BY CLARE HOLBOROW
Will Riker awoke in a dark place, so dark that he could not even make out the four walls that imprisoned him. He moaned as he tried to sit up from the cold stone floor, feeling a shooting pain go through his aching limbs.
His mind was foggy as he tried to remember what had happened before he was knocked unconscious. His head still hurt from the blow he had received from an unknown enemy, and as he raised his hand to feel the extent of his wound there, he discovered the horrible texture of dried blood.
Deanna Troi was beside herself with worry, although she kept her feelings closely guarded, as she knew the chances of her being part of the away team was slim. She felt like she had to do something constructive to help find her Imzadi.
The other senior officers looked concerned about the fact that their first officer had gone missing, but she felt like she was the only one who realised it could be a life or death situation and they had to act as soon as possible.
"Commander Riker could be in trouble." Worf pointed out, the typical attitude of a security officer. It didn't seem to bother him that Deanna and Will used to be a couple. In Worf's eyes, Riker was a friend and commanding officer. It would not have been honourable to think otherwise.
Deanna backed him up a little too quickly. "I agree. We need to get an away team down there immediately." She was referring to the planet they were in orbit of; Belitos. Riker had volunteered to go undercover as a Beliton in order to determine whether they were ready for joining the Federation.
It seemed they were not. In ways they could only describe as "primitive", the Enterprise senior staff decided that once they had recovered Commander Riker, they would make their recommendation to Starfleet and leave the area as soon as they could.
They had lost contact with Riker less than an hour ago, and the ship's sensors could not locate his comm badge or Riker himself. There was definitely something strange going on.
"Deanna, can you sense him?" Asked the Captain, fully aware of the bond his Counsellor and First Officer shared.
Her heart sank as she tried to find his mind with hers for what seemed like the thousandth time since they had lost contact with him, and failed again. "I'm sorry Captain, but I can't sense anything from him."
"Then I think it's time we investigated this matter." Picard said decisively, tugging down on his uniform top, a gesture that sadly reminded Deanna of Will. "Mr Worf, assemble a security team. Mr Data, I want you to lead the away team - take any officers you require." He appeared satisfied with this action, yet determined to find an answer for his first officer's disappearance.
As he was leaving the room, Data was stopped by Troi. "Data, I want to come with you."
Data did not look entirely surprised.
"I might be able to find him faster with my mind than you could hope to without me." She pleaded.
Data considered that, and wondered how often Riker had been forced to decide who to take on the away team and who to leave on the ship. He agreed that her empathy could significantly improve their chances of finding Riker, and if it really was imperative that they find him as soon as they could, then Deanna could make all the difference. "I believe you are correct Counsellor, I would appreciate you accompanying me in the search for Commander Riker."
Deanna smiled at him, relieved that it had been easy to convince him. She would feel useless if she remained on the ship whilst Worf and Data looked for Will on the surface.
Meanwhile, in his prison cell, Riker had recovered his memory. He remembered being discovered as an "alien", and beaten by the supposedly civilised group of people he had been with when they realised there was something not quite right about him. He did not understand their jokes - which seemed a minor matter, but was a big clue to the Belitons he was talking to.
He winced as the pain in his head grew, coupled with the fear he had about what would happen to him next. He did not know how the Belitons treated their prisoners, and wondered if he would simply be left there until he died or whether they intended to do anything else.
He sank back on the floor, trying to ignore the ever present hunger pains in his stomach. They hadn't brought him anything to eat since he had woken up, and he wondered if they ever intended to.
Data, Deanna and Worf, as well as the two security officers Worf had assigned to the away mission, arrived on the planet dressed in civilian Beliton clothes. It was not worth risking any of their lives by drawing attention to themselves. Going through official channels would not be appropriate, as they were clearly not ready for "alien" contact. Picard had decided that the best plan would be to rescue Riker as soon as possible, and hope the Belitons had not discovered too much about him.
They had beamed down to Riker's last known location, which was the place he was attacked and where his comm badge was found on the ground. Data and Worf examined it for any possible clue, whilst Deanna closed her eyes and concentrated, hoping to find Riker with her empathy.
She found it impossible to concentrate with the noise around her. "Data, Worf, please!" She said, indicating that she needed silence.
"Sorry Counsellor." They replied in unison, and if the situation hadn't been quite so serious, Deanna would have thought it was funny. She took advantage of the sudden silence and concentrated hard, searching for the familiar sensation of Will Riker's mind.
The doctor, or so he called himself, and his staff were carrying out an interesting experiment on "the alien", having no real regard for the pain and suffering they caused Riker. He had given up struggling long ago, for they had found ways of restraining him to the operating table.
He couldn't remember a time when he had felt such pain, and the doctor kept him away from unconsciousness in order to observe the alien's reaction to his experiments. Every time his body tried to shut itself down, he was brought back with a jolt. He felt like it would go on forever and ever.
The pain that surged through Riker's exhausted body was also felt by Deanna, but it was distant. Deanna motioned to the others to follow her as she in turn followed her senses towards the source of the pain, and hopefully Will Riker.
Worf looked slightly concerned at what Deanna was sensing. "How bad is he?" He asked.
"He's in pain, and we have to get to him as soon as we can." She said, as they continued to move in the direction she had indicated. She hoped that she was not showing outwardly her feelings of fear and worry for Riker.
Worf put his arm around her in a gesture that was meant comfortingly, but Deanna felt uncomfortable with that, and pushed him away. "Worf, whatever we had together is over. I thought we had sorted all that out." She said in a low voice, intended for his ears only.
He knew, but that didn't stop him from missing her company, her help in looking after Alexander and her words of advice. He could tell her mind was on finding Riker. She had never stopped thinking about him, even when she was involved with another. Worf knew that, he could tell. He was a lot more perceptive than his fellow officers credited him to be.
Deanna rushed to the front of the group, and said to Data. "He's in that building there." She pointed to a dim grey house that looked as if it had seen better days. She ran towards the front entrance - the others followed her, marvelling and yet never doubting her empathy.
Riker, meanwhile, was back in his prison cell. He felt as close to death as he had ever been, and even if that was an exaggeration, he truly felt that he wanted to die. At least that would rid him of the awful pain and misery he felt. He didn't even notice the blood and sweat that covered him.
In the back of his mind he heard a voice, sweet and lovely like the first warm summer breeze. He had always thought he would see his life flash before him just before he died, but of course he would think of his Imzadi instead. She was far more important than his whole life. He knew that now, and didn't even attempt to respond to the voice. It soothed and caressed his mind, perfect for his last few moments of his life.
He didn't know that it was really Deanna, looking for him, wanting to know that he was alright. She didn't know that he had given up - that the painless state death brought with it was far more attractive than life as it was at that moment for him.
Deanna rushed towards the building, but Data knew from his tricorder readings that there were guards around. He grabbed her arm firmly before she reached the doors, warning her that there could be hidden dangers she hadn't thought about.
The only thing Deanna could think about was that her sense of Will was getting weaker all the time. She didn't care about putting herself in danger, all she wanted was to find him.
Data somehow recognised Deanna's urgency and decided the best thing he could do was distract the guards long enough for Deanna to get to Will. He could only count three guards, and between him and Worf, they knocked all three unconscious within a matter of minutes.
Then they rushed through the grey, musty corridors of the dark building, Deanna taking the lead, the others following her pace. She felt his pain more strongly than ever, and lost no time in finding the cell where he was being held.
Worf and Data broke the door down without thinking twice about it. Deanna rushed in to Will's side. "Gods, Imzadi what have they done to you?" She almost wept, wiping the blood away from his face.
Data, meanwhile scanned Riker with his tricorder in order to establish how serious his wounds were. "He is still alive, but it is imperative that we get Doctor Crusher here immediately." He said to Worf, trying his comm badge. Unfortunately they could not get a response from the ship and Data theorised that they were too far out of range.
"I will return to the location where we beamed down." Said Data to Worf, as Troi was busy attempting to ease Riker's pain. "Please stay here in case Counsellor Troi or Commander Riker need your assistance. I hope to be back with the Doctor before the guards regain consciousness." Worf merely nodded in response as Data turned and left the room, deciding that there was no time to waste.
The Klingon suddenly felt very uncomfortable, as if he were intruding on a very private moment between two people. He felt angry with himself - what sort of Klingon was he? Yet as he turned, he saw Deanna touching and caressing Riker so tenderly and whispering something to him. Worf saw the love in her eyes, she had never looked at him like that. As difficult as it was for him to admit, Worf felt an increasing jealousy and anger the longer he watched them. Finally, he realised he was only hurting himself if he continued to stay, and walked outside the door. It was a better place to keep a watch for any guards anyway. Despite his feelings, he had an obligation to protect the couple in the prison cell, and he would rather die than not do his duty.
Meanwhile, back in the cell, Deanna had done all she could to make Riker feel more comfortable until Beverly arrived. She had been talking to him ever since she had arrived, hoping that he would answer her, but he had been silent up until that point.
Deanna continued to talk to him, hoping that he would survive until help arrived. Then, suddenly, she felt a change in him. Moments later he opened his eyes, wincing with the pain he felt again. "Will." She said softly, leaning closer to him. "I've been so worried."
He smiled slightly, "I know." He said simply, observing her tear stained cheeks.
Leaning closer to him, she brushed his lips with hers. Before he could even think about responding, she had moved away, remembering that Worf was somewhere nearby. "How do you feel?" She asked.
"Can't you tell?" He replied.
"Yes, I know how you feel." She said, her head bowed. She looked into his blue eyes and he looked into her dark ones and their eyes locked.
"I'm so glad you're here." He said, closing his eyes with sheer exhaustion.
"Tell me about it." She said, not sure if it was quite the right time, but the sooner he talked about it, the better he would feel.
He reached out and grasped her soft, small hand. She sensed from his reaction that he was too tired to deal with it, and she would have a better chance of discussing it all when they returned to the Enterprise.
She brought her other hand to his face and brushed his hair away from his face, gently touching him, not wanting to cause him any pain. But he wanted her there. She felt warm against him and the mere look in his eyes told her that he wanted her as close as she could be.
"It's going to be alright Imzadi." She said softly, resting her head lightly on his shoulder. She still felt his pain, and wished she could do more to help him. But all she had to offer was herself, and what he needed more than anything was a doctor.
Somehow he realised how useless she felt. He reached around with his good arm and stroked her dark hair. "You're not useless." He said hoarsely. "I don't think I would still be here if you hadn't talked to me, made me think about what I would be missing out on if I died."
She turned to look at him, startled at what she had done, merely by being there. "You really know how to flatter someone." She said.
"I mean it." He said. "I was so close to just giving in, I never thought anyone would find me in time."
Deanna was surprised. Will was someone she had always admired for his courage and spirit. She had never expected anything to beat him like this had.
"I know this sounds.." He paused to cough. "rather melodramatic, but in a way you have saved my life." He knew he still had some nasty injuries, but with Deanna there, he felt as if he could face anything.
She smiled in spite of the situation. "You always know what to say to me."
Will looked into her eyes and saw the tears forming there. "I'm sorry." He said. "I didn't mean to upset you."
He hadn't realised until then how his words would affect her. He could be so sweet at times, and she knew how sincere he was about his feelings. She smiled as he brushed her tears away, remembering how he used to tease her about not smiling enough. "You know, Deanna..."
She put up her hand to interrupt. "I know, I should smile more often."
"You should, but that wasn't what I was going to say." He said, attempting to sit up. He cried out as the pain increased from the sudden movement.
"Will, be careful." She said, moving to help him, but when she tried to move away he held her arms in place.
"Deanna, don't move. It hurts so much."
She could feel his increased heart beat, his pain and his genuine need for her. She did as he asked and remained where she was. "It's alright, I'm not going anywhere."
Worf heard Riker's cry, and after a moment's deliberation entered the cell. His heart almost stopped as he saw the injured man embrace Deanna, locked in a kiss, which was far more than friendly. The Klingon left the room, feeling such a fool for thinking Deanna could have been interested in him in the first place. She had never made a secret of her past relationship with Riker, but Worf had thought it was all over years ago.
He leant up against the wall outside the cell, trying to forget he ever had feelings for the Counsellor.
A few moments later, Data came rushing around the corner with Beverly not far behind, she flushed and out of breath whilst Data was the picture of normality. They went past Worf and into the cell.
Deanna was very pleased to see her friend. "Beverly, please help him." She pleaded.
Beverly needed no encouragement, and Riker's only regret about the Doctor's arrival was that Deanna had been forced to move away.
Within virtually no time at all, Beverly had healed most of Riker's wounds and the group were able to make their way back to the beam-down point. They had not anticipated the guards regaining their consciousness so soon however, and they gave chase. Data and Worf stopped to prevent them getting to the women and injured man. They were no match for the android and Klingon anyway.
The away team made it back to the beam-down point and seconds later they were back on the Enterprise. After Riker had Beverly's permission to leave sickbay and he had given his report verbally to the Captain, he went back to his quarters.
He had barely been there for ten minutes when he had a visitor. "Come in." He said.
The doors opened, and Deanna walked in. "How are you?" She hadn't stopped thinking about him at all.
"Fine, I'm just glad to be back." He said, falling back on to the bed. He was still very tired, but something was preventing him sleeping. They both knew what it was.
Their eyes met again, and Deanna was the first to speak. "Will, what happened was just a thing of the moment. It didn't mean anything." But it did, to her.
"How can you say that? Maybe the situation did have something to do with how we acted, but it meant something to me." He looked up at her. "I think I'm falling in love with you again Imzadi, and there's nothing I can do about it."
She went to him and kissed him softly, leaning over the edge of the bed. She gasped as he pulled her towards him so that she lost her balance and found herself lying on top of him. "I want you to stay." He said, knowing beyond any doubt that she would not be able to refuse such an offer.
"You need to rest." She said.
"And how am I supposed to sleep when every time I close my eyes I see your face?" He complained.
"All right, I'll stay."
He grinned at her response, somehow the horrible fatigue had been pushed to the back of his mind. "You're the best Imzadi I ever had." He said lovingly, wrapping himself around her as she laughed at his remark.
"And you're at the top of the list of all my Imzadi's." She responded as she raised her lips to his.