The four months passed slowly for Dani while she waited for Will’s return. Finally, the day arrived when the Titan re-entered Earth’s orbit.
The Titan’s captain and first officer were the first to materialize in the lobby of Starfleet Headquarters.
“Daddy!” Kris exclaimed. She broke out into a full-speed run towards Will.
He knelt, arms wide, and gathered the excited little girl into his arms. He stood with her in his arms. “Kris – my girl.” He kissed her face repeatedly. “Oh man, look at you. You’ve grown.”
“Are you glad?” Kris asked.
“I am very glad.” Will kissed her cheek again. He looked from his daughter to his wife, who stood a few feet away with a more reserved demeanor than Kris’s. Will carried Kris over and put her down. He pulled Dani close and eagerly covered her mouth with his.
There was something about the way he looked at her. Something had changed between Emma Shale and Will Riker while they’d been away. They seemed closer. Dani supposed that much was to be expected. A captain and his first officer were destined to develop a close working relationship. But Dani thought they seemed close, even for two people in their positions.
Dani first noticed it at a reception on the Titan. Will and Emma hung around each other, speaking to each other in low tones. They seemed to be completely tuned in to each other, and it raised serious questions in Dani’s mind.
“I think this will be good for her.” Dani turned away from the viewport in Will’s quarters onboard the Titan. Will stood behind her. “She’s missed you so much,” Dani continued. “She just wants to spend time with you.”
“And I want to spend time with her,” Will said. The Titan would remain in Earth’s orbit for two weeks for repairs. Unfortunately, Will would need to remain onboard the ship. In response, both he and Dani thought it would be a good idea to let Kris stay on the Titan with him while it was in orbit.
“I feel like I’ve missed so much,” Will continued. He sighed, walked over to the sofa, and sat. “Before, it was different. But now, having her on board with this war … it isn’t safe.” He shook his head. “I can’t put her in that kind of danger. I don’t know how long this thing with the Hirogen is going to last, but I already feel like I’m missing Kris’s childhood, and it’s only been four months. I just … I don’t want her to have to grow up without a father.”
Dani walked over and sat beside Will. “Will, she understands what your job is,” Dani told him. “She does. She knows that you have to go away and work, to help keep us safe. She’s so proud of you. Of course she misses you, but don’t think that she thinks any less of you because of that. She loves you.”
Will turned to Dani. He knew that Kris wasn’t the only one who loved him. He wrapped his arms around Dani and pulled her to him.
Mars was one of Dani’s favorite places to visit. It always had been. Maybe it was the constant reddish orange hue or the desert-like environment … there was simply something about the planet that Dani liked, and she was excited to be attending a party there.
She gazed out at the barren Martian landscape from her vantage point on the top floor of a high-rise. Despite her efforts to put it out of her mind, she couldn’t get the thought of Emma and Will out of her head. It was crazy, and she knew it, but she couldn’t dismiss it.
“Enjoying the view?”
Dani turned to find Will standing behind her. He walked over and stood beside her at the window.
“I’ve always enjoyed Mars,” Dani said. She looked back out. “I couldn’t begin to tell you why.”
Will studied her with a probing eye. “Are you feeling alright? You don’t seem like you’re having much of a good time.”
Dani turned to him with a reassuring smile. “I’m fine, I promise. You, on the other hand, seem to be enjoying yourself.”
“It’s a nice change of pace,” Will admitted. “You spend four months fighting for your life, and you look forward to any change of pace.”
“It doesn’t seem like you need a change of pace from some things … or some people,” Dani commented.
“Meaning … ”
“Meaning you and Emma seem to have grown very close in four months,” Dani said.
Will exhaled. “Well, that’s to be expected when you spend the majority of your time with someone,” he said. “This shouldn’t be news to you. I had the same kind of relationship with Captain Picard.”
Dani nodded. “Yeah. You’re right, of course.”
“Dani, I know that you and Emma have had issues in the past,” Will said. “I had a few issues with her myself, at first. But, she really is a great officer.” He took a step closer to her. “She’s changed, Dani. She’s matured. She isn’t who she was at the Academy. I know that’s probably difficult for you to believe, but I don’t know how I can convince you.”
“You don’t have to. Your word is good enough for me. If you say she’s changed, she’s changed.”
Will smiled at her and kissed her on the cheek before moving off.
Dani stepped outside onto the rooftop patio. She’d been looking for Will for nearly half an hour, but he’d seemed to have disappeared. She didn’t know where he could’ve gone to. Maybe he had to return to the ship on urgent business …
Dani found what he was looking for when she stepped around the corner. Will stood only a few feet away, but he obviously wasn’t aware of Dani’s presence. He also wasn’t alone. Emma was with him, and they looked awfully friendly together. They both had these familiar smiles on their faces. And they didn’t appear to be discussing ship’s business.
Dani took a tentative step toward the two, but froze on the spot when she saw Emma place her hand on Will’s chest. Will pulled Emma’s body close to his, and his lips met hers.
A shocked gasp escaped Dani’s lips. It was the only sound she made, but it was enough to get Will and Emma’s attention. They flew apart, and Will’s head snapped immediately to Dani, who didn’t want to believe what she was seeing. She’d had her suspicions, but she’d dismissed them as irrational fears, impossible of being true. But now she was staring the impossible in the face. She wanted to runaway, to hide, but her pride wouldn’t let her.
“Dani – this isn’t … let me explain,” Will sputtered. He began to walk over to Dani, and unexpectedly, she met him halfway.
“You unbelievable son of a bitch,” Dani said, her voice low. “How could you … how could you look me in the eye, tell me you love me, hold me, while you’re doing this behind my back?”
“I don’t know what to say,” Will said honestly. He turned to Emma. “Could you give us some privacy?”
Emma nodded before moving past them and walking back into the building. Will turned back Dani. “I didn’t mean for you to get hurt, Dani.”
“How did this start?” Dani asked, miraculously calm for a woman in her position.
“I don’t know. It just happened. We got really close out there, and it just happened.”
“Dammit, Will, what about Kris?” Dani asked. Will didn’t appear to have a response. “Kris can stay with you on the Titan while you’re still in orbit, but as for me, I’m gone. I’m leaving tomorrow. I’m going back to Indiana. It’s obvious to me that there’s no room in your life for me anymore.” There weren’t any tears; she was in too much shock.
“Dani – please, let me explain,” Will said to her, but she turned away from him and began to walk away without responding. “Dani!”