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         Some time later, Deanna was pulled from her thoughts as someone entered the room. She looked up, blinking a few times to bring her mind back to the present. It took a moment to register that the Captain...and the Admiral...were standing just inside the room. She looked to Picard, after affording only the bearest glance to the Admiral. "Sir?"


         Picard smiled slightly. "How's the patient?" The gesture was genuine, of course. But in fact he was trying to avoid his real reason for being there, and they both knew it.


         "Wonderful, under the circumstances, thank you." Deanna looked down at Will and brushed away at the persistent lock of hair on his forehead before she leveled her gaze at her visitors. "What is it I can do for you?"


         "Do not pass go..." Bryant mused to himself. He shelved the thought, however, when his amusement drew a quizzical glance from the woman across from him, no doubt wondering what it was he found so funny in the present situation.


         "We would like to speak with you for a moment, if we may." Bryant responded, choosing to answer the question she had asked.


         It was all that Deanna could do to keep her voice level, and her emotions controlled. "At the place is here. I'm also in no position at the moment to really...




         Damn. She had absolutely no problem turning the admiral on anything at the moment. Especially if it involved leaving Will. But, the softly spoken request from Picard was another matter all together. He was, and had always been more than just a commanding officer, he was a friend. And as such, she found she could refuse him nothing. "I'll speak with you shortly. But, not here." Regardless of what was about to take place, there was no need for it to take place in front of Will right now.


         "Yes, of course," Picard understood her feelings. "In my...quarters?" he finished as he exchanged a looked to Bryant. "About half an hour?"


         A slight nod was her only response. With that, the two men left. Deanna sat still for a minute, unsure of what had just occurred, and, more importantly -- what was to follow. Shaking it off, she kissed Will good-bye, promising to be back before he awoke. Then, after checking with the nurse on duty, she headed for her quarters, in an attempt to make herself look like something other than death warmed over.


*  *  *


         The first thing that Deanna became aware of upon entering the Capitan's quarters was that both men we in civilian clothes. Admittedly, it stopped her for a moment. Whatever it was that was happening here, it was obvious that the two men had wanted to "even the playing field" so to speak. And, they wanted something.




         "Deanna, please sit down." The tone in Picard's voice was enough to convince her that her suspicions were true. She sat. This would be interesting to say the least.


         Bryant stepped into the conversation. "I know that you are concerned with much more important matters right now, so I'll cut right to the point. It seems that Starfleet is rather unprepared to accept your resignation at this time, Counselor."


         Deanna stared at that admiral incredulously. Of all of the presumptuous, arrogent..."Well, *sir* I'm afraid you are a little late. My resignation has been sent through...and I stand by my decision. What you, or anyone at Starfleet feels in regard to that decision is not my responsibility."


         Bryant couldn't help but smile. "For someone who has resigned, my sound like a dissenting uniform." When his attempt at humor failed, he tried a different track. "I am aware of what it is like to be caught between Starfleet decisions and your family, Ms. Troi, and I am MORE than aware of what happens when that decision is wrong. And....after a complete dressing down by your Captain...I must admit, off the record, that I admire you for your unwillingness to back down."


         "Admiral Bryant,"


         "Steven...we're all out of uniform here. Have you heard of outpost 23?"


         "Yes...Admiral...the outpost was destroyed with all hands three years ago, sir." For some reason, Deanna found herself lowering her guard. The Counselor in her found her senses queuing up, like prickles on the back of her neck. Years of practice told her not to interrupt, to let him do the talking.


         "I was commanding the Jamestown. She was the closest ship, and the outpost's only real chance. But we were at war, and the order came down...stand your ground, and be ready in case of battle. We followed orders....but the battle didn't come in the way anyone had expected. They came from the background, it was over before the Jamestown ever got involved, and the outpost was gone." He paused and met Deanna's eyes directly. "And, my wife and daughter were on that outpost."


         "I'm sorry..."


         "I swallowed the fleet rhetoric so hard, I started spitting it back out as the only way. It had to be the only way, because if not --"


         "It wasn't your fault."


         "You're off duty, Counselor." he chided quietly. "I know that, now. But, that is my story and we are here about you. I have in my hand communications from several top officers, all of them authorizing me to do whatever is necessary to keep you in the fleet. They've lost to many of the best to the war as it is. And if a little under the table negotiation is necessary, so be it. I have the position to prove it. But this time, I'd like it to be for the right reasons So let's cut to the point." He turned to Picard, who finally came forward to join the conversation.


         "The Head Professor of Psychology at the Academy is due to retire in two years time. Take a two year sabbatical. Take care of your family, and then help us show them how it's done." Picard smiled slightly. "Something tells me you won't be left alone on this until these people get the answer they want, Deanna. Nothing has to be official until Commander Adams retires.”


         * Crusher to Picard. Is Deanna with you sir? *


         "She is, Doctor. Is the Commander all right?"


         * He is...but according to these readings, he should be coming around any time now, and I know she wants to be here, sir. *


         "She's on her way. Picard out."


         Deanna was half way out the door before Picard had finished his sentence. Before she could cross the threshold, she turned back. Meeting both men's eyes, she whispered. "You may tell them, contingent upon the health of my fiancee, and his feelings about the arrangements...I'll consider it."