By Carol Sandford


Chapter 35


Shut away again, out of sight and out of mind in the dark and dank hold, Deanna and her fellow captives felt the shift in tension escalate throughout the ship - not only through themselves, but her captors too. The fear reverberated from person to person as the arrival of the ships signalled the next stage in this deadly war game, the menable to stand, moved gingerly to their feet in anxious expectation.

They were here.

The Federation had ignored her silent advice and had come anyway. One part of her, the part that hurt, told her that they truly did not have a choice *but* to come. The other part, the part the hurt even more, hoped with all her heart that they would sacrifice those few and save the many.

But what hurt most of all was knowing the man that she had fallen desperately and hopelessly in love with would have come despite everything. She couldn‘t stop the shudder that rippled through her body, not only for the battle that was sure to come, but because, at last, at long last, if they got through this, if they made it home, Deanna was a only heartbeat away from seeing Will again. But the even greater reason was because any moment now, she might lose her Imzadi forever.

Her thoughts and movements betrayed her Jeb shifted his own thoughts from elsewhere to his charge. He had to reassure her, to help her through this next trial. "We‘ll be fine." He‘ll be fine," Jeb emended, realizing that her own thoughts were focused on one man as he held her closer still, trying to absorb the trembles that racked her slender frame, his quiet voice, strong with conviction as he studied Deanna‘s shadowed features as she sat tucked close beside him.

Deanna marvelled at the man holding her. In spite of the incredible pain he was suffering from his ankle injury, Jeb still managed to hold it together enough to offer her comfort. She so needed him beside her through this; to replace the one person that she could not have in his place. Deanna could only turn in his arms and coil her arms around his neck in gratitude.

Momentarily startled, and surprised at the innocent affection that Deanna was showering upon him, Jeb Murser recoiled a fraction until he felt her need, and then his fatherly instincts kicked in and he held her back, gently rubbing away the chilling shudders that still rippled throughout her slim body.

He knew what was troubling her, despite the obvious. The war was about to begin in earnest, and they were either going to live, or they were going to die. For some of them that had no one to care for, including him, death was just another step nto another dimension. For others, like Deanna, death would be another path, a path of loneliness, and loss, and infinitely more. But it didn‘t start in the afterlife. It started here. Right now, and Deanna was already beginning to feel that loss even though he knew as well as she did, that her beloved was still alive.

Jeb could only offer her his comfort, and Deanna seemed more than content with that. His ankle hurt worse that hell itself and he tried valiantly not to move the shattered limb. As Deanna had turned in his arms, he felt the hot shard of pain shoot through his entire body and it was as much as he could take to stop the moan from leaving his mouth. He shifted a fraction to alleviate the pressure, but the woman in his embrace seemed oblivious to his dilemma.

And then he realized that along with her sudden stillness she was deathly quiet, the shudders finally ceasing along with everything else, bar the thrum of the ship surrounding them. She was communicating with someone, and Jeb had no doubt that it was their savior, Lieutenant William Riker.

He hoped. Oh, God, how he hoped.

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