Disclaimer: I never claimed it would be any good :D

This takes place right after the first Borg Encounter, soon after the rescue

of Captain Picard.




Captain William T. Riker was still uncomfortable in Jean Luc Picard's

ready room. He sat at his Captains desk, trembling hands raking his dark

hair until it stood at odds to his scalp. His face was careworn, with

unaccustomed lines of fatigue deeply etched around his eyes and mouth. Note

pads littered the top of his desk, and his coffee precariously perched on

it's edge, next to a half-eaten sandwich that had hardened long ago. Riker

rubbed his eyes in an effort to force blurred vision to cooperate as he tried

without success to finish reports long overdue. The unfinished work weighed

him down, though it was but one of the many areas of neglect that plagued

him. He had been far too busy trying to keep his crew alive and ship intact

as they battled the Borg. But the chaos disturbed him, and he wondered what

Picard must think to see his ship and it's routines in such disarray.

Sighing when his body would no longer cooperate, he gave up and performed his

final duty of the evening.

"Captain's Log, Stardate XXX Acting Captain William T. Riker reporting.

It's been six days since the destruction of the Borg cube in the Sol system.

We've completed the rescue operations at Wolf 359, and the Enterprise is en

route to the Martian colony. After we offload the one hundred and

sixty-three survivors, mainly from the USS Apollo and the Pif'itar... the

Enterprise will proceed to earth for a much needed refit and respite for the

crew." Will punctuated the last sentence with a barely suppressed yawn.

"The trip home will be a long one by normal standards; four to five days. Of

course, not much of anything is operating by normal standards... Warp

engines are still marginally operable, and the structural integrity of the

ship has been compromised to a point that we are putting the ship and crew at

risk by running anything higher than Warp one. The crew is stretched to

their limits, working double shifts; making emergency repairs, and caring for

the survivors we have aboard. Riker out," he said, his voice hoarse with



Will leaned back until his chair creaked with protest. A heavy sigh

escaped through clenched jaws, past his best effort to suppress it. The

Captain's log would become public record...a running chronicle of the life

and times of the USS Enterprise. But he knew it would never tell the whole

story. The official log would only tell about the "official" events... the

physical condition of the ship and the status of her personnel.

He rubbed his eyes which felt painfully full of grit and reached out and

blindly to the terminal to bring up his personal logs. Private logs were

definitely not for public consumption, but the truth of the matter was that

he very rarely listened to anything he had recorded, using them more as a way

to organize thoughts and think through feelings than to keep records. Will

drank cold coffee and grimaced at the bitter dregs that rested on his tongue.

His bones ached and his exhausted body demanded that he sleep, but his mind

was not ready for rest, at least not yet.

"Personal Log, Stardate XXX. It's been nearly a week, but it seems

like we've been out here for a month; limping along, plucking survivors off

derelict ships that are so much worse off than ours. I can hardly stand to

look at them, the survivors. Half of them treat me like I'm some sort of

hero, as if I single-handedly destroyed the Borg. The others…they look at

me, and their eyes ask why I didn't to do it sooner...before their friends

and families, and lovers, and their children died..." Will's eyes smarted

with suppressed tears. He closed them finally, and loosed a sigh that was

almost a groan. "Thank god starfleet spared us the job of being the morgue

ship - retrieving all the bodies... god… there are so many of them.. so many

people I knew...Mark Hebron, Jess Lo, Karen Zimmer, Adrin many

more..." He trailed off, grateful that fate had spared a few of those closest

to him. The computer waited patiently. "The crew is doing OK," he said,

pointedly not calling them his crew. "I've been running them ragged...and

everyone is pulling double shifts trying to piece the Enterprise back

together...just in case…" he left the sentence unfinished. I suppose we

could probably ease off a little since we'll be in space dock in a couple of

days...but Deanna agrees that they're better off working hard. It seems

easier if you don't have too much time to think..."


Will pinched the bridge of his nose, fighting off a headache. His mind

drifted to Jean Luc Picard. "Bev and Deanna are both spending a lot of time

with the Captain. Physically, he's looking a little better, but mentally and's damn hard to see him like this. I think… no, I know he

blames himself...God, if I'd only found a way sooner... Sometimes I think t

would have been kinder to kill him while he was still Borg...and sometimes…

Well, sometimes I think, he's here...he'll recover...and my god, I almost

killed him... No one has actually said anything, but I know they think the

same thing... Last night when I stopped by his quarters, Beverly was there

and she gave me this look..." He trailed off again, but forced himself to

finish. "I can't wait to get back to earth... to leave this leave

all of this crap behind. I always wanted to command the Enterprise...but not

under these circumstances...not this way. Maybe I need to go home and spend

some time at the cabin…forget all this ever existed..." Will trailed his

finger through coffee he'd spilled on his desk, making a bigger mess. "Maybe

I'll wake up and find it was all a bad dream...a freak nightmare." His head

rested against the chair and the computer waited patiently for him to

continue. After three minutes of silence the program automatically shut

down. The Lion Fish swam lazily through it's dome like environment; almost

as if it were trying to attract his attention. Multi-layered fins gracefully

fanned out as it danced among the greenery of it's artificial habitat. But

Will Riker was oblivious to the show, totally unconscious with his head flung

back and mouth wide open.

Chapter 1

The senior officers of the Enterprise looked more like a band of refugees

than the best of the best from starfleet. They all rose as if on cue,

gathering the scattered pads and charts that had multiplied across the

conference room table. The ships physician, Beverly Crusher, longed to

recommend an extended vacation for each and every one of them, but it was

hardly practical under the circumstances. So her suggestion was that they at

least spare an hour or two for an escape of a different sort. "Will?" she

asked casually, "it's Thursday. Are we on for poker tonight?"

Commander Elizabeth Shelby attempted to keep her eyebrows from raising

into her hairline as her eyes darted to acting Captain Will Riker. Try as

she might, she still found it difficult to accept the casual familiarity

which the members of this command crew exercised with their Captain. In her

experience subordinates simply did not end staff meetings by inviting

themselves to poker with the ships captain; even if it was just a field

promotion for Riker.

Riker stared at the CMO for a long moment, his expression blank. Poker

was the farthest thing from his mind and it took him long seconds to shift

gears. There hadn't been a regular Thursday night game for the past three

weeks, ever since the Borg invasion had forever changed this quadrant of

their galaxy. Bone tired and feeling out of sorts, he opened his mouth to

respond in the negative, but stopped himself when Deanna caught his eye.

Without saying a word or altering her expression, her dark eyes pleaded for

him to say yes. Reluctantly he admitted to himself that the game might be

good for all of them. Mustering some semblance of enthusiasm, he nodded at

Beverly and dredged up a weak smile. "Of course. Nineteen hundred hours in

my quarters doctor." Will took in the exhaustion of his officers and

grinned. "Everyone bring your credits and prepare to be humiliated," he

quipped. With the ice broken, a chorus of good-natured groans and long

absent smiles of anticipation lightened his heart as the officers filed from

the room. All except Shelby, who looked a little uncertain. Riker turned

to his acting first officer . "You're invited too, Commander" he said,

"...but only if you promise to go easy on me."

Shelby nodded and returned the Captain's friendly comment with an

uncertain smile. She still felt like an outsider in this group, especially

after her previous clashes with Captain Riker while he was still commander of

the Enterprise. Obviously there was no question of refusing the invitation.

If the other officers were going to be there, so would she. Captain Riker

gave her the briefest flash of a smile and for about the thousandth time she

kicked herself for her self-righteous arrogance. How could she have been so

blinded by her own ambition to have accused him of not being able to make the

big decisions? He had proved her wrong more than once since that day. In

fact…he had made the hardest decision of all; one that she had discovered

herself unable to make of the final day of battle. Slipping quickly past the

tall Captain, she gave him a brief nod of thanks on her way out the door.

Will squared his broad shoulders from habit and headed for his post on

the bridge. He slid into the Captains chair and stared at the view screen.

"This is where I've always wanted to be. But where's the fulfillment? What's

missing?" he asked himself. He felt uncomfortable, as if he were

desecrating a sacred place. The unseen presence of his absent Captain was

palpable, almost as if his imprint was still upon the chair. He forced a

shrug, trying to assume a relaxed, at-ease posture. Many years of command

experience had taught him that the bridge crew was acutely aware of their

Captain's body language. His fingers twitched slightly, the only outward

evidence of his inward turmoil. Riker stroked the smooth material beneath

his hand and wondered if Picard felt betrayed, or did he merely feel that his

first officer had failed him. Unconscious of the oft used mannerism, he ran

his hand over his beard, his casual gesture doing nothing to betray the

unsettled state of mind that had plagued him since defeating the Borg. Riker

stood up abruptly and announced, "I'll be in the ready room."

Retreating to the ready room was a mistake. If anything, it felt worse

than the bridge. He stood immobilized and stared at Picards chair, the chair

that Guinan had told him was his. Will shook off the feeling that he was

trespassing before he slipped awkwardly into it's uncomfortable embrace; it

still didn't feel like his. Nothing in here felt like it was his. He closed

his eyes in the hope that when he opened them, Picard would stride through

the door and reclaim his seat. Forcing protesting eyelids open, Will looked

wistfully at his usual place and wondered if things would ever return to the

way they had been. Both Deanna Troi, ships counselor, and Beverly Crusher,

it's CMO had been very guarded in their prognosis for the Captain's recovery.

A gusty sigh escaped him as he flipped on the desktop screen. His fingers

flew as he pulled up the logs of the past several weeks. His scalp itched

and he ran his hand through already tousled hair while scouring each entry.

He was searching for anything that could tell him what he might have done to

prevent Picard's abduction and the Captains subsequent leading of the Borg

into the bloodiest battle in the Federations history.

Long hours flew by without notice. So intense was his concentration,

that the door chime made his heart pound as he looked up from his computer

screen. His eyes burned, assuring him that they were surely more red than

their trademark blue. "Come," he croaked.

Shelby stepped in to the room, and Riker thought that she looked as if

both her hair and her uniform had been starched. Will chastised himself for

ungentlemanly thoughts and conceded that she always managed to look alert and

efficient, but today her damned efficiency only succeeded in making him

tired. "Sir. Lt. Commander Hai to see you." She announced. Riker raised

his eyebrows as a perfectly coifed Lt. Commander, resplendent in her dress

uniform stepped confidently past an obviously annoyed Shelby. "Captain

Riker? Good afternoon, sir. Actually almost good evening. I'm Lt.

Commander Romni Hai - Star Fleet Public Relations Liaison."

Riker blinked several times and cleared his throat before answering.

Ordinarily, simple good manners would have prompted him to stand and greet

any visitor, even a junior officer. But he had passed tired way back, and

was now working on exhausted. The corners of his mouth turned down. He was

none too pleased about what the presence of someone from the PR office might

portend. He realized Shelby was still hovering and nodded with more brisk

efficiency than he felt. "Thank you, Number One. That will be all." A

brief flash of annoyance flicker across Shelby's features, but she merely

gave a slight nod of acknowledgement and left the room. Will understood her

need to know what was going on, especially now that someone from Starfleet

had shown up on their doorstep after the most harrowing battle in Earths

history. However, at this point in time he didn't really care much what

Shelby wanted. She wasn't staying, and she'd be off the ship soon enough.

When the door closed behind her he turned his attention to the other officer.

"What can I do for you, Hai?"

Romni completed a quick but thorough examination of the man behind

Picard's desk. She was pleased to find that he was every bit as handsome in

person as on the vids she'd previewed. He was a PR officer's dream. "A hero

who looked heroic." Still young enough, very handsome, but dignified, and

with a commanding presence that was both reassuring and slightly

intimidating. Here is the personification of what a star ship captain is

supposed to be," she thought. Romni's voice was silky smooth, projecting

carefully cultivated sincerity. "I'm here to brief you on the plans for the

Enterprise's docking sir, and to coordinate a few interviews with key command


Riker's patience had dissolved long ago under the pressure of his

exhaustion. His voice was hard and revealed a dangerous edge. "Lieutenant

Commander Hai. We really don't have the time or the energy for meaningless

ceremonies and interviews. This ship is badly damaged, and her crew is both

exhausted and demoralized."


Hai was silent while she assessed her best strategy and tried to read

what was taking place inside the man before her, but Riker's face was

unreadable; all except for the deep weariness in his eyes. "Many of us have

lost dear friends," he said as his jaw clenched, betraying his hidden

feelings for a brief moment. "I can promise you here and now that I won't

permit anyone to subject this crew or this passengers to a media circus."

Romni Hai composed her features into a compassionate expression as she

practiced her best professional sympathy. "Of course, Captain. I can only

imagine what you and the crew have been through. I assure you that it will

simply be a short welcoming ceremony," she promised with a negligent wave of

her hand. Her smile was intended to be grave but reassuringly. "Admiral

Shearing will make a few remarks, you will be asked to make a few

remarks...and that will be it."

Riker raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Then what are you doing here?"

Hai sat uninvited, soaking up the character of the legend who sat

slouched in his seat across from her. She fought her desire to be mesmerized

by his blue-eyed gaze, wondering if it was the forceful magnetism of his eyes

that made him so attractive. Breaking his gaze, she looked briefly around

and decided distractedly that the room was an ill suited fit for him. The

spare, sleek furnishings portrayed the Spartan style of it's former Captain.

Hai imagined Riker with his feet up on a massive antique oak desk with a fire

in the corner, and warm rugs scattered on a polished wooden floor. She

reminded herself, this had been Picard's ready room and Riker hadn't exactly

had time to redecorate in the midst of his battle with the Borg. Riker

cleared his throat, and abashed, she pulled herself away from her momentary

lapse in concentration."


Captain." she said, intentionally lowering her voice to imply they were

sharing a secret, "we both know that the Borg incident has been a complete

debacle for Star Fleet. " She spread her hands wide. "So many ships lost...

so many people dead." Her eyes widened and she intentionally portrayed

ignorance of the fleeting anger that crossed Rikers face. "The Borgs

penetration to the very heart of the Federation shook the public's confidence

in Star Fleet. But the Enterprise, thank God, came and saved the day!" She

spread her arms wide again. "This ship, and her crew are a galaxy-wide

symbol of victory. The public really needs to see that!" she said with

fervent belief, standing to accent her statement. Hai had carefully avoided,

at least for now, any mention of Riker's potential role in their strategy.

She knew he would not be sympathetic with the public's need to identify with

a hero. Hai knew that people needed a face on which to pin the events in the

news... and the Public Relations team at Star Fleet headquarters had

unanimously agreed that William Riker's was the face they needed.


Will leaned back until his chair groaned as he massaged his throbbing

temples. The headache he'd battled for most of the day had escalated into a

war within his skull. "So…what do you want from me?" he asked, his weariness

making him numb. He found it increasingly difficult to concentrate on the

Lt. Commander's words as he reviewed the last week in his mind...the running

battle with the Borg. The unspeakable horror of what had been done to the

captain.... Helplessly listening to the battle at Wolf 345 as the frantic

voices on ship after ship as they succumbed... the complete sense of

hopelessness as they passed that silent graveyard, only to finally to face

the Borg above the earth to reap their hollow victory. Hollow because

thousands were dead. Hollow because Picard was so… damaged... hollow because

there were certainly other cubes out there. Will continued to be acutely

aware that his strategy had done nothing more than buy them some time…time

against another inevitable and possibly indefensible onslaught of The Borg.

Hai continued blithely unaware as Will forced his wandering attention

back to her conversation. "...and then you'll need to make a few remarks,"

she said. "If you'd like I can script them for you." She paused for a

moment to catch her breath. Riker agreed without fully knowing what he was

agreeing to. He certainly had no time to write a speech.

"Such as...?" He prompted when she was not forthcoming with details.

Hai felt a sense of great relief. Riker was going to be cooperative.

That was good. That was great! She choose her next words carefully. "Well…

just what you'd expect, sir," she said carefully. "It's good to be

home...fine ship, brave crew...the Federation is safe again. So on and so

on…" She was thinking out loud now. "You could make a very brief mention of

those who fell in the line of duty, but we don't want to dwell on the

negatives," she mused, "and we absolutely do not mention Picard at this time."

"Jean Luc Picard is still the Captain of this vessel." Will said, his

eyes narrowing.

Hai realized she'd stepped onto dangerous ground. "And I'm sure he was a

very fine Captain!" she amended, moving as cautiously as if she'd stepped

into a quagmire. She couldn't afford to antagonize starfleet's showpiece,

and the rigidity of Captain Riker's posture showed that she had done just

that. Stuttering in her haste to explain she blushed pink. "Sir, please

understand that the public is not going to understand how a Starship captain

could turn against his own people and lead a Borg attack. There's sure to be

a frenzy of publicity around the court martial hearing; so for now, well… we

just want to avoid the whole distasteful issue as much as possible."

If Hai hoped that she had done an adequate job of damage control, the

bitter fury in William Riker's eyes quickly advised her otherwise. Braced

for a verbal onslaught, she was caught off guard by the intimacy of Riker's

voice and his cheshire smile. He unexpectedly dismissed her without a fight

and with all of the considerable charm at his disposal. "If you'll excuse

me, Lt. Commander, I have ship's business to attend to. Good day."

"Perhaps if we go over the press conference instead, Captain..." she

said faintly, trying in vain to prolong the meeting.

Riker stood, still smiling. "You are dismissed Lt. Commander."

Hai nodded and swallowed the words that wanted to gush forth; taken

aback at the contradiction of William Riker. His charming and polite

demeanor was opposed by the steely glint in his blue eyes, and she knew she

had pushed this legend as far as she dared.

"Yessir." She answered, rising smoothly. ""There is just one more small

thing...the interviews?" She threw him a bland apologetic look until he

raised his eyebrows slightly, giving her permission to continue. She decided

the best way was to just get it all out and then run for cover. "The Public

Relations office has authorized a reporter and film crew from the Federation

Broadcasting Network to conduct interviews with you and selected members of

your crew." His expression tightened even more and she plunged on. "The

film crew came aboard with me and will remain on board until we reach earth.

Fleet Admiral Nogora has ordered your full cooperation in this matter."


Captain Riker surprised her again. She anticipated a full-scale anti-matter

explosion, but instead he just sat back down in and ran a hand through his

thick, dark hair. "Oh Christ..." He swore softly and looked almost

defeated. He shook his head at the idiocy of Star Fleet and the Public

Relations Office. "Just keep them out of the way, Hai," he asked, his eyes

betraying a weariness that was beyond belief.

Romni Hai's guilt was fleeting as she appraised the exhausted state of

the Enterprise's new Captain. She had no intentions of doing anything to

limit the access of the FBN film crew. The planned profile with the hero of

the Battle with the Borg would make wonderful press and could make her

career. However, she said none of this to Riker. "Yes sir. Thank you sir."

she acknowledged and departed his ready room. Within five minutes she was

having a worried discussion with a very irritated Director of Public


Will remained sequestered with his logs well past shift change. The

young duty officer rose smartly from the center chair when Riker stepped back

onto the bridge. "Good evening, Captain!"

Will nodded, feeling twice his age before the eager young woman. "As

you were, Lieutenant."


The young officer remained standing stiffly, ready to give her report on

what had so far been an uneventful shift. Will was uncomfortably aware both

of the lieutenant's scrutiny and her admiration. He repressed a faint sigh

of frustration as he glanced down at the chronometer at the station in front

of him. Sixteen-fifty hours. He was supposed to be somewhere in ten

minutes. Staring blankly at the turbolift door, he finally remembered that

he had scheduled a poker game for tonight. Knowing his tolerance for

socializing was nil, he prayed for an early evening. Squaring his shoulders

again, Will headed for the last stop he had to make before he went to spend

time with his friends. It was a visit that both parties dreaded, but he was

bound by both duty and friendship to make it. Nodding curtly to the young

lieutenant he headed for the lift.

"Good night, sir." She called softly as the door slid shut behind him.


Chapter 2a

"Good evening, Captain." Will Riker said softly, waiting for Picard to

turn from the window.

Picard sighed inwardly and forced himself to grapple with the realities

of the present. His friends meant well, but he wished they would just leave

him alone. He despised their gentle solicitousness and the way that even

Riker treated him like a porcelain figure instead of a man. The new captain

of the Enterprise came every night like clockwork. Tonight he was later than

usual and Picard studied Will Riker as he dutifully reported the status of

the ship and the major events of the day. "As if I were still in command...

As if this muddled brain of mine even cared about the status of the shield

generators or the impulse engines." Picard squared his shoulders and

carefully composed his face, trying vaguely to keep up appearances. "Good

evening, Will." he said, not sure what to call him other than Will, since

commander was no longer valid. The man before him now wore Captain's pips,

thus the familiar and comfortable 'Number One' seemed inappropriate.

However, when he'd tried "Captain" once, Will had looked so mortified in

response that he'd never said it again.

Seeing no point in useless chatter, Picard remained silent as they

awkwardly took seats at the small table. Will seemed not to notice, and

immediately launched into a recount of Geordi's plan for modifying the warp

coil housing during their upcoming refit. "My god," he thought as he studied

the younger man and his newly birthed worry rapidly grew. "He looks

exhausted... and so isolated...I wish…I wish I could tell him that I

understand the strain of command, and the hideous pressures of war and it's

aftermath." Picard's emotions plunged. "But how can I really claim to

understand what it's like to do battle with my own captain, with the earth

and humanity as stakes." Picard remembered that for a time, Will Riker had

been all that had stood between Locutus and the Federation. Now he wished he

could forget. Miraculously, Will had managed to salvage both, and now the

work of the captain was his... as well as being saddled with rebuilding what

he himself, as Locutus, had destroyed. "He should hate me," Picard thought,

despairing as he gnawed a tattered hangnail.


Will studied Picard as he spoke. "God, he looks so pale." Knowing what

the captain had been through, remorse and guilt tore at Rikers guts. If

only he had done his job as first officer and protected Captain Picard.

Always protect the captain… Rule one for a first officer, almost as important

as the prime directive, and he'd failed it miserably. He should have found a

way to rescue the captain before all the horrific damage had been done.

Will fingered his new pips unconsciously during a lull in the one-sided

conversation. Here he was, sitting here with these damned pips on his collar

and Starfleet was trying to call him a hero... while Picard was scraped aside

like some embarrassment.

"I should say something...I need to take responsibility for what

happened...ask him to forgive me for letting it all happen." Will struggled

without success to find the words to begin. "He should hate me," Will

thought guiltily as he again gave up trying to express the fears that plagued

his thoughts both night and day.

Their conversation continued to be an exercise in politeness, and

felt strained to both. After what Will hoped was a respectable amount of

time, he excused himself with a guilty sense of relief. Picard seemed not to

notice and resumed staring out the window at the stars and was equally glad

to see him go.



Commander Data was the first to arrive at Rikers quarters, sporting

his usual card-playing visor and carrying a strange-looking construction of

plastic and metal in his hand. Riker counted six metallic cylinders, all

interconnected by a flimsy, clear plastic framework. Intrigued despite his

dismal mood, he smiled. Obviously the android officer had been engaged in

more research about the cultural intricacies of poker. Taking the bait

offered, Will looked askance at the object in Data's hand and the android

held it up for his inspection. "It is called a six-pack, sir. During the

twentieth century it was traditional to bring one along when you were invited

to a poker game at a friend's residence."

Data disconnected one of the cylinders from the group and pulled the

tab-top before handing it to Riker. His Captain eyed the can dubiously until

Data motioned for him to taste it. Cautiously, he raised the can to his lips

and took a sip. His expression reflected his surprise. "It's beer!" He

exclaimed with a grin. The android cocked his head, "it's Miller time… sir,"

Data replied seriously, but Riker didn't have time to question his operations

officer further. The door chimed and Will knew without asking that Deanna had

arrived. Lines of strain feathered the edges of her dark eyes and Will saw

fatigue in the economical range of normally graceful movements. Standing

quickly, he offered her his seat, and with heroic restraint, resisted the

urge to bury his face in her sweet smelling hair. Will courteously seated

her in the old fashioned manner that his father had drilled into him as a

young boy, reluctant to let go of the back of her chair as he continued

setting up the table for the game.

Deanna chatted amiably with Data and the others who began to arrive in

quick succession. Beverly and Geordi were grinning with an air of mischief

loitering between them. Worf arrived wearing his usual scowl, and Shelby

entered with a cautious smile, accepting the chair beside Geordi. All of the

officers wore their weariness plainly, but it was clear that they were

anticipating this evenings recreation.

Will finished up while his friends relaxed together around the table.

After weathering what had been the most challenging, as well as emotionally

devastating time they had ever served together, it was clear to him that they

all needed respite. Familiar guilt washed over him as images of Picard's

despair haunted him. But when the focus of the group shifting expectantly to

their "acting Captain" he walled off disturbing thoughts and images, and

slipped unconsciously into his routine as charming host and fierce

competitor. He was determined that this game would provide his crew with

some much needed rest and relaxation, even if it killed him trying.

Data shuffled and dealt with practiced assurance, the cards sliding

into place in front of each player with uncanny accuracy. Will studied the

faces around the table and with practiced ease, wove his spell.

"Shelby...we'll take it easy on you tonight since you're new...just watch out

for Worf. He plays Klingon rules...takes no prisoners." Worf growled, but

Riker noticed a gleam of humor in the Klingons black eyes. "...And Geordi"

Riker continued teasing with good humor, " let's see if you can recoup some

of your losses from the last game. If I remember rightly, you were about

down to your last chip by the time we quit." Geordi's expression was pained

as he asked for four cards, which Data dealt him with rapid-fire surety.

"Captain, I…" the engineer was interrupted by Bev's low whistle of

appreciation for her hand. "Will, I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news,

but tonight is not going to be your lucky night. I can feel it in my bones."

Deanna laughed at the expression of incredulous denial that swept

across Will's face. She enjoyed immensely the ebb and flow of the emotions

that filled the room, and sensed a dissipation of the tension that had been

with them all for weeks. Since their ordeal with the Borg, Deanna had been

swamped with crew and civilians who couldn't cope with the death and

destruction that followed in the wake of the Borg terror. Then, Captain

Picard had been captured. Deanna had drawn heavily on strength she didn't

know she possessed in order to deal with the chaos and despair that had

rocked the Enterprise when Locutus appeared on the main viewscreen of the

bridge. Thank god Will had been in command. His rock solid strength had

anchored her, enabling her to withstand the overwhelming vortex of emotions

that had threatened to suck her into their despair. She glanced

affectionately at her best friend. He studiously examined his hand until he

felt her gaze and looked up, giving her a rakish wink. She smiled, enjoying

the twinkle in his eyes, but also noting the blue smudges beneath them. His

charm was a bit forced tonight and she promised herself she would find time

to spend with him soon.

Heros: 2b


Despite her bravado, luck was not with Beverly...nor with Will Riker

for that matter. But even as their piles of chips steadily diminished, their

good humor seemed to increase and Deanna found herself laughing out loud as

her colleagues picked on each other. Data told a few bad jokes and Geordi

nearly choked on his beer when Worf disgustedly folded, pronouncing the game

with it's wild cards "Not fit for a warrior". Only Shelby was relatively

quiet as she developed a feel for the new dynamics she was witnessing between

the senior officers.

Somewhere along about an hour and a half into the game, Deanna

realized that the stress and tension that had threatened to engulf her these

past few weeks had evaporated under the influence of the warmth and

friendship that permeated the room. At ease, she let down her mental shields

and allowed herself to bask in the positive emotions. Will lost yet another

hand, this time to a smirking Shelby, and Deanna felt his wry amusement as

his first officer flashed him a cocky grin that mimicked his own. "Still

taking it easy on me, Captain? Or are you just a lousy poker player?"

Riker's blue eyed gaze portrayed a comic picture of indignation.

"Excuse me, Commander? May I remind you who you're talking to?"

Shelby was delighted to finally be included in the easy banter of her

colleagues. "All I know, Captain, is that if you were as bad at your job as

you are at poker tonight, Captain Picard wouldn't be the only one wearing

Borg implants."

Will Riker's cheerful expression never changed, but Deanna reeled

from the backlash of emotions that flowed from him as if someone had opened a

floodgate. The full force of his sorrow and shame washed over her with an

icy shock, instantly obliterating all traces of the warmth and relaxation

she'd enjoyed. Unconscious of crushing her cards, she stared at him with

wide eyes. How had Will had ever managed to mask the powerful feelings that

still pummeled her mercilessly. The horrific moment seemed to stretch on

forever, but it was actually just a split second before the buzz of his door

yanked him back to the present. "Come" he said automatically, even as she

felt the barriers shielding his emotions slam back into place.


Deanna felt Will gently turn away her concerned probes. She sensed his

quiet desperation to maintain equilibrium as he forcefully reasserted his

carefully erected shields. He walked to the door, projecting warmth and

confidence, acting as if nothing had happened at all. When Will opened the

door and came face to face the professional smile of Lieutenant commander


"Captain, may I come in?" Hai asked breezily, acting for all the world

as if he didn't really have a choice in the matter. "Ahh. I didn't realize

you had guests..." she said with interest as she slipped by his imposing bulk

as if it were no barrier at all.

"It's our poker night," Will stated.


"Oh….yes. Actually I've heard about this infamous game.. I'm so sorry

to have interrupted you," Hai said with a brazen lack of politeness. "The

woman in the hall looked embarrassed by Hai's brazen intrusion. That's my

camera tech," Hai said, but didn't bother introducing her. Hai made another

one of her theatrical grand gestures, directing the attention of all those at

the table to herself before she announced, "In case you are wondering. I'm

going to be interviewing all of you during this mission to talk about the

Borg war and Captain Rikers' part in it. "Hai's eyes darted to Riker's face

to assess his reaction.

Will acted as politeness dictated. "Lt Commander Hai and..." He

looked questioningly at the camera tech who timidly supplied "Ensign Jarah".

"..and Ensign Jarah...may I introduce you to the senior staff?" Hai

noted, with a reporter's ear for nuances, that he said "the" senior staff,

rather than "my" senior staff. She wondered if that was significant and

filed it away for future reference. She murmured a standard greeting and

allowed Riker to take her by the elbow, guiding them into the room and

graciously introducing each of the officers. Hai greeted each of them warmly,

repeating their names as if she was hearing them for the first time. In

reality she'd already studied each of their profiles. She was going to make

her career on this assignment and had left nothing to chance. Hai studied

the room with interest, taking in the various ranks of the officers as Riker

introduced them. It looked as if the whole executive staff was gathered here

tonight. She spoke with a hint of quiet satisfaction. "We will all get a

chance to become much better acquainted later on. I'm here to do an

in-depth profile Captain Riker, and I'll want as much background information

as you can supply."

Beverly smirked, shaking the reporter's hand. "Oh, I'm sure we can all

give you some great background on Will."

Will Riker glowered at the mischievous looks his colleagues were

exchanging. "I'm under orders from Star Fleet command to cooperate fully,

but that doesn't mean that certain senior officers can't be assigned latrine

duty for the duration." He threatened.

Data cocked his head. "Sir? Technically speaking, there are no

latrines aboard the Enterprise...our rest room facilities do not meet the

criteria which..."

Will obviously forced himself not to snap at Data and interrupted the

android's speech. "Then you can dig some Data. On the holodeck."

Hai was struck again by Riker's charisma. But she also noted the

muscle in his jaw twitching, and knew he was irritated at her intrusion,

"Well, we'll leave you to your amusements Captain," she said, retreating with

the camera tech.

The senior officers took their seats again and exchanged some more

half-hearted banter, but Riker's heart obviously wasn't in it, and the

evenings spell was broken. Soon each gave their various excuses as to why

they needed to leave, promising to recoup their losses the same time next

week. Beverly touched Will's cheek as she said goodbye. "Will, when things

calm down I'd like you to come in for a check up alright?" Will smiled his

assent and kissed her lightly on the cheek.

"Anything for my favorite dancing doctor," he said with a grin and

Beverly punched him with mock ferocity. She glanced at Troi to see if she

was coming too, but saw her casually examining a print on the wall that must

have seen already a thousand times.

When the door closed behind Beverly, Will took a deep breath and turned

to face Troi. "Well..." He said, hiding behind an attempt at small talk,

"not one of my more successful nights financially..."

Deanna turned from the painting and gave him a no nonsense expression

that made it clear she was not interested in small talk. "Will, I think we

should talk… now. When he didn't speak she continued. "When Commander

Shelby made that remark about Captain Picard I sensed a great deal of

distress from you..."

Will gave a fair imitation of the trademark Riker grin. "Well what do

you expect, Deanna? She insulted my poker game!"

Deanna gnawed her lip, trying to get a sense of what she had felt from

him before, but he was so smoothly shielded that she found no crack in his

facade. He had become very adept at blocking his emotions from her and the

rest of the world. Even sometimes from himself. "Imzadi," Deanna pleaded



He pulled her closer and looked into her eyes, effortlessly captivating

her with his own. "Deanna...really. It just…hit…a little too close to home.

I don't think many people realize how close we all came to being

assimilated...the horror of it still stalks me… sometimes even in my dreams."

Deanna wanted to believe Will, but his proximity was disconcerting and

she wasn't sure she could trust her own assessment, though he obviously

wanted her to believe what he was saying. Her crushing fatigue compromised

her, and his close proximity was enough to send her own emotions into a

whirl. She studied him for a long moment, knowing that there was something

more. Sensing nothing definite, she began to doubt herself. Her shields had

come down so completely in the relaxing atmosphere at the game perhaps her

own weariness had made her hypersensitive. It was over so quickly she almost

wondered now if it had ever happened at all. "Is there something more?" She

inquired softly, their lips now inches apart.

Will hesitated. "It's just the captain. I went to see him before the

game. He still seems so..." He trailed off, apparently unable to find the

right word to describe what he saw. Deanna knew the strength of the

unspoken bond between the two men, and how hard it was for Will to see Jean

Luc Picard in such a fragile state. Satisfied that this was what bothered

Will she said gently, "give him time, Will."


Will stared into her eyes until she felt weak in the knees. She felt

his desperation and knew he was moments from kissing her. Deanna wanted

more than anything else to melt into his arms, but knew that they were three

days from space dock and the inevitable debriefing. She had to get him to

share with her his doubts and guilt before the panel of admirals got their

hooks into him. She had reached out to him in the evenings while she lay

waiting for sleep, and knew his nights had become an exercise of sleepless

futility. He breathed deeply, his gaze open and vulnerable. "Deanna, when

we get to earth do you think you could take a few days...? I was thinking

that I've never really shown you Alaska...and I thought maybe… it might be…

well I was hoping that we could talk." Her smile encouraged him but before

she could reply his communicator interrupted. "Captain? I have a priority

one coded message from Star Fleet Command." The softness disappeared from his

eyes and Alaska was forgotten. He nodded his dismissal as he turned to his

computer terminal. "I'll take it here."

Chapter 3a

Will remembered when he had been first officer, the effect of an

incoming priority one message usually filled him with anticipation. Often he

found it difficult to wait with the decorum expected of an executive officer

until Picard called him into his ready room for a briefing. Such was now not

the case, perhaps due to the influence of these past tension filled weeks;

but instead of the usual anticipation, dread squeezed his chest making it

hard to breath. He activated the screen and gave his command code for


""Admiral Espinoza here Captain Riker," an exhausted elderly admiral

previously unknown to Will hailed him. Apparently Starfleet had been forced

to drag retired brass out of mothballs due to the Borg war.

Will nodded cautiously.

"I'm afraid that it's not good news captain," Espinoza said, grimacing

as if he'd swallowed a bitter pill. "There's been another sighting of the

Borg. I'm afraid the Enterprise will have to go back out."

Will sat up, his spine ramrod straight. His verbal protest released

before he could organize a coherent thought. "Sir! The Enterprise is badly

damaged and needs extensive repair, and her crew is exhausted and

traumatized. Surely Starfleet doesn't expect us to go back out under these

circumstances!" he demanded, now on his feet in front of the terminal.

The old man shook his head with ponderous certainty. "Captain Riker,

I'm truly sorry. These are your orders. There is no one else with your

experience to send. In truth, there is no one else to send regardless.

We've lost so many. You have your orders, all I can ask is just do your

best. We'll send what assistance we can, but I fear it won't be as much as

one would hope," he said, a heavy aura of defeat surrounding him. The

admiral's eyes asked for understanding as he cut the connection. Riker

stood, staring at the blank screen. They were going after the Borg, again.

Will smashed his fist against the wall, welcoming the burst of pain that

blocked his deepest pain for only a moment.

He had signed the death warrants of so many the first time they

fought the Borg, Now they were asking, no, they were telling him to do it

again. Tendrils of sick despair and self-doubt assailed him and nausea

churned in his gut. He stood rigid and unmoving in the center of the room.

Maybe this time he wouldn't be so lucky.. Maybe this time he really wouldn't

be good enough and everyone, including those closest to him would pay the

price… with their lives. Will drew ragged breaths, trying to calm himself as

he pushed all thoughts of defeat into a dark recess of his mind. He pulled a

facade of calm control around him like a mantle. With a voice that betrayed

nothing, Will ordered the executive staff to meet him in the ready room in

fifteen minutes.


Picard looked up from his book at the insistent sound of the door

buzzer. He glanced at the chronometer as if he wondered who was stopping by

at this hour. It was nearly midnight. He sighed softly when the door buzzed

again, and with no small irritation he laid aside the unread book. "Come."

He said softly, rising to greet the unknown visitor.

Will Riker had already turned away from the door, relieved that Picard

was apparently asleep. At the sound of Picard's "Come" he stopped in his

tracks and turned back to the door like a man readying to face a firing

squad. He didn't want to have this conversation and a part of him wondered

if he should have brought Deanna. Was it possible that what he had to say

was more than Picard was capable of handling in his fragile state? He was

certainly no counselor. Will unclenched his fists, and realized that what he

had to say was almost more than he was capable of facing himself. Squaring

his shoulders, he forced himself through the doorway.

"Will?" Picard said, looking askance at the younger man who came

hesitantly into the room. The lights were dim and for a moment he could only

see a silhouette. Riker stepped into the pool of light cast by Picard's

reading lamp. Jean frowned. "Is something wrong Will?"

"Yes." Will Riker saw no point in vacillating. The Captain could read

him like a book. Picard was one of the few people who rarely was taken in by

his poker face. "I received a Priority One message from Star Fleet Command.

We're not going home."

Picard swallowed hard and sat down abruptly in the chair. "Dear God."

He murmured. "So soon?" There was something in Picard's face, in his

expression that sent a chill through Will Riker in a way even Locutus had

not. He stared, suddenly feeling lost and filled with a deep sadness. It

was as if he were an adult child who suddenly realized that his parent had

always looked to for strength is now growing old and frail.

"Near Regalius," Riker said as gently as he could. "They assimilated a

Beggan agricultural colony."

"And Starfleet is sending the Enterprise to intercept them? " Picard

asked bitterly. "Hasn't she done enough?"

Will Riker slumped in the other chair. "There is no one else left to

fight sir."

The two men were silent, their faces obscured in shadow as each remained lost

in their own private horrors. Breaking the silence Picard spoke .


"Star Fleet could not send a better Captain than William Riker. You

defeated them once, Will. You can do it again."

Will looked up with weariness evident in every movement. "We defeated

them sir, you and Data and the rest of the crew. We still need you sir." "I

need you," Will thought to himself but left the thought unspoken. It was not

something he cared to admit, even to himself.

Picard's voice held the whisper of a quaver so slight that Will

supposed he had imagined it. "I don't know if I can face the Borg again,

Will. I can still hear the murmuring of the collective in my head." Picard

held his hands for Will's inspection. "Sometimes I look at my hand and

expect to see the implants sprouting. And every night I cannot sleep because

when I close my eyes I am Locutus again, and I hear the screams of

thousands..." He trailed off, embarrassed for admitting to Riker what he

would not admit to anyone.

Will sat forward in his chair, bringing his face back into the light.

He reached across the distance between them and laid a hand on Picard's

forearm. His voice was roughened with compassion. "You should go sir.

We're offloading all non-essential personnel at Starbase three on our way

back out. You've been through hell. No one will think less of you sir."

Picard tried to pull away, his actions betraying his despair as he

blinked rapidly to hold back unwanted tears. "No one can think less of me

than they already do, Number One," he said bitterly. "I am Locutus of Borg."

Angry and upset, Riker tightened his grip. "No Damn it!" he said, his

lowered voice intense. "You are still Captain Jean Luc Picard! You are the

man that we can only aspire to be! " His anger abruptly left him and Riker

ran his hand through his hair as he took a moment to choose his words

carefully. "If you give up now Captain, you let them win. If you give up

now, they will have your soul." He raised his reddened eyes to Picard's.

"This ship is going to face the Borg. Chances are, they will take our lives.

But damn it Captain! They will not take our souls!"

Picard appeared uncomfortable with the close proximity of his former

first officers fierce emotion and moved to the window to stare at the

panoramic view. Will thought space seemed endlessly cold and dark, and

equally as forbidding. Even the brilliance of the stars seemed dimmed.

Picard seemed to agonize about the decision Will was asking him to make.

Will Riker watched him for a moment and then rose, the weight of command

weighing heavily upon him. Guilt made his chest ache and he knew he had been

wrong to even ask such a thing of Picard after all he had suffered. Sure

that it was his own insecurity that had prompted it, he made his excuses.

"I've got to go sir. I have a senior staff meeting scheduled. I need to

tell them," he explained apologetically.


Picard didn't respond when Will headed for the door waiting until Riker

was almost out of the room before he spoke quietly. "I'm… sorry Will. I

cannot face this again. But I wish you..." he searched for the right word

for a moment. "I wish you success." Will nodded and left without speaking.


Picard ordered himself a cup of tea and stood again at the window,

sipping slowly as he stared at the vast expanse of the universe and

contemplated Riker's exhausted visage and his unspoken plea. The ship needed

him… Will wouldn't say it, but Picard knew that his friend needed him. It

couldn't be done. He wasn't ready… he might never be ready. Picard closed

his eyes against the burn of unshed tears but vivid horrors which Locutus had

implemented found him there. He had no place to hide, neither waking or

sleeping. The despair that clawed at him was a blackness in his soul that

suffocated his very will to live. Death seemed preferable to life in this

state. The very thought left a bitter taste in Picards mouth that would not

fade. Will's words still echoed in his ears. "If you let them, they will

take your soul." The words repeated themselves in an endless litany as Jean

Luc held onto the hope Riker had forced upon him, pulling himself away from

the blackness that tore at his mind. Will was right! He knew it, past the

fear…past the despair. They could only take his soul if he let them! It was

all that was left to him and he would be damned before they could have it!

His hands shook with suppressed rage, rattling the teacup and spilling hot

tea across his wrist. He threw the cup and saucer across the room, the

sounds of its splintered crash touching a need deep inside him to destroy.

The moral strength that the Borg had not been able to assimilate was still

there, a nugget that had not been touched by the mockery they had made of his

life and his career. Jean Luc hit his com badge and contacted Riker; willing

frozen vocal chords to speak before his courage left him. "Will," he spat

out. I'm coming with you." At Will's relieved affirmation, the rage that

had filled Picard just as abruptly left him. He slid into his chair and

collapsed on his desk; wondering what in the hell he had just done.


Chapter 3b

Riker entered the conference room with heavy spirits. He had mixed

emotions about Picards decision. Breaking the news of a new Borg invasion to

the others threatened to take the heart out of him, but it wasn't evident as

he entered purposefully and went to the head of the table. All eyes were

glued on his face, their expressions somber masks of expectancy that

reflected their knowledge that this couldn't be good.'

Will stood for a moment silently, making eye contact with each officer

before he began. The direct approach was all he knew and so he expanded his

broad chest and began, "the Borg have been sighted again, and the Enterprise

has been ordered to intercept them." For a moment he kept silent, gauging

the impact of his words as their effect was reflected on the faces of his

staff. Data remained expressionless. Geordi let out a low whistle and

leaned back in his chair, hands clasped behind his head as he stared at the

ceiling. Beverly was grim. Deanna closed her eyes and became markedly

paler. Worf, on the other hand, sat as if a rod were shoved up his spine, his

expression fierce as he seemed almost to expand in size.

"What about the families on board?" Deanna finally asked.

Will let out the breath he'd held. "All non-essential personal will

be off-loaded at starbase three on our way out of terran space. It's going

to take us over a week to reach the sector they were last sighted, even if we

have maximum warp."

Geordi shook his head seriously. "Captain, this ship needs an

overhaul of virtually every major system! How are we going to do that while

chasing the Borg across the galaxy?" he asked with hands spread wide.

Will grimaced. "I'm aware of that Commander LaForge, and Starfleet

is also well aware of the fact. Their problem is that every other galaxy

class starship is in the same or worse shape. We have the best crew and the

most experience. Their looking to us, and we'll just have to make do.

Requisition everything you think you might need while we're at starbase

three; including personal." Geordi muttered to himself, something about

starfleet expecting their engineers to be miracle workers. Will tactfully

ignored it and turned to Data. "Data, I want you to continue to work on the

problems of defense, but I want you to major on offensive strategies more.

We'll have to hit them hard and fast, and in a way they don't expect. That's

going to be difficult, to say the least." Will's expression softened as he

turned to the CMO. "Beverly we don't know what to expect when we get to the

Beggan colony. Make sure your supplies are adequate." Beverly nodded, her

somber expression unchanged.

Deanna spoke into the quietness of the room, "Will, There are a few

crew members that I'd like to recommend be relieved from duty and left at the


Will nodded, "Make a list of them and we can talk about that in the

morning." At Deanna's nod, Will stood and the others tiredly followed suit.

"Inform your departments personnel of our mission as quickly as possible.

We'll be at Starbase three by mid-morning. We have much to accomplish in a

short time."

Beverly, Deanna and Shelby were the last left in the room. "What time

are we leaving the Starbase, Will?" Deanna asked, "I'd like to spend some

time with Captain Picard before he leaves the ship.'" Will's shoulders

stiffened as they always did when he felt defensive. "The captain is not

leaving the ship, counselor."

Deanna's dark eyes widened in surprise, but before she could say

anything Beverly cut in. "What do you mean he's not leaving? Will, you know

Jean Luc has no business being on any ship that is going to engage the Borg.

He's not strong enough. It's too soon! What is starfleet thinking?" she

demanded angrily. Will felt the painful lash of her angry words strike home.

They echoed his own guilty thoughts. He placed his hands on the table and

stoically faced the very angry doctor. "I asked him to stay Beverly, not

starfleet. They don't trust Picard's ability to stay detached from the Borg.

But I feel differently. Even if we didn't need him, he needs this. It's

the only way he'll get back.... himself."

Now Deanna entered the fray. "What?" she enunciated, each brittle word

freezing his heart in his chest. "You asked him? I can't believe what I'm

hearing Will Riker! " She exclaimed. "How… how could you? You of all

people know how fragile he is! You know what they did to him! How could you

ask him to go back and risk assimilation again?"

Shelby felt like she was all but invisible to the others as she

listened to the two officers questioning Riker's actions, and it touched a

raw nerve. She'd given Riker nothing but grief during their pursuit of the

Borg, and now she felt compelled to defend him against this onslaught. "The

Captain has made the decision based on what is best for the ship. Captain

Picard might prove useful again."

"Jean Luc is NOT some unfeeling bit of weaponry!" Beverly responded


Will opened his mouth to respond, but Shelby cut in before he could

reply. "A good officer utilizes every resource at his disposal. The only

reason Picard is not dead is because the Captain recognized his value as an

offensive weapon".

If the three women had not been so caught up in their argument, they

would have seen Will Riker's pallor. The truth of Shelby's statement hit him

broadside and an avalanche of doubts and recriminations threatened to

overwhelm him. Desperately he slammed the lid tightly on his emotions. He

could not afford to think of his friends or his personal feelings. The Borg

would not make allowances for such weaknesses. Barricaded against their

anger, especially against Deanna's, he fought against the force of their

disapproval that only echoed his own self-directed scorn for asking Picard to

stay. His voice reflected none of his inner turmoil. "Doctor… Counselor. I

had to make a decision about what is best for this ship, her crew, and the

federation. If the Captain is a defensive weapon, so be it. That's all any

of us are to the Borg. The matter is not open for discussion."

Deanna stared at him, her look of hurt betrayal forcing him to look

away. "Will, please don' t do this to him. He isn't strong enough," she

pleaded quietly.

Will hardened himself because it hurt to speak to Deanna like this.

"It's your job to make him strong enough. You do your job, counselor, and

let me do mine." He wheeled and strode briskly from the room, leaving a

blanket of stunned silence over those he left behind. Shelby glared at the

remaining officers, as if daring them to say anything more. Inside she felt

a surge of approval for Riker's strategy. Taking Picard WAS probably a good

idea. He might prove useful. And in addition, she was glad to see Riker put

his subordinates, especially Troi and Crusher, in their proper place.

Lifting her chin as if to warn them not to say anything further, she followed

Riker onto the bridge.

In the conference room a long moment passed and Beverly finally

spoke. "He doesn't mean to sound so harsh, Deanna - he's just trying to do

what he has to do."

Troi rearranged her hurt expression in preparation to leave the room

and sighed. "I know Beverly."

Riker was headed for the lift, and Shelby slipped quickly in beside

him. Riker seemed oblivious to her presence, so she initiated the

conversation. "Sir? Am I to disembark at the Starbase? I have been

reassigned to the Borg Taskforce."

Will glared at her. "Your orders are changed. You're to remain on

the Enterprise as first officer."

Shelby smiled. "Thank you for your confidence, sir. I won't let you


Riker didn't even bother to look at her, nor think of the callous

sound of his words. "Starfleet took the choice out of my hands Commander,"

he said wearily when doors opened and he departed without looking back.


Will entered his quarters, weary and feeling beaten by the events of the

day, and especially this evenings. Deanna's undisguised anger had gone down

hard and it now made him queasy to think of it. After slowly recording the

obligatory Captains log he flipped on his personal log.

Stardate XXX Personal log. "I feel like I'm living in a never-ending

nightmare. The Borg are back...and we aren't close to being ready...and I've

been appointed to lead the lambs to slaughter." He laid his head on his arms

as despair settled over him like a black cloak. In moments like these he

usually turned to Deanna. Even if no words were exchanged he was always

comforted by her presence. But that was impossible tonight. He knew she was

furious with him, and rightly so. Picard, at least, could have been spared

what was coming...he deserved better. Will wished he could cry but it

seemed he had forgotten how and his eyes remained steadfastly dry. He sat

there for a long time, motionless and miserable, until finally, mercifully,

he slipped into restless sleep.


Heros: 4a

Chapter 4a

At six a.m. the frantic bustle of activity on the Enterprise resembled

a noontime commuter crush rather than the order of a federation starship.

Replacement equipment and materials for repair were being brought aboard

while civilian families were being off-loaded, still trying to give tearful

goodbyes to friends and loved ones. Hastily drafted starbase personnel

drifted to the transporter pads in small groups, holding duffel bags in hand

and wearing the stunned expressions of all new recruits in a time of war.

They struggled with the reality that they were now not only assigned to the

USS Enterprise, but were about to rendezvous with the Borg. Will Riker as

acting captain, walked calmly through the confusion, his air of quiet

self-confidence uplifting those he spoke with, as he stopped here and there

to lend a hand or give an encouraging smile . Romni Hai trailed along,

certainly far enough behind to escape notice, but always close enough for her

to study the Enterprise captain. If he was worried about their upcoming

mission he certainly wasn't showing it. Hai noted with increased interest

that his presence seemed to both calm and energize the people he came into

contact with. Morale was definitely going to be a problem, she thought;

unless the captain could just split himself into a dozen different people.


Will drifted towards the bartender and made his way to the other side of

the bay. He opened his mouth to speak but she turned first; uncanny as

always. "Guinan," he said with a sad attempt at a smile, "the Enterprise

won't be the same without you."

Her own smile was enigmatic. "Oh, I'm not leaving Captain. I just came

to say goodbye to a few people."

Riker lowered his voice. "I appreciate your loyalty, Guinan, but all

civilian and non-essential personnel really must stay behind"

She tilted her head, and Will wondered, not for the first time, what

kept her hat on. "I realize I'm a civilian… captain," she replied, brown

eyes gleaming against the smoothly burnished ebony of her skin, "but I'd

hardly call myself non-essential." He opened his mouth to protest, but she

laid a quieting hand on his arm. "The trip will be long captain," she said,

emphasizing his title once more, "and who knows what will happen then...?"

She gestured to the departing families around them "Obviously morale is

going to be a problem. I can help you with that. I've always had the ear of

the Captain. And face it… you need me... Her smile became a toothy grin,

"and besides," she said, "someone's going to have to pour the champagne when

this is over."

Will Riker studied her, his clear blue eyes merging with eyes of

deep brown. Suddenly he had a gut level sense that he was far better off

with, than without her. Absurdly warmed by an offer that gave him no

tactical advantage, but did give him an odd sense of encouragement, he kissed

her cheek and thanked her. They exchanged a look of mutual respect and

understanding before Will left for the call of an engineering technician who

needed the Captain's advice.

Romni Hai watched him leave, then turned her attention back to the

dark womans flowing robes and elaborate headpiece. She wore them almost as

if they were royal regalia. Hai's intuition told her that this was a good

place to begin her interviews.


Will's combadge chirped and he glanced up with annoyance. Data notified

him that the Starbase captain, Howard Woo was trying to reach him. Excusing

himself from the group of engineers, he slipped into the conference room,

impatient with the never ending stream of interruptions. He flipped on the

screen. "Captain Woo, what can I do for you?" he said, trying to mask

exhaustion with a smile. Captain Woo's broad face maintained a serious air.


"Captain Riker. There is a matter I must discuss with you." Will

nodded, "this is a secure channel Captain Woo." Woo shook his head with

finality. "No Captain Riker. I'm afraid that we must talk personally. Face

to face." Far too familiar were the bony fingers of dread that walked up his

spine. This probably had something to do with the Enterprises new and

perhaps final mission. Confused that it should it demand his presence there,

he decided he'd better get it over with "Fine Captain. I'll be there at

fifteen hundred hours." Woo's smile was impersonal as he disconnected the

transmission, leaving Will staring at a blank screen. Holding his head, he

tried to calculate what kind of a chunk this was going to bite out of his

already hectic schedule. Head already bent over his pad, he began to prepare

for his next meeting.


Will dealt with several potential crisis in engineering that afternoon

and worked on a stack of overdue reports while sipping on yet another cup of

thickly brewed coffee. The door chimed again, aggravating his already

unbearable headache. "Come!" Lt. Hai entered, followed by her camera tech.

The second woman's demeanor was so nondescript that she blended immediately

into the surrounds of the ready room. In direct contrast was Hai, who stood

out as proudly as if on parade. "Sir" she said with a perfunctory nod, "It's

time that you were heading down to the starbase. If you don't mind we'll

just discuss our business on the way down. When Will didn't immediately

verbalize his assent she tapped her pad on her leg impatiently. "You don't

mind do you," she said, and turned and headed out the door. My camera tech

will accompanies us of course," she said over her shoulder. When he didn't

respond immediately, again she asked. "You don't mind do you?"

Will shook his head, knowing he had little choice. Lengthening his

stride, he soon caught up to Hai. God, I've got to get a few hours sleep.

Riker glanced over at the journalist and automatically returned her smile

while running long fingers through his already disheveled hair. During the

Borg war Will lived on artificial stimulants and little else until Beverly

Crusher had instructed the onboard computer not to dispense anymore of the

drugs for him from the replicator. She carefully monitored him from then on,

and only dispensed them when it when there was no other alternative. His

compromise was a pot of bitter Calderian coffee which stayed in the ready

room and in his quarters. It helped keep him awake but had certainly not

done much for his temper.

Will, the journalist and the tech reached the transporter in short

order. "Energize," he said, closing his eyes as he dematerialized, and

opening them again to the noise of a busy space dock. Mildly disoriented for

a moment, he stood dazed until a voice spoke directly in his ear. His senses

on overdrive, Will's heart raced and he pulled the tiny camera tech behind

him and grasped for the phaser which he was no longer wearing.

"I'm sorry, sir. I didn't mean to startle you," the flustered Captain

Woo stammered. "Please," he said, trying to give Will a chance to orient

himself, "welcome to Starbase Three. We're just about ready for you."

Will stared at the young starbase captain. Firstly he felt confusion,

and then he targeted the hapless Hai with his glare. Will's icy stare could

wilt most, but Hai failed to flinch under his intense scrutiny. She flashed

him a high wattage smile and moved a few inches closer. "If you'll come this

way, sir, we'll get this over with." Looking directly into his eyes, she

started towards the door, and twitched her hips and without apology. Hai

handed him a small pad as they walked. "I took the liberty of jotting down a

few remarks for you to make to the press, Captain."


Riker took no notice of her implied invitation. His sigh might have

seemed theatrical at any other time; but his weariness weighed on him. He

had assumed since they weren't returning to earth, that the scheduled

welcoming ceremony would be canceled. Breathing deep, he schooled his

features into a semblance of a pleasant expression. A few handshakes and a

couple of innocuous remarks, and he should be off the hook he rationalized.

The door opened and they turned another sharp corner. Will looked up,

startled by prolonged clapping coming from a large group civilians and

starfleet personnel. An eclectic band was playing something martial and

Federation News vidcorders were taping every second. His stunned mind

finally realized that every eye on the deck was trained on him. His stomach

churned and the Public Relations officer nervously noted the way Will's jaw

clenched in displeasure.

"Smile..." Hai stage-whispered to him out of the side of her mouth.

Will complied by baring his teeth, appearing far more apt to bite someone

than shake their hand. Reporters pushed each other in their efforts to get

closer, and he had to keep himself from growling like Worf. He deeply

resented the vidcorders being shoved in his face, but the press flaunted

their divine right to capture his every word and action for posterity. The

shouting intensified his ever-present headache and spikes of pain jabbed the

base of his skull. Several reporters were like ravening wolves, throwing

lightning fast questions at Will which either implicated Captain Picard, or

were extremely personal in nature. Off balance and unnerved, the scripted

speech dropped from numbed fingers as the onslaught of questions battered

him. What was it like to face the Borg Captain Riker! How did you defeat

them! Why didn't you come sooner. Why did so many people have to die! How

is Picard going to pay for his crimes!! As the last question penetrated

through his fatigue, and anger cleared the fog in his mind.

Will clamped his jaw against the angry words that threatened to erupt.

Unfortunately, the unleashed emotion had to go somewhere. The only avenue

left was inward, and inward it went. He was momentarily overwhelmed for a

few moments as unexpressed rage spasmed like an uncoiled snake in his

stomach. Rikers expression remained flat though his neck flushed red.

Turing to Commander Hai, blue eyes pierced hers from glacial depths. As he

grated out a command as his expression scraped her conscience raw. "Get me

out of here now Commander!" he said. Several unruly reporters jostled him

and he almost shoved them back. The rising decibels and close proximity of

so much clamoring humanity threatened to unnerve him. "Get me out of here."

He repeated, but now the desperate edge to his voice betrayed his proximity

to a dangerous internal precipice

Chapter 4 b

Deanna's headlong rush into the transporter room came to an abrupt halt

when she realized she'd missed Will's departure. She voiced a mild expletive

that didn't nearly express her rising disappointment. She'd wanted to pin

him down to a time when they would meet for a much needed counselor to

captain session. The transporter chief looked up from her console and


"You missed him, Counselor...but check this out! He's getting a

mighty fine reception!" She swiveled the monitor so that Deanna could see

the screen. The little "GBS" logo in the corner showed her that the chief

was monitoring a public news station.

The cameras panned an enthusiastic crowd listening raptly to a Star base

Captain decked out in his finest regalia. "That's Captain Woo," the

transporter chief volunteered. Deanna watched Woo as he wound up his

impassioned speech. "...and so, Captain is with deep respect and

gratitude that we present this, starfleets highest honor; the medal of

valor...Well done, sir!" The crowd yelled it's approval and the camera angle

changed. Deanna cringed at Will's expression. Woo pinned the medal on

Will's worn uniform and clasped him heartily on the shoulder, while subtly

forcing him towards the podium. Deanna tried to sense something above his

rising tension, but was unable to penetrate his shields at this distance.

The camera focused on the group from the Enterprise. Romni Hai

appeared to be holding her breath, as if unsure Riker would go along with the

program. Hai had good reason to be worried. Deanna decided, knowing that

Will was no tame puppet to be manipulated into saying what any reporter

wanted. The Betazoid decided that if Hai didn't know it now, she soon would.


"Thank you." Will stated with quiet authority. The room hushed, all

eagerly waiting to hear what the hero of the federation had to say. "On

behalf of the crew of the USS Enterprise and her captain, Jean Luc Picard, I

would like to express my gratitude for this warm welcome." Romni Hai's face

went white as Riker continued, "Captain Woo called me the hero of the fleet,

but I think you all know that often things are not always as they seem. "

Deanna clutched the edge of the console, waiting for him to continue.

It was quiet enough to have heard a pin drop in the crowded Starbase Three

promenade. Will continued, "I was on the bridge of the Enterprise when the

Borg cube was destroyed. But I have to tell you that the real heroes of this

battle are the crews of the ships who fought so valiantly...many of them to

the death," he said, his voice breaking on the last word. There was a low

murmur of approval from the crowd as Riker took a moment to compose himself.


Hai appeared to approve. Deanna knew before Will opened his mouth what

he was going to say next. Intense pride made her face flush. "The other

hero today is a man whom the misinformed may attempt to vilify...." He shook

his head and looked pointedly at the captain. "What you may not know, is

that I only played one part in the destruction of the Borg. Jean Luc Picard

is the man who ultimately saved this world...this Federation...and I would

urge you, each of you to press for the truth! Not this easy, sanitized and

well-packaged version that is currently being served up for the masses." He

enunciated each word with care as he tried to meet the eyes of as many of the

close packed crowd as possible.

The camera panned again to those standing behind Will. Deanna thought

Romni Hai was going to throw up on her spotless dress uniform, and Captain

Woo appeared as if his had grown two sizes too small. A smattering of

confused applause rose from the crowd that gradually grew into a polite round

of clapping. Acting captain Will Riker finished his speech and stepped away

from the podium. Pushing his way down the stairs at the rear of the stage,

he was moving as quickly as the crowds would allow. "Where do you think

you're going Riker? We have a reception!" Woo whispered harshly under his

breath. Will paused for only a moment; his headache shortening his temper

and exhaustion pushing him far beyond the point of worrying about protocol.

"I'm going back to my ship and my crew. To get us ready for what will most

likely be our last battle…captain." Riker headed to the stairs without

speaking to Hai.

Hai stood rooted and watched Will Riker, her face reflecting a sickened

expression as he left. She had been shown that being less than forthcoming

was a mistake with Captain Riker. Her eyes remained glued on him as he left,

her expression like that of one who might be an unwilling spectator at her

own funeral. Hai was going to have her work cut out, salvaging what was most

likely a ruined career. It was doubtful that the PRO would let her publicize

so much as a dog show on a mining colony after this debacle. The trio made

their way back to the transporter docks, though the two journalists trailed

far behind the angry captain.


Even before the transporter effect had fully faded Deanna felt Will's

fury. When he materialized, she could see it in the stiffness of his

shoulders and his clenched fists. Even prepared, she was still rocked as the

sheer strength of his rage, and stumbled backwards. Will took a few steps

off the transporter before he wheeled to face Romni Hai, with eyes fierce

with emotion. "Lieutenant Commander," he said his gaze smoldering between

them. "You were aware of..." he paused angrily as he searched for words.

Finding none, he became quiet. It was not a peaceful quiet.

Drawing herself up to attention Hai faced the six foot four inch captain

with all the dignity she could muster. "I was aware…" she said swallowing…


"Then make yourself aware of this as well," he said softly. "I do not

intend to participate in any more receptions or ceremonies. I wholly resent

being used in this manner, and even more, I resent the lack of respect and

honor this damned medal represents." He fumbled as he removed the medal of

honor from his tunic and tossed it to the floor.

To her credit, Hai seemed to try and understand, but was unable to find

the sense of it. "Lack of respect and honor, Captain? Most people would say

that there is no higher honor that can be bestowed upon a starfleet officer."

Will glared at the medal and then at her, his expression that of

mingled anger and pity. "I didn't earn this medal, Hai. I know it… and you

should know it. Hell, anyone who has reviewed the record knows it. The fact

of the matter is…" he started and then stopped as his shoulders sagged

imperceptibly. "The fact of the matter is, that I did a damned poor job by

letting Picard be taken in the first place. And then I nearly killed him and

every person aboard this vessel." His eyes darkened with self recrimination.

"If they have a medal for dereliction of duty and dumb luck Hai, I'll be

happy to accept it. But by presenting me with the Medal of Honor starfleet

has shown a total lack of regard for Jean Luc Picard, and the crew of this

vessel...especially all those who died as true heroes."

Deanna watched the haughty Hai rendered speechless, obviously still not

understanding why Will kept refusing to accept the honor starfleet obviously

wanted to give him. The counselor realized that Hai's story of Will Riker,

hero, needed to have him decorated for his valor, and apparently at this

point Hai hardly cared about anything else. Deanna's frustration mounted and

she was ready to shake the lieutenant commander for ignoring the pain that

plainly danced behind the anger in Will's eyes. Hai seemed oblivious to both

of them, and turned away, eager to map out a new strategy. Her camera tech

took a fraction of a step forward, just enough to capture Riker's attention.

His eyes flicked to her and then back to Hai. I'll ask you and your film

crew to please disembark before we leave the star base."

Hai appeared startled but regained her balance quickly and stepped in

before he could speak again. "Captain? It seems to me that you have no

choice but to do this interview."

Riker stood impossibly straight, his imposing height accenting her

shorter stature. "Lt Commander, despite Star Fleet's requests, I AM the

captain of this vessel and it falls well within my rights to ask you to leave

if I feel your presence is having an adverse effect on this ship and her


Deanna caught a fleeting sense of deception, and Hai acted as if she

hadn't heard him. But when the cocky reporter implied no threat, Deanna

relaxed. Hai nodded her head in acknowledgement of Will's ultimatum. "I

know that you have that right Captain, but if you really want the truth to be

told...if you want to help salvage Picard's reputation and career... than you

NEED me to do this interview. To tell the true story." Will had turned

away, and missed Hai's small smirk of triumph. Self doubt flashed for a

brief moment in his eyes and Hai swiftly pressed her advantage. "Captain, I

do have the ability to create a great deal of public sympathy for Picard's

position." Will Riker studied her for a long moment as he unwillingly

considered her point, reluctantly nodding his agreement. "All right Hai, you

can have your story, but it will be the whole story." Lt. Commander Hai

guarded herself and Deanna could not sense anything more than a low level of

worried agitation behind the smile of triumph.


The rest of Captain Riker's day was an endless round of firefighting

dealing with one small crisis after another, and by the time he'd finished

his last meeting he was well past pulling another double shift. Groaning, he

sank gratefully onto his bed and finally allowed his carefully constructed

façade of optimism to fall apart. Recording the captains log was tedious

with the details of the day and took far longer than usual…finally he began

his personal log.

Stardate XXX Acting captain William T. Riker personal log. "Today was a

disaster. The "heroes" ceremony on the starbase was a farce. They got it

all wrong and did all the right things for all the wrong reasons; and for the

wrong person." Numb exhaustion crept through his body as he forced himself

to continue. "It makes no sense. After all," he said with heavy sarcasm,

"I'm the one who lost Picard to the Borg. Instead of blaming him they should

be blaming me. They don't get it, that, instead of decorating me, they should

be decorating him." Will stretched stiffly until joints popped. "Without the

captains knowledge of the Borg we would all be dead or assimilated. And now…

and now… they want to decorate me," he said with a deep sigh, "and I don't

even want the damn thing" he said, feeling the bitter bite of his guilt. For

gods sake…I almost executed him along with the Borg, and God knows after the

hell he's been through maybe he wishes he was dead." Will nervously raked

his hands through his hair and threw himself back down on the bed. "Riker

out," he ended his entry with disgust. It was 2100 hours and he hadn't even

touched his strategic analysis reports that starfleet was expecting in the

morning. Stretching again until his tendons popped, he found himself wishing

he could sleep for a week, but decided he would have to settle for an hour.

Forcing down his desire to call Deanna, he kicked off his boots, telling the

computer to waken him at twenty-two hundred hours. He was asleep as soon as

he closed his eyes.


Chapter 5 a


Romni Hai sat and pondered the aggravating lack of progress on her

story. She was waiting impatiently while Guinan busied herself with a group

of dazed ensigns from the Starbase crew who were experiencing the famous

ten-forward for the first time. Hai had formulated a dozen more questions

for the bartender, but before she could articulate them the lights went out,

sputtered on and went out again. The ship's computer's feminine voice

announced calmly "Life Support functions in this area have been temporarily

interrupted. Please exit the area immediately." Hai sighed. Her

conversation with Guinan was obviously derailed and was going to have to wait

until tomorrow night. Tomorrow she had a re-interview appointment with

Doctor Crusher.


<< First officer William T. Riker and Captain Jean Luc Picard stood at

attention before the Federation tribunal. Riker in dress uniform, his new

medal shining brightly on his chest. Picard stood as if alone, eyes

downcast as he shivered in unwashed prison blue's. Chains shackled both his

wrists and ankles, though he seemed barely able to stand, much less run away.

The presiding Admiral ignored Will, his stern expression unsoftened as he

pronounced judgement upon the former Captain of the Enterprise. "Captain

Picard, I would had never imagined that the day could come when you were

declared both a traitor and a murderer; but I'm sorry to say it has. It is

this tribunals opinion that there is no punishment that could fully give the

worlds of the Federation justice for what you have done."

While the judge stared at Picard as if he were a lower life-form , Will

fought the dizzy nausea that threatened to overwhelm him. Picard accepted

the weight of the judgment without a word in his own defense.

Riker's conscience burned as he watched the single tear follow a

chiseled track on Picard's cheek. Forcing weak knees to straighten, Will

continued to stand at formal attention, the injustice of the tribunal so

bitter it threatened to choke him. Inside, he shouted down the verdict and

demanded justice for his captain. But in reality, he was nothing but a self

serving coward. He had fallen shor tin his duty aboard the Enterprise by

failing to protect his captain from the Borg. Today was no different. He

had once again failed to protect his Captain. Picard's silence condemned

him, while his own guilt devoured him.>>

Will fought the constriction of his blanket until he realized it was

his own bed entrapping him. Bleary vision plagued him as he brushed away

wispy shrouds of the dream that clung to him like nighttime mist.

Disoriented and groaning, he sat at the edge of the bed. Ignoring his usual

calisthenics had become routine because he rationalized with ill humor that

he didn't have time for such luxuries. Stubbing his toe on the way to the

bathroom, he limped into the hygiene unit and demanded a hot water shower.

He welcomed the piping hot water and began to relax as he exhaled into the

stream. Opening his mouth, he let water fill it as he washed sleep and grit

from his eyes. The pounding relaxed the aching cramps in his back, and after

long minutes under the heavy flow, his worries slid off his shoulders to

empty into the drain along with the soapy water. Ruefully he observed more

hair than he hoped was following the same path down the drain as well. Will

quickly lathered his head and chest and allowed the fog to lift from his

benumbed mind as thirsty skin soaked up both heat and moisture. He sighed

with satisfaction as he began to feel truly relaxed. Icy cold water

assaulted him unexpectedly, making his shocked muscles clenched. Before he

could open his mouth to command the water to stop, it halted on its' own,

reduced suddenly to a mere dribble. Sputtering and shivering Will stumbled

out of the shower and fumbled for his towel. Goose bumps covered him and he

swore at maintenance, ready to blast whoever happened to be unfortunate

enough to be on duty. As he warmed up, his more rational self rescued the

poor maintenance engineer before he could feel the Captains wrath. Sure that

this disaster was connected to the disrepair of the ship, Will asked for hot

water again, but all he got was a sputtering stream of ice cold. He told

himself he'd swam in far colder lakes as a kid in Valdez, but that didn't

help, nor, unfortunately, did it make his temper any sweeter. He rinsed the

soap out of his hair, toweled himself dry, and hurriedly pulled on his

uniform. Four pips glared back at him from the bathroom mirror. "Liar,"

they said. "Fake." Will looked away. The cold shower hadn't done much for

his mood, but it had shocked him into a painfully waking state. Shaking

himself out of self induced gloom, he left without eating again, headed for

his first appointment of the day.

"Commander," he said, nodding as he graced Shelby with a smile. She

hurried in to brief him on the ships new census, and the progress, or lack of

it, in the different departments on the Enterprise. Will buried himself in

the seemingly never-ending work of Captaining the Enterprise. He was by now

used to having Commander Shelby's constant presence as she carried out his

orders and kept the day to day running of the ship flowing smoothly. When he

stopped long enough to consider the intense pressure she worked under, he

knew she was performing admirably; but Will worried about her newness to

command, and her inexperience in actually running a starship. Her brilliant

tactical work at starfleet command he never questioned, but human beings

required different tactics, and working with people was not necessarily her

strong suit. He wondered if he had done the right thing by making her

commander instead of Commander Data, concerned now that she might not be able

to keep the morale of the crew up, especially with their new orders.

Consequently Will made rounds of the ship at least once a day. Inquiring and

encouraging as seemed appropriate, still holding on to responsibilities he

had no business worrying about as captain.

Will stretched and yawned hugely for the second time, apologizing to

Shelby, much to her amusement. His days started so early now he wondered why

he bothered going to bed. They were filled with meeting with department

heads and worried engineers, often ending with discussions over strategies

and potential best and worst case scenarios with Data, who didn't need to

relax or sleep. The paperwork burden, an archaic term since it was no longer

done on paper, was enormous, he rarely said "light's out," before two AM.

Riker scratched under his beard, worrying about the pressing engineering

problems from the damage they had sustained in the last Borg attack. They

had only made makeshift repairs and were bound to have minor problems like

the shower this morning. But that was only an annoyance. What kept him

awake at night was the feeling that they were headed for an engineering

disaster, or worse, that they wouldn't have the capabilities to attack and

defend themselves, or others when they needed them most.

This mornings meeting with Shelby was productive, as usual, but he was

not in a much better mood when she left than when she had arrived. His

stomach burned when Shelby reported the life-support system failure on

deck-ten last night. It was just another symptom of a ship that was in dire

need of a major refitting. "Sir," Shelby said as she took his somber

expression to heart. "We're going to beat this. If it's been done once it

can be done again!" she assured him. Will nodded as if he believed her, but

he knew that her confidence was built upon naivete and her own misconception

of his past performance.

Will sent Shelby on her way and tapped his combadge. "Counselor Troi?"

he said, rubbing his eyes till his vision blurred.

"Troi here Captain," she replied quickly. Will savored the melodic

sound of her voice, and wished he could keep her talking just for the

pleasure of hearing it. "Just confirming our lunch plans Deanna." There was

a slight pause before she answered. "Yes, Will? Is it all right if we meet

at thirteen hundred hours instead?" Will nodded though she couldn't see him.

"Umm, ok," he mused, I'm running a little bit behind myself. Thirteen

hundred hours in ten-forward. Riker out." Will leaned far back to stretch

his cramped muscles. He had mixed feelings about having lunch with Deanna.

"Damn she's not going to let me squirrel out of talking to her this time," he

thought. Will resigned himself to the gentle inquisition he knew would

ensue, because talking with Deanna had always been in his best interest.

Besides, he wanted to spend some extra time with her. It had been weeks

since they had relaxed together, and the Borg invasion had lately made him

wonder if he was right about waiting for Deanna to be ready before he pursued

their relationship. He hadn't let her strenuous objections dissuade him on

Betazed when they first met, and he was beginning to feel that he was wrong

to step back now. But today his top priority was spending time with Geordi

so he could know what he could realistically expect from the ship in the days

and weeks to come.


Deanna's schedule was full before the announcement that they would be

pursuing the Borg; and now it was busy enough to keep two full time

counselors running. Regretfully she was it. Her present exhaustion was a

result of layer upon layer of stresses over time, and empathic senses that

felt almost raw from overuse. Her mother advised her to carve out the time

she needed to renew her spirit before she crashed, and she knew it was true.

It was almost thirteen hundred and she gracefully closed her last session.

Time to be heading for ten-forward. Unconscious of her actions, she fluffed

her hair as she left her office and headed for her lunch date with Will. She

was pleasantly surprised to find her friend Beverly in the turbolift. "Late

lunch too?" she asked. Bev gave her a tired and knowing look. "Not enough

hours in my day to get all these supplies sorted and squared away and my new

staff oriented. How about you counselor?" Deanna laughed as she

commiserated. "Well my day ran long too. But I'm having a late lunch with


Beverly's eyebrows raised. "Mind if I join you?" she asked, "I'm a

bit concerned that this never ending stress has been getting to him," she

said with a slight shrug, "and he's certainly not confiding in his doctor,"

she ended, exasperated.

Deanna shrugged. "Sure, why not? He hasn't exactly been confiding in

me lately either. We've both been so busy. " Bev looked innocently at

Deanna, "you don't suppose he'll think we're ganging up on him do you?"

Their laughter drifted down the corridor as they exited the turbolift. After

finding their seats in the crowded lounge, they waited for Will. After

fifteen minutes of nursing her juice Deanna looked at Bev. "I don't think

he's coming…do you?" Bev just shrugged her elegant shoulders and smiled

around the straw in her mouth as she looked towards the door. "Ahhh, here he

comes Deanna. Are you going to make him squirm?" Deanna's eyes were first

drawn to the new lines that stress and sleepless nights had added to Wills

face, then shook her head silently."

"Ladies," he said with an elegant short bow, "please excuse my

lateness. I was unavoidably detained," he quipped, flashing a generous

smile. He raised Deanna's hand to his lips in an ancient courtly greeting,

and raised his eyes to hers just as his communicator beeped. It was Geordi

LaForge. "Captain, I need you down in engineering right away. I'm afraid we

may have a problem." The haggard expression on Will's face didn't go

unnoticed by either Deanna or Beverly. "I'm sorry ladies," he said and then

gave Deanna a look of abject apology. "Would you be willing to risk dinner

with me tonight Deanna?" I'm afraid it'll have to be late." Deanna opened

her mouth to say she had a long-standing date with her bed, but could no more

say no to the plea in Will's blue eyes than she could have stopped breathing.

She brooded as she watched him leave ten-forward.

"Will looks like hell," Beverly pronounced. Deanna nodded in agreement

and faced her friend. "Well…you don't look so great yourself Bev," she

chided. Bev agreed sheepishly. "Ok.. so we're all a little rough around the

edges. But I am worried about Will. Tell him to report to me tomorrow when

you see him at dinner tonight. Deanna withdrew for a moment, but Bev waited

patiently. "I'm concerned too Bev," she finally said. "Its been too long

since we talked. But I'm going to talk to him tonight." Beverly had to be

satisfied with that and let the matter drop.


Five B

One part of his mind worried about the call from engineering, but even

so, Wills dark mood had lifted. Just from having spent those few minutes

with Deanna he felt refreshed. Something touched him whenever he entered

into the sphere of her serenity, and it rarely failed to lift his spirits.

Already feeling better about their dinner date tonight, he decided he would

talk and let her help him try and sort through the doubts which had begun to

rule his dreams now as well as his days. Taking a deep breath and

straightening already straight shoulders, he entered the ordered chaos that

was engineering.


Geordi Laforge seemed to be everywhere at once. The solidly built

engineer was under consoles and behind power grids, carefully examining the

critical work that was progressing at a phenomenal rate, given the

circumstances. He spied Riker and shimmied out from under the shattered

panel he'd been working on. "Captain. Over here." He shouted, pointing to

the upper level that surrounded the warp core. They climbed the ladder, the

smaller engineer going up first. When they reached the upper level Geordi

led him quickly to an area were a young recruit from the space station was

working with a phase powered welder. "Hey!" Geordi warned, make sure that

thing is pointed in the right direction when you turn it on!" Geordi shook

his head disparagingly. "There wasn't much in the way of experienced

personal to chose from," he said grimly. Continuing on with their tour, he

pointed to a complicated system of conduits whose protective panels had been

blown off during one of their battles of the past few weeks. "The structural

integrity of the power conduits that surround the warp engines is weakened

sir. I'm afraid that it wouldn't take much of an attack to destabilize it

and shut down the whole warp core."

"Is it dangerous?"

Geordi shook his head negatively. Only if you happen to be standing

underneath and a piece fell on your head," he said with a smile. What

worries me is if we lose integrity during an attack, or when we need to get

somewhere in a hurry, we'll be sitting ducks." Will craned his head

backwards looking at the ceiling as he rubbed his hand tiredly over his

beard. The thought of being helpless didn't appeal at all to him. "Well

what do you need from me?"

Geordi laughed bitterly. A week in space dock Captain, but barring

that, I guess a diversion of power to this sector for the next four to six

hours ought to do it. Our power hasn't been entirely reliable lately and if

it fluctuates at the wrong time... The young ensign interrupted, calling

out to LaForge. "Hey sir," he said nervously fingering the trigger of his

welder. This thing isn't working again." Geordi grimaced when he saw that

the boy was pointing the tool above his head as his finger flicked the

trigger switch repeatedly. "Hey, hey! Point that thing down when you're not

using it and stop playing with the…" A brilliant flash exploded from the

tool, blinding LaForge as the unexpected surge of amassed power flowed

through it and blackened the conduit above him. Unleashed energy leapt from

the fractured pipe and followed the arc of phase powered tool down to the

young man. Time froze for both LaForge and Riker as they watched in horrid

fascination as the play of energies leapt around the recruit, jerking him

about like a puppet as it further weakened the ceiling above.


Riker mobilized frozen limbs and threw himself at the young ensign.

Powerful currents shook them both as if they had no more weight than a

sub-atomic particle. Will blindly hoped that the ensign was still in his

grip because he could feel nothing as he was flooded with alternating

sensations of burning and freezing, as his ears were filled with the roaring

scream of tortured metal. He never noticed the ceiling above as it buckled,

finally relinquishing it's fight to stay aloft. Stubbornly forcing his arms

to hold onto the young man, sparks and debris flew thick about them, and he

feared that his luck had finally run out. When he was hit by falling debris,

he felt nothing but the burning of the current arcing through his body. The

silence, when it came, was fully as deafening as the roar had been. The

recruit lay quiet still in his arms but Will could feel the steady pattern of

his breathing as he still held him tightly to his chest. As the dust sifted

through the air and began to settle, Will began to hurt. Unable to stifle

his own moans as the crew worked to clear the debris off of them, he cracked

open his eyes and found Geordi's visored image mere inches from his.

"Sir, can you hear me? Are you alright?" Geordi asked him worriedly.

"Will clenched his teeth against the buzz that made him feel as if there

was still current flowing. "I… I think I need to spend…a little quality time

with Beverly," he said in an attempt at humor. But instead it came out with

a whispered gasp of pain. LaForge, blood flowing from his own wound on his

face, gave the order that both of the men be transported to sickbay, stat.


Five C

Beverly Crusher was digging into a delicious meal of Albresion flat fish

and baby potatoes with asparagus when Deanna's sharp intake of breath drew

her attention. Fear twisted the Betazoids face, her knuckles white as she

clutched her fork. Bev's combadge chirped and Selar's voice was strident.

"Doctor Crusher to sickbay stat, we have three casualties arriving from

engineering. Beverly knocked their table askew in her haste. "It's Will,"

Deanna stated, swallowing her fear.

Bev glanced at her friend. "What? " she asked sharply, hoping to get a

feel for what to expect. Deanna drew a shaky breath, "First I felt his fear

and than his pain. But now there's nothing Beverly. Nothing else," she

repeated worriedly." They ran side by side from the turbolift and entered

sickbay in a rush, out of breath and sweating. Crusher saw Dr. Selar calmly

giving orders amidst the chaos of nurses. Geordi LaForge sat on the edge of

a biobed, and Romni Hai held a pressure pad to his forehead as he spoke

slowly to the journalist.

"Captain Riker tackled Ensign Beach and that seemed to break the flow

of the current. Otherwise Beach would be dead for sure." Beverly could see

that Geordi was going to be fine and hurried between the biobeds that held

Will and the Ensign. The Vulcun doctor barely looked up. I just gave the

Captain descanamine thirty milligrams for pain. I have not thoroughly

assessed his injuries, but externally, they appear to be mostly contusions,

along with some lacerations and abrasions. Damage to his nervous system from

the large amounts of energy he absorbed is unknown." Selar continued to work

on Ensign Beach while she talked. "The ensign was protected from most of the

debris by the Captain, however, I am still not certain that his hand can be

saved." Beverly touched Will's face and noted that his skin was clammy. She

was a firm believer in using all of her senses along with sick bay's high

tech abilities. "Both received high levels of phasic current throughout

their systems Doctor Crusher." Bev kept her face carefully neutral when she

examined the charred appendage that had been the ensigns hand. His grip on

the phase welder had turned it into a twisted blackened claw when the

powerful current had back-lashed. Selar's specialization in micro

computerization and artificial limb replacement would be invaluable if it was

needed. The CMO was confident that the ensign was in the best possible hands

under the circumstances. Do as you deem best Selar. I'll finish the

Captains assessment and take care of him from here."

Will lay curled up on his side, his blue eyes icing over slowly with an

opiate glaze, as the narcotic began to take effect. Pain lines eased and he

smiled at Beverly. "Tol em I needed some quality time with my doc," he said,

slurring his words slightly as his eyes sluggishly tracked her movements.

Beverly returned his smile and nodded to the nurses who quickly cut off his

uniform and covered him with the silver thermal blanket. "Will, are you

having any pain at all?" she asked, noting that he returned to the guarded

position on his side as soon as the nurses turned their backs. "Will shook

his head. "Jus feel like I stuck my finger in a live power junction" he said

curling tighter yet. "Feels better thissss way," he said, clenching his

teeth as muscles twitched and jerked with increasing frequency. After

running the tricorder over the length of his body, Bev prepared another

hypospray. "Here you go Will, this will reduce the inflammation along your

motor-neural pathways. That's probably what's making you so jumpy. Now

relax while I work on some of these lacerations."

"Sure doc," Will whispered, flinching reflexively as she touched the

hypospray to his neck. Deanna came around the other side of him and rested

her hand gently on his forehead without speaking. It was apparent that

having her there made him feel less panicked as he forced his body to obey

the doctors command.

Beverly watched them together. Deanna seemed more relieved as his

twitching subsided. When Will finally relaxed enough to roll slowly to his

back, he turned and gave the Betazoid a sheepish smile. Her relief was

almost painful to watch. Fleetingly, Bev wondered about their Imzadi bond.

She was most conscious of it when one or the other of them was injured or in

trouble. Will's brilliant blue eyes opened and closed so slowly that she

thought that surely the next time would be their last and they would stay

closed. It was obvious Will was trying to force his eyes open as he

struggled to break through the narcotic's power, but finally they became too

weighty and lost their battle with gravity. Beverly grinned at Deanna to

lighten the moment, "good, now I can finally get some work done." Beverly

moved Will onto his side again and worked on the deep bruising caused by

flying debris. Deanna winced when she saw the numerous cuts and dark bruises

that had spread like a fungus across Will's back. Bev clucked and reassured

her. "He'll be very sore and stiff Deanna," she said, brushing the hair from

her face and wishing for a boost of energy. He won't be much more the worse

for wear by the time I'm done with him."


Hai continued to talk with LaForge, but at the same time she subtly

signaled her cameraman to concentrate on the scene behind her. Dr. Selar

efficiently prepared the injured crewman for surgery, and Deanna Troi was

unconscious of anything outside Captain Riker. The camera captured Troi's

large dark eyes as they fastened intently on Riker's handsome face, and then

focused on her hands as she gently stroked the sedated Captain's hair. Her

caress was gentle, yet almost seemed to have the familiarity of a lover. No

one but Hai seemed to find Troi's behavior unprofessional, or even unusual.

Hai's tiny smile of satisfaction was fleeting. Obviously these vignettes

would bring her story from the realm of a documentary, to that of a

heart-tugging piece of journalistic commentary. It would make the heroes of

the Enterprise into ordinary every day people. If there was one thing the

viewing public loved more than heroics, it was romance.

Beverly finally noticed the tiny handheld camera. "I want everybody out

of here, now." She said, outraged at the invasion of her patient's privacy.

Ensign Beach's family didn't need to see footage of his horrendous injury,

and Will Riker would not be happy at all at being shown in such a vulnerable

condition, his private life on display for public consumption. Hai

reluctantly followed her cameraman and Laforge from the treatment room. But

Troi made no move to leave the Captains side, nor did either of the doctors

ask her to.

Beverly was nearly finished when she said "oh damn." Deanna glanced up

quickly with concern.

"What? Is something wrong, Beverly?"

"I had an appointment with Jean Luc ten minutes ago." She sighed and

tapped her combadge. "Crusher to Captain Picard."

There was a moment's pause and then Picard's voice, clear, though

lacking it's usual crispness. "Yes, Doctor."

"Jean Luc, I'm sorry I'm late. There was an accident in engineering

and I'm treating several patients. Geordi has a small head injury and has

already been discharged. An engineer who joined the crew at the starbase is

being cared for by Dr. Selar, and of course I'm taking care of Will "I never

miss an opportunity to mangle my body" Riker."

"What is his condition?" Picard asked, almost before Beverly could


Beverly didn't even have to ask which of the two he meant. "He's

sedated now. He took a strong charge which has resulted in neural damage as

well as cuts and bruises from falling debris."

"Very well. Picard out." The captain cut the channel and Beverly

sighed before resuming her work. There were moments, like these, when he

sounded remarkably like the old pre-Locutus man. But they were few, and very

far between.

Beverly finished and against her better judgment administered a mild

stimulant to return Will back to consciousness. Normally she would have left

him sedated for a more extended period of time after such an injury, but she

was acutely aware that with Will unconscious, Shelby was in command. Beverly

had no desire to face a crisis with the inexperienced commander at the helm,

and knew that Will shared the same feelings.


"He should be waking up in a few minutes" Crusher began, but further

comments were interrupted when Jean Luc Picard walked in. His skin was still

unnaturally pale, and the small telltale marks where the implants had been

removed bore mute testimony to the horror he had endured. But he moved with

purpose, and there was a spark in his eyes that had been missing since he'd

returned from the living death with the Borg.

He crossed the room Before Beverly could even speak, and stood with only

his fingertips touching the side of the bed as he watched at Riker. "He's

out of danger?" he inquired softly.

Beverly nodded. "He'll be fine Jean Luc. I'm waking him up now."

Picard glanced keenly at her. "Is it wise Beverly?" She smiled

apologetically. "It's necessary Jean Luc."


Picard's gaze returned to Will. "He looks almost like a Borg," he said

softly to no one in particular. And indeed, lying so still with the

life-giving machinery all around him, Will's unnatural pallor mimicked that

of the newly assimilated. Picard quickly closed his eyes and then slowly

opened them again. This time what he was feeling showed clearly in his hazel

eyes, as though he were looking at a man who might be his younger brother or

even a son. Will's eyes fluttered and he stirred.


Will didn't seem to remember what happened at first as he squinted, his

eyes adjusting to the brightness of the exam lights. Sickbay… I'm in

sickbay, he whispered. And just as in countless times before, his first

sight was that of Deanna Troi's encouraging smile as she bent over him.


"Welcome back, Will." She said gently.


His eyes refocused on her and he frowned. "It's such a damned waste."

He murmured softly and Beverly poked her head into his field of vision.


"It's alright Will. Ensign Beach is alive...thanks to you. His only

serious injury is to his right hand, and Dr. Selar is reporting that it may

not be as bad as it originally looked."

Beverly felt her own tension decrease as the worry drained from his

eyes, to be replaced by a glimmer of his old devilment. He resumed a forlorn

expression and turned back to Deanna. "That's good doc. But that's not what

I was talking about," he replied.

Beverly suppressed her smile. Despite Deanna's empathic sense she was

still an easy target for Will's teasing, and at the moment she was still so

caught up in her concern, that she had completely missed the shift in his

mood. "What is a damned waste," Deanna asked him gently, capturing his hand

in hers.

He coughed, his faced scrunching as he caught his breath. "It's just a

damned shame that the only time I ever wake up with you beside me is when I'm

on a bio-bed in sickbay." He delivered the line solemnly and then delivered

a weak grin as she dropped his hand and sighed in exasperation.

"You're incorrigible Will Riker." Deanna accused.

"It's one of my finest qualities." Will whispered in assent.

Beverly watched Picard and her heart leapt to see a ghost of a smile

on his pale face. Her movement caught Will's eye and he noticed Picard

standing there for the first time. "Don't you agree, sir?"

Jean Luc studied Riker for a moment. The former first officer did not

look anything like a Borg now, his face was full of warmth and individuality

and very human animation. Picard's humanity asserted itself over the dark

murmurings of the collective that continually plagued him. "Yes, Will. I

quite agree." He said with an air of indulgence. "You ARE incorrigible."

He appeared to enjoy the pleasure that lit up the faces of his friends.

Beverly was glad that he had forced himself to come, past the stares of the

crewmembers, leaving the insulated cocoon of his quarters where he had sat

and brooded and felt inhuman for too long.

"Doc? Do I need to lay here and be insulted? Isn't this bad for my

health or something?" Riker turned, feeling weaker than he liked and sought

an ally in Crusher, against those who were maligning him.


Beverly shook her head. "No, Captain. You don't need to lay there

and be insulted. You're well enough to take it sitting up." She replied


Will hid his weakness as the four of them bantered easily for a few

minutes, the atmosphere between them almost as it once had been before the

horrors of the Borg.



Shelby's voice shattered the moment. "Shelby to Crusher. Doctor? Is

it possible to speak with the Captain?" Will swung his legs down and sat up,

still somewhat wobbly as he automatically tapped his bare chest to open a

comm channel. Beverly touched the bedside commlink for him. His reply was

tight and controlled. "Right here, number one. What is it?"

"Sir, we're picking up a distress signal from the Veraci system. We're

having some troubled making it's very garbled...but it sounds like

they're under attack."

Picard paled and Beverly didn't know whether to support him or the

impatient Riker as he swung his feet over the side of the biobed. "a

uniform..." he ordered with a look at Deanna that begged understanding.

"Plot and lay in a course for the Veraci system. Top available speed. ETA

Commander Data." Data replied. "Three hours twenty six minutes sir."

Will responded, his voice calm and carefully modulated to mask his

worry from Shelby and the bridge crew; and most especially from Picard.

"Monitor all channels number one, and keep me informed. I'll be on the

bridge in a few minutes." He pulled the sheet aside and stood swaying for a

moment as his body adjusted to an upright position. Beverly forced her

attention away from Picard and back to her impatient patient as she prepared

another hypospray for him. Deanna handed him a freshly replicated uniform

and he began to pull it on with all traces of humor gone.

"...I know this is going to be difficult Will, but try to stay off your

feet as much as possible." Beverly said while injecting him with another

anti-inflammatory and running a tricorder quickly over him. She would have

preferred to see him confined to bed for another forty eight hours, but it

wasn't an option. "...Eat something! This anti-inflammatory will give you a

stomach ache if you don't." Will nodded a hurried acknowledgement while

zipping up his pants and shoving his feet into his boots. He grabbed his

tunic and started for the door, but paused and turned to Picard.

"Will you be coming to the bridge, sir?" He asked his Captain

neutrally, hoping that since Picard had seemed so back to his usual self that

he had somehow wrestled with his demons and won.

Picard did not reply, standing quietly and looking through Riker as if

he weren't even there. Doubt gripped Will just as Deanna's angry "NO"

practically deafened him with her telepathic shout. Beverly's gaze was

equally threatening and he knew he'd made a huge error again. His Captain's

fragile grip on control seemed to have evaporated. Riker knew that Beverly,

and especially Deanna had far more reason to be upset with him, now more than

ever. Unsure of what to say, and pressed to get to the bridge, he simply

gave them a brisk nod and strode out the door as he forced his mind to focus

on the bridge and on the challenge ahead.

Chapter six A


Riker arrived on the bridge, ready for grim news, only to be greeted by

Shelby's sheepish expression. She studied the floor for a moment before

speaking. "Sir, I'm sorry, it was a false reading. Old communication logs

bled through the comm system, and it appeared that the colony was under

attack; but it was a just sensor dysfunction."

Riker's expression remained controlled at the news of their temporary

reprieve. "Carry on Commander. I'll be in ten-forward having my supper and

then to my bunk, doctors orders," he added, rubbing his stomach as if it


Lieutenant Commander Romni Hai sat at the bar and idly twirled a colored

stick in her drink, wondering how she was going to salvage her career. She

had boasted to many of her colleagues about the great story she was going to

deliver, but Captain Riker's departure from her prepared speech had made her

appear ill prepared and unprofessional in the eyes of her peers. She knew

that if she didn't work some kind of magic, her journalistic prospects were

bleak. Bored, and restless with the lack of activity in ten forward. she was

ready to call it a night when Riker himself walked in. She watched

appreciatively as he leaned over the bar and spoke quietly to the mysterious

hostess. A broad grin creased Guinan's face as she served Riker a drink, and

then both Romni and the hostess watched him closely as he crossed the room.

Riker picked a table close to the large window and leaned back in his chair,

stretching long legs in front of him as he leaned his head back. Hai was not

surprised to see him out of sickbay. Her interview with Crusher had revealed

he was not the ideal patient. Hai tried to figure out a way to turn the

situation to her advantage. She grudgingly admired Riker for his dedication

to the crew and abilities as an officer, but she needed a story. She

surreptitiously watched as Guinan served him and sat down to accompany him

while he ate. The dark hostess seemed fully at ease in his presence, leaning

on her elbows while she talked and he ate. Riker nodded occasionally or

shook his head, and continued to devour his food as though he hadn't eaten in


A plan was slowly taking shape in Hai's mind; one that she hoped would

restore her reputation and possibly make her career. She quietly left ten

forward, already mentally checking off the items needed to set things in


Chapter 6 b

Guinan quietly watched the sleeping officer. "Captain

Riker, My establishment has been many things, but never a bedroom. Do you

plan to sleep in your quarters tonight, or should I fix you a place behind

the bar?" she inquired, brows raised, making it clear she was teased him.

Will had finished his meal thirty minutes ago. Staring at the stars, he had

let lids drift closed and fallen immediately asleep.

"Just resting my eyes Guinan" he muttered an apology as she shook her head.

"Good night, Captain." She said pointedly, nodding towards the door.

Riker rose stiffly as bruised muscles responded and gathered enough

energy for a parting smile. "OK. I can take a hint," he said, rubbing his

eyes, " I know when I'm not wanted."

Rather than return his jibe, Guinan patted his arm before returning to

the bar. As a chorus of polite "Goodnight, sir's followed him, he flushed,

embarrassed at dozing off at the table. He was disgusted that he had allowed

himself to appear so vulnerable in front of the crew. Picard never would

have been caught dead napping in ten-forward. Riker purposefully lengthened

his stride, moving down the corridor as if he had all the energy and optimism

in the world. It worked. Instead of gentle Goodnight's he received brisk

acknowledgements from the crewmen he passed.

When the door to his quarters finally shut behind him, Riker let the

heavy blanket of exhaustion overtake him and leaned his face against the

doors' cool surface. it took him a moment to register the fact that someone

had been in his quarters. Things were definitely NOT the way he had left

them. Careful to make no noise, he moved slowly, observing the main living

area with increasing wonder. Soft colored lights danced on walls illuminated

by a score of many hues flickering votive candles. A spicy floral aroma

tickled his nose, and soft twenty-first century jazz played in the

background. Fatigue and pain were pushed back again as Will's curiosity led

him cautiously into the bedroom. He half expected to find someone waiting

for him. When it was empty, he wasn't quite sure whether to be disappointed

or relieved. By his bed, an ornate tray held wine and a glass, and some

edible delicacies. His heavy black robe and a folded piece of paper lay on

the bed. Riker smiled and relaxed as he read it.


"Will. I know how stressful things are for you lately, and since you

won't take the time to pamper yourself, I thought I would do it for you.

There's a hot bubble bath waiting for you. Have a glass of wine and relax

and enjoy! I want you know that you've been in my thoughts often these last

few weeks, and I feel that both of us would benefit if we could spend some

private time together. I intend to make it happen soon."

He should have known it was Deanna. This must be her way of telling

him she wasn't still angry. She always had a knack of knowing what he

needed, and when he needed it. "Riker to Counselor Troi," he said,

disappointment flooding him when the ship's computer answered him instead of

Deanna. "Counselor Troi is in session. If this is urgent, please repeat

your request. Or, you may leave her a message at the tone." The computer

emitted a short tone. "Deanna. I just wanted to say thank me or

stop by when you get a chance. Riker out." He kicked off his boots and

poured himself a glass of wine, popping a smoked delicacy in his mouth as his

bare feet led him into the bathroom. Just as she had promised there was a

steaming bath waiting for him. He grinned foolishly. Bubble baths were

Deanna's indulgence, not his, but the hot, softly scented water seemed

inviting, and he knew it was just what his aching body needed. Setting his

glass down on the rim of the tub he peeled off his uniform and dropped it

carelessly in the recycler. As he gingerly eased himself into the steaming

water, it's silky depths enveloped him, sliding feather-soft against his

skin. Riker leaned back and closed his eyes. The warmth, the soft music,

the wine and the soft flickering of the single candle lighting the room, all

conspired to make him drowsy as he released his tension in another deep sigh

and slipped into slumber.

The next thing he was aware of was a delicate touch on his shoulders

bringing him pleasantly awake. Small hands began kneading the hard knots of

tension from his neck and shoulders. His vague surprise that Deanna had

entered unannounced dissipated and he willingly accepted her quiet presence.

"Feels good..." he murmured softly, still resting heavy lids. She touched

his cheek in acknowledgement but didn't answer, except to continue her gentle

massage. "I'm glad you came by," he volunteered softly, turning his head

stiffly to the left to give her better access to a particularly tender spot.

Her hands moved to it instinctively and he gave a low grunt of approval as

the pressure pain slowly turned to the pleasure of relief. "I've been

wanting to talk to you, Deanna...NEEDING to talk to you." He amended. Again

she didn't answer, but he felt her silence was simply an invitation for him

to talk. He knew she could sense that he was ready. "Is it me, or does it

seem like everything is wrong these days? I think I've always wanted to

command the Enterprise...but not this way. Now that I'm here, I find myself

wishing nothing had changed. The press wants to make me a hero...but I can't

get over feeling like an imposter. Like I'm pretending to be a captain.

Pretending that everything is under control." He shrugged before expressing

his deepest fear. "I really feel more like a failure," he whispered, the

words bitter in his mouth.

Muscles had tensed again while he talked, but Deanna's insistent

massage encouraged him to relax again. "I feel like I failed Picard, the man

who gave me my chance. I see it in his eyes every time I go to see him. I

know it's crazy, but I feel like I failed the people who died at Wolf

359...and now we're going to meet the Borg again and...I…" He struggled with

words he didn't care to admit, even to himself. He almost whispered. "I'm

scared Imzadi... not so much of the Borg as I am afraid that dumb luck won't

save us this time. More people will die or be assimilated ...people who

depended on me." Tears slipped easily from beneath closed eyes but Will

could not stop the confession of his fears, nor did he want to. "I've

already helped destroy a man who's practically been like a father to me, and

the thought of Geordi or Bev..." His voice caught slightly "...or you..." He

trailed off, and waited, expecting to hear her soothing voice giving him

strength as she always did. Instead, her hands reached around him and she

caressed his chest in a way that had very little to do with therapeutic

massage. Will couldn't help his response to her very knowing touch as she

slid her hands slowly and sensually over his chest and beyond. As her hands

moved lower, Will's shiver of anticipation deepened as his body naturally

responded to his Imzadi's velvety touch and his own denied longings. He

shifted slightly in the warm water, embarrassed at his lack of self-control.

Will expected at any moment she would pull away because he had turned what

had to be an innocent caress into something sexual. But instead, she

continued languidly caressing him, her hands slowly tracing ever-lower

patterns through the hair on his chest and abdomen. Will drew a ragged breath

and pushed back against the tub, confused by Deanna's actions, and

embarrassed by his body's insistent responses. His heart pounded and he lay

back, bringing himself closer to her just as one of her hands slid beneath

the surface of the water, brushing seductively against him. "Imzadi..." he

whispered softly begging her with his mind to stop torturing him and end his

misery. She continued to tease him though he felt her intent was now


A soft buzz dimly penetrated the haze of his need. Someone was at his

door, but he ignored it. Will groaned, no longer embarrassed by his body's

response to her touch. Deanna had initiated this and he wanted her to know

how badly he needed her. Will took her other hand in his and guided it below

the water. Her cheek rested against his back and her breasts pressed firmly

against him. Will's desire peaked as she brought him to the limits of his

control. The door buzzed again, and Deanna spoke.

"Will? Are you alright? You said to stop by." It took a second for

it to register the fact that Deanna had not spoken in his ear. Her voice had

come through the comm link. That Deanna was not the one behind him hit him

hard as he struggled to pull himself out of the crushing grip of his arousal.

Desperate to disengage the hands that had so successfully filled him with a

passion he still needed to release, he slipped, bashing his head on the rim

of the tub as he ended up with his face half submerged in the scented water.

Painfully levering himself up, he stared incredulously at the woman behind

him who was NOT Deanna Troi. Hai stood, the outline of her full breasts

clearly seen through the wet fabric of her blouse. Her smile was triumphant.

"Well hello Captain," she said, licking her lips, her voice husky with

promise. "Tell her to go away. You're busy." Hai quickly lost her smile

when her easy triumph seemed to be slipping out of reach.

Riker stood up, having finally found his voice, and bellowed. "Get the

hell out of here Hai!"

She looked up. The Captain was tall, very tall. Water and bubbles

cascaded freely down his finely musculed frame and drew her eyes to his

groin. Just looking at him was stimulating and she tried again. "You look

happy to see me captain," she said, attempting to salvage the situation by

looking pointedly at the proof of his desire.

"Out," he hissed, stepping out of the tub and angrily wrapping a towel

around his waist. "Get out before I call security to throw you out!"

Rebuffed and obviously embarrassed, Hai's voice reflected a temper to

match his own. "Oh right. Like you didn't like it Riker. You wanted it so

bad you were practically begging for me to finish you off!" Riker flushed at

the truth in her accusation and Hai continued to taunt him angrily, "you're

the one who took my other hand and…" Hai reached out to quickly demonstrate

but Will grabbed her wrist before she could reach her destination. He

clenched his teeth, fighting the impulse to grab her by the neck and

physically propel her from the room. He was both hot and cold with his fury,

but Hai wasn't budging. In fact she took his advance as an invitation and

rubbed herself sensually against him while running her free hand over his

chest as if this were all a game. The door to his quarters slid open and he

and Hai both turned.


Deanna Troi froze, momentarily dumbstruck as she looked at Hai and

Will. Had she not felt the power of Will's outrage in the corridor and heard

his bellowed command for Hai to leave, she might have been mortified. But

even somewhat forewarned she was surprised to see Will soaking wet in nothing

but a towel, and Hai plastered to him as if she were his lover. Will's

palpable anger and mortification finally propelled her. She stopped only

inches from the other woman's face and issued a terse order. "Get out now

Lt. Commander Hai, and confine yourself to quarters." Deanna watched

impassively while Hai flushed and stuttered something unintelligible.

Apparently she only now realized that her plan had backfired, and she was in

the presence of two superior officers, each angry enough to throttle her.

Her face bleached to a pasty white and she abruptly turned on her heel and


Will stood rigidly before Deanna with hands clenched. Part of Deanna's

mind wanted to be distracted by his masculine presence, but she it was

quickly lost as she was almost overcome by Will's fury and embarrassment.

"Will?" He didn't answer her. She picked up his robe and offered it, but he

sat unseeing on the edge of his bed.

"Deanna," he said as his voice choked. "I was… she… I don't know how

this…" he said, seemingly unable to finish a coherent thought. She reached

out for his hand but he flinched, his muscles seeming to spasm with a life of

their own. "The medication Beverly gave you is wearing off," she commented,

tapping her comm badge. "Troi to sickbay,"

Will protested. "No Deanna…please, or at least not yet." Deanna

canceled her call and reached out again for Will's hand, this time holding on

despite it's involuntary movements. "Will," she said, reassuring him

softly, "the comm panels aren't working properly. If I couldn't have heard

you arguing with Hai over the system in the corridor, I would have still felt

your anger two decks away." Deanna began to stroke his arm. "It's obvious

to me that she was here uninvited." Deanna pushed him back onto his bed and

he lay back unresisting. "Just relax and let me take care of you for a

change, Imzadi. "She told him, tapping her comm badge again. "Troi to

sickbay. Could you please send a tech to Captain Riker's quarters with his

medication?" The med tech on duty answered affirmatively and Deanna turned

back to Will. His eyes were closed but he was tense. She just waited. It

was a very long wait as she watched his muscles involuntarily twitch as

damaged nerves played tag. He shivered, and she used his robe to wipe away

the water droplets that still clung to him. He lay passively accepting her

ministrations without protest. His chest hair curled damply and she inhaled

the faint scent of spicy musk as she rubbed him dry. The med tech came and

administered the hypospray to Will, and Deanna sensed the woman's curiosity

regarding her presence here in the captain's extremely casual state of

undress; but to her credit, the tech did her job and quietly left again.

Finally Will spoke without opening his eyes. "Deanna. I swear I didn't

know it was Hai. I fell asleep in the tub, and… I thought it was you. I

thought you were… that you wanted…" She watched him flush a dull red. "I

thought it was you, and…I guess I wanted to believe that you wanted me."

Deanna didn't respond, not knowing what to say, so she simply continued to

dry him. She towel dried his wet hair, leaving it sticking up in several

directions. Finally discarding the robe, she laid her hands on his bare skin

and began to give his arms and chest deep massage to ease the soreness

Beverly had warned her he would suffer. Feeling his gradual relaxation,

Deanna closed her eyes and let her fingers kneed the unfamiliar landscape of

his shoulders and upper arms; remembering vividly how it felt to be held by

him, loved by him.

"Will," she whispered at last, "I do want you Imzadi. I've always wanted

you." She held her breath waiting for his reply, but he responded with soft

snores. Damn, he's asleep! A deep-seated ache filled her as she watched him

sprawled out and totally unconscious in the position she had left him in.

Ever so gently, she traced the darkened smudges under his eyes, knowing that

it would be cruel and utterly selfish to waken him. Indecisive, she

hesitated, knowing she should leave, but she gave into the temptation to lay

with her Imzadi, promising herself to stay only for a few minutes. The

warmth of his body soothed her, and the heady aroma of his scent filled her.

Deanna lay her head on his shoulder but it wasn't enough. Lured by the

comfort of his presence so close, she slid her hand across his broad chest

through the softness of his curls. Will unexpectedly shifted and gathered

her in his arms. It seemed that he effortlessly pulled her on top of him as

he lay on his back. Enclosed now in the circle of his arms, her cheek

resting on his broad chest, she contentedly listened to the even rhythm of

his heart. The damp smell of him intoxicated her and minutes dragged by as

she lay in his embrace. Will never relaxed his hold on her and ultimately

sleep found her.


The chrono read five AM when Will awoke to a jumble of confused memories

and strange images that eluded him completely the moment he tried to pin them

down. Emerging slowly from the drugged stupor of his dreams to full

wakefulness was a slow process, but he was imminently aware that he realized

that he held someone very soft and warm in his arms. he pulled her closer

against him as he wondered if he was truly awake or still dreaming. The mass

of dark curls under his chin could belong to no one else but Deanna and he

automatically ran his hands over her, feeling the soft curves of her body

under the stretchy thin fabric of her dress. She pressed closer against his

bare skin, awakening an agony of blissful sensation that warmed him to the

point of combustion. But as his body responded, embarrassment flooded him,

hitting him forcefully as his memory faithfully reproduced the scene that

Deanna had walked in on. Will tried to remember exactly what he had told

Romni Hai while she was massaging him in the tub. He knew he'd been groggy

with sleep meds and was exhausted, but all he could recall was that he'd

spilled his darkest fears to her, thinking she was his closest friend, his

Imzadi. The fact that Deanna had heard Hai's accusations that he'd been

begging her for sex was humiliation enough, but the whole situation had taken

on the surreal quality of a nightmare. "I can't face her this morning," he

thought gloomily. As if in opposition to his plans Deanna snuggled up closer

as she slipped her arms around his neck. He was trapped and his towel was


"Good morning Imzadi," she whispered in his ear and began to trace the

pattern of it with her tongue. No more complaints about waking up alone

anymore," she said, her throaty chuckle sending involuntary shivers down his

spine. Will reached behind himself while Deanna continued to take advantage

of his precarious situation. "Were you looking for this Will Riker?" she

whispered again, holding up the white towel before innocently dropping it

onto the floor behind her. Will levered himself up to his elbow, his stare

frank. "Deanna Troi, if you play with me and you are playing with fire."

Deanna just looked at him with half closed lids.. "Like a moth to the flame

Imzadi… like a moth to the flame." She reached up to run her fingers through

his short beard and touched his lips, her fingers a teasing invitation,

drawing him down until he had buried his face in her fragrant hair, his lips

grazing her slim neck.

"Captain to the bridge," the comm seemed to shout in Riker's ear. Will

pulled back and stared into Deanna's eyes. She stared back at him, their

mutual distress striking them both as extremely comical at exactly the same

moment. They both broke into laughter and Will swung his legs over the edge

of the bed. "I expect you to avert your eyes Ms. Troi," he said with gentle

sarcasm. Deanna did no such thing and watched him appreciatively as he

pulled on his clothes.

- Chapter seven A

As soon as Will left for the bridge, Deanna moved quickly from his

quarters to hers, extremely conscious of her rumpled dress and hoping she

would pass unnoticed. Suddenly impatient to take care of unfinished

business, she checked her schedule for early morning appointments, then

showered and pulled on a fresh uniform and readied herself. In the corridor

she strode purposefully, her anger reflected in tight staccato footsteps that

quickly brought her to Romni Hai's quarters. When she buzzed the door she

was ready for the upcoming confrontation, only to be stymied by no response.

"Computer. Location of Lt. Commander Hai." Deanna demanded.

"Lt. Commander Hai is in ten forward."

Deanna bristled at Hai's continuing insubordination. Her anger

continued to escalate upward. Confinement to quarters was serious business

and she had fully expected to be obeyed. "You are going to be very sorry you

messed with me," Deanna muttered, her back rigid with purpose.

The bar was dimly lit and completely deserted except for Lt. Commander

Hai who stood at the observation window. She appeared to be waiting for

someone. Hai turned when the door slid open to greet someone, her smile

fading abruptly when it was Counselor Troi who walked in.

"I think we need to have a talk." Deanna said, the crisp bite of her

voice belaying her mild choice of words. Their eyes locked, and Deanna sized

up the woman in front of her. Neither of them noticed the quiet opening and

closing of the door as Jarah entered, but Deanna could sense her presence.

The quiet Ensign faded unobtrusively into the background as she flipped her

tiny vidcorder on.

"You were ordered to confine yourself to quarters Lt. Commander!"

Deanna snapped.

Unfazed by Deanna's attack, Hai gave her a conspiratorial smile and

lowered her voice. "I really didn't think you were serious about that

counselor. I figured you said it in the heat of the moment. Thought you

must be jealous or something," she said with casual insinuation.

Deanna stood eye to eye with Hai, her glare stony. "I was perfectly

serious Lt. Commander. What you did was… was inexcusable!"

Hai stood with hands on hips and smirked, her half lidded gaze

measuring the Counselor's protest and deeming it unremarkable. "Well," she

said, licking her lips, "its quite obvious I didn't do a thing to him that

you haven't done to him before, counselor," she said, stretching out the

title until it seemed almost obscene. Hai chuckled at the sick expression on

Troi's face; " he's very responsive, isn't he? ...and I do mean very."

Hai's callous treatment of Will when he was most vulnerable made it

difficult for Deanna to keep her anger at bay, but Hai seemed unaware of her

precarious position. "Our relationship, present or past, is none of your

business, Hai. And it has absolutely nothing to do with your deceptive, and

immoral behavior." Deanna said, struggling with her deteriorating


Hai obviously enjoyed her role, crossing her arms as she chuckled at

Deanna's response. "It's sort of funny isn't it? He has everyone fooled,

into thinking he's this macho starship captain. But it's nothing but a

charade! An act!" She began to pace, throwing up her arms expressively.

"Behind closed doors with the ship's counselor… he's nothing but a frightened

little boy." Hai mimicked Riker's baritone. "I'm scared Imzadi... I'm

afraid that I'll fail and more people will get assimilated...Geordi or Bev...

or..." she let her voice catch melodramatically, "you." Hai abruptly

switched gears. "By the way, what's Imzadi? Some kind of pet name?"

Deanna was unaccustomed to the anger which grew steadily at Hai's cruel

mockery. Though sorely provoked she controlled her temper. Methodically,

she used her senses to find the crack in Hai's front, barely able to restrain

herself as Hai continued to goad her. "Oh yeah… get a load of this…

"Imzadi... Captain Picard has been my mentor… and now I destroyed him!" she

groaned, cruelly mimicking Riker again.

Deanna had never been so infuriated. "you...bitch!" she thought,

still searching Hai's emotional palette; but Hai was oblivious to her danger,

and not about to quit.

"Of course, as you know, there is a definite plus side to all

this," she said, her voice dropping as her eye's became slightly glazed.

"The Captain is absolutely incredible out of uniform. I can't say that I

blame you for bedding him. And the man feels as good as he looks... built

like a god and hung like a bull." Hai continued "...though when he trembled

under my hands, begging for my touch you'd think it's been a long time since

he had any." She cocked her head, "maybe you ought to be taking better care

of him, Counselor..."

Deanna had had enough. Her nails cut perfect half moons into her

palms, and she barely restrained herself from smacking the smug expression

from Hai's face. Will's humiliation was etched in her memory. Deanna could

see that Hai finally realized that her last jibe had gone to far. Real fear

filled Hai's eyes as Deanna's expression became set, as if in stone. Hai

stepped backwards, but Deanna was determined not to let her go until she had

given her a piece of her Betazoid mind. "So…," she said steeping closer,

"you thought you could give your crumbling career a boost by trying to dig up

some dirt on Captain Riker?" she demanded with disgust. "What you did was

not only immoral, but illegal."

Hai's hands moved nervously and she tried to counter Deanna's

accusation. "Riker's rep as a Romeo is fleet wide-- you're…. you're

certainly not the only one who's been handling the goods... so who's to say

he didn't invite me in the first place!" she blustered. It was the wrong

thing to say.

Deanna moved a step closer with quiet menace. "There's no one on this

side of the Alpha Quadrant who would believe you over Captain Riker. His

career is one of absolute integrity, and he is a hero of the first magnitude,

no matter WHAT his doubts about himself are." Deanna hadn't moved but knew

that Hai was intimidated and feeling increasingly vulnerable. Deanna's

pupil-less eyes went dark with anger. "Your career on the other hand has

been riddled with shady stories from suspect sources." Deanna took one step

forward and Hai fell back a step. "Your advancements have been made, not on

merit, but on the backs of the very people who tried to mentor and nurture

you as you went through the ranks in Starfleet. If you had been assigned to

the Enterprise you would never have made it past ensign; and by the time I'm

done with you, if you're not dishonorably discharged, you'll be stuck as an

ensign for a very long, long, time.

Security to ten forward." Deanna's glare dared Hai to make a move but

her voice was deceptively mild. "Your insubordination is on record Lt.

Commander. You've disobeyed a superior officer's direct order to confine

yourself to quarters, and by all rights you should also be charged with

trespassing and sexual assault for your conduct last night; but I'll leave

that to the Captain."

The door to ten-forward slid open and two security guards entered with

their hands poised above their phasers. "Please, escort Lt. Commander Hai to

her quarters and see that she remains there until further notice" Deanna

ordered. Hai's confident bearing seemed to melt as the truth of Deanna's

statements penetrated her carefully constructed front. When the guards stood

on either side of her, her bravado crumbled. Hai opened her mouth but no

sound came out.

Deanna sank into the nearest chair with thudding heart and shaking

hands. Mentally reviewing what Hai had said, she wondered again how much

Will had really revealed to her while thinking that she was his Imzadi.

Hai's abuse infuriated her afresh, especially since Deanna had been trying to

get Will to talk about what was bothering him for days. Now when he finally

did, he was humiliated and betrayed by his trust in her. It mattered little

that Hai was the obviously enemy here. Deanna knew with certainty that his

damaged trust would be most difficult to regain, even though she'd had

nothing to do with it. Human emotions were not often rational, and it

worried her that Will might not soon make himself that vulnerable again.

Guinan slid into the chair opposite hers. There was a long silence as

the two women measured each other. The soothing flow of Guinan's unspoken

compassion begin to calm her. Finally, Guinan spoke.

"You're very upset because you care a great deal for him, don't you


"Yes I do."

"You two have a relationship that goes beyond Captain and counselor. So

this has wounded you as well as Captain Riker." It was both a question and a



Deanna so infrequently shared her conflicted feelings with anyone, she

began to relax a bit as she opened to Guinan. "The captain and I have a long

and complicated history, which I think is no secret to you. But we have been

nothing more than close friends for years now." Deanna's stomach rebelled,

knowing that she was not being totally honest with herself or with Guinan.

"Ah, well… then best friends would you say?" Guinan probed, nodding with

understanding of what the Betazoid didn't say. "He's an intriguing man" she

observed by way of comment and then held her silence. The barkeep had lived

long and knew that the best stories often came from good listening, and she

knew that Deanna needed to talk.


Deanna was suddenly made weak as she let go of the last vestige of her

anger. Eventually the unstrained silence between them encouraged her to

finally continue. "I've been worried about Will," she said with a drawn out

sigh. "The Borg war… It's taken it's toll on all of us, but has been

especially intense for him. Lives were lost and people were hurt...and he

feels so responsible; as if somehow he should have done more. As the ship's

counselor it is my role, my duty to help him cope and look at things more

objectively...but we've been so busy taking care of everything and everyone

who's been affected, that we haven't been able to talk as we should, as we

normally would have. I should have seen his need. That's my job."

Guinan's face revealed nothing. Her voice was low and soft, "why do

you suppose he feels he could have done more, when what he managed to do was

extraordinary?" And, he seems determined to keep this ship stirred up with

his ongoing heroics."

Deanna sighed. "It was extraordinary. But Will would have only been

satisfied if no one had died...or if he had been able to prevent all of it

from even happening."

"He's a perfectionist?" Guinan suggested, but Deanna shook her



"Only when it comes to the safety of the ship and when he judges

himself. He's normally tolerant off duty, and usually understanding where

others are concerned." She shrugged, "But his self-esteem is tied up with

his ability to be in control, and to handle every situation."

"That would explain why he's commanding a starship." Guinan

observed with a faint smile that faded seamlessly into a slight frown. "So

counselor, why do you suppose he's like that?" she asked, her expression

revealing that she must have found Riker and Troi to be denser than duranium

when it came to dealing with each other and their true feelings.

Deanna wasn't paying attention to Guinan's expression. She had

spent a great deal of time thinking about that very question over the years,

so her answer came without hesitation. "Will's mother died when he was very

young. His father's standards were impossibly high, and he withheld his

approval as well as his affection when Will didn't measure up. From the

little Will has shared with me, the lesson of his youth was that no one would

love or respect him unless he succeeded at being the very best at

everything." Deanna sighed. "The upside is he's tremendously successful.

But the down side is that he never feels quite good enough." Deanna looked

up at Guinan earnestly. "I really think that's why this whole hero thing is

so uncomfortable for him. He feels… like a fraud." The bartender and the

counselor were both silent for a long moment. Guinan spoke first.

"So now Hai has damaged his trust, and you're afraid that the Captain is

unlikely to let himself be that vulnerable again?

Guinan had voiced Deanna's fear and her eyes smarted. "I'm not going to

give him that option. He'll have to find a deep dark hole to hide in to

avoid this conversation any longer." Simultaneous smiles graced both women

at the image of Will Riker hiding from anything. The tension had dissipated

and they talked for another forty-five minutes. Deanna recounting for Guinan

many of Riker's more hilarious as well as heroic missions. The two were a

study in contrasts as the exotic Betazoid visited with the equally exotic


Chapter seven B

Chapter 7

As soon as Will left for the bridge, Deanna moved quickly from his

quarters to hers, extremely conscious of her rumpled dress and hoping she

would pass unnoticed. Suddenly impatient to take care of unfinished

business, she checked her schedule for early morning appointments, then

showered and pulled on a fresh uniform and readied herself. In the corridor

she strode purposefully, her anger reflected in tight staccato footsteps that

quickly brought her to Romni Hai's quarters. When she buzzed the door she

was ready for the upcoming confrontation, only to be stymied by no response.

"Computer. Location of Lt. Commander Hai." Deanna demanded.

"Lt. Commander Hai is in ten forward."

Deanna bristled at Hai's continuing insubordination. Her anger

continued to escalate upward. Confinement to quarters was serious business

and she had fully expected to be obeyed. "You are going to be very sorry you

messed with me," Deanna muttered, her back rigid with purpose.

The bar was dimly lit and completely deserted except for Lt. Commander

Hai who stood at the observation window. She appeared to be waiting for

someone. Hai turned when the door slid open to greet someone, her smile

fading abruptly when it was Counselor Troi who walked in.

"I think we need to have a talk." Deanna said, the crisp bite of her

voice belaying her mild choice of words. Their eyes locked, and Deanna sized

up the woman in front of her. Neither of them noticed the quiet opening and

closing of the door as Jarah entered, but Deanna could sense her presence.

The quiet Ensign faded unobtrusively into the background as she flipped her

tiny vidcorder on.

"You were ordered to confine yourself to quarters Lt. Commander!"

Deanna snapped.

Unfazed by Deanna's attack, Hai gave her a conspiratorial smile and

lowered her voice. "I really didn't think you were serious about that

counselor. I figured you said it in the heat of the moment. Thought you

must be jealous or something," she said with casual insinuation.

Deanna stood eye to eye with Hai, her glare stony. "I was perfectly

serious Lt. Commander. What you did was… was inexcusable!"

Hai stood with hands on hips and smirked, her half lidded gaze

measuring the Counselor's protest and deeming it unremarkable. "Well," she

said, licking her lips, "its quite obvious I didn't do a thing to him that

you haven't done to him before, counselor," she said, stretching out the

title until it seemed almost obscene. Hai chuckled at the sick expression on

Troi's face; " he's very responsive, isn't he? ...and I do mean very."

Hai's callous treatment of Will when he was most vulnerable made it

difficult for Deanna to keep her anger at bay, but Hai seemed unaware of her

precarious position. "Our relationship, present or past, is none of your

business, Hai. And it has absolutely nothing to do with your deceptive, and

immoral behavior." Deanna said, struggling with her deteriorating


Hai obviously enjoyed her role, crossing her arms as she chuckled at

Deanna's response. "It's sort of funny isn't it? He has everyone fooled,

into thinking he's this macho starship captain. But it's nothing but a

charade! An act!" She began to pace, throwing up her arms expressively.

"Behind closed doors with the ship's counselor… he's nothing but a frightened

little boy." Hai mimicked Riker's baritone. "I'm scared Imzadi... I'm

afraid that I'll fail and more people will get assimilated...Geordi or Bev...

or..." she let her voice catch melodramatically, "you." Hai abruptly

switched gears. "By the way, what's Imzadi? Some kind of pet name?"

Deanna was unaccustomed to the anger which grew steadily at Hai's cruel

mockery. Though sorely provoked she controlled her temper. Methodically,

she used her senses to find the crack in Hai's front, barely able to restrain

herself as Hai continued to goad her. "Oh yeah… get a load of this…

"Imzadi... Captain Picard has been my mentor… and now I destroyed him!" she

groaned, cruelly mimicking Riker again.

Deanna had never been so infuriated. "you...bitch!" she thought,

still searching Hai's emotional palette; but Hai was oblivious to her danger,

and not about to quit.

"Of course, as you know, there is a definite plus side to all

this," she said, her voice dropping as her eye's became slightly glazed.

"The Captain is absolutely incredible out of uniform. I can't say that I

blame you for bedding him. And the man feels as good as he looks... built

like a god and hung like a bull." Hai continued "...though when he trembled

under my hands, begging for my touch you'd think it's been a long time since

he had any." She cocked her head, "maybe you ought to be taking better care

of him, Counselor..."

Deanna had had enough. Her nails cut perfect half moons into her

palms, and she barely restrained herself from smacking the smug expression

from Hai's face. Will's humiliation was etched in her memory. Deanna could

see that Hai finally realized that her last jibe had gone to far. Real fear

filled Hai's eyes as Deanna's expression became set, as if in stone. Hai

stepped backwards, but Deanna was determined not to let her go until she had

given her a piece of her Betazoid mind. "So…," she said steeping closer,

"you thought you could give your crumbling career a boost by trying to dig up

some dirt on Captain Riker?" she demanded with disgust. "What you did was

not only immoral, but illegal."

Hai's hands moved nervously and she tried to counter Deanna's

accusation. "Riker's rep as a Romeo is fleet wide-- you're…. you're

certainly not the only one who's been handling the goods... so who's to say

he didn't invite me in the first place!" she blustered. It was the wrong

thing to say.

Deanna moved a step closer with quiet menace. "There's no one on this

side of the Alpha Quadrant who would believe you over Captain Riker. His

career is one of absolute integrity, and he is a hero of the first magnitude,

no matter WHAT his doubts about himself are." Deanna hadn't moved but knew

that Hai was intimidated and feeling increasingly vulnerable. Deanna's

pupil-less eyes went dark with anger. "Your career on the other hand has

been riddled with shady stories from suspect sources." Deanna took one step

forward and Hai fell back a step. "Your advancements have been made, not on

merit, but on the backs of the very people who tried to mentor and nurture

you as you went through the ranks in Starfleet. If you had been assigned to

the Enterprise you would never have made it past ensign; and by the time I'm

done with you, if you're not dishonorably discharged, you'll be stuck as an

ensign for a very long, long, time.

Security to ten forward." Deanna's glare dared Hai to make a move but

her voice was deceptively mild. "Your insubordination is on record Lt.

Commander. You've disobeyed a superior officer's direct order to confine

yourself to quarters, and by all rights you should also be charged with

trespassing and sexual assault for your conduct last night; but I'll leave

that to the Captain."

The door to ten-forward slid open and two security guards entered with

their hands poised above their phasers. "Please, escort Lt. Commander Hai to

her quarters and see that she remains there until further notice" Deanna

ordered. Hai's confident bearing seemed to melt as the truth of Deanna's

statements penetrated her carefully constructed front. When the guards stood

on either side of her, her bravado crumbled. Hai opened her mouth but no

sound came out.

Deanna sank into the nearest chair with thudding heart and shaking

hands. Mentally reviewing what Hai had said, she wondered again how much

Will had really revealed to her while thinking that she was his Imzadi.

Hai's abuse infuriated her afresh, especially since Deanna had been trying to

get Will to talk about what was bothering him for days. Now when he finally

did, he was humiliated and betrayed by his trust in her. It mattered little

that Hai was the obviously enemy here. Deanna knew with certainty that his

damaged trust would be most difficult to regain, even though she'd had

nothing to do with it. Human emotions were not often rational, and it

worried her that Will might not soon make himself that vulnerable again.

Guinan slid into the chair opposite hers. There was a long silence as

the two women measured each other. The soothing flow of Guinan's unspoken

compassion begin to calm her. Finally, Guinan spoke.

"You're very upset because you care a great deal for him, don't you


"Yes I do."

"You two have a relationship that goes beyond Captain and counselor. So

this has wounded you as well as Captain Riker." It was both a question and a



Deanna so infrequently shared her conflicted feelings with anyone, she

began to relax a bit as she opened to Guinan. "The captain and I have a long

and complicated history, which I think is no secret to you. But we have been

nothing more than close friends for years now." Deanna's stomach rebelled,

knowing that she was not being totally honest with herself or with Guinan.

"Ah, well… then best friends would you say?" Guinan probed, nodding with

understanding of what the Betazoid didn't say. "He's an intriguing man" she

observed by way of comment and then held her silence. The barkeep had lived

long and knew that the best stories often came from good listening, and she

knew that Deanna needed to talk.


Deanna was suddenly made weak as she let go of the last vestige of her

anger. Eventually the unstrained silence between them encouraged her to

finally continue. "I've been worried about Will," she said with a drawn out

sigh. "The Borg war… It's taken it's toll on all of us, but has been

especially intense for him. Lives were lost and people were hurt...and he

feels so responsible; as if somehow he should have done more. As the ship's

counselor it is my role, my duty to help him cope and look at things more

objectively...but we've been so busy taking care of everything and everyone

who's been affected, that we haven't been able to talk as we should, as we

normally would have. I should have seen his need. That's my job."

Guinan's face revealed nothing. Her voice was low and soft, "why do

you suppose he feels he could have done more, when what he managed to do was

extraordinary?" And, he seems determined to keep this ship stirred up with

his ongoing heroics."

Deanna sighed. "It was extraordinary. But Will would have only been

satisfied if no one had died...or if he had been able to prevent all of it

from even happening."

"He's a perfectionist?" Guinan suggested, but Deanna shook her



"Only when it comes to the safety of the ship and when he judges

himself. He's normally tolerant off duty, and usually understanding where

others are concerned." She shrugged, "But his self-esteem is tied up with

his ability to be in control, and to handle every situation."

"That would explain why he's commanding a starship." Guinan

observed with a faint smile that faded seamlessly into a slight frown. "So

counselor, why do you suppose he's like that?" she asked, her expression

revealing that she must have found Riker and Troi to be denser than duranium

when it came to dealing with each other and their true feelings.

Deanna wasn't paying attention to Guinan's expression. She had

spent a great deal of time thinking about that very question over the years,

so her answer came without hesitation. "Will's mother died when he was very

young. His father's standards were impossibly high, and he withheld his

approval as well as his affection when Will didn't measure up. From the

little Will has shared with me, the lesson of his youth was that no one would

love or respect him unless he succeeded at being the very best at

everything." Deanna sighed. "The upside is he's tremendously successful.

But the down side is that he never feels quite good enough." Deanna looked

up at Guinan earnestly. "I really think that's why this whole hero thing is

so uncomfortable for him. He feels… like a fraud." The bartender and the

counselor were both silent for a long moment. Guinan spoke first.

"So now Hai has damaged his trust, and you're afraid that the Captain is

unlikely to let himself be that vulnerable again?

Guinan had voiced Deanna's fear and her eyes smarted. "I'm not going to

give him that option. He'll have to find a deep dark hole to hide in to

avoid this conversation any longer." Simultaneous smiles graced both women

at the image of Will Riker hiding from anything. The tension had dissipated

and they talked for another forty-five minutes. Deanna recounting for Guinan

many of Riker's more hilarious as well as heroic missions. The two were a

study in contrasts as the exotic Betazoid visited with the equally exotic



sent 7a 1.2.00 8:00

Will's day had gone smoothly as could be expected. He checked frequently

with Geordi on the progress with the more pressing problems in engineering,

wishing again for more time ready the Enterprise. Waking up next to Deanna

had been the best therapy he could have wished for, but his short-lived

relaxation slipped away as soon as he stepped onto the bridge. Shelby was all

business. "Sir, the comm system is as good as fixed…"

Will eyed her and spoke slowly. "Well, is it fixed, or isn't it


Shelby's smile faded and she looked uncomfortable. "Well, Ensign Riley

assured me that it would be within the next several hours," she replied,

obviously feeling foolish for jumping the gun.

Riker masked his irritation. "Alright Commander, let me know when it's


"You'll be the first to know sir," Shelby muttered.

A loud voice unexpectedly broke through the bridge comm. "Hey Randy,

LaForge is gonna have your ass if you don't fix it the way he told you to."

The rest of the conversation fizzled out in a wave of static and Riker

swallowed his comment as he looked straight ahead. "Well I guess we know

that it's not fixed quite yet," he said neutrally. Shelby had the grace to

blush and didn't reply.

"Data, what's our ETA?" Riker asked, not really all that anxious to


"Sir, we will be arriving in one hundred and twenty eight point four

hours." Riker nodded. Five days until they reached the last known path of

the Borg. Five years wouldn't be long enough. Imps with mallets were

hammering behind his eyes and it was becoming more difficult to concentrate

on Geordi's report on the status of the warp coil. He shrugged his shoulders

in a vain attempt to loosen the knot between them. He attempted to breath

the way Deanna had taught him. But as usual, there were too many

distractions. So many problems were brought by Shelby to his attention, that

he sharply told her to delegate the lesser problems to the more experienced

officers. The less experienced bridge members observed the interaction with


Riker was hardly aware of the curious looks, and instructed Shelby to

coordinate the logistics of switching power transfers when necessary to

afford repairs to the most critical system. By the time his watch was almost

over, his back and shoulder muscles had were an intricate network of knots so

tightly pulled that he wasn't sure if he could move. The imps had taken a

break. He could hardly wait to leave the bridge; not that his day was over

by a long shot.

Precisely at the end of his shift Beverly Crusher's voice came clear

and crisp over the comm. "Captain Riker, please report to sickbay."

He tapped his comm, "Riker here," he snapped. "Doctor do we have a


Beverly's intention was clear to all. "Sir, I'm sure that we can take

care of this problem quickly. But it will be necessary for you to be here in

order to do so." Riker barely restrained himself from shaking his aching

head at the doctor's duplicity. She had known he wouldn't want to make a

scene in front of the bridge crew.

"I'll be right there," he said curtly and cut the channel. The bridge

crew covertly exchanged looks of mutual understanding at Crusher's unspoken

message. Riker's avoidance of sickbay was legend.


Will walked into sickbay with an attitude to go along with his headache.

He had been stopped three times by crewmembers with complaints and concerns

that should have been directed to their department heads. Still, he couldn't

blame them. Everyone was working double shifts. Everyone was exhausted.

Everyone was scared. They needed more time, which was the one commodity he

couldn't give them. He sensed that time for all of them, was quickly running

out. He entered sickbay and confronted the slender doctor while she was

still bent over her desk. "Beverly I don't have time for this…" before he

could finish his sentence a pain stabbed him unexpectedly behind his left

eye, and he broke off mid sentence. Beverly tried to pull his hand away from

his eye and succeeded with difficulty, all the while backing him up to push

him down into a nearby chair so she could reach him.

She examined his eye first with a hand held Optometric diagnostic

scanner. "Mmmmm… does this hurt?" she said, shining a bright light in his

eye, "Ow!," Will exclaimed, turning his head sharply away from her and the

searing pain the light precipitated. Beverly held his bearded chin and

forced him to face her. "Look to the left Will," she said, watching him

grimace as he did what he was told. "Now look to the right." Will complied,

this time without complaint as his eye jerked slightly. "Ok captain. Let me

run another test or three. Get up on the bed."

Will sighed with disgust as he hoisted himself onto a biobed he'd had

more than a passing acquaintance with. Precious minutes slipped away while he

wasted time in sickbay. "Come on Bev.. just give me something for this and

let me go. I've got somewhere I need to be." Beverly stopped in her tracks.

Will belatedly wished he had kept his mouth shut.

Beverly stood over him, hands on hips, her copper colored hair

practically crackling with static anger. "Will Riker, If I could count the

number of times I've patched you up and put you back together we'd be here

till tomorrow!" she flared. "But just in case you've forgotten, let me

remind you that I am your doctor and since you haven't received your medical

degree yet I'll advise you to keep your opinions about treatment to


Will waited for her to wind down her tirade, which wasn't her first with

him. He was sure that unless he learned to keep his mouth shut, it wouldn't

be the last. He ground his teeth as his eye was assaulted by searing pains.

"And furthermore" she said, "though you may be Captain of this ship, my

orders can supercede yours if necessary." Beverly's stance remained

menacing. "And if I think that you're endangering this ship and crew because

you won't listen to the message your body is screaming at you so loud I can

hear it six decks away..." Bev trailed off when she saw he was in pain, her

pale skin flushed by her tirade. Her voice became a little gentler as she

continued. "Will, I know that I can't make you rest, and unfortunately I

can't put you on enforced leave while we're at war, but I can call you in

here and make sure you are held together with more than Nordrexamine

stimulants and that god-awful coffee you drink! Am I getting through to you?

Or do you need a full explanation?"

Will felt badly for giving Beverly a difficult time. Her own face

reflected her fatigue and he shook his head, regretting it as the unexpected

strength of the pain struck him breathless. Bev's touch was gentle, and she

again drew his resistant hand away from his eye. She pulled a slim visor

from a nearby drawer and carefully centered it over both eyes. She nodded

with satisfaction as it sealed itself with a sucking sound around his face.

She adjusted the settings and put a medication cartridge in the cylindrical

slot. Soon a cool, tingling sensation began to bathe his eyes. The pains

moved further apart, and finally had diminished dramatically.


"Now…keep this on until I get back. You'll be fine Will. Beverly left

and Will Riker sighed. He had so much to do, and it seemed a monumental

waste to sit there and do nothing while he waited for Bev to return and

finish the treatment. He considered trying to nap, but for him, fifteen

minutes of sleep would only make him feel worse when he had to wake up again.

Instead he reached over and tapped the computer pad beside the bed. It was

a sad commentary, he thought ruefully, that he'd logged so much time on the

sickbay biobeds he could find the commuter blindfolded.

"Personal Log. Stardate XXXX" He said quietly. "The last two days

have been difficult in more ways than one. We're putting this ship back

together with a wing and a prayer, and the closer we get to the Borg the more

on edge the crew seems to be...and the more on edge I get to be too. I guess

that's why last night happened. God, I don't know what's worse...what I told

Hai about being afraid ...or what I ended up encouraging her to do. Damn… I

was so tired I'm not even sure what I said..." Will's lip curled in self

disgust. "She said I begged her for it...maybe I did..." He sighed. "and

then I went and told Deanna what happened..." He sat quietly for a moment, a

smile slowly forming. "although maybe that wasn't such a bad idea. To wake

up with her this morning was… nice." Will's body responded as he remembered

her suggestive smile as she dangled the towel. "If only we'd had a few more

minutes before we were interrupted, I think we might have..." He trailed

off... becoming lost in a waking fantasy starring his Imzadi. Will didn't

succeed in adding anything else to the log before Bev hustled back in ten

minutes later. She assumed correctly that he was exhausted, and made no

comment about his uncharacteristic silence or his flushed cheeks as she

removed the treatment mask and rechecked his eyes. Will shifted

uncomfortably, praying she would keep the tricorder pointed at his head and

not at other parts of his body that might show "irregular" readings. Finally

she allowed him to sit up and he shook his head slightly to clear it again.

This time the pain behind his eyes was largely gone. Unfortunately, the

other ache was not going to be so easily remedied.


Chapter Eight A

The brisk air was bracing and Jean Luc Picard filled his lungs as he

paused to look around him. The scene was breathtaking. A swiftly flowing

river coursed down the center of the valley, here and there leaping over

boulders, then pooling in swirling eddies where the trout and salmon lay

fanning their tails against the current. The dense pine forest seemed to

spill from snow capped peaks, flowing down in a thick green carpet until it

reached a meadow bursting with wildflowers and then flowed in turn into the

rocky river banks. The sky overhead was a brilliant blue, and golden eagles

soared gracefully on thermals. Picard searched downstream about a hundred

yards and spotted Will Riker standing against the current. Dressed in hip

boots, jeans and a flannel shirt, the younger man's cast sailed gracefully

over the water to the rising trout. Picard took another deep breath,

releasing the reluctance he'd felt at meeting Will here. In this holodeck

simulation, it was easy to believe that all was right with the world, and

Locutus of Borg seemed to be nothing more than a distant, faded memory. An

abrupt tug pulled Picard from his reverie, and he turned his attention to the

trout on his line.

Will had designed this simulation just for times when he needed to

escape the stresses of life on a starship. Over the years he had honed his

retreat to perfection. It was Alaska at it's best, and until today it had

always been his private place of respite from the pressures of command.

Deanna told him once that even the most gregarious of men needed private

time; and that's when Will had created this program. Picard was grateful his

former first officer had chosen to share it with him. Riker carefully reeled

in his line and made his way back to the bank. Looking upstream, Riker

spotted him and watched as he worked the large trout. But instead of coming

to see him, he sat back down, his long legs stretched out in front of him as

he leaned against the natural back in the rock formation. He appeared to be

fully enjoying the warmth of the sun on his face

Picard landed his trout and then released it with care. Propping his rod

on the bank he made his way downstream and seated himself on a rock near

Riker. He remained quiet, unsure if Will was dozing or just sunbathing with

his eyes closed. He listened to the sounds of the water and the forest, his

tensions temporarily flowing away with the river.

Riker broke the silence. "I guess it was sort of stupid to let them fix this

holodeck when everything else is such a mess, but Deanna thought it was

important for morale."

"I would agree with her Will...I must say I've personally found it

quite therapeutic. Thank you for asking me to join you."

Will nodded and the two sat in silence for a while, each lost in

their own thoughts. The only sounds were the rippling of the stream and the

gentle rustle of the wind in the trees. "Captain?"

Picard glanced over at his friend, but Will Riker's eyes were

still closed, with the sunlight harshly illuminating lines of fatigue and

worry etched on his face these last few weeks. "Yes, Will?"

"I'm sorry for asking you to come along."

Picard frowned, not sure of what his former first officer meant by

that statement. Will half-opened his eyes. At Picards puzzlement, he

clarified. "Not for today sir...I mean I'm sorry for asking you to come on

this mission." Will rubbed worriedly at the creases on his brow. "I can't

imagine how hard this has all been for all honesty, I was thinking

of myself when I asked you to come."

Picard's frown deepened, his eyes glued to Rikers. "Yourself?" He

questioned, his tone light.

Will's clenched and unclenched his jaw, forcing himself to continue

after a short, bitter laugh. "I didn't engineer your rescue from the Borg

because of some grand master plan to save the Federation you know." Will

shook his head. "Hell, I didn't even do it out of friendship and loyalty to

you. I only did it because this ship doesn't feel right without you in the

center seat...and because I didn't have the courage… the courage to face the

Borg on my own." Will studied the ground. "I suppose that's the same reason

I asked you to go on this mission instead of letting you off the ship as I

should have."

Jean Luc was momentarily at a loss, and so he scooped up a handful

of pebbles and proceeded to toss them aimlessly, one by one into the stream.

" long have we known one another?" He paused for a moment to let

the question sink in. "You and I...we have somewhat perfected the balance of

the command structure between us. Sort of a yin and yang if you will." Will

nodded slowly.

"Do you have any idea how many times when you were injured or missing on

an away mission that I contemplated commanding the Enterprise without my

first officer...and found the idea almost unthinkable?" It was Picards turn

to laugh with bitterness." How often I've wondered if I have unconsciously

been an impediment to your career because of my own selfish desire to keep

you here." He smiled slightly, transforming his harsh demeanor. "Will… in

all these years together, I have never, EVER, questioned your courage. Nor

for that matter, your friendship or loyalty." He tossed the last pebble into

the water, his voice dropping so low Will had to strain to hear him. "I have

always believed that the true test of a starship captain is whether he or she

has the courage to trust their instincts. Will, you did that - and by doing

so you saved the ship, the earth...and Locutus of Borg."

Will sat forward and ran his fingers through his hair, absorbing the

import of Picard's words.

Picard voice didn't betray his emotion but Riker knew it was there

nonetheless, "And I am deeply honored by the fact that you would still want

me aboard your vessel after what I have done."

Riker quickly looked up. "No! No sir," he said with a shake of his

head. "This is NOT my vessel! It's yours. Not mine" he repeated sharply.

"And you haven't done anything! It was Locutus! It was the Borg Collective

who attacked the Federation. Nothing you did was you - except for that small

piece who was strong enough to resist...and to save us all." The older and

younger man studied each other for the truth about themselves, and what they

found there fortified them both. Picard dropped his gaze and Will looked

away; both embarrassed by the unaccustomed strength of emotion.

After a few moments of silence passed, Will looked back, his usual

devilish glint restored. "Damn but I'm hungry. I could eat a horse," he said

with boyish relish, his grin breaking the uncomfortable intimacy of the


Picard hadn't known he was tense until his tightened muscles begin to

relax. "Actually Will, with the systems malfunctioning as they are, your

chances of getting a horse from the replicator may be remarkably good."

Will gave a snort of amusement. "care to chance it?"

The captain rose, brushing the dirt from his pants. "Why not? I feel

like living dangerously"

"End program." Riker ordered and Alaska vanished around them. Picard

gestured for Riker to proceed him out the door. "After you, number one."

Will was grinning as they stepped into the corridor. It felt good to

hear Picard call him "Number One." again.



Chapter Eight b

"Computer. Location of Captain Riker" Deanna asked. It was twenty

hundred hours and she was finally through with her last appointment for the

day. "Captain Riker is in his quarters." Deanna nodded her approval, hardly

daring to hope she would catch him alone. Finally fate had seen fit to give

her the perfect set up. She mentally rehearsed, knowing that more than

anyone else on the ship, Will Riker was an expert at deflecting her

professional concern. But she wasn't going to allow his humor or his temper

to save him this time. Nothing was going to stop her from getting Will Riker

to talk to her! Her step faltered a bit as she belatedly thought of several

things that might weaken her resolve, like if he brought up this morning...or

if he kissed her...or worse yet, if she caught him in nothing but a towel

again. A passing crewmember gave her an odd smile but Deanna didn't see

him, refocusing on the task at hand.

She quickly covered the last fifty feet to the door of his quarters and

as soon as his door slid open she knew her plan had fatal flaws in it. His

unkempt appearance made her realize that this was going to be much more

difficult than she hoped. Will was always careful about his appearance, even

off duty. But his hair was tousled and his shirt was both un-tucked and

unclean. This only piqued her professional concern. The real problem was

that he was quite as devastatingly handsome in baggy gray shorts and an old

academy t-shirt, as he had been this morning in nothing but a towel. Shoring

up her tottering resolve, Deanna kept her expression warm but neutral. Will

was relaxed, more so than she'd seen him since before the first Borg crisis.

He smiled easily at her, blue eyes crinkling happily at the corners. "Ms

Troi, you have great timing." He volunteered with mock lightness. "I was

just getting ready for bed.."

His mood was remarkably transparent to her. This was not normal for

Will and was yet another cause for concern. He was fishing, trying to find

out if their morning was just an anomaly better left ignored, or if further

advances would be welcomed.

Deanna chose to sidestep the matter entirely. "You had a good day

today Captain?" she commented as she took a seat, pointedly avoiding the

couch. Without bothering to ask, Will brought her a mug of hot chocolate,

straightened up a few pillows on the couch and then settled down in the

opposite chair. "It was good." He acknowledged, pulling on his lip. "I

started the day by waking up beside a gorgeous woman who didn't seem to mind

the fact that I was stark naked..." The corners of his mouth turned up when a

light blush stained her cheeks. "Then Geordi finally got the main nacelle

power conduits back on line, and intelligence reported no further known Borg

activity in the last forty-eight hours. And lets see," he said, scratching

his beard, Shelby's got shields up to seventy percent." Deanna waited still,

sensing there was something more as he slowly took a sip from his mug.

"...and I had a really good talk with the Captain. We went fishing on the

holodeck, like you suggested." Deanna smiled. "It went well?" Will nodded,

slouching down further in the chair, unconsciously extending his legs towards

her. "It did…I don't really know if anything is changed. But I think we

both left feeling better. More at peace I guess. At least I did, and I hope

the Captain did," he said, scrubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands.

Deanna she tried to concentrate on something other than the masculine picture

he made and focus on the task at hand while waiting for him to continue.


Will watched her from beneath heavy lids, . Deanna knew he wanted to

explore what had happened, but she realized he was still suffering from

exhaustion and weakness from his accident in engineering. She sensed that he

felt at odds with himself but she didn't know how to help him, so she offered

him supper. "What," he asked sheepishly. Deanna repeated herself patiently.

"I said what would you like to eat? I'll replicate something for us."

Deanna walked towards the replicator and Will closed his eyes against the

fatigue that dogged him. Deanna feared that the time for reawakening old

desires was slipping away. "I'm not really hungry Deanna." He whispered and

opened his eyes again to Deanna's indulgent smile. "Well I'm starved and

you're wasting away to nothing for want of a good meal," she chided. I'm not

going to eat alone Captain. Either you tell me what you want or abandon

yourself to your fate." Will answered her with a straight face. "I'm

putting myself wholly in your hands Deanna. I'm trusting to your mercy

here." Deanna stared back at him, ready to ask a question just as the door

buzzed. "Yes," Will said through gritted teeth.

"It's Beverly. You didn't come to sickbay so I'm bringing sickbay to

you." Will rolled his eyes and slouched further down the couch.

"Come," he mumbled, just loud enough for the sensors to pick up. The

doors to his quarters opened and Beverly entered with the confidence of the

righteous, her bag slung over her shoulder. She took in the scene,

unsuccessfully trying to hide her smirk.

"Hope I'm not interrupting anything? But you didn't stop in as I asked

you to Will, and I don't particularly want my sleep interrupted with any

emergencies tonight." Will roused himself enough to protest.

"I'm not having any symptoms Beverly," he protested, "that's why…"

Beverly interrupted him. "That's why I'm here. It's called prevention.

Ever hear of it?" Deanna choked on her laugh and the door buzzed again.

"Come," Will said without opening his eyes, throwing up his hands. It was

Geordi. "Hey, why wasn't I invited?" he queried, his infectious good humor

lost on Riker. "Hey Captain. I was just checking to see how you were doing.

You know I don't like the idea that you got injured on my turf." Will only

grunted and Geordi continued cautiously. "The good news is that ensign Beach

is discharged from sickbay." Will opened one eye, flinching as Beverly

slipped him a hypo filled with a combination of an anti-inflammatory and

muscle relaxant. "Buuuuut I can see that the doc is already here, filling

you with news and whatever else she's got in that hypo." Geordi decided that

discretion might be wise, and he turned to Deanna. "I think I'll just have a

bite of whatever the counselor's concocting over there in the corner."

Deanna smiled around a mouthful of Jalarin salad and held her plate up,

offering Geordi some. Geordi made a face. "On second thought counselor,

maybe I'll pass," he said. "What else have you got?"


"Oh, whatever you want Geordi. I'm replicating tonight!" Deanna choked

out after she swallowed. Geordi looked back over his shoulder at the

disheveled Captain and caught Beverly's eye. "Well thanks… but maybe I'll

catch you another time. I need to get some shut eye myself for a change."

The doctor quickly packed up her bag after running the tricorder over Riker

with a satisfied nod. "Me too," she sighed. "It seems as if the nights are

shorter and the days longer. Goodnight you two," she said and left with the


Will watched them go, feeling somewhat guilty over the relief he felt

at their departure. "Was I that rude?' He asked, not really caring.


Deanna smiled. "Geordi left because he could tell how tired you

were...and you're always rude to Beverly, but I think she actually enjoys

your complaining. She once told me that when she really worries is when you

cooperate. It means you're REALLY hurting."

Will shrugged. "If she didn't try to toss me into sickbay every time I

get a hangnail..."

Deanna rolled her eyes. She knew the truth was that both Beverly and

Will enjoyed the constant sparring over his medical well-being. Complain as

he might, deep down Will appreciated that he was cared about as well as

excellently cared for. He just was not going to admit it. "One of these

days Will, you're going to push her too far and she'll end up prescribing an

enema for you."

Will frowned. "What's that?"

She took her seat again, curling her legs beneath her and balancing the

salad plate on her lap. Deanna described the antiquated medical procedure

with a few embellishments of her own. "I can't believe they actually did that

to people," he said with brows raised. Deanna's laugh was muffled by a

mouthful of salad, and she gave an affirmative nod while reaching for a

napkin to wipe her mouth. "I think I should be a whole lot nicer and more

cooperative with Beverly from now on." Will said, more to himself than


"As long as you're turning over a new leaf could you start by being

nicer and more cooperative with me?"

Will began to relax and he pretended to think about her request for a

moment. "I guess it depends what you had in mind, counselor."

Deanna slid her legs from beneath her, groaning as she nodded to her

feet. "I spent half the day doing the safety inspection. I must have

walked ten miles. You could start by giving me a foot rub... And then you

could talk to me about how you feel about everything that's happening

lately." She knew he wouldn't refuse her request for a foot massage. She

also knew Will would feel far less vulnerable if he was occupied as he

talked. "Sure," he said, and smiled his indulgence. Racing against the

effects of the muscle relaxant, which she could see was already working on

him, Deanna settled. Trying to stay focused while foot into his large warm

hands and began to massage, she sat back in the chair and sighed with

contentment. |As she knew he would, after a few minutes he began to talk.


"I feel much better about things I guess," he said as Deanna watched the

play of muscles along his arms. "What things Will?" she prompted when he

didn't continue.

"Well, about the Borg I guess; about feeling so guilty about the

Captain. We're both carrying more than our fair share of it. Guilt I mean.

And he said some unexpected things," Will said, his eyes filling. Deanna

stayed silent, wanting him to experience his emotions fully. "I guess we

both should air out our feelings more often," he said ruefully, glancing at

Deanna. She chuckled. "That's what I would call a small understatement

Will, but I'll let it pass." Will give her foot a quick kiss and then began

to rub the other. "I don't know what to do about Hai. I hardly even

remember what I said to her; I was so tired." His neck flushed a dull red,

but she didn't need to see it to feel his acute embarrassment.

"Will. You didn't do anything wrong. You have nothing to be ashamed

of." He stopped rubbing her foot and just held it. "I should have known it

wasn't you Deanna. I should have felt the difference. I was so… so…" Deanna

was almost compelled to rescue him from his struggle but she let him talk it

out. "I wanted… Deanna I wanted it to be you. I never dreamed that it

could be anyone but you. But you weren't even anywhere near." Deanna had to

rein in her own anger at the bitterness in his revelation, and waited to see

if he would go on. "I can't remember ever being so angry or so humiliated… I

still feel humiliated," he said, and met her gaze with obvious effort.

Deanna finally couldn't maintain her role as counselor, she had to touch him

in his despair. She was just his Imzadi as she slid onto his lap and cupped

his face with her hands. "Will I am here now. Can you tell me" she

whispered, "is this what you wanted?" She leaned against him with legs loose

around his waist and her arms around his neck. "Or maybe was it this?" she

said, pulling his face towards hers, kissing him slowly, deeply. Will's kiss

was tentative. He was open and completely vulnerable as she could have ever

wished him to be as she reluctantly ended their kiss. But it was surprisingly

difficult for her to feel him this way, she was so accustom to his ever

present strength. His eyes were closed, hiding his wounding from her in the

only way he could. Deanna she rested her palm against his chest, feeling the

quickened rhythm of his heart.

"Yes…" he whispered. "This is what I wanted. This is what I need

Imzadi." She waited for him to take the lead from here, but instead he

wrapped his arms around her and buried his face in her hair. An almost

imperceptible tremor shook him and warm tears covered his face. Letting her

fingers trace their path, she wiped them away and kissed his face before

pulling pillows from the couch and making him lay down with her. "Let me

hold you Imzadi," she whispered. Will's emotional exhaustion was accentuated

by his physical exhaustion, and he complied readily intertwining his arms and

legs with hers. Soon he was sleeping soundly, but for Deanna, sleep came

much more slowly.


Earlier that evening, Geordi and Beverly walked away from Will's quarters

in silence until Beverly turned to the engineer. "Geordi," the doctor

asked, "you have any idea why Lt. Commander Hai is confined to quarters?

Geordi's eyebrows raised quizzically. "Confined to quarters?" Geordi said,

his curiosity transparent. "You got me. Captain Riker doesn't seem to like

her, but last time I checked, that wasn't a Federation offence." Unsmiling,

Beverly pursed her lips in thought. "That's just it Geordi. The Captain

didn't confine her to quarters. Deanna did." They looked at each other and

shrugged. "Maybe I'll ask Deanna tomorrow," she muttered before saying good

night to Geordi.

Chapter Nine A

The following morning Beverly paged Deanna through the comm. "Crusher

to Counselor Troi." A few moments passed and Beverly tried again. "Doctor

Crusher to Counselor Troi." This time Deanna answered her, but sounded

somewhat impatient. "Yes Beverly, what is it?" Beverly cocked her head.

"Everything all right? I was just going to ask if you wanted to have early

breakfast with me in ten forward?"

Deanna was definitely distracted. "Umm… I think that we… stop!"

"Excuse me?" Beverly said.

"I mean umm.. I can't today. How about lunch?"

Beverly paused. "Are you ok Deanna?" Deanna's cough really sounded

like she was trying to cover up a laugh.

"I'm fine Beverly, just fine. I'll see you at thirteen hundred hours in

ten forward."

Beverly shook her head. "Make that in my quarters ok? Crusher out."

Deanna signed off and Will continued his previously aborted snuggling.

They lay like spoons, Will's front to Deanna's back. "I could get used to

finding you in my bed every morning Ms Troi," he whispered softly against her

neck. The warmth of his breath and the soft brush of his lips against her

skin made her shiver. The thin fabric of Will's tee shirt allowed her to

feel ever muscle in his chest and stomach as his fingers softly moved down

her side and back up again. Deanna twisted in his arms but her dress didn't

follow her. It thwarted her movements, having comically corkscrewed around

her body. She tried vainly to rearrange her clothing, but with out much

success. Finally, with eyes reflecting both annoyance and amusement, Will

grabbed the offending skirt with both hands and gave it one swift yank,

freeing her from her predicament as her garment realigned itself properly.

"Thank you, Will." She said primly, coaxing a chuckle from him.

"No problem Deanna. You know I'd do anything for you. I'd even give

you the shirt off my back, Imzadi..." His blue eyes lost their coolness and

smoldered dangerously grey. "Or even better Ms Troi, I'd take the shirt off

of your back, for you..."

"Prove it Riker," she challenged. Will ran his hands sensuously over her

back and smiled like a kid who'd just been offered his favorite candy bar.

"You want me to take your shirt off?" He inquired, brows raised.

"NO!" She looked at him as if he were crazy. "I said I want the shirt

off of your back."

Will sat up and slowly pulled the tee shirt off over his head, then

handed it to her. Deanna touched him tentatively at first, and than ran her

hands across his broad chest, openly admiring him while ignoring the

proffered shirt. She sought to balance the strong pull of Eros that filled

her, and tried to put him exactly where she wanted him. Deanna didn't want

this to be about sex, but about love. Laying against his naked chest she

sighed and ran her hands appreciatively over the soft warmth of his skin.

She felt goose-bumps spread across his flesh.

"Will?" Deanna whispered softly..."When Hai was touching you, she

wasn't giving, she was taking. All she wanted was your body and a good story

to tell. All she was interested in was selfishly satisfying her flesh and

furthering her own career. Deanna kissed a spot that looked particularly

inviting on his side before continuing. "I want much more than that Will


Will was both aroused and perplexed. "It was always more than sex with

us Imzadi."

Deanna nodded and continued to stroke his chest, touching him

suggestively. "Yes…I know…" She licked her dry lips. "Try to understand that

right now I want you Will. I want to explore you," she began kissing her way

up his arm. "I want to please you," she continued across his chest, as she

moved up his neck. "I want to love you." Deanna touched his mouth with

hers, not forcing her way, but gently kissing his lips and then his face.

She knew Will was still confused. Their connection was strengthening through

his vulnerability. She could feel that he ached and burned every place she

touched him, and knew he wanted to return her chaste kisses with those that

would be anything but chaste. But he allowed her to lead as he drew a shaky


Inching her way up his chest, Deanna massaged his head, running her

hands through his hair, looking into his eyes, and it seemed almost into his

heart. She kissed him again. Sweetly, tenderly...without evidence of the

deeper passion that she felt, but with something else in it's place. She

tried to impart through their bond, her longing and love, assuring him that

she was seeking was to both give and receive. His urgent passion subsided

and he pulled her higher and began to return her gifts, kissing her throat,

working his way up to her delicate earlobes. He whispered love to her in her

native tongue. Deanna opened herself as Will reversed their positions, and

she was beneath him and felt him accept the love that she wove around his

heart. He looked into her eyes, his own as dark as space, coaxing her

further into their depths.

Will gently kissed her bottom lip and sweetly gave back to her what she

had given to him. Each kiss a declaration of love...each look full of

longing and holding the promise of more. His resistance to the old pathways

of their bond dissolved, their emotions becoming as much a part of the

exchange as their physical intimacy. He gave and she took, she gave and he

took, each becoming as yin and yang, each an anchor of polarity for the other

when Eros began to prevail. Deanna's sense of time dissolved, making it seem

like hours that they had experienced instead of minutes. Each kiss they

exchanged was another stone on their temporal altar as they used erotic

desire to strengthen the mortar of their re-bonding.

Will's comm badge sounded loud in her ears, and she fought

disappointment as he reluctantly disengage from her and flopped onto his

back. Deanna lay across his chest and savored their newly reawakened

intimacy. "Captain to the bridge," Will said, seeing a reflection of his own

desire in her eyes.


Deanna kissed away the question Will didn't voice. "This is the

beginning Imzadi," she said. The beginning of 'shandar canon.' The path of

Imzadi." She felt Will's puzzlement.

"I thought we were already Imzadi?" Deanna smiled, and bit his lips

that were slightly swollen.

"We have only just begun on the path Will. There is more to Imzadi than

you could ever imagine. You and I never moved down it's ordained pathways

because of our careers. "Shaldarzon alechem Imzadi," she whispered before

kissing him, this time, her tongue seeking his, promising him everything.

Will closed his eyes, only opening them when she stopped. His own were wide

with wonder. "Shaldarzon Alechem Imzadi," he replied.


Will Riker stepped on to the bridge and analyzed the scene shown by the main

viewscreen before walking down the ramp. He sat in the center chair Shelby

had just vacated.

"Status Commander?"

Shelby nodded towards the screen. "The SS Estbrooke...or what's left of

it. She carried a crew of fifty-eight. We've been able to locate six

bodies. No survivors. The rest have vanished."

The young ensign at Ops turned in his seat. "It's the Borg, isn't it?

They assimilated them all!

Shelby opened her mouth to reprimand the young officer for his

outburst, but Riker preempted her. "Yep ensign. They're here somewhere and

it's our job to find them. And when we do, we're going to make sure that

nothing like that..." he nodded towards drifting hulk, "happens again." He

smiled whimsically. "And you're going to have a great story to tell your

grandkids. I promise you that." The young man visibly relaxed, the fear in

his eyes fading to slowly be replaced with determination. "Yes sir!" Shelby

glanced at Riker, and he gave her an almost imperceptible nod.


"Let's get an away team over there to see if we can find anything

useful." Riker ordered as he moved to tactical and glanced at the readouts.

"Keep monitoring for tetrion emissions...and lets see if we can track the

Estebrooke's course." His hand rested on the shoulder of the officer at

tactical for a moment before moving away. The lieutenant straightened.

Shelby watched the Captain with frank admiration in her eyes. He worked the

bridge crew, showing both his brilliance as a tactician and an administrator.

Shelby observed and learned as she saw the crew put their trust in Captain

William Riker. It was obvious that they would follow wherever he led, even

if it was to battle the Borg. As the threat grew more immediate, he became

more calm and confident. He made casual progress around the bridge, subtly

reassuring the crew, imparting a small part of his strength to each of them.

Shelby shook herself out of whatever thoughts had held her captive and

gathered her away team.


At lunch, Deanna was immediately confronted by a red-haired inquisitor

who stood with arms crossed and a stern look on her face. "WHAT were you

doing this morning when I called you?" Beverly demanded.

Deanna unsuccessfully disguised her smirk as she requested a drink from

the replicator. "I don't know what you mean, Beverly."

"Quit with the wide-eyed innocent "who-me?" act! I know you better than

that. Obviously you were in the middle of something...or should I say

someone when I called. Now… I want the story… the whole story.

Deanna took her juice from and sipped before replying. "Well Beverly,

if you must know, I was with Will. And it wasn't what you think. We were

just..." She trailed off with a smile that piqued the Doctor's curiosity

even more.

"Just what?

Deanna laughed. "Has anyone ever told you that you're very nosey?"

Beverly smiled somewhat sheepishly back at her friend. "What can I say?

I have no life and I have to live vicariously through my friends..."

Deanna blushed. "There's really not much to tell, Beverly. We have

just been spending more time together. You know that Will has been under a

tremendous amount of stress and he has not had the opportunity to really

share it with anyone."

"Ah…So he was sharing his stress with you at six AM?" Beverly asked,

closely watching her friend's expression for any clue to the truth.

Deanna rolled her eyes. "...we'd just woken up."

The doctor leaned forward eagerly. "You spent the night with him?"

"Yes Beverly. We were just cuddling…

"Deanna how do you expect me to believe…"

"Really," the embarrassed empath emphasized at her friends frank stare.

For the last two nights if you must know. Will's been so upset…after the

thing with Hai…I just couldn't leave him..." she spoke reflectively.

Beverly was not following this conversation very well, but stayed quiet

in hopes she was going to find out why Hai was confined to quarters. "The

thing with Hai?"

When Troi belatedly realized she had voiced her thoughts out loud she

glared. "Beverly, if I tell you, I want you to swear not to mention it to

Will? He's already feeling uncomfortable enough about what happened."

Beverly made a crossing motion over her heart to reassure Deanna, who

promptly settled deeper into her chair, glad to finally have someone to

share with. Even ship's counselor needed to talk sometimes, and Beverly was

often the recipient of her musings. When she finished she looked expectantly

at Beverly who said nothing. Deanna tried to understand the mixed

impressions she was getting from her friend.

"Most people would expect Will Riker to thoroughly enjoy that kind of

aggression by a beautiful woman." Beverly finally said. "Will does have

that reputation, whether deserved or not. Maybe Hai thought she was giving

him a thrill." Deanna held her protest, realizing that she could hardly

expect Beverly to understand. She made a decision, and with much care,

explained just what Imzadi meant. Finally Beverly was able understand the

full import of what had happened, and why it was so upsetting to Deanna that

it was Hai, and not herself that Will had unknowingly unburdened himself to.

Heros ten A

Will cautioned Shelby to not take any unnecessary chances on the

Estbrooke. As the turbolift closed on her wry grin, he was reminded of

himself when he had led the away teams. His mind clicked off the options.

"Data, calibrate the path of the Borg and set our course accordingly. For

now I want to stay about fifty meters off the port bow of the Estebroke.

When we're in position update me on our best bet for fighting the Borg.

Geordi, how much warp power can you give us?" The engineer's voice was

neutral. "Warp five right now sir. But with a little luck I'll have it up to

warp six in a couple of hours." Riker shook his head. "I need warp eight

Geordi, and I need photon torpedoes and phasers fully charged. We're going

to need it within the next hour." Riker would have bet that Geordi would

argue the task's impossibility; but his response was affirmative. "I'm on it

sir. I'll do the best I can Captain. LaForge out."

Riker knew that the crew was awaiting his orders, expecting another

miracle. Fear made his mouth dry, and he blessed the foresight that had made

him offload the families and non-pertinent civilians. Every one present here

was starfleet through and through, and all had signed up with eyes wide open,

and full knowledge that each mission may well be their last. It was scant

comfort, but it did relieve the burden he felt for the safety of the ships


Will scanned the massive amounts of data Shelby transferred it back to

the Enterprise, his eyes burning with fatigue. Data's initial analysis was

still inconclusive, save for one fact that the logs made perfectly clear.

The Borg had destroyed the ship. What they had been doing in this sector was

the mystery Will worried over as he retreated to the ready room and grabbed a

cup of coffee. "Riker to Captain Picard."

"Yes Will," the captain said, his voice more clear and steady than it had

been in weeks.

"Sir, if you could meet me in the ready room to discuss strategy. I've

got the logs from the Estbrooke." Will's shoulders sagged under the weight

of responsibility. "Sir, they don't seem to hold much of interest." Will

eased himself into Picards chair but quickly stood back up. It seemed as if

sitting in the Captains chair while talking to him were somehow wrong.

"Data's been working on weapons systems with LaForge. Somehow Geordi's

pulled warp seven out of his hat and is trying to bring us fully up to

speed." Will waited through the long pause.

"So we will be engaging the Borg soon." It was a statement.

Will nodded, "Yes sir. As soon as the away team returns we will leave.

"I'm on my way. Picard out."

Will sat finally and gingerly sipped his scalding coffee as his thoughts

retreated to this morning with Deanna. The thread of her emotions remained

wrapped like a soft fiber around his heart. How he had ever given up being

connected to her like this amazed him. The memories washed through him, and

then he compartmentalized it, needing to concentrate on more urgent, but far

less pleasant matters. Data's voice came over the comm "Captain please

report to the bridge." Riker raised his eyebrows. "Report Commander Data."

"Captain, long range sensors are picking up a ship traveling at warp 9.7

on a course of 00.254 by 213.00." Riker's gut clenched. "Probable

destination?" Data's fingers flew over his console.

"Sir probable destination is a densely populated sector in the Halanee

zone at the northern end of the quadrant."

Riker exhaled and hit his combadge while carefully smoothing all

tension from his voice while calling the yellow alert. "Data, change

coordinates to intercept. Geordi, hang on. I'm going to need everything you

can give me!"

The next fifteen minutes was frenetic as the away team returned and

took their places on the bridge. Stars jumped and blurred as the Enterprise

leapt through space at warp seven. Will gripped the arm of the command chair

and leaned forward, every muscle screaming for action. When the turbolift

doors opened, he knew without looking that Deanna had entered. Her eyes

reflected his anxiety. "This will never do," he thought, and disconnect his

emotions from hers at the same time he rolling his aching shoulders.

Immediately, the near imperceptible threads of Deanna's calming touch began

to unknot his gut. He closed his eyes, realizing that it was going to be

impossible for him to sever their connection; for a moment he imagined he

could travel on the empathic bridge that was being built between them.

The Enterprise drew ever closer on an intersecting path with what he

knew must be the Borg vessel. Riker paced, and they closed the final

distance, the massive cube filling the viewscreen. Before he could issue the

command to fire, the ship rocked violently. Half thrown from his feet into

the ops panel, Riker held his side and gasped out the command for return fire

and evasive manuvers.


Deanna struggled to maintain her footing as the ship was hit by another

barrage of Borg weaponry. Her shoulder burned as she held on for dear life

while the ships gravometric stabilizers fluctuated wildly. Few kept their

footing or their seats as the ship yawed and bucked. Deanna hit her cheek

and tasted the salty sweetness of blood. One solitary Borg materialized on

the bridge. "Intruder on the bridge," Worf shouted above the cacophony of

sound, shooting with his phaser set to kill. The Borg drone collapsed in an

ungainly heap, servos twitching grotesquely. "Randomize the shield

modulations again on a higher band Data," Riker shouted hoarsely.

"Randomizing," Data said as if he were pouring afternoon tea.

Deanna was immobilized momentarily by the terror of several young bridge

crew-members. Two Borg had materialized suddenly, almost on top of them.

The android threw himself an impossible distance and grabbed it's servo-arm,

twisting sharply until the artificial limb broke away, but the dis-armed Borg

only stopped for a moment before stolidly advancing again. Worfs harsh yell

modulated into a full throated battle cry, and he yanked the lines from the

neck of the handicapped Borg. Muscles bulging, he broke it's neck with a

mighty twist. Deanna's face blanched when she saw the life leave the drone

at the same time she heard the sharp crack of bone snapping.

Though she missed the materialization of two more Borg behind her, Will's

panic alerted her seconds before she heard him cry her name. One of the Borg

grabbed her injured shoulder, but the red and black blur that tackled the

Borg, brought all three of them down with limbs flailing. Deanna tumbled out

of reach, the breath knocked out of her for a moment. As she pulled herself

painfully up the console she saw that Will had landed heavily with the Borg

on top of him. His escape was slowed by some painful injury that hampered

him as he twisted from beneath the stunned drone. Deanna held her breath as

he finally scrabbled wildly in an attempt to elude the deadly grasp of it's

servo-mechanisms. He seemed to be free on him, until the other Borg's pincer

clamped hard onto Will's bicep. The fear that filled him with adrenaline

filled her as well as he twisted his arm so savagely that the muscle tore,

leaving the Borg holding both scraps of his uniform and of himself. Scooting

across the floor like a three-legged quadruped, Will vainly tried to distance


Smoke roiled through the damaged ops station and sparks still flew as

the vast ship shuddered with instability. Will threw Deanna and then Shelby

a desperate glance but neither had any help for him. Deanna knew that he'd

rather die than let them assimilate him. Will caught the Klingons eye and

Deanna felt the strength of their determination. In tandem they attacked the

same Borg. Will jumped up onto a console and threw himself from above and

Worf followed suit from below. They took practically tore the drone in half,

taking him to the deck through sheer brute force. Worf's yell of triumph was

almost lost in the noise of the deteriorating bridge, but Deanna could see

through the smoke as he raised a gory Klingon H'tam and saluted Will as he

grinned back at the Klingon. But the nightmare continued and still more Borg

materialized onto his bridge. Dragging himself painfully off the floor, Will

saw that the remaining Borg had begun moving towards Deanna. Panic driven

adrenaline filled him, and he yelled like a madman and broke into a lurching


Deanna sensed Will's desperate mental scream, but it was too late.

"Deanna! Move," Will's hoarse voice cut through the spell. There was a Borg

directly in front of her, but suddenly Will roughly pulled the Borg around

till it faced him instead of her. She knew then that Will had no idea of

what to do.

The Borg spoke "Riker… William… commander…" Defeater of Locutus. You

will be assimilated. Two more Borg materialized on either side of him, one

of whom clamped hard onto Will's torn bicep. Deanna felt the pain that

brought him to his knees and willed her strength to him, but his head hung

down. "Captain," the Klingon shouted, brandishing his H'Tam. The Klingon

threw the foot long dagger, haft first. Will raised up his head just in time

to snatch the weapon out of the air as the Borg transporter beam caught him.

Picard arrived on the bridge that looked like a vision from hell. His

eyes sought Will through the smoke of half a dozen burning consoles and froze

when they met Deanna's. Worf's angry roar pulled their attention back to

Will, who stood ensnared by Borg on either side. His face was almost

obscured with his own blood, but he raised the Klingon weapon in his fist.

Deanna received the backlash of Picard's anger and fear, and her heart

clenched as Will shimmered out of existence from the bridge in the custody of

the Borg. "Will!" she cried, clutching her injured arm.

Jean Luc Picard echoed hers with his own quiet grief. "Will," he

whispered silently. Deanna pushed her empathic senses to touch the Captain,

but in those few seconds since Will had disappeared, Picard had hardened his

heart as if his former first officer was already dead. "Life as a Borg drone

is far worse than no life at all," he intoned.

But for the moans of the wounded, the bridge was stricken silent.

Those who remained were full of uncertainty, left without leadership for the

second time in as many weeks. Shelby's face betrayed her sick dread only for

a second as she must have realized that she was "it" now. Just as Riker had

assumed command for Picard, she must do the same for Riker, but she felt ill

prepared to take his place. It didn't take a mind reader to see that same

thought reflected in the eyes of Worf and Troi, and even Data's. All this

had only taken seconds before her gaze, at last, rested on Picard. "They

will Will's knowledge as they used mine." He told her quietly. "It must be


What Shelby said now must have went completely against every ambitious

grain in her body. "Captain Picard? Captain Riker has told me on several

occasions that you are the finest officer he has ever had the privilege to

serve under. I believe that the Enterprise would be best served with you in

the big seat."

Jean Luc grimaced, the sight of the dead Borg pushing aside the dull

shroud of fear and the sorrow that cloaked him. He could no longer walk

away, and fresh anger removed him from his indecision. He acknowledged

Shelby's offer with a nod. "Thank you Commander" he said then raised his

voice and spoke with cutting clarity so everyone on the bridge would hear and

understand. "We will draw the line here." His voice filled the bridge with

it's authority and confidence, infusing the crew with strength as they

absorbed his determination. Commander Shelby drew herself up to attention.

"Awaiting your orders, sir."


One thing Will Riker had learned over the course of the years, was how

to take advantage of that split second when your mind reoriented itself at

the end of the transport, even before you had control of you body. It gave

him an infinitesimal advantage over the Borg that held him, but it was

enough. Slashing downward with the Klingon weapon, he spun dizzily from the

drone's grasp. He half ran half lurched down the hallway. His hand

steadying him and leaving a blood smeared trail as his feet pounded down the

nearly deserted corridor. The collective mentality that prompted the worker

drones to ignore him despite the fact that two of their fellows were in hot

pursuit amazed him, and he almost ran right past the answer to the

destruction of the Borg cube. The huge computer array caught his eye and

arrested his headlong flight. He caught his arm on the doorframe, skidding

wildly into the main control center and slapped his chest, but his combadge

had been torn away in his struggle with the Borg. "Damn!" He exclaimed,

backing into a darkened corner as the two pursuing Borg entered the chamber.

He felt completely powerless, knowing he had the info that would allow the

Enterprise to destroy these Borg, but having no way to communicate it. His

adrenaline was depleted and his exhaustion was like a heavy wet blanket that

hindered movement as he tried to keep a console between himself and his

pursuers. The sound of metal against metal alerted him, and glancing down,

he saw his combadge hanging on the shreds of his shirt. Despite grim

desperation, he grinned.

Onboard the Enterprise Worf's stiff posture reflected his surprise.

"incoming message is Commander Riker!" He stated.

Picard acted as if he was not the least bit surprised. "Let's hear

it." He said calmly.

Riker's ragged breathing was loud on the silent bridge. It was

clear he was being pursued, but he got the words out. "Target Enax this


"Commander Shelby. Make it so." Picard ordered quickly. "Data.

Lock on to Commander Riker's coordinates. Beam him...."

"transporters are not operational, sir." Data reminded him.

"Will..." Picard began, but Riker had left his link open, and all

could quickly tell from the sounds coming over the comm link that he was not

listening any longer. A Borg voice could be heard clearly. "Resistance is will be assimilated..."

Before the comm link cut out they all heard Riker's grunt of pain, and

his defiant expletive, as old as humanity itself. Inelegant, but expressive,

then they heard no more.



Will had hesitated for a split second, unsure whether to use the

dagger on the Borg or on himself. His instinct told him to fight… to break run for his life. But a deeper voice asked him where he could run,

on a ship filled with thousands of Borg? Duty screamed at him to turn the

knife on himself, to plunge it into his own heart, before he could be

assimilated and his knowledge could be turned against the

federation...against his friends...against Deanna. The Klingon proverb

reverberated in his mind "It is a good day to die". There was no longer room

to retreat backed up against the wall as the Borg advanced. Reaching a

decision, he repositioned his blade and with a loud cry he buried it to the



On board the Enterprise Picard took his seat in the center chair and

calmly issued orders. "Commander Shelby, bring the Enax system on line. We

must use it before Commander Riker is fully assimilated and the collective

acquires his knowledge of our new defensive measures." He spoke crisply,

with no hint of the anguish that burned him. "Evasive maneuvers, Mr. Data."

The captain was not surprised that the Borg held their fire. They had the

human who had conquered them before, and it would take time for them to

complete the assimilation process. Jean Luc had no doubt that they planned

to use Riker as they had used Locutus before him. He shuddered at what his

first officer was going through. There was nothing he could do to prevent

that suffering, but he took comfort in the fact that it wouldn't last long.

Shelby's voice shook slightly, but she swiftly issued the orders to

power up the system and lock on target. One man's life...even that of Will

Riker...meant nothing, not in the face of the destruction the Borg would

cause if unstopped. "Enax on-line and locked." She reported. Picard

nodded. "Mr. Data... take us in for implant." The Enax system was a

single, miniscule "torpedo" aimed at the central computer complex on the Borg

ship. The biggest problem with it's use had been locating the central

complex. Borg shields protected the vessel from scanning...but in this case

Will Riker had managed to give them what they needed. Within moments of

contact, nanoprobes should infect the entire Borg vessel, leading to massive

systems overload. Picard sat forward in his chair. He knew they had only

one fleeting shot, and it must be done quickly, before the Borg that had been

William Riker could act against them. And even if that one shot reached it's

destination, there was no guarantee that it would do what the theorists had

promised. The miniscule probe arced away from the Enterprise to a few

moments of collective breath-holding until Shelby, looking closely at the

tracking on her screen, reported "Enax delivered and deploying."

Instinctively, Picard glanced at Deanna Troi. He wanted to ask her if she

still had any sense of Riker, or if the assimilation was already complete.

Still, he knew it would make no difference either way. Even if Will was now

Borg he could do nothing to stop the spread of the nanoprobe implants.

Troi shifted her tear-filled gaze from the spectacle of the Borg cube on

the screen and met Picard's eyes. "I'm sorry, Counselor, but it is better

this way," he said softly. Deanna nodded, but her thoughts were not really

on Picard's words. She was feeling. Feeling Will's pain...feeling him

struggling against his captors...feeling his rage and despair.


Will twisted and plunged the dagger in and struggled awkwardly in the

dying Borg's grasp. Shoving the weapon with both hands, Will was squeezed by

it's sudden death convulsions as it died with the Klingon dagger piercing

it's brain. Hardly able to stand himself, he yanked the knife from beneath

the fallen foe's chin, and stubbornly

brandished it at his advancing enemies. Numbed fingers fumbled, trying to

find the control buttons on the dead Borg's arm. Picard had told him that's

where the transporter controls were imbedded. Slashing at the closest Borg

with his knife, he pressed the rounded button he hoped corresponded to

transport function. With any luck it still held it's programming for the

Enterprise bridge. The advancing Borg knocked the knife out of his hand and

smashed Will against the wall. He screamed with pain as the dagger fell from

his useless hand, and fought to not let his own despair choke him. Now he

would be unable to take his own life to prevent assimilation. The Borg

rushed him and he was crushed against the cold metal of the computer banks.

Weakened ribs cracked and gave way, but even with the intense pain, he still

fought the horror of the Borg probe heading towards his eye. "So this is how

it ends," he thought, finally unable to continue fighting. Compromised lungs

still struggled for breath as Borg held his head in place. Abruptly, Will was

plucked from the grasp of his captor, and shaken by the beam of the Borg's

transporter. It was nothing like the Enterprise's transport experience, and

Will's gorge rose when he felt like he was being turned inside out and back

again, and seconds later he materialized on the planet surface.


On the bridge, chaos had become order. "Multiple sytems failures.

Projected implosion in...four...three..two..." Deanna staggered, having

abruptly lost all sense of Will. The pain and the sense of suffocating

terror were gone.

"He will not suffer." Picard whispered as he caught her, although

Deanna was unsure if he was trying to comfort her or himself.

The cube on the screen seemed to shimmer for a moment before it

disintegrated in a spray of debris. The Enix system had worked as intended

and the Borg ship was no more. The bridge of the Enterprise remained silent,

and first the Ev'erean ensign quietly stood and bowed his head. The others

on the bridge silently followed suit. It seemed the right thing to do, a

moment of silence for their fallen captain.



Picard's mind raged, and he was unable to bow his head with the

others. Instead he forced himself to look out at the thinning debris of what

had once been the Borg vessel. His eyes burned, scalded by tears he

stubbornly refused to release, and all the while his heart burned with anger

and guilt. It was a laughably cruel twist of fate that had put him in the

self-same position that his first officer had faced just a few short weeks

before. When Picard had been transformed into part of the Borg collective,

Will had made the same decision, but there was a difference, and the

difference ate at Picards soul. Will had found a way to rescue him from a

fate that was far worse than death. This time, there had been no other

option than to launch the torpedo... at least this is what his mind tried to

convince his heart. Will Riker would not be saved, not today… not ever.

Picard bowed his head finally under the crushing burden of guilt. No one

would deny that he'd had good reason, the best of reasons to fire; but it

couldn't erase the fact that he had killed his first officer, and more

damningly his friend. Picard pressed fingers against his eyes, trying to

stay the flood of tears that wanted to fall. His trembling fingertips were

unable to suppress damning visions of Will that flashed before him.

"Captain… he's not dead!"

Picard's sigh was wrenched from deep in his chest as he touch his

counselor's arm with an uncharacteristic display of concern.

"Counselor...Deanna," he amended. Commander Riker is dead," he said, as

tightness in his throat threatened to choke him. His hand eloquently lead

her gaze to the main view screen and the scattered debris.

"No…" she shook her head. "NO!! I can sense him Captain. He's alive."

Deanna looked about to stamp her foot in frustration. "Sir, I swear I would

know if he were dead. I would feel it," she said, thumping her chest with

her fist. Pain darkened her eyes, and she made his own unwilling captives as

she struggled to explain. "It's part of being...of being Imzadi," she said,

her voice trailing off to a whisper. "Please Captain, " she asked.

Deanna's bearing was painfully erect, but her dark eyes tore apart his


Picard stared out the view screen at the debris. He knew Riker must be

dead. His gut told him so, as did the evidence of his eyes. But his heart

stubbornly twisted at her words; and it was his heart that convinced him to

hope. Jean Luc made his decision, his hazel eyes brightened and extended the

same hope to Deanna. Turning abruptly, he snapped out orders as if he had

never been gone from the bridge. "Data, I want a systematic scan of the

planets surface for human life signs. The native population is far from

humanoid if I remember, and if Commander Riker is indeed down there we shall

be able to locate him once he is in range of the sensor sweeps. Shelby,

contact Starfleet and apprise them of our location and our engagement of the

Borg. Tell them we are searching for a survivor and will make haste for home

once our search has been successful." Picard looked up from the search grid

and Deanna met his questioning gaze. "He's alive Captain. I can't explain.

I'd know if he were dead. Will's alive," she repeated stubbornly, her stoic

conviction under-girding his own lack of faith. He wondered, and not for the

first time, about their mysterious bond. "Widen the search to include caves,

bodies of water, and subterranean areas as well." Data raised one eyebrow as

his fingers skimmed the stations controls lightly. "Done sir." Ten

agonizing minutes crept by until Data's voice broke the silence. "Sir, I

believe I have located a humanoid's lifesign located in a subterranean cavern

approximately five meters below the planets surface. Picard nodded and

wasted no time. "Dr. Crusher prepare to beam down with Lieutenant Worf. I

believe we may have located Commander Riker.



Riker lost consciousness seconds after the gut wrenching transport into

the lightless subterranean cavern, having no idea that he escaped the Borg

vessel just seconds before it's disintegration. The turgid water of a frigid

underground stream tugged hungrily at his uniform, slowly soaking him as he

lay on his back with one arm flung over his head and the other across his

chest. Heavy mist crawled across the water, blanketing the ground as it

filled the low places of cave with it's swirling particles. Heavy droplets,

soaked through the dense fabric of his uniform, chilling his skin until

finally, his own shivering wakened him. The cold pulled him unwillingly back

from the numbing comfort of unconsciousness and depositing him into a world

of unbelievable hurt. He tried to assess the damage to himself, every

movement punctuated by a gasp or a groan. The whole of his left arm throbbed

from fingertips to shoulder. Carefully, he wiggled his fingers, only to gasp

as arrows of pain coursed up his arm. Will's thoughts were quickly becoming

slow and confused. He decided that he might be better off soaking his

swollen hand in the cold water, and cautiously, he managed to move it off his

chest and let it fall into the icy stream. Unexpected agony arched his back,

and blackness almost claimed him again as the unstable fractured ribs

snapped. Will felt hot and then clammy as he cursed and trembled, barely

able to hold back the moans that echoed weirdly through the cavern.

Bleakly aware that there was no one to help him, he held onto

consciousness only through tenacity of will, spurred by the terror that if he

passed out he would die here. Slowing his panicked breathing, Will tried to

focus on something other than the pain. "Ok… so it wasn't one of my brighter

ideas. But at least my hand is numb," he whispered. Time passed, but it

seemed disjointed as his thoughts became increasingly muddied. His skull

hurt, and gingerly he touched his face, frowning as he brought it away sticky

with blood. Invisible weights pushed on his chest, making it difficult to

catch a full breath. He added this problem to his "shit you've really done

it now Riker," list. Will doggedly tried to asses the damages and carefully

touched his side, but the grinding of bone upon bone brought an immediate

halt to further exploration. "Damn it hurts. I can hardly breathe."

Fearfully, he tried to think of a plan, ANY plan. "If I move I puncture a

lung, but if I lay here I die from exposure. Damn, I survived the Borg. I'm

not going to die in a puddle on some forsaken planet." Unable to lay and

wait for death he fortified himself while gathering the energy to move.

Riker imagined himself lying in his bed, Deanna snuggled up to his back and

the blankets warm around them; but the cave was too cold and he was too wet.

"So damn cold…" his body shivered with increasing violence, as it attempted

to warm itself.

Desperate tears of frustration escaped as he tried and then failed to

lever himself up on his elbows. Too much precious energy was wasted in the

laborious process. Will stopped, visualized himself as a Klingon, impervious

to pain and suffering. It didn't work. He pictured Lieutenant Worf, knowing

his Klingon friend would hardly give these injuries a second thought.

Confident that he felt Worf-like enough, Will ignored the yammering in his

skull as he dragged his numb hand out of the water. With much panting and

groaning, he rolled onto his side, ecstatic at his accomplishment until he

discovered that he was only centimeters from the stream with no where else to

go. Unwilling to give up, but unable to stay in this position, he reasoned

that he could turn over and get his good arm under him to use for leverage.

Unfortunately he was wrong.

While trying to control his sideways fall, his injured arm and hand were

entrapped under his left side. Agonizing pain paralyzed him and he cursed as

he lost both his Klingon focus and his balance. Inner voices screamed at him

to move, but he fell face down into the stream and immediately drew in a lung

full of dark water. His struggles were insignificant and soon ceased. Riker

lay half-floating and half anchored to the cold shore, unmoving except for

his arm that floated loosely as it was tugged by the current.


Had Worf and Beverly Crusher not materialized at that moment, Riker

would have escaped the Borg, only to be drowned in a foot of water. As the

pale beam of their torches cast light into a chamber untouched by the light

of day, jumbled rock formations cast enormous shadows that shifted and danced

as the lights moved, creating an eerie and surrealistically alive landscape.

Except where their torches illuminated the cave, the blackness was absolute,

insatiable as it sucked the light into its inky nothingness. "Will?"

Beverly called hopefully. Worf frowned unseen, all of his senses heightened.

Scans had shown no other life signs in this cavern, but Klingon background

and training forbade him to announce their presence so blatantly. Poised

lightly on the balls of his feet, he turned in a slow circle, scanning the

area with his tricorder. "Over there..." he gestured with his torch,

following Crusher as she scrambled with surprising speed and agility over the


Beverly followed the sound of moving water, and quickly spotted Will

lying face down and floating motionless, only anchored to land by his leg

that still remained on the rocks.. Time seemed to slow as she covered the

last few yards, and she dropped to his side on the jagged rock, ignoring the

pain in her knees as she grabbed Will by the hair, and using all her

strength, desperately hauled his down-turned face from the water.

Automatically she began rapid calculations to figure how long it had taken

them to find him from the time of the Borg destruction. She knew that if

he'd been underwater that long it was already too late. Worf plunged into

the frigid water and helped her turn Will completely over and haul his six

foot four inch frame onto the rocks. His lips were blue and the color had

leached from his face as he lay with his head propped on her knees while she

searched for a pulse, all the while pushing his wet hair back out of his eyes

and telling him to snap out of it.


Worf's urgent request for immediate transport sounded distant as she

felt the cold grip of the transporter moving their molecules almost

instantaneously to the floor of treatment room one. Beverly's fingers shook,

trying to find a pulse. When Will began coughing weakly, relief flooded her,

and she turned his head to the side as he retched miserably. Beverly and

Alyssa Ogowa helped support his heaving body as it gave up the river water he

had swallowed. He cursed weakly at the pain his wretched body was inflicting

on him and lay gasping against Beverly. She ordered pain medication and held

her star patient possessively for a long moment as his eyes fluttered. The

mist slowly cleared from his blue eyes before they locked onto her own and

grateful recognition filled them. Will's teeth began to chatter, but his

grin was unmistakable. "Ddddddddid I ever ttttttell you how bbbeautiful you

are doc…tttor?" he whispered, as tears of relief filled both their eyes .

Beverly smiled. "You certainly picked a fine time to go swimming Will."


The very act of breathing was painful and Will grimaced before

answering. "Wasn't s-swimming - was j-just washing mmy fff-ace Bbbev." He

sounded for all the world like he was offended and Beverly couldn't help

laughing as she shook her head at Alyssa. "I'll make you a deal Will... I

won't tell anyone you nearly drowned washing your face if you promise not to

practice your dead-man's float on me again." He didn't answer, suddenly

becoming dead weight in her arms after he tried wearily to nod his agreement.

When he tried to speak again, Beverly cut him off and motioned for the

orderlies to place him on the biobed. His inability to refrain from moaning

as they moved him alerted Beverly that he needed more pain medication. She

immediately ordered another measured dose of the powerful narcotic and he

barely flinched as she pressed the hypospray firmly against his neck. As the

orderlies carefully settled him on the bed, relief began to slowly relax his

contorted features.


Picard left Shelby in charge of the bridge and nodded for Deanna to

accompany him as soon as Worf requested transport to sickbay. Neither spoke

during their head-long rush through the door of the treatment room. Their

mission was thwarted by a young nurse, who nervously bite her lip when she

told them they would have to wait before they could see the commander.

Deanna had the benefit of being able to sense Will, and nodded, accepting the

edict with typical grace, fully trusting Beverly to use all of her expertise

for Will. Jean Luc Picard, on the other hand, had no sense of what was

happening behind the closed doors of the treatment room, and his mind not

only imagined the worst, but believed it as well. Unaccustomed to waiting

for access to his CMO, he paced the length of the little room continually

while waiting for word of Riker's condition. He looked down at his own hand,

remembering what the flesh had looked like, melded to the parts of him that

were fully Borg.


The medical team worked efficiently to cut off the Commander's wet

clothing as Beverly issued a stream of calm commands to nurse Ogowa. "Hook

up the intra-thermal unit and set it to human parameters with an inter-phasic

resonance of four; get the osteogen unit and bring me a hypo with 2.5 mg of

Gentaminocin." After complying, Ogowa cleaned the torn tissue in Riker's arm

to prep for regeneration. When Beverly herself was satisfied that there was

indeed no permanent pulmonary damage, she deadened the area around his broken

ribs and aligned them before positioning the osteogen unit above his purpling

side. She muttered to her herself, not aware that he had wakened as she

worked. "Nothing that we can't fix again this time, Will." His shivering

diminished, and his color was returning as the intra-thermal heat began

warming him from the inside out. Will smiled faintly. "That's ggggood

doc... I hhhoped that a fffew flattering words would do the trick." He tried

to move and stopped at the lancing pain in his side. "Not that they ww..

weren't trrrrrrue of course," he assured her. Finally the agony was fading

to a dull aching pain across his side and back, but weariness had placed

leaden weights on his eyelids. Medication warred against the resistance of

his consciousness, pushing him unwillingly into its sedating grip. "Can I

see Deanna?" he whispered while awkwardly forcing his eyes open against the

insistent pull of gravity. Beverly continued to monitor him as she worked.

Had his condition not been so serious, the effect of his struggles would have

been comic. Each time he forced his eyes open as he felt them start to

close, they rolled insistently backwards. "She's… she's in the waiting room

Bev..." His eyes fluttered closed with finality before Beverly had a chance

to reply to his request.

"And just what makes you think she's in the waiting room, Mister?" She

said with wry amusement, not expecting an answer.

"Um...Doctor Crusher sir? Counselor Troi IS out there...with the

Captain. I told them they needed to wait there until the commander was

stabilized." the young nurse nervously volunteered.

Beverly's eyebrows raised and she stifled a chuckle as she pictured Jean

Luc Picard being told to wait. She reviewed Will's readouts thoughtfully.

Though she didn't understand the mysteries of the Imzadi bond that Will and

the counselor shared, Deanna had told her enough about it to make it seem

both wonderful and terrible. She dismissed the young nurse and asked Alyssa

to finish cleaning the commander up." Beverly walked through the door to

encounter Deanna's serene smile and Jean Luc's intense frown. "How is he,

Doctor?" Crusher smiled reassuringly. "He's a little damp Jean Luc, and

needs some time to heal. But he's going to be all right, and I'm sure he'll

soon be none the worse for the wear." Beverly was tired and brushed her hair

out of her eyes as a shiver shook her. Her wet uniform which still clung to

her and she smelled decidedly of river water. She took a towel gratefully

from her nurse. "Nurse Ogowa is cleaning him up. You can go in if you like."

Picard's frown deepened. "The Borg implants...?" He asked nervously.

Beverly shook her head and touched his arm. "Jean's alright…

Will wasn't assimilated. Bev shivered again, this time not with cold. He

did practically drown himself in a foot of water though Captain, but he came

up cracking jokes. He's the same old Will Riker we all know and love..." She

glanced sidelong at Deanna Troi and added softly "...some of us more than


Deanna shrugged her shoulders in tactic admission as Beverly nodded

towards the door. "By the way, Will told me you were out here and asked to

see you... but that was just before the narcotics did him in. He's out, but

you can still see him if you want."

Deanna could sense Will's presence in the next room, but what she

needed now was to see him, and to touch him. Realizing that Beverly was

hinting for her to leave anyway, Deanna entered the treatment room. Alyssa

Ogawa looked up from her work with a smile. The counselor never seemed to be

far away if the commander was sick or became injured. Alyssa held the sonic

cleanser she was using to dry and disintegrate the mud that still covered

much of Captain Riker. Her eyes crinkled, but her voice was serious.

"Counselor, don't you imagine that he was one of those little boys who always

came home with both knees torn out of his pants and completely covered with

mud," she said.

Deanna smoothed Will's disheveled hair and touched the mud that was

still streaked his handsome face. "Well. I suppose that he was cute enough

that he usually got away with it Alyssa," Deanna replied, rubbing gently at

the smudge on his cheek. Alyssa watched the counselor from the corner of her

eye as she worked. "Counselor? Would you mind finishing up here? I have

some other duties to attend to... Just don't forget the lotion. Sonic's

will dry out his skin something fierce." Both women exchanged a silent look,

and Deanna was fully aware of Alysa's ruse; but regardless, she accepted it

gratefully. Trying to ignore the machinery that was repairing his abused

body, and moving carefully around the brace that held his hand so it could

receive the full benefit from the smaller osteogen unit, a tired smile graced

her lips as she took advantage of the rare opportunity to take care of her

Imzadi. Through long experience, she knew that Will was very uncomfortable

showing any vulnerability, especially when someone else was taking care of

him. She was sure that one of the reasons for his aversion to sickbay. The

lose of his mother at such a young age, coupled with having a distant and

demanding father who ridiculed any show of weakness in his young son was

probably the other reason.

When the mud was removed, Deanna lathered Will all over, carefully

applying the antiseptic gel with her fingers and then removing it with the

sonic cleanser. As she worked she allowed her mind to drift until her

awareness was only of the feel of muscles under his smooth skin and its

contrast the soft hair on his chest. When every trace of gel was gone, she

warmed the lotion between her palms and rubbed it in, starting from his feet

and moving carefully up the rest of his body. Slowly, she smoothed the

lotion over his abdomen, mapping out each muscle as she and drew her fingers

through his chest hair in long lazy strokes. Deanna avoided the angry purple

of his side while she carefully massaged him as she worked the lotion deep

into his skin. Deanna's hands slipped down to his abdomen again and Will

gave a long sigh in his sleep. Pulled slowly from her reverie by his gaze,

she met dark eyes that smoldered a smoky gray blue. They're unguarded look

touched her heart, and conveyed emotions far deeper than she had expected.

She folded her hands, suddenly aware of how far she had strayed from her

original intent of simply cleaning him up. Caught in the act of enjoying the

simple process of touching him, color flooded her cheeks. But there was no

one but Will to witness her embarrassment, and suddenly it didn't seem to

matter. His words were soft and slurred by sleep. "Don stop...please...."

he asked, his eyes fluttering heavily before he sighed once again and

returned to a sedated sleep. Deanna completed her task and held his hand,

closing her eyes as she enjoyed the close sense of his presence. When the

door to the treatment room opened thirty minutes later she broke her

meditative trance and looked up. Captain Picard barely glanced at her as he

tentatively moved to the side of the bed and regarded his first officer.

While his stern countenance betrayed nothing, Deanna sensed his enormous

relief at the sight of Will's smooth flesh uncorrupted by Borg implants. He

reached out, and for the briefest of moments he laid his hand on his first

officers restrained forearm before nodding to Deanna and Beverly, leaving the

room without a single word. Beverly showed her concern, but Deanna Troi

shook her head. "It's alright, Beverly. He's just being the captain again."

Beverly scrubbed her face and smiled wryly. "How about Will counselor?

If Jean Luc is ready to be captain Will ready to go back to being

First Officer?" Deanna nodded. "I'm sure he is...all along I sensed from

him that he viewed his role as caretaker until Captain Picard was ready to

resume his duties. His loyalty to the captain is far stronger than his

desire to command." The two women looked down abruptly as Will Riker's

voice broke into their conversation. "You know what desire of mine is

stronger than any loyalty, Counselor?" He murmured with a pathetic attempt

at flirtation. Deanna smiled at him. "Don't even bother Will Riker..." she

teased, "I think you're too weak and sleepy right now to desire anything

other than some rest."

"You'd be surprised." He protested, smiling as his voice dropping to a


Deanna exchanged an amused look with the doctor, and then leaned close

to Will, her voice soft and sultry. "Nothing surprises me about you,

William. But I may just have a few surprises for you." She ran a single

finger down his bicep and he shivered. The strength and the immediacy of

both his emotional and physical response did surprise her. "Watch yourself,

Deanna." He whispered. "I'm not nearly as incapacitated as you seem to

think." Beverly chuckled at her cue to leave. "I'll leave you two

alone...but remember, Will...if your physiological signs skew you'll have

half of sickbay in here checking your heart rate." Will was struggling so

hard to stay with them Beverly wondered if she shouldn't sedate him again.

He looked hard at her with a dark warning in his eyes, almost as if he could

read her mind. "I'm fairly certain that there's nothing wrong with my

heart..." Will said at last, his eyes turned toward Deanna as he spoke.

"No…no there's not..." Deanna agreed without taking her gaze from the

intensity of his blue eyes. Beverly slipped quietly out of the room with

neither of them aware that she had gone. Her smug smile stayed in place all

the way to her office. She replicated a cup of coffee, wondering what had

begun the change she saw between Deanna and Will. Irregardless of the

mystery, she was very happy to see it finally might be happening. If two

people were ever meant to be together, it was her two closest friends.


Chapter 12

Almost a week had passed since Will had been returned to the Enterprise,

much the worse for wear. But this morning he had wakened for the first time,

not feeling as though he'd been pulverized, chewed up and spit out. "Good

morning, Will." Jean Luc said briskly, striding into sickbay. Will Riker

looked up from the book he was reading and smiled. "Good morning, Captain."

Will was filled with deep satisfaction to see Picard acting much like his

former self again. "What are you reading?" The captain asked

conversationally while claiming the seat that has only been evacuated by

Deanna Troi two hours earlier.

Will shrugged. "Well..I'm not sure how to pronounce it. It's a Klingon

novel Worf dropped off as a way of punishment I think . So far three people

have been disemboweled, and the hero is planning a ritual suicide to atone

for not disemboweling four." His smile faltered and he caught his breath as

he hitched himself up in the bed. "It's not really my style sir, but I'm

just trying to kill some time until your CMO lets me out of here. Could you

pull some strings?" he asked with straight-faced innocence.

Picard's stare was blank. "If I've learned one thing over the years,

Will, it's that Beverly Crusher is immune to all manner of string pulling,

especially when it comes to releasing patients from sickbay. I'm afraid

you'll just have to be patient...although I think I can provide you with some

more interesting reading material, if you'd like..." he said, his voice


Will balked, supposing that the Captain's reading material would be no

more interesting than Worf's; Probably something historical, with men in

tights spewing thee's and thou's. But, being a diplomat by nature, he simply

shook his head. "No thanks. I've got some work to do when I've had enough

Klingon angst," he protested.

The Captain nodded and rose, his manner betraying his sudden

awkwardness. "Lieutenant Commander Hai has been transported by shuttle to

Starbase seven for a disciplinary hearing," he said. Will was unable to keep

the flush of embarrassment from betraying him, but Picard studied something

on the wall to give him some illusion of privacy before finishing up. "Well,

then Will...I'll leave you to your reading, and I promise I'll try and see

what I can do about Dr. Crusher." Will's smile almost reached his eyes. He

struggled to express what needed to be said. "Ah, yes, sir... and by the

way, sir...Deanna told me that after the Borg cube was destroyed, you

searched for me strictly on faith. I just wanted to thank you."

Picard halted his exodus from the room and stared at his own feet for

a long moment before facing Will. "Did Deanna also tell you that I fired on

the Borg cube, knowing that it would be totally destroyed, though I believed

you still to be aboard the vessel?" Guilt shone deep in the Captains eyes,

and Will could, at first, think of nothing to say. "I was quite certain that

I'd killed you, Will," Picard said, his voice roughened by emotion.

"Yes, she told me that sir." Riker paused, choosing his words carefully.

"And I know that if you hadn't, I would have questioned your fitness to

command the Enterprise. You, in fact, made the only possible decision..."

Will tried on a grin, "and should know by now that it takes

more than a bunch of Borg and a nannite-torpedo to kill me."

The captain refused to be drawn in by his first officer's pale attempt

at his former humor. He paced the length of the room. "Will, when you were

faced with the same decision a few weeks ago you chose not to fire on me.

Instead… you found a way to rescue me," Picard said. "and now, I

feel...well...that this how I repay you?"

Will lay back and closed leaden eyelids, suddenly depleted of every

particle of energy. He summoned the last of his reserve to speak after a

moment. "Captain, let's face it...we both made decisions that were difficult

to live with, but that we thought were the best for the ship and the

federation." He opened his eyes to glare at Picard. "Obviously those

decisions couldn't be about loyalty or friendship, or anything like

that...there wasn't room for that. Fortunately, we both turned out to be

lucky as hell. That's enough for me," he said shortly, "and I hope that

it'll be enough for you."

Picard considered his first officers words for a moment and then chuckled

faintly. "Yes. I suppose you're right, number one." He caught himself.

"Or, I should say, Captain.' "

Will smiled finally, the weight that had been squeezing his chest

loosening with relief. "No sir. A ship can have only one Captain...and

truthfully I'm sick and tired of it. She's all yours."

Picard acknowledged Will's step down. "In that case, Commander, I thank

you." He turned to leave, unwilling to attempt talking around the tightness

in his throat. He was almost to the door when Riker called out to him.

"Oh...and by the way, sir. I'm two weeks behind on the general reports.

They're all yours, too."

Jean Luc turned around to fully face his grinning first officer, his

pained expression evaporating as he shook his head in exasperation. "Will?

Didn't you learn anything from me during all these years as First Officer?

The Captain never does the general reports! He delegates them to his Number

One." Picard shook his head. "My my my. It's too bad you didn't have

Commander Shelby do them, because now they are all yours once again." Before

Will could recover enough to reply, Picard was already out the door.




Will stayed in sickbay one full week without complaint, and then further

surprised Beverly by agreeing to no duty for another week. Will lay

comfortably ensconced on his couch, surrounded by books and snacks, and

called out "come" as his door chimed to announce Deanna's arrival. They had

fallen into the habit of her dropping by for supper and conversation after

her day's appointments, and it seemed as if life was resuming it's previous

rhythm, with friendship instead of passion ruling their relationship. Her

serenity seemed unruffled as she dropped an armload of pads on the table

before leaning down to give him the brief kiss, which had been their custom

for years.

Only this time Will had different plans. He had thought long and hard

while convalescing, and today he had determined to proceed, even to the point

of risking their friendship for the hope of something much more. The fresh

scent of her greeted him as she leaned down to give him the usual sisterly

peck, but instead of reciprocating in kind, he lightly touched her face,

tentatively offering her more as he opened his emotions while gently

prolonging his kiss. Deanna was precariously balanced, leaning over him, and

placed both hands on his chest, and moved closer to him as he drew her with

the sweet invitation of his mouth. Will began to sit up, but Deanna pushed

him back into the cushions. Will relaxed and coaxed her against him as he

deepened his kiss and encouraged her to respond. His pulse quickened and he

couldn't help but be aroused by the feel of her as she molded her body to

his. She broke off the kiss and lay quietly against his chest. Will was

convinced that the rapid beating of his heart must be deafening in her ear.

Finally she pushed herself up onto her elbows and looked into his eyes,

mischief sparkling in her own. "What took you so long Imzadi? I was just

about to take matters into my own hands." And then, to his delight, she did.