Romulan Captor


                                                            Chapter One A


    It was late morning of the second daysince the crash. Tai Damrek, historian of the former Romulan ship, Artizon, lay propped against the shattered bulkhead.  He somberly watched as lazy dust motes, caught in the harsh beam of sunlight, squeezed through the cracked bulkhead of the shuttle. Though grateful that the small craft gave shelter from the burning rays of the red sun, he wished it offered more protection from its heat.

   Blistering sunlight poured through what had once been the shuttles' hatch, raising the internal temperature until sweat ran freely down the sides of his face, plastering black silken hair to his rounded skull.   The powder fine dust of the planet covered every surface, and had coated his skin and that of his captive as well Tai's expression remained impassive as he observed the human that lay curled up and unmoving on his side.  He hadn't stirred for hours and Tai wondered how long he would last without more medical help than he could get here.   Tai gently prodded him with his toe but it provoked little response.  He took a shaky breath, blessing the gods that he was not alone.  Total solitude unnerved him, shamed him, provoking a mindless panic that brought his dark vulnerabilities frighteninglyclose to the surface.  It had hindered him all of his life.  That was what happened in the best of circumstances. Now, marooned on a small planet that had two thirds more night than day, he was grateful to have the human's company, such as it was. 


      Running his finger aimlessly through the fine dust, Tai pondered his situation, quelling the anger that flared.  It was a useless emotion at this point.  His ironic mindset was an integrated part of his culture, and was deeply part of his own nature, so now he pondered the twist of fate that just scant hours before had seen him on his way into Federation space as a prisoner, and now made him the captor.


 This humans name was Commander Riker, a name that was all too familiar to the Romulan historian.  But it's importance had quickly evaporated under the intense heat of the day.  Riker had treated him more as a minor irritation than an important prisoner, not even trying to engage him in the inane conversation he'd been assured that all humans loved.  Mostly Tai had been ignored, making his biggest problem a journey that was long and boring.  Tai had not really minded however, as he had long lived anintellectual life and he had nothing to say to Riker, who was most likely all brawn and little brains.  At least that's what he told himself.   Now incaring for the human, he felt somewhat nonplussed by such close contact with arace he'd been taught to despise.


  'Isuppose you had to have some intellect or you'd never have made first officer to the Federation Flagship,' he said, talking out loud as if his unconsciouscaptive could answer him.      The doomed flight had seemed routine until they entered the Entary system. It was there that the small shuttlecraft unexpectedly developed major problems.  Tai had remained silent while the human fruitlessly tried to raise help through sub-space radio and fight theincreasingly unpredictable movements of their shuttlecraft.


 Tai hadn't greatly feared death, but he'd had a fleeting moments regret at the years that had separated his last visit to his aging parents.  The Federationofficer's struggle to stabilize the shuttle during its headlong plunge could almost have been amusing had their situation been less dire.  Riker had a surprisingly extensive vocabulary and had let loose a fluent stream of multilingual curses directed at worthless leased shuttles, and other entities that Tai knew nothing of.


 Just minutes before entering the planets atmosphere, Riker had suddenly looked up at him as if noticing for the first time that he was there.  He swore, releasing his force field and stumbling towards him across the shuttles tilted deck.  Grabbing onto his wrists, Riker managed to release Tai from his bonds and gestured for him to activate the safety field.  More quickly than anticipated, they broke the planet's atmosphere.  It was like hitting a stone wall.  The shuttle shuddered and bulkheads screeched with the increasing pressures on their joints.  The suddend eceleration threw the human from his feet, causing him to somersault through the air and hit the far console with a sickening thud.  As their tiny shuttle screamed to an everhigher pitch with the increasing G-force, it continued it's plunge to the planetoid.  Tai blacked out, remembering nothing until he regained consciousness in the ruined shuttle.                                                              



       Deanna sat primly on the uncomfortably hard couch in Worfs quarters, with padds strewn chaotically about her in an uneven circle.  The crew evaluation was a bitch by herself and her throbbing headache was making it more difficult to concentrate.  What usually took her and Will only an evening, had now stretched out over two, and the task threatened to stretch interminably on. This was actually the first time she'd had to do them alone in three years.  Usually the crew evaluations were finished while being supplied with many cups of hot cocoa, pleasant conversation, and the invariably silly remarks from Will.


  She looked over at Worf and knew without a doubt that he didn't have a silly bone in him. Standing up, she let the pads fall unheeding to the floor and demanded cocoa from the replicator for the third time that night.  But even the chocolate elixer didn't taste right.  Sipping from her cup, she moodily prowled through the Klingon's quarters until he looked up from his studies with annoyance.          'Deanna, is something wrong?'            She sighed and gave him a sheepish grimace.  'No Worf.  I'm just restless.  I don't feel like doing the evaluations, that's all.'            'You must finish them tonight.  The captain expects them tomorrow,' he said.              'I know Worf.  I'm just not in the mood.' She banged her mug down on the table, spilling the chocolate and sitting dejectedly, heedless of the pads on the couch.       'Ouch,' she said, pulling several pads out from under her and droppingthem on the floor.        'Here, I will help,' he said, and gathered the pads neatly into a pile and sat expectantly across from her.        Deanna glared at the stack of personnel pads still looming, and then looked at Worfs expectant countenance.  Taking a deep cleansing breath she gave him her best excuse for a smile.  But no matter how hard she tried to make it so, it just wasn't enough.    




    Tai sighed for at least the third time in as many minutes.  He had considered his situation long and hard, and harbored no doubt that interrogation and incarceration were the twin prizes that awaited him at the intended end of this trip.  But now, with the tables turned, it finally seemed that the fickle fates had smiled upon him by delivering his human captor to him, both injured and helpless.  His smile turned bitter as he pondered the ironic turn of the wheel that though it had switched their roles, had not left him with the means to take advantage of it.


 Tai chuckled without mirth and threw up a fatalistic prayer to far away gods that surely must be laughing by now.  Heaven knew his life had provided them with much amusement in the past.  The Romulan shook his head as he examined what had once been a sleek and streamlined transport vehicle.  It was now a twisted, smoldering hulk, good only for shelter from the elements and not much good at that.  He had yet to come up with a viable plan, judging from what he could estimate of their position, the closest Romulan vessel was probably light years away.  


      Dozing fitfully to conserve his scant energy throughout the brutal heat of the day, Tai often watched his human for lack of anything better to do during the times he wakened.  The male was unusually tall for his species as far as he could tell.  Tai was worried that he had not moved except for the shallow rise and fall of his chest.  His skin had a waxy pallor that seemed unnatural, even for a human. Visions of too many others lying still and pale crowded his mind, and he struggled resolutely to push them into another compartment of his heart for viewing when he had the leisure to grieve. Instead, he allowed his mind to become absorbed with the myriad of differences between the human and himself. He studied him through half closed lids, noting the delicate tracings of blue vessels that laced closed eyelids. His face was covered with hair trimmed in what Tai knew human customs called a beard.  Maybe he should try to sketch him?  Of course he had only drawn wildlife so far in his sketchbook, but surely a human would qualify as such among most of his more civilized friends. He noted with distaste that hair covered his broad chest and down the central length of his stomach.


  Tai started when his captive's eyes twitched open, revealing disconcerting pools of blue as he struggled to 

regain consciousness. So far the officers quest was not successful, and he was quickly dragged down into what ever restless dreams he had been trying to escape.   Wiping the ever-present dust off of his hands, Tai heaved a heartfelt sigh of disgust. 'Humans are so damned delicate,' he muttered as he rummaged through the human's personal bag.  He pulled out a story-PADD, and leaning back to make himself comfortable in the cramped space, he immersed himself for several hours in tales of a ruggedly beautiful place called Alaska.  But reality pressed in with a savage heat that burned the soles of his feet through the metal deck.  To kill time he searched for a third time through the salvaged med kit.   Half the vials were shattered or useless, and the color-coded med-vials made no more sense to him now than they had earlier. Still, he put them carefully to one side in the shattered case, throwing away the other damaged parts.  His arm throbbed, reminding him that the cut he had sustained was nothing to trifle with. 


 He changed his own dressing and realized that though he cared nothing about the human in any way, the alternative was strictly unthinkable. His skin crawled at the thought of being left in absolute solitude on this isolated dust ball and he shrugged off the dark thoughts with a shudder.  Tai gingerly touched the human's wrist, checking his pulse.  His skin was comfortingly smooth like his own, and his pulse beat a faint tattoo against his fingers.                                                                                                  




    Deanna Troi and Beverly Crusher always spent some time catching up with each other at the end of their early morning exercise class as they prepared for their respective shifts of duty.   Beverly watched as Deanna continued to fiddle with her hair in front of the mirror and couldn't resist needling her.  So Will's coming backtoday?      Deanna frowned with exasperation as she threw her friend a sidelong glance.  Finally she shrugged with feigned indifference. I think so Beverly.  I'm not really sure.       Beverly snorted in disbelief, shaking her head silently at the on-going self-deception of her best friend.  Deanna knew that Beverly didn't really understand her behavior, truth was, that she hardly understood it herself.  She had been seeing Worf for several months now, and she knew that Beverly had watched with concern, commenting both on the denial on Deanna's part, and the hurt that Will had unsuccessfully tried to hide from those who knew him best.  But recently Beverly had begun to hint, in subtle and not so subtle ways that she had noticed Deanna was spending less time with Worf, and that her behavior had become more predictable than Terra's gravity whenever Will Riker left the Enterprise for more than a few days.  Beverly had just chided her, saying that Will's imminent return could begauged with fair accuracy by the degree of time that she was taking with her appearance.       "Boy, you haven't worn that perfume in a long time.  Isn't that Will's favorite?' Beverly teased, both trying and succeeding in irritating her.   Deanna looked haughtily down her nose at the smirking doctor, not deigning to dignify her comment with a response.  With a practiced gesture, she tossed her dark hair over her shoulder and marched towards the door. But Beverly couldn't resist aiming one last dig.  "Areyou coming to the concert with Worf tonight? Or are you planning a private welcome home ceremony for Will?'   Deanna didn't answer, except to straighten her already ramrod straight spine.  Beverly sighed noisily and continued to clean up their mess, muttering that the only two on the Enterprise who were fooled by their good friends act were Will Riker and Deanna Troi.




          Tai was dismayed to see that the dressing on the human's chest was saturated again with fresh blood.  The jagged edges of the twisted conn hadwrapped around the human's chest like a lover's embrace, and it had been a long arduous process to extradite him from its grip.  Looking at the mess in front of him, he sighed.  'This human is becoming a lot of trouble,' he thought, but it didn't occur to him that he shouldn't help.  He removed the first pressure dressing, curling his lip distastefully as the strong smells, and the unusual color of blood, assailed his senses.  Tai delicately pulled the adhesive patch off by the tip of one corner, grimacing as it pulled on the hair it had adhered to.  When he had successfully disengaged it, he dropped it into a pile of waste he had begun earlier in the day.  The edges of the wound seemed inflamed and what had been a trickle of blood, now had increased to a sluggish stream from the deep gash.  He surmised that the human couldn't stand to lose much more of it.     


  Tai dragged his captive to the thin mat he had rigged into a bed, surprised that the large human hadn't weighed as much as he expected.  But his earlier classes on human behavior began to come back to him, and he remembered that humans had a lower relative density of mass than Romulans.  'That would account for their frailty,' he mused while carefully applying a stronger pressure dressing to the ugly wound.  Quelling the fear that resided in his gut, he told himself that the human would live.                                                             




 Thirty-six hours since the crash, and no word from either the Federation or the Romulans.  The days sweltering heat quickly sapped Tai's strength, but he found he dreaded the long frigid nights even more.  After practically tearing warped doors off their hinges, He managed to open a storage compartment that held flimsy silver thermal covers stacked neatly in a pile.  He fingered their silken smoothness with distrust.  He knew that they would help trap their own body heat, but he was old fashioned enough to wish for a blanket with some weight.  Last night he had huddled close to the human for warmth in order that they could both survive the bitter cold.  Suddenly Riker's bright blue eyes opened, startling him out of his contemplation. Tai remained impassive, giving no outward sign of his discomposure.  For a long moment, he stared back at him.  He was more used to the brown or black, or rarely a murky dark green of his people's eyes, and was fascinated by the strange blue color of eyes that heightened the alien differences between them.    


   Tai masked the discomfort that pricked his gut, casually dismissing the human with a disdainful glance.   But the human's silent appraisal disturbed him, and he took care to avoid his eyes as he worked around the shuttle's cabin.  As Tai's movement stirred up the ever-present dust the human began to cough violently.  When finally he was able to stop for a moment, he motioned to Tai, trying to get his attention. "I see we made it," he barely managed, in a deep voice roughened by dust and disuse. Tai remained silent, but he reached for the water canister and tipped it up with care to the human's parched lips.  He drank too eagerly and choked, coughing away what little energy he had as the water spilled down thesides of his face and disappeared into the black of his uniform. "Drink slowly fool," Tai snapped, noting the stark pallor that replaced the earlier flush on the human's skin.  He let him rest for five minutes and then as the human sipped, Tai began to cut off his tattered tunic.  Tai's delicate sense of smell rebelled at the stench of blood that had saturated the fabric.  Try as he might to ignore its distasteful color, his stomach rolled over as he cleaned the sticky red stuff from his hands.  Reading about it in a text, and seeing it first hand were two different experiences entirely. 


Beverly's comments about her behavior earlier had irritated Deanna.  Her hair bounced with short jerks, announcing her irritation with every staccato step as she made her way to the bridge.  She finally realized how deeply dissatisfied she was with her relationship with Worf, and how frustrated she was with the status of her relationship with her Imzadi, or maybe their lack of it.   Unhappily, since she had started seeing Worf, Will hardly ever contacted her on their off duty hours.  She missed him, and when he was away from the ship like this, it made her realize just how much she missed him.  She was left without even the comforting sense of his presence through their bond.  It was the part of him that was always with her, whether they were together or not.  She had described it to Beverly once as walking around with an amputated limb, but the phantom pain was in her heart.  


     Her loneliness was soon replaced with irritation.  Surely the Betazoid record for Imzadi couples NOT being together would never be broken by anyone else on her home planet.  It seemed that lately she seemed to find herself thinking of Will when they were apart, and she often stared at him when they were together. His every glance toward any comely female was an irritation, regardless of why he was talking to them.  Deanna had snapped at him so often in the past several weeks that Will had begun to confine his conversation to comments about the variations in Earth's weather, and cautious inquiries after her health. Deanna was conflicted and it showed. She still felt sheepish about her reaction when she walked in on a shirtless Will Riker and the doctor in sickbay. She knew that he was just getting the required physical, but it seemed to make little difference. She had given Beverly the cold shoulder for the rest of the shift.  Her angry thoughts at the time were ridiculous, especially given her relationship with Worf.   


     She pursed her lips and quickened her pace.  Deanna knew she had no basis for her feelings, but she hoped they weren't as one sided as they felt.  Will seemed to have developed strong defenses lately when it came to keeping his emotions hidden.  Only occasionally, in unguarded moments had she imagined wisps of longing from him.  Unseeing, she ran into the transporter chief who was coming from theopposite direction.  'Oh, I'm sorry.  I wasn't watching where I wasgoing,' she apologized distractedly, before mvoing on.       Deanna stepped onto the bridge with a definite bounce in her step.  She didn't stop to analyze her elevated mood as she smiled warmly at the Captain and then settled into the chair on his left.  The chair to the Captain's right was still empty but that would soon change.  Picard's smile showed only through the warmth in his eyes.       'Good morning counselor' he said, nodding his usual perfunctory greeting.   Deanna sensed that his relaxed demeanor was like her own good mood, a reflection of Will's imminent return.  Readying herself for whatever her shift might bring, she listened to the routine chatter of the bridge crew with half of her attention. A chill made the tiny hairs on her neck prickle and stand erect, and an  unexplainable dark premonition made her chest constrict tightly.         "Someone walk on your grave, Counselor?"  Ensign LeBaron smiled.  Deanna looked at him blankly, still feeling the aftermath of the chill. His ominous words haunted her.



      Though he had tried his best to fit the mold cast for him, Tai knew he wasn't cut out to be a soldier.  He knew that now more than ever with unshakable certainty.  His venerable father had served with distinction, as had his grandfather, and on and on through a long line of males in his family. His father had felt honor bound to continue the tradition of his family, and had been insistent that his only son to sign up for the Romulan military; repeatedly citing family tradition and loyalty to Romulus.  Though Tai loved his scholars life, he both loved and respected his father, and had willingly acquiesced; though truly he would really have rather been working in his garden back home, or digging more deeply into his research of the ancient beginnings of his people.   That had been more than two decades ago; two decades of trying to fit in, two decades of aching discontent.   


    Pulled from his musings by the restless movement of the human, Tai took another drink, and swished the warm water around his mouth.  Tilting the canister to his prisoner's dry lips, he grimaced when the younger officer drank too quickly again, and choked, coughing painfully. Tai cursed out loud.  "Human, it will never stop bleeding if you don't stop that," he snapped. Riker nodded as he tried to hold pressure on his wound.  Deepening coughs shook him until he was helpless against its attack.  When he finally managed to stop, his hand trembled and it appeared he no longer had the energy to hold pressure to his wound. Blue eyes that were brilliant with pain, narrowed to thin slits.   Tai's prisoner lifted the corners of his mouth in a parody of a smile. "Really? I'll try to keep that in mind, Damrek," he wheezed, quickly giving up on both the smile and his attempt to shift his position.      


      Tai tried to ignore him after that.  But as minutes dragged into long hours, he found himself watching warily from beneath hooded lids.  This human didn't - fit.  He had seen mandatory briefing vids that showed humans easily broken under painful Romulan interrogation, and knew they had little stamina compared to his own race. Tai had done enough field dressings to know the humans wound to be both painful and debilitating.  Tai studied the furrows that lined the human's brow and was unable to stay silent any longer as he asked, "are you in pain?"  The dazed eyes of the human were sunken deeply in their sockets, and stayed half open as they studied him.


 "I think I may feel better if I could maybe sit up," Riker finally admitted with a slight nod, though he made no attempt to move himself.       Tai was divided between cultural disdain and his natural inclination to want to help a living soul in pain.  He rationalized internally.'It won't hurt to see to his comfort, and there is no one here to censure me for doing so.'  But even with his decision made, his back itched between his shoulder blades as he imagined the judgmental eyes of his commander upon him.  Tai rigged a backrest and pulled the human upright.  The heat was unbelievable and sweat ran freely under his uniform, but the human's skin felt cold and clammy.  He watched his struggle to find a position that wasn't painful as the sound of his breathing cut loudly through the afternoon's oppressive heat.  Tai took a long pull from the water canister and then brought it to the human's lips again.  "Slowly," he ordered.  Blue-gray eyes fluttered open long enough for gratitude to flash in them briefly.   Tai allowed him brief sips until the human lapsed into a sleep so deep he appeared unconscious.

                                                              **************      .


                                                              Chapter two                                    


                    Tai gave the buckled shell of the shuttle a savage kick, only to curse as it bruised his foot.  Caught between what he had been taught all his life, and what he had now observed, he was torn; moved, despite himself, by the stoic suffering of the human he so despised.  But his heart continued to battle against his training until he was dizzy and sick of the inner conflict which seemed that it would continue eternally unabated.  He knew that it would continue to plague him until he resolved the issue within himself.  They were the only two living beings on this desolate planet to live.          And not least of the angry voices in his head was the one that condemned humans for causing the death of every member of his ship.  This race had been hated for over one hundred years, the object of scorn and derision in his culture.  Tai leaned back and stretched cramped muscles until the ligaments popped. What he resolved was that it was far easier to judge a race from the security of his own starship, and another matter entirely when this human was the only other being within light years. The differences between them that had seemed so vast and important before seemed to diminish into obscurity in light of that single fact.  Tai sighed and wet a ragged remnant of his own uniform, and began to wash the blood and dirt from the human's face.  'He's not really that different from a Romulan man,' he rationalized.  'When he's cut he bleeds.  He has two arms and two legs, and apparently everything else that comes with the male species.'


      The human turned his face away from Tai's efforts.  'Lie still.  I am trying to help.'  Tai muttered under his breath, 'I do not know why though."  He knew that the human in all probability couldn't understand him.  It seemed that the dust on this planetoid was lethal to much of the small micro technology on board. The translators, along with other things, were close to useless.  He tried not to care if the human complied or not.  Riker grunted with his own feeble effort as he grabbed Tai's wrist. Tai knew he caused the human pain while he examined his wound, but he stopped when it appeared as if he struggled to say something.  But the small effort exhausted his failing strength, and the human loosened his tenuous grip and closed his eyes, remaining silent as Tai examined him for other injuries.  Massive bruising discolored his chest where the console had embraced him, but without medical equipment, it was impossible to tell if there was injury to the bone or internal organs.  Tai stared at the masses of springy hair on the humans chest.  It seemed so alienand different from what he was accustomed to. He told himself again that the differences went far deeper than the mere physical attributes between human and Romulan men, but as time went on, he had a hard time believing his own arguments.                                                                                                                   



   On the Enterprise, Captain Picard heaved a sigh of relief as he finished briefing Data about readying the ship for provisioning Rentalis IV.   He rubbed his hands together as if he couldn't wait to rid himself of the duties he normally delegated to his first officer. Picard had finally acknowledged to Deanna just how much he missed the presence of Will Riker on his bridge; and not just for his skills as first officer.  His satisfaction at the thought of Rikers return, and the normalcy it would bring to the routine of the ship had him smiling all morning.  Data was efficient, but it wasn't the same as having his trusted number one beside him.        "Sir," Data's calm voice interrupted his musings, "according to the flight coordinator, Commander Riker's shuttle has not yet arrived at Rentalis IV." The android cocked his head, his yellow eyes betraying no overt motion.  "Sir, he has been reported as missing for the past nine hours and their search of the area has produced no positive results."


     "Why was I not notified?" Picard said calmly, as if nine hours was not an emergency.  But Deanna sensed the trepidation, which had settled like a cold chill in his gut. "Data, I want you to find out why we were not apprised of this situation.  Request the shuttles flight path from their coordinator, and begin a search pattern consistent withCommander Riker's possible trajectories. Let us hope that he was only distracted from his journey's destination and not unwillingly detained."      "Aye sir," the golden skinned android said and moved his hands deftly over the complex console.        Picard glanced at the empty seat to his right before thinking, and successfully covered his concern with the smooth mask of command.  But Deanna could not unclench the knot that had tightened in her stomach in sympathy with his own.  Her duty required that she monitor the emotions of the crew and she strove to make it just that, a duty, and not an invasion of privacy.  Her smooth expression was the picture of tranquility, betraying nothing out of the ordinary, her own tension was only betrayed by her tightened grip on her chair.  Picard glanced at here but made no comment.  He had always been willing to admit that he didn't understand the full import of Deanna and Will's connection, and though he didn't understand, he didn't deny it existed.  Neither Deanna or Will had ever volunteered an explanation, but to date, it had never interfered with the performance of their duty;consequently,  Picard's natural reserve wouldn't allow him to ask about it even now. Deanna revealed nothing of her own anxiety.  It was always the same for her when there was any possibility ofWill being in danger.  She silently watched as Picard's hand searched the top of his head in a harried gesture that was the only outward mark that bespoke the depth of his worry.  The motion was fleeting and agitated, as if his hand were searching for the hair that once grew there.  Deanna turned away, only to feel the weight of her Captains stare.  She suppressed a worried sigh, hoping there was no cause for alarm yet.  But she had to admit to herself that there were entirely too many things that could have gone wrong, even on such a routine mission.       




    Sucking gently on burned fingers, Tai gingerly lifted the self-heating rations from the make-shift table.  Cooking had never been his strong suite because he had never deemed it important enough to pull him from the fascination of his studies, either on Romulus or his ship.  Thankfully, the Federation had made the emergency rations fairly foolproof and impossible to burn.  He blew on the hot soup while sitting with legs crossed beside his captive.  Tai snorted with amusement at the thought of his captive human going anywhere. The big officer had been restless and had slept fitfully in the day's heat, but now with the temperature quickly dropping, he seemed to be unnaturally quiet. Tai surmised that basic humanoid physiology had to be similar to his own, and so he set about trying to bolster his captive's body fluid loss with soup and water.  It had been problematic however, as the human could barely open his mouth and seemed to be having difficulty swallowing.  Tai was reminded that his mother had sworn that a good hot bowl of her soup could cure anything, but it would do the human no good soaking his uniform instead of going down his throat.        'Well mother, this isn't as good as yours but it shall have to suffice. Besides,' he told himself, 'he's only a human and it doesn't much matter if he eats or not.  That's right isn't it father?'  He queried his absent parents.  Tai absently reached to touch the human's face and was relieved to find it still remained cool.  Slapping his cheeks gently, he tried to rouse him.  "Wake up and eat, human," he said quietly.  The human's eyes opened unwillingly, his gaze unfocused.


     "Will," he whispered, before his eyes fell shut again. 


     Tai clenched his jaw impatiently, slapping him again, less gently this time. "Wake up then if you say you will," he said, exasperated by his lack of success.  Tai's own hunger gnawed at him, and patience was not one of his more prominent virtues.  He jostled him, and immediately regretted it when the human grimaced and he spoke through gritted teeth.         "My name is Will," he said in heavily accented, though passable Romulan. His voice was tight with barely contained pain. 


     "Oh," was all Tai could think to say, more then a little flustered to have heard his native tongue from the mouth of a Federation officer.   He flushed, annoyed at his own strange guilt as he angrily dipped the spoon into the broth.  "Eat this," he said as if instructing a two-year old child. Tai forced the golden soup into his mouth, only to have most of it run down the sides of his chin and down his neck. He tried again, and then again with much the same results.  "This is getting us nowhere!  Swallow!" he admonished sternly.  The human surprised him with a faint grin.


     "No offense, sir,' he whispered hoarsely, 'but it's not that good.  Why don't you just eat it for both of us," he asked before another spate of coughing shook him.  When his coughing finally trailed off weakly, Tai silently watched him as he lay back, pale and sweating, too weak to move, appearing almost too weak to breathe.         Tai was rattled, both by the human speaking Romulan, and by his unexpected attempt at humor.  It was yet another mark against his ingrained concept of human depravity. He took a few sips of his own while waiting for Riker to recover, grimacing at its salty taste. "Here, try again," he said, imperceptibly more gentle in his approach.  Carefully, he tipped the spoon into Will's mouth, watching with more satisfaction then it should have warranted as a bit went down his throat. It wasn't so different from when he had fed his ailing grandfather during his last year of life.  'It's all in the angle of the spoon' he decided.  Half a ration later he noted that the human's eyes were now closed instead of open in between bites.  More soup again seemed to leave his mouth than he was swallowing.  But he was heartened by his small success, and raised the container to his own cracked lips.  Tilting his head far back, he finished the tangy liquid with a grimace. 'He's right, it isn't that good', he thought while wiping his mouth against the back of his filthy hand.  He saw that the human was watching him again, grey-blue slivers bright against the filth of his face as the pitiful human held them half open with great effort. "What," Tai said, his irritation flaring.  The human looked for a moment as if he might answer, but tiredly closed his eyes instead.  Aggravated at himself now for being so short tempered, Tai wiped the spilled soup from his captives neck and wondered why he bothered.   He waited for the human to open his eyes again until his impatient nature would allow him to wait no longer, he threw a blanket over the human, and over his own shoulders against the coming chill and left the shuttle to continue his exploration of their surroundings.  He was eager to be back before darkness fell.



 2 B


     Troi's own search for some sense of Will's presence left her anxious and frustrated after it yielded nothing.  A part of her understood where that premonitory chill had come from now, and it weighed heavily on her mind and heart.  She wouldn't entertain the possibility that Will was dead.  Her memories of her mother's anguish at the time of her father's death assured her that wherever in the universe she might be, she would be able to feel the horror of that finality.  But she couldn't feel a sense of Will at all, which she could only take to mean that he was far away.  So she waited, outwardly composed and sitting in a posture of attention to the left of Picard.  She forced her restless hands to stillness in her lap, and she waited silently for some sign that Will was alive.  Picard glanced at her periodically, but he hadn't asked her the obvious, for which she was grateful.  Worry shadowed her every thought, twisting her doubts into horrifying specters. Despite her best intentions to relax, the tension of not knowing if Will were safe sabotaged her ability to make conversation.     "Report Mr. Data," the Captain said.  His own worry was plainly evident to Deanna as they listened to the frustrating lack of results from the search, but the smooth visage of his features revealed nothing to the rest of the crew.    




   Freezing cold and inky black night fell swiftly on the small planetoid, but Tai had tried to make sure he was prepared for it.  At least he thought he was ready, until the evening's short twilight was swept with unbelievable swiftness into bitterly cold temperatures and total blackness.  The rapid switch from roasting hot, to bone chilling cold, along with the abject absence of the harsh light to guide his steps, played on his worst fears.  He was terrified, almost into complete immobility.  The unexpected totality of the darkness shriveled his courage with its malignancy.  Through sheer force of will, Tai forced himself to keep taking one more step, though his mind continually played tricks on him in the darkness.  This was his hidden shame. The fear that crippled him, that was so 'un Romulan-like, it had mortified his father.  It had kept Tai from many of the more war-like pursuits of normal young men growing up on Romulus, and had most probably shaped his character, molding him into who and what he had become today.  Eventually, exhaustion began to claim him as the constant adrenaline surging through his body, threatened to outweigh the strength of his terror.  Tai's knees were weak and he was close to collapse when he finally stumbled into the barren crash site.  Relief saturated him and he abruptly fell to his knees and thanked every god he could dredge up from his childhood memory as he saw the crumpled crafts looming outline. Shivering, he forced himself to his feet and kicked open the jammed door, the frantic pounding of his heart slowing as his eyes adjusted to the familiar gloom.   


    Dimly lit panels weirdly illuminated the warped interior, murkily revealing the outline of his prisoner.  "Human," he said softly, and then again more sharply when he didn't respond. His fear forgotten, Tai knelt beside the human, leaning over to feel for the warmth of breath from his nostrils. He still wasn't sure. "Will?" he hissed. Fear coiled in his gut until he placed his hand on Will's chest and felt it's shallow rise and fall.  Shivers racked him again, but itwas only with cold this time and not dread. 'Warmer clothes are in the lockers', he thought numbly, remembering an earlier search.  Picking his way through the wreckage, he gave a half-hearted kick to the broken replicator, but it's status light remained darkened.  Prying open a locker, he reached for the coveralls stored there.  When he managed to pull one on he was immediately rewarded with blessed warmth.  Digging around a bit more, he found a larger size and threw it over his arm.  Tai knelt heavily beside the human he forced himself not to think of as Will. Calling him by his name made things too personal.  Tai definitely didn't want to get personal with a human, especially one who might not live until the morning.   Tai knew that the first name of his captive was William, having read it in reports many times in the past.  But Will must be what his friends and loved ones call him.  Tai stared at the injured human, imagining for a moment that he had a wife and children, unwillingly wondering if they were worried about their provider.        Winds howled outside, and icy fingers stroked his hands and face as it blew through the rents and tears in the hull.  Tai cursed the cold as roundly as he had earlier cursed the heat.  Numbed fingers were making the most simplest of tasks difficult. Concern for his prisoner tickled his conscience.  If he was this cold, he knew that the human might be in danger of hypothermia, and he hurried with his task.  Resolutely he pulled the stiff boots from the unconscious officer's feet, and then pulled and shoved the coveralls up his long legs, cursing under his breath, and wondered aloud why he bothered.  It would be too painful to maneuver the human's arm into the sleeves, and so he crossed them over his broad chest, fastening the closures of the bulky suit over them.  Smiling grimly, he hoped the human wasn't claustrophobic.  Tai's teeth chattered as he jerked the blankets over them both. He moved close against him, hoping their combined body heat would afford them more protection against the bitter cold. Almost comfortable, he managed to sleep dream free for several hours, and when he awoke, it was at the urgent insistence of his full to bursting bladder.  Cursing the cold, he shimmied out from under the blankets, and gasped as a cold blast of frigid air almost paralyzed his protesting lungs. Fumbling with cold numbed fingers in the dim glow of the auxiliary lights, he reluctantly unfastened his coverall's and found his way to the shuttles' hatch, relieving himself and dressing again in record time. 


Desperate to get out of the cold, he pulled himself back under the blankets, only to be stopped by the hoarse whisper of his prisoner.       "I need to do that too," he mumbled apologetically.  Tai froze.  Of course he has to relieve himself, I've been filling him with fluids every time he opens his eyes.  Tai shifted with embarrassment and wondered fleetingly what to do.  The human seemed to understand his predicament.  "If you'll help me up I think I can take care of it myself.'  Tai's face burned in the Romulan equivalent of a blush, and he was grateful for the dark. He wanted to curse the human's ability to fluster him.       "I will help you, human," he said, and jerked the blankets roughly off again.  He was careful not to jar his wound as he pulled him to a sitting position.  Unfastening the coveralls,Tai peeled them off of Will's shoulder to his waist.  The human seemed not to be bothered over much by the cold and Tai slipped his arm around his waist.  The dim light fought its way in through the prevailing gloom; its illumination brushing the waxy pallor of Riker's face with shadows that encircled his disconcerting eyes.  Tai had raised himto his knees but could raise him no further. "Wait Tai!  This thing's tilting I think," Will said, his color changing from pale to paler.  Tai snorted to hide his concern, "the only thing tilting is you human."


    "Give me a sec," the human said, leaning heavily against Tai as he swayed unsteadily on his knees.  Tai shivered.  He was frozen except where Will's arm rested around his neck, and where he was pressed against his side for support.     "Come on.  Standup.  I'm freezing" he said gritting his teeth with effort.  Human or not, the man still weighed over one hundred kilo's and he wasn't helping much.  They tottered to their feet and Tai got him five steps towards the hatch when Will gasped for him to stop.   Tai grabbed him as he began to slide towards the floor.  "Oh no, hangon... Will, no, don't" he groaned. Unable to avoid going down with him, they both collapsed into a heap on the cold metal plating.  For a long moment the human lay unmoving, his face resting on Tai's shoulder.  He finally jostled him to see if he was still conscious.  Tai lifted his head and found himself staring up into the apologetic eyes of the human.        "I'm sorry, I should have zigged when I zagged," he croaked cryptically.        "What?" Tai said, squinting as an early ray of sunlight struck his right eye. It seemed that the cursed red orb had a nasty habit of disappearing and reappearing with startling quickness. Within minutes, the dark interior of the shuttle was transformed from deep gloom to being awash with harsh daylight. Tai was still trapped on his back and could hardly draw a full breath as his captive was draped half over the top of him.  "Move!" he gasped, the dead weight threatening to squeeze the remaining breath from his diaphragm as he shifted.        "Wait... ok... hang on a sec," the human said as he reached blindly up the side of the con chair he had toppled.  Tai's nausea was renewed by the close proximity of his face to the human's bloodied bandages.   Quickly wiggling out from underneath him as the human barely levered himself up off of his chest, Tai jumped to his feet and tried to aid him, but the humans trembling arms gave out before he could grasp a hold of him, and Tai was left empty handed.  He  stared dejectedly at the human that lay unmoving on the floor, who's original problem was still unsolved.  


                                                        Three A


       When the human was unable to catch himself, the overturned con chair that had steadied him, broke his fall and apparently finished the job of breaking his ribs.  Tai grimaced when he turned his captive over and found his pasty white complexion had turned to an even more sickly hue.  His breathing was labored, disrupting the quiet of the morning.  It's harshness scraped against Tai's sensitive hearing. "Med kit please,' Will croaked. 'Something... for pain," he said, his hoarse voice tapering to a soft whisper.


      "Finally the human acknowledges his pain," Tai thought as he jerked open the med kit and stared blankly at it's contents.  "I can't read the labels.  I don't know what these things are," he said, his sharp edged voice echoing his frustration. 'You need an anti-bacterial too to halt the infection in your wound.'  Riker rolled onto his back, the effort bringing a deep grunt of pain.      


     "Blue.. just give me... part of the blue one for pain," he said with a deep grimace.  'The green is for infection.  And then find me something to empty my bladder into... fast."  The Romulan shook his head.  'There are no more green.  They were all broken in the crash.'  Riker was silent as Tai fumbled with the dial on the blue hypo.  Tai wondered momentarily how big of a dose to give him.  Judging from the corded muscles which stood out along the human's neck, he dialed it up several more notches, but before he could press it against his neck, the human opened his eyes and shook his head.  "Get me something to relieve myself in, and then leave me."  His Romulan was heavily accented but understandable.  He spoke in a whisper, as if afraid to breathe too deeply.              "Will,' Tai said, his resolve to not care slipping drastically, 'I will help you..." he began.         


     "No," his human prisoner growled dangerously. Tai opened his mouth to object but was compelled by the very real command he read in the human's glare, and found himself unable to refuse it.  Pride stiffened Tai's back as he threw the loaded hypospray into the med-kit and found the officer a container.  "Here" he said, anger clipping his word short as he walked outside into the shimmering morning heat 'Human pride is no different than Romulan,' he thought with disgust.  Less then two minutes in the blazing heat showed him how ridiculous it was that his own prisoner should give him orders. Tai went back in, only to find that Will had leveraged himself back onto his knees.  The human's head hung heavily as he leaned against the wall.  Tai thought it looked as if he were praying for the energy to move again.      


      When Tai's boots appeared in Will's line of sight, the human looked up.  The Romulan saw how much it galled Will to admit defeat at the hands of his own weakness.  Tai was silent as he knelt to assist him.  No respectable Romulan would do what he was doing for this human, but he could hardly call himself respectable any more, and he stubbornly refused to let it bother him.   Easing Will back to the deck when they were finished, Tai removed the container and stepped out into the harsh morning ight without speaking, feeling the need to distance himself from the human's loss of dignity.  He endured the harshrays of the huge red sun until finally their heat forced him to retreat into the shuttlecraft again 


      Even outdoors he hadn't stopped thinking about the differences and similarities between he and the human. The sun's crimson blush had echoed the odd color of Will's blood, reminding Tai belatedly that he hadn't checked the pressure dressing since arising.  He quickly returned, only to find the officer laying spread eagle on the floor with the hypospray still held in his lax fingers.  He must have given it to himself, Tai thought, making a mental note that Will had dialed it down to a much lower dose than he himself had set. Searching for his pulse, Tai frowned when he found it was both rapid and weak.  He slipped the hypospray into the largest pocket of his coverall and lightly slapped Will's face.  But the officer failed to rouse, and Tai dragged him farther back into the shuttle to the make-shift bed, trying to flee the harsh sunlight. 


"S'all right mmmmmzadi," Will mumbled, but he had slipped back into slurred Federation standard, and Tai was unable to discern much of what he was saying.     Tai considered the frailty of the human's condition, and he scoffed at his own useless concerns.  Belatedly, he realized that he had somehow crossed the line from motivated self-interest to feeling a moral obligation for the human's welfare.  There was no going back.  As the morning dragged on, Tai dribbled water into the officers mouth, taking small swallows himself, remembering to swish the tepid liquid over parched mucous membranes for several minutes before allowing it to trickle down the back of his throat.  Fixing some more of the rations for lunch,Tai forced himself to eat all of it.  He was exhausted from worry and trying to keep himself and his prisoner alive, and he needed energy to work on a way out of this mess.  Several hours later the human still had not awakened, and Tai thought his breathing seemed more labored.   Changing the dressing again, Tai forced himself to remain detached.  He noted the slow but steady blood loss and suspected Will's condition would change soon for the worse.  He made a decision then to do something most likely not in his own best interests. "I will never see Romulus again,' he thought, and began to repair the Federation distress  transponder.                   




    Deanna Troi was unsuccessfully attempting to release some tension after her bridge shift.  She had little 

hope of success, but still, she mechanically went through all of her normal rituals. Guinan fixed her a delicious fudge brownie sundae, but the first bite lodged stubbornly in her throat and she pushed it away with her eyes smarting.  Worf stopped at her table to talk with her, but talking to the Klingon, no matter how well meaning he was, wasn't what she needed now.            She had been seeing Worf for several months, and continued to see him, though she had known almost from the beginning that there would never be a serious future for them together. Their backgrounds were too different, and their goals in life so opposite that she had quickly stopped discussing them.  Deanna sensed that Worf knew it too, but they each had their reasons for continuing to see each other.  Deanna enjoyed the opportunity to be treated like a woman, which was something Worf did very well, and thought he wouldn't admit it, she knew he valued her influence on his son.  She looked into his somber eyes and took his large hand in hers to take the sting from her words.  'I really need some time to myself Worf,' she said.  Worf tightened his mouth but said nothing.  He met her eyes for a long moment, searching for confirmation of what she knew he had hoped not to find there.  Relaxing, he let out a soft growl.  'Do not worry Deanna, we will find Commander Riker.' The Klingon rose and left before Deanna could formulate a response to fill the awkward moment.


     The ships counselor needed someone to talk to, and her closest confidant was lost somewhere. 'I'm not going to be able to stop worrying until Will is safely backaboard the Enterprise,' she finally admitted to herself.  Pushing away from the table, she ignored Guinan's raised eyebrows and fled ten-forward for the seclusion of her quarters.  Deanna was grateful to be away from crew members,  whose eyes asked without words, the question whose answer she couldn't bear to contemplate.  "Computer, play William Riker jazz piano, number four," she said, her request hanging heavily in the empty air.  Curling up under the soft throw on her couch, Deanna waited for peace to come while the slow sultry music that Will himself played, filled the room.         He had given the music to her, on her birthday several years ago.  Pulling her close, his eyes holding something more than friendship in them, he asked her to dance.  They spent the evening in her quarters, with the lights low and the sensual music weaving a spell around them as they danced much closer to each other more than best friends normally would.  But she hadn't allowed anything else to happen no matter how badly she knew Will wanted her, or how much she herself needed him.  The evening ended with Will giving her a gentle kiss that asked for much more, but she had found herself still unable to give him what he wanted.  Neither of them mentioned the unasked question, but Deanna played the recording often and let her mind imagine his intoxicating closeness, remembering his unique scent.   


      As the mellow tones of the antique piano warmed her room with his presence, and her tension was replaced by a deepening sense of loss.  A lone tear crept down her cheek and she quickly brushed it away and got up to run herself a bath.  Deanna lit the long cascade of candles, purely in an effort to change the mood of the room.   Disrobing, she gingerly stepped into a steaming bubble bath.  As her tired body disturbed the delicately fragranced water, she was reminded of the jungle blossoms that had surrounded she and her Imzadi the first time they'd made love.  The heated water quickly turned her skin bright red, relaxing the muscles along her back and neck, but nothing could dispel the distant fluttering of dread that remained.  Resting against the back of the tub, Deanna closed her eyes and imagined of times past when he had held her in his arms,her head resting against his broad chest. Will made her feel safe, but she didn't feel safe now.   Fantasizing about how it could be differentwhen Will came back, Deanna again marveled at their ability to maintain a 'friends only' relationship.  Will Riker was still too attractive, his body too well muscled and strong, and his manner too sensual to let her ever forget the passion they had shared in the Jalara jungle... All it took was one look.  No man had ever touched her soul like her Imzadi had.  Forty-five minutes passed with her unaware of its passing. The steaming water had since grown lukewarm and she was halfway between waking and sleeping when she felt the quiet touch of Will's presence.  She knew immediately that something was very wrong even though her sense of him wasn't consistent.       


      "Captain Picard to Counselor Troi," Picards brusque voice snapped Deanna back into the present.  Disoriented and hopelessly trying to reestablish the slender connection that would lead her to Will, Deanna bolted out of the tub, soaking the floor as she searched wildly for her combadge under her discarded clothes.   'Counselor Troi, report.'   The captains query quickly cleared her mind enough to remind her to use the comm panel.  she reached for a towel while answering.          "Troi here Captain," she said, realizing with a great sense of relief that her sense of Will hadn't completely disappeared.


     "Counselor, we are receiving a weak Federation distress signal and will be arriving in it's vicinity within four hours," he said.  Deanna could hear the faint touch of hope in his voice and furiously toweled herself dry.


     "Captain.  Commander Riker is still alive.  I'll be right there," she said as cautious hope filled her heart.  She grabbed a uniform out of her closet and pulled it on over still damp skin in record time.   "We're on our way, Will.' she tried to send to him over the distance.                          




 3 B


      Tai listened now with only half an ear to Will's uninhibited monologue that had degenerated back into his native human tongue.  His talk had seemed to have been triggered by the strong pain medications, but now had become a fixture of what Tai was convinced was a fever-ridden delirium.  He touched the human's face with the back of his hand, fearing the dry heat that replaced the pallor of Will's skin with a deep flush.  Tai knew that without the anti-bacterial medication, the fight Wills body was engaged in would destroy what little vitality the human retained, killing him. Tipping the spoon into Will's mouth, Tai held his head and tried to force a bit of the salty fluids into him.  But it quickly became obvious that he could no longer swallow.  Soaking several rags, he awkwardly stripped Will to his skin and lay them on his neck, wrists and face.  Tai's own uniform was soaked with sweat, but he continued to fan Will as the fever still climbed.  Tai's anger climbed as well, unable to face the fact that another life might be lost to the whim of the gods. His knowledge of humans was too little, and his resources too slim.  Without help, the human officer would not be saved and he would remain alone.   The human's non-stop conversation remained erratic and confusing.  One minute he spoke Romulan and the next Federation Standard.  Tai became fearful when Will lapsed into long periods of silence, sometimes calling for someone, or maybe something called Imzadi.  Unexpectedly his captive became calm, peace smoothing the lines from his face as he whispered another name and fell into an honest sleep.      When Will awoke several hours later he was lucid, but he seemed to think someone called Deanna would soon be there and nothing Tai could say would dissuade him.      


      'I loved her all this time but was too stupid to do anything about it' he said, his eyes shining with unshed tears before he turned away. 


      Tai heard Will whispering, and put his ear closer to his captives mouth.  He could barely make out the words, 'be happy Imzadi,' he said, his breathing resuming it's unsteady flutter. Unexpectedly, Tai's grief for his own loss almost overwhelmed him.  He touched the face of his enemy, wondering why this woman named Deanna should still have the ability to torment him in the last hours of his life.  Tai shook as he silently released hot tears and began to grieve his own loss as he sat vigil with the delirious officer whose thoughts and speech always came back to one word- Imzadi.  Tai stewed. He didn't have any idea of what the word meant, only that it caused the human deep felt pain with every utterance. Soon the humans ramblings began to deteriorate, and he was unable to determine the sense of anything he said.




  Deanna remained at her post on the bridge, her sense of Will strengthening as they drew close to the source of the distress signal.  She held his fear and pain close to her, and felt his despairing sense of loss, until they began to dissipate into a general miasma of undistinguishable emotions.  Maintaining her composure was becoming difficult but outwardly she appeared calm. She was thankful that the captain said nothing to disrupt her concentration while she tried to send Will comfort and the strength of will to survive.  She could only hope that it would be enough to carry him through until they arrived.                                                      



      Tai's hopelessness settled over him likea dark shroud, threatening to smother his hope that the Federation would want to find this one human.  He saw the end coming and attempted to withdraw from the connection he felt to his patient, vainly preparing for the rapidly approaching time when he would be alone.  Then he cursed aloud fluently, angry at himself for caring at all.  He resigned himself to his own death when the human died, for if the Federation ever found them, surely they would execute him when they saw their own dead, while he yet lived. 


      When the human finally lapsed into silence, Tai searched for a pulse under his bearded jaw, holding his fingers against the heated skin to search for the evidence of his cardiac function.  The pulses flowed reassuringly under his fingertips but were rapid and weak, becoming increasingly irregular.  Wills restlessness alerted Tai that the pain medication was wearing off.  The dull grey of his alien eyes stared at Tai without seeing.  Tai wondered if all human eyes changed as much as his.  Whereas before, they had seemed brilliant blue in their grief, they were now the dull gray blue of an overcast Romulus sky, and quickly clouded as pain encroached steadily, defeating the comfort that the medication had granted him . Tai's eyes stung until he sternly admonished himself with the reminder that he was Romulan, and this was only a human captive, not worthy of his grief.  He watched in stoic silence and reminded himself yet again that humans like this one had killed his crew.   But down deep he knew that this one had not been responsible, nor could he in good conscience hold him so.


      His lover had died alone like this, on a hard, shattered deck of their ship on an alien world, far from home.  He wondered if the woman this human loved would cry when they found his body, or if she had stopped loving him as he truly seemed to believe.  Unwilling compassion chipped away at the hardness of his heart, and he knew that he wouldnot leave him to die alone.  Tai leaned closer and lay his hand on Will's shoulder.



       Several hours had passed, and the Romulan had been contemplating the half-full hypospray he held for a full twenty minutes.  Now that it was obvious the human was dying, he felt constrained to withhold it.  Tai's beliefs in the religion of his family had remained strong, and he had been taught that the dying must experience the fullness of their pain.  Otherwise the gods would not grant them release from it in the afterlife. If Tai sedated him, the gods would be cheated, and Will's suffering would not end with his death.  Tai knew that emotional and spiritual pain could increase the physical pain Will already suffered, but he finally decided that it was better for Will to die knowing that Deanna might still be another's, rather then deny the god's their due.        Tai watched quietly, resigned now to his fate as he recognized the transition of a body readying itself to die.  The hand he still held began to cool, despite the fever that still raged.  It slowly darkened to a mottled purple as his circulation slowed, and Will's breathing was becoming increasingly erratic.  For several hours Tai held vigil, his brown eyes glazed with fatigue as the pauses between the humans breaths became more pronounced.  Tai held his own breath while counting the seconds between the human's, and gasped heavily with him as his breathing resumed. Deep lines of pain furrowed Will's brow, and his eyes sank deeper into their sockets.  Every moment he lived brought him closer to death.  'So it is with all of us,' Tai thought.   As vital organs threatened to fail, fluids collected in his lungs, and an ominous rattle began a duet with his labored breathing.


         The hypospray deeply imprinted the hand that still clutched it.  However difficult it was to watch the human suffer, this was the only way that Tai knew to help him die well.  Partaking the sacredness of the moment, Tai watched him begin to painfully let go of life and finally spoke, his voice intense with the belief he desperately needed tohold.  Less painful this way human, I think" he whispered, though he suspected he would notunderstand. "The death of love's hope in your soul is not less painful foryou, than the pain of my own loves death," he whispered, finally acknowledging his own despair as it arose.  "Now hold fast the pain of your body, and I will pray that it keeps you from the deeper agonies of your heart.  Let go of your life when the time comes, and may the god's grant you peace for both your body and your heart...               


                                                    Chapter four   


     "Captain, we are picking up two distinct life signs on the planets surface within the shuttle.  Human and Romulan".  Data looked up, "sir, human life signs are failing." Picard glanced at the Counselor who seemed a picture of serenity until his eyes rested on her white knuckled grip on the arms of her chair. They were coming into orbit around the small planetoid.  "Worf, ready your away team and meet Dr. Crusher in transporter room two." The Klingon;s stance was rigid as he strode to the turbolift with a pointed sideways glance at the Counselor. Picard tapped his badge again.  "Chief, transport the away team to within surveillance distance from the shuttle. Prepare for Commander Riker's arrival in sick bay.;  He returned his attention to the sphere now filling the screen as he resigned himself to wait.    


   'Captain, Romulan warbird decloaking at mark two one seven six five.;




     The away team were hard pressed to find cover as they drew their phasers and moved silently at Worf's command. The arid landscape reflected the blistering heat and all but Data were soon bathed in sweat mixed with a fine layer of the reddish dust.  They were soon dripping rivulets of reddish muck.  Beverly pointed her tricorder at the shuttle, and nodded for Worf to ready himself. His massive muscles bunched with tension that released as he burst through the door with the rest of the team following close behind.  Worf's hyper-sensitized awareness had him on edge, and he barely restrained himself from disintegrating the Romulan that he had targeted with deadly precision.  Tai blinked at the massive Klingon looming over him but didn't move.  His hand still rested on Will's shoulder as he raised dark lusterless eyes to meet the Klingon's and spoke in halting Federation Standard, "I have been waiting. What took you solong?"  Worf's face was impassive, unwilling to trust a Romulan who appeared to have the life of his Commander in his hands.  His phaser never moved from the center of Tai's chest as he jerked his head, motioning for Dr. Crusher to come forward.


       Beverly dropped to her knees to examine Will.  His eyes fluttered at her touch, and a guttural groan escaped him as she rolled him on his side to examine his back.  She never fumbled in her haste, deftly administering an analgesic before she removed the dermaplast from his chest.  Her anger was unreasonable, but it  surged nevertheless, silently berating Riker for his condition.  Her increasing frustration tightened in her chest as she cursed her inability to treat him effectively.   She forced herself to distance herself from their friendship when he still moaned at her touch.  She couldn't be gentle in her assessment or she might miss something crucial.  Resting her hand lightly on his brow for a brief moment to calm him, she soaked his heat into the cool of her palm, confirming the elevated temperature readings on the tricorder. With practiced efficiency, Beverly administered a hefty loading dose of antibiotics and slapped a heavier dermaplast on his seeping wound.  When she finally looked up at the grim-faced Klingon, her eyes were clouded.  'I just have enough plasma expander to stabilize him for transport to sickbay Worf.   The Klingon placed a comm badge on the Romulan, and without further discussion, Beverly began the transfusion and attached a comm badge to Will's pants since he was bare chested.             Worf observed with relief as his commander's color changed from gray to just sickly pale.  He had great respect, not only for DoctorCrusher's skill, but also for her temper, and he didn't question her while she worked.   The deep growl that rumbled in his vast chest was a threat that needed no translation as he motioned for Tai to stand.  "Prepare to transportfive directly to sick bay," he said and stood guard on Tai.  At Crushers nod, he gave the command, and they disappeared in a swirling shimmer of disrupted molecules.                                          




  Worf and Data materialized into the orderly chaos of a sickbay that was preparing itself for commander Rikers arrival.  Worf was at first alarmed, and then enraged when he saw that only Data had materialized with him.     'Transporter room two, where is the rest of my party?'  He searched for an unseen assailant while slapping his comm badge. 'Captain, Commander Riker, the Doctor and the Romulan prisoner did not transport with us to sick bay.' The voice of the transporter chief broke in, fairly crackling with anxiety.  'They're not on the ship, and not on the planet sir...'  Picard didn't wait for him to finish.  'Worf, I need you on tactical, report to the bridge. ' Aye Captain' the Klingon growled.  Picard continued. 


     'A Romulan warbird has decloaked while you were planetside, however, we have YET to discover what they want.'   Worf growled, looking as if he had a great need to hurt someone or something. 


     'Perhaps they now HAVE what they wanted sir.'  The transporter chief spoke with a voice on the thin edge of panic.  'Sirs, they must have locked on to our away team just seconds before we did.  I'm reading two human life signs on the warbird.'        Worf's teeth almost cracked under the pressure of his grimace.  He seemed to make a mighty effort not to throw his still drawn phaser at the wall in frustration before speaking.         'Captain.  Doctor Crusher has assessed the Commander's condition as critical and I feel that if we do not find him soon we may be holding a memorial instead of a reunion.'      Picard was unable to answer, having found himself in contact again with the Romulan Commander.  They faced off, each playing deadly word games as each tried to bluff the other of their supreme prowess and non-threatening intent. 


      The Romulan Commander's first officer flanked him and whispered something Picard couldn't hear.  A slow smile spread across the face of Picards enemy.    


       'Captain, we appear to have had the same goal in mind.  Recovery of those who belong to us.'  Picard knew that the Romulan bastards smile was false, as much as he knew that the malice gleaming through his eyes was true.  It was obvious that the Commander had just received the message they now had possession of his stranded Romulan officer, along with the doctor and his first officer.        'Captain Picard, I just received the distressing news that we accidentally transported two of your officers at the same time as rescuing one of ours.  Had we known that we were both trying to accomplish the same thing, we would have waited until your officers were safely aboard your vessel.'  His obsidian eyes were veiled. 'How unfortunate that your first officer is much too ill to beam back to your ship.'  Picard opened his mouth to angrily demand the return of his officers, but was cut off.  'It is fortuitous that your good doctor was with him at the time.  Rest assured, wewill take care of him to the best of our limited ability.'  His smile was feral, and chilled Picard as the Romulan Commander delivered his last blow. 'We will return them both, of course, when your first officer is able to make the transport safely.  Unless, of course, he doesn't survive.'  The Romulan cut the transmission before Picard could formulate a response.  Picard tried to get them back on screen, but the Romulan vessel did not respond to their hails.            




      Tai stood frozen as he re-materialized.  His disorientation only lasted for a moment, and that's all it took for him to realize he wasn't on a Federation vessel, but in the transporter room of a Romulan one.  Several disruptors were aimed at his head, but were lowered when they realized he wasn't one of the humans.  Tai was beyond tired, but his weary mind scrambled to formulate a plan when he saw the security guards attention shift to the humans.  He watched silently,careful not to object when the two guards pulled Will to his feet, holding him upright solely by brute force.  When the other guard shoved his disruptor into the red headed doctors back, Tai's mouth went dry and cottony, but he knew with certainty that his career, and the lives of his former prisoners depended on him.  Concentration took a supreme effort, but he amazed himself at his ability to keep his voice uninterested, speaking as if it were an after thought. "If you want this human to live through an interrogation,' he said, pointing negligently to Will, who was wholly supported by the grip of the two guards, 'you had better let his doctor give him the medical attention he requires.'  He raised one eyebrow.  'But it IS your choice.  Perhaps the Commander won't care if commander Riker of the Enterprise dies before he has a chance to interrogate him.'  His disinterested comment was well delivered and had the desired effect. The larger guards eyes widened and he nodded his thanks, hoisting his captive over his shoulder, ignoring Riker's groans as he settled him into place.       'I am the only survivor of my ship.  I need to see your Commander,' Tai said, managing, with difficulty to keep from glancing at the semi-conscious officer.  The Romulan security officer stared at him without comment and touched his communication badge.  'We need an escort from transporter room three to the bridge.'  Without another word he set off at a swift pace, with the other guard shoving the slender doctor along behind them.                    




     Beverly kept her voice level and her unruly temper controlled, but she did it with much difficulty as she watched Will's head bob to the rhythm of the Romulan stride.  She had to trot to keep up with them.  'I need a tissue knitter, plasma expanders and antibiotics fit for humans,' she said to the Romulan who walked behind her.  When he didn't respond she said more loudly.   'If you don't get me what I need I can guarantee you that he will die before your captain gets to see him.'  Neither of the guards answered her, and Beverly alternately jogged and walked, shrouded in frustrated silence.  She was breathing heavily by the time they arrived at sick bay.  When the guard dumped Will onto an empty exam table she flinched as the back of his head hit the hard surface with a dull thud.  As soon as they moved back, she stepped in to the table and rapidly reassessed Wills condition. His vitals had become more stable with the increased blood volume thanks to the plasma expander. The doctor held onto the table, visible relief relaxing her rigid posture when Will cracked his eyes open and gave her an almost plausible smile. 'Hello Doc,' he whispered, grinning crookedly as if they were safe in their own sickbay.  How long he would remain stable she had no idea.  Beverly smiled back at him as she held his hand, using the time honored method of touch to confirm his fever.  She smoothed his filthy hair back off his brow.  'Hey you.  You're nothing but trouble on two legs, you know that?  And god do you need a bath,'  she said, wrinkling her nose in disgust. Will closed his eyes and just grunted his assent.   Bev sighed and continued to hold his handas a stern faced Romulan entered.        'He needs medical attention,' she demanded immediately.  The Romulan's expression never changed while he advanced and examined Will with deft moves and little compassion.  His touch was rough and Beverly bit her tongue, grateful that she had given Will analgesia as the Romulan pushed and prodded without apparent concern for how much pain he might be causing his patient.  'I have all the plasma expander you might need,' he said without inflection, 'but I have no antibiotics that are compatible with human physiology, and no capabilities of manufacturing them now or in the near future.'  He pulled the dermaplast off of Wills chest and examined the wound carefully.  'I can cauterize this, but it will not be pretty. Human cellular structure is different from Romulan, and we saw no need for programming our tissue regeneration units to be compatible with your species.'  He probed carefully, working his way down from the wound and stopped when Will gasped with pain as his touch shifted the broken ribs.  'I also cannot mend these.  Keep him still or he may puncture a pulmonary structure. Beverly fumed with hopeless indignation. 


         'The Enterprise will send you whatever we need, ' she snapped.          'That is between my Commander and your Captain,' he said impassively.  'I am only a doctor and have no way of knowing when or if that will happen between them.  These are the tools I have at hand now, and  I have been ordered to treat him now, and not later.'       Beverly watched, helpless to interfere while he adjusted a hand held unit and held it over the ugly gash that so insistently bled.   She forced herself to watch, but she still wasn't prepared as Will ripped his hand from hers with surprising strength, nor was she ready for the stench of his burning flesh in her nostrils.  Will's hoarse shout pierced her heart, releasing her rage as her hands curled into claws and she reached out to stop the Romulan doctor. But others strong hands brutally gripped her arms from behind as the doctor continued to ruthlessly cauterize the edges of Wills wound in the most primitive method known.  He did it without warning, without analgesia, and without remorse.  Unbelieving shock left her eyes wide as she witnessed his cruelty.   Will arched his back in agony as his eyes rolled back in his struggle to stay conscious.         The Romulan doctor spoke, his blunt detachment cutting her off before she could even draw another outraged breath.  'I will send someone down with the plasma expanders.'  He stared impassively, unmoved by her furious expression.  'I do no more, and no less for him than I would any injured animal.  The only requirement of the Commander is that he be alive and able to withstand his interview.'  His cold black eyes sent a shiver down Beverly's back, assuring her anew that there would be no compassion from this doctor.  The Romulan guard released her, and the doctor cleaned his hands as if something repulsive had contaminated them.  'My attendant will bring in the plasma and supplies you need.  I advise you to use them.  I assure you that the Commander will see you soon.'          Beverly wiped the fine beads of sweat that covered Will's pale face. He tried to quell the short breaths of painful shock as he tried to escape the pain that gripped him.  Beverly still had her field med kit, and loaded the last of the pain meds into the hypospray and quickly gave it all to him in one dose.  His grimace faded and his eyes closed in stunned relief, and finally he was able to slow his rapid breathing with a prolonged shudder.  For a long moment he lay still, trying to catch his breath.  His pain abating, Will tried smiling through the tears that had smeared the red dust on his face.         'He doesn't have much bed side manner does he?' he asked, with an abbreviated groan as he tried to turn towards her. 


      'Will damn it, just lay still, at least until I get some more plasma expander into you and dress your wound' Beverly said, restraining him with a soft touch that belied her sharp words. 


      He lay back without much of a struggle.  'God forbid I should go around undressed,' he dead panned. 


        Beverly frowned, unsure of whether to be relieved that he felt well enough to try and joke with her, or be angry that he refused to be serious.  So she said nothing, except to mutter a quick prayer that the loading dose of antibiotics she'd given him on the surface would hold him.


       Will felt slightly nauseated as she began cleaning the blackened flesh around his wound, all the while, listening while Beverly cursed the Romulan doctor under her breath.  He turned away as she spread a salve from her kit liberally on and around the wound, trying unsuccessfully to resist flinching away from her touch.  No matter how gentle she tried to be, he was forced to bite back groans several times as she worked. He knew how it troubled her to be unable to fix him, but he was unable to find words that might comfort her without sounding maudlin.


        Finally Beverly covered the ugly site with clean bandages, her expression unreadable as she stared at the stark reminder of her glaring inability to do her job.  There wasn't much she could do for his broken ribs, but she held her field regeneration unit over them in hopes the small amount of power provided could at least begin the process. A sharp metallic clank made her jump, and she forgot where she was, ready to berate whomever it was for disturbing her patient.  But the cold stare of the unfamiliar Romulan stopped the flow of words before she let them loose.   He pointed to the bundle on the empty exam table and said, 'the doctor sent me with these.  He said to tell you that these are the only supplies you are going to get.'  Before she could formulate a reply or another request, he was gone.  She turned from Will's drowsy stare and swore under her breath as she viewed the inadequate treatment options before her. Squaring her slim shoulders, she gave Will two more units of the plasma expander.  It wasn't going to restore him as real blood might have, but it was far better than him remaining a quart low.   His heart had been working far too hard for far too long, in order to compensate for his low blood volume.  When she had finished, her fingers rested lightly on his wrist, taking a manual pulse. She smiled and proclaimed 'normal,' but Will had already slipped into a peaceful sleep. Beverly Crusher never failed to be amazed at the strength of Will Riker's constitution.  Her expression was resigned as she brushed his damp hair back from his face, and slid down against the cool metallic wall, closing her eyes to rest up for whatever was to come.  


                                                   Chapter Five A


     Deanna was silent as she observed Picard staring at the empty view screen.  The turbolift doors swished open and the atmosphere was electrified by Worfs angry presence.  Picard straightened as though purposefully facing the heat of the Klingon's wrath, and motioned him to silence.  Deanna sensed that Captain Picard was being torn by his divided loyalties.  Will Riker was both his first officer and his closest friend, and Beverly Crusher was not only his CMO, but was a woman he had strong yet unresolved feelings for, who alternately perplexed and enchanted him.  They were now both being held by an enemy who wished none of them any good, and he now had to stand by, helplessly strangled by Starfleets policies and protocols.  Picard tried repeatedly to raise the Romulan vessel, but they remained silent, and he had no viable reason to fire on them, at least not yet.  His hands were clenched with frustration, wondering what was being done to his officers.  He turned to Deanna.  'The policy of Starfleet is not to negotiate with terrorists or kidnappers, but so far, I have not been asked for anything.  I'm not going to give them time to ask.'  Deanna nodded, but Picard had already turned to his android officer. 'Data, I want you to review every system on that ship and find a weakness' anything that will allow us to get the Commander and Doctor Crusher back here should the opportunity present itself.'         The android nodded and began to scan documents scrolling down the screen faster than any human eye could follow.  'Sir, I will notify you when I find a viable option,' he said, his yellow eyes intent on the screen before him.         Picard schooled his fierce expression to neutrality.  'Lieutenant Worf, find the weakest part of their offensive and defensive systems, including their shielding and cloaking devices.'  His voice became flat and hard, 'and you might also apply some of that famous Klingon guile to this problem.  If we have to revert to some less than honorable tactics to get them back, so be it.'


       The Klingons answering grow l rumbled deep in his chest.  'It is NEVER dishonorable to recover fallen comrades from an enemy who doesn't know the meaning of honor'. Sir,' he added, and bent to his task.


        'Counselor,' Picard said, 'what do you sense from the Romulan ship?'        Deanna's dark eyes met his, with no sign to betray the turmoil she sensed in him. ''I have sensed nothing but deception and satisfaction from Shijarr and his first officer.'  She seemed almost unwilling to go on.  'I have had a clear sense of Will since we came into orbit around the planet.'  Deanna paused and glanced down for a moment,'but other than that he is injured and feels that he is in danger, there isn't much I can tell you.' 


       Picard's lips compressed to a thin line.  'How is it that you know he is hurt?  I thought that as an empath you couldn't read thoughts.'


      Deanna's eyes met Picard's.  'I'm not reading his thoughts sir.  But in times of great physical stress, when Commander Riker is unable to guard his emotions, I can feel what he is feeling.'       Picard stood for a moment and transfixed her with his eyes.  'You mean you feel his physical pain?' he said, his brow wrinkling.       Deanna answered slowly, striving to keep her voice level.  'No sir, I feel the emotions that his physical pain triggers. His anger and fear' the sickness in his spirit' his despair.'  She clasped her hands tightly, feeling that her revelation to the Captain had been a betrayal of sorts.  Picard abruptly stopped what ever he might have been about to say, and Deanna knew he was wondering what else he didn't know about the counselors connection to his first officer.  But for now he seemed satisfied that she had been able to confirm that Will was alive. He nodded.  'Let me know if you sense anything new counselor.  Thank you.'  Deanna knew that a duranium coil could not have been more tightly wound then the Captain at that moment, but it was only evidenced by the tapping of his fingers in an uneven staccato beat against his thigh.  Finally, Picard gave up his pretense of calm.  'I will be in my ready room.




       Without the captain present on the bridge, Deanna didn't really have a reason to stay, but she nonetheless felt that it was where she needed to be.  Time dragged, as if the seconds were unwilling to become minutes, and the minutes seemed to rebel at the thought of grouping together to become hours.  Deanna was grateful not to sense anymore of the emotions from Will that she had expressed to the captain.  Perhaps he slept, or was unconscious. Guilt pricked her, knowing that Will would be humiliated by her revelation.  She dreaded telling him.  Slowly, something akin to Picard's own anger began to kindle in her breast as the true helplessness of their position finally hit her.  They had been so close to getting Will and Beverly back.  Deanna closed her eyes, quieting her restless mind.  When her own emotions were too strong, she knew they would interfere with being able to feel Will's.  Reaching inward, she sought the centering that would help her feel Will's presence more strongly.  She jumped when Worf's deep voice broke her concentration. 


      'Are you 'sensing' the Commander, counselor,' he asked with a trace of something she couldn't quite identify in his voice.


        'Yes, I can still sense him Lieutenant Worf,' she answered, not able to look him in the face.        'What are you sensing?' he asked with dogged persistence.


       Deanna paused, having full knowledge that the Klingon was fighting his own anger at her eternal connection with Will, especially after the revelation of the depth of that connection she had just given to the Captain.


     'I just feel him Lieutenant. He's either asleep or unconscious.  I don't know how else to describe it to you other than that.  I usually can't feel his state of mind at this distance.  I just know he's alive, but as I told the captain, when he is deeply stressed I can sometimes sense his emotions,' she said, knowing that what Worf was asking of her was much more than the obvious question his words stated. Worf fell silent, but Deanna was well aware of what still remained unasked.   When it seemed apparent that Worf wasn't going to pursue the subject any longer on the bridge, Deanna put her concerns about Worf in the back of her mind.  Shortly thereafter, she felt the faint touch of Will's awakened presence in her mind.  He seemed fairly calm, and she told herself repeatedly that he would be fine.  But she remained uneasy on a very deep level, unable to banish the fear that this time, she might spend the rest ofher life without him.                                                    



        Tai sat in the dining hall with the bridge officers, listening to their homesick talk of Romulus, and their rowdy speculation regarding the two Starfleet officers under guard in the detention cell.       'I heard that one of them is a doctor, but that the other is a high ranking officer from the flagship Enterprise, as well as a strategist for the Federation,' the helmsman bragged.  'I also heard that the Commander hopes to use what he learns from his interrogation to redeem his standing with the Tal Shiar.'  Tai kept silent during theconversation.  He didn't want to be questioned further about his time on the surface with the human, even though Commander Shijarr seemed to have accepted his story about keeping the captive alive for interrogation.  He was distinctly uneasy about the outcome, should there be a close scrutiny of his treatment of Will Riker of the  Enterprise.  Tai had begun an internal battle with  his previously held policy of 'don't ask' regarding interrogation methods used by the Romulan military.  He instinctively disliked cruelty of any kind, and shuddered when he realized that Will would be interrogated by the Commander's security chief Mar sek' who also doubled as the Commander's official interrogator.  He instinctively avoided the Romulan who was just like so many others he had seen during his many years of military service.  Mar sek' took sick pleasure in forcefully extracting information from reluctant guests by any means, no matter how barbaric.   Tai could not bury himself in his studies this time, and he had a sinking feeling that Will would be very reluctant.        The helmsman spoke again, loudly to regain everyone's attention.  His manner was self important and grated on Tai's already fragile nerves.  'They are interviewing the human now,' he said with a dry chuckle.  'I hope he remembers something strategic that he's willing to share with Mar sek'.  You know how irritated the Commander gets when he wants something, and someone stands in his way.'  They all nodded their heads, but only a few laughed.        Tai keenly observed those who didn't laugh, but who had turned a shade paler than normal.  His heart dropped to his stomach and his voracious appetite disappeared completely.   Over the years, he had been reluctant to accept his own people's barbarity, but now he was being forced to face it.  Always in the past, he had hidden from making moral judgment against the military arm of his people by becoming immersed in his research.  But now he had no way of escaping the fact that the methods that his superiors used on previously anonymous Federation foes, was now going to be used on someone he knew.  Sickened at heart, Tai left with the excuse that he needed to find his quarters to rest from his ordeal.             




         Will felt amazingly better considering how bad it seemed he had been before.  He finally convinced Beverly that sitting was far less painful than lying on the hard gurney where he had been so unceremoniously dumped.  So Beverly had let him sit up, but kept him under her watchful eye.  He was weak beyond belief, and felt as if someone had pummeled him until he was bruised bone deep.  Much movement was impossible due to his fractured ribs, but so far, it seemed that Beverly's treatments were enough to put him back on his feet again' or at least it got him off his back.   His shoulders itched and he started to shrug and then thought better of it when it seemed to make his head swim and exponentially increase the pain of his chest wound that throbbed with every heartbeat.   When his vision cleared he saw Beverly advancing on him with a big black loose fitting shirt.        'OK Mr. Riker,' she said when she saw his frown.  'Although seeing you without a shirt is not going to make me swoon, you need to get one on.  Your fever is down, and I don't want you to catch a chill.  So put this on.'        Will suddenly felt awkward and young.  He wondered spitefully if Beverly was feeling maternal and looking at him as an incarnation of Wesley.  He determined tiredly that hewasn't going to let her mother hen him to death.  'Do you think you can you put your arms through this?' she said.   Will opened his mouth to protest, and shrugged again, immediately regretting the movement as he barely suppressed a groan   From the look in  Beverly's eyes, he knew she wasn't going to take no for an answer at this juncture.  Finally, he decided that he would pick his battles carefully, and this one wasn't worth the fight.  He allowed her to dress him, feeling helpless and humbled by his dependence. He tried to quell his annoyance while she did her best to help him get the billowing shirt on without causing too much discomfort, but even the smallest movement was proving to be quite painful.  When his head popped through the neck hole he was breathing hard.  Beverly smiled through her worried expression.       'You look just like a little boy Will,'she said, ruffling his already ruffled hair with a smile.       'OK Beverly,' he said, hating the peevish tone of his own voice.  He cleared his throat and started again.  'We need to figure out some kind of a plan to'  His thought remained unfinished when the door opened and two guards entered, both with disruptors drawn.   Both he and Bev were covered and Will decided that keeping his mouth shut would be smarter than opening it at this point.  A tall, angular Romulan male who wore authority like a royal mantle of privilege, strode in and stopped in front of Will, staring at him expectantly.         'I am Commander Del Shijarr,' he stated, as if it should mean something to him. Will didn't try to stand, but instead replied with starfleet prisoner of war protocol.  'Riker, William T.  Identification number 2695834.'  The Romulan's expression barely changed except for a faint sneer as he studied Will. He advanced until their faces were inches apart.        'Yes.... Commander William T. Riker,' he said, enunciating every syllable.  'Well known Federation strategist and one time defeater of the Borg' ever eternal first officer of the Starship Enterprise, and reputed to be Captain Jean Luc Picards favorite.'  He paused to see the effect his knowledge had on his prisoner. 'You do remember Sela don't you?' he asked with eyebrows raised. 'Sela has had much to say about you Commander.  Especially about how badly she would like to see you again, and how favorably she would look upon anyone who should happen to escort you into her presence.  Sadly for you, apparently you are NOT one of her favorites.'         Will swallowed, acutely aware of the desert dryness of his mouth.  Sitting up straighter, he resisted the sudden urge to seek reassurance in Beverly's eyes and gathered his scattered courage. 'Return us to our ship, ' he demanded, not raising his voice.  'You have no reason to hold us here.'        The Romulan ignored Will demands, and seemed unperturbed by his audacity. Shijarr stared past him. 'Oh yes commander.  We have a very good reason to detain you.  We have only your best interests at heart, because your lovely doctor has said you are too ill to transport yet.'  His neutral expression turned malignant with heart-stopping speed.  'And it will certainly be true if our time together doesn't yield a rewarding conversation.'        Shijar motioned to the two guards with a jerk of his head, and Will found himself sandwiched between them, held tighter then a lovers embrace.  Pride spurred him to try to stand and walk, but unexpected vertigo attacked him and hopelessly scrambled his feet.  The guards dragged him stumbling towards the door, ignoring Beverly's angry insistence that he needed a doctor with him.  When she stubbornly tried to follow them, Will heard the air whoosh from her lungs as the guard strong armed her, throwing her back against the wall.  Sick anger spurred him, and adrenaline fueled his struggle to stop until one of the guards slapped him with a ferocity that rattled his teeth and blurred his vision. Jelly replaced his knees, and his last view of Beverly was of her stunned face as she gasped for air.               





                   Deanna awoke from a restless sleep that had not refreshed her.  Her gown stuck damply to her skin, but the unexpected wash of Will's presence diminished her discomfort into insignificance.  Panic seized her and she gasped while fighting a nameless dread.   Deanna forced her galloping heart to slow and soon realized that the panic she felt was Will's.  She still needed to know what he was feeling in order to help him, but she forced the fear down to a level that allowed her to function.  Sitting perfectly still with legs crossed Deanna sat quietly in the center of her tangled bedcovers.  Eyes fluttering but closed, she breathed deeply and dismissed the mental horror show that had earlier tried to turn her into a weeping wreck.  With a renewed determination, she allowed her energy to reinforce the sacred bond that she and Will had so purposefully let wither. Deanna probed and tested the strength of the mental pathway she had built, making sure it was sound before she was satisfied; then she channeled a steady stream of energy through it to Will. She had no way of knowing if it helped, but stubbornly, she sent Will strength and hope, her focus unwavering for more than three hours.  Finally after she had stopped sensing his conscious mind, she stopped, praying that somehow she had helped him survive.                   




     Will guessed his head must of weighed a million pounds, and in light of that fact, it was useless to try and raise it from his chest.  With such great weight, it wouldn't move however hard he tried anyway, and so he finally gave in to the logic of his internal argument and gave up trying to face his tormentor and allowed his aching chin rest against his chest.  But Will was in no way defeated. Sweat carved grimy rivulets through the filth on his skin, stinging his eyes and soaking invisibly into his black shirt.  His eyes itched and burned in dry sockets, and he longed to rub them, but his hands were tied brutally tight behind him.  Vaguely he remembered that as a Starfleet officer, he was expected to be both stoic and unbreakable.  His smile was more like a grimace as he sent a fleeting mental apology to Captain Picard. So far they hadn't broken him, but he was feeling somewhat less than stoic at the moment.         Shijar's boots clacked sharply against the metallic floor of the tiny room, and Will was covered with goose bumps of dread when he stopped beside him.  The security chief had stopped hitting Will and was making anxious promises to Commander Shiijar that he would soon make his prisoner tell him whatever he wanted to hear.  Will wanted to laugh, but was finding himself increasingly short of breath.  It was difficult to draw air into his burning lungs with his bonds cutting so deeply into his chest, and he was worried that a rib might puncture his lung.  Trying to think on the brighter side, Will reasoned that without those bonds he would have long ago fallen out of his chair. The arguing got louder and Will tasted blood without realizing he'd been biting his lip as he tried to focus on anything other then the next blow.  He had known full well that this wasn't going to be a pleasant interview to begin with, but he truly had failed to anticipate just how unpleasant it would be.  The Security chief's methods were slow and simple.  Wear him down, increase the pain, repeat the questions, increase the pain. Never let him rest, and never allow him the blessed release of unconsciousness.         The interview continued, and carried Will well past the point where he could thinking rational thoughts, but still he resisted though he had forgotten why it was so important to do so.  Gravity became his mortal enemy, thwarting his every effort to lift his chin from his chest.  With a massive effort he succeeded and looked his tormentor inthe eye, but it was only for a brief moment, and the back of his head hit the table behind him with a painful thud. The slim hold he had maintained on his focus disappeared as he stared upward with his eyes half open and his thoughts swirling in a muddied whirl pool of pain and increasing fear.  He counted the rivets in the ceiling above him. Counting had helped him focus early in the interrogation.  It now seemed eons before that he had counted constellations, and then federation members, moving methodically on to the number of different drinks Guinan had fixed him, and finally how many time she had written communique's proposing to Deanna and then lost his nerve.        The slap of bitterly cold water hit his face and filled his mouth, bringing him sputtering back to the present.  Bleary eyed, he observed the angry face of Mar sek', noting objectively that he had his gloved fist upraised.  It was then that Will decided only to count how many times they hit him, and he did so until finally he lost count of even that.  Finally he could only pray that they would stop.  The sharp tang of his own fear filled his nostrils, and he bitterly hoped that they would have the decency to kill him before he could disgrace himself.  But he didn't get his wish because they were very careful not to kill him.          Will forced his mind to disassociate from his body, dwelling among past memories that were far more pleasant then his present condition.   Dimly he heard Mar sek' asking him another question, but he didn't respond.  He was no longer being interrogated, but was awash with the remembrance of Deanna's intoxicating smell as he stood grinning like a schoolboy, a towel held out in his hands as she stepped from a lavender scented bath.  He ran his hands over the smooth softness of her naked skin, reveling in the luscious feel of her body eagerly molding to his as he held her in an impassioned embrace. As his mind lived the memory, he no longer felt the blows, and was unconscious of the tears that wet his face.    




 On the Enterprise, Dr. Selar had finished the surgical alterations to ready Deanna and Data for their away mission to the Romulan vessel.  She gave Deanna a small med kit and a medical tricorder and wished them gods speed.  Geordi LaForge had figured out a way to transport the away team aboard without setting off the Romulans intruder alarms'. Or at least he told them he was reasonably sure they wouldn't go off.  They had both been briefed about the timing required to accomplish the transport over, and though coming back would be less dangerous, Geordi still had complex computations to figure for the return trip because of the two extra bodies involved.  The calculations would have to be correct, and he'd have to know the mass of each person down to the milligram in order to transport them safely through the matrix of the Romulan cloaking systems.  'I expect to see all of my crew safely aboard the Enterprise soon,' Picard said, and then grimly watched as the transporter dissolved their molecules into swirling particles of light.  He stepped into the turbolift and spoke,'bridge.'  When the door hissed shut, he yelled and slammed his fist into the wall. It was something he hadn‘t done since his early years as a cadet.  The exquisite pain he felt when he tried to flex his fingers assured him he had succeeded in breaking several smallbones.  It didn't help either his anger or the anxiety any more than it had those many years ago.  He sighed as he cradled his throbbing hand.  'Sickbay,' he said, redirecting the lift, cursing again when he realized that Beverly would not be there.                    




  Despite the expertise of his persuasion and the eager promise to his Commander, the Romulan officer had been unable to bring Will to compliance as he had expected to by now.  The chief had tried to be careful and clever, taking great pains to try and hit Will where any damage wouldn't appear as obvious, new injuries.  Will had cursed him, knowing that one more bruise on the masses of bruises that already covered him would most likely go unnoticed by the Captain if he were put on the view screen.  The Romulan Commander's patience was waning at their lack of success and he himself threw another bucket of icy water on his prisoner which pulled him from whatever self-induced trance he had placed himself in.  Will clenched his jaw against chattering teeth and tried to shore up a weakened resolve that no longer had meaning for him. He struggled in an effort to try and pull himself together when he realized that the minute his value as a hostage was finished, so was he, and, so was Beverly.   Another open handed slap caught him by surprise, wrenching his neck as it snapped his head sideways.  Timing was everything in Romulan interrogation, and it seemed that his questioner was a master of timing.  'The strategy for the defense of the Quanto's system commander,' Will heard faintly through the ringing in his ears.  They had been asking him similar strategic questions for more than three hours.  Half blinded by the increasing pain in his head, he never saw the frustrated Commander swing his weighted baton.  When it hit him, the agony of his cauterized wound burned like fire across his chest, decimating his ability to think.   The longed-for blackness taunted him.  He prayed for unconsciousness to take him, but unfortunately for him, his tormentors were too well versed in their job to send him there prematurely.   They continued to hit him until the blows failed to register.       'Enough,' Shijar's frustrated shout barely penetrated the buzzing in Will's ears. A spasm of fear stabbed him as the compact baton slapped against the Commander's hand.  His frustrated use of it so soon told Will that there was more at stake than Shijar was telling.  The sound of it initiated another bout of queasy nausea.   Will's sluggish thoughts refused any semblance of order. He knew that he needed to push Shijar to do something that would alert Captain Picard that all was not as he said.        'Don't forget that he is human, and a sickly one at that.  If we kill him now Sela will be displeased.  We have time to continue this on our way to Aldon Macher.'  The security chief paled at the implied threat from Captain Sela and stopped the descent of his hand mid-blow. Humiliating tears of relief slid down Will's face, and though he realized that they weren't going to let him go, all that mattered to him was that they were going to stop hurting him.        The burly guards dragged him back to his cell in much the same manner as he had come. Only this time he wasn't struggling to walk, he was unable.  His mind defied his will, and he drifted in and out as they moved down long corridors. Will only realized that they had stopped when he heard a voice that seemed very familiar.  Forcing open his eyes, he fought the double vision that blurred the sight of the tall, broad shouldered Romulan that stood in front of him with arms folded impassively.  It was Tai, his reluctantly benevolent captor.  Will's hope was a sodden spark that stubbornly refused to be quenched.        'I found him to be singularly uncooperative as well,' he heard Tai lie. 'I stopped my interrogation when it appeared that he was too fragile for me to continue.  I knew he would be no use to the Empire dead,' he said glancing with pointed politeness from Will to the guards who held him.       The hands of his guards tightened painfully and roughly pulled him upright. Retro-rockets fired inside of his head, and the room tipped as sudden nausea rose up without warning. Struggling to raise his head, he purposefully faced Saijarr.  The startled Commander moved, but not quickly enough as Will heaved his stomach's contents all over the Romulan's immaculate uniform.  Saijarr's anger was both venomous and brutal, exactly as Riker had hoped.  The Romulan captain swung his baton with a powerful blow, and Will's head snapped back, pain becoming all he knew, as the weighted end of the baton took him across the nose. Saijarr's face paled with fury but his voice was icy calm.  'Take him to his cell now!' he said, viewing his soiled uniform with distaste. 'Filthy macc' humans,' he swore.       Gasping, Will choked on blood that filled his mouth faster then he could swallow it. Loud roaring filled his ears and he hoped that the condition of his face would be enough to alert the Captain because he couldn't stand much more abuse.  A long wave of vertigo struck him and the elusive blackness was almost within reach.  He gave himself over to it and became dead weight in his captors arms, but it was always just out of reach.  A familiar touch fanned the spark of hope in him as he prayed to pass out.                     




                                     Six B


    Data and Deanna materialized aboard the Romulan vessel just as Will was hit by the baton.  His sudden emotions of shock and sick acceptance washed over Deanna, and Data barely had time to steady her when she grasped his arm weakly for support.  For a moment Will's pain had shaken her equilibrium and Deanna knew her strength to endure with him was failing them both.  Data quickly pulled her into a shadowed nitch in the corridor, waiting for her to recover.        'Counselor, we should locate the Commander and Dr. Crusher as soon as possible.'  His golden eyes darted as he scanned the corridor.  'We must remember this place, for it is where the shielding is the weakest, and the only location we can be retrieved by the Enterprise.'  Deanna nodded as she gathered her returning strength.  Resolution filled her, and she schooled her expression into the stern features she remembered so well from her last excursion to a Romulan vessel.                   



 'Water,' Will mouthed as soon as he awoke, but his mouth was dry and sticky, not allowing the sound to emerge from his throat.  Torturous images of clear,clean mountain streams danced in his mind, and he prayed for water to cleanse the foul taste of blood from his mouth and chase away the nausea that stalked him.  Then he moved, and Will immediately realized that raising his head was a mistake of gargantuan proportions. It was at that point he decided that the pain of moving was goingto kill him far quicker than an upset stomach. He forced himself to remain utterly still on the floor where they had dropped him, only carefully opening his eyes once his heads pounding had diminished.  Wincing in the low light,his less than perfect vision revealed a red-headed blur, and he was greeted bythe angry countenance and gentle touch of Beverly Crusher.  He had only dim memories of her remaining nearby as he floated in and out of consciousness throughout the previous night.         'Lie still Will,' she snapped.  Her sharp voice was like a hammer pounding a huge nail into his head, and he struggled to assure her that he had no intension whatsoever of moving again. Licking his dry lips with his sticky tongue, he fervently hoped she wasn't really angry with him, especially since he couldn't think of one witty remark to coax a smile from her.  He was dying for a drink.  'What did I do nowdoc?' he said, the sound of his whispered voice was thick and nasal through his broken nose.  He winced when he realized that even raising his eyebrows hurt.        'Nothing Will, nothing.'  Beverly's hand rested lightly on his.  'Though I had hoped that for once you would try to be a little less stubborn.'  Herhand rested lightly on his arm and the contact was comforting to him.  'Did you stop to think that maybe they'd take it easier on you if you lied about something they couldn't check up on right away?' She sighed heavily.      Her frown bothered Will, but he couldn't think of what to say to erase the anger that marred the elfin charm of her delicate features.        Will let her continue to vent.        'You can't do this again Will,' she said,'you have to say something to appease Saijar or he's going to kill you next time.'          Will wondered if he had really asked for water, and if he had, why hadn't she brought him some.  He closed his eyes and muzzily wondered if she thought it was his idea to be interrogated.  Starfleet expected their officers to keep their mouths shut and he had..barely.  He knew her prickliness was only frustration.  Beverly wanted to fix him and couldn't, and because Beverly was his friend, her distress made him feel badly.  He doggedly opened his heavily weighted eyes, watching silently as she brushed her tangled hair awayfrom her fatigue-smudged face.  His eyes drifted, burning and throbbing heavily with every heartbeat.  Closing them once more, he imagined Beverly's reddish gold hair, bright, beautiful, and spun softly like exotic silks.  But the reality was that it now' hung dirty and limp, framing her exhausted features.  Her delicate shoulders were slumped with weariness and theknowledge that were it not for him, she would be safe on the Enterprise,weighted heavily upon him.       'I'm tired of wishing,' she said without preamble, successfully interrupting his gloomy thoughts.        'What does Commander Beverly Crusher wish for?' he croaked, his false smile failing to quite reach his eyes.       'Your poor face,' she sighed and smoothed a wayward lock of hair from his forehead. Her gesture stung his heart, remembering how the same stubborn lock drove Deanna crazy.            'I wish that I could put you back together Will only I don't have what I need to do it,' she said, her voice taut with stress.        "HumptyDumpty," Will thought inanely. Absurd as it was, he found it a great comfort that Beverly wasn't angry with him any more. He tried to speak, but a dry wheeze tickled his throat, provoking a cough that constricted his head and chest in a heated vise.  It took ten minutes of perfect stillness before the vise loosened and he could speak again.  'I could use... I don't know...something Bev,' he said.  'My head hurts...¦ I can hardly move it,' he confessed reluctantly, not bothering to tell her he was feeling increasingly feverish and slightly nauseated as well.        Beverly gripped his hand so tight he almost complained, until he saw that she looked ready to tear him apart again.  'Damn it Will, I don't have anything,' she said, her voice as tight as a clenched fist.  'I already used what was in the med kit, and they won't give me anymore supplies or medicine.'         Will nodded, causing another photon torpedo to detonate inside of his head. He cursed as un-heroic tears burned while he vainly struggled to assert control over them.  Unrelenting pain hammered him, throbbing between his eyes without respite.  The utter ridiculousness of attempting to escape when he could barely move his head left a bitter taste in his mouth.   'Bev, you've got to leave without me if you get the chance,' he said in a whisper. 'I'll make that an order if I have to.'        Beverly's eyes had filled with tears of anger and now widened, almost imperceptibly. 'Sure Commander,' she said and looked away, her snort barely audible.  Will had obviously forgotten that first and foremost, Beverly Crusher was a doctor.  He might be her commanding officer, but at this moment he was nothing more exalted than her patient.  It would have been obvious to him had he been watching that there was no way she was going to abandon him, no matter who had ordered her.  What Will also didn't see was how deeply stricken she was by his reluctant confession of pain.        When the door to their holding cell slid open, Beverly jumped up, fierce in her readiness to fight for her patient.  Two armed guards entered with towels,clothes, and a bucket of soapy water. 'Clean him up,' the one closest to her commanded as she threw the towel at Beverly.  The other guard set the water on a table hard enough to slosh half of it onto the floor.  'We will return in thirty minutes.  And if you haven't taken care of him, we will.  Beverly took a step towards them and shouted as the door closed, 'he needs medicine!'  But silence was her only answer. Wishing they had brought them some drinkable water as well, she washed her own hands and face first before soaking the dried blood that caked Will's beard.                    




      'Contact the Romulan ship Mr. Worf,' Picard said, his posture rigid and his words clipped with surgical precision.        Several minutes passed until Worf announced, 'Commander Saijar has responded. Shall I put them on screen sir?' The captain nodded, and the complacent face of Commander Shijar filled their view screen.       'Captain Peecard,' the Romulan said, his inflection slightly nasal and irritatingly flat.  'To what do we owe this pleasure?'           Picard stood and tugged his tunic.  'I am requesting to see my first officer and the doctor on screen, in accordance with the Jestan tor' Accord.  I am becoming increasingly concerned for Commander Riker's well being.'        The Romulan shifted in his chair, and his eyes glinted, but his neutral expression never changed.  'It is not necessary to quote the terms of the treaty to me Peeecard.  Commander Riker and Doctor Crusher are not prisoners. But you do well to be concerned Captain, in fact, it is understandable and commendable, this concern you have for the well-being of your crew.  I regret to say that the Commander's condition is still grave.  Believe me when I tell you that we are working on trying to stabilize him so we can transport them back to you as soon as possible.  I will, of course, put them on screen as you have requested.'  The Romulan leaned forward towards the view screen as he spoke his last words.  'Captain, though we have done what we could, we truly are poorly equipped to care for humans.'        Picard was well versed in the nuances of political evasion, and fully realized what the Romulan was really saying.  He confined himself to nodding, but the crew on the bridge were fully ready for him to order them to blast the Romulan ship and take his officers back by force.  But there were too many lives at stake for him to do least not quite yet.  The Commander waved his hand and the screen showed a small room, stripped of any but bare necessities. His eyes imperceptibly widened when Picard saw Beverly Crusher, apparently unharmed.  His eyes followed her as she swiftly walked to where Will lay on a narrow bed.  Picard was appalled.  His first officer's eyes were surrounded by purple bruising and his nose was obviously broken.  Will's eyelids fluttered and Picard strained without success to hear what he mumbled.   When Dr. Crusher looked into the view screen, her scowl was thunderous and Picard could almost visualize the vein throbbing in her temple. Schooling his expression into neutrality, he watched her gentle touch to his first officer's battered face.        'Sir, Commander Riker needs better medical care,' Beverly said, a flash of her trademark temper prompting her to address the view screen before anyone could stop her.  The screen abruptly went black.        Picard's temple throbbed.         'Sir, commander Riker's earlier injuries do not match his current ones,' Worf said with a growl in his voice. 'It appears that the Commander appears to either have had a second crash landing sir, or his face has met with an immovable object at high speed.'        'I'm aware of that,' he said, his voice brittle.              Picard ignored the Klingon's sarcasm.  'Laforge,' Picard said, his jaws clenching, 'You and Mr. Worf maintain close contact with the away team.  Try to find another location from which they can be transported.  And if there isn't one, then make one!  I want my full crew back on my ship within six hours,' he said.         'Will do Captain,' LaForge said, his fingers already flying as he began to run new simulations while he prayed that he could time the transport back so that everyone returned in one piece' one recognizable piece.  He hoped the transponder he had sent with the away team worked as planned, and he fervently hoped they found the Commander and Dr. Crusher soon.  The sooner he had the information, the sooner he could finish the precise calculations necessary for their safe return.           





 Tai sat in his temporary quarters, he tried to logically examine his quandary as his stomach churned.  His recent encounter in the corridor with the Romulan Commander and the human he had come to know as Will Riker had further shaken his understanding of humans. He stood and began to pace. Frustrated that he could no longer think of his prior captive as just 'the human' any longer, Tai had somewhere along the line elevated Will Riker from being a member of a despised race, to becoming a person.  Now his mind and emotions were tangled in the web of a moral quandary.  What should he do?  He had a life-long loyalty to his oath as a Romulan officer, but now he had added an incompatible obligation...the one he now felt to Will Riker' Head in hands, he massaged his aching temples.        'What am I going to do?' he wondered,compelled to do something, but he knew not what.  Helping the human would compromise his own people, and more immediately, his own safety.  Unable to stop his careening thoughts, Tai paced with restless energy across his cramped quarters.  He could not do nothing, and so he said a quick prayer for wisdom and decided that the human, Riker, was the first problem, and the most immediate. Tai frowned, wrinkling his brow as he thought things through.  The human needed medical help and then he needed to escape this ship or he would eventually die, whether through intent or neglect it mattered little.  Tai's fingers restlessly rearranged his hair, but quickly smoothed it back to it's usual immaculate state.  First he had to find out where they were being kept, and see how Will and his doctor were doing.  Hope glimmered for a fleeting moment when he thought of the determined redhead.  Any help with an escape would surely have to come from the Enterprise.  Tai shook his head.  It would have been much easier if Will wasn't the first officer of the Federation flagship, for it made him too tempting a prize for the Romulan powers that be.  With a plan in mind, weak though it might be, Tai left his quarters.                             



 Deanna spoke in a hushed whisper.  'Data, how will you determine where to find commander Riker?'   The android was indistinguishable from a true Romulan, down to the scowl he had practiced infront of the mirror.      'Geordi's scan has determined that the cell where they are keeping the commander and Dr. Crusher is close to the auxiliary quarters of the ship.  Is this vessel like the one you stayed on before?' he asked, referencing the time she had spent masquerading as a Tal Shiar operative.       Deanna nodded her affirmation.  'Yes, this is very much the same.  I stayed in the auxiliary section before.  I think I can find it.'  Deanna's eyes widened as they adjusted to the low level lighting of the Romulan ship. 'Just try to look like you're on your way to do something important and walk behind me.'        A small sigh escaped Deanna when she glanced back at Data.  She thought that he looked more like an android on a mission than a Romulan crew member.


     'Counselor, I find something very interesting.'       'What Data,' she muttered.       'What I find interesting, is that your altered personality creates an illusion, making you appear taller, though I am quite certain that your height is the same, to the exact centimeter, as it was before this mission.'       Deanna motioned Data to silence, her sense of Will suddenly clearer.  She could only hope that it was an indication that they were in closer proximity.  Deanna felt the irony that her unconscious awareness of Will's strength and character had become so much an integrated part of her life on the Enterprise,that his presence in her heart was something she had long ago taken for granted.   The bitter memory of her mothers words chastised her.  << When are you going to realize that Imzadi is forever Little One?>> , she had said when Deanna had finally confessed to her that she was seeing Worf.       Anxiety sped Deanna's measured pace, and her heels beat a staccato rhythm as they moved through the darkened bowels of the Romulan ship.   Worry hastened her pace as she sensed the heightened level of Beverly's emotions.   If she didn't find the red headed doctor soon, her friends frustration could very well cause her to do something that might get them all killed. 




  Will hurt more than he expected from a broken nose.  He seemed to be at the mercy of fiery nerve endings that had staged a mass protest over his entire body.  His head spun with any movement,so he decided to keep it still.  He remembered goading the Commander to hit him in the face; maybe not such a good idea.   And he remembered that they had dragged him back to his cell without much help on his part.   Then things were hazy until Beverly had cleaned him up, obviously trying, but not succeeding very well to keep from hurting him too badly.  Self disgust sickened him at the memory of his own cries and the humiliating tears of pain she'd been forced to watch as the guards had manhandled him into the clothing they'd left earlier.  Beverly had earned a split lip trying to stop them while trying to explain why it was taking longer than they had specified, what ever that meant. Will had found it impossible to ignore her tears of helpless rage, and just as impossible to forget them.       Lately he was either sweltering hot, or freezing, and right now he was shaking almost hard enough to fall off the narrow bed he'd been left on.  He was barely aware of Beverly's hands holding onto him while he prayed for the heat to return.       




      Tai frowned nervously as he approached the detention cell.  As he expected, it was located along the back portion of the ship, far from the activity of the main section.  Perspiring heavily, his fear of being caught gripped him, forcing him to search for reserves within himself he only hoped he had.  He approached the guarded door, took a deep breath and told the first lie, astonished at how easily he told it, and even more astonished when the guard believed it.   The hair on the back of his neck stiffened when unexpectedly, two security officers stopped in front of him and demanded to see the humans.  Taihad no choice but to let them in.  The female was small and held her disruptor a little too eagerly for his liking.        Tai opened the door, immediately spotting the doctor with the flame colored hair as she stood with her back towards them, wearily wringing out a wet towel.  Pointedly ignoring him, shecovered the rapidly rising and falling chest of her patient and then faced the two guards.  'What do you want,' she said as the door slid shut in his face. He stood rooted with indecision until he heard the muffled cry of pain from beyond the door.  Opening the door again he held his disruptor in a white-knuckled grip, noting with relief thatat the male was disarmed because he had Riker halfway in his arms and off the bed.   'Put him back down,' he said, his voice no where near as confident as he would have liked.  When the male lay Will back down, Tai moved closer.  The human cracked open his eyes and licked his cracked lips.  'Hell you're too late Tai, the cavalry already got here,' he said before a paroxym of wheezing coughs strangled any further words.       The male guard turned to the female Romulan and said, 'Counselor,' while pointing to Tai, 'this Romulan was at the crash site. ' Deanna examined him expectantly with distrust clearly evident in her pinched expression.  Her eyes flicked towards the direction of the musical wheezing, but she was in no way distracted from the business at hand. It finally dawned on Tai that these two were actually humans altered to appear as Romulans.   Tai cleared his throat, quickly lifting his hands in a universal gesture. 'I am here to help...if I can,' he said, very grateful that he now had translators and didn't need to rely on his rusty Federation.  He prudently kept his hands raised and allowed a small smile.  'Tai, my name is Tai,' he said, finding it somewhat difficult to believe he was actually conversing with yet another human.         'Well..what are you doing here?' Deanna said, lifting her chin and putting herself between he and Riker.  'I saw you on the surface, but the way I heard it, you were Will's prisoner, so why would you want to help him?'        'I feel a certain... Will Riker,' he confessed, the humans name feeling awkward on his lips.  'I don't know what I can do, only that I will do what I can.'  He watched the play of emotions cross her face as she wondered whether or not to trust him.  Miraculously she appeared to give him the benefit of the doubt and a sliver of the tension bled from her features, softening the edges of her scowl.        'OK then Tai... if you really want to help, I have to move Commander Riker to the area where we transported in.  Are you in?'' she asked, arching her brows.       Tai directed his gaze away from Riker, who now seemed to have lost consciousness. 'I'll do what I can.'  Tai saw Dr. Crusher's head turn sharply when Riker's breathing became more labored.  The wheezing easily covered three octaves as it cut through the ensuing silence.  Tai didn't bother to ask how he was doing because it was clearly apparent even to him that the human wasn't doing very well.  He inwardly cursed the frailty of humans again       Silent, with his hands still raised, Tai stood uncomfortably straight as the altered woman stared at him as though she could read his motives.  He wondered if when she discovered how conflicted he truly was, would she even let him live.   Something must have assured her, for she relaxed her aggressive stance and handed the disruptor to the male called Data.  Tai lowered his hands and watched without comment as she assisted the doctor silently, her hands straying to touch him frequently.  The Commander hardly stirred.  When she leaned close to him, his eyes opened to reveal two shining slivers of blue that stared at her with no apparent recognition while starting again to shiver violently.  He attempted to reach for the doctor with trembling fingers until she firmly captured his hand, holding it for a moment before placing it in that of the watching female.  With a feather light touch, the human disguised as Romulan delicately traced the bruises and misshapen landscape of Will Riker's face.  Doctor Crusher had laid out the med kit and found little that would help the fever that now pervaded his body.  The odor in the room was nauseating.  Long minutes slid by with only the strained sounds of Riker's breathing until the female spoke.  'Beverly,' was all she said, her voice heavy with it's unasked question.       'He'll be ok Deann.. lets just get him to the Enterprise...soon,' she said.  But the concern on her face made Tai wonder if she was trying to convince anyone other than herself.                               




   Watching Will struggle to breath made Deanna's chest constrict with anxiety. She knew how hard it was going to be to get him back to the beam-out location but they had no other option but to try.   'We have to go back to where we beamed in,' she told Beverly, keeping her voice steady to mask her discouragement.  'It's the weakest point in the ships cloaking right now and it's our best chance to get through without losing anyone.'   Bev nodded and pressed a hypo against Will's neck, his only response a momentary flutter of his eyes as he struggled against gravity to open them.  He succeeded, but only for a moment before dark lashes again framed flushed cheeks.  Beverly administered several more hypos in rapid succession.   'Broad spectrum antibiotics, bronchiodilators and an anti-pyretic,' she said,answering Deanna before she was asked.        Deanna knew Beverly was harboring needless guilt over Will's condition, and was in doubt about his survival. She nodded at the medications Beverly was using, fully aware of the malignant heat that burned in him, It's dark strength overpowered his own and seemed to reach for her as she brushed a kiss across his forehead.   'Imzadi...'   she whispered, the renewed ease of reaching his mind making her aware of what she had already suspected.


                                 Chapter 7 B


     'Are you his Imzadi?' the Romulan's surprisingly soft voice asked, his question painful for her as it dissected the silence.  Deanna was startled by it, and embarrassment stained her cheeks scarlet.   'That's a very personal question for a Betazoid,' she rebuked.            Tai's discomfort seemed almost to match hers, but he remained oddly determined. 'Will' spoke of many things after the crash, sometimes under the influence of a delirium, and sometimes not.  But he always came back to this subject,' he said quietly.  'It seemed quite painful for him, to die without Imzadi.'  The Romulan's steady stare, though not hostile, aggravated Deanna's discomfort.  'But what is it... this Imzadi?'             Deanna stood mute, feeling the unbearable weight of one hundred unanswered questions settle upon shoulders that were already heavily laden with the burden of her own doubts.  The Romulan stood quietly, awaiting her reply.  Did she even know the answer to that question any longer?  Did she know anything at this moment beyond the fact that what she really wanted was to lay her head on Will's chest, hearing the steady, life-affirming beat of his heart.  She wanted their souls to be enmeshed and their bodies to become one, as they had once so long ago.  More than anything, she wished she could block out the rest of the universe and dismiss the eternal worry of whether or not their careers could survive their love, or more importantly, could their love survive their careers.  Right now she didn't know if they would even survive the next hour.        Her chest ached as if it was her heart truly breaking.  In a brief moment it became clear that all their years of prudent companionship had backfired, and their carefully nurtured friendship had created a complex layer of boundaries that restrained them from what they both needed so desperately, but both refused to openly acknowledge.  Deanna stared at the expectant Romulan, knowing he would never hope to understand what she and Will still could not.   'It's complicated...' was all she could bring herself to say.                  




  Beverly glanced at Deanna, her hands pausing in midair.  Her friend had a major gift for understatement.  She swabbed Will's chest wound with antibiotic gel and covered it again with a sterile dressing, telling herself again she was doing the best she could in an impossible situation.  She gave Will another hypo, disturbed by the absence of his habitual flinch.  'I'm giving him a higher dose of analgesics before I waken him Deanna.  He's going to have to move, and it's going to hurt.' She nodded to Data to move to her side. When she gave Will a hefty stimulant to waken him, it was with deep misgivings.  Will's eyes slowly opened and cleared slightly from muddy blue to deep indigo.   His pupils were huge making his eyes sensitive to the light.        'Beverly... Deanna?' he asked, squinting at Tai.  He seemed to be unsure who the Romulan before him was.  'Is it m...mardigras?' he asked, licking dry lips as he looked around him and shook his head.  'Hey... I wanna know why wasn't Iinvited to the party?'  Data began to answer but Beverly cut him off.  "It's just the commander making a joke Data... and you might want to ignore most of what he says until we get him back on ship.        'As my commanding officer, I cannot ignore what he says... can I?' the android queried.       Beverly motioned urgently to Data that she needed help getting Will on his feet. 'He's not exactly in his right frame of mind right now Data'  Just help get him to where we're going and help me keep him quiet.  Even if you have to gag him.'  Data cocked his head,as if he was processing her unusual request. 'Yes doctor,' he said while managing to get his commander to sit on the edge of the bed.  Turning away for the briefest of moments, he barely caught Will as he began to slide.          'Caught me...sneaking out...' Will said with a lopsided grin, and then a groan as Data hefted him back onto the edge.        Tai opened the door.  'I'll walk ahead.  If I encounter anyone coming this way I'll try to head them off.'  Deanna's eyes conveyed silent thanks, and she nodded to Beverly and Data that it was time.  Tai slipped out and they followed him, though at a discrete distance.  Beverly and Data had flanked Will and hoisted him awkwardly to his feet, securing his arms around their necks and locking their inner arms around his waist as they moved forward.   The to the door was painfully slow, and Will stumbled, his near fall drawing a ludicrous comment from the over-medicated Commander.         Deanna watched from the rear, and whispered harshly to Data.  'Data,you're going to have to carry the commander.' Data never even missed a step as he picked up Will, cradling him against his own chest, as if he weighed less then an old coat.  Will's groan elicited a stab of guilt, forcing her to fight her panicked instinct to contact the Enterprise for an immediate beam out.  She knew full well that if she did, they would most likely be alerting the crew of the Romulan ship, and if the beam out didn't work they would probably all end up as a short paragraph called 'Troi's Folly,' in a Starfleet training manual on how NOT to conduct a rescue mission.   Tension stretched her nerves taut and she clenched the trigger of her disruptor so tightly her finger cramped.       Time crawled and nervous sweat pasted her uniform to her skin. Ten minutes later, the deadly itch between her shoulder blades became an urgent burning.         'Put me down you overgrown bucket of crappy circuitry,' Will demanded groggily. 'I'll have you dismantled for this.'         'Data,' she warned in a harsh whisper.  Deanna had an overpowering sense that something bad was about to happen. She had to block Will from her mind while drugs wreaked havoc on him as one depressed his central nervous system and the other stimulated him.  His emotional state was volatile and confused.   Will turned his head suddenly, his eyes half-mast.  'You're nothing but a Betazoid bully, but I'm not going anywhere without you anymore,' he said far too loudly for comfort. Deanna's eyes widened and she clasped her hand across his mouth.  Suddenly the warning klaxons howled and they were momentarily enveloped in inky blackness before the emergency lighting kicked in, relighting the corridor with an eerie glow.         'I think the jig is up,' Data whispered.  Deanna nodded, 'come on Data, run!'   Data hefted the commander effortlessly from his arms to over his shoulder, careful of his injuries, and led the way with his disruptor drawn and his intensions deadly.  Deanna and Beverly followed closely behind slapping an extra communicator on both Tai and Will.  'Stay close, we'll beam over to the Enterprise as soon as we reach the transponder in the hallway.' Tai nodded and moved to follow the small group.  'Halt!' screamed a Romulan who appeared at the head of the corridor.  He punctuated his command with a blast of his disrupter that narrowly missed Beverly.  Data eased Will to the floor behind him and began firing.  There was the sound of voices and booted feet running, coming from both ends of the corridor.  Tai hid in a storage depression in the wall while Deanna held her own disruptor before her, her body held rigid with adrenalin and fear.  'Data we've got to try and transport now,' she said, knowing they were still mere metres from their freedom.              'Go ahead, and you'll be leaving behind the one you came for,' an unexpected voice came from behind her.  The security chief had his arm locked around Will's chest and his disruptor jammed against his temple.  Will's strength was waning and his breathing again had become labored.  He sagged without resistance against his captor, oblivious to the gravity of his situation.  Deanna's mind raced, looking for solutions as she unwillingly began to let her disruptor slide from nerveless fingers.  The Romulan yelled  "security... intruder alert to level five section eighteen.'  Everyone stayed frozen in place as three security crewmen clattered down the hall, but instead of dropping her weapon, Deanna fired on the panel above their heads. The Romulan easily overpowered her, wrenching her shoulder painfully,but not before the gun discharged, wreaking havoc on the side panels and showering them with sparks and debris. A grim faced Tai stepped out from hiding during the commotion and he cracked the chief in the back of the head with his gun, immediately engaging another Romulan as the secuirty chief wrestled Will further away.  The chief had been stunned and dropped his disruptor, but hadn't loosen his manic grip on Will.  He was now using him as a human shield while dragging him down the corridor.  Data grabbed the arm of the Romulan behind him and gave a sharp twist until it snapped. Deanna heard his scream and followed after Will.  Tai tackled the third Romulan from behind and wrestled him to the floor, not stopping until he bashed him into unconsciousness.  Deanna never faltered, picking up the fallen disruptor and leveling it at Will and the chief, who were now at the end of the corridor, a few paces shy of their transponder coordinates.  Unwilling to call her bluff, he suddenly flung Will against the bulkhead where he hit with a sickening thud, dodging the blast Deanna sent after him.   Deanna ran to Will's side and tapped her communicator and said, 'Geordi, we have an extra passenger.  Five for emergency beam-out, now Geordi.'    


Chapter Eight   


   Five bodies materialized on the transporter deck, one lying in an ungainly heap on the floor.  Beverly immediately ordered that she and Commander Riker be transported to sickbay. Deanna and Data exchanged a short glance, and Data nodded to Tai who still stood dazed on the transporter pad. 'I will accompany you to sickbay,' he said, nodding to the nasty burn on Tai's arm.  Tai nodded, stoically accepting the two security persons who flanked him.  Deanna gave him a worried smile. 'Don't worry Tai, I'll work everything out with the captain.'  Tai did not feel comforted by her assurance.        Upon Tai's arrival, sickbay was already bustling with purposeful activity.  The operating theatre was full, with Beverly Crusher making full use of the extensive facilities that the starship Enterprise offered.  An older man stood erect as he watched through the window; the pips on his collar proclaiming him an officer.  Arms folded across his chest, his concern was etched deeply around his mouth, and Tai caught a brief glimmer of fear in his eyes.  The same massive Klingon from the planet strode up to Tai and before he could draw a terrified breath, unexpectedly placed his huge hands on Tai's shoulders and uttered one unpronounceable word' and hit his fisted hand against his chest before walking away to speak to Data.  'It means he's grateful,' Deanna said with a faint smile. Tai relaxed, grateful himself that the Klingon hadn't just pronounced a vendetta or something similar against him.                              




   Apparently the Federation vessel had left the Romulan ship in the proverbial dust, and several days later, Tai was feeling somewhat claustrophobic.  His quarters, though quite comfortable, were secured against his leaving of his own free will, and he was growing tired of holovids and fitness programs.         The chime of someone at his door jogged him out of his moody reverie, and he was surprised to see Dr. Beverly Crusher standing on the other side.  'Tai, come with me if you would,' she said pleasantly, 'Captain Picard would like to speak with you.'   Tai nodded, his stomach suddenly slightly queasy though he kept his face was carefully devoid of emotion.  As they moved through the vast ship, he remained silent, but his eyes took in everything.  The captain had requested they meet in his ready room and as Tai stepped onto the bridge of the flagship Enterprise, he paused, overcome by the historic significance of standing upon the bridge of one of Romulus's greatest foes.              Dr Crusher gave him an encouraging nod when the door slid open and a strong voice commanded, 'Come.'  Tai squared his shoulders and entered with nervous trepidation.  But his surprise caused him to pause momentarily when he saw that the human sitting erect behind the stark desk was the same who'd been worrying over Commander Riker in sickbay.  Somehow this picture didn't fit the image he had of the notorious Jean Luc Picard.   'Captain Picard' he stated, trying to keep the nervous tremor from reaching his voice, 'I am Tai Damrek.'  He finished with a short bow and awaited his fate.  When no one spoke, he raised his eyes uncertainly to the captain who was examining him with some interest.  It felt inappropriate to speak, but he became increasingly uncomfortable with the silent scrutiny.  Finally the human spoke, and it was with some warmth.        'I understand that I have you to thank for the life of my first officer.'        Tai nodded his acquiescence but remained silent, not really sure of what would be an appropriate response.        'I am grateful for your aid Tai Damrek;'the Captain said, 'however, I am at a singular loss as what to do with you now.'  The human formed a steeple with his fingers and tapped them together before he rose, 'you obviously may not return to the Romulan ship if your desire is to live long, but on the other hand, for equally obvious reasons, I cannot give you free reign on the Enterprise regardless of the gratitude I feel.  So the question remains.  What am I to do with you?'              Tai shifted uncomfortably.  'It is something I have already given a great deal of thought to Captain Picard,' he said with an apologetic smile.  'Though the thought of living among humans is not abhorrent as it once was, I would be grieved to never see Romulus again, regardless of the consequence. If I may, I humbly request more time to think, and perhaps seek out other options?'        Picard nodded.  'I can certainly grant that, and gladly, though not for more then a few days. We are due to leave this sector in seventy-six hours.  I'm sure you understand the need for a discrete security escort accompanying you in your travels around the ship?' he asked with brows raised expressively. At Tai's affirmative nod, Picard asked Worf to escort Tai back to his quarters.  Tai followed the massive Klingon, hoping he would finally get a tour, even if restricted, of the infamous Enterprise.                   




     Deanna nervously paced in her quarters, despising the fear that still held her stomach tied in knots.   She always felt this way at times like these, and she berated herself, knowing that this would not be the last close call Will Riker would ever have.  If they had been bonded and Will had actually died... Deanna shuddered when she remembered how close Will had been to letting his life slip away.  It was no different then all the other times.   She always felt torn when Will was seriously injured, full of painful regrets that they weren't closer, and yet profoundly relieved later that they weren't.       The memory of her mothers breakdown after Ian Troi's death was as devastatingly fresh today as when it had happened somany years before.  Her mother's lengthy seclusion had left it uncertain what would happen to little Deanna Troi, daughter of the fifth house, and heir to the holy rings of Betazed.  The matriarch of the Fifth House's sanity had precariously hung in the balance for months.  Deanna had always allowed Will to think that she was too deeply hurt by his abandonment of her at Risa to commit herself to him again; but itwas really her fear that the same fate as her mother's might await her if she and Will stopped fighting the inevitable. She remembered her mother's recent sub-space communique.  'Little one, the Imzadi bond is a rare and precious gift.'   But Deanna wondered whether it wasn't really a curse instead.        'I'm sorry Imzadi,' she whispered, keeping vigil though it wasn't necessary anymore.  But she wanted to be there for Will when he awakened.  Beverly had wisely kept Will sedated for the first forty-eight hours, and now he was moving out of sedation and into a deep, natural sleep.  She tried to find a meditative position, but couldn't stop squirming.  She couldn't find the calm that would help to center her thoughts and emotions. Tai's words on the Romulan ship plagued her by day, and nightly in her dreams.   Beverly came in and touched Deanna's shoulder, a satisfied smile tugging at the corner of her mouth as she checked the long list of Will's latest test results.  She pulled up a chair and sat companionablywith her best friend.       'The thought of surviving Will's death terrifies me Beverly,' Deanna blurted out.       Beverly reached for her friends hand.  'That's normal Deanna.  No one want's to think about losing someone they're very close to... someone they love.        Deanna shook her head slowly.  'No, it's not that.  I don't know how to describe to you what it would be like if Will died.  Especiallyif he died, and we were... fully bonded.' Beverly waited.  Deanna had only shared with her once before in strictest confidence about what Imzadi really meant.    'I think if Will and I completed our bond, I'm not sure I could survive losing him.  My mother almost didn't survive losing my father.  It's the real reason I kept my true feelings hidden from him,' she said, her voice husky with tears.  'I've lied, leading him to believe that I wouldn't resume our relationship while we served as officers on the same ship.  I thought it was easier that way.  When he tried to tell me once that he was ready, and to hell with our positions onboard this ship, I turned him down,' she said bitterly.  'So now he keeps his heart well guarded, but sometimes when he sleeps...' She left the rest of the sentence unfinished.   Beverlyshook her head, for once, at a loss for what to say.       Deanna's frown softened and she sighed.  'Even without fully being bonded I find myself depending on Will for balance and strength.  I start each morning, reaching for the warm chaos of his unruly emotions' she laughed hollowly, 'and even though he's rarely aware of it, every night I help him to detangle himself by drawing the threads of those same unruly emotions into order.  Losing him now would be agony, but losing him if they were might not be worth surviving.'            'If Will had died could you live with the regret of what may have been?' Beverly's thoughtful question cut the silence.       It was a question she'd already asked herself a million times. 'My mother doesn't seem to think so,' she said quietly.  'She's always pushing, and swears that the joys of completing our bond would outweigh the tragedy of the survivors legacy should one of us die violently.' Deanna's eyes were shadowed. 'But the history of Betazed is filled with tragic stories of Imzadi couples, and the same ones that used to enthrall me as a child, terrify me now.'  She stared into the compassionate eyes of her friend.  'Beverly, I've known for a long while that Will was ready to commit.  But he can't realize what he'd be choosing if we bonded fully. '


        Beverly was thoughtful for several minutes and they sat together in silence before she spoke, weighing the cost of what she was about to say. 'I really can't tell you what to do Deanna, but it seems wrong for you to make this decision alone.  And it seems to me that Will should have some say in whether you two have a future together or not.'  She stopped and tried to soften her next words.  'It sounds as if you should be talking to Worf as well,' she whispered, hating the stricken glance Deanna gave her.  She studied  the bio-bed readings once more and brushed Wills face with the professional touch of a doctor while her face reflected the concern of a close friend.  'I'll be around if you need me,' she said, and smiled at Deanna, leaving her to her circular thoughts.


                                           Chapter 8 B


Deanna sighed, knowing that the situation with Worf needed attending to, but that would have to wait until later.  She chased the ever-present debate from her mind as she reached under the blanket to touch the warmth of Will's hand.  It seemed odd to her that in sleep his great strength was not apparent.  Without consciousness, his muscles were lax, his hand warm and soft as it lay limp in hers. Her fingers continued to wander, and touched his wrist, feeling the quickening pulse of life flowing through his veins.  Carefully, reverently, she picked up his hand, so weak right now,and so much larger than her own, and whispered into it words she wanted no one else to hear.  She held it close to her face, lightly kissing his palm as she inhaled the scent of him, and letting his presence sooth her as it had never failed to do these past years.  His hand tightened slightly around hers and she felt him stubbornly pushing his way to consciousness.       Suddenly she was drowning in the biggest, bluest eyes in the universe.  Deanna held her breath as his initial confusion slowly melted away, and the liquid warmth of the love she felt melted her bones when he realized where he was and whose Betazoid eyes had captured his soul.  No words seemed to be necessary between them as she kissed him with kisses that were somewhat less than those of a lover, yet more than that of afriend.                       




     Tai walked the corridors of the Enterprise with a giddy sense of discovery. His fingers itched with the desire to write of this unbelievable adventure.  Surely he was the first Romulan to be granted this type of access to the flagship of the fleet!  But despite the thrill of being here, thereality of his tenuous situation kept him edgy and uneasy.  He constantly reminded himself that his position was questionable at best, and the death of him at worst.  Calming his racing mind, he focused on his destination.  He was almost to sickbay now, his security shadow following a discrete distance behind him.  Tai felt a need to see Will Riker before he was transferred, and began the complex journey that he hoped would bring him safely to Romulus with his name cleared.        When he entered sickbay he was told he would have to wait until the commanders other visitor left.  The woman at Rikers bedside was strikingly different out of her Romulan disguise, but Tai had no doubt that she was the intriguing Deanna Troi. It was she that Riker had raved about in his delirium.  Curiosity ate at his romantic soul.  Rather then disturb the intimate moment they appeared to be sharing, he sat silently at the observation window to the bay.  Riker's tall frame was stretched out under the scrutiny of a vast array of medical monitors, and the dark haired Betazoid Counselor was sitting close beside him, holding his hand gently against her face.  Tai watched the intimate moment, fascinated and fully convinced that they were communicating without speaking.  It seemed as if volumes were being said, though not a word was spoken aloud.  Tai had never seen anything like it and watched enthralled.  They both seemed to become aware of his presence at the same time.              'Come in Tai,' Counselor Troi said, hidden laughter under-laying her invitation.              'Tai,' Commander Riker croaked, grunting as a diminutive Betazoid hand suddenly aborted his attempt to sit.  He gave Tai a look that was halfway between a grimace and a smile and settled on reaching out his hand.                     Still unsure of what was quite proper,Tai took the man's hand in his.  His skin was smooth, and the hand was large, his grip firm and warm.  'Thank you for what you did Tai,' Riker said softly, his strange blue eyes piercing again through Tai's formal reserve.  'You didn't have to, but I'm sure glad you did,' he said hoarsely with a faint grin that was strangely infectious.  Tai began to relax, and found it natural to respond with a smile of his own.        'After risking yourself on my behalf during our crash, I find it doubtful that you would have acted any differently Commander.  Your thanks are appreciated but unnecessary.'  They both stared for a moment, each taking the measure of the other before they dropped their hands in mutual agreement.                                 



                                                 Chapter Nine A     



    "So, how long will he stay Beverly?"


      The doctor smiled and gave her hand an understanding squeeze.   "At least seventy-two hours." Deanna's eyes widened and both women looked at each other, their laughter breaking the dark mood that had enveloped them. "OK... OK... Considering who we're talking about, I'll be glad to keep him in sickbay for a full forty-eight,' Beverly quipped. 'But believe me,he's not going to feel much like running around the ship for at least another seventy-two hours after that, and maybe longer. I might release him to his quarters after another forty-eight, that is if you feel like baby-sitting?"


            Relief poured through Deanna, and her grin was infectious.  "All right Beverly, if he gets to be too much for me I'll call for reinforcements.   But I think I know just how to make him toe the line."  A smile touchedBeverly's lips at Deanna's insinuation.     


      "Okay counselor, I'll take that as a promise for his good behavior.  The women exchanged a look of mutual understanding and returned to their respective duties.                                             




      Beverly Crusher was wondering if her decision to let Will go had been a wise one as she argued with the stubborn commander.   "Will you don't even have bathroom privileges, so what makes you think you can resume your duties on the bridge," she asked, her tone deceptively mild.  She blew her bangs out of her eyes and held Will easily on his back as he tried to rise.  His grimace and sudden lack of resistance prompted her to pull out a hypospray.          


    "No, wait, don't," he said, apologizing for his sharp tone with blue eye's brimming with contrition.  "I'm sorry Bev, I just don't want to be groggy anymore."


      Beverly slowly relented, pursing her lips  as she thought about the disadvantages to keeping Will Riker in sickbay.  'Will, alert or not, you're not going back to duty by any stretch of the imagination until I say you're ready.'  At his grudging nod she felt slightly better and continued.  "We can use some alternative methods of pain control if you want to stay awake.  Where does it hurt, and what does it feel like?" she asked dryly.  Riker lay back gingerly, his expression making obvious his discomfort, "My chest doesn't hurt much unless I move too fast.  It's across my lower back.  It feels like I've been kicked by a Missouri mule."


       Beverly's eyes widened.  "A Missouri mule?"


       'A very large and angry Missouri Mule,'he said miserably.    


      ' hard did he kickyou?"


      Will groaned dramatically, 'Never mind.  My back hurts like I got sucker punched in the kidneys," he said, rubbing the offending area awkwardly for emphasis.        


     Bev patted him on the shoulder.  "Since your kidneys all but shut down when you  were almost OUT of blood, I'm not surprised they hurt commander." When he sighed dramatically she relented.  "All right Will, since you don't want narcotics I'll have Alyssa come in with hot packs and muscle stimulation.  That should help some.  But you also need to relax," she said with an attempt at rubbing his shoulders that she seemed hardly able to dent.  "When you tense up it only aggravates anything that hurts," Beverly said, lowering her voice ominously.  "If things haven't significantly improved by this evening, I'm going to hold you here for at least another seventy-two hours." Will mumbled something unintelligible and eased himself gingerly onto his stomach, not quite able to avoid the stabbing pain in his chest that only hurt when he lay on his stomach.  He lay very still while he tried to ignore the throbbing pain in his back.  He must have somehow managed to fall asleep, because the next thing he knew, someone had come in and lay hot packs across his back and shoulders and hooked them to electro-stim.  He politely asked for the juice to be turned up and didn't tell her to stop until his teeth began to buzz.  The warmth and vibrations soon lulled him into a state of groggy relaxation.         




     Deanna arrived at sickbay that evening in response to Beverly's summons and found the doctor working on one of her research projects.  She knocked on the side of the door to announce her presence. Beverly brushed the stray hair from her face, smiling when she saw her friend.  "Ah, Counselor Troi. Just the one I wanted to see.  I think I'm going to discharge Will, that is if you can keep him down for another forty-eight hours or so."  Deanna grinned with relief as she leaned against the entry. 


      "I think I'm up to it, as long as I have the CMO's orders to back me up."  Beverly gave Deanna a conspiratorial wink.


   "You got it counselor.  The official discharge reads that Commander Riker is to remain confined to his quarters for at least another forty-eight hours, and no bridge duty for an additional forty-eight after that. He just finished getting hot pack treatment and muscle stimulation, sohe should feel pretty relaxed for several hours.  My guess is he'll think he's superman and overdo it and you'll have to put him to bed before long." Deanna grinned at Beverly's long-suffering expression.  " I'll have the necessary supplies sentto his quarters and then he's all yours unless you don't think you can handle him."       Deanna's smile grew.  "I think I can manage Beverly,' she said, her expression smug.  


     Bev waved her distractedly to the door. "Good!  Now get him outta my sickbay counselor."


     Deanna entered Will's room and contemplated the man who's place in her life was still a mystery to her.   She catalogued every inch of him as he lay face down on crossed arms, peacefully asleep. A surge of overwhelming relief that he had beaten the odds again flowed through her as she touched his shoulder. Feeling the residual warmth of his therapy, she allowed her hand to follow it's own guidance leading down the slope of his back.  Tracing the darkened areas where the regenerators had been placed above his kidneys, Deanna‘s thoughts drifted momentarily to what her life might have become without him, but only for a moment.  Will cracked open eyes that revealed slivers of sapphire, his smile driving away the dark wisps of worry that had stubbornly refused to disappear.     


      "I sure can't think of a nicer way to wake up Ms Troi.  Care to join me in a nap?" he asked, his voice still gravelly from disuse.    


      Deanna was well on her way to losing herself in blue eyes that sparkled with long familiar mirth.  She held up his clothes, dead panning.  "I came to spring you commander.  Are you game?"  Will's eyes lit up as he pushed himself gently into a sitting position.  Moving slowly, he carefully stretched sore muscles as he slid off of the bed.      


     "I feel pretty good," he said tentatively, "but what about Beverly?"


      Deanna smiled.  "I promised her you would be a good boy, and that I would see to it that you followed her directions explicitly." 


     Will's frown marred his cheerful start. "What directions?"


     Deanna pulled herself erect.  She couldn't let Will start off by telling her what he was and wasn't going to do. She poked his stomach, cheerfully full of her delegated authority.  "Will Riker do you want out of here or not?  Because this is the only way you're getting out.  Take it or leave it!"


      Will held his hands up in surrender.  "OK geez... I'll be good.  Just give me my clothes.  Please," he added when he caught the glint in her eye.      


      "All right," she relented," see that you are.  We can make this pleasant or not.  Personally I prefer pleasant.  How about you?" she asked, allowing a smile to flirt with the corners of her mouth.  Will was obviously not sure of what to say,and was also obviously not willing to aggravate her.  She was, after all, going to be his jailer in a manner ofspeaking.   


     "Ok... let's go," he said, carefully pulling on his pants and then his shirt.        Deanna allowed herself to admire him for a moment while his head was stuck inside his shirt. "Here Will, let me help you with these," she said, picking up his boots.        Her comment earned a glare from Will as he yanked on a sock, and then winced. 


     "I'm fine Deanna, don't coddle me," he said grumpily. 


     Deanna decided not to comment or make a fuss over his discomfort; but she did arch her eyebrows expressively while he struggled with his boot.  Turning to leave, she spoke over her shoulder.   "I'll be waiting for you at Beverly's office Will," and than she left without another word or offer of help.        Will instantly regretted his outburst.  First because he hated being cross with Deanna, and second because it was much harder than he thought to get his socks and boots on.  Finally, with much wincing and heavy breathing, he was ready to leave under his own steam.  He caught his breath at the sharp stitch in his side, but it went away as fast as it had come, and he smugly decided he still felt pretty good. But it only took a few meters to discover that each step accentuated the dull ache in his kidneys, and he quickly developed another stitch in his side that jabbed him every time his heel hit the floor.  But his confidence was high that it was nothing that he couldn't ignore, that is, provided it didn't get much worse.  He rounded the corner and saw Beverly and Deanna with their heads close together in conversation. Unconsciously Will straightened his guarded bearing and smiled graciously.  "Ladies," he saidwith a gallant nod.   Beverly stood silently as she shook her head. "Beverly, I don't think I said thank you," Will said seriously.  "Thank you again, I might add."


      Beverly shrugged and looped her arm through his.  "Will, I have to confess that I wouldn't be half the doctor I am today if I hadn't had you to practice on these past years."  She said, grinning at his bemused expression. "Now.  Go to your quarters... go directly to your quarters... But disobey my directives, commander, and you'll find yourself back here in my domain, pronto."        Will grinned amiably. "I'm willing doc, as long as I'm not left alone."  Will gave a side waysglance at Deanna and waggled his eyebrows. Deanna arched her own at Beverly and turned on her heel without another word, striding out at a fast pace which took her quickly ahead of Will.  Will tipped an imaginary hat at Beverly and hurried after the Betazoid with as much dignity as he could muster.  After traversing one long corridor Will was wondering if he shouldn't have stayed in sickbay. His brisk walk had became a slow hobble, the stitch in his side had become a knife-like stab, and the ache in his back was beginning to remind him of that Missouri mule again.  He gave up on catching Deanna, not even having the air to yell at her to slow down.


 RC 9 B


     Deanna finally glanced back down the hall as she rounded the corner and realized that he was truly having difficulty.  Waiting for him to catch up, she masked her concern and slipped her arm in his.  "Having a hard time soldier?"she asked solicitously.   Will just looked at her and didn't answer.  Couldn't answer.  They walked arm and arm, slowly down the gleaming corridor.          By the time they reached his quarters Deanna was beginning to think that Beverly Crusher had made a big mistake in discharging Will so soon.  His face had faded to a very pale shade of ill and was covered with a fine sheen of sweat. 'You should go to bed right now Will,' she ordered, but Will breathlessly indicated that he much preferred to lie on the couch instead.  Her concern spread, suspecting that he was just disguising the fact that he was unable to make it to the bedroom.  Biting back anxious comments she knew he would ignore, she helped him as he gingerly eased himself onto his back, his pained wince not escaping her notice.  "I'll get you a blanket and a pillow," she said, and disappeared into his bedroom.  'Beverly,' she whispered into the com, her face reflecting her worry. "Beverly...I'm really concerned about Will.  He looks awful and he barely made it to his quarters."      'Good, I'm not at all surprised.'       'Good?" Deanna repeated doubtfully.       Beverly's tone was innocent.  "It's called aversion therapy.  We both know that I can argue with Will till I'm blue in the face about taking it easy, but he never listens.  So I let him out just a little earlier then normal and let him find out for himself what happens when he over exerts himself against my orders.  Now maybe he'll behave and take it easy for the next two days."     "Beverly!" Deanna said, somewhat shocked.  "Isn't that a little unethical"      Beverly chuckled.  "For heavens sake Deanna...I wouldn't have let him go if I thought it was going to do any real damage. Remember who you're talking to.  If you look, there's a hypospray in the things that Alyssa left there for you.  It's several doses of the pain medication Will refused in sickbay.  It should take care of any discomfort and force him to sleep for a few hours"  Deanna could almost feel her friend's smile with the next comment.  "My guess is that he should be ready for it right about now." 


Relieved by Bev's reassurance, Deanna found the hypospray.  But by the time she stepped back into the living area, Will had fallen into an exhausted slumber.  One arm was dangling off the edge of the couch, and the other flung above his head.  At some point, he had begun to unfasten his shirt, but hadn't finished. Carefully, she released the fasteners on the constricting top, revealing his muscular chest.  She traced the edges of the pink newly healed scar, her lips pursed, and then covered the tempting sight with a blanket tucked under his chin.  His mouth was soft and barely open, making him appear more like a young boy then the commander who's disapproving glare had long made ensigns quail.   Deanna injected him with the hypospray and kissed his temple, and then, unable to resist, she softly brushed his lips with hers and whispered... "looks like this round goes to the red-headed doctor, Imzadi..."  Her desire to sneak under the blanket with him was strong, but he needed rest and she needed a clear mind.                                                             




  Hours later, Will stirred and smiled as soft fingers smoothed back his unruly hair. "This one little lock of hair has a mind of it's own..."he heard Deanna whisper sweetly as the recalcitrant strands fell back in their usual place.  He opened his eyes to find her perched on the very edge of the couch, leaning over him with a softness in her expression he hadn't seen in a very long while.        "How long have I been asleep?" he muttered, the bitter after taste of narcotics thick on his tongue.  He pushed through ten layers of silken webs to struggle to full consciousness.       "Oh... six hours, give or take a few minutes."


     His eyes widened. "That long?"       She smiled apologetically.  "I slipped you a hypospray when you passed out.  Bev said you needed it."      "That doctor is diabolical," he said under his breath, a ghost of a smile belying his irritated words, and I didn't pass out,' he said, wishing he didn't sound so cranky.  Deanna didn't answer, just kept smoothing back his hair and studying him thoughtfully. "What?"  He finally inquired.       "Are you in any pain, Will?"        He was surprised. "No, not really.  I guess I feel fine... tired maybe, but fine." Deanna frowned at him.        He pushed himself upright, relieved to discover that there was nothing more than a deep ache where his chest wound had been.  "What's wrong, Deanna?"       She looked into his eyes and took a deep breath to gather her courage.  "I know I've hurt you Will."


    Riker frowned.  "Deanna?  What the hell are you talking about?  You had nothing to do with that shuttle crashing... although if I get my hands on the damned maintenance technician who cleared it for flight..." Will slowly reflected, his thoughts turning back to the crash.  "By the way, where's Tai?"        "He's OK isn'the?" He asked seriously.  'I should put in a good word to the captain."


   "He's fine."  Deanna said a little too firmly, irritated that now, when she'd finally gathered up her courage to talk with him about their feelings, he was discussing the Romulan.        "I know you met him, but he's really not your typical Romulan..." he observed, continuing stubbornly with the same line of conversation.      Deanna stemmed the words that wanted to gush and tried not to lose patience. She concentrated on his feelings rather than his words and sensed evasion.   It was a game she was not going to allow him to play this time. He was purposely trying to draw their conversation away from areas that he found painful.   More determined then ever, she plowed forward.  "He said that when you were delirious Will, you talked about...'          "Tai kept trying to feed me this god-awful soup" Will continued, equally determined not to tread on the dangerous ground Deanna seemed headed for.       'that you kept talking about Imzadi..."  Deanna persisted.        "And when I was too weak, I think he Even held me up so I could..." Riker broke in, raising his voice, wondering when she would take the hint to drop it.       Deanna, stubbornly as persistent as he, raised her own voice. "He told me you talked about Worf, and I and... and That you cried," she ended quietly. Will flushed, embarrassment flowing from him when he stopped in mid sentence.          "Damn it, Deanna! I was in such godawful pain... I...I had a fever," he ground out between clenched jaws.  Will covered his eyes as though she wouldn't know what he was feeling.  "I was delirious and babbling.  How should I know what the hell I said or did?"Will turned his face away from her.  "You just don't know when to stop, do you?" he forced the bitter words out.       Deanna didn't answer him, until the release of his tension left him deflated and he turned back to her.  She looked into his eyes, and saw he felt trapped.  She was at a loss as to what to say next.  He took a deep breath before continuing more calmly.        "Look, Deanna....  We both know that things have changed between us." His voice wobbled unsteadily but he went on, "and.. that maybe I had a little trouble adjusting to some of those changes... but I know it's just the way things are now.  I'm a grown man.  I can deal with it.  But if you keep dredging it up for re-examination..." he abruptly ended the sentence.       Deanna could feel his hurt now, plainly,  as though her own heart was constricting with the pain.  His attempt to mask it with a smile was pathetic.     "Deanna, it's enough for me that you're still my best friend," he lied badly.       "Well, it's not enough for me!" she wanted to scream, but she lost courage. Her bright smile was false, and echoed his own, as did the lie she told.  "Me too, Will...and of course we'll always be best friends."  She reached out and he took her hands.  He pulled her towards him until she rested in his arms, her face against his broad chest, comforted by the strong beat of his heart.  'Rabeem Imzadi,' she whispered as his arms tightened around her.  ' Rabeem.'                           






            Several years had passed since the crash of the Enterprise D.  And more then ten months had passed since the Enterprise had completed it's mission to the Baku.      Will Riker was anxious to see Deanna and felt the familiar warm flutter of her presence touch him as she raised her eyes to his, caressing him with her glance as he crossed the room towards her.  "You'll never guess who I met down there today."  Will said as he sat down next to her, his leg touching hers as he brought her fingers to his lips in greeting.  His eyes held that teasing 'I know something you don't know' look.'       It was the fourth day of the historic joint Romulan/Federation symposium on terraforming, and the Enterprise had delivered several of the Federation's more notable scientists to the talks.  Though Will and Deanna had often been obligated to usher diplomats and scientists to and from the surface, for the most part this mission was giving them some much appreciated free time.  Will was unable to resist resting his other hand on the rounded belly of his very pregnant wife.      "Who?"  Deanna asked curiously, as she took a sip of her drink.      "Tai.  You know.  Tai Damrek,' he said.  At her blank stare he prompted.  'He's one of the Romulan historians  attending."    Deanna frowned and Will stood to kiss his wife's nose, whispering in her ear playfully.  'He was the Romulan I crash landed that shuttle with.  You remember that don‘tyou?' he lowered his voice and nibbled her ear, making her blush furiously and propel him from him with a forceful push that affected him about as much as a flea trying to move a mountain.  Will gave her a hurt expression.  'I was extraditing him to Rentalis IV..."          Deanna's expression cleared. "Will! How could I forget!  I swear that I lose more brain cells the longer I'm pregnant. She grabbed his hand and held it on the tables surface.  'You almost died, but he took care of you,"  Deanna said softly, her expression remaining serious. "Didn't your testimony help convince the Federation tribunal that he wasn't involved with the massacre?"       Will nodded, "Right.  While I was still off duty the captain called in some pretty big favors and figured a way to get him back to Romulus without him looking like a turncoat for the Federation.'  Will absently rubbed the dark shadow of his beard that was in it's second day of re-growth.   'I saw his name on the list of attendee's and looked him up.  Surprised the hell out of him too.  After he got over his initial surprise we had lunch and caught up on things," Will said with a shrug.  "It was odd really. I think we talked more over that meal then in the three days we spent on that planet together."  He shrugged again and dug into the meal she had ordered for him while continuing to bring her up to speed.       Apparently he left the military, which he had always hated, and returned to the dusty archives of history, his first love.'  Will stretched his long legs in front of him and smiled at his wife.  'And from what I understand, he's well respected in the field."        Deanna laughed. "You managed to geta lot of information!" Will just smiled and motioned to the server to bring another drink. He raised his eyebrows and grinned.  "He also told me that he's married, and has a two year old kid," he paused, pensive for a moment at the memories their chance meeting had invoked.  "He seems happy," he said with a finality that made Deanna smile.  He knew she loved happy endings. Will smiled back at her before taking a bite of his sandwich.  Washing it down with several swallows of the ale he'd ordered, he wiped his mouth and appreciated the glow that had surrounded Deanna since her pregnancy.  "He asked about you Deanna," he said calmly between two more huge bites.     "Me?"  Deanna asked, her curiosity piqued.       Will studied his wife, still unsure of what had really transpired between she and Tai.   All he knew was that the single conversation they'd shared had been memorable, and had been a turning point in Deanna's relationship with Worf.  His eyes began to water when the last bite wouldn't go down.  Deanna shook her head at him as he thumped his chest, taking several long swallows from his drink and coughing noisily before he was able to go on. "He asked if I ever worked things out with my Imzadi," Will said, his blue eyes sparkling with mischief.      "And what did you tell him?" Deanna asked archly.      Will played out the drama for as long as he could, enjoying Deanna's pique.  "I told him you were a bit slow, but that you finally came to your senses and married me."  Will pretended to defend himself from her glare and she let her irritation be known, folding her arms in front of her ungainly stomach.


    "So what did he say?" she finally asked when Will remained silent for longer then she could stand.      Will grinned and leaned across the table and kissed his wife gently on the cheek and then brushed her lips with his, feeling her melt against him before whispering into her ear. "He said to tell you that he loves happy endings too."


                                                  The End