Clinking champagne glasses and the low hum of social chatter greeted Dani as she and Will stepped through the large doors leading to the vast hall where hundreds of Starfleet officers milled about. Dani had never liked these formal functions, and the fact that she was a captain’s wife and was expected to attend a great number of them didn’t change that at all.
Before Will and Dani had even made it all the way into the room, a waiter was in front of them offering to take their orders for drinks. The waiter nodded as soon as he’d received their requests and disappeared into the sea of people from which he’d emerged only seconds earlier.
“Do you know if they’re serving real alcohol tonight?” Dani asked Will.
“I don’t know,” Will replied. “They usually spring for the real stuff at these kinds of functions. They use the synthehol for the small stuff. Why do you ask?”
Dani sighed. “No reason. I was just hoping I would have something to help me make it through the night.”
Will smiled. He knew his wife of nearly a decade hated these things. He didn’t like for her to be uncomfortable, but he always thought it was funny as hell, the way she tried to get out of them or cope if she couldn’t get away.
“At least you don’t have to wear one of these dress uniforms anymore,” he pointed out.
“I guess you do have a point, there,” Dani conceded. It was unfathomable how bad the dress uniforms always looked regardless of how good the standard uniform looked. “Who designs those things anyway?”
“Beats me,” Will said, scanning the room. He moved deeper into the room, Dani on his arm.
“Have you met your new first officer, yet?” Dani asked.
“Not, yet,” Will said. I haven’t received the assignment, yet. I don’t even have a name.”
“Will! Come over, and join us!” It was the boisterous voice of Admiral Jean-Luc Picard inviting Will and Dani to come join his circle. Will and Dani dutifully walked over. Once they’d arrived, a tap on the shoulder got Dani’s attention, and she turned around to find the waiter from earlier patiently standing by with drinks for her and Will. “Your drinks, ma’am,” he said.
Dani thanked him and picked up the drinks, handing one off to Will. “Your drink, Will,” she said.
Will turned around, retrieved his drink from Dani, and turned back to his group of companions. Before the waiter could scurry off, Dani detained him for a moment longer. She stepped away from the group and approached the waiter. “Is this synthehol?” she asked him in a low voice.
The waiter smiled. “No, ma’am. It’s the real deal.”
Dani grinned. “I was hoping you would say that.” The waiter moved off to go take someone else’s order. Dani took a sip of her drink, a simple champagne, just to test. She closed her eyes as the cool liquid flowed over her tongue and down her throat. It was perfect. She rejoined their little group.
“I’ve heard that you’ve been having a few bumps on the Titan,” Picard was saying.
“Yes, sir,” Will said. “We’ve been running into one problem after another.”
“Well, I do have someone here who may be able to aid you in your troubles,” Picard said. He pointed, “And there she is now.”
Dani and Will turned and looked in the direction that Picard indicated. They saw a blonde in a Starfleet dress uniform making her way over to the group. Dani couldn’t help but think that there was something very familiar about the woman, something about the way she carried herself. As she came closer, Dani realized, with a growing sense of dread, that the person was someone she hadn’t seen since her Academy days. She hoped with all her being that this woman wasn’t who she believed her to be.
Picard spoke again. “Commander Emma Shale,” he said. “She’s the Titan’s new first officer.”
Dani felt all the blood drain from her face. This woman, Emma Shale, had terrorized Dani during her first year at the Academy. Now, this was going to be working with Dani’s husband, closely, every day. A wave of jealousy and anger washed over her. She turned to Will, her sentiments apparent to him in her dark eyes. They both turned their stares back on Shale, who was quickly advancing on the group.
Dani wondered if Shale would even remember her, and she wondered if Shale had changed any from that arrogant, malicious cadet she’d been at the Academy.
Emma Shale strode confidently up to the group, her hands clasped proudly behind her back. She greeted the admiralty and other officers in the group before turning to her new boss.
“Captain Riker,” she said, “It’s an honor to have been chosen to be a part of your crew. Who knew all those years ago when I was on the Enterprise for my field training that I would end up serving under you?”
Will inclined his head slightly. “Who knew?” he repeated. He turned to Dani. “I believe you know my wife, Danielle.”
Shale turned her calculating stare on Dani. It had been a long time, but Dani knew at that moment that their eyes met that Emma Shale was the same Emma Shale from all those years ago.
“Of course,” Emma said. “We were in the same Acadmey class.” She smiled smugly. It was a smile of triumph, and it made Dani feel incredibly small.
Dani found that she could no longer hold the stare she’d once held so confidently steady. She averted her eyes.
“Why don’t we take our seats?” Will suggested. He walked with Dani, Shale, and Picard to the admiral’s table. Will took his seat between Dani and Picard.
Emma took the seat directly across from Dani, purposefully, no doubt. “Dani, I was sure I’d be calling you ‘captain’ by now,” she said. “I thought you would have at least made commander. Whatever happened to that whole plan anyway?”
Dani managed to meet her gaze briefly before averting her eyes. “Change of plans,” she replied simply.
Emma nodded knowingly. “Ah … children …”
Dani swallowed. “Yes, Commander Shale,” she said. “I made a conscious decision to resign my commission so that I could be available for my daughter full-time.”
“Aww … that’s so sweet,” Emma cooed mockingly.
Dani felt a large lump rising in her throat, and she was certain she was about to lose it. “Excuse me,” she said, rising and leaving the table.
Will looked after her and turned back to Picard. “I’m sorry; excuse me,” he said. He rose and followed Dani. He caught up with her in the lobby outside the main ballroom. “Dani?”
“I’m sorry,” Dani said. “I couldn’t … this is so difficult, having her here.”
“I know, and I’m sorry,” Will apologized. “Dani, I swear I had no idea. If I had – ”
“No, I know. It isn’t your fault. I know that. I just don’t understand why it has to be this way. It’s like some kind of cruel practical joke.”
“If you want to go home, we can,” Will offered. “I know how uncomfortable she’s making you in there.”
“If I go home, it means she’s won,” Dani said.
“Dani, this is not a competition,” Will reminded her. “You’re not in the Academy anymore.”
“Then … why does it feel like I am?” Dani asked tearfully.