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         Alexis Black arrived at the Academy Psychology building earlier then usual the next morning. As assistant director of the department, her schedule was always twice as busy as it should reasonably be, and she had wanted to get a head start on the day in front of her before the building was overrun with it's normal throng of day to day activity.


         Truth be known the fact that Alexis even held the position she did was a testament to her unyielding dedication to her work. Positions at the Academy almost never went to civilians, let alone the assistant director of a major department. But, then Alexis was a woman who seemed to defy all the usual standards.


         At just 35 years old she was considered to be one of the best in her field. Her post graduate work with severe trauma cases had captured the attention of the Academy's top psychology professor almost six years ago. She had used Alexis as a consultant from time to time, both in her teaching career and her minimal private practice ever since.


         And when Deanna Riker was offered the position of Director of Psychology six months ago, she had placed something of an unusual stipulation on her acceptance of the position: that Alexis Black be made her Assistant Director. Despite the unusual nature of the request, it was decided that Starfleet could only benefit from the collaborative efforts of two such gifted individuals, and permission was granted for Alexis to be offered the position.


         So, with half a year already under her belt, it was safe to say that she was beginning to settle into the job. She liked the work, she loved the people, and most importantly, she adored her boss.


         Alexis had never had the kind of relationship that she shared with Deanna Troi with anyone else in her life. In her early 50's, she fit in a comfortable realm in Alexis's life, somewhere in between a mother and an older sister.


         She knew Deanna had a family of her own, a husband who taught Advanced Command Strategies here at the Academy (curiously a favorite source of humorous remarks on the part of his wife), and a teenage daughter. While she had never met the daughter before, Deanna had told her quite a bit about Amanda, and she seemed to be very much like her mother. She had met Will Riker on a few of his rare visits to the department to take his wife to lunch. He was quite a handsome man, a few years older than Deanna with blue eyes whose sparkle reflected his easygoing manner and quick humor.


         Family was something of a novelty to Alexis, she had none of her own. Oh there had been someone who had claimed to love her once, but that was a lifetime ago, a lifetime of which she had almost no memory. All she knew was that she had been abandoned by the one she called family, and betrayed by those who had claimed to want to save her.


         The Riker family was different, at least from all she knew of them. Deanna appeared to be madly in love with her husband, and he with her. The daughter was a model child by most accounts, although Deanna seemed to be rather concerned about the possibility of the girl finding herself in trouble one of these days. That puzzled her. Why would someone Deanna Riker be so unraveled by 17 year old girl?


         Before she had the chance to reflect on that, Deanna herself appeared at her desk. "Morning, Lexie. Anything new and interesting tossed in our laps today?"


         The younger women looked up with a wry smile. "Interesting, sure. But I guarantee you, it's nothing you wanna here about." She continued as Deanna  positioned herself on the corner of her desk, "Shelton wants us to evaluate the cadets in the Kelmen case."


         "Damn. As if we don't have other things to deal with." True crimes were almost unheard of on campus, and most of the Guidance staff weren't really prepared to deal with serious trauma cases. "Well," Deanna sighed, "I guess someone has to do it. I'm just glad you're the tram expert. But why not send this to Fleet Medical?"


         Alexis offered the look of one who had been given her fifth fruit cake in one Christmas. "Because I *am* the expert."


         "Lucky you. I'll be emerged in my lovely department reviews if you need to sound off on it later OK? Oh, and Lex? Do try not to let this eat you, it will if it can."


         "Thanks, teach. I'll do my best to remember that."


         The day turned out to be even more grueling then Alexis had expected. At least now she knew why she had been given the case. Two freshman cadets had stumbled upon another cadet, one Deborah Kelman, bound in a training lab that had been deliberately set on fire by the former cadet whose place she had taken in the roster after his discharge from the program. The young man had been apprehended and was being dealt with by the proper civilian authorities. The two cadets who had found Kelman had seen her earlier in the day and had decided (on Deanna's advice) to turn their counseling over to Medical. Kelman on the other hand, was entirely another matter.


         At this point she was completely unresponsive. There had been no injury from the fire, but the abuse she had been put thorough before the fire was gruesome enough to be called torture. Former tram expert or not she had her work cut out for her.


         Sure that everyone had left by now, she buried her head in her hands and lay it defeatedly on her desk. It wasn't until she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder that she realized that she wasn't alone. "Should I be more worried about Debi Kelman, or you?"


         Head still on the desk, Alexis mumbled an incoherent response before sitting up and meeting the eyes of the woman who at once was a boss, a mentor, and a friend and said the only thing she could. "Help me. This kid is so far inside herself, I'm almost afraid that if I go in after her, I'll never get out myself."


         ~Ineresting imagery~ Deanna couldn't help wondering for the thousandth time if there wasn't more to the young woman's "perception" then anyone knew. "Done. You need me in there, I sweep my schedule, just say when."


         Alexis stood and began to gather her things for the day but offered a lopsided grin by way of thanks. "See, I knew there was a reason you were the boss around here."


         Deanna laughed. "Because they bury me under so much paperwork I can't draw a breath to complain." Alexis laughed in a way she hadn't done in years. Deanna felt the wheels in her head start to turn. "Why down you come to dinner? You need something else to think about besides this case. A little distraction could be just the thing."


         She started to protest but thought better of it after seeing the expression on her companions face. ~What the hell? Where else is there to go?~ "Can you cook?" she teased.


         Deanna reach for her bag and made a face. "Gods, no. I'm probably the only living person who is actually capable of burning water. Will, on the other hand, does things with food that amaze me to this day."


         A sea of laughter followed them out of the building, giving no clue to the encounter that lay ahead.