The Dominion War.

His duty shift over, Will Riker was heading for Deanna's quarters. He needed to talk with her about what had happened in the observation lounge; he wasn't going to tell her she had been out of line since she was smart enough to see she had come close to crossing the line, but he just wanted to talk with her. Deanna had done the same thing for him many times over the years they'd served on this Enterprise and the old Enterprise-D, it was now time for him to return the favour.

As he passed the crewmembers in the corridors, he overheard some of their conversations. The news of the Dominion invasion of Betazed had spread throughout the ship after Captain Picard had announced it and released information about what had happened. There were several Betazoids on the ship, and the news had naturally horrified them since their world had been taken over by a hostile force, and Riker knew what the effects of the war were having on the rest of the Federation.

When he arrived at Deanna's quarters, Riker hoped she let him in; it was possible she would say he should leave and let her accept what had happened to her planet, her people, her mother, on her own. But he was hopeful she would let him inside.

He pressed the door chime and he heard her reply over the intercom.

Relieved although he had to ask if she was only doing it to be polite, Riker stepped into the cabin.

Deanna was sitting on her couch with a large holo-album in her hands. Her usually beautiful face which was always so pleasant and friendly looked grave and upset about what she had learnt.

"Deanna?" he said softly, wondering if she even knew he was there.

"Will, do you ever think about Ro Laren?" Deanna's voice was a whisper.

Will was surprised when he heard the name of the Bajoran officer who had defected to the Maquis during an important assignment, especially since he tried not to think about her, although their relationship had turned since then. The name stung because he and Ro had always had a tempestuous relationship. Will had been furious when he had learnt the Bajoran who had disobeyed orders during a disastrous away mission, resulting in the deaths of eight other people. She had been court-martialled and imprisoned, but she had been released as part of a plan to locate a Bajoran terrorist, and since she knew the area, she was the logical choice to come.

Ro had come a long way since then…only to betray them all to join the Maquis. Riker had been sitting there next to her when she pointed a phaser straight at him, and he had been the one to tell Captain Picard what had happened.

The worst thing was Riker had steadily learnt to trust the Bajoran woman. Yes, they'd had arguments but there had been moments where she had fascinated him since she seemed to enjoy the fights.

"Sometimes," he finally said in a neutral voice, although at this point he didn't know, no-one knew, since the Maquis were being exterminated by the Cardassians and their Jem'Hadar friends. "Why?"

"I've been thinking about her more and more since this whole mess started," Deanna confessed with a sigh. "When she first came onboard, Beverly and I tried to be nice to her, but she turned us away. She preferred being on her own. But later on…we began being more friendly, especially after that mess with the Quantum filament, and when our memories were wiped out."

Will flinched at the memories of the ship being rendered powerless. He had gained a tremendous respect for Data then for being able to handle the ship with just his head unit.

"Ro and I argued during that mess with the filament, but I held firm with my decisions. I think I won her respect," Deanna went on with a smile before her expression became grimmer. "When Bajor was finally liberated, I went to her when I felt strong emotions. She told me straight up while she was happy her world had been liberated, she was scared of what she'd find.

"Will, Ro told me stories of what the Cardassians did to Bajor," Deanna went on, her eyes filling with tears. "The Cardassians didn't just enslave, brutalise, and torture their victims; they would rape mothers, sisters, daughters, and make the rest of the family watch in horror. They even sent doctors and scientists to Bajor to experiment on the Bajorans, infecting them with terrible illnesses."

Riker had heard these stories himself. Ro Laren wasn't the only Bajoran to serve with him, there had been others and their stories of what the Cardassians had done to them had been shocking. The Bajorans he had known hadn't been the only ones to come back with horror stories of what the Cardassians were capable of doing and were more than willing to do. Miles O'Brien had served on the Cardassian front, and he had witnessed their atrocities, and Riker had heard of dozens of different accounts of what the Cardassians did to their prisoners. Even Captain Picard, who had been captured by Cardassians during a mission to see if the Cardassians had been developing metagenic weapons, probably still had nightmares of what the Cardassian captors had done to him. Hell, O'Brien had even been kidnapped as part of a Cardassian covert operation, and Riker could only imagine the type of pain he'd been put through.

It was acts like that and stories of what the Cardassians had done during their Occupation of Bajor where they had systematically strip-mined the planet, reducing the Bajorans who were a very old race, and had been teaching dozens of cultures art and philosophy when humans hadn't yet reached the 20th century to a handful of refugees, unfortunately, it was up to debate whether or not they were better off since there weren't any Cardassians around to enslave them, but life was rough for them.

But on Bajor…

Executions at random. Genocide. Biological experiments. Rapes. Tortures….

The lists of atrocities went on and on.

Riker had seen the level of destruction on Bajor, he had led the relief efforts before the wormhole had been discovered, and while the Cardassians had left the essence of Bajoran culture alone, the cities had been devastated, but what was nothing compared to the damage the Cardassians had caused to the planet. They had poisoned the water and the atmosphere over decades, making it harder for the Federation relief efforts.

When you took a walk around one of Bajor's cities, look at the devastated landscape which had once been lush and beautiful before the Cardassians in their greed had torn it all apart, it made you think about the mindset behind the Federation Council who believed in the treaty with the Cardassians, and their desire to bring both the Bajorans and the Cardassians together on the Federation council.

It was as though they wanted to change history, and make both races believe the Occupation had never happened. Only it couldn't be, not now….

He knew where Deanna was going with this. She was frightened the Cardassians were doing the same thing to the Betazoids.

He walked over to Deanna and wrapped her in his arms. "Deanna, it might not happen-," he tried to reassure her, but she pulled away, glaring at him.

"How would you know that?" she snapped with uncharacteristic rage. "The Cardassians could be taking my people, forcing them to mine beneath Betazed's surface for minerals, just like they did with Bajor. The Dominion might be trying to find a way of using my people's telepathy to use as a weapon! And it's all Starfleet's fault!"

"Now hang on, don't go too far!" Riker protested, although he had no idea why he was defending Starfleet when all their organisation had done was making so many foolish and short-sighted mistakes ever since the time the Borg threat was called off and everyone stopped being so afraid of the dark.

"Don't tell me what to do! If Starfleet had bothered to take the Dominion more seriously when they were first formally encountered, if Captain Sisko had been listened to, instead of all of those admirals sitting behind their cosy desks, saying that if they just avoided the Dominion the threat would go away, but it never did, did it Will?"

Riker had to concede Deanna had a point. The destruction of the USS Odyssey had sent terrible shockwaves through the Federation in the face of the new threat from the Dominion. But some elements in Starfleet took the threat seriously when that bomb had exploded a year ago, and when the Founders had tried to start a war with the Tzenkethi and another had lured the Tal Shiar and the Obsidian Order into a trap, before another had taken on General Martok's form and persuaded that idiot Gowron into going to war with the entire Alpha Quadrant.

Starfleet had known about the Dominion threat for a good few years now, but while they had managed to come a long way into shoring their defences up, they were still making mistakes. Will knew Deanna had a right to be angry, knew Starfleet had made a big error in judgement by assuming the Dominion wouldn't bother invading Betazed since it was too far from something as mundane as supply lines, but that did not mean she had to lose her temper.

"No, you're right," he said softly, deciding to use some of Deanna's own psychology against her. "We shouldn't have stuck our heads collectively in the ground like a load of ostriches. But you can't the admirals, or the Federation Council for the mistakes of a few who had gotten used to peace."

Deanna snorted. "I hate it when you use my reverse psychology on me."

Will grinned.