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Encounter

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Will Riker stood in the corridor outside Deanna's quarters. Outside his own quarters, too. They lived on top of each other on the Enterprise, all the senior staff crammed into the same small stretch of corridor. Perhaps they should reconsider that. In light of recent events. It had been a comfort sometimes, though, hadn't it, knowing Deanna was just beyond the wall. Either that, or a torment. It was one of those things. Maybe both of those things or neither of those things. A lot of the time he didn't think about Deanna at all.

The lights were dim; it was ship's night. He was feeling strangely indecisive. But that was all right. Or, if not all right—he could understand it, at least. It was understandable. He'd made some hard decisions lately.

Deanna—deciding, back then, should have been hard. It should have been hard to put Deanna aside. He had loved her. She had loved him. But it had been so painfully easy. Not to call, not to write—until Farpoint, the Enterprise.

He shifted from foot to foot, nodded at two of the crew strolling down the corridor, arm-in-arm. Jenny Lind and Henrietta Summer. Stellar Cartography and Engineering, he catalogued automatically. He nodded at them. Henry's head was tucked up under Lieutenant Lind's collarbone. Her eyes were closed. Lind nodded solemnly back. He saw her eyes cut to the bottle he was holding. Will realised he was cradling it in his arms like a baby.

The Borg had taken babies. He had seen babies in drawers on the Borg ship. Wires had hung like jungle vines. It was hard to see anything. He gripped the bottle by the neck instead. It was a squat, heavy bottle. Earth whiskey. He probably looked like a thug. He might be a thug. He studied his reflection in a panel on the wall. He looked all right.

Lieutenant Lind came back down the corridor in the opposite direction, alone. He noticed her carefully not giving him an odd look. They exchanged nods. Will resisted the urge to salute her with the bottle. Henry was lovely. Worse for the wear tonight, if Lind was going home alone, but then who wasn't?

Lind turned the bend. He made up his mind to press Deanna’s door chime before this got embarrassing. More embarrassing.

She wasn't answering. Maybe she wasn't home. He leaned on the buzzer anyway. He was home. They were in Earth's orbit, or the next thing to it. If Mars was a myth, then Utopia Planitia was a dream. Ships were nightmares.

The door slid open. Deanna stood there, an almost imperceptible frown marring her otherwise beautiful face. Will was perceptible—perceptive. He could see it. Though—he was wrong. Deanna was always beautiful.

Her frown deepened. Probably she didn't appreciate his preoccupation with her appearance. But that was wrong, too. Deanna was half-human. Her eyes were following his. He couldn't tell what that meant.

He noticed he was still standing in the corridor. He had wanted to be in Deanna's quarters. Can I come in, he asked. He still couldn't tell what Deanna's expression meant. She stepped aside and the door slid shut behind them. Maybe he was overthinking it.

Deanna's quarters were darker than the corridor had been. He let his eyes adjust to the light. He remembered the whiskey. Earth whiskey. He'd had it a long time. The Enterprise had been to Earth on the first year of her mission. He had led an away team to Venezuela. He'd had to dust off the bottle before opening it. He realised he was saying some of this out loud. He stopped talking and put the bottle on Deanna's coffee table. An offering.

I was writing reports, Deanna said, but she took two heavy tumblers from a small cupboard on the far side of the room. Will had never seen the tumblers before. He asked Deanna how she liked her whiskey and she still liked it neat. He poured two fingers each and Deanna took hers to a chair in the middle of the room. She set her glass on the table next to stack of PADDs and wrapped herself in some sort of knitted blanket. She curled her feet up under herself.

Will settled in the chair opposite. He lifted his glass in a silent toast and Deanna lifted hers in return. They sipped at the whiskey as if they were sipping cocktails. They nursed their whiskeys like they were nursing something else. Small children, perhaps. He frowned. The whiskey he'd had earlier was catching him up.

I didn't want to drink alone, he admitted.

Deanna shrugged deeper into her blanket, leaned her head back, closed her eyes. Ten Forward, she suggested.

Ten Forward doesn't take your boots off and put you to bed, he said. Deanna smiled obligingly; her eyes still closed. It was a joke. They both knew they weren't like that any more. Likely they had never been like that.

They had agreed to be friends, and after a while they had even become friends. But staying away had been hard, harder than he would have thought. He didn't know what she thought, just that between the both of them they hadn't always managed it.

Deanna’s curtains were open. He could see Earth from the corner of his eye. He looked at it straight on and it dimmed. That wasn’t even him. That was science. He wondered if Jenny Lind had made it back to her quarters. There was no reason to think she hadn’t.

He took another sip of his drink. Deanna was studying her glass. He wanted to tell her not to bother. He wanted to tell her there wouldn’t be a test, but, of course, he couldn’t know that.

In the end, it was Will who put Deanna to bed. Her cool fingers fumbled at his wrist until they caught. He stayed. It was warm in her room; too warm. It was a jungle. He fell asleep next to Deanna and dreamed, not for the first time, of ships in the night.

END