"Damn! Inertial dampeners are off-line!"
Picard's worry escalated at the uncharacteristic strain in Will Riker's voice, and that was all it took to convince him to get his first officer back on board. The shuttle and it's cargo were expendable. His first officer was definitely not. "Transporter! Lock on to the Commander and get him out of there!" Picard said, his knuckles whitening as they gripped his chair.
"Having trouble getting a lock sir...the presence of the black hole is creating interference. Re-calibrating to a higher frequency..."
Picard clenched his fist in frustration at the scene playing out on the large viewscreen. To steer a shuttle with inoperative inertial dampeners was almost impossible, somewhat akin to walking with no sense of balance. Picard knew that a less skilled pilot than Riker would have impacted one of the many asteroids that were scattered about like mines in a field within seconds. As it was, Picard saw it coming. The shuttle was headed straight into a high concentration of the asteroids. Impact was virtually inevitable. "Now, Mr. Data!" Picard said tightly. "Sir, the shuttles port nacelle has impacted an asteroid fragment!" ensign Taylor reported. The atmosphere on the bridge was tense until the transmission, fractured by static, finally came through from Riker.
"Recalibration complete" Data informed the Captain. The scream of gasses under high pressure being released were now audible over the comm link, and the shuttles alarm klaxons rang loud on the bridge. Commander Rikers voice was ragged and breathless. "Riker to Enterprise. I've got eminent warp core failure… with sixty seconds to core breach!" he shouted, coughing and choking on his words. Long seconds went by, and Picard forced himself to stay seated.
"Sir," Data reported, his fingers flashing over the console, "the black hole is directly in the path of Commander Riker's shuttle.
"Sir? Now would be a good time...." Will Riker's hoarse voice, now slurred with pain, was barely audible through the static-filled com link. Picard tried by force of will to transport his first officer off of the doomed shuttle. A second later an enormous flash of light blinded the bridge crew for a moment. His first officers cry shook Picards reserve, and then, there was nothing. The shuttle was gone. And they were unable to raise Riker over sub-space frequencies. Absolute silence reigned on the bridge until a split second later the silence was broken by Data's triumphant exclamation. "Sir. I have Commander Riker's pattern!" At last. Picard's strict control slipped. He smiled. "Very good, Mr. Data. Transport the commander directly to sickbay."
"Aye sir." The android answered, his fingers flying over the controls. "Transport complete."
Beverly Crusher watched as sickening fear crawled in the pit of her stomach. As the transporter beam coalesced into a solid form, it was apparent to her that something was terribly wrong. Whatever was forming was not nearly large enough to be William Riker. She'd seen firsthand the results of two transporter accidents, and shuddered while praying she was not witnessing a third, but she forced herself to look as the energy field dissipated. Relief and alarm both swept through her because saw nothing horrible. The body did not belong to Will Riker, in fact, the person that lay face down on the sickbay floor was a child. Beverly knelt beside the still boy and glanced at the data on her tricorder. What it told her was reassuring. All specifications were within normal parameters for a healthy human child. "Captain," she said, her professional demeanor keeping despair from her voice. "Commander Riker did not transport to sickbay. I'm afraid someone else did in his place. She touched the small of the boy's back as he stirred, then rolled over. He looked up at her with eyes the color of a summer sky on earth. Beverly stared at him speechlessly. He stared back at her, equally stunned, and finally asked shyly " Who are you? Where am I?" She took a deep breath and pulled herself together. "I'm Dr. Beverly Crusher and you're in my sickbay" She replied. "And who are you?"
He sat up and glanced around him, then gave her an uncertain, apologetic smile. "I'm Will Riker" and then added softly under his breath "… and my dad is gonna kill me."
Beverly shook her head in astonishment at what the tricorder confirmed. The
DNA matched. This was the ship's first officer. "How old are you,
The Captain's voice cut sharply through Beverly's haze of astonishment. "Dr. Crusher. What is your patients condition?"
Beverly heaved a deep breath. "He's fine. But captain...we have a "small" problem. I think you might want to come down here. And notify Deanna that we may need her." She looked curiously into the boy's hauntingly familiar eyes.
"Am I in trouble?" he inquired while backing up warily and biting his lower lip. Tension set his small shoulders rigidly.
She spoke in a voice honed by years of motherhood. "No, of course not Will, we just have to figure out how you got here...and, how to get you back where you belong." The small boy relaxed a little as she patted the biobed. "Come on. I want you to hop up so I can check you out."
Picard entered with his expression neutral. But he was unable to keep the anguish from reflecting in his hazel eyes as the reality of the loss of his first officer and friend, settled over him. The unsuccessful conclusion of their mission and the loss of the shuttle and it's cargo meant nothing in comparison to the gnawing pain that was a blight on his spirit and made his gut ache. Beverly's cryptic summons to sickbay weighed heavy on his heart, and the dull ache in his chest had taken up permanent residence.
Beverly watched Jean Luc come in and looked up from her small patient who had warily inched himself to the end of the bio-bed. "Good afternoon, Captain," she greeted him pleasantly, striving for a calm, everyday demeanor; but Picard was in no mood for pleasantries.
"Doctor. We are in the midst of trying to formulate a plan to recover the other probe and continue our search for the Commander. What is the difficulty? And who is this boy?"
Beverly had placed her hand on Will's shoulder and felt him twitch at Picard's demand. Still, with amazing courage for a boy of only nine years, he slid to his feet and faced the Captain.
"I'm Will Riker, sir."
Beverly imagined she'd looked the same as the captain did now a few short minutes ago. Picard paled as he took in the brilliant blue eyes, the slightly dimpled chin and the dark brown hair. The boy wavered under his scrutiny and finally dropped his head, staring at his own feet. Picard took a step closer, only to have the child step back, his back pressed against the edge of the biobed. Beverly immediately realized he was terrified, and apparently, Picard realized it too, because he turned his bleak attentions away from the child. "Doctor, he asked, his question a command, "may I see you in your office?"
"Wait here for a moment, Will. I'll be right back." She told him, then squeezed his shoulder encouragingly. "It's OK."
Picard's tense pacing stopped abruptly as he turned, the intensity of his gaze piercing Beverly. His questions were sharply spoken and interrogative. "Would this be similar to the situation when Guinan, Ro and I were transformed into younger versions of ourselves? Can we simply use the pattern in the transporter records to restore the Commander?" he said, his brow furrowed deeply.
"No, Jean Luc. In that case you were still YOU, just in a much younger appearing body. You still had all the memories and awareness of your life to the present. What's different here, is that Commander William Riker is not here! That is a nine year old boy in sicbay, whose last memory is of going to bed in his room in Valdez, Alaska, and waking up on a starship! This is the boy Will was thirty years ago...physically, emotionally, intellectually, and experientially."
"Data to Captain Picard," the android's voice came over the comm link. "Go ahead Data," Picard said wearily.
"Captain, it is probable that a temporal anomaly was caused by the warp core breach being in such close proximity to the black hole. I have advised the crew to note any unusual occurrences on the ship until we are sure that there are no untoward effects."
Picard shook his head, though Data couldn't see him. Commander Data, there have already been untoward effects. At this time confine your efforts to locating Commander Riker."
"Aye sir," the android said somberly.
Picard called Geordi, who was at his normal station in engineering, quickly explaining the "small" problem they had in sickbay, and asking for input.
Geordi's groan was inaudible, but there nevertheless. "I knew I should have paid better attention in Temporal Physics at the Academy...but it always gave me a headache." he said under his breath.
Picard could almost hear his Chief Engineer's mental wheels turning, and would have shot him a look of agreement if he had been in the same room. He felt the beginnings of a headache already. "Be that as it may Mr. LaForge, we still need to find a way to get OUR Will Riker back and send this child home. Suggestions?" He looked at Crusher as he waited for a reply from her or the other two officers on the comm link. When no answer was forthcoming, he released an uncharacteristic sigh. "Very well. We will meet at 0800 hours to review any options anyone can come up with. " The connection with Geordi and Data cut, Picard started to turn away, only to be stopped by Beverly Crusher's voice.
"Captain? There is one other thing we need to consider," she said with a delicate arch of her eyebrows.
"I have a very confused and frightened nine year old boy in sickbay who needs a place to stay tonight."
The Captain sighed and clasped his hands before him. "Just what do you suggest Doctor?" he asked as he stepped resignedly back into her office.
Deanna Troi had to force herself not to run to sickbay after Picard notified her that Will’s pattern had been saved from the demolished shuttle. Her mind ghoulishly projected horrific replays of all the times Will had been patched back together by Beverly and her medical team after a mission gone bad. In the turbolift she paused for a moment, and forced herself to take a deep breath and focus on finding Will's presence in her mind. Reassured to find she could sense him, she wondered at the subtle differences she felt in his mental presence. Something seemed unusual, and he felt frightened and insecure, but she sensed no physical pain from him.
Picard and Beverly talking in the CMO’s office, but Deanna didn't stop and talk to either of them. Instead, she went directly to the treatment room and stopped dead in her tracks. "I must be in the wrong room," she muttered to herself, but a quick examination of the other rooms didn't yield the Commander. She was puzzled because she could still sense him. Returning back to the first room, she a young boy sitting stiffly on the biobed. "Hello," she said quietly, trying not to alarm him, though her own was growing as she wondered what had happened to Will. She was unsuccessful in both endeavors. The child jumped off of the bed and edged backwards until his back was against the wall. Deanna stood silent, without making any movement that the child might interpret as threatening. All the while, she could feel Will's presence, but she couldn't find him. The boy stood, flattened against the wall, his arms at his sides, fists clenched. His thick brown hair was tousled in his eyes as if he'd just gotten out of bed, but he kept them lowered and seemed unwilling to look at her. Picard and Beverly entered the room and Deanna inquired more sharply than she had intended. "Where's Will?"
Picard's expression was not readable. "He's standing in front of you, Counselor."
Deanna looked at the boy and then back to Picard. "What do you mean? This is a child. “Where's Commander Riker? My Imzadi,” she wanted to scream at him.
Picard's voice was flat. "We don't know where the commander is. But this is Will Riker; age nine!" he said, nodding at the boy. Will flattened himself against the wall at the sound of Picards voice. He looked up for a split second and Deanna saw a flash of periwinkle blue.
"Will?" she said, forcing the quaver from her voice. Are you Will Riker?" she said while trying to project peace and kindness to the boy who was almost visibly trembling with anxiety.
"Yes ma'am," he mumbled, not looking up. "Are you Commander Riker?" she asked gently, encouraging him with her voice.
The youngster looked up again, slamming her with his eyes. "I...uh. I don't know who that is...I'm just Will Riker...and I gotta go home. My dad is going to kill me if he finds me outta my room. I don't even know how I got here. But you gotta let me go. I swear I didn't do it, what ever it is," he muttered defensively before running out of breath.
Deanna stared at the slender boy. He WAS Will Riker. She could feel none of their Imzadi connection, but the core of this boy's spirit was Will's. Before she was able to say anything more to him the Captain spoke.
"Young man, I need to know exactly what happened before you found yourself here. Where were you, and what were you doing?"
Deanna knew that the Captain was trying not to intimidate the boy, but his stern manner was having quite an opposite effect. Will stiffened his spine as he stuttered and stammered, glancing furtively about as if looking for an escape route. " I don't know sir… I… I… I… w-wasn't doing anything bad. I swear it! Look, I'm really really sorry if I ...I...messed anything up, but I have to leave," he said, edging towards the door. "Just please don't tell my dad I was here." He said, obviously trying not to sound like he was pleading.
Deanna couldn't stand any more of it, and stepped in between them. "Captain, why don't we wait until morning to finish questioning Will?" she said soothingly.
Picard released his held breath in a short sigh of frustration. "Counselor, I know you mean well, but we need to know anything that could help us find commander Riker." He stated, his concern for his first officer foremost in his thoughts.
Deanna's eyes glimmered briefly with tears she refused to succumb to. They betrayed the depth of her own fear and pain. "No one knows that better than I do Captain." She moved closer, lowering her voice. "Sir, I'm afraid that if you question this child any further tonight," she continued, "you will only succeed in frightening him more than he already is. Right now it's hard to say whom he's more afraid of; you or his father."
Picards eyes flicked over to Beverly was now crouching beside the boy. His hazel eyes darkened with concern. "I did not intend to frighten the boy, but I'm concerned about Will… our Will," he stated flatly.
Deanna’s throat tightened, and she struggled to keep her voice level. "If you’ll let me take young Will tonight to my quarters," she suggested, "I''ll contact you if I find out anything significant. I think maybe he will be more helpful in the morning."
The captain looked poised to argue, but then seemed to change his mind. "Fine, I will see you both at 0900."
Deanna nodded and departed with her young charge. Picard nodded to Crusher, but he couldn’t quite erase the bleakness of his thoughts from his countenance before he departed.
"Will? We haven't been properly introduced." Deanna smiled at him and extended her hand. "I'm the ship's Counselor, Deanna Troi. Welcome aboard the USS Enterprise."
With the captain gone, he seemed to relax minutely. He looked up at her and managed a shy smile before looking back down as he awkwardly shook her hand. "Hi." Her heart melted as she looked into his face. Will Riker was a very handsome man, but the boy before her could be better described as beautiful. His blue eyes seemed almost translucent now, and stood out against his smooth skin, golden from the Alaskan summer sun. Thick brown hair was fixed in a low pony tail with a leather thong that was tied with an intricate knot. Though he was still small, Will already showed evidence of growing into the broad-shouldered man he would become. Deanna crossed her arms and studied him for a long moment while lost in her memories.
Until now, her first meeting with Will was at Chandra's wedding on Betazoid. Meeting young Will Riker today was swiftly becoming a bittersweet moment, almost as if she was meeting him for the first time all over again. She wondered what Lt. Riker's reaction would have been if she'd made the same offer then that she was going to make now. "Will, it's very late and we can't get you home tonight. So, I'd like you to come stay with me in my quarters."
He hesitated, his worried frown creasing his forehead. "Ms Troi, it’s not that I don’t appreciate it, but my Dad is going to be really mad at me." Deanna’s concern was piqued slightly at his response. He was obviously very anxious and close to becoming distraught.
I promise it'll be OK Will. We'll explain it all to him and he won't be angry with you." She said encouragingly, and Beverly nodded in agreement. The boy looked from one woman to another, as if judging whether they could be trusted. He relaxed the erect carriage of his posture a few millimeters. "Would you like to get a snack before bed?" Deanna suggested. "I know somewhere where they have great ice cream."
His eyes sparkled and he smiled with a miniature of the trademark Riker grin. "Do they have strawberry?" He asked.
Stawberry was Commander Riker’s favorite. Reminded afresh of his older counterpoint, Deanna struggled to try and hide her blossoming fear for her Imzadi.
Young Will Riker was awestruck as Deanna led him through the corridors of the ship. It was obvious that this was his first time on a starship, and it was just as obvious he was thoroughly entranced by what he saw. Once in ten forward, they headed towards a table by the observation window. Deanna’s reached for her chair and her hand came down on top of Will’s. “Please allow me ma’am,” he said seriously, blushing as their eyes locked and she finally pulled her hand away. Will seated her with as much grace as any ten year old boy, and than sat down himself, slouching in his chair in a manner that made Deanna bite her lip as tears burned, making her blink rapidly. His posture was so much a caricature of his adult mannerisms that she had to breath deeply before she could trust herself to speak.
Guinan brought chocolate ice cream for Deanna, and strawberry for her companion, complete with whipped cream, nuts, and a single gleaming cherry on top. Will’s eyes widened at the treat. "Growing boys need lots of ice cream." She stated, successfully suppressing her smile. "How else are you going to grow up into a big strong man?"
Will made a comical face. "Mrs. Haasinger says growing boys need a lot of vegetables. Especially broccoli and Brussels sprouts. I think I like your theory better." His mature-sounding words were a charming counterpoint to the youthful exuberance with which he plunged his spoon into Guinan's masterpiece. He quickly shoveled up a mouthful of whipped cream and created an instant mustache. The hostess smiled and raised her eyebrows momentarily to Deanna before gliding away from the table.
"Who's Mrs. Haasinger?" Deanna inquired, fascinated by the living manifestation of Will's childhood before her.
"She stays with me sometimes when my Dad is gone. She's pretty old and she doesn't cook very good, but she's OK." He answered between bites being shoveled in at record speed. "Anyways, she’s a whole lot better than Mr. Tate. He's just mad all the time...and WAY better than boarding school."
"Is your dad gone a lot?" Deanna asked. Will very rarely spoke of his childhood, although she'd guessed that it had been quite lonely. He usually managed to change the subject or make a jest when the subject was brought up.
"Aren't you going to eat your ice-cream?" The boy asked uncomfortably, “Don't you feel good Miss Troi?" Deanna sighed inwardly. Apparently, at nine his defenses were already bolted firmly in place. Instead of pursuing a subject he was uncomfortable with, she picked up her spoon and joined him. By the time they were finished, Will’s eyelids were drooping comically and he was practically falling out of his seat. Deanna feigned a yawn. “Will, I’m exhausted. Shall we go to our quarters?” Will rubbed his eyes with his knuckles and yawned long and loud. “I’m not tired, but if you are we can go.” Deanna smothered a grin and they walked out of the room under the curious stares of the occupants of ten forward.
When Deanna and Will arrived at her quarters she immediately fixed a bed on the sofa for him. Pulling one of the large soft pillows off of her bed, she made him a comfy nest with several soft throws. She hoped they would provide some comfort for this child who seemed so uncertain of himself, that he still stood by the entrance of her quarters, as if afraid she was going to ask him to leave again.
Estimating his size she replicated a set of pajamas for him, chiding herself as she realized she’d ordered them in royal blue. “Here Will,” she said, go change in my room.” Will nodded and shyly took the pj’s from her hand. He changed quickly and walked silently on bare feet a he made his way to the make-shift bed. Deanna pulled back the blanket and he crawled awkwardly under them. He seemed uncomfortable. “My sofa too lumpy for you Will?” she asked, intending her comment as a jest only. He avoided her eyes and turned his back to her. No miss Troi, it’s fine. At a loss for what she had done to cause this withdrawal, she squeezed his shoulder, only to have him grunt and pull away from her touch. “Will,” she asked, “what’s the matter? Are you hurt?” Will kept his back to her, and she could feel him tensing. His mood became sullen. “It’s nothing… just some bruises from my lessons today.”
Deanna couldn’t imagine what kind of lessons would leave bruises that painful on a nine year old boy. “Oh I see. What lessons are those Will,” she pressed. Will eased over on his back and Deanna could see where tears had stained his cheeks. Just my Ambo-Jitsu lesson. It’s nothing. I’m NOT a baby.” Deanna could feel his anger oddly mixed with despair, and her stomach lurched at the familiarity of emotions that felt so much like those of the Will Riker that she knew. “Take off your shirt. I want to see.” She felt his rebellion surge and nipped it in the bud. If you don’t let me look I will take you to sick bay myself and Dr. Crusher will examine you. Surely your father wouldn’t want you to remain in pain for nothing!” At the mention of his father Will’s rebellion evaporated like mist exposed to the sun and fear took it’s place. “D-don’t tell my dad!” He shimmied out of his shirt quickly and Deanna had to bite her tongue when she saw the livid bruises that had spread over the small chest and shoulder. “Will we should go to sick bay and let…” Will glared at her and practically buried himself under the covers. His shout was muffled. “NO… I’m fine, I’m not a baby, just leave me alone.” Deanna stared for long moments at the huddled boy, totally at a loss. She finally settled for smoothing back the thick hair out of his eyes and reluctantly told him goodnight. For over an hour, she watched from her bed as young Will tossed and turned. She didn’t intervene though she dearly wanted to pull him into her lap and hold him till he fell asleep. She sensed that the child needed more than anything to feel safe and loved, but she didn’t know how to do that for him. Maternal feelings surfaced that she hadn’t felt since she lost Ian, her son, who had been with her for so short a time. Turning over she punched her pillow and worried about young Will and his father, and when she had finished doing that, she worried some more about Will, her Imzadi. It was long before she slept.
Jean Luc Picard stood in the dark of his quarters, silhouetted against the view port as his gaze turned thoughtfully to the stars. It was very late, but sleep still refused to come. This evening had been consumed as they wrestled with the puzzle of the temporal anomaly field, and finding and retrieving his first officer. Not even one solution, however unlikely, had presented itself. Frustration bade him to turn his mind, at least temporarily from the problem. But instead of thinking about something other than Commander Riker, he found himself unwillingly thinking about Will Riker, the child. They were one and the same person weren’t they? Picard found himself both fascinated and oddly moved by looking into those blue eyes, seeing both the man he knew so well, inside of a boy he knew not at all. It bothered him more than he cared to admit that the child seemed to be so fearful. Picard had freely acknowledged to himself and others that he was not good with children, but he'd always felt he was good with Will Riker. He counted himself as lucky to have had Will as his first officer for so long. They complemented each other well. He had even once grudgingly admitted to Beverly Crusher that he felt a bit of paternalistic pride in his first officer, who after all, was young enough to be his son. In the current circumstance, he was young enough to be his grandson Picard reflected ruefully. In retrospect, he expected he might have some sort of natural rapport with the child. He sighed, and threw back the last sip of the port he'd been nursing for the better part of an hour. It was late and he was very tired. Picard knew he tended toward sentimentality under those conditions, and he took it for a sure sign that it was time to get some sleep and let the morning bring what it may.
Chapter 2 b
Commander William Riker was unaware of where he was, or if he was even
anywhere. Counting the passage of time had swiftly become impossible, and
now even the concept of time was unknown and unremembered to him. The
seconds and minutes and the hours that previously filled his existence, had
blurred into a forever and eternal present. Will remembered an incredible
explosion of light, and then a flash of pain as his face kissed the shuttles
console. But now he wasn't sure anymore. Not only did nothing hurt, but he
felt no sensation at all; not his arms, or legs, or any other part of his
body. He worried that he was going blind because no color at all registered
on the retina's of his eyes. White surrounded him, and now seemed to be the
only color he had ever known. His lack of bodily awareness was still
producing an undercurrent of anxiety that ebbed and flowed with his fogged
awareness. He tried to look at himself and couldn't tell whether he was
bending his neck or not. He raised his hands, or at least he thought he did,
but he couldn't feel if he had done anything or not. Were they above his
head, or below his waist? Quelling the panic with difficulty that continued
to stalk him, he curbed his mental floundering, attempting to focus inward
instead of outward. Someone had once taught him the technique. It worked,
but only for a while.
Deanna stirred and mumbled sleepily. "Computer, what time is it?"
"The time is 0612 hours," the smooth female voice answered. It had always
reminded her uncomfortably of her mother, but she didn't know why. Deanna
lay for a long moment trying to fully awaken her sleepy senses. Her night
had been restless, full of uneasy dreams and strange imagery. She strained
to remember what she'd been dreaming just before waking, when a small noise
suddenly reminded her there was a child in her quarters. She listened
intently, but heard no more sound, so she quietly slipped from her bed and
pulled on her robe, walking softly into the other room to check on him.
Will sat hunched over her breakfast table, deep in concentration. She
approached him silentland curious, and looked over his shoulder. He was
sketching. He was drawing the Betazoid floral sculpture that graced the
center of her glass table. Amazed, she stood and watched; surprised at his
young talent. Suddenly he became aware of her presence, and jumped up out of
his seat so quickly he knocked it over, and the sculpture rocked precariously
until Deanna grabbed it. He snatched the paper to hide it behind his back,
and gnawed on his lower lip.
"That was lovely, Will. May I see it?" She requested.
He shrugged. "I'm sorry Miss Troi, I used your paper without asking. I
just woke up a long time ago, and I was trying to be quiet…ma'am."
She gave him a reassuring smile, even though disturbed by his fear. She
was beginning to actively detest Kyle Riker, and wondered how he had so
deeply instilled this insecurity in his boy. "I really don't mind at all,
Will," she said. "In fact, I think it was very considerate of you to find a
way to keep yourself occupied without waking me." She deliberately turned
her attention to the sculpture on the table. "And I am glad you liked the
flowers. My mother gave me this for my birthday a few years ago. Can I see
how you drew them?" She could sense his reluctance as he handed her the
paper. He's expecting ridicule, she realized, but what she saw inspired the
exact opposite. "Will! This is beautiful! You're very talented! I had no
idea you were an artist!" Her mind unwillingly went back to another time,
when Tom Riker had shocked her with his beautiful rendering of Janaran Falls.
She wondered why as an adult Will Riker had never shown any particularly
Will was looking at her doubtfully, as if trying to decide if she was
serious or not. "My dad says it's stupid. Real men don't spend their time
"But my father liked to draw." She volunteered truthfully. "and
believe me, Will, he was a very fine man. Deanna smiled at him. I think you
should enjoy your talents, and let others enjoy them as well." He stirred
uneasily, and she could feel the conflict in him, longing to live up to his
father's expectations, but wanting to believe what Deanna was telling him.
"May I keep this? I'd like it for my office," she asked, recalling how her
own mother had hung every single one of her childhood "works of art" in the
entrance hallway of the Troi mansion. It had always made her feel like she
was really something special. Somehow, she doubted that Kyle Riker had ever
hung any of his sons art on the wall.
Will shrugged. "I don't care," he said noncommittally, but she could
sense a glimmer of pride in him through the protest. Deanna took the picture
and laid it with her padd. "OK young man. It's time for both of us to get
dressed and have some breakfast before we go see Captain Picard." His
feelings of pride evaporated, to be replaced with anxiety at the mention of
the Captains name.
The early morning meeting did not go well. Temporal physics was still
an inexact science, and that, coupled with the capricious nature of the
current anomaly field, made it difficult for anyone to issue a confident
opinion on how to return young Will and retrieve the Commander, that is if
their Commander was still alive. After Geordi and Data departed Picard sat
at his desk and ran a hand thoughtfully over his smooth pate. Data had a few
suggestions, but at this point there were just too many unknowns to take the
chance on losing both the boy and the man. Starfleet hadn't reassigned them
yet, but Picard was worried that they wouldn't have enough time to find Will
before the Enterprise was forced to leave this sector. The door chimed, and
Picard straightened both his posture and his expression, not wanting his
frustration to be so obvious. "Come."
Beverly entered. "Good morning, Jean Luc..." She greeted him, taking a
chair opposite his desk. "How did things go with the rescue plans?"
"Not well, I'm afraid. We will have to continue to explore our
options...how are things going with the boy?" He rose to refill his cup of
tea and to bring his CMO her own.
"I spoke with Deanna a few minutes ago. They're running a little late
because Deanna had an emergency counseling session this morning. She said
that young Will did fine last night. He seems to be adapting ...his biggest
concern appears to be what his father will do if he finds him out of his
bedroom. Apparently he's grounded for some infraction."
Picard had to smile. "Knowing our Commander Riker, I'm sure that young
Will is capable of quite a bit of mischief. I suspect that being grounded is
a common condition for that young man. He's probably quite a handful for his
Beverly did not smile back. In fact, she leaned forward, her face
reflecting her concern. "Deanna says that when he speaks of his father he is
"Beverly, I seem to recall being somewhat afraid of my own father at
times. He was rather strict and not always very tolerant of boyhood whimsy."
Beverly negated his statement with a shake of her head. "Jean
Luc...Deanna told me something else that makes me doubt that this is fearful
respect. When she put Will to bed she squeezed his shoulder and it hurt him
enough to cry. But he denied being in pain. She pushed him until he told
her he was routinely bruised from his lesson with his father. His ambo-jitsu
Picard frowned. "Nine IS rather young for ambo-jitsu. Although I
suspect that Will Riker has always been an exceptional athlete."
"You don't understand. Deanna asked to see the bruise...and he refused
to show her until she threatened to take him to sickbay. Deanna said his
entire chest is bruised and his shoulder is purple. Did he ever say anything
to you about Kyle being… abusive?"
The captain shook his head, realizing just how little he did know about
his first officer's childhood. For someone so gregarious and open, he was
remarkably reticent about anything before his academy days. A moment later,
the door chimed again, and when it opened Deanna Troi stepped in, accompanied
by an uncertain looking Will Riker. Picard folded his hands and tried to
appear friendly and less intimidating, but he wasn't sure quite how to do it.
"Counselor, Will." Picard acknowledged cordially. Deanna smiled
pleasantly, and walked confidently into the room, obviously making a show of
how comfortable she was with Picard, hoping that Will would pick up on the
fact that the Captain was not someone to be feared. She shot Picard a look
that indicated he should speak to the child.
"So, young man, how do you like the Enterprise?"
Instinctively the boy stiffly took a step back, and then slowly, as if
resolving not to show his fear, he raised his chin and looked directly into
the captain's eyes. It was a gesture eerily reminiscent of Commander Riker
when he was put into a precarious position; overcoming natural fear by sheer
force of will. Unfortunately, due to his tender age, he still had not
mastered the carefully modulated and commanding voice he would grow into.
"It's nice, sir."
Deanna saw him tuck his lower lip and gnaw nervously on it, but he
quickly caught himself and swallowed hard. She could also feel the heavy
awkwardness that Picard felt while attempting to make conversation with a
child. He glanced belatedly at the two women, as if asking what exactly one
should say to a nine year old.
Beverly jumped in, he thought, to save him. "You know, Captain...I bet
that Will would love to see the bridge. Perhaps you could show it to him,"
she suggested mischievously.
Picard and Will spoke precisely at the same time. "Doctor- I don't
believe that..." Picard began, while Will stumbled over himself and said,
"No! I mean… that's OK, I don't need to..."
Deanna kept her smile beneath the surface of her expression, realizing
that overcoming their respective fears of each other was very important. "I
think that's a wonderful suggestion!" she exclaimed enthusiastically,
effectively cutting off both of their arguments. "I'm afraid that I have an
appointment in a few minutes, but I can come back to collect Will in an hour
or so Captain."
Beverly said straight-faced. "I have inventory I need to check." And
turned around before the captain and Will could see her laughing. With that,
the women both made a swift departure.
Jean Luc Picard frowned. He was going to have a word with his two officers as soon as young Will was not present. Will, ever observant, picked up on his frown and backed towards the door. "It's OK sir...I'll go back to Miss Troi’s room."
Picard forced himself to look at young Riker and was about to tell him that would be a good idea, but was captured by the luminous blue eyes that still seemed too large for the boy’s face. Tugging on his tunic, he told himself that he had a responsibility to his friend, Commander Riker, to try and ease the situation for young Will Riker. Convincing himself it was nothing more than that, he forced what he hoped was a reassuring smile. "That's quite alright, Will. I rather enjoy showing it off. I will address you as Mr. Riker while on the bridge. Come along." He indicated the door.
Geordi turned around and modified his expression as Picard stepped onto the bridge, accompanied by his small charge. The boy paused, just inside the door as he took in the scene, and especially the huge viewscreen displayed the dramatic colors of the brilliant energies in the area where Commander Riker and his shuttle had disappeared. His blue eyes grew wide with awe as he quietly exclaimed "Wowwwwwww!" Most everyone, including the Captain, smiled, reminded by the young boy of the beauty and power they so often took for granted.
Picard leaned slightly over, bringing himself a little closer to the boy's level. "You may look Mr. Riker, but do not touch. Understood?" The boy shook his head, and realized belatedly that he was being entirely too casual with the captain.
"Yes sir!" his awe of the scene before him overcoming his fear momentarily.
Picard acknowledged him with nothing more than a short nod, and made his way down to the center chair, leaving the boy standing on the upper deck. Picard pretended to be engrossed in a padd handed him by an ensign, but watched out of the corner of his eye as Will stood frozen for a long moment before cautiously walking down the ramp and than up beside the navigational console, all the while, still studying the screen. After a moment, he became aware of Data, and took a cautious step back, surveying the android nervously.
Data smiled at him. "Hello."
"I am Data. Welcome aboard the Enterprise. May I call you Will?" he asked politely.
"T...thank you. Sure, I guess,” he said doubtfully. But after sizing the android up for a moment he seemed to decide that this person was friendly, and with a child's lack of self-consciousness he cocked his head. "What's your home-world, Data?"
"I do not have a home-world, if you are referring to my ancestral roots. I am an artificial life-form. An android."
The blue eyes grew even wider. "Wow! That's so racked!" He exclaimed.
Picard listened to their conversation with a twinge of jealousy he never would have admitted to. It amazed him how quickly the boy seemed to relax around Data, when he was obviously so fearful of him. Data was patiently explaining the navigational console, and then turned in his seat to show the boy the rest of the bridge stations.
Picard saw the startled look on Will’s face and then suppressed a smile when Will leaned towards Data with a stage-whisper clearly audible. "Is that a Klingon?" The Captain knew that in young Will's time, close to thirty years ago, the Klingon alliance was still not cemented and Klingons were still considered a potential enemy.
"Yes Will. That is Lt. Commander Worf." Data informed him.
"Is he mean?"
Data considered his answer carefully. "No. Under most circumstances he is a very nice person."
Fully aware of the scrutiny, Worf looked over at the two, and then took a few steps down the ramp, probably intending to be helpful. Assuming an expression he arranged on his imposing features would be taken as kindly, he smiled at the boy for his benefit. But the sharply pointed teeth he revealed had a decidedly non-soothing effect.
"He looks mean to me!" Will whispered urgently to Data, falling silent as Worf came to a stop before him.
“Well,” Picard thought, at least I’m not the only one who seems to scare the boy.
"I have a son, Alexander, who is about your age." Worf volunteered. "Perhaps you would like to become acquainted with him later."
Will stared up at the massive Klingon, unable to formulate a reply. "I will contact Counselor Troi to arrange it." Worf rumbled, and then went back to his work, leaving the child with his heart pounding. Will slowly made his way to the Command center and ran his finger along the side of the chair he would one day sit in, until he remembered he had been told not to touch, and pulled his hand away. He watched the array of lights and colored gases on the main view-screen, standing mesmerized for long minutes.
Finally, Picard turned to him. "You may sit down, if you would like, Mr. Riker." He nodded towards the empty chair normally occupied by a much larger version of the boy before him.
Cautiously, Will slid into the seat and let his feet dangle. "Thank you, sir," he replied, not meeting Picard's gaze. Picard nodded and prepared to return to reading the padd, but the child interrupted him, his voice barely above a whisper. "Who usually sits here?"
The Captain hesitated for a moment, not certain if he was comfortable with where this conversation was heading. No one had really explained the exact circumstances of the situation to the child. "The Enterprise's First Officer." Picard replied, his voice without inflection.
Will swallowed hard and bit his lip for a second. "Is that Commander Riker?" Jean Luc replied affirmatively and Will cringed a little bit. "I'm sorry he got lost. Someone must have mixed us up because we got the same name. I didn't mean to mess things up."
Something in the boy's earnestness appealed to Picard and made him forget his usual unease at conversing with children. "You did not 'mess things up” Will. It was an accident over which you had no control." The boy looked over at him doubtfully, as if not fully trusting the kindness in Picard's voice.
"Maybe I should just go away so that he can come back," Will whispered almost hopefully.
"Will, I promise you we will find a way to get Commander Riker back...and also to get you home to Alaska. I'm sure your father misses you."
Will stared at the viewscreen with his jaw clenched for a moment, a mannerism Picard recognized as haunting in it’s familiarity. After working side-by-side with the first officer for so many years, his famous poker face had become readable to Picard. That small clench meant he was both angry and upset.
"My father doesn't miss me. He's probably really glad I'm gone. I'm just a pain in the ass," the boy said matter-of-factly, his voice almost steady.
Jean Luc's eyes narrowed and he restrained his urge to touch Will’s rigid shoulder in support. His anger flared, unable to understand how any parent could make their child feel so alone. It particularly disturbed him because young Will, in many ways, was already like the man he would become; charming. Intelligent, articulate, well behaved...and fairly bursting with promise and potential. Picard was nothing if not astute in his study of human nature, and he realized that the boy misinterpreted his frown, and now reacted to it. Will’s eye’s lowered and he seemed to shrink in upon himself as he mumbled..."I'm sorry. I'll be quiet now, I promise."
Jean Luc Picard knew himself to be utterly devoid of any paternal feelings towards children, yet he just couldn’t help from reaching out to touch this child's arm. Will flinched and Picards frown deepened along with his frustration, now more concerned than ever at the fear he seemed to engender in the boy. "Will. In truth, I think it is your father who is the ass. You strike me as being a very bright and pleasant young man."
The surprise and gratitude that dawned in Will’s eyes both startled and pleased Picard, and warm emotions suffused him as the boy finally met his gaze. Wills smile grew to a broad face splitting grin, making him the spitting image of Picard's first officer. Picard smiled back at the boy with bittersweet feelings of having found something special to hold on to, only to be reminded by that self-same special quality, of the loss of his first officer. The boy looked away shyly and turned his gaze back to the view screen.
Deanna returned to the bridge an hour later, though she sensed no negativity from the Captain, she was full of caution, and was not quite sure what to expect. She realized she need not have been concerned when she saw little Will in the first officer's chair, his feet inches above the ground. She continued to be surprised by how small he was. Even for nine years old he was not very tall. Though his shoulders were broad he was still slightly built. Beverly had told her after they glanced through Cmdr. Will Riker's medical records, that he would not really catch up to his peers in size until he was about thirteen, and by fifteen he would be the tallest, most muscular child in his class. Deanna could sense the beginnings of a trust growing between Picard and Will which was evident in the more confident posture of the child, and the almost imperceptible relaxing of Picard’s parade ground stiffness.
"So, how did you like the bridge?" Deanna asked him, as the turbolift got underway.
His grin broadened and his eyes sparkled. "It was racked…really, racked,” he said as if savoring the words. Will noticed her puzzled expression and ducked his head in apology. "Dad said I shouldn't use slang words. I meant it was really..." he scratched his head and searched for a descriptive word for a moment. "It was really exciting and incredible and I liked it a lot." Deanna smiled as his words tumbled out in his enthusiasm. She wished for a moment she could tell him that he'd be spending a lot of time on that bridge someday.
"What was so exciting about it? " she encouraged.
His incredulous look demonstrated he thought she was crazy for even asking. "The view screen ... Miss Troi, you could see everything! and Data…Data showed me how to steer. Did you know that Data is an android? And there's this huge Klingon too, but he was kinda scary...and I saw how they fire the phasers and the Captain let me sit in the first officer's chair." He grinned up at her. "I really wanted to sit in the Captain's chair, but he was already in it. I didn't want him to think I was being an obnoxious kid." He paused for a breath and Deanna laughed with delight. Wait until she told Picard that Will was already angling for the center seat! "...but the Captain was nice, too." Will added quickly. "And he said my dad was an ass," Will stage whispered. Deanna couldn't keep her eyebrows from shooting up and she was laughing even harder when the doors of the lift opened.
They took a few steps into the corridor and Will stopped so quickly Deanna almost stumbled into him. His smile was replaced by an expression of mistrust. "This is sickbay! You promised you wouldn't tell."
Deanna took a deep breath and squatted down to his level. "Will, I'm concerned about you. I just want Beverly to make sure that you're really OK. Please do this for me?"
His stormy gray eyes were angry and full of the pain of her betrayal. "Yes ma'am," he answered, making her feel like a heel for violating his trust.
Beverly Crusher smiled at the young man sitting stiffly on the biobed. "Hello Will. How are you liking the Enterprise so far?"
He glared back at her. "It's OK, but I don't need a doctor." Beverly turned and coughed to hide her smile. This kid sounded exactly like someone else she knew.
"Counselor Troi told me you had some bruises that she thinks I should look at. She also told me that you didn't want to answer any questions about them, so I won't ask any...and I promise that I will never tell your father you were here, unless you want me to." That was not a promise she would normally make to a nine-year-old, but under the circumstances it didn't seem unreasonable. Will studied her warily for a moment and then seemed to relax a little bit. He nodded.
"OK. Can you take off that shirt so I can get a look?" She requested brightly.
Deanna looked up when Beverly walked back into her office and sat behind her desk, her manner was distracted and her voice curt. "I healed his bruises. They looked horrible but they were superficial...and consistant with blows from an ambo-jitsu pole." Deanna waited for her to continue, sensing there was something more. "In the last year he's also had a broken collar bone which was professionally healed and two cracked ribs- which were never treated. He told me he broke the collarbone kayaking with his Dad, which I suppose is understandable...but he claimed he never hurt any ribs. Deanna, I know they had to be painful! What kind of father wouldn't have his child treated?"
Deanna frowned. "Maybe Will didn’t tell him, because Kyle Riker calls him a baby if he complains about being hurt?" Beverly nodded. "Well I guess that could explain why our Will Riker has such an aversion to sickbay," Beverly said, guilt prickling her conscience for all the times she'd teased, bullied and angrily chided the first officer when he refused to admit he needed medical treatment.
Deanna’s sighed and pulled her hair back, finally looking at her friend. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
Beverly’s expression was somber. "That if we can get this temporal anomaly stuff figured out, we'll be sending a sweet little boy back to endure almost six more years of this." Beverly supplied.
"Exactly," Deanna whispered, her eyes shadowed with worry.
The three technicians sat in ten forward having lunch. Ensign’s Giles and Daniel were not exactly Shoshonna's first choices for lunch companions, but they all worked together in ship's maintenance and usually took their breaks together. "Have you seen Commander Riker?" Specialist Giles Wathram grinned, nodding in the direction of the table Deanna Troi and young Will Riker occupied. "It took a temporal anomaly to cut him down to size," he said with a nasty snigger.
Shoshonna Ortt twirled the straw in her drink, highly irritated that they would fail to see the scope of the tragedy if Commander Riker were lost to the Enterprise. "I don't know guys. I think he's adorable - so little, with those big blue eyes. And so unsure of himself. Just makes me want to give him a great big squeeze."
Giles rolled his eyes. "Face it, Shoshonna. You've wanted to squeeze Commander Riker since you came on board, and it doesn't have anything to do with his size...or his eyes."
"I don't know, Giles...from what I've heard it has a lot to do with his size." Dan Miller snickered suggestively holding up his hands about a foot apart from each other.
"Grow up, you guys!" Specialist Ortt snapped. "You're just jealous anyway." She took another sip of her drink and tuned them out. The truth was, she really wouldn't have minded squeezing Commander Riker at all. He was gorgeous and had an incredible presence that electrified her whenever she was within five feet of him. When she'd first come aboard he'd flirted with her, and she'd had some high hopes about a relationship with him until she saw the repeat performance, and realized he flirted with every woman he met. And for all his reputation as a Casanova she didn't really know of any crewmember, officer or not, who'd actually had a physical relationship with him. He seemed to confine his dalliances to the occasional single, attractive female civilian passenger who wouldn't be around for more than a few weeks at most. Then of course, there was also all the speculation about he and Counselor Troi. They sure seemed to be more than just good friends, but if so, they were incredibly discreet. Giles was a pig. His opinion was that Troi and Riker simply screwed each other, but only because no one else of suitably high rank was available. Shoshonna preferred to believe that there was some sort of intense and probably tragic ongoing romantic story between the two of them, and she was dying to find out.
Guinan had just delivered their lunch when Deanna Troi's comm badge beeped.
"Counselor? This is Devaki Hollman." Deanna recognized the teacher's voice, despite the noise in the background. "I wonder if you could come down here? I just had to break up a fist fight between Majda and Lewis."
Deanna sighed. Majda was going through the Orion equivalent of puberty, a stormy time even for a child who had not just gone through the divorce of her parents and a move from the starbase where she'd lived all her life to the Enterprise. Deanna had thought she was making some real progress with the girl, but this was a setback. "I'm on my way, Devaki." Deanna said quietly, placing her napkin on the table. She looked at Will, wondering what to do with him and his uneaten lunch. As if reading her mind he shrugged.
"I can finish on my own and then go back to your quarters, Miss. Troi."
"Are you sure you'll be ok?" She asked.
"I'm NOT a baby." He told her, with just the slightest hint of exasperation in his voice. "At home I usually eat by myself anyway. Dad's never home."
"OK." She agreed. He really couldn't come to any harm on a starship, anyway.
"I'll stop by my quarters when I'm through and we'll take you to meet Lt. Worf's son, Alexander."
"Yes ma'm." He replied obediently, and she mussed his hair affectionately as she departed.
Shoshonna left and Giles looked over at Daniels. Well, now’s our chance!” Daniels looked uncomfortable as if he knew what was coming. “What do you mean now’s our chance. Nows our chance to do what?” he asked. Giles slouched in his seat and glanced sideways at the table where the young boy sat, eating his lunch alone now that Troi had gone. I say now’s our chance to payback Riker for all the hell he gives us every day. And if he ever gets back it won’t matter. He’ll never even know. Daniels scratched his head and continued to hedge, “I dunno. He’s just a kid.”
Giles said with disgust, “hey, you know the saying of the ancients Daniels. Nits make lice!” Daniels looked confused. “What’s a lice?” Giles shook his head. “Never mind. Just come with me and play along. Giles got up and walked over to Will’s table, “Hey Riker boy, Giles here, and this is my buddy Daniels.” Daniels nodded and shifted uneasily.
“Hello,” Will replied, uncertain what to do. These were officers, he knew that by their uniform. “S…Sit down if you want,” he stuttered nervously. Giles slid into the seat next to the boy and said in an undertone. Hey, why don’t you come to the holodeck with us. I’ve got a really great program I want you to see. It’s fun!” he said, trying to gear his invitation to peak a boys interest.
“I… I don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t. I’m supposed to go back to Miss Trois quarters after lunch.”
Giles leered at Daniels, “Miss Troi already eh? Well Daniels here will let her know you’re with us. Anyway, I’m sure she won’t mind. She want’s you to enjoy yourself.”
Will looked dubiously at the two men, his expression was still unsure, but finally his trust in the uniform won him over. Officers wouldn’t lie so he agreed to go and pushed back his unfinished plate. The two men left with Will between them,” the barkeeps somber gaze following them.
Geordi and Data had been struggling with the temporal question for thirty-six hours and still had no definitive solution, and only a small grab bag full of theories. “Data,” said Geordi, rubbing his temples, “we know that wormholes can start up in one time, and end up in another. And we know that the coinciding of the opening of the worm hole, and the shuttles warp core breach, were probably responsible for pulling Will Riker from Commander Rikers past.”
Data continued. “Correct, and there is a high probability that somehow an inherent weakness in that particular time-strand was breached by the negative energies as the warp field collapsed, and was somehow transmitted to the other end of the worm hole.”
Geordi rubbed his aching forehead. “So is Commander Riker at the other end, replacing the boy?”
Data gazed at his friend. “Not necessarily Geordi. Commander Riker could have been left at any point in the continuum. Or he could be nowhere, or he could have been vaporized by the release of energies during the exchange.” The android paused for a moment. “He could be anywhere, or he could be nowhere.”
Geordi rubbed his temples again, wincing with the pain of his headache. “What do you mean he could be nowhere Data? How can you be nowhere?”
Data wondered if he were giving Geordi his headache, or if it was the situation with Commander Riker along with the time anomaly’s physics. “It is possible that commander Riker could be locked between moments, trapped if you will. Neither here, nor there.” Geordi sighed and leaned forward across the table. “Ok Data, lets start with nowhere. If commander Riker is nowhere, how do we get him back?” Data’s expression, if possible, was more serious than normal. “That is a very good question Geordi.” The two officers worked late into the night; one golden skinned and one ebony, both intent on returning their friend and first officer to his place on the Enterprise.
Deanna Troi’s mind wasn’t on her work at all, but seemed to run in cycles of endless worry and wretchedness. A painful anguish that left her breathless continued to sneak up out of nowhere when she thought about Will, making her wonder if he was alive or dead. At first, after he was gone, she could sometimes feel Will’s resignation, and sometimes his physical pain, but then there had been an abrupt termination of all her sensations of his emotional presence. It was like having a warm blanket jerked off of her on a freezing day when that happened. Now she seemed to have forgotten what that warmth was like, and wondered if she had ever truly known it.
Deanna wore herself out by continually seeking the strong thread of his life-force, searching for just a glimmer of his presence. But she could feel nothing from him. Not one dull spark of his personality, or any inkling of whether he was safe or hurt… or if he was even alive… just unending, unremitting, unendurable nothing. She struggled to keep despair from ruling her thoughts.
Finally after calming the Orion girl and getting her settled, Deanna tried and have a full session with her. To say that their session was unproductive was being fairly generous. For the moment Deanna was too wrapped up in her own emotions to help anyone else. The numbness of shock was quickly wearing off, and anticipatory grief was dragging at her resolve to stay strong and useful, as well as available should they need her help in finding Will. Her spirits were flagging because she was unable to drag her mind from the double dilemma which faced not only him, but all of them. Injure the child and save the man, or rescue the man to lose the child. She caught herself staring blankly at the wall several times, but thankfully the girl was too wrapped up in her own issues to really notice. Deanna asked several leading questions and did her best to do what her job required; which was give her undivided attention. Unfortunately, she was not successful by even a slim margin.
Daniels looked over the boy's head at Giles. "What have you got planned?" He mimed.
Giles looked down at Will. "Hey kid...run in the head and wash your hands before we go. You don't want to leave dirty fingerprints all over the ship." Will obediently headed for the bathroom. Giles chuckled. "Well, the holodeck actually. The kid is from 25 years ago, right? Holodeck technology wasn't very refined then. He’ll never know he's not actually on the bridge."
"The BRIDGE? Why the bridge?" Daniels questioned. Giles lowered his voice and scanned the corridor as he talked.
"Remember I told you how Riker treated me when I failed that bridge emergency sim? He was a jerk. Riker acted like I was a real idiot and didn't even give me a second chance.” Giles jabbed his thumb at his chest. “I should have been a navigator. Instead I'm fixing doors and adjusting climate-control units.” His angry color faded and a sly grin fought for supremacy over his expression. “So...I figure we put little Willy into the same bridge simulation and let him see how it feels to get his ass chewed when he lets the holo-crewmembers get killed. Course he won’t know it’s a sim."
Daniels scratched his chin and looked dubious. "Who's gonna chew his ass? A simulated Commander Riker?"
Giles laughed, but it wasn’t a friendly sound, and it made Daniels skin draw up into goose bumps. "I overheard Laforge talkin about our stowaway here. That kid is really scared of how mad his dad will be because he's not in his room at home. So...maybe we'll have an angry daddy do it so it will have the proper effect. I did a little research on Riker’s family. His dad was some star fleet operative or something. Always gone, kinda hard on the little snot."
"Giles...he's just a kid...."
"Yeah, who's gonna grow up into a world-class son of a bitch who ruins my career! Damn, Daniels, get a hold of yourself...the fail-safes will be on. He can't actually get hurt...I just want to scare him a little bit...Maybe it'll make him a little less of a hard-ass when he grows up this time. You in or out?"
Daniels shrugged, obviously uncomfortable, but lacking the strength of character to resist Giles. "I guess I don't have anything better to do."
Giles rubbed his hands quickly together. "OK, stall the kid for ten or fifteen minutes. I'll go get the program going and then you can bring him in."
True to the plan, Giles took the boy and they met Giles at the holodeck entrance. Daniels was seriously having second thoughts, but since Giles had already gone to all the trouble of getting the program set, he figured he'd best keep his mouth shut. Giles grinned at him. "Listen, kid...I guess Daniels told you we gotta get back to work. But the bridge is through that door. That's where Ms Troi said you should wait for her."
Will looked at the door without recognition, puzzled that he didn't remember the bridge entrance looking like this, but then he figured that these two officers knew the ship better than he did. "Yes sirs." He said obediently, and stumbled a little as Giles gave him a shove towards the door. He looked about him as he stepped into the room. The bridge looked pretty much the same as it had a few hours ago, except for the fact that the scene on the view screen had changed and now simply showed a star field with a single brownish-gray planet in the background. The atmosphere was alot different, however. People seemed tense and were concentrating on their stations. Picard was still sitting in the center seat, but his demeanor was completely changed. He was crisply demanding reports and studying the unremarkable view screen intently, as if trying to see something that wasn't there.
Will hung back by the door, sensing that something important was going on and a child might not be welcome under the circumstances. He hesitated, not sure if he should stay and wait for Counselor Troi as he'd been directed, or if he should go back to her quarters and wait there. He'd almost made the decision to go when the captain glanced at him and ordered "Take your station, Mr. Riker!" Indicating the first officer's chair. Seconds later a sudden jolt made him lose his balance and he slammed painfully to the deck. "Sir! Romulan warbird decloaking off the port bow!" Data reported. Will staggered back to his feet and rushed to the chair as he had been told. He sat down and watched, wide-eyed, as a Romulan cruiser swung into view on the main screen.
Picard turned to him. "Suggestions, Number One?"
Will looked behind him, assuming that Picard had been addressing someone over his shoulder, but there was no one there. He looked back at Picard in confusion, but the captain's attentions were focussed back on the view screen where a second warbird had come into view.
"They are firing!" Data reported and seconds later the bridge lurched again. Will grabbed onto the arms of his chair and bit down the surge of fear that made him want to run away. His reason told him there was nowhere to run, and that he could depend on the officers around him, and especially the captain, to keep him safe. He listened to the bridge staff exchanging information and calling out reports, and the captain issuing orders. No one else is panicked, he told himself. Don't be a baby. Don't show you're afraid.
Deanna walked slowly back to her quarters, continuing to worry over the situation with Will. She was, she realized, becoming entirely too attached to the boy. It was going to be painfully similar to losing Ian, and she was dreading the moment when they finally returned him to his own time. The doors parted and she walked in, but even before she looked around she could sense that he wasn't there. She concentrated, but was unable to pick his emotional signature out of the cacophony of the entire crew. She and little Will did not have the Imzadi bond that she shared with the adult Will. Tapping her combadge, she called Ten-forward. "Guinan? Is Will still there?"
"No, Counselor. He left just a few minutes after you did, with a couple of Ensigns. I heard them saying something about the bridge."
Deanna, puzzled, decided to try another tack. "Computer, what is the location of Will Riker?"
"Commander Riker is not on board the Enterprise." The computer replied efficiently.
"No! Not COMMANDER Riker. Will Riker!" She bit off, and then sighed in exasperation. "Never mind." Again, she tapped her combadge. "Troi to Picard."
Picard answered her in his usual even tones.
"Captain? Is Will with you? I left him in ten forward while I had an emergency and Guinan said he left with two Ensigns who were talking about the bridge."
Picard’s frown could be heard through the comm. "He's not here, Counselor."
On the holodeck the situation was deteriorating rapidly. The shields were down to 10%. There were hull breaches on several decks. The navigation console exploded in a shower of flames and Will looked in horror at the maimed body of the Bajoran officer who'd been at that station and now lay dead at his feet. Another explosion rocked the bridge and Will was tossed to the deck, slamming his head painfully into the chair. He found himself staring directly into the Bajoran woman's sightless eyes and he scrambled to his feet in panic. He turned to look at the Captain for reassurance, but Picard was dead too, his skull caved in on one side. The child's hands flew to his mouth and he screamed, but his voice was lost in the midst of the alarms going off on the bridge. He wheeled around, looking for someone...anyone...who could stop this.
On the real Enterprise bridge, Worf calmly inquired. "Computer? Location of William Riker?"
"Commander Riker is not on board the Enterprise." Worf frowned, as if his facial expression would intimidate the computer into giving the proper response. "Location of the child, William Riker. Civilian. Age 9."
"William Riker is in holodeck2."
Picard felt a sense of relief. Apparently some kindly crewmembers had just decided to entertain the boy.
"Counselor?" He inquired, assuring himself that Troi had heard where to go to recover the child.
There was a long pause and when Troi answered it was in a frightened voice. "Captain...I can sense him. He's very frightened…and in pain."
"Mr. Worf!" Picard ordered his security officer to accompany him as he headed for the turbolift.
In the holodeck the frightened boy looked at the only other person on the bridge who was still standing. The non-descript ensign said blandly. "I have an incoming transmission from starfleet command."
"Will!" Will turned to look at the main viewscreen and saw his father's face.
"Dad! I'm scared!"
Kyle Riker's face was stormy. "Damn it Will! This is all your fault! If you had stayed in your room like I told you to none of this would have happened!"
"Dad..." The child pleaded, terrified.
"Stop blubbering like a baby!" Kyle's six foot high face reflected his fury. "No son of mine is going to act like an infant! Get a grip on yourself. Just for once, stop acting useless and do something to save the rest of the people on that ship!"
"I don't know what to do!" Will screamed back, his panic overwhelming him.
"Do something! Or everyone is going to die! And it will all be your fault, because you acted like a baby instead of a man!" Kyle bellowed back.
"Daddy! I'm only nine!" the child pleaded, falling to his knees between the bodies.
"Computer! END PROGRAM!" Picard bellowed and the hellish vision of the destroyed bridge and dead bodies vanished, replaced by the stark hologrid. All that remained was the child who knelt on the floor sobbing.
Picard went quickly to where the child knelt doubled over on the floor and placed his hand on the small of his back. Will’s arms were clasped across his chest and he was rocking, trying valiently to choke back his sobs. "Will… Will… it's over. It wasn't real. It was just a simulation. None of it was real." Will had covered his face and continued his uncontrolled sobbing, making it obvious to Picard that the boy was past his words of comfort. The Captain struggled with himself for a moment, feeling more helpless than he had ever felt in his life. Nothing in his experience had ever prepared him to soothe a terrified child.
"Come.." he said with gentleness infusing his voice, "let's get you away from this place..." He impulsively scooped Will in his arms and carried him from the room as he turned to Worf. "I want whoever was responsible for this nightmare found and confined to quarters until I am ready to deal with them appropriately." The Klingon grunted his approval. Picard had a look in his eyes that caused Worf to respectfully wait for orders. "Question Guinan about the two ensigns who left ten forward with Will earlier. And find them!" Picards outrage at the hateful act that had taken place here, on his ship, fueled his anger and colored his voice with a brittle edge usually reserved for his enemies. Will had fallen silent except for deep shuddering breaths, and instinctively he clasped his arms tightly about his saviors' neck. Picard tightened his own hold around the trembling body of the child and continued to carry him as he stepped into the turbolift. "Deck eight," he snapped, and instinctively rubbed Wills back in a hypnotic fashion. "He's so small," Picard reflected. It was hard to imagine this boy would grow into the stature of the Will Riker he knew as his 'number one.' "Picard to Counselor Troi - I need to see you in my quarters." Troi answered back. "Sir, I'll be detained for a short while, unless it's very urgent, I have somewhat of another crisis here to deal with."
Picard was silent for a moment, biting back his retort that it was damn urgent and she'd better be in his quarters before he got there and not after. He knew he wasn't being fair or really even fully rational. He was unused to reacting from his emotions instead of his intellect. "No counselor, just come as soon as you are able. "Is Will alright?" she asked, concern leaking through her calm dialogue. Picard looked down at his young charge, "I’m sure he will be. Picard out."
Shifting his light burden, Picard opened the door to his quarters and went to the couch. He didn't know how to force the child to let go of his neck, and so he sat waited silently for Will to let go of his own accord. The boy was silent, though Picard could tell from the occasional shudders that racked the small boy that he was far from being calmed. The Captain’s father had never been his comforter, so when he began to talk, he tried to draw on long-ago memories of being soothed in his own mother's arms...
"There, there...That must have been a frightening experience, Will. Especially since you had no idea that it wasn't real. Most people would have turned and run." Picard waited for some response, and when none was forthcoming, he was at a loss. He awkwardly patted the boy's back. "The part about your father wasn't real either. Computer generated. Not real." Will leaned back against Picards arm and wiped ineffectively at his red rimmed eyes. His voice was slightly slurred when he spoke.
"He was just like my dad. I thought he was my dad..."
"No." Picard assured him, matching the boy's own barely audible tone "it wasn't real." The Captain's mind wandered to another time, when he had stood in sickbay, holding his first officer's hand and assuring him that none of it had been real. That time, it was an enemy who had created the nightmare world of a mental hospital for his first officer. This time, it was his own crewmembers who had perpetrated the atrocity. His face flushed, but he pushed his anger aside to listen to the softly spoken words the child was uttering.
"It wasn't my fault?" Picard felt his own chest tighten in sympathy.
"What wasn't your fault, Will?" he asked softly. Will’s unexpected dependence on him had almost negated the unfamiliar awkwardness of having a child in his arms.
Will looked at him dead in the eyes. "That everyone died. That I killed everyone cuz I didn't know what to do, cuz I cried like a baby." Will's eyes started to fill again and he bit his lower lip hard. It seemed as though he was having trouble focusing on the Captain.
Picard hastened to assure him, beginning to become worried that Will was sick. He held his face, and when he decided it was not fevered, he checked his pupils, now worried that the child was injured. "Will. None of what you saw was real life. No one died, no one was injured. The people you saw weren't even real, but just computer generated. None of that was real. It wasn't even really the bridge. It was all a cruel hoax, and believe me, I am going to get to the bottom of it."
Will seemed to relax a little more and he let his head fall back onto Picards chest. He seemed to be drawing comfort from being held, so Picard tried to relax and continued to rock him slightly, again reminded of how his mother used to comfort him. He was grateful to see the boy regaining a small measure of his composure.
"But It felt real," Will repeated, his slur more pronounced. Picard was not sure if the child was just drifting into an exhausted sleep, or if it was something more. Gently, he ran his hand over the boys head, and stopped suddenly when he felt a goose egg behind his right ear. "What happened to your head?" he asked sharply, his anger at the two unknown tormenters reaching new heights. He felt Will's muscles tense instinctively and forced himself to rein in his indignation. "It's ok Will, I just want to know if you're injured and if you require assistance from sickbay." "I'm fine," Will muttered. Picard heard just as loudly the unspoken words, "I'm not a baby." "It's alright to admit when something hurts..."The captain said matter of factly, as he looked with alarm at the blood on his fingers when he pulled his hand away. "You have a cut on your head, Will. You are going to sickbay. I don't allow my crew members to bleed in my quarters." Picard found a handkerchief and pressed it tightly against the wound to staunch the bleeding.
The small hand that clenched the front of Picard's shirt tightened it's grip. "Go with me," he pleaded. Picard resignedly nodded. "Of course, Will. Of course." With one hand he drew the boy's head back down against his shoulder, so that he could have access to his com badge. "Dr. Crusher?"
"I''m bringing young Will to you. He seems to have hit his head and it is bleeding."
"Is he conscious?" Beverly inquired.
Picard tentatively checked on the child. "He seems very sleepy." He answered as he stood and adjusted the child in his arms. Will mumbled something incoherently.
"Get him here right away!" Beverly instructed, standing up from her desk and already reviewing in her mind what she knew about pediatric head injuries.
"On my way." Picard confirmed. "...and please tell Counselor Troi that we will not be in my quarters."
Deanna met him in the corridor outside sickbay and was alarmed to see the blood that covered the back of Will's neck and Picard's hand. "Captain! What happened?" she said, her face a reflection of the guilt she felt for leaving him alone in ten-forward!
"He hit his head." Picard explained shortly, intent on getting the boy onto a biobed as quickly as possible. He seemed to be growing limp in his arms. Deanna followed, bursting with concern as she sensed the boy's lingering terror and the Captains growing fear for the child.
"Lay him right here, Jean Luc... "Beverly instructed, reaching out to help him place him on the biobed. Picard started to straighten up, but the small hand prevented him from doing so by gripping his shirt even tighter. Will's eyes were still swollen with crying as they opened, full of fear, and pleaded with Picard. Will's respiration went from slow to suddenly strained. The Captain hesitated, unsure of how to disentangle himself, short of prying the child's hand off his shirt.
Beverly saw what was happening and gently suggested "maybe it would be better if you just sat down here and held him while I take a look at his head." Picard nodded with relief.
"It's alright Will. I'm here..." He soothed self consciously as he gathered the boy up once more and took a seat on the biobed. Will buried his face in the captain's chest and Beverly discretely watched Jean Luc's newly found gentle manner with him as she cleaned and healed the cut. Than she reduced the swelling, scanning for any evidence of brain injury. "He has a concussion, but he's going to be fine now... though exhausted" she reassured both Deanna and Picard. Keeping her voice low she inquired "What happened here?"
Picard sighed and allowed Beverly to clean the blood from his hand while he talked softly. I don’t know. Guinan reported that two ensigns took Will from ten forward. I’ve sent Worf to investigate. At that moment the Klingon entered sick bay and looked at Picard for permission to speak. “Yes Worf, what have you found?”
“Ensign's Daniels and Giles have been confined to quarters sir. Giles' was NOT cooperative; however, Daniels confessed to everything with some… persuasion." Worf’s face was even more forbidding than usual. His deep voice loud in the quiet of the room. "Apparently Giles and Daniels had a grudge against Mr. Riker when one of them did not pass the bridge exam. They decided to have some ‘fun’ at the child’s expense.” Worf growled under his breath, “They persuaded him to leave with them from ten forward. They had set up a no win bridge officers test in the holodeck and then put him into a battle situation where everyone was being killed about him. It was dishonorable!” he growled his displeasure, “the child was not Klingon, and had no training for this situation.”
Picard’s eyes became dangerously hooded at Worfs report. “When I walked in Beverly," Jean Luc said, his jaw clenched, "Kyle Riker’s face was on the main view screen; blaming Will for the whole situation, while the boy was surrounded by dead people he had come to know and care for. People he had every reason to believe were real."
Deanna said, "someone must have deliberately researched Will's background or found a way to access the information about his family history."
Picard continued. "This was cruel and deliberate," he paused to control his rising anger, "and unforgivable."
Thank you Mr. Worf." Picard said, regarded the sleeping child that it now felt so natural to hold. He awkwardly gave him up to the burly Klingon. "Will you please take this young man and escort he and counselor Troi to her quarters."
Worf nodded his assent and carried the sleeping child as easily as if he were a small Targ. He remembered the last time he had carried his commander from Dead Laslows. He had been quite a bit heavier then. Deanna was silent as they walked to her quarters. They had recently decided to take time away from each other and reevaluate their relationship. He knew that Deanna was pulling away from him, and that he carried the reason in his arms. This human child was going to grow up to become the reason that Worf couldn’t convince Deanna to be his mate. It was not honorable to be angry with a child and so he struggled to keep his feelings neutral. But It was difficult. Deanna did not speak as they walked. Normally he appreciated it when Deanna was silent and meditative. But tonight it only irritated him. "It is useless to get attached to this child Deanna," he said gruffly. Deanna swung a glance at him and returned her stare forward. "I am not getting attached Worf," she said with evenly modulated tones.
"He must go back to his own time," he said with finality.
Deanna rounded on him. “We will NOT have this discussion in front of him. What if he wakes up?"
Worf growled his frustration as they stopped at her door. His attempt at whispering was still harsh. "And when will you have it? When it is too late and he is already gone. When he has left you again." Worf regretted the words the moment he spoke them. It was not worthy of her and his heart asked for forgiveness as he looked at her stricken face. He saw understanding in her eyes beyond the hurt.
They shared a long look and then the boy stirred in his sleep, moaning softly, his hand moving over the klingon’s arm as if to reading it in ancient braille. Deanna entered her quarters and gestured to Worf to lay the child on the bed she had made for him on the couch. She busied herself removing Will’s shoes and tucking the covers up about him, studiously ignoring Worf, because she was not sure what to say. "Deanna..." he finally stage-whispered to get her attention. "I am sorry. I just do not wish to see you get hurt...after Ian..."
She frowned at him. "This is not Ian. This is Will Riker who will be going back to his own time so that Commander Riker can return to our time. I realize that the situation is difficult for you, but the relationship we had gives you have no right to pass judgement on my relationship with this child...or with the Commander."
"We HAD?" He repeatedly sharply, exposing his hurt for a split second before recovering his composure. "Of course. You are correct, Counselor." He glanced down at Will. "I will leave you. I have my own child to care for." With that he left, and Deanna stared after him for a regret filled moment and then turned her attention back to the angelic face of the sleeping child. Worf had been right about one thing. She was becoming very attached to the boy. How could anyone not?
Sent 1.8.00 3b 4a
Deanna sat at her desk and quietly caught up on "paperwork", getting up every once in a while to make sure Will was still sleeping peacefully. She was thinking of going to bed herself, although it was still early, when the door chimed. "Come" she called softly, expecting it to be Beverly Crusher checking up on her young patient. Instead, it was the Captain who entered. He looked almost sheepish, and Deanna realized that he was struggling with unexpectedly strong feelings about young Will. She hadn't missed his gentleness in way he had held the boy and comforted him, and she knew that these paternal stirring were an entirely new experience for him.
"He's fine." Deanna reassured Picard, leading him to the couch where Will still slept, his dark lashes resting on the smooth young cheeks. Tousled hair gave him the look of an rebellious angel, framing a face that would be called handsome someday, but right now qualified as simply beautiful. Picard gazed down at him, wondering how anyone had found the malice to hurt such a small, innocent boy. "I'd like you to do a full psychological assessment of Ensigns Giles and Daniels, Counselor. Then I want both of them off my ship." He commented, keeping his voice low to avoid waking the boy. He glanced around her quarters. "If you're going to leave him here on the couch you may want to provide a night-light. He'll be frightened if he wakes up alone in the dark." He reached down and readjusted the covers, pulling them up over one small exposed shoulder. Deanna suppressed a smile at his "mothering", but apparently, she did not hide it well enough, because Picard straightened and gave a self-conscious tug on his tunic. "Well." He said, seeking to regain some of his professional demeanor. "I had best be going. Please keep me informed of any changes in the child's condition, Counselor. Good evening."
Hours later Deanna lay in her bed, eyes closed, but unsleeping. Instead, she lay awake, searching with her mind, trying to find some evidence that her Imzadi still existed somewhere in time. The tight burning in her chest and throat increased as she thought about him, and realized for the first time that he might be truly gone from her life forever. Tears stung and then burned her eyes as she buried her face deeply in the pillow, finally allowing herself to grieve. Dimly she became aware of sounds that disturbed her consciousness until they brought her back to the present. She sat bolt upright, hearing a child's scream.
Will was tangled in his blankets and thrashed on the couch as if doing battle with them. His chest was heaving and his hair plastered to his face with sweat. "Will!" She said loudly several times, and gently shook his arm. He sat bolt upright, suddenly wide awake and poised to defend against some imagined attack. She'd seen the adult Will Riker waken from a nightmare before, and his reactions were eerily similar. Will hugged himself tightly, as if wishing the couch would swallow him up and he could disappear; all the while he took great gulps of air while blue eyes reflected his terror. "Will..." She repeated gently and at last he seemed to see her. Ignoring his stiff posture, she enfolded him in her arms and he collapsed against her. She rocked him for a few minutes until she felt him start to pull away. ‘
"I'm sorry..." he apologized weakly. "I woke you up."
She shook her head. "No…it's alright..."
"I'm not a baby." He informed her with a small spark of defiance, but he made no move to pull out of her arms.
"Sssshhhhh" she hushed him.
She stroked his hair and relaxed, trying to send him reassurance. After a while he gave her a shy smile. "I think my mom was like you, Miss. Troi."
She smiled at him. "Why do you say that, Will?"
"I remember she had long dark hair. And she used to hug me a whole lot. Especially if I had a bad dream." He smiled wistfully. "And she sang a lot. Do you sing?"
Deanna shook her head. "Not very well, I'm afraid...do you miss your mother?"
He shrugged. "I was really little when she died. Sometimes I wish she was still alive. I think that she wanted me more than my dad does...and that maybe dad would be happier too..." He paused and Deanna could almost see him reminding himself that his father would not approve of this line of thought. "Anyhow, I'm nine years old and I don't need a mom anymore to take care of me. I can take care of myself." He said firmly, standing up to escape the closeness that was making a mockery of his declaration. Deanna watched him, wondering if the thought of really needing someone would ever stop scaring him. Her heart ached thinking about her Imzadi, and how these patterns learned in childhood had effected his ability to give himself completely to her, or anyone else, as a man.
"I don't know, Will." She commented gently. "I'm quite a bit older than you, and I can certainly take care of myself...but sometimes I still enjoy it when someone takes care of me. It makes me feel loved and safe. " She was thinking about the time when she'd lost her empathic abilities and Will had held her, joking that this was how he handled all his personnel problems...and all the other times when he'd been there for her. She realized that he knew how to care for someone and make them feel loved and safe, but when he was being the one taken care of, his childhood training made him feel inadequate and uncomfortable.
The boy paused and studied her for a long moment. "Does Commander Riker take care of you?" He asked perceptively.
She hesitated for a moment, caught off guard, and then managed a smile. "As a matter of fact, yes, sometimes he does. And sometimes I take care of him. We're very close friends, and that's what friends do for one another."
For a moment she almost felt like crying at the look of sadness in his achingly familiar blue eyes. "I'm sorry..." He muttered, and she had a hard time for a moment separating the child from the man.
"For what, Will?"
"That I'm here… and Commander Riker isn't. Now there's no one to take care of you."
Deanna restrained herself from reaching out to pull him into her lap. "Oh Will, I have many good friends on the ship who I can depend on...and I'm making a new friend too." She nodded pointedly at him and he gave her a tentative smile. "Besides, I don't believe Commander Riker is gone permanently. Geordi and Data will find a way to bring him back."
Will bit his lip and held it. "When Commander Riker comes back, that means I have to go back too, right?"
She nodded, realizing for the first time just how much it would hurt to lose the boy. "Yes, you will."
She told him honestly, trying to gauge his reaction.
Will’s face became closed and shielded. "Excuse me. I need to use the bathroom," he said, his expression neutral. She could sense the keen edge of his disappointment as he went through the doorway into her sleeping quarters and the bathroom beyond.
She waited for him, lost in thoughts about her Imzadi, and little Will, and Worf, and how complicated life had become. After ten minutes he still had not reappeared and she went to check on him. She was alarmed for a moment when she saw the bathroom door standing open, but then she noticed him curled up in a ball, sound asleep on the corner of her bed. "You're always looking for an opportunity to share a woman's bed, aren't you, Will Riker?" She thought affectionately, as if her Imzadi could read her thoughts from wherever in the world he was. Gently, she tucked the blanket around his tightly curled body, drawing it up over his shoulders and framing his face. Carefully she settled in on the other side of the bed, doing her best not to disturb him. Some how it was oddly comforting to have him near her. She realized they would both sleep better this way.
Deanna’s dreams were fragmented and troubling. She saw Will, but he was curled into a semi-fetal position, suspended in a glass bubble that insulated him from the rush of activity taking place around him. People and unidentified objects were flying past the sphere, but not so close that they posed a danger. She ran to the bubble and beat on the glass, but Will couldn’t hear or see her. He never even turned his head. Somehow she knew that for him to stay inside the protected sphere would eventually mean his death and she became frantic to break the glass. She picked up tools and boards, and even rocks as they floated by as she tried unsuccessfully to break it’s covering. He never even turned towards her, but just continued to stare unseeing with his head turned away. The motion of the stream around her was quickening. People and items were beginning to bump into her, softly at first, but then harder, and faster. She screamed at him. “Will… Will…. Wake up… Help me. I’m trying to help you. She beat on the unyeilding surface until her hands were bruised. But still no response was forthcoming. Deanna began to fear for her own safety now, as well as Will’s. “Please, Will…” she cried, and hit the bubble again. The skin on her hand split and a trickle of blood ran down the convex surface. Leaning against it she wrapped her arms around the slippery sides as far as she could… tears washed her cheeks and spilled onto his clear prison. “Imzadi…” she wept. She heard the crack first, and then watched in astonishment as hairline fractures began to follow along the track’s of her tears. Will turned his head slowly towards her and she screamed with horror as she beheld the sightless sockets.
Deanna awoke in bed with her heart pounding and fear clawing it’s way out of her throat. The warm weight at her back, she discovered, was Will. He had moved during the night and was now snugged up against her. As she turned to her back, he naturally moved into position under her arm and sighed. His breath was warm against her, slow and gentle, and soon she began to forget the fear and just enjoy the moment.
Guinan looked up as a solitary customer entered ten-forward and took a seat at her bar. A moment later she set a cup of tea before him. "Up a bit late aren’t you Captain?"
He glanced around the vacant room. "One could say the same for you Guinan. I seem to be your only customer."
"Well, things will pick up in another hour when the next shift is over. And I always enjoy this lull...sometimes it just gives me time to think...and sometimes it brings someone in who just wants to talk." She said pointedly.
Picard’s sigh was almost un-discernable. Of the four people on the ship that he truly felt comfortable confiding in; Guinan was one of them. “Correction, he told himself...at the moment there are only three” That was the reason he needed to talk to someone.
"Things aren't looking good for getting him back, are they?" Guinan commented without him having to say what was on his mind.
"No." He admitted.
Guinan continued to polish the bar’s surface with slow circular movements. "At least he's not gone entirely. You still have the boy..."
The captain looked up at her in surprise. "Are you saying that we should not mourn the man?” he said, almost defensive. Picard stood with an abruptness that rocked the stool. “The child… he’s Will...but he is not the Will I am acquainted with. He doesn't have the experiences, the memories... or the unique character that was… is my first officer."
"You miss him,” she said, a statement not a question.
Picard nodded somberly, as if admitting a sin. "Guinan… I miss his strong presence on the bridge. And I miss knowing that I can depend on him un equivocally." He shook his head. "But I think perhaps I miss his warmth and sense of humor most of all. Will brought a leavening quality to this command, and that will be sorely missed."
"You're speaking of him in the past tense Captain." Guinan observed quietly. Is he beyond our help?
Picard pondered that for a moment. "Earlier Deanna said that she lost her sense of him when the shuttle imploded. He simply disappeared from her awareness. " He shook his head. "Now I have never pretended to understand the connection they had, and Will never explained it. But I do know that it was real. And I can't help but think that she would somehow know if he still existed."
"But he does exist Jean Luc. Many places in time. And in us."
"Then how! How do we get him back!" Picard exploded with frustration.
Guinan was unfazed by the Captains rage. “Picard, maybe we don't. Maybe we mourn his passing from this time, and from our lives. Maybe its time to stop looking for miracles and to plan a memorial service instead."
Picard glared at her but she remained unmoved.
"I cannot accept that Guinan," he whispered.
"But you may have to Jean Luc." Guinan replied, with more gentleness in her voice than before.
Picard was now filled with more unrest than before he came in. "I will not accept that Will is forever lost to us!" he said, and heading out the door, leaving a full cup of Earl Grey behind on the bar. Guinan silently watched him go.
"...and then again, maybe not..." she said to herself with an enigmatic smile.
"Excuse me?" said the young woman, and paused in her pruning as she looked up at the child standing over her. She recognized him immediately. Everyone in the crew, as well as the civilian population was talking about the shuttle accident that had lost their commander, and brought back the "new" Will Riker. Even if she hadn't heard, the resemblance was unmistakable, right down to the recalcitrant lock of hair that fell into his light blue eyes.
"What can I do for you, honey?" She asked him, laughing inside. She'd always wanted to call the adult Will Riker "honey" just to see how he would respond, though she sincerely doubted that he'd blush in the manner this boy was now doing.
"I-uh, I was wondering if, uh, if you would mind if I took this, ma'm?" He stammered shyly, holding up an eight inch long piece of branch she'd pruned while cutting back the young Yucatha tree.
"Now what would you want with a gnarled old piece of wood?" She questioned, reaching up and plucking a fragrant blossom from the bush she was trimming. "Wouldn't you rather have a flower to give to a pretty girl?"
Will gave her a look of such incredulous disgust that it was all she could do to keep from laughing out loud.
"No thank you, ma'm...I, uh, I don't really like to spend much time with girls...I mean, they're OK to be friends with, but not to give flowers to or anything." He squirmed uncomfortably. "I just want some wood to whittle on, if it's OK?"
"Will? It's time to leave..." The lieutenant watched the boy turn his head as Deanna Troi called him from the other side of the gardens. When he looked back at the arboretum worker, his eyes pleaded.
"Well, sure it's OK," she told him, acknowledging his quick thank you as hurried to go back to the Counselor.
"Oh, Will...?" He paused and looked back at her cautiously.
She held out the flower with an innocent smile. "Why don't you take this and give it to Counselor Troi? I know she likes flowers a lot."
He hesitated for a split second and then took the flower. The horticulturist barely held back her howls of laughter until after the door closed behind the child and the dark haired Betazoid.
Deanna saw the piece of wood Will carried, but made no immediate comment. Perhaps he just wants something to connect him with the natural world he'd grown up in, she thought, and wondered what difference it would make in the man, if the child grew up in the corridors of a starship instead of wandering the mountains and seashores of Alaska.
As if reading her mind he looked up at her. "The lady said I could have this. I want to carve something for Captain Picard. Can I have a pocket knife to use, please?"
Deanna raised her eyebrows and hesitated. "Well...I don't know Will. Knives are dangerous..."
"Please?" He pleaded. "I have one at home. I never even cut myself, except once and it wasn't really bad and my dad didn't even know."
"You didn't tell him?" She questioned, not bothering to point out that his argument was not terribly reassuring.
"He just would've gotten mad because I wasn't careful enough, and anyway, I washed it out with the sonic cleaner and healed it up...and washed my shirt cause it got blood on it...." He hesitated, finally realizing that all this talk of blood was probably not going to get him the knife. "But that was way over a year ago, Miss Troi, and I'm more careful now..." he saw her doubtful look. "I'm old enough to have a knife. I’m NOT a baby," he argued firmly, jutting his chin out in exactly the same way that Commander Riker did when he w losing an argument about his health or safety with the ship's Counselor. Then, in a perfect foreshadowing of the man to come, he won her over with out effort as he produced the flower from behind his back along with his most charming smile. "I got this for you Miss Troi."
Deanna took the flower with a sigh and ruffled his hair. “OK,” she said, defeated once again by the ethal power of Riker charm. "I’ll replicate one for you. But you have to promise to be very very careful. I’m going to take you back to my quarters for now. We need to hurry because I’ve got a meeting with the Captain."
Geordi and Data had been working for almost forty-eight hours straight. Data needed no rest breaks… but Geordi stopped once to sleep for five hours when he couldn’t keep his face out of his dinner. The burden of finding a way to return Commander Riker weighed heavily on Geordi, and had etched deep lines of worry and exhaustion on the chief engineer’s face. His head was bent and his shoulders hunched over the schematic that lay before them. Captain Picard, Counselor Troi and Beverly Crusher arrived in silence, hoping that if they put their heads together, they could find a way to bring back Will Riker. But the circumstances were looking more grim by the moment. It seemed that the shoulders of those in the close circle were bowed under the combined weight of the dual problem they had been avoiding, but now seemed almost inevitable that they face.
"...if we can't find a way to work this problem with timing the warp breach simulation, I really don't see any other way to switch the two of them back to their correct time references." Geordi finished, bitter exhaustion apparent in his voice.
"I do not want to appear to be pessimistic, Captain, but our simulations have not been encouraging." Data added.
Picard frowned. "There is a way gentlemen. I’m sure of it! We just have to find out what it is. Please keep me posted on further developments."
Geordi closed his eyes for a long moment and he rubbed them tiredly as if trying to erase the bleak vision that their limited knowledge of temporal physics had painted. He and Data departed and Picard turned to face Troi and Crusher, unexpectedly releasing a pent up sigh of frustration. It seemed that with each passing hour the likelihood of ever seeing his number one faded, and not only did he feel that he was failing his duty as a friend, but also as Will’s Captain. And although it was illogical, he found himself feeling oddly disloyal for his growing affection for the child. The problem lay in the fact that as much as he wanted his first officer back, a part of him wanted the boy to remain as well.
"Well." Beverly said at last, as if unwilling to be the one to raise the subject. "This forces the question of what we're going to do if this situation becomes permanent.” She turned towards the counselor. “Will can't sleep on your couch forever, Deanna."
"Legally, I suppose that we have an obligation to contact Kyle Riker. He is the boy's father." Picard said reluctantly. Both women shot him looks that sent a quiver of disquiet directly to his stomach.
"...and give him a second opportunity to terrorize him?" Deanna demanded. "I hardly think you should be so hasty Captain,” she said forcefully. “He's no father! He's a cruel… egotistical…" she either choked or ran out of words to describe her feelings and just ended up shaking her head in anger.
Beverly jumped in to save the Captain. "Judging from Kyle's track record I doubt he'll put up much of a fight to get his son back," she said, using her professionally calming voice. "But even so Deanna, what then? If not Kyle, then who is he going to live with? Will obviously needs a stable, caring parent." She looked at her friend. "What do you think? Are you willing, or can you even consider making that commitment?"
Deanna hesitated. Her maternal instincts pulled at her heart until it was almost a palpable hurt in her chest. She knew that she could be a wonderful mother to him, and she longed to ease all the hurts that Kyle Riker had inflicted, and nurture those parts that his own father had very nearly destroyed. But in a few short years, when he grew into a man... she shook her head. "I just can't," she confessed. The obvious question in her friend's eyes were reflected back to her and she sighed heavily. "It would be fine for now, while he’s a child; but what about a few years from now, when he's not a little boy anymore? Would look at him and see the man who was my Imzadi...who had been my lover... How could he be my son? It would be too...." she trailed off and Beverly reached over and touched her arm with awkward understanding.
Picard cleared his throat and straightened a jacket which suddenly seemed two sizes two small; he was uncomfortable at the revelation that Deanna had been forced to make. "It seems to me that we are getting a bit ahead of ourselves, at any rate,” he said. “And I have the utmost confidence in our ability to solve this temporal anomaly question. In the meantime, however, I do intend to contact Will's father." He looked from one woman's disapproving glance to the other. "I firmly believe he has the right to know,” he held up his hand’s to keep discussion at bay, “although I do not intend to encourage him to take any steps to interact with the boy."
Deanna somehow managed to keep her voice strictly professional. "As ship's counselor I want to be informed before Kyle Riker has any contact with his son."
"Of course, Counselor." Picard acknowledged.
An hour later, Jean Luc Picard was using every ounce of control he possessed to not lash out in anger and disgust at the man who’s face filled his vid screen.
"So you're telling me that my son is lost, and that you’ve got some nine-year-old version of him from another time stream?" Kyle said incredulously.
Picard shook his head. It’s our time stream… but thirty years ago," Picard corrected curtly, trying to keep his growing contempt for the man from showing.
Envoy Riker’s stance was becoming aggressive. "And just what are you asking me to do about this, Captain? It seems to me that this is your problem, not mine. I mean... I suppose I could take the kid in, but it's just not practical for me at this point.” Kyle’s eye’s narrowed and he had begun to take on the appearance of a cornered animal. “Frankly Picard, I think I’ve already done my part."
Picard had to bite his tongue to refrain from commenting on just how much he was aware of how Kyle Riker had "done his part". "I am not asking you to do anything, Envoy. Commander Riker is a member of my crew and I will see to his well-being...no matter what his condition at the moment. I was merely keeping you informed, as his father."
Kyle seemed to relax when he realized that he wasn't going to be expected to play Daddy to a nine year old Will Riker again. "Well, thanks for the information, Jean Luc. And let me know if there's anything I can do," he grinned. "Maybe I can give you some parenting pointers Captain. From what I remember, Will was somewhat of a whiny little cuss at that age. Whoever gets saddled with him is going to have their hands full."
Picard drew a sharp breath and gave a mental count of three; barely controlling the angry release of an acerbic retort. With heroic control he replied. "I'm sure we will manage Envoy. Picard out." He cut the channel and sat back in his chair, savagely jerking his tunic top downward. His thoughts were a swirling miasma of anxiety and anger. Although he'd admonished Troi and Crusher that they were worrying prematurely over the boys' living arrangements, he could not help thinking about the difficult decisions that might have to be made. Deanna obviously could not raise him, and although Beverly might be a possibility, Picard sensed that she was not particularly at a stage in her life where she wanted to be parent to a growing child. He considered several married couples on the Enterprise, dismissing each of them in turn because he felt they lacked something that it would take to nurture such an exceptional child. Yet, the thought of sending Will off of the ship made his gut sour. And seemed unacceptable no matter which light he used to examine the problem. Thinking about it stirred in him a deep feeling of dismay. He owed so much to his first officer and friend. What if this young boy was all they had left of the man they knew? Picard took a sip of his lukewarm tea and then placed it in the saucer as a novel, if somewhat frightening idea gripped him. Could he be a father? "No." He said firmly out loud to the empty room. The idea was ludicrous at best. "Absolutely not," he stated emphatically to no one in particular.
Will stood and imitated the way Miss Troi had said ‘come’ to let someone into her quarters. The door opened and he was left staring at a young Klingon boy who was just slightly taller than himself. Neither said anything to the other for a moment until the Klingon broke the awkward silence.
“Hi. I’m Alexander. My dad’s Worf.” Will just looked at him for a minute, digesting the possible importance of spending time with the son of the scariest officer on board the ship. “Hi,” he replied slowly, “I’m Will.” Alexander stepped into the room. “What are you doing with that piece of wood?” Will held up the pocket knife and the wood he’d been shaping into a rough block. “I’m whittling. I got more wood. You want to whittle too?” Will had talked hard and fast to get Miss Troi to let him have such a large knife. But finally she had given in. Alexander’s attention was immediately captured and he moved closer, examining the knife as well as the object being carved. “Here,” Will offered, holding the blade balanced on the open palm of his hand. Alexander expertly examined it and gave his approval. It’s not quite as big as mine, but it’s plenty sharp,” he said sagely. The boys fell to discussing the merits of the various knives they had owned and the time quickly passed.
Alexander looked up from what had now become a mutual project, he advised as Will carved. “Hey, I’m supposed to show you the classrooms. We better go.” Will nodded and quickly closed the knife. He slipped it into one pocket and the carving into the other. The two boys walked fast and furiously down the corridor with their heads together and their shirts untucked. They turned the corner into the corridor where the Enterprises' classrooms were located, still talking animatedly. Suddenly, their party of two was interrupted by laughter. "Hey, Alexander, who's your friend?"
Will glanced at the Klingon boy and then smiled tentatively at the four girls who now blocked their way. "This is Will." Alexander answered with a frown as he leaned towards his companion. "Don't talk to them or we'll never get away..." he muttered.
Taking his companion's advice, Will said nothing. "Cat got your tongue, Willy?" The redheaded one teased, and all four of them giggled, whispering amongst themselves about the new boy's good looks. "It's still a half hour until class. You guys want to play some dodge-ball?" asked the brunette with two long braids that she continually twirled. Will's eyes lit up hopefully. His dad thought such pursuits were childish and a foolish use of valuable time. “Why waste time on silly games when You can play competitive sports,” (and win, of course) Will thought sourly. He glanced at Alexander, again, hoping his new friend would want to join the others. "Aw...they don't want to play dodge-ball!" The dark-haired girl taunted. Afraid they might lose to a bunch of girls… Alexander wants to play spin-the-bottle, don't you?” she said sweetly. “And Geri wants to give Will there a big fat wet one on the lips, don't you, Geri?" The girl named Geri blushed furiously and socked the dark haired girl in the back so hard the thump was loudly audible. "Wet what?" Will whispered desperately to Alexander, who was looking suspiciously like a cornered animal.
A kiss you dolt!" Alexander hissed back, barely even noticing Will's alarmed face as he began to backpedal. "Come on! Let's get out of here! I know a neat place we can go until it's time for class! No girls allowed!" The two brave warriors turned and ran back down the hall as if being pursued, leaving the laughing girls behind. Turning the corner they all most collided with a Vulcan lieutenant. They quickly slowed their steps to a more sedate pace when he raised one admonishing eyebrow in their direction.
"That was close!" Alexander commented.
Will made a face. "Yuck." he agreed emphatically following his companion. "Where are we going now?"
"Cargo Bay two," Alexander whispered back, just in case anyone was close enough to hear. "My dad showed me...it's really neat, you’ll see. Alex began speaking with the tones of an expert guide. “The Enterprise is taking all these animals to some planet, I forget it’s name, that had a big asteroid strike and tons of the native animals died and now they're trying to repopulate it with ones that they raised on Muscar IV. There’s even some that look like giant Grats."
"What's a Grat?" WIll asked, his excitement rising at the prospect of this new adventure.
"It's a Klingon thing with really big teeth and claws and scales and..." he snarled and made a lunging motion..."Well, you'll see..."
"Are they loose?" Will asked, managing to make it sound like he hoped they were, even though he was not at all thrilled with the prospect of meeting an unrestrained Grat.
“Nah...." Alexander said disdainfully. "They have them in force field pens. I guess that humans are afraid of Grats."
Will bristled. "Hey. I'm human, and I'm not afraid!" he shot back, his blue eyes flashing. "I've been ten feet away from a wild grizzly back home."
"What's a grizzly?" Alexander inquired, his curiosity piqued. Will grinned.
"Kinda like a Grat, I guess...only worse. They have claws this big...and really big teeth...and they eat meat."
"Neat." The Klingon agreed amiably as they reached the door of cargo bay two. Glancing covertly up and down the corridor to make sure they hadn't been seen, they slipped through the doors into a boyhood paradise.
On the Enterprise, three things happened simultaneously. Jean Luc Picard picked up his cup of Earl Grey to carefully take a sip, the ship lurched, and Data's voice urgently called over the intercom "Captain to the bridge." Cursing silently as tea scalded the back of his hand, the Captain hurried from his ready room onto a bridge bustling with activity. "Report, Mr Data!"
"Captain we measured an intense gravometric fluctuation from the black hole, and then we were hit with what appeared to be a weapons discharge coming from the wormhole. We are withdrawing to a safer distance. The discharges seem to dissipate a short distance from the wormhole."
"What type of weapon?" Picard inquired calmly, taking his seat.
"Photonic in nature, sir. We are analyzing."
"Damage report, Mr. Worf?"
The Klingon looked up from his console. "Minor damage to decks sixteen through eighteen, with power systems affected..." He paused for a moment as they watched another charge issue from the wormhole and dissipate harmlessly off the port bow. "Life support is functional, however turbolifts and other non-life supporting systems are not functioning."
Picard nodded, turning his attention back to the puzzle of the wormhole. Someone or something seemed intent on keeping them from coming too close, but either the shots were merely meant as warnings or their weapons range was inadequate to reach their target. They tried hailing whatever craft was firing upon them, but there was no response forthcoming. Picard frowned and leaned back in his chair, studying the viewscreen. He had a full crew of capable officers on the bridge, but right now he sorely missed having his first officer at his right hand side to discuss the situation with.
"Sir. Medical reports minor injuries only." Worf updated him. "Power has been restored to decks sixteen and seventeen. There is a problem in Cargo Bay B, however."
Picard gave him a questioning look.
"Sir. That is where the animals for the reclamation project are being held. Sensors indicate that the force fields on the holding pens have been disrupted."
Picard sighed. "let's get a team on that as quickly as possible. I would hate to see a few carnivores destroy the rest of the project." He was thinking about the large, spectacularly colored birds and what one of those lion-like creatures would do to them if they were unable to fly to safety.
Worf stiffened and his voice became urgent. "Sir!" There are two humanoid life forms in the cargo bay as well!"
Picard turned to look at him, and felt his own chest constrict at the stricken look on the Klingon's face. He had never seen fear demonstrated by the Klingon even in the direst straits. "Children!" He reported. "Klingon and human male children." He punched another button.
"It is Alexander and William Riker!"
Picard was out of his chair, and taking the ramp in long strides. "With me, Mr. Worf!" He ordered, although the words were unnecessary. Worf was already at the turbolift door himself.
"Alexander?" Will whispered loudly in the dark.
"Here!" The other boy bumped against him and they reached out, holding on to each other's arms. It was unnaturally quiet in the cargo bay, as if the animals were all holding their breath.
"Do you think the animals are still in their cages?" Will asked, nervously.
As if in response to his query, something prickly brushed against his leg, and from the other side of the cargo bay they heard a loud snarl.
"I think we better get out of here!" Alexander stated; more fear than he would have liked creeping into his voice.
"Which way do you think is the door?" Will asked, trying to see anything in the murky darkness.
Alexander peered into the blackness. "I don't know."
Instinctively they moved away from the direction of the snarls, holding on to each other, but moving carefully, neither of them willing to admit to a growing panic in their guts. Alexander jumped when he heard a loud "click" nearby.
“Sorry,” Will said, “it’s just my knife," he informed him. "Just in case."
They continued to move forward, and they could hear creatures scattering away from them. Some sort of bird let out a long, raucous call, and they could hear something else hiss, almost underfoot. Even more ominously, they could hear deep rumbling growls that seemed to be coming closer. Suddenly, Alexander ran into something solid. He felt blindly in front of him with both hands. "Oh no! We're on the wrong end! These are the storage bins...the door's on the other side of the bay!"
"Shit!" Will exclaimed, fear blossoming in his chest. He hadn't lied about being ten feet from a wild grizzly, but that was different. It had been daylight and the grizzly was more interested in salmon fishing than in him...besides, his Dad had been beside him, with a phaser set on heavy stun at the ready in case the bear decided to charge. Both boys froze together, almost paralyzed with fear. Will found himself suddenly praying fervently for his Dad to appear.
Another snarl rent the air, and this one seemed to come from only a few feet away. Abruptly, survival instinct kicked in for both boys. "Quick! Get in the bin!" Will ordered, shoving Alexander into the nearest opening in front of them. Alexander scrambled in and Will followed, immediately turning to face the opening, his knife clutched in his hand.
"Here!" Alexander exclaimed. "There's boxes! Let's block up the opening!"
Working together as best they could in the total darkness they scrambled behind a few of the crates and hastily began to throw others up between themselves and the sharp-toothed stalker. Something screamed, only a few feet away and Alexander desperately heaved another box onto the wall they were building. When suddenly the creature launched itself at the incomplete barrier, the young Klingon was buried beneath the crates and boxes, but Will stood, fully exposed. Perspiration broke out across his face and prickled under his arms. He could hear the heavy breathing of the beast and smell it's fetid breath. Even though he was blinded by the total darkness, he knew that the attack would come within moments. It’s just like ambo-jitsu, he told himself. Sense your attacker. Anticipate his moves! He heard his father's voice, barking out orders, just before the rain of blows that always left him bruised and sore after every practice. The memory made him angry and determined that for once his attacker would not get the better of him. He sprang forward, thrusting the knife downward, feeling an odd sensation in the pit of his stomach as it plunged into living flesh. “Don't let go!” He told himself, yanking his blade out as the creature screamed and scrambled backwards, obviously surprised to find his soft-bellied quarry had teeth. Will was wary and panting, waiting as all his senses concentrated on the soft snarls and heavy breathing of the creature. He was still afraid, terribly so, but he felt an amazing sense of calm descend. The creature began to move again, coming in for another attack, but much more warily this time. Will crouched, waiting.
Suddenly, the lights came on and Will stumbled back, blinded by the sudden harshness of the beams. He tripped over a crate and nearly sprawled on his back, feeling Alexander's prone body against his leg. He heard a sudden rush of movement in front of him and he struck out blindly, desperately, with the knife. Something impacted his hand, hard, and he cried out in pain and frustration as he lost his grip on the knife. He realized his eyes were squeezed shut against the onslaught of light and he forced them open, determined to face the beast who was sure to disembowel he and Alexander. It took him a moment to realize that it was not the Grat before him, but Alexander's father.
"It is alright Will. You are safe!" Worf rumbled at him, then, seeing his son, cried out "Alexander!" as he threw the boxes and crates in every direction to uncover his son.
Will leaned up against the wall, panting heavily. As his senses began to return his hand throbbed heavily and he hardly noticed when Jean Luc Picard squatted beside him, seizing his arms and inspecting him, obviously trying to tell if the blood belonged to the wild animal or the boy.
“Will, are you hurt?” Picard demanded. He felt the boy stiffen in his grip and watched Will’s face change with obvious effort, from being painfully dazed to becoming silently stoic in moments. “Will,” he said more gently this time. “Tell me if your injured,” he asked while deftly examining him for cuts or other obvious injuries. He began to run his hands down the boy’s arms but immediately stopped with concern as Will sucked his breath through clenched teeth. He pulled Will close to him and looked up to see Worf leading his dazed child through the wreckage of boxes and tapped his com badge. “Four to beam directly to sickbay.” Will’s protest was duly cut off as the transported dissembled his outraged molecules.
Upon their arrival to sickbay, Picard deposited Will on the biobed, as did Worf his own son. Beverly Crusher immediately ran her tricorder over each of her young patients. Nothing’s broken, she reassured the Klingon, who was struggling to remain impassive. She looked up from Will’s readings to the Captains worried face. “The blood isn’t his Jean Luc. But I’m afraid that several small bones in his hand are broken.” She positioned the osteo-regeneration unit at the bedside while Worf apologized. “I had to kick the knife from your hand or you would have disemboweled me,” he told Will gruffly, with some admiration. Beverly elbowed the Klingon aside so she could tend to her patient. “Put your hand in here Will, we’ll have you fixed up in a jiffy.” Will complied but was silent. He hadn’t spoken since their arrival in sickbay.
Worf nodded his approval at Will's stoicism, but Picard felt deep dismay he did not fully understand. He observed the boy's obvious need to hide the pain and fear he must have been feeling. Will winced as Beverly very gently positioned his hand, but when he saw that Picard was watching him he fell silent again, biting his lip, his eyes downcast as if ashamed. Right about now, Picard realized, is when Kyle Riker would be admonishing his son not to act like a baby. His disgust rose and wondered where Will Riker the adult had learned the sensitivity to others pain that Picard had witnessed on many occasions. It most certainly hadn't been at home. Beverly gently cleansed away the animals blood and gave him a brightly colored sickbay smock to wear in place of the shirt she had disposed of. In the background, Worf was chastising his son for his unauthorized presence in the Cargo Bay, but beneath his stern words Picard could plainly hear his love and concern for Alexander, and it was evident in the way Worf placed his huge, possessive hands on the boy's shoulders as they talked. Just as Picard was feeling almost overcome by a desire to comfort Will and rub away some of the rigidity from his small stiff shoulders, Deanna entered wide-eyed. Picard changed the direction of his reach and gave a sharp tug to the bottom of his tunic instead as he addressed Will. "I'll leave you in the Counselors capable hands Mr. Riker. I must return to the bridge."
"Yes sir." Will answered, the quaver in his voice making him sound more like the frightened child he was, than the young warrior who had just faced a huge beast with only a pocket knife. Picard hesitated for a moment when he realized that he was doing exactly what Kyle would have done with his son...simply leaving him to his own devises, condemning him and his worth by withholding any comfort. He glanced at Deanna Troi who seemed to understand his dilemma and gave him an encouraging nod. Awkwardly, he squeezed the boy's small shoulder. "Will…” he hesitated before going on, “I was worried about you when I heard what was happening. I’m quite proud of the way you handled yourself in this situation... You didn’t lose your head, the mark of a good officer… and…. well I’m glad that you are all right." The child’s eyes met Picard's with a look of pure blue gratitude. There seemed to be something more shining in his remarkable eyes, but unsure of what to say, Picard gave a final reassuring pat to Will's arm and withdrew his hand, tugging fiercely on his jacket. He looked more closely at his counselors pallor, and her apparent distraction. He pulled her aside while Beverly fussed over Will.
“Counselor?” he asked, expecting that she would divulge what was
troubling her if it had any bearing on the ships safety. Her troubled eyes
filled him with disquiet.
“Captain, I can’t tell if what happened is even real or not. But when we were getting hit by the photon bursts, I could sense something.”
“Commander Riker,” he asked tersely.
Troi nodded and continued. “I’m sure I felt him… he has a certain feel, like a signature if you will. All of you have one and are very distinct in my empathic senses…, but Will even more so.”
“And could you tell if he was all right?” Picard said. He forced his voice to remain calm while cursing himself for the emotion that raged underneath the mask. He knew only Counselor Troi would be able to discern them.
Deanna paused, “I felt Will, but not his thoughts. Nothing seemed quite right. As if he were out of focus. But I’m sure it was him,” she said lowering her eyes.
Picard’s mind automatically began to discard possibilities and probabilities, young Will forgotten for the moment as he focused on the problem of returning his first officer. Now he added the worry of what he might find if and when they got him back. “Continue to see what you can sense Counselor and report anything of import to me.”
He tersely dismissed his unsubstantiated qualms and nodded curtly to Deanna and Beverly, choosing to retreat to the less emotionally charged atmosphere of the bridge.
Deanna attempted to clear her mind when the captain left, and she returned Beverly’s concerned look with one she hoped would placate her well meaning friend. She was desperate to return to her quarters so she could search for Will’s presence again. During the photon bursts, the first time she had felt his presence had been so disorienting she’d almost fallen. It was eerily as if she had been trapped along with Will, and helplessly gripped in a giant hand that had paralyzed her. She had lost all sense of orientation to time or place… or even to herself. But before she could search for Will she had other responsibilities. Clearing her mind, she offered her hand to Will as he slipped from the biobed. Her heart warmed and a surge of affection for him filled her as his small warm hand slipped into hers after he jumped down beside her. They walked slowly and silently side by side as they made their way to her quarters.
Sitting in the center seat on the bridge, Picard had made time to sort things out and he mentally reviewed the last hour; the fear he'd felt during the headlong rush to the Cargo Bay, the amazing sense of relief when he'd found Will, dazed and bloody, but still standing. The overwhelming concern he felt for the small child who seemed so alone, even surrounded by all the people in sickbay had been eclipsed by the peculiar feeling he'd experienced when the boy had looked up at him, his eyes filled with trust and...Picard sighed, prompting curious looks from several of the bridge crew; but he was oblivious to their curiosity. His practical side warned himself that he was becoming entirely too attached to the boy... a boy that may have to leave soon, a boy that could not be allowed to retain any memories of this experience. But despite everything, another, heretofore unknown part of himself took a great deal of satisfaction in the bond which was growing between them.
When the turbolift doors opened, Picard's reverie was suddenly broken by Geordi’s triumphant proclaimation. "We've finally got a solution that has a chance in hell of working Captain!"
“In my ready room!” he said quickly. ”With a pang of guilt, Picard realized that he'd been so caught up in his concern for the boy Will Riker, that he'd nearly forgotten to worry about his missing first officer. As he motioned them to sit, he listened raptly to the complex explanation his chief engineer and Data laid before him.
Geordi’s expression was intense as he finished. "...and so, you see, captain, The photonic pulse we received was NOT a weapons discharge, despite it's apparent similarity to a photon torpedo. Our proximity to the wormhole triggered the pulse by disrupting the energy stream between the black hole and the worm hole, much the same way that Commander Riker's shuttle did when his warp engine breached and it was impacted by the temporal anomaly.
“The sudden additional energy generated by the warp core breach upset both the energy and the temporal balance resulting in a time shift of approximately 30.167432 years." Data added.”
Picard nodded, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "But how do we now duplicate this effect? Or rather, reverse it?" he asked.
Geordi unexpectedly grinned at Picard. "Well, that's the beauty of it, sir. Data can calculate to one millionth of a percent the energy generated by the detonation of the shuttle's warp core. That gives us a very precise measurement of the negative energy we need to generate to produce the opposite effect."
Picard’s eyebrows raised fractionally as he looked at Data. “And you can do this Data?” he asked.
The android nodded seriously and replied. “But it will require pinpoint accuracy, and the boy will have to be at the precise location Commander Riker was at the time of the previous anomaly’s shift. We cannot bring the Enterprise too close, or it will cause the recurrence of the photon bursts from the wormhole, which would disrupt the entire sequence and we could easily lose both the commander and his younger self.
Picard rubbed the top of his head and made a choice he never anticipated would be so difficult. “Make it so Mr. Laforge.” As the two officers left his ready room Picard’s chest constricted tightly as he wondered if he had doomed both Will Rikers to their deaths.
Jean Luc Picard walked down the corridor with a heavy heart. He paused for a moment at the door that adjoined Deanna Troi's quarters and looked for a moment at the small identifying plaque. "Commander William T Riker." It would be good to have Will back again. In his mind's eye he pictured his first officer, tall and strong, with a devilish grin always lurking under his composed command expression. In the years that they had served together they had become close, in a manner of speaking. Or rather, Picard thought, in a manner of not speaking. Theirs was a completely professional relationship, softened by acknowledged mutual respect and unacknowledged affection. Picard thought back to his conversation with Guinan the previous day. When Will returned, he would certainly admit to him that he had missed his presence on the bridge. He would not admit, as he had to Guinan, that he personally missed the warmth of Will's friendship. That would only embarrass the both of them. Why then, he wondered, did he feel more comfortable about admitting his affection for the child? Was it because the boy seemed to need it more? Certainly, every human being craved acknowledgement and the warmth of friendship, whether adult or child. Realizing that he had been staring at his first officer's door for an inordinate amount of time, Picard went to Deannas door and spoke.
"Come" The voice that answered Picard's request for entry was not Deanna Troi's but young Will's.
"Mis Troi said that you were coming. She said she needs some time alone...I don't think she feels well." Will informed him, obviously concerned.
"The Counselor will be fine." Picard assured him. "In the meantime, I thought that you and I might talk for a few minutes. Would you like to join me on the holodeck?" He saw the doubt in the boys eyes and hastened to reassure him. "I promise you, it won't be anything like what you experienced the other day. In fact, I know a program that I think you will enjoy a great deal. A friend of mine designed it...and we sometimes go fishing there."
There was that trusting look again, Picard thought. Despite the previous trauma he'd experienced on a holodeck he was willing to try it again, based simply on Picard's reassurances. "OK." Will agreed. And will he agree just as readily to what I am about to propose to him? Picard wondered to himself, already beginning to feel a sense of loss.
As they walked through the woods and then sat on the bank of the stream on several glacial boulders, Picard remembered another time, sitting here in this same spot with Will Riker. It was just after the battle with the Borg, when Picard was still getting used to the idea that he was no longer Locutus. His friends had closed ranks around him, fending off the demons that threatened to consume him. Will had often brought him here to the holodeck to fly fish...just about the furthest thing he could think of from fighting the Borg...and they had sat on these boulders and talked...of trout, of home, of shore leaves on remote planets...and, eventually of Wolf 359. Seldom had he felt so close to, or had such gratitude for his first officer.
"Will, there's something important we need to discuss." Picard finally said to the young boy beside him. "You know that when you first arrived here it was an accident…and that the ship's first officer was unaccounted for?"
"Yes sir. Commander Riker." The boy answered dutifully.
"Well, this is going to rather difficult to understand,” he said pausing, “but in fact, YOU are Commander Riker."
Will grinned. The same grin his adult counterpart would have produced if someone was telling a joke. "And Alexander is the ship's Security Officer, right?"
Picard did not return the smile. "Will. I'm serious about this. You...or rather you as the adult Commander William Riker, my first officer, were on a mission when the shuttle was damaged and the warp core breached in close proximity to a worm hole. It caused..." he tried to formulate a way to say it that the boy could understand. "...a rip in time. And instead of transporting back the William Riker from our time, we got back William Riker from 30 years ago. Commander Riker before he grew up and became a starship officer. You."
The boy stared at him incredulously, and Picard assumed he was amazed by the temporal accident. "You mean...I grow up to be a Starship Commander?"
Picard nodded, and Will laughed out loud. "There isn't any way my dad is gonna believe that one!"
The Captain smiled indulgently. "In fact, Will, he'll be very proud of you."
Will looked at Picard speculatively for a moment. "So...you and I are friends when I grow up?"
"...and Counselor Troi is sorta my girlfriend?" he asked with a sideways glance.
Picard shifted uncomfortably. He definitely didn't want to get into a detailed discussion of what Will Riker and Deanna Troi were to each other...in any time frame; especially since he wasn’t quite sure himself. "Well, yes, in a manner of speaking," he said, hedging.
The boy grinned again, and then his expression turned suddenly serious as he studied Picard's grave expression.
"You're telling me this cuz you're sending me away…back to my time so you can get him back." He stated accusingly.
Will scrambled to his feet and jumped onto the path beside the stream, as if he could run away. Picard watched him silently but didn’t call him back. The adult Will Riker was like this too...pacing like a caged animal when he was faced with a particularly painful decision. Abruptly the boy turned back to him. "Captain…Please? I want to stay here. I swear that I'll behave and I won't get into any trouble. I can take care of myself...you won't have to do anything...." His stance was tense but his eyes were pleading.
Jean Luc Picard had faced down raging Klingons and maniacal dictators in his lifetime, but he was unable to look one small boy in the eye. He knew full well why Will wanted to stay, and his guilt raged at the fact that they were sending him back to a grim and lonely childhood. "Will,” he said, raising his hands as if in supplication. “I'm sorry. In order to get back Commander Riker we need to send you back to your time...so you can grow up the way you are supposed to."
It obviously took everything the boy had not to dissolve into tears. Instead he clenched his fists. "My dad doesn't want me...and neither do you!" he finally shouted, his voice hoarse with accusation and hot tears brimming in his blue eyes. Will bit his lip until it bled, and then unexpectedly the boy’s anger dissolved, leaving behind something much harder for Picard to bear as the stoic mask returned. "It's OK. I understand sir."
Will had no sense of himself at all except when the brief flashes painfully jarred him, and then left almost as quickly as they had come Terror always consumed him when they left, but that too was transient, and the numbness became what was real, with everything else taking on the status of a dream.
During one of those momentary flashes, Will’s desperation made him try to hold on to that sense of himself; even though he now had no idea why he even should. Struggling to latch onto the fragmented thoughts that whirled like snow flurries around and through him was exhausting, and they remained elusive and out of reach until he began to focus on a word that broke through the dense white haze far more often than any others. Imzadi. He didn’t know what it meant, but it gripped him and he sensed that it was important. Right now, it was the only anchor that kept him from drifting permanently into a white blizzard of insanity. Imzadi. Visions of dark haired beauty flitted past conscious thought, making him weep unseen and unfelt tears as he reached to bring it back. Imzadi, his mind called out. The unexpected sensation of someone’s hand, soft and delicate, touched his face. He suddenly remembered he had a face. His mind reached out again, desperate for more evidence that he existed as he battled against ever present blankness that surrounded him, enveloped him, suffocated him. Imzadi. Will had long ceased to experience having a sense of his corporal body, but when he reached out this time, warm arms surrounded him and hands slipped over his skin. A supple body pressed against him... against his body… a body he could now almost feel… The sensations felt real, and yet it was also remembering. Somehow he knew that this was real once, and he forced his benumbed brain to search through memory until it found Imzadi. Hours or perhaps eons later, when he finally connected to this memory, it seemed as if his harsh winter world began to slowly melt, from the center of his gut outward. It’s frozen core was slowly replaced by the heated touch of tender skin and the soft warmth of honeyed breath. Long dark hair brushed silkily against his nakedness as knowing lips kissed him in places he had forgotten existed. This was real.. this had to be real. He pulled her towards him with phantom hands that explored soft flesh. His mind retained scraps that now began to piece them together, and a spark of passion melted the ice world that imprisoned him for generations before his own existence. “Deanna,” he finally had a name. If felt now that if he could just hold on to this one thing, he could survive.
Deanna tossed and turned in restless motion after searching long hours for any hint of Will. Her dreams were erratic and confused, much as they had been since Will disappeared, but this time they were filled with conflicted sensations of bone chilling cold and the warmth of a passion for which she could find no source. Her sense of Will was strong and she wakened with a start to find her mind and body filled with sensual longings that she had buried deeply since the Jungles of Betazed with a young Lieutenant Riker. She could still sense him now that she was awake, but it wasn’t constant. It seemed to coincide with the bursts that matched the tremors that shook the ship at intervals of about every ten minutes. Disoriented by dreams and the intermittent bursts of Will’s presence, Deanna searched for young Will; her heart pounding fearfully when she couldn’t find him. Hitting her comm badge she called Beverly. “Counselor Troi to Doctor Crusher.”
Beverly’s calm voice answered. “Deanna are you ok?”
Deanna slowed her breathing. “Where is Will?”
Beverly’s laugh was strained. Deanna, you asked the Captain to come and get him so you could focus on the Commander, don’t you remember?”
Deanna’s memory of doing just that flooded her and she had the grace to blush, though no one could see her. “I forgot. I just woke up, and I’m feeling a bit…strange,” she admitted, blushing again as she remembered in just what way that strangeness had manifested itself.
“Ok. I was just getting ready to call you anyway. The captain said they’ll be ready at 2100 hours to attempt the transfer. Will’s on his way to sickbay now,” she hesitated… “to have his memory wiped.”
Deanna knew the hesitation and conflicted feelings of her friend were a reflection of her own miasma of sadness and doubt. She struggled to reconcile herself to what she knew must be done. Will belonged in his own time if they could get him there. And he mustn’t be allowed to remember anything from his time on the Enterprise. She quickly washed her face and ran a brush through her hair. It seemed to take her forever to get to sickbay, especially when every ten minutes she was disoriented by a wash of emotions from Commander Riker that could only be described as erotic to the extreme. She felt her cheeks flame as she walked the last few steps to sickbay, sure that the sensuality she had experienced, that was just beginning to ebb must be obvious to all, she had felt it so strongly. “Will Riker,” she thought to herself, “if you ever get back alive I’m going to kill you for this.”
Deanna arrived in time to see Beverly arguing with Will as she tried to get him on the biobed. He turned and saw her, and his relief washed over her in cool waves. “Miss Troi,” he said, obviously trying to brave out his own emotions, “I wanted to see you before…before…” His chin trembled and it was obvious he wasn’t able to continue. Deanna went to him and wrapped him in her arms, letting him silently cry against her as he held on to her with ferocious strength. His weeping subsided as suddenly as it had started and he pulled away from her, obviously embarrassed by his show of emotions. Rubbing his eyes he sniffed and then glanced at her sideways and surprised her with a small smile.
“I guess I better go home and grow up if your ever gonna be my girl,” he said, drawing a smothered laugh from Beverly and causing Deanna to blush for the third time in the past hour. Is the captain coming to say goodbye?” he asked, suddenly unsure and subdued.
“I’m sure he’ll come if he’s able Will,” Deanna assured him, praying that she was right. Will’s shoulders slumped a little lower. “He’s probably too busy I guess,” he said more to himself than the others in the room. Deanna watched him as he dug into his pants. He pulled out a small carving along with the resident bits of fluff and string that lived in all boys pockets. “This is for him. I told him the story about the grizzly, but I don’t know if he really believed me or not.” Deanna took the piece of wood from Will’s hand and blew the fuzz off and gently held the miniature bear that Will had brought so startlingly to life. The warm colors of the wood had been deepened with oils and the bear was rearing up on its hind legs. “Will, this is beautiful. Captain Picard is going to treasure this I know.”
The captains voice broke in, “treasure what counselor? Hadn’t you better let me be the judge of that,” he said with a slight smile that barely seemed to reach his hazel eyes. He took the carving from Troi and held it carefully up for examination. “Beautiful Will, you’ve fully captured his majesty. I almost expect him to leap into life at any moment. Will’s eyes shone with pride at the Captains words and he bowed his head before straightening with an effort to look Picard in the eye.
“I wanted you to remember me Captain. I sort of thought if you had this than you wouldn’t forget.”
Picards took in everything about his first officer to be, from his erect posture as he sat on the biobed, to the shining blue eyes. He wished he could have it both ways and keep the boy with him but he knew he could not. Will, remember please that I’m not through with you yet; not by a long shot. We have quite a long history together that you have yet to experience. Picard lay his hand on Will’s shoulder and squeezed it gently. I will not forget you young Will,” he said, willing the words through his tightening throat. He prayed that he was not sending this courageous boy to his death.
Beverly gently broke in. “It’s time.”
Will looked from one face to the other, as if memorizing them in defiance of what was to come. Then he lay down and closed his eyes, wincing exactly as he would in years to come as Beverly’s hypospray kissed his neck.
“Take him to the shuttle,” Picard said grimly and left the room without glancing back. Worf entered and picked up Will, holding him in his arms. He looked small and helpless against the breadth of the Klingons chest. He looked once at the unconscious childs face, and tapped his comm badge. “Beam us to shuttle bay four,” he said gruffly, his last glance directed at Deanna’s stricken continence as they dissolved into swirling particles of light.
Picard glanced at LaForge and Data, refraining from asking a third time what Will’s status was as they manipulated the shuttle from the bridge controls.
“OK captain,” Geordi said, the D’Amarco has been launched from shuttle bay four and is on course.
Picard sat tensely in his seat and waited with his ship. They were at a distance that Geordi had assured him wouldn’t interfere with the photon bursts from the worm hole. The D’Amarco quickly became just a speck on the viewscreen and Picard ordered “magnify.” It again appeared to be close to the Enterprise. Deanna waited in sickbay, praying, as they all were, for the safe return of Commander Riker. The shuttle is almost in position Captain,” the calm voice of his android commander intoned. Golden fingers deftly manipulated the controls from the bridge. “Warp breach is building sir, Imminent in forty-five seconds,” Geordi said, his tension evident in the focused attention he held glued to his readouts. “Thirty seconds sir,” he counted as the tension on the bridge escalated.
“Sir,” Data said, cocking his head, I am reading a surge of negative ionization that may interfere with the transfer.”
Picard stood and moved quickly to the engineering station. “Mr LaForge?” he said.
“We can move in closer and surround the shuttle with the Enterprises shields until the last second, but I don’t know what will happen to Commander Riker’s shuttle if we can’t get out of there in time.”
“Fifteen seconds,” the android stated.
“Options,” Picard snapped! Geordi’s fingers flew.
“Sir, there are no other options.”
Picard stood still, his mind racing and he weighed the lives that hung in the balance. “Take us in full impulse and shield the D’Amarco,” he said, praying he had made the right choice, “and then take the helm Data and move us back as soon as the D’Amarco has cleared the wormhole.
“Moving in sir…shields in place sir,” Geordi said, locking his gaze with the Captains as Data intoned the time. “Five seconds,” he said as the bridge collectively held their breath.
As before, a brilliant flash filled the viewscreen, blinding all for long moments. “Take us back!” Picard said unnecessarily. There was no sign of the shuttle and Geordi gave a long sigh.. “Sir I think we did it.”
Picard searched the vast area of space before them for any sign of Commander Rikers shuttle. “Than where’s Commander…. “ he left his question unfinished as another flash blinded the bridge.
“Sir! Commander Rikers shuttle is adrift at the mouth of the worm hole. But I’m afraid it won’t hold there for long.
“Move in full impulse…, beam Mr. Riker directly to sickbay as soon as we’re in range. Enlarge,” Picard snapped, watching the derelict shuttle drift dangerously close to a fast ride to an unknown destination.
“Commander Rikers commlink is open sir,” Geordi said as he tried to bring it online to the main viewscreen. Static filled the screen and grated on the ears of those listening. As the link cleared, the sounds of shorted cables and energy popping filled the bridge; Picards mouth tightened to a hard line as he looked into the smoke filled shuttle to see his first officer Will Riker, fully grown. He was sprawled loosely in the pilots seat; his head thrown back over it’s edge as he lay unmoving. His charred uniform exposed burned flesh, and his face was raw and bleeding, having obviously met with the unyielding surface of the shuttle console. The smoking cockpit looked as if met it’s fate scant seconds before instead of days ago.
“We’re in range sir,” Geordi said, “transporting to sickbay now!”
“Mr. Data you have the bridge,” Picard said flatly and departed without another word
Will Riker beamed into sickbay barely conscious. The pounding pain in his skull blocked out most of his awareness until he tried to open his eyes. After his eternity in sensory deprivation, the bright colors and flashing lights frightened and further disoriented him. Familiar voices bled in and out of his consciousness, but were too loud and fast for him to comprehend. He reached out blindly and groaned sharply as his body protested without words the abuse it suffered. When he slammed into the control console his chest and face were badly bruised and lacerated. And live cables had burned him as they snaked through the cabin, scorching through both his uniform and skin.
There was too much sound… too much stimuli after the nothingness he had endured for it seemed like centuries… He couldn’t tell them. His lips wouldn’t move to form the words… his lungs had forgotten how to push air through vocal cords and form sound. Will felt like he was suffocating and panicked, he sought his lifeline…Imzadi. Small hands gripped his flailing ones. Imzadi. Warm tendrils of her thoughts infiltrated his own for what seemed to be the first time in a lifetime. He was finally safe. He let his arms drop while his hands still clutched hers. Nothing could hurt him now. Ice kissed his neck and his consciousness blessedly faded.
Deanna stood ready for anything, muscles tensed as Will materialized onto the biobed. His disorientation and panic had worsened in the brightly lit environment of a sickbay. She braced herself against his panic and pain; trying to reach him as his mental boundaries disintegrated as he moved past rationality and began to flounder. He gasped with pain as he unsuccessfully tried to sit, his flailing arms narrowly missing Deanna’s face. Unafraid, she leaned against him, standing on her toes to reach up and capture his hands. She surrounded him with her love, giving him a safe place to regain his calm. Will shuddered convulsively while her mental touch intermeshed with his confusion. It’s acuteness gradually decreased as Deanna flowed with his emotions, sensing his panic as it subsided and supporting him as his thoughts slowed like a muddy river. His arms fell, Beverly’s medication finally having ambushed his protesting body. But Deanna didn’t move. She held his hands tightly, the physical assurance of his touch as necessary as the brush of his thoughts to convince her that he was truly here and not a mirage. Beverly Crusher worked her healing on him, her reassuring manner calming Deanna’s racing thoughts. “He’s going to be fine isn’t he?” she asked, already reading the answer in her friends relieved expression.
“Yes… he is,” Beverly said quietly, reaching to carefully wipe a smudge from Will’s battered face, and brushing back his hair with a maternal gesture. “He’s badly concussed,” she said abruptly as if realizing her lapse, “and his chest and face are cut and bruised. His burns aren’t as bad as I first thought, and should heal fairly quickly.” She looked up at Deanna and grinned. He should probably should stay for 72 hours, but my guess is that he’ll be out of here in twenty-four, if I can keep him that long!” Beverly sighed theatrically, but Deanna was not fully satisfied that there was nothing more serious.
“Beverly I felt a tremendous amount of confusion and fear from Will before he was sedated,” Deanna said, absentmindedly stroking his arm while Beverly ran her tricorder across him again to reassess his condition. “Deanna,” Beverly said, “will you stay and watch him until he comes out of this? I don’t want to bring him back to consciousness prematurely, head injuries are just too unpredictable. I want to let him come back to us of his own accord and see how he reacts. Deanna nodded and smiled gratefully as Alyssa brought in a comfortable reclining chair. Deanna slid her hand under his leg and watched Beverly remove his ruined clothing. She winced as Beverly revealed the deep red hematoma’s and slowly restored the charbroiled skin on Will’s chest and stomach. She was very surprised to see scattered gray peppered throughout the curly hair that, if she remembered correctly, continued on beneath the blanket that covered him to his hips. Had it been so long since she had seen him without a shirt? Her fingers almost itched to see if it was as soft as she remembered, and to see if it ended where she remembered. Her cheeks flushed pink. Grateful that her friend wasn’t Betazoid, she wondered why her thoughts sliding down such a sensually slippery slope in the first place. Deanna closed her eyes and listened to Beverly hum. It was a sure sign that the red headed doctor was finishing up, and that she was happy with how things were turning out. Beverly’s voice broke into Deanna’s reverie.
“Ok counselor, I’ve done all I can. Mother nature has to do the rest. I’ll be in my office if you need me.” Deanna nodded and continued to sit with her eyes shut. Laying back in her recliner, she kept light contact with Will’s mental status and held his hand, determined to think nothing but calming, healing thoughts… However it wasn’t working, or at least it wasn’t working well.
Several hours passed before Deanna finally managed to slip into a light trance-like state. The trouble was, that it was proving to be far more disturbing then being awake. The undercurrent of Will’s thoughts was turbulent and sensual. Images of Dark green jungle foliage and steamy pools of black water were the back drop for erotic flashes of bodies merged and blending together in the act of love. Glimpses of Will’s face or her own, heavy lidded with passion, was fueled by memories of long ago. He suddenly stood before her, burned by heat that radiated from him like a hot coal. She retreated in her mind as it quickly flared to become a burning brand. Unable to escape the crackling flames that jumped the chasm between them, she succumbed and pulled them inside where they began to burn her from within. Quickly, desires that had been so long suppressed smoldered; and all it took was one spark to make them explosively combustible.
Both the counselor and her the commander’s eyes flew open simultaneously, their breathing ragged as both searched almost blindly for the other. “Imzadi,” Will gasped, short of breath, his arms pulling her to him into a bone crushing embrace. “Deanna,” he whispered, still panting, still searing her with both his desire and his fear.
Gently Deanna pulled away, but only far enough so she could pull air into her squashed diaphragm. “Will. It’s alright. I’m here. I’m not going anywhere. She searched his anguished face and realized that his eyes seemed different, like their color had been taken from an unfamiliar palette and shone with an anemic imitation of their usual brilliance. Deanna shivered, remembering the similarity between them and the shell shocked eyes of embattled soldiers.
“You’re real,” he gulped and squeezed her once more, crushing her until she squeaked, fighting for breath. His desperate sensuality receded from her mind and body as clarity of thought began to erase from his mind, the prison he had just barely survived.
“I’ll take you back to your quarters Will, just as soon as Beverly will release you into my custody,” Deanna suggested. Will closed his eyes, his pallor increasing. She realized than that she couldn’t leave him alone.
“Would you mind staying for a while…please… Imzadi,” he asked, his voice belaying the weak effort on his part to portray strength. He had squeezed his eyes shut and now looked nothing like the strong commander she knew, and everything like the small boy she had so recently met.
Deanna pulled the blanket up higher and reached to smooth the lines from his face. “Of course Will, I’ll stay with you as long as you need me,” she assured him, running her fingers through his hair to brush it back in the same gesture Beverly had used short hours ago. Deanna stayed with him through the night, reclining the chair and curling under the blankets that the nursing staff had provided her with. She held Will’s hand under her cheek, and didn’t stir till his groan woke her the next morning. He had propped himself on his side and was stretching his muscles gingerly.
The doctor peeked around the corner and cleared her throat, startling both of them. “I suppose you’re wanting to check out of here commander?” she asked with playful sarcasm coloring her question.
“Yes…” Will said slowly, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. “I suppose I am.”
Beverly frowned at his less than energetic reply and ran another scan from head to foot. “Well I would rather you stayed for another twenty-four hours at least, but I suppose it’s ok to let you go Will. But I’m warning you to take it easy. You’re not cleared for duty for another forty-eight hours.
Riker nodded and seemed to finally notice for the first time that he had no clothes on. He smiled slightly to cover his embarrassment. “Would one of you women mind getting me something to wear? Or do I walk out of here Riker a la buff?” he asked with something more akin to his usual humor.
Deanna grinned at Beverly. “What do you think Bev? Do we dress him or let him make a run for it?”
Beverly chuckled, “My vote is dress him. I don’t want to have a whole sickbay full of swooning ensigns to deal with!”
She watched him as he carefully raised to a sitting position and nodded her satisfaction when he showed no signs of nausea or dizziness. She also noted the way Deanna was taking in the scenery as the blanket slid down to gather around his hips, leaving him bare to the waist. Well commander, these ought to get you to your quarters unmolested,” she said with a wink,” dangling a set of sick bay scrubs in front of him. Will grinned and Deanna hid her blush by turning to fold the blanket that she had slept under and laying it neatly on the chair.
“I’ll wait in Beverly’s office Will,” Deanna told him primly, and left the room with the CMO. Will sighed and stretched until his tendons popped, feeling a disproportionate amount of satisfaction from the simple action. He dressed in the loose fitting outfit and slipped off the bed, highly satisfied when his body responded appropriately to his commands. He resolutely shook off the pressing agoraphobia that shadowed his mind, and walked as if he had a purpose and a plan. The two woman turned to him and stopped talking, as if he had been the topic in question. “Well I’m ready counselor,” he said and offered her his arm.
Will and Deanna slowly made their way back to her quarters, with one stop at Will’s to get a bottle of wine that had been a gift from the Captain’s family vineyard. While relaxing on her couch Deanna watched Will carefully. She wanted to wipe away the dark smudges under his eyes that were so deeply accentuated by his pallor. “How are you feeling?” she asked, waiting several minutes in silence while he formulated his reply.
“I don’t know,” he finally said, his head resting against the back of the couch as he stared at the ceiling. “Worn out to tell you the truth,” he said, turning his head slightly and targeting her with a wry grin designed to disarm her. “But don’t tell Beverly.” Deanna watched him as he struggled for the right words. “I’m glad to be here I guess, but… I feel overwhelmed by everything… even the small every day things. He raked his fingers through his hair. “It seems as if everything around me is a fake, or an illusion…or something. I don’t know how else to describe it,” he said.
“Is there something you’re afraid of?” Deanna suggested.
Will said nothing for several moments. “No…! Yes…! Well, maybe,” he finally admitted. But I don’t really know what I’m afraid of. It’s just this churning in my gut that won’t stop,” he said with his jaw and hands clenched, “it’s like I’m about to fall off the edge of the world,” he finished, his words trailing off. Deanna wanted to brush the lock of hair that refused to stay in place from his face, but instead, she took his fist in her hands and slowly coaxed his fingers open one by one. They sat silently for a while until Deanna asked what had been preying on her mind since Will’s return. “Will… when you were gone, wherever you were, I sensed great confusion and turmoil, but during the hours before we recovered you, the strongest images I sensed were sensual. Extremely sensual,” she said quietly, a slight smile on her face. Will didn’t answer for several moments and she watched the play of emotions move one after another across his face.
He pulled his hand back and tortured his hair. “I don’t know how to describe it to you. I…I didn’t really know where I was Deanna, but I was losing touch with everything. Everything I had ever seen…or tasted or touched.” His anxiety was rising with the memories. “I couldn’t feel my body, I couldn’t see it, or anything else. It’s like everything was blank, white. No sensations, no sight, no sound… only my own thoughts. I was losing my mind,” He said, his nostrils flaring. “I…I had these flashes of memories, and then they became what was real. But even they began to fade, and I was losing everything to this...whiteness,” he said, his expression bleak. This damning, god-forsaken numbing whiteness became the only thing I knew.” He shifted and closed his eyes, shivering at the memory. Deanna lay her hand on his leg and felt the knotted muscles of his thigh beneath her hand. “But sometimes… I would hear,” he said shaking his head, “or maybe it wasn’t hearing, but I would remember something… Imzad,” Will whispered and shifted nervously.
Deanna’s concern flared. Will’s behavior seemed reminiscent of the anxiety and instability he suffered after his return from ward forty-seven. His stare was penetrating. “At first I didn’t know what Imzadi was, but then it brought memories that were more real than any of the others. Memories of you...of us.” He forced a smile that was a false veil which covered his fear. “Deanna… I had to hold onto those memories or lose my mind. You became my world. Loving you, touching you, feeling your body against mine. It was the only reality I had.”
Deanna still held his hand but didn’t answer him for long minutes. “Will why do you suppose it was the sensual aspect of our relationship you remembered. Why not the spiritual bond we shared… or the friendship we have developed?” Deanna truly hadn’t meant to sound accusatory but she realized right away that in Will’s state of mind that was how he took it. Will recoil defensively and she instantly regretted her question.
The vulnerability reflected in his eyes chastened her. He sat a little straighter. “I really don’t know why Deanna, It saved me, and I wasn’t about to question my salvation. I’m sorry if it upsets you, but I was in no shape to question why that was the aspect of our relationship my mind held on to.” Will rubbed his temples as if his head ached. “For god’s sake Deanna, you know the other parts of our relationship are just as important to me,” he said despondently.
Deanna knew he was telling the truth and she forced the nagging little voice in the back of her mind to be silenced. Why did she feel so insecure about Will’s feelings for her? Her conscience stung her.
Will stared, wondering how this conversation even began? His best friends eyes were dark and unreadable to him. Stiffened muscles ached all over, and he felt almost disconnected from his body he was so tired. Now Deanna’s silence seemed like judgement to him instead of companionship. Will was desperate for sleep, the wine he had drunk worked against civilized conversation, and so he remained silent until he could hardly keep his head up or his eyes open. Now he became angry at his own frailties, and Will carefully schooled his voice to neutrality. “Deanna, thank you for staying with me. I’m going to go now, I just need to sleep more than anything,” he said, exhaustion slurring the last few words. Will punctuated the sentence by opening the door. Deanna arose, stiff and silent.
“Will…” she began.
“I’m really fine Deanna, goodnight,” he said quickly, retreating to the corridor and entering his room before she could formulate a reply.
Deanna lay awake in her bed long after she had beaten her pillow into submission, frustrated and angry, wondering why tonight of all nights had gone the exact opposite of her intentions. She had intended to accompany Will to his quarters and stay until he slept. Now, sleep was a reluctant bedfellow and continued to elude her until the early hours of the morning. When she finally slept, her dreams were disturbing, and once again filled with the same images that had plagued her when Will had been lost. He was trapped in the bubble prison again, only this time he was obviously dead. His once beautiful eyes were open but sightless, and blood ran from his ears and nose. Deanna wept, her chest constricting painfully and her grief consuming her as she beat savagely against the bubble. Long despairing wails echoed through the eerie dreamscape until her voice finally gave out. She wakened uncovered, her heart pounding loudly in her ears and one leg already off the edge of the bed. Not bothering to pull on her robe, she ignored the cold bite of the floor and opened Wills door using the emergency access code to override his security lock. Running directly to his bedroom, she found him lying limply in sweat soaked pajamas. Placing her hand on his chest she felt his heart race and she watched his eye’s moved rapidly beneath closed lids. She debated how to waken him, until he began thrashing until he was entangled in his sheets. She instinctively reached out with her mind and her hands and felt Will’s rigid muscles, and his mind closed to her like a steel trap.
Imzadi,” she both whispered and sent to him, hopeful of a response. She thought she could feel a slight lessening of his tension. “Imzadi… come to me,” she projected, running her hands experimentally down his chest and across his stomach. She determinedly projected the very images she had so objected to scant hours ago and massaged the corded muscles until they gradually loosened. Will’s erratic breathing began to slow.
Relief washed over her in a cool wave and Deanna lay her head against his chest, ignoring the stale stench of his sweat as she held him tightly. She loved him; past the hurt, past the uncertainty, past her or his career. With her ear pressed to his chest, she listened as the racing of his heart gradually decreased to a slow and steady rhythm and his breathing returned to normal. Unable to relax, she quietly went to Will’s bathroom and brought back warm soapy water. Wringing the warm cloth carefully, she began to wash him; first his face, and then his arms and chest, all the while projecting to him safety and warmth; love and belonging. She lowered the sheet and saw without great surprise that he was naked. Unperturbed, Deanna continued with slow measured strokes, cleansing Will of the sweat and acrid smell of fear that still clung to him. Carefully drying him with a soft towel she watched him sleep the heavy sleep of the drugged. Beverly had given him something to help him sleep before he left sickbay, but she was surprised he took it. His soft snores told her he was deeply asleep, so she pulled the blanket up under his chin. His dark lashes lay like feathered fringe against his cheeks, and even with his beard, Will’s expression bore a startling resemblance to the child she had known him to be just days before. Her heart softened as she observed the rare moment of unguarded innocence on his face. Shivering, she pulled on his old blue robe, savoring the scent of him that enveloped her as she crawled next to him and slept.
Hours later, Will’s restless movement wakened Deanna and she smiled as she reached over to run fingers through the soft hair on his chest and abdomen. She had made a decision while they slept, and had wakened, fully aware of the consequences should Will turn away from her now. Tracing patterns on his stomach slowly brought him to semi-wakefulness, and his response was sleepy but unmistakable as he pulled her into his arms. The fresh smell of soap mixed with his own scent intoxicated Deanna, making her both dizzy and warm. Will ran his hand down her side and groaned. “Imzadi…are you real?” he whispered in her ear, his warm breath ruffling her hair as the growing sensuality of his thoughts stalked her. “Yes my Imzadi,” she breathed, and touched him possessively in a way he couldn’t misinterpret. His response was muffled by her breasts as he kissed her, touching her reverently as if sculpting a living statue. His hips challenged hers and Deanna’s breath caught short as his desires blended with and complimented her own. He untied her robe so his kisses were unencumbered by the gossamer thin fabric of her gown as he trailed lazily down from her neck to groin. He easily brought Deanna’s passions from hiding, and slowly undermined what little control she had remaining. “Imzadi,” he whispered, his own bodies need for her threatening to own him. Deanna never hesitated, for all resistance had been long ago overwhelmed, her defenses destroyed and her carefully wrought plans unraveled. Now was the only moment that existed. She knew she owned his soul, and that what he needed now was his Imzadi’s body. She let the old terry robe fall unresisting to the bed.
Deanna’s memory and Will’s amazing responsiveness guided her unerringly to release her Imzadi’s deepest passions. Straddling his belly, she embraced his growing urgency and matched it with her own as he pulled her gown below her shoulders, to expose her fully. Will teased her with such skill that she could hardly think, and it was obvious that neither of them could stop.
When they finally joined, each half became a part of the whole with slowness that was both torturous and delicious. Deanna gripped him and his chest muscles bulged under her hands as he shuddered, his hips seeking hers. Will’s hoarse whispers held her captive, letting her know that he was barely able to tolerate the minutest movement as the ecstasy of their joining gripped him. Deanna wouldn’t stop what they had begun, arching her back as she compelled him to follow. The matching of their sexual resonations through the long unused link pulled a long groan from deep inside of Will, and his movements betrayed the fact that his need could no longer be deterred. Will entreated her, enticing her sensually with his bodies own supplication as he pulled her back to cover him and offered himself to complete their link. Deanna finally relinquished the last shreds of her doubt and gave him her unguarded heart. The barriers to the link had only been long subdued, but never broken, and it magnified and heightened the pleasure of their erotic game of push and pull until they found a cataclysmic release that left them both satiated and gasping.
"Come." The doors parted and Will Riker stepped inside the captain's
quarters. "Sir? I'm sorry if I'm disturbing you...but I have the report you requested." He said, hesitant to disturb his superior at his leisure. Picard, who was relaxing with a good book and a cup of tea, picked up on Will’s hesitancy to disturb him. He glanced up from his reading, and for the briefest of moments he almost saw the young Will Riker standing at the door. But it appeared that his first officers desire to talk with him was warring with his fear of overstepping professional boundaries. Picard suffered a fleeting pang of regret, realizing that despite their close working relationship, he had rarely taken the time for purely social interaction with his first officer.
Picard gave Will a welcoming smile. "Not at all, Will. Please come in." He noted his first officers pallor and barely gave the pad a glance before laying it aside. “We shall discuss this when you are fully returned to duty. I have been informed by Beverly Crusher that she would subject me to a complete and total physical exam if I allowed you to return to duty before a full forty-eight hours had elapsed.” His eyebrows raised. "In light of that threat, would you care to join me for a cup of tea...or something stronger?" The fleeting surprise in Will's eyes reconfirmed that Picard had indeed been remiss in assuming his first officers friendship.
"Well...yes...thanks. Coffee would be fine," Riker said as he took the opposite chair and Picard retrieved a mug of coffee from the replicator for him. Picard was struck by how large the hand was that wrapped itself around the mug, wondering how the small boy he had known could have grown so much. He tried to think of a way to express the sentiment without sounding like some old great-aunt at a family reunion exclaiming "Look how big you've gotten since the last time I saw you." Instead, he found himself tongue-tied, a state he found most annoying.
Will sipped his coffee, and stared at the two things that stood out, marring the almost sacred atmosphere of the room. The first was a disorderly stack of ancient books on the coffee table, and the second was a small wooden nick-knack that stood beside them. His eyes alight with curiosity, Will leaned forward and
picked up the small object. "Looks like a grizzly." He commented. "Archaeological piece?"
Picard smiled wryly. "No. It was made for me by a…a friend."
Will carefully examined the little carving, apparently lost in a memory. "I used to carve when I was a kid." He commented, turning the piece over in his large hand. "I'm not sure why I stopped. Not much wood on a starship, I guess..." He said, a little wistfully, then added with a grin. "...that, and it used to drive my Dad crazy. I was always leaving little piles of wood shavings everywhere I went."
Picard smiled softly, thinking about how odd it was to listen to his first officer reminiscing about his childhood, when to him, that childhood was only twenty-four hours in the past. A whole lifetime had passed for his first officer since Picards time with young Will Riker. "It's truly a pity you stopped Will." He commented. "You showed great promise as an artist." Riker gave him a curious look and Picard held out his hand for the carving. Taking it, he held it up, examining the life-like rendition. "It was you Will. You actually made this for me...from a pruned branch you picked up in the arboretum."
Will Riker was stunned. He had never dreamed that his Captain would have spent time with his childhood self and he wasn’t sure what amazed him more: The fact that he'd done such a fine job as a nine-year-old, or the realization that Picard obviously seemed to value the carving. His smile was crooked and wistful.
"Well sir, perhaps I should resign…move to Risa, and make a living carving souvenirs for the tourists."
"Hand-carved horgans, number one?" Picard said dryly, glad to see that Riker had the good
grace to blush at being reminded of the practical joke he'd pulled on him several years before.
"Well...on second thought sir, maybe not..."
Picard, replaced the bear on the table with a wistful smile and reached for his tea cup. He still felt the need to explain, and cleared his throat before he started. "It was quite a difficult decision to send your younger self back to his own time. Back to his own father," he commented almost to himself.
Will Riker raised an eyebrow, not quite sure how to take that statement. "...Well...I'm glad you made it sir," he said cautiously, “the decision I mean.”.
Picard shifted slightly under Riker’s unblinking gaze. It amazed him that Will’s eyes had changed so little from boyhood to manhood. They were still windows into his psyche, changing as quickly as his mood, always reflecting the passions of the moment. "Will...it’s not because I was not eager to have you back," he amended. "I very much missed your presence on the bridge...as well as I did your companionship," he finished with a warm smile.
Will’s eyes cleared as he studied his Captain and mentor. He relaxed, smiling this time with genuine pleasure. "Thank you, sir,” he said, stretching his long legs before him. “It’s good to be back. I think you can count yourself lucky you didn’t have to raise me. I was quite a hellion I think.”
Picard said nothing, unable to voice the conflicting feelings he had experienced with the young Will Riker. “I’m just glad to have you back Will. But having you at ANY age is an experience one doesn’t soon forget.”
Will arched his brow, but the Captain just smiled and didn’t offer to explain. They continued to sip their drinks in companionable silence; the captain, his first officer, friends.