By Carol Sandford


Chapter 04


"Can we talk?"

Will stood on the threshold of Deanna’s quarters, looking concerned and distracted. Deanna sighed, stood back and let Will step into her lounge. She stayed by the door and watched the big man prowl around her quarters, searching for a way to say what he had on his mind. Deanna spoke for him.

"Stephanie’s in love with me, and how could I have been so blind to have missed it? What the hell am I going to do about it. She wants me to love her...not as a friend, but as a lover. How can I let her down gently, it’s impossible to have a relationship with her, she means as much to me as if she were my own daughter."

With every word that fell from Deanna’s mouth, Will’s pacing became slower until he finally came to a halt before her. The frown across his handsome features told her that he had been milling those questions, and others in his own head for a while. A million and one questions raced through his mind, but he only asked her one.

"What am I going to do, Deanna?"

Deanna stepped around him and slowly made her way to the couch, Will followed her and they both sat down. Deanna sat back, calm and responsive; Will was uncomfortable and agitated. The tell-tale stroke of his palms on his upper thighs highlighted his dilemma, and Deanna reached over to stop him. Will groaned, turning away from Deanna to hide his acute embarrassment, but his head snapped back as Deanna spoke.

"How do you feel about Stephanie? Are you attracted to her, Will? Have you given her any encouragement?"

Will stared at her horrified as the implications of her words slammed home. "NO! No, never, Deanna, she’s a child!"

Deanna’s eyebrows rose at his outburst, and then she frowned. "Will, Stephanie is a woman, a twenty three year old, very beautiful woman. A woman who has had a lover and enough heartache to catapult her into adulthood before she left adolescence. Stephanie Carter is no child, Will, and you know that. You can see and feel that, and it scares you. Admit it, Will"

Will looked away and ran a hand over his beard. He cracked a sheepish grin and groaned. “Hell, I hate it when you’re right, Deanna. And as usual, you’re right. How can I admit that I think she’s attractive? It makes me sound”

“Normal? Will really, you shouldn’t feel so upset. Stephanie is a beautiful young woman. Feeling attracted to her is normal and I think you know that. Whether or not you want to act on the feeling is what’s really bothering you.” Deanna stood and began to pace the room, her own crossed armed posture giving away her own unease.” How did it escalate this quickly? What happened tonight, Will?"

Will shrugged, clearly puzzled by the question, "Nothing. We had dinner, we talked. We went to the observation lounge to look at the stars, then she left, end of story."

Deanna grinned knowingly. Backing up to the doorjamb, she propped herself against it, crossed her arms and legs and asked again. "Try again, Will, tell me what really happened."

Will scowled at her, pushed himself back into the corner of the couch, put his ankle upon his knee and started again. "I picked her up at 20:00 hours, like we agreed, and I took her to holosuite four."

Deanna butted in. "You took her to the holosuites. Why not Ten Forward?"

Will frowned and looked confused by her question. "Because Stephanie had put on an evening gown, and I felt that she was a little to overdressed for Ten Forward, so I took her to the holosuite and set up a restaurant scene." He answered her with another scowl, the sensation of digging himself into a hole growing as her silence lengthened.

“Will think about it. Why would she wear an evening gown for a dinner with an old friend? Never mind, what did the dress look like?”

Will sighed, shuffling forward again, clasping his fingers together, “What difference does that make, I mean is there a special kind of gown or something? It was long, and a gorgeous shade of amber. It was just a dress Deanna!”

“I’ll get to that, now what else, Will?"

The puzzled look returned as he tried to picture Stephy in his wasn’t all that difficult. That realization made him queasy. What had he missed? "Well, it was strapless, and had a split up to here."

Deanna watched Will’s finger indicate on his upper thigh just where the split ended. Astonished, Deanna looked up at him then and smiled, just a small rueful grin, and shook her head. "How could you not know, Will. It’s not as if you don’t have any experience with a beautiful woman. What you just described is a dress designed to stun!"

Will smirked, "Oh yeah, it certainly did that!" He stopped as he realized what he had said, then just as quickly shook his head, "But I doubt that stunning is what she had on her mind."

Deanna shook her head despairingly, "I disagree but we’ll leave that for now. What happened next?”

Will pursed his lips, his eyes wide as he tried to recall the evening. "Well, we ordered and made small talk, you knew about her mom and then Quinny dying, I hugged her, you know, just a comforting hug."

Deanna stepped forward, coming to a standstill before him, "Show me that hug."

“What? Deanna, what good will that do?”

That she simply glared at him was enough to get Will to his feet. He cleared his throat and pushing himself to a stand. He felt awkward suddenly and hesitated before putting his arms around Deanna the way that he had done to Stephanie. Deanna expected him to release her within moments of hugging her, but held on for several minutes, until Deanna eventually pulled away.

She walked away from him to the opposite side of the room. Will stared, stunned almost at the abruptness of her exit from his arms. He was presented with her back, as she stared out the viewport, her arms wrapped around her torso. He waited, sensing that she was gathering her thoughts. And then she turned, and the expression on her face took his breath away...sadness, heartfelt regret saturated her features and made the corners of her mouth turn down.

“Oh Will, how can you possibly be so naive?” She said in a soft voice.

Will felt laughter bubbling up from his chest and almost smiled, but the look on Deanna’s face squelched the urge. Instead he looked defensive and tried to justify his actions, "Naive! Me? Come on, Deanna, you know me better than that. It was a harmless hug. I was simply comforting her, there’s nothing wrong with that, is there?!"

Deanna sighed as she turned away from him again. "No, not ordinarily, Will, but if what I suspect is true, then we may have a far more serious problem. Tell me what happened after the hug?" Deanna moved away from her position at the viewport and sat down on the couch facing Will. She leaned back, crossed her legs and assumed her -counselor- position.

Will slowly walked around the room as he relayed the next installment. "I don’t see what good this will do, Deanna.”

“Humor me okay? You came here looking for help, so let me help. What happened after you hugged her?”

Will exhaled an exasperated breath and frowned at her. Deanna’s response was to arch an elegant eyebrow and raise her hands, palm up. “Well?”

Will raked a hand through his hair, and missed the way that Deanna caught her the gesture that was so typically Will. “Stephanie wanted to see the rest of the ship, so I took her to the observation lounge. She told me a little about Quinny...Quinton Stone, you remember him?”

Deanna nodded. Oh, yes, she remembered the man very well. Stone had the rugged good looks of a man used to getting what he wanted from anything and anyone. His black hair and blue eyes held a magnetism that even she had found difficult to resist. Yes, she remembered him. “Yes, Will I remember Stone. Now what happened?”

“Well, I expressed my concerns about Stone, and for her. She laughed and said that Stone had loved her, as a man loved a woman and that she loved him too. I tried to tell her that I thought Stone was far to old to have an intimate relationship with her, but she just laughed it off. Then she kissed me."

Will’s last words hung in the air like their breath; suspended as the shock of Will’s words sank in. Deanna realized that she was gaping at him as the impact of his words wore off.

"She, kissed you?"

He nodded. Deanna’s eyes locked onto Will’s even they darted away from the knowing gaze, his guilt blasted against her empathic sense and then vanished as he tried to block her. Deanna ignored her urge to pursue that guilt, but decided against that course of action, for now. Instead, she repeated herself.

"She, kissed you?"

Riker nodded and once again Deanna felt his guilt. This time she went after it. "Will, what made you allow her to kiss you If you suspected that she was attracted to you. Why didn’t you stop her?”

Will shrugged and blushed a little. He crossed his own arms over his chest and tried very hard to look nonchalant. “Never mind that for now, what did you say to her?"

His eyes clouded as he thought about what had happened earlier. Deanna saw the storm brewing as he spoke. "Deanna, she was only fifteen! He took advantage of a girl who had lost her family. He stole her innocence, he should have known better, and if he was still alive today, I would have him court-marshaled!"

Deanna let him finish his outburst, the atmosphere became highly charged with feelings and anger until Deanna spoke quietly, "What did you say to her after the kiss, Will?

“Nothing. She walked out on me. I was so flabbergasted that I walked around for a while trying to figure out what had just happened, and then I came here. What the hell am I going to do, Dee?”

Deanna stared down at the rug and tried to compose herself against the emotions he projected. Anger, acid and destructive hid something far deeper, especially considering the flashes of guilt she’d felt earlier. Could it be?

“Why are you so upset, Will? Is it possible that you have feelings for her. Could you be in love with Stephanie?"

Will laughed outright at the preposterous suggestion, but that laughter dissipated to leave a questioning ache that ate away at his heart, and his conscience. Turning away from her, he stared out of the viewport. Deanna felt Will’s turmoil as the question bounced around in his mind, but the empath already knew his answer.

"No! Yes!... no, I...I don’t think so, but I can’t deny that I feel attracted to her. Damn it she kisses”

“Like a woman?” Deanna said in her soft understanding voice.

“Yes, damn it, like a woman! I actually responded. How could I have responded to her, Dee? I mean I feel like she’s my responsibility. I always hoped that I could replace her father in some small way. Jackson was a good friend, Deanna, and he left behind a child that needed a father figure in her life, someone to look after her. But what she got was that weirdo Stone, who stepped right in and abused that child, and I should have been there to stop him"

"That wasn’t your fault, Will. You know that.”

“I failed her Deanna. I failed, and the hell of it is..."

Will broke off, leaving the painfully obvious ending to Deanna’s own imagination, but she gasped as Will continued, his voice heavily burdened with his guilty admission.

"Right at this minute, so help me, I don’t feel particularly fatherly towards her, but I don’t want her that way, Dee. Honestly, I don’t. What can I do? I don’t want to hurt her. She’s a beautiful young woman and deserves all that life can give her, but I’m not the man to give her what she wants."

Will felt Deanna’s hand touch his back and he turned into her arms. The two friends held on to each other for some time before Will brokenly whispered into her hair.

"Damn!, I’m so afraid of her, Deanna. What can I do? I don’t want to hurt her."

Deanna looked up into Will’s face, his eyes sparkled like two blue sapphires as her quiet answer touched his heart. "You have to find a way to make her understand without shattering her feelings. Take some time to think about it. You’ll know what to do when the time is right. I have faith in you. But remember, whatever you decide, Imzadi, I’m behind you. I understand and I’m here for you, I’ll always be here for you."

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