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Stardate 57722.2
USS Enterprise – NCC-1701-E
En route Starbase 214
Personal Quarters – Commander, Riker, William T.

“Will!” Deanna caught his attention before he over-poured her glass of wine. He pulled the bottle back hurriedly and almost spilled some on the table. Deanna rolled her eyes in frustration.

“I’m sorry Deanna, I guess I’m just preoccupied.” He admitted, setting the bottle back in the bucket resting on the table in his quarters.

“I’ll say,” Deanna’s annoyance sliced through. “What’s gotten into you?”

Riker shook his head. “A lot of things…and…nothing.”

“What Will, what’s going on?” she asked point-blank. “Ever since the Panther arrived you’ve been on edge.”

Will nodded and sighed heavily. “I’m sorry Deanna, I can’t say.”

Deanna pressed her lips together in aggravation. “Fine. I can understand that, but you can still tell me what’s got you all flustered. We haven’t been able to enjoy this wonderful dinner and…” she reached out for his hand consolingly, “…I was really hoping we could enjoy another bath together,” her voice softened and lowered.

Will grimaced and took her hand in his. The thought of soaking in a hot tub with her amazing body appealed to him like nothing else. The thought of having to say no to her crushed him. “I’m sorry Deanna,” his voice weakened with his apology, “I’ve been asked to follow up on a few matters by the captain before we get to SB 214. I’ll have to take a rain check.”

Deanna sighed heavily and shook her head and shrugged. She reached to take his hand in hers and her soft skin caressed his arm. He was losing himself in the black pools of her eyes. “That’s a shame…maybe tomorrow night then?”

Oh shit! Riker grimaced once more then rubbed his eyes hard. “I can’t Deanna. I’ve already told Captain Steele I’d meet her for dinner tomorrow night.”

Deanna’s eyebrows lifted with surprise. “Oh,” she said quietly and began to pull her hand back away from his.

Riker quickly grabbed her hand back and his voice dropped in consolation, “Deanna, she’s a very good and very old friend. We were in the Academy together. I haven’t seen her in person in a couple of years. We have a lot of catching up to do that’s all.” He could still see her disappointment.

"How come you never mentioned her?”

“Well, I have on occasion.” Riker stated with some surprise. “I don’t know why you don’t remember. I’ve told you about my friend Toni and that we correspond all the…”

“She’s Toni?” Deanna shook her head. “Toni from the Academy? Toni in the Nova Squad?”

Riker nodded with some confusion. “Yes.”

"Why was I under the impression that Toni was a man?”

Riker laughed. “I have no idea Deanna. She has always, been a woman.”

The emphasis he placed on the word made Deanna shift in her chair. “That she is Will, and a beautiful one at that.”

“Yes she is,” he admitted without shame. “You should also know that she was my first real girlfriend Deanna.”

"I thought you said your first girlfriend married Paul Rice.”

Riker smirked. “She did.” He shook his head and softly bit his lip with a mischievous grin. “I’m surprised at you Deanna. First you assume that Toni was a man and second you assume she would take Paul’s last name?”

Deanna burned but then sat back with intense embarrassment. “Oh…” She cringed heavily and covered her eyes and hid her face. “I’m sorry Will…”

Riker sat forward then reached for Deanna’s hand apologetically. “Deanna, Toni married Paul a couple of years after we graduated. The year I met you.”

Deanna breathed out heavily in understanding and nodded. “She lost him when the Drake was destroyed…” she whispered.

Riker nodded solemnly. “Yes.”

Deanna settled back in her chair and smiled to him. “I guess I didn’t realize that you and she were so close.”

Riker allowed a grin to break through. “Toni and I have been very close for a very long time Deanna.”

“Why haven’t you talked more about her?” she asked quietly.

Riker shrugged. “I don’t know.” He reached out for Deanna’s face and touched her cheek softly. “I guess I didn’t…”

“Captain to Riker.”

Riker closed his eyes and clicked his combadge. “Riker here, sir.”

“Report to the ready room please, Number One.”

Deanna smiled weakly as Riker stood. “On my way sir.” He looked to Deanna with defeat. “Sorry.” He leaned forward and touched her cheek and looked deep into her eyes. “I love you.”

Deanna settled back, nodded and accepted his kiss. She could feel his sincerity and she was buoyed. “I love you too Will.”

He turned and left his room to meet the captain. Deanna sighed heavily, picked up her glass and drew a long sip.

Stardate 55726.1
Starbase 214
Starbase Officers’ Lounge

Strangely, Riker found himself wanting to reach out and touch her face as she smiled at him from across the small table in the starbase lounge. Instead, he reached across and took her hands in his. He was surprised to feel a ring on her left hand and he touched the ring softly. He pulled his hands back gently.

Steele realized he had noticed her ring and she blushed slightly. “I don’t know why I wear it Will…I think it’s only out of habit.”

Riker’s head dropped a little. “You still haven’t let go yet, that’s why.”

She shifted uncomfortably in her seat, “I don’t know…”

“It’s only been what? Eleven years?” He asked with concern and agitation in his voice. “Paul would have wanted you to move on.”

Steele frowned, “Maybe so.” She sighed once more and looked into his face and his gentle, caring expression. “I have in some ways…but…” she broke off.

Riker smiled softly and took her hands back in his. “Sorry Tone. I’m sorry.”

Steele grinned and caressed his hands back. “It’s okay. You’re right you know. Paul would have wanted me to move on. It’s just that every morning when I wake up, I put the ring on.” She dropped her head with a slight laugh. “God Will…I still talk to his picture…” she admitted.

“He loved you so much. He always did everything to make you happy…” Riker let her hands go once more and leaned back in his chair with a smile. “…something I just couldn’t seem to concentrate on.”

Steele pressed a smile. “You tried enough early on.” She let her grin widen, “You just lost interest.”

“Hey.” Riker cringed. “I didn’t lose interest…I lost my ability to concentrate on you, Zeta Squad and classes.” He sighed heavily. “Paul had it made. Gah, he could do anything – school, Nova Squad and you…he never had to make that choice.”

“You made the choice that was right for you Will. You know that,” she offered.

“Yeah, but…” He looked to her amazing green eyes, they were always so understanding. “Damn that was hard to do.” He laughed out loud. “Then you ended up with my roommate. That was below the belt, Toni.”

“Don’t blame me,” She laughed. “Paul swept me off my feet.”

“I remember the day I told him I broke it off with you.” Riker found himself swept up by the memory of Paul Rice standing in their quarters at the Academy. “He told me that day I was a fool for letting you go. He informed me that he was going to pursue you and that he had no intention of making my mistake.” Riker sighed with a grin. “Not that he was asking my permission. No. Damn bastard…confident to the last. He told me he was going to marry you that day. He was always right…always.” He saw her smile fade slightly. Concerned, he leaned and took her hands into his again. “I miss him too. I miss him every day. I still feel like maybe things would be different if I had…”

“Don’t Will. Don’t even say it,” she barked. “Paul and the others died because of a device created by a people who let hate control them. It ended up decimating them as well. You and the others from the Enterprise were able to find it and have it destroyed before any others could be hurt by it. You needed to be there.”

Riker saw her quickly wipe away a single tear as it quickly fell from her eye. Steele shifted in her chair and her smile returned. “I see that the baby face is back,” she wisecracked. “I’m not sure I can get used to it Will. I liked the beard.” Steele could see that her comment actually made Riker appear to blush and she laughed.

“What is it about your first love?” Riker grinned and looked to Steele’s joyful face across the dining table. He hoped she would understand his train of thought, but one look to the jade that returned his gaze let him know he needn’t have worried.

She sighed softly, “I don’t know…a common, shared experience I guess.”

“Possibly.” Riker let his eyes fall over her hair and her face and as his eyes drifted lower he caught himself, finding it difficult to figure out where his thoughts were heading and he broke his gaze from her lovely face.

“What’s her name Will?” she asked and bit her bottom lip.

Riker grinned and laughed. “Deanna.” He smiled. “You’ve already met her.”

“Counselor Troi?” She let forth a genuine grin. “Will, that’s wonderful!”

“I’m glad you think so.”

“I do! She’s beautiful," Steele said reassuringly.

Riker nodded. “I met her two weeks after you and Paul got married.”

Steele’s face scowled and her brows furrowed. “Then why haven’t I met her before now?” she said with offense.

“I met her on Betazed.” He leaned back and pulled his elbow up to the arm of his chair, then rested his head on his fist and frowned. “You see Tone, I ended up making the same decision with her that I did with you,” he sighed. “Except…she never had the benefit of knowing.” He let his own embarrassment and pain show.

“You mean you never told her you were moving on?” Steele asked.

“Nope,” he rubbed his eyes. “I got promoted before I could meet her on Risa and…I never followed through.” He cringed. “Then we were both assigned to the Enterprise and well…once again, I let duty get in the way.” He shifted in his seat slightly and his smile broke free once more. “We only just recently…reignited the fire, so to speak.”

Steele shook her head slightly. “That’s a shame. You wasted all that time did you?”

Riker’s brows furrowed. “You should talk…” His eyes drifted to the ring on her left finger.

Her cheeks brightened. “You’re right. Sorry.”

Steele peered into Riker’s eyes apologetically and he laughed in return. “Looks like we’re both pretty good at that,” he said with his smile.

“That’s for sure,” she nodded. “I can see you love her very much.”

Riker smiled gently. “I do.”

“Good.” She reached to touch his hand on the table. “I look forward to getting to know her,” she said sincerely. “So tell me Will. Why haven’t you taken your own command yet? You turned down the Drake before it was offered to Paul. You were offered the Aries. You were offered the Melbourne…”

“I like the Enterprise,” he said bluntly. “This is home for now.”

Steele shrugged. “I just never saw you as the type that would settle Will. You were determined to make captain before you turned thirty five and you would have if you had taken the Drake.”

“Why does everyone think I settled? I don’t think I settled at all…being XO of the flagship?” he challenged her.

“Maybe not,” she offered, “but we were certainly looking for people of your caliber when looking for commanders for the Cats. Don’t get me wrong Will, I understand your need to explore. Paul was the same way,” Her face contorted. “…but since the Dominion War, we’re more than just a little thin on experienced commanders. We could really use you.”

“I know,” he responded. “Maybe in a couple more years.”

Steele sat back in her chair, folded her arms and whistled slightly. “Boy, you did get comfortable.”

He laughed. “Maybe I did.” He saw Steele shake her head with what he thought looked like disappointment. “You said that you remembered me as more of a fighter pilot.”

“You were always the best Will,” she confirmed. “You were the only one who could give me a run for my credits.”

He let his grin split his face. “Yeah, I was.” He took a deep breath in. “But that side of me has vanished. The Enterprise nurtured a different side, one that I like.”

“Vanished? I don’t believe that for an instant. Squelched maybe, but not gone.”

“No,” he replied calmly. “Well, maybe it’s not entirely gone, but that side of me has changed.”

Steele reached for his hair and softly pushed a lock of it back, “You grew up.” She let her hand draw down the side of his face. “Maturity suits you. I like it.”

“Good.” He sipped his wine. “By the way Antoinette, you need to know. You haven’t aged day. You’re still incredibly beautiful.”

“Thank you.” She dropped her head slightly. “That’s nice to hear coming from you.”

Riker leaned back in his chair and his eyes washed over her once more. “So tell me, Captain. What’s a nice girl like you doing commanding a brute like the Panther?”

Steele’s eyes widened with the excitement Riker had expected to see. “She is a brute isn’t she?” Her voice almost giggled with glee. “Ah Will, she’s amazing! I’ve never felt so a part of a ship before…”

Riker laughed out loud. “Now you know how I feel about the Enterprise.” He turned serious again, “…but Toni, I have to tell you…your performance on the Yeager during the Breen raid on San Francisco…” He exhaled. “…was spectacular.”

Steele’s porcelain cheeks flushed with color again and she dropped her gaze to the table-top. “That was a rough day wasn’t it Will?”

He chuckled slightly with her seeming humility. “But what you did…well Captain, I’m just glad I’m able to say thank you…in person.” He rubbed his eyes again, softly. “When were you released for duty?”

She bit her lip coyly. “About two weeks after I left Starfleet Medical.” She scrunched up her nose slightly, “They offered the Panther to me while I was still there. I got better faster after I knew I they wanted me to come back.”

“Come back?!” Riker shook his head in shock. “I’m surprised they didn’t just kick you straight to Admiralty,” he poked. “Seriously, you deserved the accolades and the ship. Captain Picard still talks about the Yeager’s move and the sacrifice you made for us and the Thunderchild. I know he was thrilled to meet you and he’s very much looking forward to your ride tomorrow.”

“I am glad to hear that, but we really were just doing our job. The real sacrifice was made by others, not me. Your shields were down, so were the Thunderchild’s. We still had sixty percent and had a hell of a better chance against that spread than either of you. I was right. I lost seven damn good people that day…” she stalled and her eyes saddened, “…but if either the Enterprise or the Thunderchild had taken those torpedoes, the losses would have been much, much greater,” she stated with authority. “You would have done the same and so would’ve Picard. I know it.” She patted his hand on the table. “By the way Will, it’s nice that I can finally thank you in person for your transmissions while I was in recovery. They helped a lot.”

“I just wish I could have visited you in person,” he sais sadly. “I was really worried about you.”

“I know. The doctor told me you contacted him every day to check on my progress. When I came out of the coma and realized that I had missed three weeks of my life…the fact I could hear all about it from you made it very special.”

“Well, how else were you going to catch up on things?” He grinned and leaned forward across the table once more.

“Will...” Her eyes, still smiling, caught a softer glow. “Just…thanks.”

“You’re welcome Antoinette.”

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