By Carol Sandford


Chapter 23


"When am I going to get to meet this man, then, Deanna?" Chandra grinned mischievously, her eyes alight with mirth and tenderness as she swooped on the tranquil moment that popped up in between catching up with the news.

Deanna couldn't help her own bashful chuckles from erupting as she glanced at her friends smiling face, "What have you heard?" she asked, humorous exasperation packed her question as she prepared herself for the inquisition, that she quite frankly, thought would have been explored as soon as the two girls had gotten together.

Chandra laughed, the sound wonderful to hear against the threat of impending war and the loss of the military protection that allowed them to sleep safer in their beds. The dreams to remain their own instead of the nightmares that were sure to come. "Oh, come...on, Miss Troi. I sometimes wonder if you forget which planet you're on. Did you really think you could slip that little secret of yours by me?" She asked, the air of conspiracy written all over her features.

"If only," Deanna moaned. "Between my mother, who we all know has the biggest mouth and mind in town, and you, who'd like nothing more than to see me, and I quote, 'join the human race', and, 'get down and get with it', as you like to call it, I stand absolutely no chance." She grinned back at her, "Go on, admit it. You're all thrilled that I've finally burned my bridges and snagged a man."

"But not just any old man," Chandra admonished with a smile, "Not one of our own kind. Not even someone nice and ordinary, who would stick around until you're old and wrinkly." She ploughed on relentlessly, "Give you half a dozen babies to keep you amused, and love you until the end of time."

Deanna laughed loudly at her friends preposterous assumption of her future, but the slightly older woman hadn't finished yet. "Nope. Deanna Troi, daughter of the daughter of the Third House only goes and snags THE hottest, THE sexiest, piece of ass that ever landed on our soil."

Deanna blinked with stunned surprise, not quite sure whether to be out-raged, or flattered by, it seems, not only Chandra, but the vast majority of people who knew her, and knew Will. In the end, she decided to take the ribbing with the good humour that it required, "He is cute, isn't he?" she grinned shyly, her onyx eyes lighting up with the feelings that washed through her when the man in question filled her thoughts, standing there, tall and proud in his uniform. The smile upon his handsome face, for her. Only for her.

Deanna sighed with longing, the smile still firmly in place, until Chandra spoke again, but now the humour was gone, replaced by a burning need to know. Her footsteps slowed, and Deanna's feet automatically slowed along with her, until finally, coming to a full stop, they turned to face each other. Chandra's eyes searched Deanna's, wanting to see what lay beyond the cool exterior that everyone else saw. Only Chandra knew that beneath the stoic surface, there was a whole lot more; There had been a woman that was dying to be loved, and that who, a long last, had found that love, regardless of whether she was ready for it, or not.

Deanna had been trembling on the brink, fighting to hold on to her heart, and her soul with all her might. But Lieutenant William Riker had swept into her life like a force ten tornado and had tipped her over it's edge.

"What's it like?"

For a long, companionable moment, nothing was heard except distant voices in the background, rising in alarm as the weather began to change, and then Deanna spoke, but her words were barely above a whisper, but the whisper told more than if she had stood on a roof top and shouted it at the top of her voice. "It's wonderful, Chandra."

The small shrug that lifted her shoulders along with the watery smile that lit her face was as much as Deanna could convey, aware that anything else she said would not be even remotely as accurate as her simple heartfelt response.

But Chandra didn't need her friend to say anything else. She saw it all there, in her eyes, even her aura oozed what becoming Imzadi had meant to her. Smiling radiantly, telling her without words that she was ecstatic for her friends happiness, Chandra slipped her arm through Deanna's and they moved on, and with each step, the euphoria that surrounded the two finally dissipated as they finally began to take notice of what was happening around them.

Glancing up at the sky, the clouds began to thicken above their heads. The normal turquoise, clear skies soon became a blanket of water-laden puffs of angry rain clouds, almost ready to dump their heavy loads onto those below that weren't quick enough to find shelter.

Quickening their pace, aware that the infrequent showers that Betazed occasionally endured were heavy, saturating everything in seconds. Deanna and Chandra picked up their pace and hurried towards the campus for the afternoon session.

As the temperature dipped, Chandra rubbed her arms, shivering from the sudden chill that the dark clouds sent down as a prelude of what was to come. Still some ways from the college grounds, they soon realized that they were not going to make it back in time. Slipping her sweater off, Deanna passed it to her friend. "Here, take this."

"No, Dee, I'm fine, honest. There's no point in both of us getting cold." Chandra protested, trying to hand the soft lemon top back to her friend, grateful for the thought, but mortified that Deanna would then freeze while she would be all snug and warm beneath her sweater.

Deanna Troi forcibly shoved the top back into Chandra's arms, chuckling good-naturedly as they continued to trot along, relieved to see the campus in the near distance. "Take it, Chan. I'm more than warm enough. See, I have a long sleeved blouse on, and your arms are bare. You need it, I don't. Take it, and don't argue." she said, not giving her a chance to argue back.

Relenting after seeing the determined look upon the darker woman's face, Chandra smiled gratefully, slipping the garment over her head, pulling it down past her slender hips, folding up the cuffs out of the way. Deanna was a good four inches shorter than her taller frame, but right now, Chandra didn't care that she wasn't a fashion icon. She was just glad to be warm again.

A crack of thunder roared through the skies so unexpected that both girls leapt a foot in the air, their screeches echoing in the sudden quiet of the surrounding area. It was hard to believe that only an hour ago, they had been walking through the park. The sun had been high in the sky and Deanna was feeling better about Will's absence, more so since her talk with her mother.

She knew only too well that when a couple were bonded, their thoughts were never far away from one another. Having a permanent connection between their minds was soothing. Knowing that he was alive and okay helped. Knowing that he was thinking about her was even more precious than she dared to admit, and she had to keep positive, for her Imzadi's sake.

Will would have been able to feel her, sense her pain and worry, and eventually, Deanna realize, that she could be doing his own state of mind some harm. And so when her best friend, Chandra had called and asked her to spend some time with her, away from the house before classes, Deanna was more than keen to go.

The dark canopy above their heads rolled and rumbled, the noise becoming deafening as it began to rain. Deanna felt the first giant drop hit her shoulder just as they both did a mini sprint to the college entrance, relieved that they made it unscathed.

But then above the roar of the storm, they heard something else. Something far more ominous than the rain, and when they both swung around on the college steps, they watched in horror as a huge ship swept down, it's size creating a shadow that blacked the entire college grounds like a huge bird of prey, swooping down, searching for it's quarry.

And then it found what it was looking for, and slowed, finally coming to a halt, hovering before them like a vast, shadowy, evil praying mantis preparing itself to do its worst. The two girls, along with a score of others that had accumulated upon the college steps stood frozen, unable to move, unable to break their eyes away from the hypnotizing scene before them, until a whining sound broke their gaze away from the ships hull, their eyes dropping to the ships under-carriage, watching as two doors opened.

From then on, everything turned to slow motion; the whole universe slithered to a fractional crawl, letting everything evil savour on the chaos it had gathered up into its embrace. Someone screamed, and then they all began to scream, the men and the women as the evil began to spew forth its poison. Turning, everyone hurtled themselves toward the glass door behind them, desperately trying to squeeze their bodies through the too small gap, only designed to fit two people at a time instead of the mad crush that besieged it, seemingly growing smaller in protest, holding them back, keeping them out. Maybe it knew better than those poor souls. Maybe it realised that they were safer out than in. But no one listened.

Deanna, still transfixed and unable to move, could only watch in horror as two identical missiles left the alien ship and headed straight for her. Deserted by her friend as she had made a desperate run for her own life into the building that had stood proudly for the past seventy plus years, Deanna closed her eyes, never feeling more alone than she'd ever felt before, and then let her own screams join the others, her last thought was of never seeing her beloved ever again.

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