What do you think?”

He turned and realized how close she was. Deanna leaned in and kissed him and everything was suddenly forgotten. Everything. They had so much ground to cover and so much to relearn but right now, this was everything he’d ever wanted. Her. Here. On Betazed. In this house. Loving her.

The kiss lasted forever, breaking only for air and then coming back again, never building to anything more than just their connection. For once, there was no rush, no worry about ship’s business. This right here was just the next step of them relearning each other. When they finally pulled back, she’d moved to next to him on the step and she leaned against him while they sipped their wine and watched the mid-morning sun glint off the lake. Across the horizon, one of the smaller moons could be seen rising in orbit.

“So you were ordered to take shore leave, hmmm?” Deanna teased, finally breaking the silence. “How does it feel to know the Captain pretty much set us up for the week?”

“It feels like maybe he is getting us back for Risa.”

Deanna laughed, the sound light and the emotions gentle against his mind. “Which says he had more fun there than he revealed.” She leaned against him while she sipped her wine. “We’re on our own here,” she said. “No staff.”

“Which means a trip to the market for real ingredients. I’m out of practice using actual equipment.”

“We do have a replicator here,” she chuckled. “Which, might be a good thing.”

“Thanks,” he came back, his tone dry.

She laughed and put her hand on his arm, reassuring him. Once, in what felt like a lifetime ago, they’d wake up here on his off mornings. He’d get up and make fresh coffee and scramble up eggs and fry morning vegetables. She’d come into the kitchen, her hair tousled from sleep and their nightly activities, wrapped in a robe of lilac silk. She’d lean against the counter while he cooked, her hands wrapped around the mug of coffee, while she talked about boarding school and he talked about Alaska. They’d compare Academy instructors and talk about life beyond Starfleet and it had been absolutely perfect. Once.

“I’m worried about one thing,” Deanna said, her voice low.

“What’s that?” He searched her face.

“We were so happy here, but our lives aren’t here anymore. Is this a vacation to the past or a new beginning?”

He kissed her hand, reminded of how the morning after their first night together, she’d looked at him, blushed, and admitted how intense she was as a person. “Right now, we’re two people who love each other, sitting here on the steps, enjoying shore leave together.”

She smiled. “You’re right.”

“You were the one who told me that the only way we’d figure this out was one step at a time.”

Deanna met his eyes. “I know what I want, Will.”

His heart stopped. “Are you sure?”

She nodded. “Yes. One step at a time. I don’t mean I want to race to the magistrate and get married today. But it’s time we stopped torturing ourselves.”

“I’ve never been more glad to hear you say anything. Ever.”

“Not even when I said yes?”

He smirked and leaned in for another kiss. “You didn’t exactly say yes, you know. You handed me a book.”

“Oh shut up.”

Once, a lifetime ago, he’d chased her up these very stairs, into the house, and tumbled with her onto the bed. She’d straddled his hips, her hands on his chest while she rode him, and somewhere as they crashed over the edge together, he’d felt the first touch of what he’d come to understand as their connection.

Now, he felt her mind brush against his as she took his hand and led him inside. He paused only to grab his pack before following her up the stairs and into the familiar bedroom. Later, there would be time for play, for laughter. Right now, he wanted to make love to her and remind both of them of everything they shared.

***

As much as Deanna really wanted to stay inside for the week, getting the chance to wander around was far too much to pass up. Especially since Will wanted to be able to cook, which meant they needed supplies. So, even though she was now completely worn out, she also was more than happy to torture Will while they walked through the park and went to dinner in the city.

His tastes in civilian clothing were far more inspired by his time on Betazed than he’d probably ever realize. He shied away from bright colors, but the loose tunics and comfortable slacks never seemed to go out of style for men. Deanna, for her part, was happy to tease her lover as she allowed herself to enjoy the time away from uniform appropriate styles. She’d deny it if her mother ever asked, but if anything drummed her out of Starfleet, it might be the uniforms. So she donned a pair of purple tights and a matching short, off the shoulder dress she knew accented her legs. She completed the look with a pair of heels that were far more comfortable than her uniform boots.

Will only groaned as she emerged from the bedroom. “You don’t play fair.”

“You say that a lot.” Deanna laughed as he took her hand while he keyed the transport codes into the communications console. Going into the city for dinner and shopping meant they’d have to spend part of tomorrow with her mother, but it was a price she was willing to pay as long as they didn’t have to stay at the family home for the night. She had other plans for Will Riker.

A woosh took them from the sitting room at El’Nar to the edges of the main park in the center of Rixx. Deanna sighed and squeezed Will’s hand, following as he made his way to a familiar side path. How often had they come here, sneaking away for an hour at lunch or dinner, finding a tree to settle under and discuss the universe and their lives in it before duty called her back to the hospital and him to his desk? Oh, she missed how young they’d been, but how ready she’d thought they were for the next steps in their lives.

Were they ready now?

She squashed the fleeting thought as she let Will’s psyche wrap around her. She wasn’t going to give into insecurities today. “Where are we going?”

“What, you don’t want a walk through the park?”

She laughed and leaned against him as they walked. “I do, but I’m hungry.”

“Indulge me,” he teased.

Happily.

He squeezed her hand and they settled into an easy stroll and she realized exactly where he was taking her. “You’re looking for the flower …” His grin answered her and Deanna felt her heart skip a beat.

They’d been together a year, past the early lust stages, but not yet into the full maturity of love. She’d known he was thinking about proposing, she was thinking about saying yes if he did, and both of them were trying their damndest to ignore her family’s cautionary disapproval. A simple date night had started with her ranting about the Federation’s continued uselessness about the Bajoran refugee crisis, and him muttering and spitting about the new security officer who didn’t like some “kid” ordering him around. Somewhere in the midst of their griping, they’d walked past the Mutock in the gardens and her skirt had brushed the stem, making the petals chime. They’d both stopped and stared at each other and suddenly, nothing else about their days had mattered. In that moment, everything had come into sharp focus.

Would it again?

Gently she turned the conversation while he steered them through the park. “You know, we’re going to have to see my mother,” she cautioned. “Who will undoubtedly again lecture us about getting married.”

“Your mother …” Will laughed, rolling his eyes. He left the statement there as he slowed their steps. “I think it’s around here somewhere.”

“Well, maybe it died,” Deanna ventured. “It has been a few years.” She didn’t want to admit to the feeling of disappointment that washed over her when she suggested it.

“Muktok live for hundreds of years,” Will admonished her before pointing to a familiar patch of wildflowers. “Here it is.”

Even though she remembered every moment they’d shared in this park, she remembered the first time they’d stumbled across the flower, the nostalgia washed fresh over her and she knelt before the thin stem, taking it gently in her fingers. “Oh, it’s lovely …” she shook it lightly and the cascading sound of fairy bells came from the center of the bulb. “I remember that sound …” she took a breath and glimpsed at Will. “And all the good times we had.”

He took her hand and drew her to her feet, suddenly as earnest as he had been the day he’d asked her to marry him. She could feel the regret for choices made the the hope they could rebuild for a stronger future. “I remember,” he murmured as he stepped closer, “a certain junior officer meeting a very serious psychology student.” Deanna blushed, and Will leaned in. “It was the best part about being assigned to Betazed.”

Before they had time to lose themselves in the kiss, however, a whole new voice interrupted them.

“Oh! This is the perfect spot!”

Over her years of life, Deanna had fantasized more than once about running away from home. Never had she been quite so ready to actually kill her mother.

Really? She projected at Will as she pressed her forehead into his chest. She felt him sigh, felt him adjust his mindset to one of being courteous and generous, and she loved him for it. After all, even now, he had to win over the Troi family. She knew that.

Not for the first time, Deanna wondered if it was possible to renounce the family name.

Let’s get it over with … Will came back at her. She nodded, knowing he was right, and followed him over to the small pond where her mother was ordering Mr. Homm to set up for a picnic lunch.

“Mother!” She chastised as they came closer, sending her disapproval emotionally as well as verbally. “How did you know about this place?”

And then a moment, a softening. “Oh, your father used to bring me here.”

Deanna blinked and filed it away for later tears. This is mine and Will’s spot … she projected. Her mother only smiled. How could they be so tense with each other while loving each other so deeply? She understood the psychology. She just wished it didn’t apply to the two of them.

The moment passed.

It touched her how Will always acknowledged Mr. Homm and how he was nothing but polite to a woman she knew frightened him. But there he was, being the perfect diplomat, the perfect captain, really. “You even brought provisions,” he responded to her mother’s prattling. “How thoughtful.”

Later, when she was starving despite the smell of the Krayton, she would wish she’d tried to oskoid her mother had handed to Will. Later, when she was forcing the mental image of her mother and Tog out of her mind, she’d wish she had just told Will they were ordering dinner for the evening. Later, she would have time to write long, guilt-ridden letters home, begging her mother for forgiveness for how tense she was. It was hard, after all, to have a parent who knew exactly what was going on with just a glance.

In the moment, she wanted Mr. Homm to shuttle her mother away while she took Will back to the lake.

Later, her tantrum wouldn’t matter. Her frustrations with her mother wouldn’t matter. Later, she’d have a whole new view of why her mother did what she did and she would be so proud of Jean-Luc Picard for tossing aside his pride to save the most irritating diplomat in the service. Later, when she was watching Betazed grow smaller and smaller and cursing their destroyed shore leave, she’d even indulge the self-pity of wondering if maybe, just maybe, she and Will actually weren’t meant to be together.

In the moment, she didn’t want the damn oskoid.

***

The silence of the sitting room was almost unbearable, but even the whisper of noise grated against Lwaxana’s sensitive skin. The play over, the facade dropped, the weight of what she’d just endured rolled around her mind, taunting and haunting her. Deanna had offered to stay for a few days, to “help get her settled” but what did that even mean? Get settled from what? The truth was that the universe wasn’t as sanitized as Starfleet liked to project it was and she …

She’d done what she’d done to keep Deanna alive. Betazoids couldn’t read Ferengi minds, but she had no doubt that Ferris would have strapped her daughter down and probed her until her mind could no longer take the assault. Deanna, so strong and sure, even as a little girl. Headstrong as she climbed trees and jumped rocks, always trusting her feet to catch her. She ran farther and faster than any of her peers, but her movements were so staid, so well thought out. She knew Deanna would have taken her place in that chair, and she couldn’t let her. She couldn’t even entertain the notion. She couldn’t lose two daughters.

Mr. Homm had long since retired for the night, and Letha was also in her chambers. She knew she could summon either of them with a thought, but she didn’t want to. She needed the silence.

The image of the desperately relieved woman had held up until the Enterprise’s transporters had set her and Deanna down on the front porch of the family home. So glad to be back in her own space, she’d let the walls slip just enough, gripping tightly to the railing as she caught her bearings.

Mother?

Oh, Little One, I’m fine. Go on back. The Enterprise has to be getting on.

I can stay …

You need to be where you are most comfortable right now.

She wished she’d had the courage to ask Deanna to stay. Instead, she’d raced to the sonic shower and stayed under the waves for an hour before moving to the tub and hiding under the light currents until her skin had felt it would shrivel away. Dressed now in a light nightgown, her favorite silk robe, and her hair down and loose around her shoulders, she felt somehow younger and older than she’d ever felt. The events of the past few days had reminded her that all the status in the world, and all the Starfleet officers, couldn’t keep the monsters away.

Pausing in her pacing, her eyes fell on the familiar portrait, the only one she’d allowed herself to keep after those Cardassian weapons had taken her Ian from her. How would he be now, his arms strong and safe around her. There wasn’t a moment that went by when she didn’t miss her dearest Imzadi, and that she didn’t curse Starfleet for taking him from her. Fifteen years together … she’d been mourning him longer than he’d been with her.

No. She wouldn’t go there. Not tonight. No, that was a path she refused to walk down, a path she refused to indulge. Those memories were to stay locked away for a reason. It was hard enough to remember Ian’s funeral, to miss his touch, to wonder if she had still been married, would Tog have taken her? Would her husband have been racing across the galaxy to find her? Or would she have simply been saved by the Enterprise this time around, and sent a communique to her husband wherever he was serving?

How could she have let Deanna follow Ian into the fleet? How could she have stood there and clutched his photograph at her graduation? How could she have bragged about her daughter’s successes? Tog hadn’t cared that Deanna and Will were Starfleet. He’d have allowed them to die rather than give up his prize. Uniforms meant nothing.

Oh, she shouldn’t have gone down to the park. She shouldn’t have followed Deanna’s thoughts to the water’s edge. She shouldn’t have meddled. Deanna and Will were doing just fine by themselves, she’d realized that when she allowed herself to slow down. If she’d stayed home, Tog would not have come. She had to believe that. If he’d shown up at the door, she could have forced him away. Letha would have been ready to contact the authorities. If she’d stayed home rather than indulging in her daughter's romance, perhaps Deanna and Will would still be in the house on the lake, planning the next phase of their lives.

“You are always so impulsive, my love. It’s a treat to watch, but at times, exhausting to follow.”

He’d been stretched out next to her at the lake, their hands linked, his thumb stroking the engagement ring he’d slipped on her finger. An old Earth custom, and one she could truly appreciate.

“I find if I think too much, I don’t end up doing the thing I’m thinking about doing. It’s much easier to leap, and worry later.”

“So is that why you said yes?”

She’d raised herself up on an elbow and he’d brushed her hair out of her face. “I said yes, because of all of the men on this damn planet, it’s you who I want to be with.”

“Me? Just a human?”

“There’s no just about it. Less than a generation ago, we thought we were alone in the universe and now, I’m lying on a blanket with the love of my soul. I am here with you, and that is all that matters to me.”

Their lips had met and never had she known something was so right as becoming Ian Keller’s wife. Her mother’s horror at diluting the bloodline had eventually faded, especially when Ian didn’t blink at taking the Troi name. Even if her father spoke only when absolutely necessary around Ian, and her sisters never quite adapted.

“Where are you?” She asked the photograph. Almost twenty-five years later, she still wasn’t sure if she believed he wasn’t coming home one day. For all of her desperate suitors, and her own chasing of some kind of stability, she just wasn’t sure if she wasn’t waiting for Ian Andrew Troi to come stomping up the stairs and wrap her in his arms while he brushed his mind with hers. “We still need you,” she murmured. “I still need you. Especially tonight. Some nights, my love, I don’t even recognize myself.”

Only silence remained. The emptiness of the home without Deanna. The touch of humor she felt when teasing Jean-Luc. Lwaxana moved to the bench by the open window, settled into the comfortable cushions, and watched the moons chase each other across the midnight blue sky. She’d survived Tog. Deanna wouldn’t have let her stay there. And in the end, all that really mattered was that her daughter was safe.

***

Will found her sitting in the arboretum, dressed in the same blue dress she’d been wearing when he joined her on Betazed, her feet resting in the cool water that was a poor substitute for the lake. Deanna glanced up as he arrived and when he settled next to her, she leaned against him. “It kills me that we were interrupted,” she said quietly. “I mean, if I’m going to be kidnapped, I guess it could be as almost harmless as that was.”

“You doing okay?” He trailed his fingers down her arm.

“Mostly, I’m frustrated that a much needed vacation was cut short.” She sighed. “It gets exhausting, you know. And mother wouldn’t let me stay, which also worries me.”

He nodded, only vaguely understanding how it had to feel for her, to always have her mental shields up, to always be buffeted with the emotions of so many people in such close quarters. “I can always authorize the time for you, you know. Go take a break.”

“The appeal of this last time was getting to spend it with you.” Deanna rested her hand on his knee. “Will, I meant it. I want to be with you.”

Relief flooded him. “I want to be with you, too.”

She snuggled closer. “It won’t be easy, you know. Everyone’s going to be watching us. Wondering about favoritism.”

Will laughed. “I think you worry about that more than anyone else.” He paused. “Space Princess.”

The joke paid off and she poked his knee as the giggle erupted from her. “Yeah, yeah. Point taken. But you know, I have a point. How can the crew complain about you to me when we’re sleeping together?”

“First,” Will laughed, “they already think we’re sleeping together.”

She grinned. “Fair.”

“Secondly, they complain about me?”

She poked him again. “You know you don’t get to ask that question.”

“Demotions for everyone,” he grinned. “You okay with that, Lieutenant?”

“Does it mean I get to take a certain Lieutenant Commander on vacation?”

Her voice sounded so wistful, and he knew she wasn’t as okay with what had happened on the Krayton as she was letting on. He didn’t push, though. She’d talk when she was ready. He kissed her temple and let himself fall into her ability to sit perfectly still.

“Can I ask you a question, Will?”

He jumped, her voice surprising him. How long had they been sitting there? “Of course, Deanna.”

“Don’t give me the static, expected answer. How did you feel when you found out we’d been assigned together?”

He let out a breath, putting his thoughts in order. Luckily, Deanna wasn’t impatient. “Terrified,” he admitted. “I didn’t just break your heart when I left you. I broke mine, too. You were standing on the bridge looking exactly like the picture in my mind and I was so scared.”

“How do you feel now?”

“Pretty scared. If we screw this up …”

She nodded and he waited for her to speak. “I need to know that no matter what, we’re always going to be friends.”

“Deanna,” he took a deep breath, “no matter what, I’m always going to love you. But rather than enter this with ‘no matter whats’ let’s just .. .you know …”

She chuckled. “Focus on one day at a time?”

“Exactly. So.” He stood up and helped her to her feet. “So, why don’t we go for dinner in Ten Forward and, if you let me, I will walk you to your quarters.”

She rested her hand on his chest. “If you want to, you can stay.”

He sighed and kissed her softly, not caring who could see. I love you …

You too … she came back to him. You too.

Slowly, they pulled apart and he took her hand. Together, they walked out of the arboretum and toward Ten Forward.