By Carol Sandford


Chapter 33


Will‘s feet slowed to an unsteady stop as he neared the still smouldering college building, the shock of what his eyes were seeing faltering his steps as he slowly took in the carnage that spread out before him. Medical teams worked on people that had been dug out of the collapsed entrance way, the flurry of military personnel, some of which Will knew, battled to stop relatives, friends and everyone else from entering the precarious building in a desperate attempt to find their missing loved ones, their cries and pleas swirling around Will‘s heart, gripping it even tighter, the pain becoming unbearable.

Unable to resist the pull, forcing his feet to move, Will hesitantly made his way off to the side where a dozen or so corpses lay in a row, their bodies covered with make-shift sheeting. Blood stained the stark whiteness of the material a bright and vivid red, the black soot a stark contrast amongst it, like a gruesome abstract painting.

Even though Will knew he wasn‘t searching for Deanna, he still found himself looking for a glimpse of the yellow jumper that Bill Traverse had mentioned on his way back to the planet. He had to see it for himself, despite everything. He just had to make sure it really wasn‘t her. When he saw the Zerx‘s holding each other as they stood over a prone corpse, Will inadvertedly sighed with sad relief before letting his genuine sorrow come to the fore once more.

Several people, relations of the deceased Will guessed, stood beside those that lay on the ground, their grief pouring from their hunched, miserable figures, disbelief mingled the piteous whimpers as they tried desperately to comprehen the senseless waste of precious life, and with it Will felt an immense wave of shame wash over him. He had failed these people. He had let down his guard, believed that he was in control, and let these people put their utmost trust in him, and he had let them down.

He couldn‘t help the roll of despair that drenched right through to his soul as his moist eyes moved away from his failures, the action releasing a solitary tear. He didn‘t bother wiping it away letting the blurriness somehow distort the carnage around him. His gaze came to settle and refocus on a solitary figure standing back from the other mourners, her head bowed low, her dress sombre, like the mood that shrouded the scene.

Will quietly moved, coming to a silent stand behind her. He didn‘t know what to say so instead he lifted his hand and rested in gently upon her shoulder. Within seconds, her own came to settle upon his, and he felt and heard a deep, shaky breath leave her lips.

For a long moment the two of them did nothing but watch as yet another body got carried out of the smouldering building, the victim being laid along side the last in the row of those already there. Despite the sheeting covering the body, it could not hide the woman beneath. A bulge in her abdomen area brought a gasp of shock from Will‘s lips as he realised that the poor soul had been with child.

"Oh, my God," Will gasped, instantly feeling Lwaxana‘s fingers lace with his in a futile effort to help him through the shock of what his eyes were seeing and what his mind was screaming at him. "What have I done?"

Lwaxana Troi watched the movements before her, unable to look away, unable to turn and embrace the man behind her as his guilt filled her senses. "It wasn‘t your fault, William," she whispered, squeezing his fingers harder, "None of this was your fault. It was mine."

Everything stopped, just for a moment as Will absorbed her misplaced blame, which were preposterous. Stupid even. How could she take the blame for this war? How could she possibly have stopped it? Betazed had called on the Federation for their help, and they had sent him. *HIM* He was the one that should have seen this coming; seen the deception, but he hadn‘t and innocent people had died. Innocent people had been kidnapped. Deanna, *his Imzadi*, had been kidnapped.

"What could you have possibly done, Mrs. Troi?" He asked. "This was not your fault." Will told her quietly.

She squeezed his fingers again and finally, slowly turned to him, and he saw the shadow of a sad smile upon her tear-stained face. "And nor was it yours, Lieutenant Riker. But, I could have done more," she hesitated for a brief second, her brow furrowing with thoughts that raced through her mind, "I should have done more." she reiterated.

Will studied her features intently, ignoring the blood shot eyes and the added lines that seemed to have sprung up over-night with worry. "What could you have possibly done that I hadn‘t?"

"You forget, William, that I am an ambassador. I not only have friends in high places, I have friends elsewhere in this cosmos." Spinning on her heels she started to walk away from him and Will instinctively followed, dimly aware that something she had just said had sparked a flame of hope within her, therefore reigniting his too.

She continued, "We need help, Mr. Riker, and I am intent on getting it. It‘s time I used my status, and my charm to its full advantage, and you, Will, are going to help me. Come along."

Will hastened his footsteps to keep up with hers that were almost at a run now that she had made a decision, and he couldn‘t help asking her the obvious, "What about Deanna, Mrs. Troi, and the other captives?"

Without missing a beat, or even a step she said, "That‘ll be your job. I‘m entrusting my daughter into your hands, so you‘d better make sure you bring her home to me, preferably alive and in one piece." She added for good measure.

Will balked at her words, "Mrs. Troi! I don‘t think..."

"Save it, William. I know you can communicate with her, and you have, haven‘t you, since she‘s been gone?" She looked at him briefly for confirmation as he nodded, even though she didn‘t really need to see his face to know his answer. "Deanna will lead you to her."

Will couldn‘t help asking, "Have...have you ‘spoken‘ to her, Mrs. Troi?"

Will winced under her indignant stare,"Of course I have, silly boy! I am her mother." Her eyes softened at Will‘s discomfort, slowing her steps until she actually stopped and reached out a hand to touch his arm. "She‘s alright, William. In danger, but alright, I promise."

Will nodded, his stance visibly relaxing a little with her reassurance. But even he knew that there was still a long way to go, and a lot to do before he could see for himself. Before he could hold her in his arms and never let her out of his sight again.

Will followed Lwaxana into the military base, his curiosity peaked to its height. "What are we doing here, Mrs. Troi?" Although he realized it was the logical place to be, and the once place that he knew he should have come to first, Will still couldn‘t understand why *she* would come here.

Not even bothering to knock on the door that they approached, which Will recognized as the boardroom, a room that he‘d only ever visited once - on his arrival. The matriarch of Betazed‘s highest society pushed open the door and barrelled in, with Will close behind, hot on her heels, curiosity and excitement filling his being.

The seven stunned men within turned to see who had barged in on their crisis talks, balking and then visibly shrinking when they saw who it was. Without a greeting, Lwaxana Troi made her way to the head of the oval table, placed her hands upon the rich red mahogany top and stared intently at each and every one of them, not giving them a chance, or daring them to utter one word.

"Gentlemen," she stated, her face alive with determination, and hope. "We have a war to win, and I know how we can win it."

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