by A. Magiluna Stormwriter

"The doc doesn't know what she's missing," Geordi quipped, pulling the good-sized pile of chips toward him. "You haven't had a losing streak like this in months, Commander." Riker grunted noncommittally, began shuffling the cards again. "Matter of fact," the engineer continued, "she wasn't here the last time you had this kind of losing streak either."

"Dr. Crusher will just have to accept it," Barclay piped up. "I, for one, am taking advantage of this situation to regain a sizable portion of the chips he's bluffed out of me recently. Shall we continue?"

"Talk is cheap," Worf growled. "We are here to play, not gossip."

"That's right, Will. And it's getting late. I need to be up for an early session in the morning," came the soft reply from across the table.

Riker looked up into her dark eyes, shuffled once more, then began to deal, still silently brooding. Immediately upon looking at his hand, he folded. At the exclamations of shock, he finally said, "Guess Lady Luck just isn't on my side tonight."

The hand progressed quickly, the pot going to Worf. "Finally! Victory is mine."

Riker grunted softly, then blinked suddenly, leaning back in his chair. He stared at Troi, an odd expression in his eyes. She only returned a small smile as she began recording the group's winnings for future reference. "I'm gonna have to call it a night, everyone," he finally said. "I'm just not into the game tonight."

"Yeah,"Geordi replied, smirking, "so I've noticed."

Riker shot him a dirty look, having forgotten.

"Well,"Barclay said, standing up, "thank you for inviting me to the game this week. I really enjoyed it, even if I *did* lose almost all my chips. Um, see you tomorrow."

"Goodbye, Reg," Deanna said softly, looking up to give him a smile. She smiled in turn at Geordi and Worf as they left. And then, it was just her and Riker left. Silently, she replaced the chips in the velvet-lined wooden box.

"You weren't being fair tonight, Deanna," he finally said.

"I have no idea what you're talking about, Commander," she replied, eyes on the task at hand. "I didn't use my empathy to play poker. You know I don't do that."

"That's not what I meant, and you know it," he huffed. "Do you know how many great hands I dropped as bluffs because someone's foot was between my legs?"

"Have you spoken to Worf about that?" she teased. "He can be rather a jealous lover."

"Damn it, Deanna! What was going on with you tonight? And why did you get that secretive little smile on your face every time someone mentioned Beverly's absence?"

Deanna didn't answer him at first. She closed the box with a soft click, then stood. "I should be getting to bed. I *do* have an early appointment in the morning."

"Oh no, you don't," he growled, pulling her to him as she went to pass. "You're not leaving until you give me an explanation for your actions tonight."

Deanna slid down into his lap, smiling seductively. "Let's just say that Beverly and the Captain were otherwise 'detained' tonight, and I caught wind of it."

Recognition dawned on him, and a grin to rival the Cheshire Cat's spread slowly across his face. "And once again, your empathic connection to your best friend kicked in." She nodded, nuzzling at his neck. "You mean they're *still* at it?"

"Oh yes," she replied huskily. "I don't think they'll be finished for hours. You know they get this way every month. This forty-eight hour period is going to be the death of them one of these months. It's as if she's gone into the human equivalent of Phase."

"I don't know how he can resist her the rest of the month,"he murmured, then gasped as Deanna's hands began to explore.

"Who says he does?" she replied, grinning at his shocked look. "Let's just say my vibes are never wrong."

"Well, in that case," he said, standing to carry her to the bedroom, "let's go explore these vibes you're getting from your best friend."