She was on the Bridge when it happened.
It should have been a routine mission, investigating the planet's surface for artifacts left by a long-extinct race. The captain had sent a small away team to the surface to explore, including a few science officers, Worf, and of course Will to lead the group. In constant contact with the Enterprise, they'd been relaying their findings as they happened - a piece of art here, an ancient tool there. Every new discovery caused Picard's face to light up a little bit more; it didn't take an empath to know that he was delighted with the discovery of an ancient civilisation's history.
"Captain," Worf's gruff voice came over the communicator, "We've found a structure of some kind. It looks like it may have once been a temple." The transmission sounded slightly fuzzy, as though they were losing signal slightly.
Authorative and clear, Picard praised his chief of security. "Excellent find, Mr Worf. Let's see what's in there."
"Ackowledged." Again, the transmition didn't sound as clear as it should. There seemed to be some sort of interference.
The away team continued their exploration, and carried on detailing the various interesting things they discovered. The communicator signal kept deteriorating.
"Cap-" The transmission was breaking up so badly it was clipping some of Will's words as he spoke. "There's- ... kind of mosaic. I think- ... to see it-"
"Can you repeat that, Number One?"
"I sai-... mosaic in the tem-... Get down!"
Everyone on the Bridge tensed at Will's sudden order to the away team. He'd sounded startled, almost panicked. Something had gone wrong.
Picard shifted forward in his chair, alert. "Report, Number One." No one came in to respond. "Picard to Commander Riker." Silence again. "Picard to Lieutenant Wo-"
"Captain-" Again, Worf addressed the Captain and the others on the bridge. "Th- ... under atta- ... Riker is injur-"
"Picard to Transporter Room Three. Can you get a lock on the away team?"
Deanna's heart was in her throat, barely listening as the transport engineer responded something about too much disruption to beam them back. She knew that Worf had been trying to tell them the words she had dreaded ever hearing: 'Commander Riker is injured'.
She had always known that their positions aboard the Enterprise came with a degree of risk. There was always a possibility that crew members could be injured, or worse. As such, she'd sometimes found herself imagining how she'd react when those words reached her ears. Would she be calm and composed, her every thought coming to her with perfect clarity as she came to a logical solution to his plight? Would she shut down, become a useless dead weight, having no way to help? Would she play the hero, demand to be beamed to join them, so she could fight and vanquish whatever foe had dared to hurt him?
And now that she'd heard those words, she knew the answer. She would panic.
"Captain, do something!" she all but sobbed, turning to the Captain. He ignored her, focusing on the task at hand, contacting various transport rooms, engineers, and of course the away team. How Deanna envied that focus, that usefulness, while her mind conjured hideous images of whatever and whoever had injured Will. A blade, a phaser, some awful weapon of war used to destroy and maim...
"Captain-" Worf's voice cut through the panic swirling through her mind. "Every- ... stunned. We're- ... way to some- ... less disruption- ... -mander Riker- ... medical attention-"
The message was badly broken up, but the Captain quickly interpreted it. "Picard to Transporter Room Three, as soon as you can get a lock on the away team, beam them directly to Sick Bay. Picard to Sick Bay, expect the away team any moment. Commander Riker has been injured. The condition of the rest of the team is unknown." The people he'd addressed over the communicator quickly acknowledged the message. "Counselor, in my ready room please."
She could hear her own heartbeat drumming in her ears as she followed his orders.
"One of the things I most value in your presence on the Bridge, counselor, is your composure."
He interrupted her, and she fell silent as he spoke. "We all know that serving with Starfleet carries a great risk. And I should think that nobody recognises the importance of a level head in an emergency as much as you do." He stopped to allow her a chance to speak.
"Captain, I-" Deanna swallowed a lump in her throat, suppressing the urge to raise her voice as her fearful thoughts continued. "I apologise. I don't know what came over me."
"Well I do. And I need it not to cloud your judgement or interrupt your professionalism again." She was going to ask what he meant by his suggestion that he knew what had come over her, but he continued. "I'm placing you on leave for the time being. You need some time to regain your focus."
Deanna wanted to argue, but she decided against it. She recognised that this was not the time to disagree with Captain Picard. "Yes, Captain."
"Now, let's get to Sick Bay." He placed a gentle hand on her arm as he led her to the door, comforting and guiding her in one.
When they got to Sick Bay, it was in a flurry of activity. Deanna heard Dr. Crusher confidently issuing commands to her team, as the medical officers ran back and forth with various devices and medical instruments. She saw Worf first, sitting upright, protesting to a medical officer that he was 'fine, a warrior embraces his scars' as she tried to heal a cut on his chest. One of the science officers from the away team was lying on a bed, silent and still, no one tending to him. Deanna realised with sickening certainty that it was because he was already dead.
From behind a crowd of medical personnel, she heard Will's groans of pain. He was normally so in control and composed. She knew his pain must have been severe for him to so much as acknowledge it, let alone hiss and yelp as the medical officers worked on him.
"Doctor, report." A path cleared for the captain to approach the bed Will was lying on, and Deanna followed. Will met her gaze, and she could see from his face that he was suffering a great deal. But he was alive, so she still felt relief flood through her.
"Just a moment, captain." Beverly injected something into Will's neck. His groans of pain slowly faded to small whimpers, before he fell silent. Deanna watched his limbs become heavy as the muscles relaxed. His head rolled grotesquely. "He was in a lot of pain. It was better to make him unconscious before we continued."
"What happened?" Picard demanded.
Worf answered, "Sir, we were attacked while exploring the temple. I did not recognise the species. They didn't use phasers, but they had many weapons. The commander was investigating something when they attacked him from behind. It was... not very honourable."
Beverly went on, "His right leg is broken. He appears to have been beaten with something heavy that smashed the bones in three places." She gestured to the corresponding places on his mangled leg. Deanna managed a quick glance, then quickly looked away. "His stomach was slashed with something sharp. I've managed to stop the bleeding, but it seems to be too deep to heal it quickly. I'll keep working on it. He was also stabbed in the chest-"
A sob escaped Deanna's throat at those words. It felt as though she, too, had been stabbed. She felt a hand on her shoulder as the captain tried to comfort her, then he gestured for Dr. Crusher to continue.
"The blade missed his heart by half an inch, captain. And the angle at which it entered the body enabled the left lung to be punctured." As if to emphasise that point, Will sucked in a juddery breath. "It appears that he fell and broke his left wrist. That's a clean break though, easily repaired. And whatever weapon was used on his leg was also used on the back of his head. His skull is fractured, but scans show no brain damage. A miracle really."
In a small voice, Deanna squeaked out, "Is- is he going to be alright?"
Beverly took a deep breath. "I don't know the answer to that, Deanna. We're going to do our absolute best, but his injuries are very severe and his condition is serious." She reached forward and took Deanna's hand in her own. "I promise you that I will give him the best chance I am capable of."
Deanna swallowed, and nodded slowly. She leant down, pressing a gentle kiss to Will's forehead. He was caked with blood, and she could taste his sweat, but she didn't care. She needed him to know that she was there.
Realising that there was nothing she could do to help, Deanna slipped away to allow the medical team to do their job. She left Sick Bay, and made it all of two steps before she slumped to the floor against the wall of the corridor, allowing her anxious tears to fall freely.
Hours later, Beverly's voice burst through Deanna's comm-badge. "Dr. Crusher to Counselor Troi, you can come and see him now."
Deanna struggled to her feet, her aching joints protesting. She wasn't sure how long she'd remained in that position, her back pressed to the wall, knees pulled tightly to her chest by her shaking hands. Her face was still damp from tears, but now her eyes and her mouth felt uncomfortable dry and almost prickly.
Beverly looked surprised when the doors to sick bay opened. Deanna felt the doctor's concern when she realised that her friend had been waiting right outside the door all this time.
"I've stopped all the bleeding, and mended the bones as much as possible. Don't look too closely at his leg; it'll freak you out. You should know that he is still unconscious. It was the kindest thing to do given the fact that he is still injured. And I'll need to run some neurological scans on him before I feel confident waking him up. Deanna, he looks sick. But I can tell you he's probably in better shape than he looks."
Deanna nodded in acknowledgement, and braced herself as Beverly led her to a private room off the main Sick Bay. She was grateful for Beverly's warning when she saw him.
His face was ashen, and his hair was matted with dried blood. His shirt was off, and she could see the gnarled scar across his abdomen from where he'd been slashed. Thankfully the wound was now closed, but Deanna imagined that the scar would probably be with him for the rest of his life. The stab wound to his chest appeared to have been a cleaner injury. While there was still some scarring, it was rather minimal given the damage that had been done, and the line of it was straight, not jagged and rough like the other. While his lower half was covered with a sheet, she could see the outline of his legs. The right one seemed to be jutting out in unusual places. She took Beverly's advice and didn't look at it too closely. Will's breath was unusually laboured and noisy, and for once Deanna couldn't sense his emotions, no matter how hard she tried. For now, it seemed he was closed to her.
"Will." Deanna's voice cracked as she spoke on a whisper, moving to the bed to take his hand in hers.
He was normally so large, so jovial, so full of life. Now he looked small and frail. She raised the hand she was holding to her lips, and pressed a kiss to each of his knuckles in turn.
"I'm here. I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere."
She remained by his side for several more hours. Her deft hands stroked his forehead soothingly, gently caressed his shoulders, carefully brushed his neck in a way she hadn't done since they were far younger. At one point she requested a bowl of water, and she rinsed the blood and grime from his hair and beard. As it dried, she brushed it tenderly, grateful for a task that made her feel she had some use.
She spoke to him too, reminding him that she was present. She spoke of little things she remembered from their lives together so far. Of poker games, kisses on Betazed, relaxed evenings in Ten Forward. Of comforting hugs, the boredom of personnel reviews, and teaching him to enjoy chocolate as much as she did. She told him of all the things she would miss if he did not come out of this okay.
"So please," she whispered to him softly. "Please be okay."
Sometimes she tried to read his emotions, tried to pass hers to him. Their telepathic link wasn't as strong as it had once been, but now it seemed tightly closed. It made her eyes flood with tears to think that it might remain that way forever.
When Beverly came to check on him, Deanna stepped to the side, but kept a watchful eye over the proceedings. She saw Beverly's frown as she took some readings, and sensed a feeling of concerned disappointment from her.
Beverly sighed, and met her friend's anxious gaze. "I would have expected an improvement on these readings, but they're almost exactly the same as they were eight hours ago. I had hoped to be able to wake him up soon, now it's looking like I was getting ahead of myself. I'm sorry, Deanna."
Realising she wouldn't get a response from her silent friend, Beverly slipped out of the room, leaving Deanna alone with Will once more.
"You know what all this is making me realise, Will?" Briefly, she paused, as though allowing him a chance to respond. Of course, he didn't, and Deanna went on. "We are absolute idiots."
She took a seat beside his lifeless body, capturing his hand tightly in hers again as she continued. "I mean, what are we doing? I'm still in love with you, and you're still in love with me, and we both know that, for gods' sakes. You date other people, and I date other people, and it never works out. And why does it never work out? Because we don't want it to! We constantly push away something that could be good, could be real, because it's not what we want.
"Will, when I was waiting on that planet for you, slowly realising you weren't coming, my heart broke. And it remained broken for years afterwards. You were the first man I ever loved, and I knew I could never truly get over you. Even when I thought I'd never see you again, I knew you'd always be a part of me.
"And then here I was, minding my own business, and then you came in and everything just came flooding back. Will, I'm so glad you're here. You are my closest friend, my Imzadi, and I am so tired of trying not to love you to be professional." Tears started to cascade down her cheeks. "I don't care about being professional. I don't care what anybody else on this ship thinks. I don't care about any of it.
"When you came back, Will, I was terrified. I was so scared that you were going to hurt me again. But nothing could hurt me more than this. You could have been dead."
She interrupted herself with a loud sob. "You could be dead, and I'd never see you again. And I never would have taken that chance, that chance to hold you, to kiss you, to love you. And that chance wouldn't come again. I couldn't live with that regret, I know I couldn't. To know that I could have had you all to myself forever if I had just been brave, and to know that I missed out because I was scared. I was scared of rejection, scared of getting hurt, scared of looking unprofessional, and it just doesn't matter!
"So for goodness' sake, William Riker, what are we waiting for?"
She pulled his hand closer to her, breathing deeply. Stillness settled over the room.
In spite of her sombre surroundings, a wry laugh escaped Deanna's lips. "There's a chance that you didn't hear that. And I'm going to have to pour my heart out to you all over again." She took a breath to continue speaking, then stopped.
Deanna paused. Listened.
It was faint, so faint that it could have been a figment of her imagination, but it was familiar. She could sense Will.
As she continued to focus her attention on him, his feelings were growing stronger, clearer. She could feel that he was hurting, though not as bad as before. His leg was flooded with a dull pain, and every inhalation felt like a repeated stab. She knew that he was worried. About what happened, about his upcoming recovery. She could sense his anger towards the monsters that did this to him. To take him by surprise and attack him so violently, so viciously, so mercilessly. His response was a white-hot rage, fuelled by mild embarrassment that he hadn't had his wits about him.
One thing was cutting through every other feeling she could sense from him. Love. Love for her, warm and sweet, and constant. In all these years, it hadn't faded. She felt how it had burst through him when he first saw her again, and how it enveloped him every time he saw her after that. She felt his longing, his yearning for her, how many times he'd envisioned their future together. She felt his utter adoration for her as it coursed through his veins, blurred his every thought until his mind was just Deanna, Deanna, Deanna.
And then she felt his fingers twitch. Her eyes flew to his face to see as movement beneath his eyelids caused them to flicker slightly. His brow furrowed, and a quiet groan escaped his mouth.
Not looking away, Deanna cried out, "Beverly?"
Within moments the doctor hurried into the room, scanning Will's body and head and looking to Deanna in shock.
"He's waking up."
"Is that dangerous?"
"It shouldn't be. It's just a sign that his consciousness is a bit stronger than I anticipated. It's better to let him wake himself up now. I can knock him back out if need be."
Another quiet sound from Will caught their attention, and Deanna hurriedly looked back down at his face, just in time to see his eyelids fluttering open. He blinked a few times, then his eyes met hers.
"Im-" He broke off, heaving a difficult breath. "Imzadi." He was gazing at her with such certainty, such love, that Deanna thought it could have knocked her off her chair. She jumped to her feet, moved her hands to cup his face, and captured his lips with her own. His weak hand moved to wrap around her small waist as he returned the kiss.
She broke away, pressing her forehead to his as they kept their eyes closed.
"Imzadi," she whispered. Relief flooded through her as she realised that he was really okay, and that they had the rest of their lives to spend making up for wasted time.
Two Years Later
She was on the bridge when it happened.
His recovery had been a gradual one, but Deanna had been by Will's side to help him every day since his attack. Thanks to Beverly's expert medical treatment and Deanna's attentive care, he was almost fully healed physically. He walked with an almost imperceptable limp, and the scar across his stomach was fainter but still present. Deanna said it made him look rugged.
They were the only two people on the bridge, having taken the graveyard shift together. Normally only Data would take this shift, and the rest of the senior crewmen would be resting, but Data's cat, Spot, had been unwell for a few days and he'd wanted to remain in his quarters in case anything changed.
Will sat in the Captain's chair, and Deanna sat in his, acting as his First Officer. Their hands were entwined together over the console. They'd activated the screen in front of them to show them what was going on outside the ship, and sat in comfortable silence watching the infinite ocean of stars in front of them.
It was Will who broke the silence. "Imzadi." Hearing the word alone was enough to flood her with warmth. "I've been thinking about something for a very long time, but I was worried about what your response might be. But tonight, I've been thinking: 'What are we waiting for?'"
He smoothly slid out of the Captain's chair and onto one knee, clasping her hand in his.
"Deanna Troi, daughter of the Fifth House of Betazed, Heir to th-"
Laughing, she pressed her free hand to his lips to stop him continuing with the ridiculous spiel. "Just 'Deanna' is fine!"
He flashed her a mischievious grin when she removed her hand. "Deanna, I love you with all my heart, and I promise to protect, serve, and honour you for the rest of our lives and for whatever comes after. My Imzadi, will you marry me?"
"Of course I will."
She pulled him to his feet and he wrapped her in his arms, pressing an elated kiss to her lips. It seemed that every moment in their lives up to now had been leading to this, and Deanna looked to the future with excitement.
The next day, as they proudly announced their engagement to their friends and colleagues, Deanna caught Captain Picard's eye. She remembered something he'd said to her on that fateful day just a few years before.
"Captain, may I speak with you?" she politely requested once all the excitement and congratulations had died down. He nodded his agreement, and gestured towards his Ready Room. When they were alone, Deanna said, "After Will's attack, when you had to give me a telling off-" They both shared a smile at the memory. It was funny now that years had passed. "I told you that I didn't know what had come over me, and you said that you did know. And at the time I wanted to ask what you meant, but it slipped my mind."
"I'm surprised you haven't worked it out for yourself, Deanna."
She took a pause to collect her thoughts. She remembered the sheer panic that had gripped her, the knowledge that the entire away team was in danger, but her mind was consumed with just one member of it.
Slowly, and with a soft kind of realisation, Deanna stated simply: "It was love. Love is what came over me."