Deanna Troi, the Enterprise’s resident counselor, sat in a chair in the temporary office provided to her by Starfleet. “I must say, I was thoroughly surprised when I saw your name in my appointment log,” she said. “You know you don’t need an appointment to talk to me.”
Will Riker sat on the sofa across from the counselor. “I know,” he said. “I just…” his voice trailed. As Deanna observed him, she saw that he was fidgeting, rubbing his hands together and such. Deanna also noticed how he was leaning forward, sitting on the edge of the sofa.
“Well, what seems to be bothering you, Will?” Deanna asked.
“I..I think I’m in love, Deanna,” Will said.
Deanna’s face lit up. “Will – that’s wonderful!”
“Is it?” Will asked cynically.
“Of course it is. Who’s the lucky woman?”
Will looked Deanna squarely in the eye. “It’s Dani.”
Deanna’s smile didn’t exactly fall, but no one would say that she was beaming exactly. “Dani? Dani Janeway?”
Will nodded. “Yeah.”
“Will, I get the feeling that you don’t think that’s a good thing.”
“Well, yes and no.” Will stood and began to pace the area beside the sofa.
“What do you mean, ‘yes and no’?”
“I don’t know what I mean. I don’t know what any of this means. I just know what I’ve been feeling since Voyager returned from the Delta Quadrant.”
“And what’s that?”
Will reclaimed his seat on the couch. “I don’t know how to explain it. I guess part of it was seeing her after so long. And I definitely did not expect her to look the way she does. Another part of it is that my hormones kicked in. But that wasn’t all. I don’t know. I’ve always felt that she was special. But I always felt more like a friend or a close uncle, maybe. Then she came back, and everything was different.”
“You saw her as a woman, and you were attracted to her,” Deanna surmised.
“Yes. That’s it. That’s it exactly. But I think it might be more than just attraction. That’s why it scares me.”
“Why would it scare you?”
“Because it seems wrong somehow.”
“How? Tell me why it would be wrong for you to be in love with Dani.”
“It’s just that she’s so young, and-”
“And? You’re telling me that something so insignificant as an age difference is a good reason not to pursue a relationship?”
“It could be.” Will knew that wasn’t true. “It wouldn’t be right.”
“Why?” Will didn’t have an answer for Deanna. “It sounds to me as if you’re trying to convince yourself that any kind of romantic relationship with Dani would be wrong,” Deanna said. “I don’t think you’re buying it.”
“You’re right; I’m not.”
“Why are you fighting this?”
“I don’t know,” Will said with a sigh.
“How do you feel?”
“When you look at Dani, when you spend time with her, how do you feel?”
Will sat back for the first time in his meeting with Deanna. “I love being with her. When I’m with Dani, I feel like I don’t ever want our time together to end.”
“That’s a very strong sentiment,” Deanna said. “How does she feel?”
“I don’t know,” Will admitted. “That’s a problem, as well. I kissed her the other night at the party.”
“You mean on the cheek.”
“No. I mean on the lips. The funny thing is I didn’t even plan it. It just happened.”
“What was her reaction?”
“I don’t know. We were both kind of shocked. And before either one of us could say anything, Tom Paris called her back into the party.”
“Unless she makes it absolutely clear that she doesn’t want a relationship with you-”
“Like you did when we first met?” Will asked, smiling for the first time that afternoon.
“Like I did when we first met,” Deanna agreed, remembering when she’d first met the young lieutenant named Will Riker on Betazed all those years ago.
“We couldn’t have been very much older than Dani is now,” Will reminisced.
An idea suddenly presented itself as a possible reason for Will’s reluctance to enter into a relationship with Dani. “Will, your reasons for not becoming involved with Dani wouldn’t happen to stem from the fact that we’re Imzadi, would they?”
“I won’t lie to you, I have thought about it. I’m not going to say that us being Imzadi would ever keep me from pursuing a serious relationship, but I don’t think I’ll ever enter into a relationship without thinking about what we had.”
“That’s true for me also. We’re Imzadi, Will. We’ll always share a special connection. What I’ve come to learn over the years is that I’m capable of loving people besides you. Do you believe that you are? That’s the question you’ve got to answer before you enter into this relationship or any other.”
Dani sat in her bedroom working her way through the last of her missed magazines. It had been nearly a week since she finished her final entrance exam and interview, and she needed something to take her mind off the Academy exams she’d just completed. ‘And also off of Will Riker,’ she thought.
The door chimed. “Just a minute,” Dani called. She left her desk and walked into the living room to answer the door. When it slid open, Will was standing in the hallway. “Hi,” he said.
“Hey,” Dani said. The atmosphere was somehow tempted to become awkward, but Dani wouldn’t let it. “Come in.”
Will stepped into the apartment, and the doors closed behind him. “I think we’re overdue for a talk,” he said.
“Me, too,” Dani agreed. She walked into her room, and Will followed. “We’ve…got to talk.” She reclaimed her seat at her desk.
“Yes.” Will remained standing. “We would’ve talked sooner, but I knew that you had the exam, and I didn’t want you to be distracted. But that’s over, so now we have to talk about what happened that night at your party.”
“I know,” Dani said. Will may not have wanted to distract her before the Academy exam, but that’s sure what happened. During the actual testing, she was able to concentrate on the material, but during the lunch break, Dani’s mind had drifted to thoughts of Will. “It’s been on my mind quite a bit.” Will was standing in front of Dani. “What were you thinking?” It sounded more like an admonishment than a genuine question. Will wasn’t expecting that kind of reaction from her. He sat down on the nearest thing that would have him, which happened to be Dani’s bed.
Dani stood. “I mean, you said you didn’t want to distract me before the test. Well what the hell did you think kissing me would accomplish?”
“I don’t know,” Will replied. He felt like a little like a child being scolded by his mother. “It was just a spontaneous thing.”
“So, what did it mean?” Dani asked.
“I don’t know.”
Dani sat down beside Will on the bed. “Will, what is going on?”
Will looked into Dani’s big brown eyes. “I’m falling in love with you,” he said quietly.
Dani just stared at Will blankly. She wasn’t sure if she’d heard him correctly. When she didn’t respond for a few moments, Will became concerned. “Dani?”
“I’m sorry,” Dani apologized. “It sounded like you said you were falling in love with me. Did you?”
Dani nodded. “Oh. I see.”
“How do you feel?” Will asked.
“It’s funny you ask that,” Dani said. She told him earnestly, “I don’t even know. I’ve been trying to sort out my feelings for you since before we arrived on Earth. And I still don’t know.”
“I understand,” Will began. “I don’t-” He was interrupted by the soft lips that were suddenly brushing against his.
Neither Will nor Dani heard the apartment doors slide open, nor did they hear Chakotay as he called out for Dani. They didn’t even hear when Dani’s bedroom door opened, and Chakotay entered.
“What the hell?” Chakotay exclaimed. That got Dani and Will’s attention. They immediately parted and stood. “Dani – what is going on here?”
Dani honestly didn’t know what to say because she honestly didn’t know what was going on. Will had come over to talk, and Dani had ended up kissing him – on her bed. She looked at Will. “We’ll finish our talk later, Will,” she told him.
Will nodded to her. He and Chakotay stared each other down as Will made his way to the door.
After Will was gone, Dani braced herself. She knew one rough discussion with her father was in store.
“Kathryn, she was kissing him –
on her bed!” Chakotay exclaimed. He and Kathryn were in their bedroom discussing what had taken place that day in their daughter’s bedroom. Kathryn was sitting on the bed, and Chakotay was pacing heatedly in front of her.
“She’s an adult, Chakotay,” Kathryn said. “She has the right to kiss whomever she wants, sleep with whomever she wants, date, marry, whatever. She can do it.”
At the utterance of the word ‘sleep’, Chakotay had stared at Kathryn in disbelief. “Not in my house,” he said.
“Pardon, but this isn’t even your house,” Kathryn reminded him. “As far as Starfleet is concerned, this apartment belongs to them.”
“Well, not in my house in Indiana, at least,” Chakotay said.
“May I also remind you that we co-own that house,” Kathryn said.
“You know what I mean,” Chakotay shot.
Kathryn stood. “Chakotay, she’s just exploring her options.”
Meanwhile, Dani, who’d been listening to her parents discuss the issue at hand, had been trying, unsuccessfully, to raise Will via the comm system. When she got the automated message that relayed for the third time in an hour that Will wasn’t home, decided that a trip over to his place might be in order.
Dani pressed Will’s door chime. A few moments later, the apartment doors slid open, and Will appeared in the doorway. Dani’s presence had obviously taken Will by surprise.
“Dani?” he said. It came out as a question.
“Hi,” Dani said. “Can I come in?”
“Sure,” Will said. He stood to the side, allowing Dani access to the apartment. Dani stepped in, and the doors slid shut behind her. “What are you doing here? Your father-”
“I don’t care what my father wants,” Dani said. “I know he thinks that this is a really bad idea. He’s all but forbidden me from seeing you anymore.”
“I can’t say I blame him,” Will said. “I probably wouldn’t want my daughter seeing me, either. How’d you get away?”
“He and my mother were in their bedroom talking.”
“About us, no doubt,” Will surmised.
Dani nodded. “They probably don’t even know I’m gone, yet. I just walked out.” Will nodded. Dani continued. “Will, I think we should try this. I mean, I really, really like you; and I think I’d regret it if I passed this up.”
“Dani, I don’t want to create a rift between you and your parents. I grew up without a mother and without a father, in essence. We weren’t very close. Are you sure this is really what you want to do?”
“My parents love me, and if they respect me, then they’ll respect my first real decision as an adult.”
“It doesn’t always work out that way, Dani.”
“I can’t let them dictate my life.”
Will looked down at Dani and realized that she was right. She’d never get anything out of life if she lived only to fulfill her parents’ wishes.
When Dani and Will entered the Janeways’ apartment, they found that Kathryn and Chakotay had abandoned their bedroom for the living room. They stood immediately when Dani and Will entered.
“What the hell is he going here?” Chakotay asked. He looked at Will.
“I brought him here so we could all talk,” Dani said.
“There’s nothing to talk about,” Chakotay insisted.
“There’s plenty,” Kathryn said. Chakotay looked at her.
“Thanks, Mom,” Dani said. “Now, everyone, please have a seat.” She looked at Will, indicating that he should sit, as well. He walked over and took the chair beside the couch that Kathryn and Chakotay were occupying. Dani remained standing in front of the three of them. “Now,” she began. “There seems to be some kind of question as to my decision-making capacity around here.”
“Dani – why would you think that?” Chakotay asked.
“It seems that way to me,” Dani replied. “Every decision that I make about my future is questioned by everyone. It’s like you don’t think I know what I’m doing.”
“Dani-” Chakotay began, but didn’t finish.
“-I’m not finished, yet,” Dani said, demanding the attention of the others in the room. “I know that you all are trying to look out for my best interests, but, damn it, I’ve got to live my own life. If that means I want to go to the Academy -” She looked at Kathryn before continuing. “-or that I want to date Will -” She looked at Chakotay, “-then so be it. You guys don’t want me to make any mistakes, but I will, no matter what you do or what you say. Just let me make them and learn from them. Like you did.”
Will, Chakotay, and Kathryn all looked at each other, as what Dani was saying finally sunk in. Dani’s birthday had been days ago, but it was tonight that these individuals, especially Chakotay, were seeing just how much Dani had grown. He felt like an idiot for not having more faith in his daughter. He looked up at his daughter, 20 years old, standing there, all grown up. He looked at her for the first time, not as the little girl she had once been, but as the adult she had become.