By Carol Sandford


Chapter 16


"Can't you do something to get me off this rock, Tang? C'mon, I know you can pull some strings for me," Will pleaded, unable to keep the frustration and underlying urgency out of his voice, and his eyes. "Please!?" he quietly asked.

In the chair opposite him in his somewhat smaller office, Sergeant Tang studied the man that sat forlornly, but tinged with a simmering unsettled madness that gave away his true plight, with compassion. Tang wondered if Will had slept the night before because frankly, the young Starfleet lieutenant looked like hell. Dark circles smudged his upper cheeks beneath his eye sockets, and his normally light sky-blue eyes looked more like the dark brooding hue of an impending storm.

"'fraid not," the older man sympathised, "Seems the bosses are very impressed with what you've achieved since you've been here - want you to stay for another six months, so I heard, only just yesterday. I would have told you sooner, but you weren't around to hear the good news." he ended with a slight smile, aware that Will would ignore the ironical humour in his news rather than the foreboding doom that it really meant.

Will reacted exactly as he expected. He dropped his head into his hands, the effort to keep it upright seeming to fail with the tidings. Six months!? He couldn't stay here for six whole months and not see her! He didn't think he could even manage a day without somehow spying on her as she went about her daily routines. Just one second to remind him of what he felt for her would be all he'd need to satisfy his loss. But six whole months...



Tang's voice broke through his meanderings, "You know the planet has been under threat from the Sindareen. They're convinced that it is only a matter of time before they strike, and Starfleet are convinced that you're the man for the job when they do."

That didn't make him feel any better. Betazed had been under threat from the notorious scourge of space for so long now, that they'd almost seemed to be complacent about them, convinced that's all the threats would ever be; threats.

But any military man knew that they were just biding their time; waiting for that complacency to fall asleep just long enough for them to slip through the net and cause havoc on the peaceful Betazoids. On Deanna, Will grimaced as an unwelcome image filled his mind. On his Imzadi, he angrily reminded himself silently, his heart suddenly beginning to race at the mere thought of something, or someone laying one, filthy disgusting hand on her.

Will sprang to attention. "Damn it, Tang," his anger spilling out as he confronted the man, "Those damn Sindareen could turn up one day after I left Betazed in six, bloody months time. What good will I be then? I'm only one, damned man, for God's sake!"

Tang's eyebrows lifted with surprise. A week ago, he would never have heard those words from William T Riker. The rising star of Starfleet was the one person that Starfleet could have guaranteed staying power, and commitment when the going got tough. But not now, not since he'd gotten tangled up with Deanna Troi, and Tang had the nasty job of reminding him.

"This is your job, Lieutenant, like it or not. When those bastards finally hit, they want you here to deal with it," And then came the bombshell, "no matter how long it takes." Tang let that extra piece of bad tiding's sink in before sucking in a deep breath and continuing,

"I suggest," his voice dropping to a more compassionate note, "that you end whatever you've started with Miss. Troi, and do what you came here to do. Leaving Betazed right now is out of the question."

Tang pushed himself to a weary stand, his eyes never leaving the dejected man that still sat, unable to move as he tried to take in what he had told him. "I suggest, Will, that you go and find Miss Troi and end it on a good note. In time you might need the political powers that the daughter of the fifth house wields, and if you're antsy with her daughter, you could become very unstuck, and that will REALLY piss Starfleet off."

He headed for the doorway, but then another thought must have entered his head because he stopped and looked back and Will's head rose as he waited for Tang's final piece of advice, already knowing that he wasn't going to like it. "Get your head back into military mode, Lieutenant before you get it blown off."

And Will knew that he wasn't just talking about the rising threat of the Sindareen. If headquarters got wind of what he was up to here, they would be after more than his head, they'd want his ass, too. But he still couldn't help saying the words that slipped quietly and thoughtfully from his lips as he, too, pushed himself to a stand, misery poring from every vein in his body. "If only it were that simple, my friend. If only it were that simple."

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