Twenty-four hours later, Data was back on board, Spot was with her rightful owner, and it was Friday night.
Ten-Forward was packed. Apparently, this was more than just a little performance, as Will had claimed it would be. At a few minutes before 1900 hours, there were at least 200 people in the room. Dani was surprised there was still an empty table or two remaining near the platform that would serve as the stage. She walked over and, after confirming that they weren’t being saved for anyone, she sat down in one of the chairs.
She looked around the room. With this many people in attendance, she was beginning to think they should have held this event in the auditorium. Maybe there was something else taking place there. Then again, even if there were, she knew that Will would much prefer the casual, interactive setting of Ten-Forward over the formal distance of the auditorium.
When the crowd became more hushed, Dani looked around the room to see what had caused the sudden change. Her eyes fell on Ten-Forward’s entrance, and she learned why the crowd’s noise level had dropped a few decibels. Will and the rest of the musicians in the group had arrived and were walking through the door. As they took the stage and prepped their instruments, everyone clapped. The quintet consisted of a trumpet, a saxophone, a trombone, a clarinet, and percussion. Will, the ensemble’s leader, stepped forward to the mic, his trombone in hand.
“Good evening, everyone,” he began. “I hope everyone has had a wonderful day. And if you haven’t, I hope tonight can be the bright spot in your day. Let me start off by saying that this isn’t a formal concert. If you get the urge to get up and dance, by all means do so. Socialize, drink, eat. Whatever you want. Our purpose up here is to help ensure that you all have a good time. So, without further ado, here’s the music. Enjoy.”
Everyone clapped as Will returned to his seat at one end of the row of chairs, which were arranged in a slight arc, with the exception of the drums, which were situated behind the rest of the musicians. They began with a slightly upbeat tune, which had everyone tapping their feet. Some had even taken on partners and were dancing in an area beside the stage which had been set up specifically for that purpose.
Dani watched Will as he played. The trombone – it certainly wasn’t the most alluring instrument. In the wrong hands, it could look awkward and sound awkward, too. But it seemed to suit Will. She couldn’t really see him playing anything else. And he played it so well. He had such a command of the instrument. He made it look so easy, never having to distort his features in the slightest to reach those high notes.
When the song ended, the audience clapped, and Will stood and approached the mic. “This next piece is an old Earth favorite, from the twentieth century, circa the 1940s. It’s called “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” The audience chuckled at the title of the song as Will returned to his seat. The song began with a trumpet solo that led into a very upbeat melody with a heavy brass influence. Some of those dancing caught her eye when they started to perform movements that Dani could only guess were swing dance movements. She’d learned a little of it herself when she was in dance classes as a child.
Dani watched and saw that they were actually quite good. They had to have taken classes to get like that. They weren’t missing a beat. Dani had a brief urge to get up and join them, but decided against it. She didn’t have a partner, and she didn’t want to make a fool of herself. She contented herself with simply watching them. She was amazed when the man lifted the woman off the floor and swung her to either side of him before placing her feet back on the floor again. ‘They had to have practiced all this before they came here,’ Dani thought, watching them as they maneuvered through another set of complicated dance moves from another era. Their movements came to an end as the song did, and once again everyone clapped. Will walked up to the mic again.
“Thank you, everyone,” he said, as the applause died down. “This next piece is a little something I wrote for a very special lady.” Will’s eyes landed on Dani, casting a mischievous gaze her way. “I won’t say who it is. I wouldn’t want to embarrass her by sending any unwanted attention her way.”
‘What a joke!’ Dani thought with a smile. That man was always doing things to bring unwanted attention to her.
Will eyes spanned the audience as he introduced their next song. “Ladies and gentlemen, sit back, relax, and enjoy as we play for you our next piece, ‘Voyager Girl'” Will’s gaze returned to a blushing Dani, and he grinned, placing the mouthpiece of the horn to his lips.
‘No unwanted attention?’ Dani thought to herself. She looked around the room. Amused eyes had fallen on her from various locations in the room. A few tables away, she spotted Beverly, Deanna, and Geordi. They were all looking at her. Had they known about this, she wondered, as the music began to flow from the stage.
Dani turned her attention back to Will. His was the leading instrument in the piece. As he played, he stood at the edge of the stage, his body angled in Dani’s direction. A waiter approached her table, offering her a glass of champagne, which she gladly accepted. She took a drink of it and listened to the music.
It was a slow, soulful melody that featured distinct qualities of all the instruments involved. The conglomeration of these different attributes produced a scintillating effect. Will, in the forefront with his trombone, never averted his eyes from Dani as he played. His playing was so expressive, as was the look on his face, it was almost as if he were talking to her.
Dani had taken a second sip of the champagne before she realized that it was not of the syntheholic variety. This was the real stuff! She looked around for the waiter, but he was nowhere to be seen. How did he get a hold of real champagne? Dani took another sip of it. Damn, it was good! She hadn’t had real champagne in ages. She looked back up at Will, who was staring down at her with amused eyes. ‘He’s laughing at me!’ Dani thought. Then she realized that he must have had the champagne brought to her table. She was inclined to laugh back at him. She watched him turn to the other members of the ensemble and nod to them. She secretly wondered if he had anything else up his sleeve for tonight.
Dani turned up her glass, draining the rest of the liquid into her mouth. But the glass was not empty, she realized. Something had bumped against her lips as she was drinking the last of the champagne. Dani turned the glass back to its upright position, and the object clinked to the bottom. A ring? Dani poured the ring out into the palm of her hand. It was a pale blue diamond. She looked up at Will, who had left the stage and was now making his way to her table. She looked back down at the ridiculously shiny stone set in a platinum band.
Will stepped in front of Dani’s table and knelt in front of her. The other musicians were still playing softly as Will began to speak. He took the ring, moist with champagne, in one hand, and her left hand in the other.
“Dani. Danielle.” Will’s mind went blank. He’d planned everything, every detail, except what he was going to say to her. He decided to forego any long-winded rhetoric and just went straight to the point of it all. “Danielle Janeway – make me a happy man by becoming my wife. Please – marry me?”
Dani looked into Will’s blue eyes and laughed. “You would be the one to ask me in front of 200 people,” she said.
“Is that a no?” Will asked, a smile on his own face.
“No, it isn’t.”
“Then you’ll marry me?”
Will’s grin widened as he slid the ring onto Dani’s finger. They both stood and wrapped their arms around each other. The room roared with applause and cheer.
“I love you,” Will said into Dani’s ear.
“I love you, too,” she responded. They kissed each other and embraced again.
When they parted, they were surrounded by friends and crewmates offering handshakes, hugs, and congratulations.
Beverly hugged Dani and congratulated her. “I’m so happy for you,” she said.
“Thank you,” Dani replied.
“Congratulations, you two.”
Dani turned to find that it was Deanna who spoke to her and Will. “Thank you,” both said in unison. Dani didn’t quite know what to think. She knew that Will and Deanna had had a pretty serious relationship at some point, and she knew they were still very close. How close, though?
“Dani? Dani Janeway?” a voice called out. It was a familiar voice that Dani hadn’t heard in forever. She turned to the direction from which she’d heard her name and saw a person she hadn’t seen in two years. “Rane Skara,” Dani said aloud, a smile coming to her lips. She watched the young Bajoran woman make her way to her position.
“Dani!” Rane exclaimed, finally reaching her estranged friend. The two embraced excitedly.
Dani didn’t know what to say. “What are you doing here? I thought you were on the Merriman?”
“I was. I just transferred here,” Rane said. “I came aboard this morning at Medisna. What about you? I thought you were on Deep Space Nine?”
“I transferred a few weeks ago,” Dani said happily. She couldn’t believe it. Her and Rane, together again, just like at the Academy. She hugged the woman again. “I can’t believe you’re here,” she told her.
“I know. Looks like I got here just in time, though.” Rane smiled, pointing her gaze to Will Riker. “Dani…married?”
“I know. Can you believe it? We haven’t even talked about it or anything. He just…surprised me.” Dani beamed.
Rane quirked an eyebrow. “The last time I saw you, you were ready to say ‘to hell with Will Riker,'” Rane said, her voice lower than it had been previously. “What gives?”
Dani released an exasperated sigh. “Oh, Rane – so much has happened in the past two years. I can’t wait to tell you about it all. What’s your work schedule look like?”
“Well, I won’t know for sure until Sunday, but I think I’m going to be in Engineering during Alpha shift,” Rane surmised. She hadn’t received her official duty schedule, yet, but she’d already corresponded with Commander LaForge, and he’d told her he needed officers for that time.
“That’s perfect!” Dani said. “I’m on the Bridge at Ops during Alpha shift.” The fact that they were working the same shift would allow them to spend off-duty hours catching up with one another.
“The Bridge?” Rane said. “My, my – playing in the big leagues, are we.”
Dani smiled. Skara hadn’t changed a bit. “I’ve missed you so much,” she said. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
“So am I,” Rane said.
“We’ll see if you still are once you start helping me plan this wedding,” Dani joked.
Some slow music started up from the band again, and Will gently lassoed Dani to him, deftly stealing her away from the small crowd of well-wishers. He draped her arms around his neck, and she leaned into him, just letting him and the music carry her. She looked up him, into those impossibly blue eyes, and something in her chest and stomach fluttered. Will smiled at her right after it happened.
“What?” Dani asked.
“I didn’t know I could still do that,” he said.
“Cause that kind of reaction in you. Your eyes just got brighter. They dilated for a second.”
“Yes, you still do it. Just when I think I’m used to seeing them, I’ll look up into your eyes, and my heart will miss a beat.” She sighed. “Oh, I love you so much.”
Will pulled her to him, and her head rested comfortably on his chest. “I love you, too…imzadi.”
Dani pulled away. At first she didn’t think she’d heard correctly, but looking up at Will, she realized that she had heard correctly.
Will noted the expected puzzlement that invaded Dani’s features. “Come on,” he said, leading her to a more secluded spot by a viewport on the other side of the room.
Will began, “Do you remember that night in San Francisco, before we started dating, when we had dinner with your parents?”
“I remember,” Dani said.
“You remember the walk we took afterward, when I kept asking you about Icheb.”
“How could I forget?” Dani asked, remembering the great annoyance with which she’d fielded Will’s seemingly endless inquiries about her love life.
“Then, you remember when I asked you if he was your imzadi.” Will looked at her. Her gaze rose to meet his.
“Yes,” she replied. She wondered where this was going, how it had anything to do with why he’d called her ‘imzadi’ tonight.
“I said something that night, and you probably just dismissed it as nonsense or whatever.” Will looked at Dani. She was waiting for him to continue. “I implied that your imzadi was someone you’d known but hadn’t become involved with, yet.”
Dani remembered the conversation vividly. She did remember Will saying something to that effect, but then it hadn’t made any sense to her. Now, though, the pieces were all coming together. Dani stilled the swing.
“You were talking about yourself,” Dani realized.
Will didn’t say anything. He just moved in closer to Dani. Cupping the side of her face with his hand, he kissed her.
Dani didn’t know what to think about what Will had just told her. She loved him, and he loved her, but now she was just confused. The conversation they’d just had awakened new feelings, new questions that Dani hadn’t really given any attention to before. She pushed those feelings aside, though, for the moment. ‘No need to ruin a good moment,’ she justified, returning Will’s kiss enthusiastically.
Later on that night, Dani lay in Will’s bed staring up at the ceiling. Will was beside her, also gazing at the ceiling. Her head rested on his shoulder, and her hand rested on his chest, her fingers playing in the fine hairs that grew there.
One of her legs draped lazily over his, Dani asked Will out of the blue, “Have you ever thought about having children?”
Will looked down at Dani. “As a matter of fact, I have,” Will replied.
Dani hadn’t been expecting that answer. Her surprise resonated in her features. “You look surprised,” Will observed.
“I am,” Dani said. “You’ve never shown any desire to have children before.”
“Well, I’ve thought about it,” he said. “Maybe a daughter.” He thought about a little girl, perhaps a tiny replica of Dani, running to greet him after a hard day. Piggyback rides, cooking lessons…boys. An alarm flag went up in his head as he thought about all his previous flings and romps with members of the opposite sex. Suddenly, he wasn’t too keen on having a daughter anymore. He reconsidered. “Or a boy.” His mind suddenly returned to that incident with the alien who’d tricked him into believing that he had a son. It’d given him a taste of fatherhood, and after he’d gotten used to it, he’d liked it. He’d found that even though the experience he’d had had only been an illusion, he missed it.
“I never told you about the time I had a son, did I?” Will asked.
Dani looked up at Will, even more shocked than before. “What?”
“A while ago, we came across this life form that tricked me into believing that I was the captain of the Enterprise and had a 12-year-old son.”
Dani sat up on her elbow and looked down at Will. “You’re kidding.”
Will shook his head and gazed at the ceiling, remembering. “No. His mother was supposedly deceased. When I looked through some of our family videos, it didn’t take me long to realize that my ‘wife’ was an image from a holo-program I’d encountered during my first year of service aboard the Enterprise.”
“Who was the boy?” Dani asked.
“The boy was the alien. He was lonely, so he took on the form of a human boy, created the illusion, and pretended to be my son.” He looked at Dani, as she began to stroke his hair. “Before that incident I’d never really contemplated fatherhood. All I knew was that if I were ever to become a father, I would be a better father than my own father was.”
Dani looked down at Will. He would be a better father than Kyle Riker had been. Dani frowned. She imagined that Will must’ve had an unhappy childhood. He didn’t talk much about it, but she knew that he’d never known his mother, and the time he’d spent with his father had apparently been less than perfect. He’d abandoned Will when he was fifteen. Dani leaned down and kissed Will on the forehead. He looked up at her and smiled lightly.
“What about you?” he asked. “Have you ever thought about gracing the universe with your offspring?”
Dani laughed sarcastically. “Yeah. Okay. Just what this universe needs – someone who ends up being screwed up because of my wonderful parenting skills.”
“What do you mean? You’d make a wonderful mother,” Will assured her.
“No. The prospect of being a parent scares me to death. I mean, parents hold a lot of power. They could really mess a kid up if they didn’t know what they were doing.”
“Your kid would be fine. In fact, if she was anything like you, she’d be perfect.”
“Yeah, well, we’ll see,” Dani said, returning to her previous position, lying on Will. “That’s a long time coming, if ever.”
They lay in silence for a while longer before Will spoke up again. “Since we’re baring our souls, there’s something else I want to tell you.”
“It’s a mission we had a few years ago. Voyager was still in the Delta Quadrant, but here in the Alpha Quadrant, we engaged the Borg.”
“I remember reading about it,” Dani said. “The Enterprise was supposed to be patrolling the Neutral Zone, but Captain Picard disobeyed those orders to go help fight the Borg. You guys destroyed the Borg cube, and that was it.”
Will sighed. “No, that wasn’t it.”
What did he mean ‘that wasn’t it’? She looked up at him “That’s what the report said.”
“That’s what the public report said,” Will corrected her.
“What I’m about to tell you is top secret. If I tell you this, you have to swear that no one else hears about this.” Dani was up on her elbow again, her curiosity running high. “Whatever I say stays in this room, between us,” Will continued.
“I swear it,” Dani agreed. “Now, what happened on that mission.”
Will sat up on his elbow so that he was face-to-face with Dani. “Yes, we destroyed the cube, but what the public report doesn’t reveal is that a smaller Borg sphere escaped from the cube and traveled back in time to Earth’s mid-21st century using some kind of temporal anomaly. We followed them back.” Dani could believe that. Time travel was frowned upon by Starfleet, and most of the missions involving it were usually deemed top secret.
Will continued. “The Borg went back to assimilate Earth and stop Zephram Cochrane’s warp flight. We had to stop the Borg and make sure Cochrane’s flight went off without a hitch.”
“You guys must’ve succeeded, or we wouldn’t be here right now,” Dani conjectured. Will nodded, but Dani could see there was more to this story.
“Dani, Geordi and I were on Cochrane’s ship with him when he made his flight,” Will said. He watched her for her reaction.
“Will Riker,” Dani said, “you’re bullshitting me, aren’t you?”
“You’re saying you were on the first Terran warp vessel?”
“Will, that-that’s incredible!” Dani sputtered. “What was it like? I mean, Cochrane – what was he like?”
Will looked at Dani. “You want the truth?” Dani nodded eagerly. “The guy was a whino,” Will said frankly.
“Will! Have a little respect! You’re talking about the man who invented warp drive.”
“Dani, I spent a whole day with the man. The only time he wasn’t drunk was when we were actually going up. I had to stun him to get him that far. The man tried to run away from us.”
“That certainly shatters my historical image of the guy,” Dani said, sullenly.
“Yeah, me, too. But he finally sobered up, got serious.” Will lay down on his back again. “We all came out for the better.”
Dani sighed. “I guess so.” She also lay back down. “As long as you don’t tell me that Shakespeare was a fake or anything, we’ll be okay.”
“…and so then the rock gave way, and I’m just sitting there with Q clinging to my hands, dangling from this little rock landing,” Dani said, telling the story of the adventure she’d just had on Garessa II a few weeks ago. Rane rested comfortably on the sofa in Dani’s quarters. She graciously accepted the cup of tea Dani had just brought her from the replicator.
Dani finished up the story, as she sat down beside Rane. “I was able to pull him over, and he made it out of the caves with the rest of us, though.”
“I think I would’ve let him fall,” Rane said, sipping on the warm liquid.
“I couldn’t do that,” Dani insisted.
“I could. Especially after he did what he did to you and Will.” Rane grimaced slightly. “And he really transported you to the bridge in the middle of…you know?”
Dani nodded. She still hadn’t gotten over that completely. “It was so embarrassing. We’re just sitting there on the deck, nothing but a bedsheet around the both of us.” It was one of those things that would probably get funnier as the years went by. As of now, though, Dani felt like she would never live it down.
She and Rane sat in silence for a while. In the past few hours of the afternoon, they’d talked about almost everything that had happened to Dani in the past few years. Will, life on the Enterprise, her parents. They’d even discussed the play she’d gone to rehearsal for that morning. But there was one chapter of Dani’s life that had noticeably not be talked about, yet.
Rane was the one who summoned the courage to broach the subject. “Tell me about him,” she said.
Dani took a long sip of her red leaf tea, and smiled inwardly. He had been the one who’d introduced her to it. “He’s the one who started me drinking this stuff,” she said, staring into the liquid. She placed the cup, now only half-filled with the tea, on the coffee table.
“What was he like?” Rane asked. She genuinely wanted to know. What could’ve possibly attracted one of her best friends to a man she’d heard horror stories about as a young child?
“He was…” Dani began, but decided to start again. “The man I knew was wonderful. He was kind and nothing but good to me.” She paused and brought her feet to a position underneath her body on the sofa. “He was a romantic. And he cared a great deal for his daughter. For all his children, but Ziyal was the only one he could actually have contact with. The rest of his family practically disowned him when they found out about her.”
Rane swallowed. That was certainly different from anything she’d ever heard about the man. “You miss him,” she observed.
“Very much,” Dani admitted. “The first few weeks after…they were the hardest. Everywhere reminded me of him. And Ziyal…” Dani laughed sadly. “She has his eyes.”
Rane heard Dani sniff, an indicator that the other woman was on the fringes of crying. If talking about him was having this kind of effect on Dani this long after it had all ended, Rane understood clearly that this had been a man that her friend had been deeply in love with. She was still in love with him, despite the fact that he was dead. A question arose in Rane’s head.
“If Dukat were still alive,” Rane proposed, uttering the Cardassian’s name for the first time that night, “and you had to choose between him and Will, who would it be?”
Dani looked at Rane, puzzled. She’d never dreamed that she would ever have to make such a choice, and had never thought about it. How could she make a decision like that? She loved both of them. With Will, there was the history that they both shared. She’d known him since she was eight. Their time apart had been rough for her, and she didn’t want to go through it again. He was a brother, friend, and lover rolled into one person. Being at his side was so natural, it felt like breathing.
On the other hand, with Marac there had been so much passion, Dani thought. Dukat had been like a drug that she couldn’t get enough of, despite the ramifications her relationship with him had for her personal and professional life. She’d needed to be around him.
Her face visibly contorted as she grappled with the decision, she finally looked to Rane helplessly. If she were ever presented with the choice, she didn’t know how she would ever be able to choose.