The Unbroken Bond
Chapter One "Life
Will materialized in sickbay, feeling
vaguely comforted by the familiar surroundings before he allowed himself to
pass out. He woke several moments
later as the two young ensigns were trying to manhandle him onto the biobed.
"Let go of me, I'm fine," he said in a voice that came out
weak and wobbly; not at all like he'd intended.
"Ahem," he heard, as the velvety
smooth voice of Beverly Crusher, ships chief medical officer, announced her
arrival. The two ensigns renewed
their efforts vainly. "Will,"
she said, exasperation lacing the concern in her voice, "Get on the bed
and let me do my job."
Will was trying desperately to get the two
Bevs to focus into one. "Beverly,"
he said with faint annoyance when her double wouldn't cooperate, "I'm
fine. At least I... I'll be fine
if you'll just give me a sec.." As
the room began to spin again, he tried to tell her that he was having second
thoughts about his condition, but his much abused body overrode this final
attempt to force it to do his will. He
fell straight back wards, never feeling the ensigns, who had been
ready for such an event, as they grabbed him, saving him from further
injury. Bev suppressed a sigh as
she went into high gear, ordering them to hoist the large man onto the biobed
and strip off his tattered
"Captain Picard," Bev
said after tapping her comm badge.
But I need to detain him here until I put him back together."
Picard's cultured voice
held a sharp note of concern. "How
severe are his injuries?"
Bev began diagnostics as
she replied. "Don't know yet sir, he doesn't seem to have serious
injuries outwardly.. Just minor
cuts and bruises.. and I suspect a concussion.
I'm running his internal diagnostics now."
Picard's relief was
subtle, but obvious to her. "I'll
be down to see him as soon as duty permits..."
"Aye sir," she said,
relieved to be concentrating on the job at hand.
Picard finally made it to
sickbay a little over an hour later only to find his first officer sleeping
soundly. "He's fine."
Beverly reassured him. "Nothing
we couldn't fix...this time. He
was exhausted, however. He fell
asleep during treatment and I thought it best to let him rest.."
She didn't mention that he was a much better patient when he wasn't
awake and wrangling to get out of sickbay as quickly as possible.
He was completely and utterly
alone. The ship's corridors were
dark and cold, and they echoed with the pounding of his footsteps as he ran,
searching for someone; anyone...they'd all vanished...and he would be alone
now, forever, in the unending darkness and cold of space...
Beverly shook him again and he sat up with a gasp, his heart pounding
in his ears. "It's OK, you
were just having a nightmare..."
He shivered involuntarily and Beverly
took the blanket from the other biobed and wrapped it around his shoulders. "It's all right, Will.
You've been through alot today, and your subconscious must still be in
that fight-or-flight mode."
Riker closed his eyes again and
took a deep breath, trying to calm the residual panic he was feeling.
"Sorry, Bev." He
managed, drawing on his reserves to produce an apologetic smile and a bad joke
involving nightmares and first year cadets.
He saw the concern in her eyes give way to amusement and relief.
She gave him the usual lecture about
the limitations of medical science and the probability that he'd one day show
up with something she couldn't fix. He
listened politely, as he always did, and managed to look repentant as she
handed him a fresh uniform. "You
can go. But take it easy. Get some sleep - and nothing strenuous until I clear you
He headed for his quarters, but
changed his mind. The echoes of
the dream still clung to him and he didn't want to face the quiet solitude of
his rooms. He headed for
10-forward instead, and the prospect of a little social interaction.
It was late into the ship's night and the lounge was nearly deserted.
He took a seat at the bar and ordered a drink.
After a few sips he began to feel a little more like himself and he
turned and scanned the room, looking for someone to talk to.
His heart lurched when he
saw them, at a table in the back of the room.
They were leaning together in the way that lovers do when they're
discussing something important. Worf
reached out and brushed her hair out of her eyes.
Will saw her smile as she caught the Klingon's hand and her lips formed
the words that he could read, even from a distance.
He'd seen her say them before. Only
this time she was saying them to Worf, and under the table she was stroking
Worf's leg with her stocking foot...
Will squeezed his eyes shut. He slowly
willed the vise clamped round his heart to loosen it's grip. Worf was one of
Will's closest friends; but it had become increasingly difficult to separate
his friendship for the Klingon from his longing for Deanna.
He'd even begun to avoid Deanna; not wanting her to question him about
the inner turmoil that was so often his companion. She hadn't been too difficult to avoid, as she rarely sought
him out for companionship as she had in the past.
Will had soon stopped asking the computer to locate the counselor, for
as often as not, she was in Worf's quarters.
Seeing Deanna and Worf together had always
been difficult; but he'd never dreamed that Deanna would develop such a
serious relationship with someone who's values were so different from her own. Watching them now, it was obvious that the Klingon and the
counselor had made an emotional commitment to one another, and Will could
hardly face either of them. What had at first seemed to be so improbable, now
appeared to be a bonafide certainty.
The whole issue had become a nightmare for
the first officer, and he knew it was starting to effect his performance.
This last away mission had been a warning to him.
He'd purposefully left them off the team, his increasing inability to
separate his emotions from his job coloring his decision.
It had been a big mistake, and he was fortunate that he was the only
crew member to suffer for his idiocy. He
knew he couldn't continue like this. He'd
been fooling himself long enough. Not
only was life on the Enterprise unbearable, but Will's strong sense of duty
had been compromised. He could no
longer look his Captain in the eye and know that he'd given his best.
He intended to give his transfer request to Picard in the morning.
Will slowly turned
around. Unable to restrain
himself, as if he were a moth drawn to the flame, he watched, numbly at first,
as Deanna gave Worf what had once only belonged to him.
The numbness lasted only moments however; and the anger, pain and
humiliation that welled up within him left him breathless with emotion.
He jumped to his feet in an effort to escape the scene being played out
on the other side of the room, leaving behind him a wake of curious onlookers.
The ebony skinned bartender, tight lipped, shook her head as she stared
In the morning the captain was
surprised when Will stepped onto the bridge.
Beverly had reported that he was fine, but Riker looked like hell.
His eyes were tired and his jaw tense as he faced his commanding
officer. "Sir, Request
permission to speak with you..."
Picard gestured towards his ready room door and
followed his first officer into the office.
He crossed to the replicator and got himself a cup of tea, replicating
a mug of black coffee for Riker without even asking.
He sat on the couch instead of behind his desk, and signaled for the
commander to have a seat. Picard
was not looking forward to this conversation, but he had decided that he was
not going to let Will turn down yet another opportunity for his own command.
Will was more than capable and with the threat of the Borg looming his
talents were desperately needed by Star Fleet.
Will began, determined to get his request for transfer out before he
could be diverted by other matters. Picard
held up a silencing hand and Riker lapsed into an unwilling silence, poorly
suppressing an impatient sigh.
"In a moment, number one. First, there is something we need to discuss.
You've been offered another command.
The prototype USS Soyuz. She
was commissioned three months ago. Her
former captain rather abruptly resigned his commission yesterday, for personal
reasons." Picard was unable
to read the look on Riker's face. There
were some distinct disadvantages to having a poker-playing officer.
"She's an impressive ship,
Will. A crew complement of 450.
State of the art Warp technology.
A more formidable military capability than any other ship in the fleet.
She's been specifically designed in response to the Borg threat. It would be a tremendous opportunity for any captain - "
Will felt an enormous sense of
relief. Here was a solution to
what was plaguing him. A new
start - a new command. A chance
to get his life and his career back on track.
An opportunity to do something that would help him forget Deanna.
He opened his mouth to speak and Picard held up the silencing hand
"I want you to
consider this carefully, Will. Frankly,
you would be a fool to pass up this opportunity..."
placed his mug carefully on the low table and then looked up at Picard with a
look of quiet certainty. "I
know. I intend to accept..."
Picard was caught
by surprise. He'd been rehearsing his arguments ever since he'd received
the message from the admiralty an hour ago.
He hadn't expected Will to agree so quickly. It took him a moment to reorient himself, and then he nodded
briskly. "Excellent. Then
you will have a busy few hours in front of you.
We will rendezvous with the Endeavor in eight hours, and they will
transport you to Starbase 11 where you will meet the Soyuz.
Not long to say goodbye, I'm afraid..."
It was best that way. There
was an awkward moment, then Picard stood, briskly tugging on his tunic.
"I shall leave you to contact Admiral Ritter.
If it's acceptable to you, I will call a staff meeting an hour from now
to inform the rest of the crew..."
Will stood as well.
"That would be fine, thank you, sir."
Picard let a smile tug on
the corners of his mouth. "Jean
Luc will do now, Captain Riker." Nodding
to his soon-to-be-former number one, the
captain beat a hasty retreat before things got embarrassingly sentimental.
Chapter Two "Command"
Will slumped over like a lump
of clay in his seat in the shuttle's passenger area.
His long legs were sprawled out, and at odds with each other. He ran his fingers through his military hair style for the
tenth time, massaging his temples as he battled a tension headache that had
developed during his going away party. Gently
rubbing the lines of pain that creased the center of his brow, Will sighed
deeply. He had certainly put on a
good show tonight. Smiling the
famous Riker smile, cracking one joke after another, and saying all the right
things to all the right people. But
his good humor had all been an act, his excitement a sham. He was sick in
spirit, and miserable about leaving, but he knew it had to be done.
He knew that Captain Picard had suspected that things weren't as they
seemed, but thankfully he had kept his silence.
Will, not trusting his ability to retain his composure, had gone to
extreme lengths to avoid being alone with Deanna at any time, saying his good
byes to both her and Worf in Ten-Forward.
He just couldn't bring himself to face her alone.
He knew that his carefully constructed facade would crumble if he had
to look into those eyes again. Instead,
he'd steeled himself and had purposefully gone to their table. Shaking Worf's
hand solemnly, he had given Deanna a gentle kiss on the cheek while carefully
avoiding her gaze. Forcing a
smile, he bowed to their table as he picked up his trombone and played with
the band for three or four tunes. Unable
to carry on the facade any longer, he then stepped down to let the other ships
talent carry the rest of the evening. All
a part of the act. The night
seemed interminably long and was far from over, though the party was finished. Will had been relieved when the hour for their departure
finally arrived. He'd said his
good-byes and decided to slip out unobtrusively while everyone was crowded
around Laforge. He picked up his
trombone and turned to leave; but was restrained by a hand on his arm.
He found himself looking down at the dark, smooth skinned face of
ten-forward's hostess. She
didn't speak, but her eyes held him there nonetheless.
She was searching his face for something, he knew not what. Guinan
transferred her grip to his hand. Her
coolness in his warmth, still holding him captive with her obsidian gaze.
Will waited. It was impossible for him to read her as he might have
Deanna, or even to decipher what Guinan wanted from him.
She finally spoke with a voice smooth like velvet.
"It won't hurt forever Riker," was all she finally said,
dropping his hand after squeezing it tightly.
"Take care of yourself... I'm really going to miss you."
And with that she reached up on tiptoe and gave him a kiss.
shook his head, his eyes filling up at the still fresh memory.
Laying back in his seat, he squeezed his eyes shut again.
As he blocked out the sights and sounds around him, only the twitching
of his folded hands betrayed the depth of his nervous exhaustion. He knew deep
in his gut that for all her ancient wisdom, Guinan was wrong this time.
Deanna lay back against Worf's broad
chest wondering what her life was going to be like without Will's presence
near her to rely on. It had been
8 years since she'd been without at least an empathic sense of Will Riker in
her life. His solid strength and warmth had always been a presence in
the background of her life here on the Enterprise.
Solid and reassuring. Comfortable.
Loving. Feeling restless,
she got up from the bed and pulled on her uniform with quick, jerky
movements.. "Worf," she
said, "I need to be alone tonight."
He grunted his assent, feeling somewhat awkward himself over this
evenings events. His commander
and best friend had left the Enterprise.
He was both relieved and upset. Worf
wasn't such a fool as to not realize the real reason for his commanders
leaving. He lay on his
back, listening silently to the sounds of Deanna's departure.
Geordi shifted restlessly in his
chair. Even though he had it in
full recline position he still squirmed about, trying to no avail to get
comfortable. Not that he expected
to get much sleep anyway. His
mind was too active for that. Everything
had happened so quickly. One
moment he'd been sitting at his desk reviewing power consumption data, and the
next moment Will Riker had appeared at his office door with a simple question
which changed the course of his career. "Geordi?
What do you know about the systems of the prototype Soyuz?"
The engineer supposed he'd been rather obvious in
his enthusiasm. The
Borg threat had really lit a fire under the design engineers at Utopia
Planetia. The Soyuz was the
result of a burst of creativity and innovation that had brought astonishing
new developments. Will let Geordi
rattle on for a few minutes about the new multi-phasic phaser array and the
low gain Warp drive...and had laughed when Geordi had finished with an
emphatic "What I wouldn't give to get my hands on that ship..."
That was exactly the opening that Will Riker had
been waiting for. Admiral Ritter
had been thrilled with Riker's decision to accept command,
and casually mentioned that they had a Chief Engineer position to fill
as well. With Captain Picard's
reluctant blessing Riker had headed straight for engineering.
He shut Geordi's door and slid into the chair beside the Engineer's
desk, and within ten minutes the Soyuz had a new officer.
Geordi wondered belatedly if he'd made the right
decision. He had been feeling
stagnated lately, and this new assignment offered him a type of excitement and
challenge he hadn't experienced since he accepted his position on the
Enterprise. He knew he'd have no
problem serving under Riker, whom he both
respected and admired. Still, it
was difficult leaving the Enterprise and his friends behind on the spur of the
moment. There had been so little
time for leave-taking, and he was especially sorry that he hadn't had time to
spend with Data before he left.
shifted again restlessly and opened his eyes, glancing across the aisle at
Will Riker, fully expecting to find him sound asleep.
To his surprise the new captain was awake as well, staring at the
ceiling with a melancholy expression. The
fourth pip gleamed on his collar in the low light of the shuttle and Geordi
wondered if his apprehension was related to assuming his own command; surely
enough to keep anyone awake at 3 o'clock in the morning.
Geordi saw Riker swallow hard and shut his eyes tightly for a moment,
almost as if fighting off tears. Geordi
quickly looked away. He knew that
what he was seeing wasn't apprehension, but a very private grief.
Geordi sighed to himself and shut his eyes again, his own worries
forgotten as he wondered, not for the first time, what had ever compelled
Deanna to push Will away in favor of Worf.
Deanna paused outside the door on level eight.
Reaching up, she ran her finger over the name-plate that remained
there. Commander William T. Riker, it still proclaimed.
She tried the door and it slid open, but as soon as she entered she
wished that she hadn't. There was nothing left of him here.
All of the warmth of Will's personality was missing. His possessions
were gone and the quarters looked stark, bare and
unwelcoming. Deanna sat down anyway, trying to find the privacy and
solitude she needed in order to think and analyze what she was feeling.
Deanna thought about Will, and about all of
the years that they had shared together.
She knew that she would never have that kind of intimacy with another
being again...and yet somehow, they'd never been able to trust each other
enough to break down those final barriers that had grown between them.
She sat in his deserted quarters for most of the night, crying tears of
regret that she refused to let anyone else witness .
Morning had almost come to the Enterprise when
she finally arose. Feeling cleansed and empty at the same time, Deanna scanned
the room. She had made her
good-byes. Sadly, she stepped out
into the corridor and the door to his former quarters slid shut behind her,
irrevocably ending this chapter of her life.
Deanna showered and changed before meeting Worf
for breakfast. She attended a
staff meeting and met with patients and took a tai chi class. She kept herself very busy that day and almost every day
afterwards. Time went on, she
told herself that she was fine without him, and after a while she even managed
to convince herself that the hollow feeling in her soul was normal.
Chapter 3 "Misunderstanding"
Geordi observed the tired smudges under Riker's
eyes. Guessing that he'd slept
very little the night before, he hesitated now to wake him.
But they were coming up on the Soyuz, and there was no help for it.
He reached over and nudged his new Captain awake..
"Hey-- Captain," he said, reining in his own excitement
"We're here. Lets go
show 'em how the big boys do it."
Will cracked open his eyes and stared at
the ceiling of the transport for a moment as the haze of sleep lifted itself
from his mind. He pushed himself
into a more upright position before he answered, running his tongue around the
inside of his mouth with distaste. "I'd
better go clean up a little." He said, observing Geordi's enthusiasm and
giving him a brief smile. "Excited?"
The engineer smiled
sheepishly... "I've been ready for two hours commander...
I mean Captain," he admitted wryly.
Will chuckled at the engineer's slip.
He was both happy and relieved that he'd convinced his friend to follow
him. Without further adieu, he
left his seat to make himself as presentable as possible with the limited
resources, returning just in time to see the Soyuz looming into view.
She was absolutely beautiful. Her
lines were long and sleek and gave the impression of great speed, even when
she was hanging stationery at space dock.
Geordi breathed almost reverentially,
glancing at his captain to gauge his reaction.
Will Riker studied his ship.
In one of his less guarded moments Jean Luc Picard had once described
his first view of the Enterprise. Will
grinned. He understood now.
"Well said, Mr. Laforge."
The shuttlebus pilot turned to look at his
last two passengers. "Final
stop--the Soyuz," he announced.
Captain Riker unconsciously tugged on his
tunic, straightening it in a gesture reminiscent of another starship captain.
Geordi found it both amusing and comforting.
"Ready?" Will inquired.
Captain!" Geordi replied... eager to see their new home.
Ships First Officer, Commander Richard
Thompson waited with mild trepidation inside the shuttlebay as the shuttlebus
finished it's docking procedure. His
palms were sweating, and he felt extremely nervous about meeting his new
Captain. Losing their first
Captain so suddenly had thrown him off his stride.
He didn't really like surprises, and Starfleet's choice had definitely
surprised Thompson. Conventional
wisdom had said that Riker would never settle to Captain any ship but the
Enterprise. Most people assumed
that he was just biding his time, until Picard finally accepted the inevitable
shove upstairs. Riker's
dedication to Picard, and the Enterprise was accepted as fact, and as a team,
the two men had become legend. Thompson
wondered idly what had happened. Rumors
and wild stories about Commander William T. Riker had always been abundant.
He'd heard the first of them while still in Starfleet Academy.
But he never had been one to put much stock in rumors. Straightening his tunic nervously, he wondered how much
of what he'd heard was fact, and how much fiction.
Security chief Rafael Dimonelli stood
in stoic silence beside the First Officer, but Cecily Braxton, the Chief
Medical Officer, had been detained in sickbay.
There had been an outbreak of an unusual flu that had spread through
the ships children and was taking it's toll on the adults as well.
Thompson frowned. Braxton
had her hands full, treating the sick ones, and inoculating the well ones.
There were four hundred and fifty souls on the Soyuz.
Fifty married couples, with a total of thirty children.
Captain Riker was single, or so he had heard.
More grist for the mill, he thought with annoyance.
The shuttle's doors whisked open and he
straightened to attention. The
man who stepped out had to bend his head to keep from hitting it on the
doorway... His dark hair was neatly combed, and he had a well manicured beard.
*Very ship shape,* Thompson observed critically to himself.
The Captain cleared the doorway and looked up, obviously curious about
his new surroundings. Riker's
gaze came full circle and locked on to his, startling the younger man with
it's blue intensity. "Captain,"
was all Thompson was able to stutter out.
and Lieutenant Dimonelli I presume?" the Captain replied warmly,
extending his hand outward. Thompson
was rigid for several seconds, not expecting a handshake, and trying to
reconcile formal protocol with Riker's friendly overture.
Recovering, he extended his own hand in welcome.
Riker shook it, and Dimonelli's, before stepping aside. "This is Lieutenant-Commander Geordi LaForge, the best
damn engineer in Star Fleet." Riker
introduced Geordi with a big grin.
Thompson stared at Dimonelli's wide
smile in annoyance. Riker's
charisma had obviously disarmed the security chief from the moment he had
stepped off the shuttle. Thompson
rigidly shook hands with the new engineer and then ushered them to their
quarters, unsettled by the informal turn the welcome had taken.
Still, he was a fair man and he silently reserved judgment on the
Soyuz's new Captain.
Cecily Braxton was brimming with curiosity
about Captain William Riker. Thompson
had been prudishly tight lipped about his first encounter. But rumors were already flying around the small community
that was the Soyuz. "He's
gorgeous," one of her nurses had confided, having glimpsed him in the
corridor outside his quarters.
"Tall, handsome, and unattached,"
the ensign from ops had declared triumphantly.
"Seems nice," was all Dimonelli
would tell her with a grin on his charming Italian face.
wearily brushed her copper colored hair from her eyes.
She'd just finished inoculating the last of the uninfected children
against what she called the "Injard flu," named after the infamous
crew member who had brought it on board.
She was going to have to go over the transporters viral and bacterial
filtration systems with a fine tooth comb.
This flu shouldn't have possibly been able to get past the ships
"state of the art system." Cecily
leaned back against the cool wall and closed her eyes.
"Long day?" a deep, unfamiliar voice questioned, breaking
into her scattered thoughts. Startled,
her eyes flew open to reveal tall dark, and handsome.... and he was standing
just three feet in front of her!
Her defenses automatically clicked into place.
"I wasn't informed you would be inspecting sickbay today,
Captain." She cursed herself
for the brittle edge of her words, but she hadn't liked being caught unaware,
and she had hoped to present a better image at her first meeting with her new
commanding officer, handsome or not! Her
best defense however, always seemed to come out as a strong offense.
Will Riker hadn't waited for a tour of the
ship. His quarters had been
spacious, but depressingly empty, and his things were sitting in a huge
ungainly pile in the middle of his floor; precisely where the transporter had
left them an hour ago. His natural curiosity had prompted him to take an
impromptu tour of the ship. He
wanted to know how their past Captain had been running things, and could think
of no better way to find out. He
hadn't been to the bridge yet... He was saving that treat for last.
Engineering had been his first stop.
Geordi was already there ahead of him.
He was endlessly questioning the junior engineers, sticking his head
behind power grids and underneath control panels.
He hardly gave Riker a glance, but his calm and easy-going manner had
obviously already put his new crew at ease.
Next had been the family quarters.
Riker strolled the corridors, stopping often to chat. Visiting the lounge areas, he talked with crew members and
family alike, giving them a double dose of charm, and infecting them with his
easy grin. It was different here,
then on the Enterprise. This
ships compliment was less than half that of the fleet's flagship, and
consequently, there was much more of a feeling of community here.
Will took the turbolift to the fourth out of five levels; his next
stop, sickbay. It was a place he
studiously had avoided during his term of duty on the Enterprise.
Stepping in and moving quickly towards the back of the room, he'd
silently watched as the ship's doctor gave orders to concerned parents; and
then comfort, sympathy, and a hypospray to each child.
She wasn't classically beautiful, but her warmth and energy made her
very attractive. Riker was not
even remotely interested in any woman right now, his heart still residing on
another ship that was moving farther away by the second.
He turned his attention back to the young woman before him. She was the daughter of a Starfleet doctor, and had graduated
from the academy five years before with honors. Her move through the ranks had been almost as swift as his
own, and her name was Cecily Braxton. She
was also, apparently, touchy. He
had somehow already said the wrong thing to her in an attempt to be friendly.
But he was suddenly too tired himself to care.
He informed her it was not an inspection, and
that the executive officers were to meet after supper in the command
center, and then abruptly left. His
sudden departure left her standing with her mouth open, as she stuttered
ineffectively, trying to get the words out to repair the damage she'd
Dr. Cecily Braxton flopped in her office chair and let out a
sigh. She'd been on her feet for
16 hours. It felt good to sit
down. Glancing at her computer
screen she noted a red-flagged file and said wearily, "Computer. Display
She straightened as Captain Riker's
medical records appeared on the screen along with a "please read"
notation. Cecily touched the
screen and the image of Dr. Beverly Crusher of the USS Enterprise appeared. Dr. Braxton leaned forward, curious about what the
well-respected doctor had to say. "Congratulations,
Dr. Braxton. You've just
inherited one of the worst patients in Star Fleet."
Cecily wasn't sure how to read Dr. Crusher's smile.
"Captain Riker tends to take a lot of physical risks, both at work
and at play. The problem is that
he also seems to think he's indestructible.
He won't come to you for medical attention unless he's half dead. So, if he calls and asks for something for a headache you can
be pretty sure he's got a serious concussion.
And if he tells you he has a scratch he'd like you to look at, you may
as well just prepare the surgical team. You'll
really need to stay on top of this man and be firm about your treatment
recommendations. I've found that
threatening him with a forced medical leave usually works fairly well."
Cecily sighed inwardly.
Just what she needed. Another
Captain who was going to be difficult.
Crusher looked down at the padd on her desk. "In fact, it looks like you're going to get a quick
start with the Captain. He was
injured on an away mission a few days ago.
You'll see it on his chart, and you'll need to do a follow-up on the
broken rib." Crusher looked
back up and smiled again. "Good
luck. Just remember - be firm -
and don't ever take his word when it comes to his physical condition...or
poker." Crusher paused, and
almost as an afterthought added "Oh- and I've forwarded you Lt. Comm.
Laforge's records as well. Geordi
is a sweetheart, and very knowledgeable about his medical condition. You'll have no problems with him...Crusher out."
Cecily Braxton leaned back in her chair and
massaged her temples against the headache that was threatening to develop.
Why did she get the rotten captains?
She could never remember her father having such a difficult time with
his CO's. And although she hadn't
had much contact with the captains on her two previous ships, the chief
medical officers there had never complained.
Well, no matter what his idiosyncrasies, Riker couldn't possibly be as
bad as Vinson.
Her face flamed as she recalled the wrestling
match in the Captain's quarters. They'd
only been working together for a few weeks when he'd called her late one
evening and asked if she could stop by. He
wasn't feeling well. She had a
few qualms about seeing him in his quarters. but one didn't tell the captain
to report to sickbay. He'd been
laying on the bed, shirtless and shoeless and complaining about a stress
headache. She'd checked him over with the tricorder and given him a
hypospray, but he'd insisted that the only way he ever got rid of this type of
headache was with a neck and shoulder massage.
All her instincts told her something was amiss, but she wasn't sure how
to refuse the captain. After all,
massage therapy was part of her training and could be a valuable treatment
tool. She'd started on his neck,
puzzled that she wasn't finding the hard, tense muscles associated with
stress. She made the observation
out loud, and he'd flipped over abruptly and grabbed her, pulling her down and
making a lewd comment about where she could find something hard and tense.
She'd struggled as he kissed her, and he growled that she knew she
wanted him...It had taken a knee in his groin to convince him otherwise, and
she'd beat a hasty retreat.
Cecily didn't tell anyone for several
days, too mortified by what she viewed as a lapse in her professionalism. In the end she'd confided in the Ship's Counselor, Philip
Chao, when Captain Vinson had made it clear he was going to make her life
miserable. Phil was warm and
understanding, and told her not to worry about it. Apparently their captain had a history. Two days later Vinson
abruptly announced he was leaving the Soyuz due to personal reasons.
hadn't worked up the nerve to ask Phil what had happened, but she was fairly
certain the counselor had something to do with it.
At any rate, no one on the Soyuz was going to mourn Captain Vinson's
departure. He was a intolerant,
tyrannical bore, not to mention a real pig.
Cecily smiled, feeling a little encouraged. Riker had to be better than that.
Back in his unfamiliar quarters, Will Riker stepped from the
shower and toweled off. He ate a
sandwich as he pulled on a fresh uniform, admiring the four pips in the mirror
for a moment. An hour's nap had
left him feeling refreshed and anxious to see the bridge and meet the rest of
his officers. He crossed to the
computer and noticed that he had several dozen messages waiting.
He checked the first few and found them to be congratulations from a
variety of old friends and starfleet brass.
They would be fun to read, but later.
"Computer. Are there any high priority messages?"
A single message appeared on the screen
with a high priority prefix. Riker
scanned it. A status report from
the First Officer, Thompson. Written
in classic bureaucratic doublespeak it basically said that everything was fine
and they were trying to figure out how the flu had gotten through the
transporter filters. Of course,
it took two screens to say that. Will
sighed. A man like Thomson would
definitely not have been his first choice for number one.
Still, he had a fine record and maybe once he learned to relax a little
they'd be OK. After all, his
command style hadn't seemed to match Picard's at first either, and they'd
ended up complementing each other very well..
Will stepped into the hallway and headed for the
lift, when he heard someone calling him.
He turned to see a man with white hair, a drooping walrus mustache ,
and blue eyes set in a deeply creased face.
"Captain Riker! Welcome
aboard sir. Counselor Phil Chao..."
Riker took his extended hand and shook it
warmly. He liked the man
immediately. There was something
about him that set you at ease, and Riker liked the way time had etched laugh
lines into the older man's face. Phillip
Chao had served long and with distinction on a number of starships. His career stretched back to before Will had even been born.
In addition, he was recognized as one of the Federation's premier
authorities on combat related stress. It
was that interest, as well as a desire to get back in the thick of things,
that had prompted him to volunteer for duty on the Soyuz.
Will was glad to have him as part of his staff and said so.
Chao smiled and accepted the compliment easily.
He'd been studying Riker's psychological profile and he had a good
feeling about the young man. He
was just what this crew needed after the Vinson fiasco.
Chao still wasn't sure what they'd been thinking when they'd put that
old targ in command.
They stepped onto the lift together and
Chao turned to him. "We have
a mutual friend, Captain."
That was certainly not uncommon in
Starfleet circles and Will wondered pleasantly who Chao was referring to.
Picard perhaps? "Deanna
Troi served part of her internship under me.
Most people wouldn't have noticed anything
unusual about Will Riker's reply. He
smiled pleasantly enough and agreed with Chao's assessment of the Enterprise's
ship's counselor. But Chao had
fifty years experience reading people's faces and he saw the almost
imperceptible tightening of Riker's jaw and the subtle narrowing of his eyes.
Interesting. There was something there and Chao had a feeling that
eventually he'd hear about it.
Will thought the staff
meeting went extremely well. He
had a very good feeling about Dimonelli and Chao, and the Atolan Operations
officer Ana Fen. He got the impression that they felt the same way about him.
Unfortunately, Commander. Richard Thompson seemed no more relaxed than he
had before. When Will had
mentioned that he did not see the need for periodic written status reports
when they could communicate the same information verbally, there was a note of
disapproval in his "Yes, Captain."
Will wondered if the man actually enjoyed writing that stuff.
Will wasn't sure about Cecily Braxton either.
He'd seen how warmly she dealt with her patients, and so it surprised
him that she seemed cold and standoffish with him.
When she requested to speak with him after the meeting he was expecting
the worst. Will exchanged a few parting words with the
security officer, Dimonelli, and then turned to face the Doctor in the now
deserted conference room. "There
was something...?" He asked,
trying to be as pleasant as possible.
I would like you to report to sickbay.
Dr. Crusher indicated that you recently
sustained a broken rib. I need to
confirm that it has healed properly. You
also need a flu immunization, and a boarding physical..."
She spoke firmly, hoping that her professional attitude would
discourage the protest that was coming.
Will hated sickbay with a passion, and detested
being poked and prodded when he knew he was perfectly fine.
Still, this might be an opportunity to break the ice with his CMO.
He smiled disarmingly. "Fine.
I have a few minutes right now, if you'd like to get this over with,
He thought she looked puzzled for a moment before
nodding. "That would be fine
He was gorgeous, there was no doubt about that.
It was all Cecily could do to keep from laughing at the way the
physician's assistant and the nurse on duty suddenly became so attentive.
She'd never had so much help administering a flu shot before in her
For his part, the new Captain was cooperative and
pleasant. He certainly seemed a
far cry from Vinson. Still, there
were the rumors and gossip that she'd heard floating around for the last few
days, and he exhibited just a tad too much self-confidence for her liking. There was such a thing as being too perfect, she thought.
Handsome, debonair, self-assured....and probably with a monumental ego
to match. She refused to be
charmed by him and his high-wattage smile, unlike the rest of the female crew
of the Soyuz.
Dr. Braxton had just finished
examining the healing rib with the medical tricorder when Comdr. Thompson's
reedy voice broke in on them. "Captain
Riker! Priority One message for
you from Star Fleet Command!"
The Doctor was amazed at the sudden
shift in Riker's demeanor as he stood up and reached for his shirt.
"This will have to wait..."
he said tersely to her, then raised his voice for Thompson's benefit.
"On my way, Commander...".
Geordi and the other executive officers had
been called to the command center, and were waiting for the captain to come
in. Wondering what the priority
one message contained had made for lively discussion.
They didn't have to wait long for Riker. He entered and began without preamble, his face grim.
"Starfleet is sending us to the Glason sector at top warp.
There have been two attacks on the Astons space station in as many
days... And their commander is certain that it won't be the last.
They're carrying on high level research concerning the
matter-antimatter fields we currently use, and have apparently made some type
of a breakthrough. This is
information that absolutely cannot fall into the wrong hands." Riker emphasized his words by leaning over the table and
looking at each officer as he spoke. "This
is a potential combat situation, and Starfleet wants to see how the new ship
He made eye contact with each his each of
his officers. "I'm going to
need the help of each one of you. At
this point, you all know your stations, and our ship's capabilities far better
than I do," he said, emphasizing "our", "
They looked at each other with covert expressions of surprise; all
except Counselor Chao, who just leaned back and smiled. Overall,
this was a young crew. All had
shown high aptitude in their combat training, and all had carried themselves
well in previous battle situations. What
they didn't have was experience under more than a couple of Commanding
officers. Captain Vinson's method
of operation had been to be notoriously closed mouthed about Starfleet orders
in an effort to control his crew. Orders
were given, and opinions never asked. They
had assumed they would get more of the same from their new Captain.
Will continued "We'll be in the Glason
sector in 6 hours at top speed, and I'll need to use that time to learn as
much as I can." He focused
sharply on his first officer, causing the young man to stiffen,
"Commander Thompson, I want you to prepare an away team, in the event
that one is needed. Be sure to
include medical personal and Mr. LaForge... Both their talents may be
needed." He switched his attention to Cecily next.
"Doctor Braxton, ready sick bay for extensive casualties.
We don't know what the station's capabilities are, and they may need
our help." Cecily nodded,
more comfortable with this focused, businesslike Captain than the casual,
charming man she'd met before. Riker
continued, giving them all a tired smile.
"I know that none of you would be on this ship if Starfleet hadn't
considered you to be that best at what you do.
So unless someone shows me different, I'm going to assume you ARE the
best. I want you to know I am
honored to have been given
this chance to be your captain. And
I'm looking forward to a long and enriching experience here."
Cecily felt herself glow unexpectedly with his confidence, and than
damned herself for being so easily swayed.
Before she could reorganize her thoughts, Riker was all business
again.. "All right, six hours 'til show time.
Let's be ready. Dismissed."
Cecily was tired.
She'd hardly had any rest since two days before when the flu epidemic
had hit, and now this. Sickbay
was ready to accept casualties, and she was on her way to her quarters to get
some badly needed sleep. She
stood at the turbolift door, leaning back against the corridor wall as she
waited. Voices drifted down the
opposite corridor towards her... she recognized that of the Captain and
"Anything else to report?" Riker asked.
She heard Geordi reply, "...well...I
did find out something interesting about your predecessor..." The turbolift door opened and then shut again when she didn't
step in. She strained to hear
what they were saying. The voices
had become stationary, as if they had stopped in the corridor to visit.
"Old Vinson was a real jerk, by all accounts.
Apparently he liked to throw his weight around.
He's been accused of sexual harassment by a couple different
Riker's words reached the doctor. She
couldn't see his disapproving frown or read his sarcastic expression. What she
heard next made her face burn with humiliation and anger.
"Damn! There's a hell
of a solution to the loneliness of command... just get some innocent junior
officer alone...It's completely safe for me.
Either I get laid, or her career gets ruined...No one would believe her
word over mine, and she'd know that..."
Riker shook his head in disgust. "You
know what they say. Rank hath
it's privileges...and the Captain always gets what he wants, eh?"
you better be careful who you pick on."
Geordi continued, "Because Phil Chao told me that..."
Two giggling teenagers stepped from the lift and headed down the hall,
making it impossible for Cecily to hear Laforge's next words as he continued
"...Vinson picked on the wrong women in his command before Soyuz.
They lodged a formal complaint, but apparently someone at Star Fleet
Command thought he had some redeeming qualities. He just got his hand slapped and a transfer to the
Riker commented. "I
was so proud of getting this command and it turns out my predecessor got it as
young girls moved out of range just in time for Cecily
to hear the deep male laughter floating down the hall.
"But I intend to stay on her alot longer than old Vinson
did..." Riker added firmly.
Dr. Cecily Braxton had no idea he was referring to the Soyuz.
door opened again, and she stumbled in, praying for it to shut before they got
there. Her prayers were answered.
"Deck three," she said between clenched teeth.
She arrived quickly at her destination and practically ran to her
quarters. The door shut with a
swish, and she let out a frustrated roar of anger and humiliation.
The doctor picked up the nearest object to her clenched fist and threw
it with a satisfying crash against the wall.
Then she sunk into a chair while tears of helpless anger ran down her
Four hours later, Will Riker sat in the
center chair on the Soyuz' s bridge, staring at the viewscreen as if hoping he
could catch a glimpse of the Astons Space Research Facility, still an hour's
travel away. He glanced over his
shoulder. "Mr. Dimonelli?
Any response to our hails?"
The security officer shook his head in
frustration. "No sir. There appears to be some sort of signal interference, and
Star Fleet Command reports no further communication."
Riker said softly to himself . He
hated going into a situation with no information.
The operations officer spoke up in her gravelly voice.
"Long Range Sensors indicate no unusual activity in the system ,
sir...The space station appears intact..."
Thompson had been working furiously at the
communications console for the last ten minutes and he finally looked up
triumphantly. "Sir, I was
able to override the signal interference.
I have the base commander on audio."
Riker shot his first officer a look of approval.
Maybe the man would prove his worth after all.
The conversation with the base commander
was puzzling. According to him
there had been no attacks. They
were experiencing a disruption of communications, but otherwise everything was
perfectly normal. He had no idea
who had reported an emergency to Star Fleet.
Will rubbed a hand over his beard, deep in thought.
It had seemed logical that there might be an attack on a research
facility making breakthroughs in warp theory...there were a
lot of groups out there who would pay dearly for any new Federation
technology. A sudden thought
occurred to him. Of course.
It was a carefully set trap to lure the Soyuz, with all it's new bells
and whistles and flaunted technological advances.
He gave the order to go to red alert and raise shields only moments
before two Romulan warbirds decloaked, racing towards them with a menacing
beauty and power.
Phil Chao sat back in his seat and watched the
reactions of those around him. They
were a young crew, and some of them had never even seen a Romulan warship
before. They had an untested ship
and a captain they barely knew. A
difficult situation at best.
Thomson left the communications console and
rushed to his seat. "What are we going to do, sir?" He demanded of Riker.
Riker paused a split second and then smiled
grimly. "We're going to find
out what this baby can do..." He
stood up and began issuing a flurry of orders.
The opening salvo of the Romulans glanced ineffectually off their
shields as the Soyuz plunged abruptly into a screaming dive and loop that no
other Federation vessel could have executed.
It took the Romulans by surprise and they lost valuable seconds
compensating as The Soyuz swept in for a strafing run on the first ship.
The Romulan's shields flared brightly as the new phaser array
compensated for their shield harmonics and struck a crippling blow.
Photon torpedoes from the second ship pounded into the Soyuz, and the
aft shield unexpectedly collapsed. Thomson
barked orders to engineering and damage control as Riker directed a virtuoso
performance of twists and turns and precisely placed bursts of force.
It seemed to last for hours, but it was actually just a matter of
minutes before the first attacking vessel
disintegrated in a blossom of burning plasma and sheared metal.
The second ship withdrew abruptly, cutting their losses and fleeing
into the darkness. A cheer went
up on the bridge.
Will Riker allowed himself a silent prayer of
thanksgiving before turning to the assessment of the damage. To his relief, the Soyuz had escaped relatively unscathed.
There was some damage to the aft portions of decks 3 and 4,
several injuries, but no fatalities.
The Research Station had not faired quite as well.
A stationery target, they'd taken several direct hits from the Romulan
photon torpedoes. Thompson
was hastily pulling together several away teams to render assistance.
Will observed him for a moment. In
the heat of battle the nervous, inflexible officer was a changed man.
Thompson looked up at him, caught his glance and gave Riker an
uncharacteristic grin. "We
kicked their asses, sir."
The captain grinned back at
him. "We did that, Number One." He had Thompson on his side now, he knew.
The command crew of the USS Soyuz was coming together quite nicely.
All that remained was to figure out his perplexing CMO.
Chapter 4 "Romulans"
Riker made it a point to be there in the
transporter room to see the away teams off.
He arrived just as his commander was stepping onto the platform. "Thompson," he said, "I don't want you taking
any unnecessary risks."
The younger man nodded impatiently. "Sir, this is a mission to give aid, not
Riker moved closer to better make his
point. "Thompson, we're
dealing with the Romulans. A race
known for cunning and cold blooded disregard for life.
Especially human life." He
placed the safety of the team in Thompsons hands with an iron look.
"I expect you to be responsible
for the safety of your teams, and I want you to be careful.
The only thing you can take for granted on ANY away mission, is to
expect the unexpected. Dismissed."
Thompson nodded stiffly, feeling like
he had been unfairly reprimanded. "Energize,"
the young first officer said. Riker
watched his crew de-materialize, and realized, for the first time, the
frustration Picard must have felt every time HE had left to go into a
potentially dangerous situation. Riker
saw that Dr. Braxton had arrived during his words of caution to Thompson. She had come to talk to her medic who was leaving on the
second team. He gave her a smile
in prelude to conversation, but the glare she returned him
was so hot it startled him into silence. Instead, he turned and left, shaking his head in perplexity;
wondering again what her problem with him could possibly be.
Will knew he needed to straighten it out whatever it was, but it was
secondary until this situation on the station was stabilized.
He returned to the bridge to coordinate the repairs to the ship.
Cecily watched Captain's receding back as
he left the transporter room. Just
having him so near had brought all of her conflicting emotions boiling
dangerously close to the surface. She
realized that she needed to talk with Phil about this before her ability to
perform her duty was compromised, except that now she was unsure whether she
could trust him or not. Captain
Riker's personality seemed like such a contradiction.
His command style was sure and strong, and she was very comfortable
with that; and after his brilliant maneuvers with their untried ship he definitely had the bridge crew sewn up in his back pocket.
But when not in command mode he seemed so warm and friendly that even
stuffy old Thompson had loosened up!
Braxton fretted over what seemed like an untenable situation.
"How could someone so good be so... so without conscience,"
she asked herself for the tenth time. The
redhead didn't have any more answers for herself now then when she asked
herself the question the first time. Exhausted,
she went to her quarters to take a short nap.
The double shift she'd pulled
was now extracting it's price. She
was worn out.
Three hours after he had seen the
away team off, Will leaned back exhausted against the padded wall of the
hologym. Sweat soaked his workout
togs and burned as it ran into his eyes.
The Klingon exercise routine he'd put into the gym's system had proved
to be far more challenging, both physically and emotionally, then he'd
expected. His mind had been
unexpectedly filled with rage from the first swing of the Bat'laff, imagining
his opponent to be a certain Klingon commander on the Enterprise.
Consequently his reactions were a little off, and he'd severely
wrenched his neck in an effort to avoid being skewered by the huge
Klingon. Cursing his own
stupidity, he tapped his comm badge.
Riker's voice pierced the cobwebs
of sleep that fogged her brain.
"Yes sir?" she
replied, trying to keep the sleepiness out of her voice.
"Can I see you in hologym
four?" he asked.
"Of course sir, on
my way." Cecily walked
quickly to the bathroom and scrubbed her face, running a brush through her
Will slid dejectedly to the floor
with his back to the wall, finally giving in to self-pity.
He carefully rationed these moments of introspection, aware that if he
let himself think about her too much he would lose himself in a black pit of
depression. He'd hoped that
leaving the Enterprise would make leaving her easier, but it only seemed to
make his loneliness more unbearable. At
least on the Enterprise he could have her in his life in a small way.
"Deanna-" he murmured to himself. Even the sound of her name hurt.
Cecily paused outside the
gym door, arming herself with her most professional demeanor.
The privacy lock was not on, but she touched the comm pad anyway. "Captain Riker?"
Will straightened up.
He'd almost forgotten that he'd called Dr. Braxton.
Not that his neck was so bad...but he thought he could use the
opportunity to iron out whatever was going on with his CMO.
"Come in." He
She stepped cautiously in
the door. There was no program
running, and it took her a second to notice Riker, sitting against the wall.
He was wearing nothing but a loose-fitting pair of white karate-style
pants, and his skin glistened with sweat.
Cecily had a sickening flashback to the scene with Vinson and Riker's
words "I intend stay on her longer than Vinson did..."
"Yes sir?" She
He studied her a moment,
realizing what time it was. "I'm
sorry. I woke you, didn't I? I
She refused to be swayed
by his attempt at a show of human concern.
"You needed something, sir?"
He nodded, and felt the
twinge in his neck. "Yes.
I pulled a muscle...but the real reason I wanted to see you is because
I'm concerned that somehow we got off on the wrong foot..."
He gestured for her to sit down , but she remained steadfastly
"We're going to be working
very closely with each other doctor..." He went on, ignoring her fierce
expression. "And I would prefer to have
a comfortable personal, as well as professional, relationship with
Cecily swallowed her outrage with
difficulty. He was so damned
smooth! If she hadn't overheard
his boast to Geordi she might actually have believed him.
Her voice, when she spoke, was frigid.
"Captain, I assure you that I will perform my professional duties
to the utmost of my ability, but I have no desire to have any sort of personal
relationship with you."
He was tired.
He was stressed. And he
was thoroughly confused by this woman. Absently
he rubbed at his neck.
said you had a pulled muscle?" She
asked crisply, hoping to get this over and done with.
He looked up at her, "I hurt my neck. I think I need a hypospray--or
a massage. I was wondering if you
could take a look at it for me."
eyes narrowed as she glared at him with open disgust.
He was making fun of her, taking
up where Vinson had left off. "You
bastard!" She snarled and
wheeled, leaving him looking after her in confusion as the doors to the
holodeck closed with finality behind her.
great..." He said aloud, dropping his head wearily back into his hands
and wondering what he'd done to deserve this.
A few minutes later he roused himself.
He showered and pulled on a fresh uniform, his depression slowly
dissipating to be replaced with pure irritation.
He could understand a little standoffishness but Braxton was being
completely unreasonable, and as his aching neck reminded him, it was
interfering with the performance of her duty. Will arrived on the bridge and
spent a few minutes confirming that all was well with the away team and
familiarizing himself a few of the second-shift bridge crew that he'd not yet
met. Satisfied that all was well
for the moment, he went into his ready room and tapped his comm badge.
"Dr. Braxton, to the bridge."
like she took a long time to get there, and coupled with the shooting pains in
his neck, it only made him angrier. He
let her buzz the door twice before he called her in.
She stood rigidly inside the door, looking at his back as he stared out
the viewport at the starbase below them.
"I prefer to
stand." She replied, hating the slight tremor in her voice, and
hoping he didn't notice.
He turned and
said icily, "I said sit, Lt. Commander!"
She sat down
in the chair closest to the door, her hazel eyes blazing defiantly.
He sat behind
his desk and locked her with his own icy blue eyes. "I want to know what the hell is going on."
He said quietly. "Your conduct has been..." he searched for a word
and finally settled on "unacceptable".
It didn't quite convey his feelings, but it sounded a hell of a lot
more professional than what he was thinking. "I've found nothing in your
previous record to indicate that you are an uncooperative or insubordinate
officer, so I can only conclude that you have some sort of personal problem
with me. I want to hear what it
Cecily shook her
head in disbelief and disgust. "I
think we both know what the problem is."
She answered, raising her voice a little more than she intended to.
rarely lost his temper, but he felt it slipping away from him now.
"Just what the hell are you talking about, doctor?"
up, straightening to her full 5'4" height.
"I'm talking about your immature, egotistical,
was aware that she was now practically shouting, and not being terribly
eloquent, but she was so angry she was beyond caring.
stood up too, confusion warring with outrage.
"What attitude doctor? What
have I ever done to you?" He
demanded. "I don't even know you!"
that why you left the Enterprise for the Soyuz?"
She demanded hotly. "Some
poor woman had finally had enough and was making it uncomfortable for
was dumbfounded and his face showed it. How
did she know about Deanna? And
what could it possibly have to do with her?
"I don't think my personal life is any business of yours..."
He said thickly.
took his pole-axed expression as confirmation.
What the hell was wrong with Starfleet Command?
Was the Soyuz earmarked for some reason, as the ship for officers
fleeing sexual harassment charges? She
leaned across his desk to emphasize her words.
"Believe me Captain, I want nothing to do with your so-called
personal life," she snarled.
Will Riker was
treading the very fine line between anger and rage.
He knew that if he said anything more to this infuriating woman that he
would regret it later. He took a
deep breath and drilled her with his glare.
"I have business to attend to doctor; however we will continue
this conversation later. In the
meantime, I suggest that if you can't handle me or my command style, that you
seriously consider applying for an immediate transfer off this ship.
"Dismissed," he snapped, but left before Cecily could even
get turned around.
Riker left the command center, his
shoulders stiff with barely restrained anger and his face flushed with the
heat of emotions held in check. "Damn
her," he thought, forcing himself to breathe slowly in through his nose.
He watched the bridge crew quickly avert their eyes as he searched the
room with his gaze. He reddened even more, absolutely certain that they'd gotten
an earful; even if they hadn't heard the precise conversation.
"Atten...," he began before being interrupted by Ensign Gen's
earnest voice from the con.
"Sir, we're getting an emergency
transmission from the station, coded!"
Riker snapped to attention.
"Unscramble, Ensign and let's
hear it." The young woman
nodded, all else forgotten. Riker
heard the swish of the command center door, and felt Cecily's presence as she
moved up behind him.
Gen, "this band is weak, but we should be able to hear well enough."
listening carefully. "Thompson
to Riker, we are under attack..... ambushed..... injuries...."
The transmission was weak and breaking apart. "Use shuttle... bay open...
Need your help to......" The
transmission ended abruptly. Riker
tapped his comm badge and called the transporter chief.
"Chief Griggs, can you get a lock on the away teams?"
Griggs replied after several
moments, "Negative sir, There's a shield of some sort emitting from
inside the station, and it's disrupting the
flow of the transporter beams. It
would be difficult to hold their patterns intact.... if not impossible."
Riker made up his mind
quickly and snapped out orders. "Lieutenant-Commander
Gresheir, you have the bridge." He
tapped his comm badge, "Engineering, We've got a 'situation' - we need
this ship ready for any type of maneuvers - pronto.
Dimonelli, assemble another team and meet me at shuttle bay two."
He looked at Gresheir, "be
ready to take evasive action if necessary. Doctor,
grab your med-kit and meet me in shuttle bay two; and be ready for
casualties," he said, looking pointedly at Baxter.
She met his eyes steadily and nodded, shoving their differences to the
side. . "Right. Lets go
then." He strode confidently
from the bridge.
It was the late shift, and things
were quiet on the Enterprise bridge. Deanna
had requested that her shift be changed temporarily.
She had wanted to escape the awkwardness she felt about being on the
bridge during the day shift that she and Will had shared together for so long.
Deanna closed her eyes, trying again for the hundredth time to sense
him. But all she felt was the
vast emptiness of space which was a perfect foil for the desperate emptiness
in her heart. She had been
so shocked at Will's decision to leave and the unexpected suddenness of his
departure, that she hadn't been able to say anything to him privately before
he left. She had always known
that he was hurt by her involvement with Worf, but she had carefully avoided
looking too deeply, not wanting to feel responsible for his pain while she
enjoyed the novelty of her new relationship.
But when Will had left, the grief of his absence had taken her by
surprise, and cut through her with a vengeance.
It was like the pain of a missing limb... A phantom pain.
She couldn't share it with Worf. She
couldn't share it with anyone. Will's
presence, her sense of him was gone, erased as if it had never been.
It was like he'd been cut from her soul by phantom surgery.
But now that the numbness had worn off, it hurt.
It hurt like hell.
They stepped out of the shuttle into the station's
shuttlebay, Cecily following closely behind the Captain's reassuringly broad
back, her eyes scanning nervously for Romulans.
This was her first personal combat outside of the holo, but her medical
experience had made her sharply aware of the very real dangers of Romulan
disrupters, not to mention all the other *personal* hand to hand weapons they
liked to carry. Unluckily enough
for them, their opponents needed little aside from their immense physical
strength when dealing with such a relatively light weight species as humans.
Their bone density and muscle mass nearly doubled that of their human
adversaries. Riker's forward progress stopped and he froze in front of her.
Cecily was following so closely that she bumped into his back.
Mumbling an apology he didn't acknowledge, she kept her eyes glued to
him. He seemed intent on
something at the far end of the shuttlebay.
"Cover me," he whispered, dashing for a large shipment of
crates. There was no shooting
directed at him, and then no further sound at all.
She waited anxiously, wondering if Riker had already been captured.
Suddenly he stuck his head out and motioned them forward.
She felt Dimonelli give her back a reassuring pat, and she made a mad
dash for Riker's position. She
skidded into the crevice he was in, gulping air as she settled down next to
him. Her nervous energy was
making her pulse race. He glanced
at her with a worried smile, "Next time doctor, keep your head down, and
your arms closer to your body. Change
your course while you run too. It
gives them a smaller target." She
nodded vigorously, inching closer, feeling vaguely comforted by the warmth of
his large bulk. He seemed not to
notice. Their differences were
buried and forgotten during their shared danger.
"Dimonelli," he said when he and the others had arrived at
their position, "We're going to split apart from here.
Take your team and search the other shuttle bays... They've got to have
shuttle craft here somewhere. Disable
them when you find them... Than search the outer hull of the station.
And be careful," he cautioned needlessly. "Braxton, " he said, "we'll work our way to
the center and look for Thompson and LaForge's teams as we go...
Than we'll travel backwards from there... Taking out as many Romulans
as we can on our way out." He
looked at Dimonelli and gave him a reassuring look, "keep in contact with
the ship Rafael, and don't try to be a hero!
Remember this station has twenty-six civilians."
The handsome Italian's grin showed
whitely against his dark face, "Aye sir.
Will do." The
security chief silently motioned to his team, and they slipped through the
shuttlebay doors, and on into the station.
LaForge clutched his arm tightly, trying to
avoid moving what he knew must be a broken wrist.
He'd been caught off guard by a small patrol while trying to reach the
engineering section, and hadn't even gotten off one shot.
The Romulan who had grabbed his wrist had given a seemingly effortless
twist, and Geordi had been driven to his knees by the sickening pain of the
bone giving way. They'd taken him
to an officer in the stations sickbay, where they had apparently set up one of
their command centers. He watched
the Romulan through slitted eyes as he dismantled the console. Wondering what he was up to, he edged a little closer.
The door opened suddenly and another officer strode in.
He was holding a terrified little girl under his arm.
Geordi started to move but immediately froze as the first Romulan
trained his disrupter on him. Geordi's
stomach lurched. He seen
what a close range disrupter could do to human flesh, and he wasn't
anxious to learn from personal experience if it was as painful as it had
looked. The two officers seemed
to be continuing an ongoing argument . "I
say we take the research and leave now," the smaller one said.
"No!" the other snarled. "Command would not look kindly on us if we passed up
this opportunity to take valuable hostages with us.
Riker and his new prototype is too good of an opportunity to pass
The first one stiffened, but then finally nodded
his resignation. "All right,
but we will get a chance to question him before we turn him over.
Geordi cringed inwardly at the bigger Romulans
expression, something between anger and lust.
"Of course... it's a long way to Romulus-is it not?"
The smiles they exchanged were pure malevolence.
Geordi sent up a quick prayer for Riker's safety as well as his own.
He clutched the heavy metal ornament in the palm of his hand.
Waiting for his opportunity to use it.
Riker and Cecily lay squeezed against the
bulkhead, both panting heavily. Sweat soaked their uniforms through, and they
squirmed vainly to try and give each other more room.
They were sandwiched in between two lockers, in a tiny space that was
really only half big enough for one of them.
Riker grinned widely at her, adrenaline still surging through his
system. She didn't return his
grin, but was grateful for his company all the same.
They'd been following the signal from LaForge's comm badge, but had
been surprised by a group of Romulan soldiers just outside the transporter
room. Proceeding to lead
them in a running fire fight through the corridors of the station; Riker had
showed Cecily how to double back, teaching her guerrilla tactics as they went
along. Cecily's training
automatically took over as she targeted the Romulans, killing them like she'd been doing it for years instead of hours.
She and the Captain had just dispatched the last two.
She exhaled the breath she'd been holding, her enmity buried deeply in
the heat of the moment. "All
right, Doc," Riker said, reading his tricorder.
"This shows that Geordi's only about ten meters from here." She read the concern for his friend in his face but said
nothing. Cecily liked Geordi from
the little she knew of him. She
agreed with Dr. Crushers assessment of the sturdy engineer. He was a sweetheart. They
moved silently down the corridor, phasers drawn and all senses alert.
Riker stopped suddenly in front of the stations sick bay door.
Cecily's stomach roiled, tying itself in knots.
The door slid silently open without
warning, catching them both by surprise.
The large Romulan stared at Riker, apparently just as surprised at
seeing the human before him. Will, knowing he couldn't win against any Romulan
in a close proximity situation, couldn't allow the surprise to wear off. He clasped his hands together and swung them up under the
Romulan's chin, knocking him backwards a few steps. Lowering his head, he crashed into the humanoids hard abdomen
with his shoulder, hearing the Romulans breath leave him in a satisfying
whoosh. They both tumbled further
into the room and Riker quickly jumped up out of grappling distance, seeing
the flash of a knife as he leaped sideways.
His quick reflexes had saved him from being gutted by the nasty
serrated instrument, but they weren't quite fast enough to allow him a clean
escape. His breath hissed as his
vision blurred momentarily as the knife sliced hotly across his flesh as
though through butter. The long
shallow wound flowed from his sternum, and
curved down along his ribs. Painful
and bloody, but not serious he thought. He
fleetingly hoped that there was
nothing poisonous tainting the blade. His
vision cleared just as the Romulan's fist connected with his side.
He felt ribs give way, and spun, kicking out from his good side at the
Romulans head.. He felt the shock
travel up his leg as his foot connected with a satisfying crunch.
That's when he saw the other Romulan.
He was holding his disrupter to a little girl's head.
She couldn't have been more than four, but Riker knew with sickening
certainty that the Romulan would regard her as an expendable pawn. He froze momentarily until he heard Geordi's yell,
"Heads up Captain." Riker
ducked, gasping at the fiery pain in his side.
The Romulan cried out and then dropped his disrupter, sliding
bonelessly into a heap; blood ran down the side of his face as he lay moaning
Riker took a quick look at the other one who was
still scrambling to his feet. Will
took two running steps and grabbed the terrified child.
Picking her up, he hugged her and whispered a few words of comfort in
her ear before handing her over to the doctor.
"Here," he rasped, his sides still heaving.
"Take her with you and get LaForge to sickbay."
Geordi began to protest, but Riker overrode him.
"I'm going to try and locate Thompson and then rendezvous with
Dimonelli. I want you out of
here. Go back the way we came.
It should be clear."
Riker felled the rising Romulan with
his phaser and Cecily hesitated a moment more.
As crazy as it sounded she felt safer staying with Riker and had no
desire to leave him here to face the Romulans alone.
Geordi grabbed her arm and they were off, sprinting down the corridor
the way she and Riker had just come. Cecily's
back crawled with sick anticipation. At
any moment she expected to be felled by disrupter fire; but they made it back
to the shuttle without further incident.
went forward and slipped into the shuttle's seat to pilot them home
while Cecily knelt, trying to catch her breath as she comforted the
little girl she held. She attempted to pry the sobbing child's arms from around her
neck. Cecily had no idea what the child's injuries were, but she'd seen the
blood on her tunic as Riker had hastily handed her over.
Cecily grabbed her tricorder, running it quickly over the
blood-splattered child. Puzzled,
she turned to Geordi. "She's
not injured!" She exclaimed,
smoothing the girl's blue-hued hair back from her little heart-shaped face.
"Where did all the blood come from?"
Geordi asked, glancing over his shoulder as the shuttle cleared the bay
doors. She knew it was certainly
not from the Romulan. Like
Vulcans, their blood was a deep green color.
"I don't know.
Was the Captain hurt?" Cecily
asked urgently and Geordi turned quickly, his expression mirroring her own
sick horror. It had all happened
so fast that she hadn't had time to notice if the Captain was injured or not.
Cecily quickly checked her tricorder readings against the medical data
she had on file. She looked up at
Geordi grimly. "It's
"We've got to go back for
him!" Laforge said, worry clawing at his gut.
Cicily shook her head, cradling the crying child against her. "We can't take this child back in there Geordi.
You're injured. What could you accomplish besides getting captured again-or
killed? Captain Riker ordered us to leave." Cicily tried to reason with LaForge, despite the fact that
her own heart told her it was wrong to leave their injured Captain.
"Damn it, we shouldn't have left him,"
he said, echoing her own thoughts.
Cicily felt his agony as he tried to weigh orders and the dangers of
returning against the life of his friend and captain...He opened his mouth to
speak and was interrupted by a voice from his communicator.
It was Riker.
"Soyuz away teams,
the station is secure. Good job everyone.
Transport any casualties directly to sickbay.
Watch your backs for a couple minutes more until ship's sensors confirm
there are no additional Romulan hiding in any nooks and crannies...Commander
Thompson will brief you on further orders...Riker out..."
Cicily watched the
smile that bloomed on Geordi's face. It
was like the sun coming out after a storm.
She could feel her own silly grin of relief plastered over her own
face. The chief engineer shook his head and laughed.
"I should have known. Captain
Riker's got nine lives. He always
manages, somehow..." Geordi
turned back to the console, and Cicily concentrated for the moment on the
child, who still clung to her but whose hysterics had subsided into subdued
Will impatiently submitted to the Starbase
medic who slapped a dermaplast over his injury.
He murmured a quick "thanks" to the man and barely paid
attention as the medic reminded him that it was just a temporary measure to
stop the bleeding, and he would need medical attention sooner rather then
later. The Captain's attention
was on Thompson and Dimonelli, both of them looking terribly uncomfortable.
Thompson wiped his sweaty palms on his uniform and said
nervously, "Sir - I
take full responsibility. My away
teams were not sufficiently prepared..."
Dimonelli interrupted him, "Actually, sir,
that's my fault. It's the
security officer's job to ensure that away teams are transporting to a secure
environment. I provided Commander
Thompson with inaccurate information..."
Thompson broke in "Sir - I failed
Riker held up a hand and silenced them
both. He thought for a moment,
choosing his words carefully. "Gentleman,
not so long ago, someone with whom I am very intimately acquainted
accomplished the dubious feat of crash-landing the saucer section of
Starfleet's prized flagship." That
got their attention.
"Afterwards, I blamed myself for
everything that had happened. I
thought I'd monopolized every claim to fault that I could conceive of, until
Captain Picard suggested that I add arrogance to my list.
He told me that the ultimate arrogance was to believe that one could
ever possibly control all the variables in a situation.
We can only control them to the best of our abilities...and sometimes,
well, they control us. I'm
confident that you both did your best in this situation.
Things got out of hand anyway. Maybe
we can all learn some lessons for next time...but I have to tell you, one of
the things I learned is that I've got some fine officers who work well under
don't go getting arrogant on
me." Will Riker touched the
comm badge on his tattered uniform. "One
to beam up." He left behind two surprised and grateful officers.
Will stayed on the bridge for a
little over an hour, until Thompson had returned with most of the Soyuz
personnel. Then, finally
deferring to his first officer who kept making nervous noises about his
injuries, he turned over the comm and stepped into the lift.
He almost swore to himself over Thompson's annoying
over-protectiveness, but had to stop and grin, hearing in his mind the voice
of Jean Luc Picard accusing him
of being a "mother-hen".
Apparently, it was pay back time, he thought wryly.
The topical anesthetic in the bandage
that the medic had applied faded long ago and the raw edges of
his wound burned. He knew
he should go to sickbay, but the comfort of his quarters sounded considerably
more attractive than the company of the brittle Dr. Braxton.
Two minutes later he collapsed face
down on his bed and was almost instantly asleep.
Geordi looked back over his shoulder at Braxton.
"We'll be home in about five minutes."
She nodded, rocking the child gently in her arms
to calm her. She worked up the
courage to ask the engineer the questions that had been burning in her mind
since her experience with the Captain on the station.
"Geordi? You really
like Captain Riker, don't you?"
"You bet I do," he agreed. "He's one of the two best officers I've ever known...and
he's a good man. Off duty he's
generally pretty easy-going, and he has a great sense of humor. But one of the things I appreciate about him the most is that
he really cares about people."
Cecily Braxton was quiet for a
moment, trying to reconcile Geordi's words with the Riker she thought she
knew. Something occurred to her.
"Geordi- what's the REAL reason he left the Enterprise - I mean,
the general consensus seemed to be that he was pretty much going to stay there
until Picard turned over command to him..."
"Personally, I think it was Deanna."
Cecily was surprised to find
herself a little disappointed. After
Riker's heroic performance down on the Starbase she'd almost been hoping her
suspicions about him would prove ungrounded.
"A crew member?"
The Chief Engineer nodded.
"Yeah. The ship's
counselor. They had a
relationship that went back years. Back
to when the Captain was just a lieutenant.
They kept things platonic while they were both on the Enterprise, but
they were really very close. I
guess that they had other casual relationships, but it was just sort of always
understood that they'd end up together
And then Deanna and our Security Officer started a relationship. It was getting pretty serious," Geordi paused to shake
his head, "and I just don't think Commander--I mean Captain Riker could
stand to stay and watch it happen..."
"You think he was in
love with her?" Cecily asked weakly.
Geordi didn't hesitate.
"Doc, I know he was. And
I think he felt he was doing the honorable thing by bowing out and allowing
her be happy with Worf. But I
guarantee you--it's breaking his heart."
Dr. Braxton, who
prided herself on being a good judge of character, buried her face in the hair
of the child she was holding. How
could she have jumped to conclusions and allowed herself to make such wrong
judgments about Riker? "Geordi?"
she added timidly, "He's never been accused of sexual harassment that you
know of, has he?"
Laforge gave her an
amused look. "Will Riker? No
way. I heard your last captain
pulled some of that garbage at his previous command.
But I never heard anyone accuse Captain Riker of anything like that,
and I wouldn't believe them if I did. He
can be a really demanding CO, but he makes a point of treating people with
respect." Geordi shook his
head. "But he has always had
the damnedest luck with the ladies."
Geordi Laforge turned his attention back to piloting the shuttle as
they neared the Soyuz, carefully following the traffic controllers
instructions. Cicily closed her
eyes and groaned softly to herself "I
am such an idiot!" The child
in her lap looked up at her with large, curious eyes.
For the first three hours after
Cicily set foot back on the Soyuz she didn't have time to think, eat or do
anything other then take care of the steady stream of away team members and
civilians from the Starbase; whose injuries
ranged from disrupter burns to bumps and bruises.
It was only when she finally had a chance to sit back and take stock
that she realized she still hadn't seen the Captain.
Captain William Riker," she
requested. The computer indicated
that the Captain was in his quarters. She
shook her head at his obstenance and gathered up her med kit and her courage,
informing the nurse she would return shortly.
Chapter 5 "New Beginning"
Cecily arrived at the Captains quarters and
nervously touched the door chime. Waiting
for about a minute, she tried it again with the same results, nothing.
"Maybe our paths crossed," she thought hopefully.
"Computer, locate Captain Riker."
The androgynous voice answered,
"Captain Riker is in his quarters."
Growing somewhat alarmed, she tried his
door again. No one opened it and
no voice answered her query. "That's
it--I'm going in," she decided, her imagination picturing him passed out
in a pool of blood. "Computer,
medical override, Baxter, Cecily, Omega two seven five."
The door slid open with no further protest.
The first thing she noticed when she walked in was a huge pile of
crates, boxes and books laying in the center of what should have been his
living room. Stepping around it,
she went to the bedroom. There he
was curled up on the bed, his arm curved protectively over his right side.
What had once been his uniform tunic was now a wasted piece of fabric that
hung in shreds off his shoulders.
Cecily swiftly moved to his side and silently ran the medical tricorder over
his body; scanning rapidly to see the extent of his
injuries. Moderate blood
loss, three cracked ribs, and a rather nasty laceration which seemed to
already be infected. The
doctor stood rooted to the spot, flooded by waves of mortification for having
treated him so badly. She
remembered vividly now his expression of hurt anger and confusion during their
last altercation. Her
guilt robbed her of the ability
to be annoyed with him for not seeking medical attention.
Watching him as he slept, she hated
to wake him, but he really needed to be treated in sickbay.
"Captain," she said softly, her hand reaching out to touch
He stirred, the movement causing him
to wince with pain. "Deanna,"
he sighed softly and covered her hand with his own.
Cecily bit her lip, hating
herself. "Captain, it's me,
Riker's eyes fluttered and
cracked open the merest slit. "Braxton,"
he said, a mask of indifference sliding over the handsome features that had
seemed so vulnerable moments before. "Braxton,"
he said again, resignedly.
Will had expected to see Deanna, after all,
he'd been talking to her just moments
When he realized it had just been another dream, his face
Riker turned his aching head slowly, scanning the room from side to
side, remembering now that he had come to his quarters instead of sickbay.
He sighed deeply, unable to restrain the expression of his dismay.
He forced a tired smile, trying to put a good face on things.
"Doctor, to what do I owe the honor of this visit?"
Braxton looked at him strangely. "Captain, I was concerned when you didn't show up in
sickbay for treatment of your injuries. Thompson
told me that you needed medical attention."
"Ah yes," he said, musing aloud,
"Good ole Thompson. Really
not a bad sort," he said inanely, not knowing what else to say.
His mouth felt as dry as a sand dune, and the light hurt his eyes.
He closed them again, finding that they were too heavy to keep open
"Captain," the persistent voice of the
doctor nagged, "I really need to take you to sickbay.
Can you walk or shall I request a beam-out?"
Riker opened protesting eyelids again,
running his tongue over cracked lips. "I'm
really so tired doctor. Can't you
please do whatever it is you're going to do in here?"
Cecily didn't answer him directly, and
decided to take a quick look before making her decision.
She cut the remains of his tunic off and carefully peeled back the
dermaplast on his chest and ribs. Riker
blanched and sucked his breath in quickly as he bit back the expression of
pain that had come as far as his lips. The
tricorder showed increasing respiration and heart rate.
Not surprising when she knew how much his injuries were hurting him.
She quickly pulled a narcotic based hypospray
out of her kit and administered it. Cecily was satisfied only when she
saw the lines of pain on his face begin to relax somewhat.
"Better?" she asked him softly. Riker nodded, his eyelids fluttering slowly.
His eyes were drifting into a narcotic haze, like blue pools under
heavy butterfly's wings. She
stared at them for several second before tearing herself away to examine the
knife wound. It was raw and
swollen, it's edges an angry red color which spread outward from the wound for
several inches. A purulent discharge was already mixed in with the serous
fluid oozing from his damaged tissue.
She laid her palms gently on the surrounding skin;
the degree of heat only confirmed the presence of the infection
detected by her tricorder. On
the same side as the knife wound there was an area of swelling where skin had
already turned several shades of purple and blue: marking the spot where the
Romulan had hit him.
"Well, you're in no imminent
danger Captain," Cecily said soothingly as she watched him drifting in
and out; his lips moving with hidden messages she imagined were for 'Deanna.' Making her decision, she called sickbay.
"Ensign Dabba," she said, "I'll need some things brought
to the Captain's quarters to treat his injuries." She proceeded to give
him a list, and then sat in the chair she had pulled up to the edge of Riker's
Three hours later Will Riker stirred and
opened his eyes, staring up at the unfamiliar ceiling of his new quarters.
He turned to see her walking
into the room, a slight smile on her face.
Vaguely, he thought to himself how very pretty she looked when she
smiled. "Hi." He
croaked hoarsely in reply, sitting up and trying to shake the cobwebs from his
sat down in the chair beside the bed and offered him a glass of juice.
Drink this. You're very
He accepted the glass and drank
deeply, the cool liquid soothing his parched throat. He looked at her over the
rim of the glass, wondering at her mild expression.
For once she didn't seem angry with him.
She saw him watching her and shifted
uncomfortably. His piercing blue
eyes had an unsettling effect. Taking
refuge in professionalism she picked up her tricorder and quickly scanned him. "You're doing fine.
Your ribs are mended, your laceration is healed and the infection is
under control. You
should be able to return to duty by tomorrow morning, IF you agree to take it
He continued to look at her without
comment. Cecily took a deep
breath and met his gaze. "Captain.
I really owe you a huge apology..."
He didn't answer and she sighed. He wasn't going to make this as easy for her as she hoped.
"There-- there was a misunderstanding
I heard a lot about your
reputation before you arrived. And
well, I know you're aware of Captain Vinson's rep..."
He looked surprised.
"I am. But what has
his reputation got to do with mine?"
She squirmed uncomfortably. "I
overheard a conversation between you and
Geordi - in the corridor.
You were talking about Vinson-- and I misinterpreted what I
heard - I thought you approved
of his..." She trailed off, unable to say it.
Will Riker shook his head in
negation. "Whatever else
Capt. Vinson was, I think his
conduct towards his crew members on the Lantana was a disgrace and he should
have been court-martialed for abusing his power."
Cecily stared out the viewport rather
than looking at him. "..I
also thought that Phil Chao told you about what happened here"
Riker leaned forward.
"You mean on the Soyuz?"
She stood and turned her back on him,
taking another deep breath. "I
mean right here." Quietly,
she related the story of being called to the captain's quarters. When she finished Will rubbed a hand over his face, not sure
what to say.
Now that the worst was out she
found herself able to continue. She
told him what she'd overheard in the corridor.
Embarrassed, but forging on, she told him how she'd misinterpreted his
friendly overtures, and explained her fears regarding when he'd called her to
the deserted holodeck for his neck injury...
Behind her, she heard Will Riker swear softly,
and for a moment she thought he was angry with her.
She heard him get slowly up from the bed.
He came to stand beside her, reaching out to touch her shoulder, but
stopping short, not sure if the touch would be welcome.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity to her, he spoke.
"Damn it doctor, you shouldn't have had to go through that kind of
crap. I'm sorry..."
Cecily turned and looked up
into his face, wondering how she had ever seen anything malevolent in his
sympathetic blue eyes. "I
guess I need to talk to Phil about this some more..." She said
apologetically. "I promise,
I'm not usually such a witch..."
He grinned mischievously if
somewhat tiredly. "God
that's a relief. You really had
me scared there for a bit."
She had to laugh at his
expression of mock relief. "Geordi was right.
You are a nice guy." He
bowed theatrically and she added wryly "Unfortunately,
Beverly Crusher was also right."
He frowned quickly. "What
did she tell you?"
She bit back a
smile. "She attached a note
to your medical file. She said
you were a terrible patient."
He was about
to protest when her comm badge beeped. "Dr.
Braxton? You asked to be informed when Mr. Stavok regained
way." Cecily said briskly,
gathering up her med bag. Giving Riker a severe glare she nodded towards the
bed. "You're on medical
leave until I check you out in sickbay tomorrow morning.
Now get back to bed Captain."
Raising his hands in defeat he collapsed back into bed as she headed
for the door.
Chapter Six "The Ball"
Several months had passed since the Romulan
incident on the space station. Riker
became intimately familiar with his ship and crew as Starfleet sent them on a
variety of missions that allowed them to test the full capabilities of the new
ship. They responded
well to his relaxed style of command, although Will
felt a little less free to joke around as a Captain than he had as a
First Officer. Eventually though,
he found the right balance of authority and camaraderie.
Poker games for the senior officers became a much anticipated weekly
event. He held the games in his quarters, the same way he had on the
Enterprise. He found it an
invaluable tool for getting to know the people who served under him; and it
certainly helped him to relax.
Surprisingly, his most challenging opponent
turned out to be Phil Chao. The
sage counselor claimed he was just lucky, but Riker suspected that his long
career trying to decipher people's feelings and motivations had given him a
real edge. Will often took
his dinner with Phil and his xenobiologist wife of thirty years, in their
cozily decorated quarters. Tessa
and Phil's casual warmth and everyday common sense approach to life appealed
very much to Will's own practical philosophy.
It hadn't taken him long before he began to confide them, and to Phil
in particular, about his unfinished business with Deanna.
Tessa finished dinner and arose, leaning over to kiss
her husband on top of his head and giving Will a wink. "I have to run, dears.
Oil Painting class tonight - and heaven knows, the way I paint I can't
afford to miss a lesson." She
bustled out, bristling with brushes and paints as the two men leaned back in
their chairs, savoring an after-dinner drink.
"I envy you."
Will said at last. "What
The counselor smiled.
"Then make it happen for you Will.
I was 43 before Tessa and I met...You've got all the time in the world,
The captain shook his head.
"No. Deanna and I ran
out of time." He sighed
heavily. "I thought that
leaving would help me forget Phil," Will said running his hand over his
face, "but I haven't forgotten a damn thing.
The memories are so clear. And
the emotions are still so strong." Riker
Phil leaned back and eyed the Captain for a moment
before speaking. "Does it
still tear your heart out every time you think about her, Will?"
Riker looked down at his hands, his eyes unexpectedly
tearing up. "No, no-- not
all the time like before," he said, his voice roughened by emotion. "Just
sometimes, usually unexpectedly. Like
sucker punch." He looked up
and grimaced. "But most of
the time, when I think of her, I just feel unbearably sad."
Will sat up straighter and threw up his hands.
"And sometimes I'm really angry. At her-at myself-at fate.
But I guess that's a step up from where I started," he said, a
glimmer of his old smile showing.
Phil returned his smile and was silent for
a moment. Giving Will a chance to
think and to get anything else out that might be rattling around inside.
He'd learned long ago that counseling involved far more listening then
advising. He knew that if given
the opportunity to discuss their feelings with someone who cared, people more
often then not seemed to find their own answers in the process.
Sometimes, he'd found, the less said the better.
Phil long ago had decided that he was more of a tour guide than an
advisor; helping people who had lost their way to find it again.
Usually all it took was a big old ear attached to a very soft heart.
He cleared his throat. "Grief
is funny Will. It's the same for
everyone, and it's different for everyone.
I'll never really be able to understand or truly feel the real depth of
your grief for the loss of your Imzadi. You're
experiencing all the classic
stages Will. Shock, denial,
anger. And finally
acceptance." Phil leaned
forward and closed the space between them.
"Everyone experiences these stages during healthy, normal grieving
Will. But no one experiences them
the same way, or for the same amount of time.
Or, to the same depths of despair."
The counselor looked at his friend with wise and compassionate eyes,
"I've known much grief in my life Will, but that doesn't mean that I know
exactly how you feel. But I can
be here for you. Whenever you
need me. And I can promise you
that eventually you'll work through this.
I'm not saying you'll ever be the same.
But the human heart is a marvelous thing.
It can find solace in the most unexpected places."
Will and Phil sat in comfortable
silence for two or three minutes. Then
Will leaned forward, arms resting on his knees, looking down as he asked,
"Phil, what do you think about officers who serve together on the same
Phil raised his eyebrows... "Which
officers do you mean Will? I've
really grown quite attached to all of you."
Will gave a snort of disgust and shook his
head violently. "No no.
That's not what I meant to say... I mean, what about *relationships*
between officers who are serving together?"
Phil frankly enjoyed baiting the
younger man and couldn't resist it this time.
"You mean, as in romantic liaisons?"
He asked with straight faced diplomacy.
Riker's face reddened and he stood
up, wandering around the room as he spoke.
"Yes, romantic liaisons," he grumbled.
Phil answered with a perfectly
straight face. "Well,
speaking as a professional, I think that
if the persons involved are stable, and aren't engaging in
any criminal activity......."
He watched Will's double take with glee.
Phil knew exactly what Will was driving at... It was the same issue
that the ships CMO was grappling with in his office just the day before.
"Just kidding Will. Of
course I think it's OK.. If
you want my opinion, I think that ANY relationship on board has the ability to
effect a crew members performance. If
you got into a fight with your best friend, it's GOING to effect your other
relationships and possibly your job performance as well.
Hopefully, if you're well adjusted, you'll work out the problems, and
get on with things in a normal fashion."
Rikers attention had become riveted on the counselor.
"Male- female relationships are wee bit more complicated, I agree;
however I don't think that serving together on the same ship should mean that
you can't ever have a relationship with one of your shipmates."
Phil gave Will a mock glare, made all the more effective by the aid of
his bushy white eyebrows. "Of
course YOU will have to be more discrete, AND more careful than most
officers.. Because you're Captain, and the morale of this ship rests on
you." He stopped, reading
the transparent look of relief on Will's face.
"Any MORE questions Will?"
Riker shook his head with chagrin and
grinned self consciously. Phil
smiled. "As I said - the
human heart can find solace in the most unexpected places - even on the bridge
of a starship...or in sickbay." He
winked at Riker's startled glance
It was odd, that given his attraction
to her, Will's relationship with Dr. Cecily Braxton was if anything, more
formal than those with any other member of his command team.
He supposed that it was partially because he was conscious of doing
anything that smacked of over-familiarity.
He also had no desire to make her feel threatened in any way, or to
offend her sensitive nature. Will
didn't want her to be reminded of her horrible experience with Captain Vinson
in any way. He continued to
address her as "Dr. Braxton" and she called him "Captain",
although she had a way of saying it that made his spine tingle.
They worked extremely well together,
and he found himself admiring her quiet and graceful manner of dealing with
her patients and her fellow officers. The
contrast to the side of her he'd first seen was remarkable.
She was generally quite soft-spoken and calm, even in the face of
impending disaster. He found
himself thinking, more and more, that she was remarkably beautiful but he
couldn't figure out just why. She
was more slender than his usual "type" and her reddish hair was
straight and cut in a practical chin-length style.
Her eyes were hazel, and her features even and unremarkable.
He could tell from the way she carried herself that she did not think
she was beautiful - and yet lately he often found himself admiring her and
even indulging in some very unprofessional fantasies about what it would be
like to kiss her, or run his fingers through her copper-colored tresses.
got to know each other cautiously. He
found she liked jazz, and when he occasionally played with a few of the other
musicians on board she was always there.
He loved watching her enjoy the music - he supposed that was the dancer
in her. Several times he'd come
upon her in the hologym practicing at the bar.
He'd watched her once for almost a full five minutes, until she had
realized he was there- and then it had been a toss up as to which of them was
more embarrassed by the incident.
He knew she loved
children, and volunteered in the school for a few hours each week, teaching
them about health and often reading to the littlest of them.
He did that occasionally himself, and he remembered how she'd grinned
at him one day when she'd walked in on his rendition of "The Three Billy
Goats Gruff" and heard his enthusiastic voicing of the brave biggest
billy goat. She'd piped in as the
horrible, mean troll and they'd had the kids laughing and giggling with
he'd managed to stay relatively healthy and uninjured since the incident at
the space station; a circumstance he almost regretted, because it robbed him
of the opportunity to be the recipient of her gentle ministrations.
He grinned to himself. Beverly
Crusher would be astonished if she knew he actually wanted to go to sickbay
Cecily Braxton was fully aware of Captain William Riker's past reputation as a "ladies
man" and although she found him attractive in the extreme, she seriously
doubted that he'd have any interest in someone like her.
Still, unless her imagination was working overtime, it seemed as if he
reserved a special look for her; and several of her friends had commented that
the Captain acted differently around her.
Anyway, it was a nice fantasy to indulge in, and she indulged often.
Cecily thought he was absolutely gorgeous.
His constantly changing blue eyes were mesmerizing, and she'd even
written a poem about them which she promptly ripped up before anyone could
happen upon it. She laughed at
her own dreamy romanticism. She
loved his body- tall, strong and muscular, and his dazzling smile had the
ability to freeze her thoughts in their tracks.
Curious, Cecily had called up the
service record of Deanna Troi. She'd
stared at the beautiful Betazoid for a few minutes, wondering what kind of
woman she was that could look at a man like Will Riker and find him wanting. If Cecily had him she'd never break his heart.
She shook her head in disgust at herself and snapped off the computer.
It was silly to waste time in those kind of thoughts, but despite
herself she found them returning often.
Cecily was charmed by his love of music and
poetry; and appreciated his efforts to make the time to get to know everyone
on the ship- not just a few senior officers.
It surprised her when he revealed how much he knew about the details of
people's lives- how many kids Ensign Helch had, and the fact that Lieutenant
Fei had lost her mother in an accident six months ago.
She watched how he let the little children in the pre-school swarm over
him, and she stood with him as he shed tears when they lost two crewmen in a
skirmish with the Romulans. She
adored his laugh, and smiled at the way he good-naturedly teased stodgy old
Thompson into loosening up.
Cecily had even talked to Phil Chao about
it - in very general terms of course. He
listened in that very wise and understanding way he had while she reflected on
the wisdom of pursuing someone she felt was totally out of her league.
Although she mentioned no names, she expected he knew who she was
referring to. There was very
little that the old counselor missed. Phil
took her hands in his, and squeezed them fondly.
"Cecily, my love..." He
called every woman he knew "my love" just as he called all the men
"my boy", aware that his grandfatherly attitude would put it in it's
proper perspective. "Sometimes
we have to take chances in life. Nothing
ventured, nothing gained. You're
an enchanting young woman, and I think that any young man you cared to pursue
would be at the very least, flattered. I
can't pretend to be an expert on courtship since I've been out of circulation
for so long, but I feel fairly sure that the gentleman in question just needs
a little encouragement. He's a
little heart-sore yet, but you do specializing in healing, don't you, my
Advice given, Phil Chao
sat back and waited for something to happen.
Maybe indulging in such matchmaking wasn't completely professional, but
years of experience had told him that sometimes it was best to be a friend
instead of a counselor. Besides,
he had merely stirred the pot that was already brewing.
In the end, a perfect opportunity
presented itself and Will decided to take advantage.
The Soyuz was not just a ship of war.
She received a good share of diplomatic missions as well, in deference
the expertise of her captain. They
were scheduled to attend the coronation of the new ruler of
Qualis III, and Will was invited to attend the celebration ball.
He needed an escort and prevailed, apologetically, on his CMO.
When Will picked her up at her door,
she took his breath away with her beauty.
Cecily and two of her closest friends had spent the previous evening
replicating gown upon gown, until they found the perfect one.
He told her honestly that she was beautiful, and wondered if that was
appropriate. Her shy smile
confirmed that it was all right.
They danced far into the night in the romantic
setting of the Qualis state house. Will
refused to allow others to cut in, and held her much closer than polite
friendship required. Cecily felt like a princess in a fairy tale, borne in the
arms of her handsome prince. She
was sorry when it was time to return to the Soyuz and she wondered if the
evening was going to end in a kiss or a handshake.
Will walked her to her door, and there was an awkward moment.
Finally he smiled that devastating smile of his.
"Thank you for a wonderful evening, Dr. Braxton.
I really enjoyed myself."
Cecily almost winced at his use of her
title instead of her name. Even
after the last few hours he was still clinging to that formality.
Cecily looked up at him, reveling in his nearness and recalling Phil's
words. Nothing ventured, nothing
gained. Moving a step closer to
him she smiled into his eyes. "Captain,
don't you think it's kind of silly to address someone you're about to kiss by
their formal title?"
His mercurial eyes reflected his
surprise, only to be quickly replaced by a twinkle of mischief.
"Then Cecily," he said deliberately, "I guess you better
start calling me Will."
A few moments later, two ensigns on
their way to their posts did a double-take and decided to take another route,
reluctant to disturb the oblivious couple who were kissing passionately in the
corridor outside the CMO's door. Rumors
travel fast on a ship as small as the Soyuz, especially when they involve the
Captain and the Chief Medical Officer. By
the next morning Phil Chao already knew his advice had been taken.
Chapter 7 "Klingon"
Deanna rushed in and hurriedly pulled off
her uniform, pinned up her hair and jumped into the shower...
Lathering herself quickly, she allowed for a few minutes of bliss as
the hot water poured over her skin. The
soap ran down her body and into the reclamation system, taking the tensions
and stresses of her day along with it. She
smiled happily as she remembered her conversation with Captain Picard.
"Deanna," he'd said with his
usual crispness, "I've received news concerning your request to
Starfleet's Division of Psychology."
She'd waited for him to go on, sitting on pins and needles.
"And," he'd said, running his hand quickly over his head,
"They have offered you a prestigious position on their staff as head of
the department of inter-species specialists; with a FULL fellowship that will
allow you to pursue your doctoral studies." Deanna was so pleased and relieved that she had given the
Captain a spontaneous hug, which he uncharacteristically returned, giving her
a kiss on the cheek for good measure. "Deanna,"
he said gently, "I know that this is what you've wanted, and that you've
been unhappy here since Will left."
He raised his hand to silence her protestations.
"I think this is for the best.
The Enterprise is lucky to have had you both.
But Will has finally taken the opportunity to move on with his career
after much prodding on the part of Starfleet Command, and now I think that
it's time you do the same for yourself."
He had then taken her hand in his, giving her one of his rare moments
of unguarded emotion. "But
I'm afraid that we who are left behind here on the Enterprise will deeply feel
the loss of two of the best officers who have ever graced her deck; and I
certainly will personally feel deeply the loss of two of my closest
Deanna smiled again and put her mind
back onto what she needed to get accomplished before Worf arrived. She turned off the
shower and quickly toweled herself dry. Fairly
skipping to the closet and hurriedly flipping through her outfits till she
found the one she wanted. Worf
would be arriving in less than an hour, and she still had to set the table, create the mood, and replicate all the
food. She took her hair down and
left most of it loose, but braided thin leather tongs and bits of silver
ornaments into several sections in the front.
Finally satisfied with the effect, she glanced at herself in the
mirror, admiring the cut of her dress. It
had been one of Will's favorites, and now it was one of Worf's.
She pushed back the twinge she felt at the thought of Will Riker, a
skill that had been coming somewhat easier as time went on.
However, the emptiness in her heart had not gone away, and the lack of
her "sense" of him was still something she grieved for.
It hadn't lessened with time. Deanna
knew that Worf had been both
relieved and upset when Will left the ship.
He'd never said anything about it to her, keeping it to himself with
his usual Klingon reserve, but she knew it just the same.
Her ongoing relationship with Worf had helped her to cope with Will's
departure. And although the
Klingon hadn't been able to stop the dull aching in her heart, he'd been a
good friend, and an interesting lover. But
of course it hadn't been nearly enough to make her fall in love with him.
And his continual desire to subdue her, both sexually and emotionally
was beginning to wear thin. Professionally, she understood that the root of his needs
were primarily the influence of his cultural heritage; making him respond to
her in the way that he did. He
was truly trying to please her, but he was not emotionally capable of the kind
of relationship she craved. She
was beginning to detest his possessiveness, and his relentlessly aggressive
style of lovemaking had failed to satisfy her long ago.
When she had told him today of her
decision to leave the Enterprise, he'd taken it with his usual stoicism,
promising her, when she asked, that he would come to her quarters for dinner. Tonight she wanted to make a special effort to give Worf
everything he had ever wanted from her; because she planned on tonight being
the LAST night she would ever spend with him.
She had everything in place just as the door chime to her quarters
chittered at his arrival.
Worf looked around Deanna's
quarters in disbelief. The lights
were off, and scores of votive candles had been scattered about the room.
They cast their flickering shadows on walls, that instead of being
graced with the normal Betazoid art forms, now hung with various Klingon
artifacts. As he stepped
cautiously into the living room, his ears were greeted by the great love scene
from his favorite Klingon opera, "Mach'na Ka'tooch." It was a piece of music that moved his Klingon soul, and
listening to this particular piece had never failed to stir his blood.
This time proved to be no exception.
"So you finally arrive," Deanna
said disdainfully, her voice several octaves lower than normal as she rose
from the lounging sofa she had been lying on.
She had greeted him with a challenge, as he often had wished she would.
The sight of her, and the aggressive tone in her voice inflamed him,
and he stepped quickly over to the couch to reach for her arm.
"Get back," she growled, surprising the hell out of him.
"I will not let this meal go to waste because of your.....
needs," she said, raking him with a scornful gaze.
Worf let out a growl of suppressed desire, allowing her to rise
unassisted. "Come," she
said, allowing her shoulder to brush against his chest as she passed.
He followed her, enjoying every sultry move of her luscious body. The meal passed in silence, as they each consumed the food
before them. He watched her
hungrily with his eyes, as she tore apart the food on her plate and ate it,
slowly sucking her fingers clean when she'd finished.
He stood up, offering his hand to her... she took it with a look of
contempt and challenge... They walked over to the lounge and sat close enough
for him to feel the heat of her body.
Troi," Data's voice came over the comm in her room,
growled, never leaving the character she'd assumed.
"I have a news
communication I think you'll be interested in seeing."
Data said helpfully, not commenting unusual timbre of her voice.
The Betazoid gave
Worf a taunting glance that smoldered. She
was playing with him, making him wait... He would play her game... for now. "Patch it through now Data," she said gruffly.
They leaned back on the lounge,
Deanna loosely draping herself around him,
maintaining just enough contact to
keep his desire fully aroused, but not so much as to make him lose control. The picture that came onto the screen was one of pomp and
splendor. Obviously a celebration
of epic proportions. Something
that Deanna would like to attend no doubt,
Worf decided, thinking this is what the android must have had in mind.
His mind wandered, caught up more in the passions that Deanna had
aroused in him than in the taped broadcast that held her attention.
Suddenly he felt her stiffen beside him.
He looked at her and then followed her gaze back at to the screen. It was Commander.... no, Captain Riker, dancing gracefully
with a slender red headed woman. The
couple seemed totally absorbed with each other, oblivious to the camera or the
other couples around them. The
film ended abruptly with a close-up of them gazing dreamily into each other's
faces, looking for all the world like some earth-type fairy tale prince and
princess. Worf saw Deanna's
stricken look, but rather than dampening his desires, it only served to anger
him, strengthening his passions to a pitch he had not felt since Alexander's
He gripped her arm tightly and crushed her
to his muscular chest, compelling her to receive a kiss which all but bruised
her sensitive lips. She
protested, fighting him, but he continued without mercy.
He roughly began nipping her all over, not bite with enough strength to
draw blood as he would have with a Klingon female, but hard enough to force
sharp, strangled exclamations of pain from her.
"Tonight you are my woman,"
he growled. "No one else's but mine!"
She struggle against him, raking his neck savagely with her nails. She drew blood and voiced a guttural growl that was almost
Klingon in nature. The hot pain
of it brought him teetering to the brink of his control. Pinning her wrists together with one massive hand, he ripped
her dress, leaving it in tatters down around her hips. She was angry now and bit his lip as he pulled his own
clothes off with casual disregard for closures and fasteners. Grabbing her by her hair behind her head, he immobilized her
and forced her to face him. "You
think want him," he rasped, his lip already swelling as he tasted the
blood, "but you WILL want me," he hissed, lowering his breath to a
whisper as it rasped harshly in his throat, "no, you will BEG me before
tonight is over." Deanna's eyes were wild as he ripped the rest of her
dress from her body. He pulled
her close, his hot skin scorching hers. He
let go of her hands and instead of pushing him away she hungrily pulled him
close with a passion that shook his Klingon soul.
He took her softly at first and then savagely, deliberately varying his
Klingon style of lovemaking, careful to include all of the things he knew she
needed for her arousal. Intense
pressures built inside of him, her unintentional cries of pleasure and pain
inciting his senses to unimaginable heights.
He was losing his control, and just when he thought he could wait no
longer, she called his name hoarsely, begging him to complete what she had
begun. With a cry of triumph, he claimed her, their simultaneous
cries giving testimony both to the fierceness of their anger as well as to
their passionate release.
Chapter Eight "Proposal"
Will Riker strode out of the
Command Center and rapped on the top of a console with his knuckles.
"Hey, Geordi. We just
got a change of schedule that you're going to love."
Laforge's muffled voice answered from beneath the
damaged console that he was
"What now? The Borg or the Bureaucrats?" He asked wryly, assuming that his captain was being
sarcastic. It was a running joke
on the Soyuz that those were the two worst case scenarios for a mission.
Will squatted down so that he could see the
engineer's face and grinned. "Neither.
The Enterprise. We rendezvous with them for some personnel transfers and
supplies before we head back out. "
Geordi gave him a luminous grin. "That IS good news Captain.
It'll be great to see everyone..."
Will nodded his agreement.
He was looking forward to it. It
had been eleven months
since he'd assumed command of
the Soyuz and he had a lot of catching up to do with Picard and the others.
Of course, Deanna would not be there, but he knew that it was better
"We should have two days. I told Admiral Deatrich that the crew really needed some
R&R after this last month...and the Enterprise's facilities should fit the
Overhearing the conversation, Phil Chao
leaned over the console and smiled down at the two men.
"What are you two conspiring about now?"
He asked good naturedly. "Did I hear someone mention a poker
Riker's grin was infectious.
plans are already made. But you'd
better watch out for Beverly
Crusher. She looks innocent
enough but Jean Luc says she's
turning into a real shark..."
Phil leaned a little closer and lowered his
voice conspiratorially. "Speaking
headed doctors, Will...it occurs
to me that this might be an excellent opportunity to make things official with
a certain young woman. I'm
willing to bet that Captain Picard would be thrilled to do the honors..."
Will Riker sputtered ineffectually for a moment and Phil glanced
theatrically at the old-style watch he habitually wore.
"Well, will you look at the time!
I'd better run." He
took off before the captain could get out a word in his own defense. Geordi Laforge quickly slid himself back under the console,
diplomatically hiding his own grin.
Will Riker stood back up, his broad
smile fading. There were times
when he could have sworn that Phil Chao was empathic.
How else could the old man know that he'd been privately wrestling with
that very issue for the last few weeks? "I'll
be in environmental control Geordi."
He said quietly and headed for the lift. Geordi peaked back out from under the console to watch him
go, puzzled by how subdued his captain suddenly sounded.
Will chewed things over as he walked.
He loved her. Of that much he was quite sure.
Their relationship had evolved slowly from that one little kiss to the
point where they spent almost every free moment together. The crew had gotten
used to seeing them as a couple, and they'd long since abandoned any attempt
at discretion. They were
wonderfully compatible. They
cooked elaborate meals together, and
she gave him fencing lessons. He
took her fishing and mountain-climbing on the holodeck and she tried to get
him interested in ballet, although she suspected that the reason he liked to
watch her dance had nothing to do with her mastery of
the intricately choreographed steps.
Even the evenings spent pouring over reports and technical journals
were more enjoyable when they shared the couch together.
She was the first person he greeted every morning, and the last one he
spoke to at night, even though their nights were still not spent in each
other's arms. He'd been amazed
when she'd first hesitantly explained her religious convictions and her belief
in the sanctity of marriage. Watching her face he'd seen the fear there that
he wouldn't understand. Will
smiled wryly to himself. The
truth was that he'd accepted it at the time, confident that he could
eventually change her views on the subject.
But surprisingly enough, over time, her conviction had become his as
well. To be sure, there were times when he felt ready to explode
with frustration, but he was also realizing how often he had substituted sex
for real closeness. It was
something Deanna had tried to teach him long ago on Betazed.
He'd finally learned too late for his Imzadi...
Changing directions, Will decided his
inspection of Environmental Control could wait.
He headed instead for Phil Chao's office.
The counselor looked up from his desk in surprise as the Captain strode
in the door. He'd just left him
on the bridge moments before. "Captain?
Is there a problem?" Chao
asked mildly as Riker halted before his desk, frowning.
I take it you think I should ask Cecily to marry me?"
Chao came around his desk and perched
on the corner, studying the younger man for a moment.
"I was just teasing you, Will.
What I think doesn't really matter..."
Riker glared at him and Phil continued, "...but, yes.
I was under the impression that you two were headed that
Will turned away, uncomfortable
with the older man's scrutiny, and picked up a photo of Phil and Tessa on the
desk, examining it carefully. The
counselor waited silently. He
knew there was no point in trying to push Will Riker.
He would say what he needed to say when he was ready to say it.
Finally, after carefully replacing the photo, the captain spoke.
"I love her, Phil. I
really do. But..." He
sighed heavily. "The problem
Chao nodded his understanding. He'd done a lot of research on the imzadi bond in the last
few months. It was a fascinating
psychological phenomena. On the
whole, he felt that Will Riker had handled the situation remarkably well.
"You still have feelings for Deanna Troi?"
He supplied gently.
Will shook his head.
I don't know...Not so much feelings...I mean, I think I've accepted
that it's over and we're both better off- but there's still this- this hole-
that Cecily doesn't
Phil laid his hand on the other
man's shoulder. "Remember
when we talked about this before, Will? Broken
bond syndrome. It's a loss - and
it may always be there-
but it has nothing to do with
you and Cecily." He gauged
Riker's reaction carefully. "but
there is something more isn't there?"
Will sighed again.
"I don't feel like I'm being fair to her. I love her, but it's
just not the same as it was with Deanna.
I can't sense her in my mind. I
can't hear her thoughts..."
Phil smiled sympathetically. "Welcome to the human race Will. I hate to tell you this, but the rest of us just muddle
through without all the telepathy and empathy and the mystical bonding of our
souls. No one can tell me one
kind of love is any less valid than the other.
And I'll tell you something else, my boy. Something that you'll learn for yourself if you give it a
chance...the plain old human version of love can be just as powerful and
consuming..." He picked up
the picture of his wife and looked at it fondly for a moment.
"You know, I have a theory about all this...a very unscientific
theory, mind you...based purely on personal observations and experience.
I think that humans can be Imzadi, too.
It just takes us a lot longer. We
have to grow into it. Live with
someone for twenty or thirty years. Weather
a few disasters together- live
through a whole lot of joy and heartbreak.
Eventually there's a bond there my boy, that's as strong as any Imzadi
bond I've heard of. You think I
can't sense Tessa's thoughts- or she can't read mine when I'm up to no
good?" He chuckled.
"My very unscientific advice to you, Will, is to accept that we
can have more than one love in our lifetimes-
and that love comes to us in
many shapes and forms. Grab what
you've got and hang on to it before you lose it."
at him for a second, and then turned and stalked out the door without making
any reply. It was only a short
walk from the Ship's Counselor's office to Sickbay.
Cecily looked up from the chart she was reading and smiled at him.
Even after all this time together she still felt a little thrill every
time her eyes met his. "Hi,
Will! What's up?"
stopped a few feet from her and simply smiled for a moment, enjoying
the sight of her and anticipating her reaction to what he was about to say.
She cocked her head, obviously wondering what he had up his sleeve.
He wanted to find the perfect words to ask her- but all he could think
of was getting past this to the part where he swept her in his arms and kissed
her. "Cecily. I love you. Marry
Beverly Crusher kicked off her shoes and relaxed into the overstuffed
chair in her quarters. She was
exhausted but happy. It had been
a wonderful, exuberant party with the combined crews of the Enterprise and the
Soyuz celebrating together in the beautifully decorated hangar deck.
Will had looked marvelous- happier than she'd ever seen him.
And Cecily Braxton was a delight.
Even Jean Luc Picard had admitted that the newlyweds made an enchanting
couple. Beverly's smile faded as
she looked across her quarters at her desk and the computer screen. She had one last thing to do tonight before she went to bed.
She wasn't looking forward to it, but she felt it was important that it
be done. She got herself a cup of
coffee and then sat down at her desk. Donning what she hoped was a convincing
smile, she recorded a brief message and pressed the send button.
Slowly finishing her coffee, she worried, and wondered how the news
would be received.
She stared at the
screen in stunned silence. "Deanna? Are you OK?" her
colleague asked. "Bad
Deanna shook her
head resolutely, forcing a smile and adopting a light, airy tone. "No
Katia. Not at all.
A very good friend of mine just got married."
The other woman
nodded her understanding. "An
old lover of yours?"
ignored the pain her colleagues comment caused her and deleted Beverly's
message as she stood up. "Excuse
me." She said politely
before she hurried from the room. The
shock was wearing off. Until this
moment there had always been a ghost of a chance that Will and she would
somehow meet again and resume their relationship. But this was finally and irrevocably the end.
She felt the empty pain in her soul where he had once been.
Closing her eyes she sent a thought to him over the thousands of light
years that separated them. "Congratulations my Imzadi.
Be happy." She knew
it was futile. The bond was
broken and there was no way he could hear her words.
But she felt a little pride in herself for having at least said them.
Taking a deep breath, she left the cubicle where she'd sought refuge.
It was fully time to face the world and get on with living her life.
Will had obviously done it. Now,
with the last threads of their bond broken,
so would she.
Chapter 9 "The Wedding"
The joyous interlude on
the Enterprise had been far too short.
Captain Picard's eyes had glittered with sentiment as he had performed
the simple ceremony which joined Will and Cecily together; and they had ended
the ceremony with a long and heartfelt kiss.
When they came up for air, their faces sparkled and shone with a
happiness that rivaled the brilliance of the very heavens seen through the
view port behind them.
Will spent about an hour visiting with Worf
in a painstaking attempt to renew their relationship. They spoke of many
things, but neither of the officers brought up Deanna Troi.
Geordi eventually holed himself up with Data, trying to make up for the
abruptness of his departure eleven months before. Far sooner than anyone would have liked, the evening's
festivities were over. The
wedding party left to a chorus of good-byes and hugs, and not a few tears on
either side. Picard gravely shook
Wills hand. The younger man gave
Picard an uncharacteristic embrace, knowing that soon the Soyuz would leave on
the darkest and most dangerous of missions - backtracking on the path of the
For the ten months the crew of the
Soyez went in search of any clue that might help when the day came that the
Borg, with their emotionless fury, descended again upon the worlds of the
Federation. Here in this
uncharted region of space, they encountered world after world that had been
brutally assimilated. Whole
cities destroyed- their dead left unburied to decay in their streets.
Riker's crew had become a tight knit group, functioning well even under
the extreme amounts of pressure. Stress
levels had escalated however, rising exponentially as they drew further and
further away from home. R
& R was taken on board the ship since there were no space stations left
which were still functioning adequately enough to accommodate them.
Only death and desolation greeted them as they stopped in each system,
giving a horribly mute testimony to the inhuman hive mentality of the Borg.
Every new planet they scouted, and every destroyed civilization they
encountered seemed to echo the refrain "resistance is futile".
Still, in even in the darkest hour, the Captain
of the Soyuz remained hopeful and unbowed; his encouragement giving the crew
the strength they needed to carry through.
Despite the new horrors each day
brought for Will, at the end of every day there was Cecily.
She had become his shelter from the storm- and even when the very
universe seemed dead, he still held on to the promise of life embodied in the
child she carried for him.
Cecily waddled gracelessly across the
floor; holding her heavy abdomen as if it were about to burst at any moment. "Come here," Will said, pulling her into his lap
and laughing at her as she struggled awkwardly to find a comfortable position.
He relaxed back into the couch and settled her protectively in his
arms. Leaning his head down, he
put his ear to her abdomen. "Sounds
busy in there," he said, feeling the movements of his child against his
cheek. He sat up, rubbing his
hand gently over her belly; nuzzling at her neck softly and then nibbling on
Stop it. I feel like a
cow," she protested, groaning. "My feet are so swollen I can't even
fit into my shoes anymore!"
"And what would you know about
cows, Mrs. Riker?" Will asked her jokingly, "Weren't you raised on a
starship?" She hurmphed and
then snuggled in a little closer to his chest, letting the strong steady beat
of his heart comfort her.
"When are we going back
Will?" she asked, her voice muffled.
Riker sighed heavily, "Soon hon, if I have any say in the matter. I've got a communications link scheduled with Starfleet
tonight at 2200 hours. I'm going
to let Admiral Chezney know that my crew can't take much more of this and stay
Later that night, a very persuasive Captain
talked a very reluctant Admiral into letting the Soyuz finally come home.
The return journey was long, for they had
penetrated deeply past the Ba'Tock galaxy, and far into the uncharted areas
which lay beyond. Finally,
seventeen months after it began it's voyage, the Soyuz and it's crew was
safely docked and being refitted in the repair bay of Space Station Number
Bev brooded, wondering if she should
forward Deanna the vid containing the news about Will and Cecily's baby girl.
Her Betazoid friend had only responded with a cursory message to the
announcement of their wedding, and Bev wasn't sure just how she was feeling
these days. She impulsively gave
the send command before she could change her mind again.
Will had been on restricted communications for the whole time during
his last mission, but he had called Jean Luc as soon as his ship had returned
to Federation space, sending the holovid of his growing family to his former
Captain. Jean Luc, of course, had immediately called Beverly to come
view it with him. Sitting close
to each other on the couch in Picard's quarters, they had both been enchanted
by the new blue-eyed auburn-haired addition to the Riker's family.
Laurel Elizabeth Riker was almost nine
months old, and was absolutely adorable.
Will was holding her on his lap, one large hand holding his wiggling
baby in place while she played cheerfully with his fingers and uniform, and
anything else that was within her reach.
Beverly could see the lines of stress and fatigue on Riker's face,
reminders of the horrors he had seen in the past seventeen months; but it was
plain to her that he was thrilled to be a father and that he was very happy
with his new life. Cecily was
leaning against him, watching him affectionately as he spoke.
When the vid ended Beverly
flicked off the screen, breathing a quick prayer of thanks that at least one
of her friends was happy and whole.
Glancing at Picard, she found him wearing a bemused smile. "A
penny for your thoughts?" She
He looked embarrassed, but she wasn't
about to let him off the hook. "Oh
very well." He finally
conceded. "I was thinking
that I feel somewhat like a grandfather."
Deanna sat and watched for the third time
the vid Bev had sent her. The
first two times, she had stood right next to the screen, trying to take in
every detail, reaching out sometimes as if to touch the lines of fatigue
etched on Will's face. She saw
the shadows of unspoken pain from this past mission reflected in his eyes; and
she wondered and worried about what he had been through to put them there.
But this last viewing, she paid more attention to the easy way he had
with his daughter as she played happily on his lap, and the protective way his
arm encircled his wife, drawing her close to his side. She felt herself flush, angry that after all this time she
still felt a rush of envy strong enough to leave her shaking.
Deanna tortured herself as she watched how Cecily looked at Will as he
spoke with her adoration shining nakedly in her eyes.
The vid was almost over. She
let her breath slowly out as Will said his good-byes to Jean Luc.
Deanna watched her Imzadi look over at his wife.
Holding her breath again, she pictured herself in Cecily's place as he
returned his wife's look of love with one of his own. When he leaned down to give Cecily a long sweet kiss as their
baby laughed happily in the background, Deanna felt a deep longing in her
spirit that she now knew would never be fulfilled.
The screen blanked off automatically after the vid finished.
"Lights off," she said, sitting silently in the dark as warm
tears slid unnoticed down her cheeks.
Ten more months slipped quickly by. The Soyuz and it's crew kept busy patrolling the hot spots
and the unrest experienced on so many fronts had stretched their resources to
the limit. Captain Will Riker
sighed with relief. They
were finally about to get the break he'd spent weeks trying to obtain;
relentlessly pursuing every Admiral who owed him a favor.
It helped that the Soyuz, it's crew, and it's Captain had been earning
quite a name for themselves. Will
continued reading his new orders. After
they took a long overdue leave, Starfleet wanted them to return to
headquarters on earth and train the crews of three new vessels that had been
built along the lines of the Soyuz, while their own vessel was given a badly
"Well, Ces," Will said,
stretching the length of his frame to take over the whole couch.
"One more week. We've
got to swing by the mining colony at Coronos and then pick up the survey buoys
in the Chelsa nebula. Then it's a
little R & R on the facilities at Urelco IV, and then back to
headquarters." He grinned slyly. "Is
it my imagination or are you showing a lot earlier this time ?"
Cecily returned his grin not
offended. "That's probably
because this boy I'm carrying is going to turn out to be a big hulking lunk,
just like his father."
Will jumped off of the couch acting
insulted. "You calling me a
hulking lunk?" he said, and picked her up effortlessly, as if to prove
Laurel called sleepily from her bedroom...
"Daddy.... daddy come."
Riker grinned at Cecily and dropped her
unceremoniously onto the bed. "Duty
calls," he said with a smirk and disappeared into the baby's room.
He emerged with a smiling child of eighteen months.
Her hair was mussed into a myriad of russet curls, and her blue eyes
shone as she looked up at her daddy.
He lay down next to Cecily on the bed and set Laurel between them.
The little girl crawled over to her mother and
pulled up her blouse, placing her tiny ear on her mother's softly swelling
stomach. "Baby here!"
she pronounced, making both her parents laugh.
She continued to play with her mother's clothes as her parents talked.
"Will?" Cecily asked. "Isn't the Coronos Mining Colony where Jessica is
stationed?" Will scratched
his beard meditatively. "Yeah,
I think so. Why?"
Cecily cuddled up around Laurel, letting one hand rub suggestively up
and down her husbands long leg, while the other one did delicious things to
him under his shirt.
"I sure would love to spend a
couple of days with her there. I
haven't seen her since before you and I were married, and besides, I want to
show you off." Will smiled
faintly, knowing perfectly well that he was being persuaded by nefarious
"Well, basically we're just dropping off a
replacement filtration system for their ore processing plant and we'll only be
there for an hour or two..." he said, his voice slightly husky due to her
ministrations. She traced a
finger down his belly and he squirmed. "...But I suppose we could leave
you there and pick you up on our way back from the Chelsa nebula at the end of
Cecily started to kiss him, but he held her
away for a moment. "On two
conditions..." He added
severely. "Let me keep Laurel, because I don't really think a mining camp
is the greatest place for her," he said as he began to run his fingers
through her hair. "And,"
he said, stretching it out, "I know that mining colonies are starved for
real, live physicians, but you have to promise not to spend your whole time
there working. At this point in
your pregnancy you need to get your rest."
Cecily rolled her eyes a little at his over-protectiveness, but nodded
her agreement. "Besides, I
want you well-rested for our shore leave together...Cause this Captain has
some plans for his Doctor. I need someone to- relax with, if you know what I
mean," he said, arching his dark eyebrows suggestively.
Cecily threw a pillow at his leering face, and the three of them
Chapter 10 "The
Will yawned so widely his jaw popped as he reread
what he'd just written. He had to
force himself to concentrate, not having slept well at all the night before.
After almost three years of sharing a bed with Cecily he found that he
couldn't fall asleep easily without her tucked in next to his side.
When he'd finally drifted off with his arms around a pillow, he was
awakened by Laurel who was having a restless night of her own.
He sighed deeply. Feeling
more than a little abandoned, Will grinned at his own selfishness.
He really hoped his wife was having a good time with her friend, but he
was very glad she'd only be gone two more days.
The door beeped and Will said "Come.", grateful for any
Commander Thompson stepped into the ready room,
his expression uncharacteristically grim.
"Sir - we-uh- we just received a distress call from the Coronas
Riker was on his feet immediately, dread hitting his
chest like a blow. "What's
Thompson answered reluctantly.
"We're not sure sir. It's
a standard repeating mayday. Dimonelli's
on it, trying to raise them now."
Will pushed past his number one, striding onto the
He demanded harshly of the Security Officer who shook his head negatively.
"No response yet, sir..."
Lay in a course for the colony. All
possible speed. What's our
Korak swallowed hard.
"Three hours, eighteen minutes, sir."
Will Riker sat down in the center seat and forced
himself to take a few deep breaths. It
was probably nothing. She was
probably fine... probably busy caring for the victims of some mining mishap.
Still, as the minutes dragged slowly by he couldn't deny the fact that
their unanswered hails did not bode well.
An hour or so into the vigil Phil Chao came onto the bridge and took
his seat at the captain's left. The
older man gave him an encouraging pat on the shoulder.
Will didn't bother asking who had summoned the counselor.
He just felt grateful for his solid presence.
The bridge was as quiet as a tomb with none of the usual chatter.
The only interruption was when Will periodically inquired about their
arrival time. It had to have been the longest three hours of his entire life.
He'd stopped asking Dimonelli about raising the colony when he heard
the distress in the Security Officer's voice as he gave yet another negative
report. Thompson glanced
nervously over at his captain; wondering
how he managed to look perfectly composed when he had to be terrified inside.
Like everyone else on the bridge, Thompson wished desperately that
there was something he could do to help.
"Captain, the colony is within long
range sensors," Ana Fen at
ops finally reported.
Riker arose and looked over her broad shoulder.
"What have you got?"
Fen looked up at him hopefully. "No indications of a problem, sir. The colony appears to be intact and there is no other
activity in the system."
Will felt himself relax just a
little. His first fear had been
the Borg, but maybe it was nothing more than a communications malfunction.
Maybe Cecily would laugh and tease him for worrying so much about her.
She always claimed he was as overprotective as a mother Alaskan grizzly
bear with cubs.
The planet quickly grew from a speck
until it's large circumference practically filled the main viewscreen. As the distance closed Fen and Geordi Laforge tersely
reported the increasingly detailed sensor reports.
Will waited impatiently for the one he cared most about.
His stomach lurched with sick certainty even before the chief engineer
could finish choking it out. "Captain? Sensors aren't picking up any life signs."
feeling as if someone had punched him hard in the stomach.
He closed his eyes for a moment as the full horror of the words
impacted upon him. Phil Chao rose
and gently laid a hand on the captain's shoulder.
He could feel the tremor shaking the younger man's frame.
No one dared speak.
The seconds ticked by with agonizing slowness as
they dropped out of warp and glided into the Coronas system. "Oh no..." Geordi's voice was disconsolate.
Will turned to face him. The
engineers expression was pained as he looked up from the console.
"I found the problem Captain," he said reluctantly. "Apparently they were replacing the filtration unit.
Something malfunctioned and they vented zelithium gas into the
Will asked dully.
Geordi wished he could skip the
explanation when he looked at Riker's stony visage.
"It's a byproduct of dilithium ore processing sir.
It's extremely lethal; they
never really had a chance. I'm sure they didn't even know what hit
Riker was shaking visibly now
and he grabbed the console for support. "They're all dead..." He
whispered to no one in particular.
Thompson stepped in, trying to
spare his captain. "Mr.
Laforge, can we get a landing party down there?"
"There shouldn't be a problem.
The gas breaks down into innocuous components fairly quickly.
It's no longer a danger to anyone."
Riker looked up, his
voice cracking as he said, "No longer a danger Geordi?
To who?" No one
answered the bitter question.
began to issue orders for an away team and
moved towards the lift until he was frozen by Riker's voice.
It was quiet and dangerous. "Mr.
Thompson! You have the bridge.
I'm going down there."
Thompson, Laforge and
Chao all protested at once, trying to reason with their captain.
Phil spoke quietly, "Will, it's not a good idea, you don't know
what you'll find." Thompson
blocked Riker's path to the turbolift. "Captain
- you should stay here..."
Will Riker glared at his
first officer. Enunciating every
word carefully he snarled, "Mr. Thompson.
Get the hell out of my way. I'm
going to Cecily, and no one is going to stop me."
Thompson looked to the
Counselor for help but the older man nodded his head to let Riker go.
Chao looked towards Laforge. "Stay
with him, Geordi..."
Words wouldn't come
to Geordi Laforge. He had no idea
what he could say to his captain to ease his pain, so he just followed him
silently as they grimly searched through the small mining colony.
The scene was macabre. People
had obviously fallen where they stood the moment the gas was released.
They passed numerous bodies in the corridors, but Riker seemed to
barely notice them. Geordi was glad that the corpses showed no signs of pain or
struggle. It had to be terrible
enough for Riker as it was; it was certainly horrible for LaForge.
They tracked Cecily's
comm badge, but when they actually found it, it was atop her neatly folded
uniform in the guest quarters. Geordi
swallowed hard past the lump in his throat when he saw that she'd also left a
small photo of Will and Laurel laying there, obviously to remind her of her
husband and child while they were apart.
They checked Jennifer Ybarres' apartment next.
The door was locked and Geordi pulled out his tricorder to open it but
Will didn't have the patience to wait. Instinct
told him she was here. The
Captain pulled out his phaser and disintegrated the lock, the high pitched
whine startling Laforge in the unnatural stillness.
Laforge stepped in behind Riker. A young woman with a long, thick dark braid lay prostrate on
the floor just inside the door. Will
seemed to recognize her because he paused for the briefest of moments before
taking a few more steps. Geordi
spotted her at the same time as Riker- the glint of
her auburn hair peaking from behind the table and chairs.
Will went to her, kneeling down
beside her and reaching out to touch her cheek.
She looked like she was only sleeping.
Unreasonable hope filled him, making him believe that she would open
her eyes and smile sleepily up at him like she did every morning when he woke
her. But when he touched her skin
with his fingers it was cold. With
infinite gentleness he gathered her into his arms and bent his head to kiss
her lips. Then, from the depths
of his soul, he cried.
Geordi stood just inside the door, tears
streaming down his own cheeks as he witnessed his friend's unspeakable grief.
He wasn't sure what to do, but he knew enough not to interrupt Riker's
grieving, or to try and comfort him. After
a time two security guards from the Soyuz poked their heads in the door but
Geordi shooed them off. A long
while later, when the captain's wrenching sobs had turned to silence, Laforge
crossed the room and bent down beside him where he sat on the floor.
"Will, let's take her back to the Soyuz."
Riker nodded, and stood, cradling her
body in his arms. Geordi
requested the beam out to take them directly to sickbay.
Once there, Phil Chao took over, gently persuading the captain to lay
her on the biobed, and embracing him as the nurse gently drew a sheet over
Cecily's still form. "Where's
Laurel?" Will asked
"She's at daycare with Moira..."
Phil said soothingly.
"I want to see her.."
Phil stroked his back .
"Not just yet, Will...She's fine...she would just be upset at
seeing you like this..."
Will pulled away from him, looking at
Cecily's covered body on the biobed, feeling as if someone had ripped out his
very heart. "I just lost my
wife...and my son" he said
as his grief rose up, choking his throat with tears.
"I want Laurel...now. I
need her now."
"OK Will. Geordi's
going to go get Laurel, but you've got to pull yourself together before she
gets here. You'll need to be
strong for her. She's not old
enough to understand. All she'll
know is that her mommy never came back."
watched Will force composure. He
knew Riker pretty well after three years together, and he knew that the one
thing that might get the captain through the coming weeks was going to be his
love for the pretty red-headed child who looked so much like her mother.
"Let's go in the other room..."
He suggested, drawing Will away from Cecily's body.
The child certainly didn't need the trauma of seeing her that way.
Geordi arrived with Laurel a few minutes
later and she ran straight to her father, looking into his tear-stained face
with concern. "Where
mommy?" She asked,
instinctively wanting the one person who could make her daddy laugh when he
Gathering up his little girl in his arms he
hugged her fiercely. "Oh,
sweetheart, mommy's not here. She
had to go away and can't be with us anymore.
But daddy's here pumpkin, and I'm always gonna be here..."
Deanna Troi sat on her patio, sipping a
glass of juice and reflecting on another innocuous end to another predictably
pleasant day. Perhaps that was
the problem, she thought, puzzling over her discontent.
For the past two years she had lived and worked and studied here in
this exceptionally pleasant corner of the Earth.
Now here she was, only weeks from receiving her doctoral degree, and
they'd offered her a professorship at the Institute.
In a way it was quite tempting. She
liked her home here, and she'd made a number of good friends.
She dated on a regular basis and was kept quite busy on both the
personal and professional fronts. It
was all very nice and neat; and yet, something was still missing.
Could the problem be the fact that there was no danger or no challenge?
No great surprises or shared triumphs?
Deanna reluctantly had to admit it to herself.
She missed life on a starship and she probably was not ever going to be
truly happy sitting planet-side while the adventures continued out there.
She gazed up at the deepening sky, catching sight of the first stars
and wondering about her friends out among them.
As always, her thoughts turned to Will Riker.
She hadn't talked with him since the evening he'd said goodbye to her
and Worf in Ten-Forward, but she'd kept careful track of his life and his
career. She hadn't been surprised
when he quickly made a name for himself as one of the finest captains in the
fleet. She'd always known he had
the drive and the talent. What
had surprised her, however, was the turn his personal life had taken.
A wife and a child and another on the way...and by all accounts, very
very happy in his domesticity. She
sighed. There was no point now on
dwelling over might-have-beens.
later if thinking about him at that moment had made her more sensitive to him.
But whatever the reason, the sensation of his anguish was sudden and
horrible. The glass in Deanna's
hand fell onto the bricks and shattered as she let out a cry of pain. A moment later it had disappeared, but she knew without
question whose feelings she had sensed. Even
after three years, the touch of his mind was still so distinctive to her that
she knew it could be no other. "Oh,
my god, Imzadi," she
breathed out loud. "What's happening to you?"
Could she be sensing his dying moment?
Panicked and trembling, she rushed into the house, oblivious to the
broken glass crunching beneath her sandals.
For the next two hours she proceeded to call everyone she knew in Star
Fleet who might know anything about the fate of the captain of the Soyuz.
All she found out was that they were due in for some shore leave and a
refit. No one had any recent
news. Her feelings of fear
escalated rather than abating. Despite
all that they'd been through together she'd never sensed such powerful emotion
from him...such utter hopelessness and grief and despair.
She sat unseeing in her chair- waiting for some word of him.
At four a.m. in the darkest hour
before the dawn, one of the people she'd called for information called her
back. "Deanna. You
were right about Riker. Something's
Deanna slumped into the chair
and took a deep breath. She
didn't want to know if he was dead. Even
if he was married to someone else- even if she never saw him again, at least
she knew he was out there somewhere... "Tell me..."
She finally managed.
"Well, he's OK, if you
could call it that. But his wife
was just killed in an environmental accident on some mining colony in the
Coronas system. Star Fleet
Command just got word an hour ago."
Deanna felt a flood of relief, followed immediately by guilt.
"And their child?" She
"Well, there was no
mention of a kid, so I guess the child must be OK."
Deanna sighed with
relief. She realized that it
would be hard enough for him as it was. The
pain of losing his child too would have completely devastated him.
Within hours, the
disaster was all over the news. It
was the latest in a series of accidents at dilithium processing mines, and the
government was launching a full investigation.
Almost every newscast also mentioned that the wife of the Captain of
the Soyuz was among the victims, and displayed a heart wrenching picture of
Will in full dress uniform with Cecily and their pretty child. Deanna was
heartily sickened by the way the media seemed to be using every opportunity to
tug at the heartstrings, but she couldn't help but listen nonetheless.
It was from one of these newscasts that she learned that Will was
returning to Earth with Cecily's body for a formal burial.
Eleven "Angel Fire"
Will sat alone in his darkened room, the
antique clock he had bought for Cecily was ticking loudly in counterpoint to
his sluggish heartbeat. Numbness
had woven a thick cocoon around his soul, causing his emotions to feel
strangely disconnected from the situation.
"The mind knows when to rest the heart," Phil had told him
Will ran his hand tiredly over his
face and through his hair. There
was no putting this off any more so he called ops.
"Open a channel to earth and patch me through to the Braxton's
ranch in Angel Fire New Mexico." He
slumped over in his chair while he waited for ops to get through to his
in-laws, his stomach churning as he silently dreading this meeting.
The starfleet logo flashed on
the screen and then switched to the smiling face of Tom Braxton, Cecily's dad. The warm welcome he'd been about to give Will died on his
lips. His angular face went
suddenly ashen. The man had been
Starfleet for 35 years, and all it took was one look at his son-in-law to tell
him catastrophe had struck. "What
happened Will?" he demanded harshly.
Will turned his face away from the screen, trying to pull himself
together. He thought he'd been
ready to do this; he tried vainly but the words couldn't get past the painful
lump in his throat. "Will!
What is it? Cecily? Laurel?" the older man said, panic lacing his
voice now. Riker turned back to
the screen, tears streaming down his face.
The former numbness had been a trick played on him by his mind.
The excruciating pain had only been in hiding.
And it was now back with a vengeance.
Barely managing to choke out what had happened at Coronas to his
father-in-law, he covered his eyes to hide his anguish and lay his head back,
drawing in a deep shuddering breath.
Braxton took more than a few minutes to
collect himself. Will could hear
the sound of soft sobs coming from Cecily's mother off screen.
"Where the hell were you Will?" Braxton finally asked, his
voice was sharp with unspoken accusation.
Riker felt the question like a hammer blow to his heart.
It was the same one he kept asking himself.
Apparently Tom Braxton didn't expect him to answer.
"You're bringing her back here."
It was a statement and not a question.
Will nodded, remembering his promise to honor his wife's religious
"Our ETA is 96 hours sir " Will
said, his voice not much above a choked whisper.
Braxton nodded and quickly turned his head, his stern visage finally
crumpling. Cecily's father cut
the connection abruptly without any words of comfort for his son in law. Over an hour later Riker was sitting in exactly the same
spot, in exactly the same position.
During the course of the
next two days he barely even pretended to go through the motions of running
the ship. It was actually
Commander Thompson who took care of the day to day duties, acting as Captain,
and making all decisions in his stead. The
crews' condolences were truly heartfelt, but they sounded flat and empty to
his ears. Being on the bridge had
become surreal and nightmarish, and so he avoided it.
His empty quarters were even more painful to bear, and so he spent the
hours sitting in the solitude of his ready room staring out the viewport at
the blackness of space.
"Sir, you have an incoming call from Commodore Picard,"
Geordi's apologetic voice broke through his mental fog.
in his chair and ran a hand through his hair.
He knew he looked as bad as he felt but he didn't care.
"Put him through."
The crew on the Soyuz was
now guarding Riker's privacy diligently, and Thompson had first deflected
Picard's call by saying his captain was unavailable.
Jean Luc was familiar with the tactic, so he then requested to speak to
Geordi, who patched him through, explaining that the first officer was merely
trying to keep the media from further exploiting their Captain.
approvingly. He had been outraged
when he saw the footage of Will last night on the Galactic News Service.
The reporters were like sharks going in for the kill.
They had caught Will unaware at the space station where the Soyuz had
stopped briefly en route to earth. Riker,
obviously wretched, had tried to be polite until one reporter asked him how he
felt about leaving his wife on a mining facility that was unsafe enough to
have killed her and everyone else in it.
If that wasn't enough, the reporter then callously asked if it was true
that Cecily had been six months pregnant with his son.
Will's grief stricken countenance had made great press, and thus had
been flashed by the sensationalistic news service all over Federation
When Jean Luc finally got through to Will,
he felt like his compassionate words were hollow and meaningless in the face
of his friend's grief. Picard
decided then that he would attend the services on earth come hell or high
water, and set about arranging it immediately.
Commodore Picard began to send out urgent messages to people in high
places as he called in more than a few favors to secure immediate passage to
Will stayed up as long as possible,
avoiding the dark bedroom. He
went in again for about the tenth time to check on Laurel.
She lay with her blankets tossed off and tangled around her feet.
Her index finger captured loosely in her rosebud mouth, her soft
melodic breathing breaking the silence.
Riker watched her sleep for long minutes, then covering her up, he
kissed her soft curly head and ran the back of his finger over the softness of
her cheek. It was 0200.
Yawning again, he knew he couldn't put off going to bed any longer. He was dead on his feet.
Stumbling into his room, he pulled off
his clothes, leaving them in a pile on the floor.
Will expected Cecily to make some snide comment, but only for a moment,
until he remembered. He slipped
under the covers, laying alone in a bed which had always held two. Will
reached over and grabbed her pillow, clutching it to his chest as he turned on
his side, eyes wide open. The new ritual began.
Staring at the wall had become his
mind's cue to begin projecting his tape.
Her face was calm and serene, as if she was only sleeping and not dead.
He reached to touch her face, but it was cold.
As he picked her up, her head lolled to the side, her body devoid of
life, her arms hanging limply. His
mind played it over and over, trying to convince him that this bizarre twist
of fate was for real. Will's
heart blindly told him she couldn't have actually left him and Laurel like
this... And so his mind played
the tapes that held the damning evidence; over and over and over, until his
heart accepted what his mind already knew.
Tears dammed up behind his eyes. Volcanic
grief was kept tightly locked in his throat; it's unrelieved pressure causing
a painful ache which matched the tightness in his chest.
He hardly noticed. Laurel stirred in the other room, and Riker heard
her call out "mommy" in her sleep.
It was more than he could bear. Will
lost the tenuous hold on his emotions. He
buried his face in the pillow, her lingering scent loosing the floodgate of
his grief. Hot tears flowed
bitterly, pulling the life out of him as if they contained the very blood of
The fourth morning after Cecily's
death found the Soyuz dropping out of warp to enter the Sol system.
Riker was already late for a final briefing with his staff, but he had
gone to the pre-school to spend a few minutes talking with Laurel anyway.
She didn't want to go to grandpa's.
"Sweetheart," he said gently, "we're going to see Granny
She looked down sullenly,
"no gampa, no gamma."
Riker squatted down to her
level. "Granny and Grandpa love you Laurel.. And want to meet
you. Your mommy was their little
girl." Laurel looked up at
her daddy, tears shining in her eyes and held her arms to him with a silent
plea. His time schedule went up
in smoke. He didn't care. Gathering her soft little body up into his arms, he grabbed a
blanket and went to the rocking chair and began to rock.
Will gently pushed her head down onto his chest and wiped her eyes as
he softly sang the lullaby that Cecily had always sung to her at bedtime.
He wrapped her warmly with the soft blanket, trying to imagine how he
was ever going to be both mother and father to this precious child. Finally,
her finger found her mouth again and she drifted off to sleep.
Catching the attendant's eye, he regretfully handed the warm bundle to
him and left for the bridge.
"Sir, the Enterprise is hailing
us." Riker looked up,
showing real interest in something for the first time in days.
"The Enterprise? Put
Jean Luc Picard's face filled the
giant view screen on the bridge. "Will,
with your permission, I'd like to accompany you down...are you ready?"
Will was unsure of himself for a
moment, so surprised was he by his old Captain's unplanned arrival.
"Uh, yes.. I am. I
just have to pick up Laurel."
Picard nodded gravely.
"Fine, I'll come by
the Soyuz with a shuttle at 0900."
Riker, used to seven years of
serving under Picard, didn't even think to argue.
"Yes sir..." He
replied automatically, too numb to express the gratitude he was feeling.
replied, and the screen returned to the view of earth floating lazily beneath
Two hours later, Picard
glanced over at Will as he piloted the shuttle towards the landing area
outside the small town of Angel Fire. He
was unsure of what to say. His own nature was so reserved, and Will had always
been the one who expressed his emotions openly. Maybe just being here would be
enough. Jean Luc watched Will
holding Laurel in his lap. Her
burnished curls fell over the edge of Will's arm and she lay in it's crook.
One of the few times Picard had seen the shadows lift from Will was
when he was playing with his daughter. He'd
been pulling her finger out of her mouth and letting her shove it
enthusiastically back in... They both laughed every time he pulled it out and
it made a popping sound. Now they
were both quiet. Laurel had
fallen asleep, her chubby hand curled tightly around one of Wills fingers, her
face pushed into his chest. Will
was pensively stroking her hair, wrapping the bronze curls around and around
his finger. He had the look of a
brooding mountain lion. Outwardly
relaxed but dangerous as if he had a coiled steel spring inside that was ready
to unleash at the slightest touch. Picard
kept his peace. There would be
time later. He had made some
folks at Starfleet very unhappy, but he'd gotten a full week off.
After getting clearance to land, Picard pulled the shuttle into it's
Glancing at Will, Jean Luc indicated
the hatch.. "Shall we,
Will?" he asked gently. Will
took a deep breath, steeling himself for
the meeting with Cecily's parents. Gently,
he rearranged his daughter so that she was sleeping on his shoulder, and then
picked up his bags.
Luc, I'd like to meet with my in-laws alone at first if you don't mind."
Picard nodded with understanding, seeing the dread in Wills eyes.
"Of course I don't mind, Will. I've booked a room in town.
I'll catch up with you in the morning." Picard said a silent prayer that the Braxtons would receive
their son-in-law warmly, and then opened the hatch, stepping aside to allow
Will to disembark.
Rachael and Thomas Braxton stood at the shuttle
hanger, waiting for their son-in-law and grandchild to arrive.
Tom was still angry with Will, and blamed him irrationally for the
death of their daughter. Rachael
realized he would see the wrong of it soon enough, but she knew it was going
to be tough on Will in the meantime. The
Braxtons had never met Captain Riker in person, so when the six foot four man
stepped out of the hanger, carrying a baby, and several cases, Rachael found
herself amazed to see how tall and broad he was.
He saw them instantly and began to walk their way.
Although Rachael's own heart had been broken by the death of her
daughter, it went out immediately to this young man who was obviously as torn
by his grief as they were by theirs. His
bearing was erect, but he looked positively haggard.
Ignoring her husbands stiff posture, she walked to meet him part way.
"Will. Come, let us
help you with your things."
He smiled at her tentatively and put
the cases down and nodded at her, "Rachael.,"
extending his hand to her husband as he added "Tom."
When Thomas didn't respond in kind, Will dropped his hand resignedly
and bowed his shoulders. "I'm sorry."
Rachael took Will's free hand,
glaring at her husband before she looked up into Riker's face.
She waited patiently until he returned her gaze.
"We're all hurting Will. And
each of us must deal with it in our own way.
You're welcome here because Cecily loved you."
She chuckled, "She
practically worshipped the ground you walked on in fact.
Now let's go home and put our baby to bed."
She reached up and tentatively stroked Laurel's red hair. "Just
like your mommy's" She
whispered to the sleeping child.
Reaching down, she picked up one of
the cases, and handed the other to Thomas.
"OK. When the men get
tongue tied, the women must take up the slack," she decided.
And she proceeded to talk to Will about inconsequential things; the
flora, the local history. Will Riker's eyes threatened to overflow as he
nodded his unspoken thanks and followed Rachael and Tom from the hangar.
Rachael kept up the small talk up until they finally arrived at a
substantial home which had been styled after the log homes which had
flourished in the 1970's. "Here
we are boys," she said, and opened the door, encouraging the silent men
Chapter 12 "Going Through the Motions"
Will did not sleep and had
spent the hours pacing restlessly, pausing occasionally to gaze with troubled
eyes at Laurel sleeping peacefully in the crib.
The Braxton house had been empty and quiet when they'd first arrived
the day before, but the place had quickly filled up with various relatives who
stopped by to meet Cecily's husband and to fuss over her child.
Will had greeted them mechanically, their names and faces nothing but a
blur. He worried that Laurel
would be overwhelmed by all the attention, but she smiled and chattered
happily, thoroughly endearing herself to her mother's family. Thomas Braxton played often with his grandchild, but had only
a hard stare for her father. It
made Will's chest tighten painfully every time he caught the older man
watching him with such contempt. The light in the eastern sky was failing
rapidly when he finally broke his silence.
"Come on, boy. We're
going for a walk." Will
looked up, too numb to protest or even be surprised.
Rachael watched with growing concern, as the two men started down the
They'd gone almost a mile before Cecily's
father finally spoke. "Listen,
son. I don't blame you so much.
It's just been so hard losing my little girl."
They walked a little further and Tom
continued, "Laurel's a beautiful kid, Will.
Except for those blue eyes she looks just like Cecily did at that
age." Will managed a
weak smile, but it faded quickly when Braxton continued.
"You're not planning on taking her back out there with you, are
Will was so startled that he stopped
walking and stared at his father-in-law in astonishment.
He'd never considered that he wouldn't keep his daughter with him.
Laurel was his life now. Tom
Braxton read his face. "It's
far too dangerous." He
accused. "You obviously
couldn't take care of my daughter, so how in god's name are you going to take
care of my grandchild all by yourself?"
Will tried to answer, but the words caught and stuck in his throat.
Maybe Cecily's father was right, he thought miserably.
Braxton took a step closer, locking his unyielding eyes with Will's.
"If you really love her, you'll do what's best for the child.
Leave her with us. She'll
have a good home and a family who loves her.
You can visit her when you're in port.
And she'll be safe. It's
what my daughter would have wanted for her baby."
Tom gave Will one last challenging stare and turned around, heading
back for the ranch house. It's
lights twinkled in the distance. Will
couldn't bring himself to immediately follow.
He stood in the middle of the road, feeling crushed as the weight of
the world fell on his shoulders. Maybe
Tom Braxton was right. Maybe
Laurel would be better off without him. The
question tore at his heart all night as he paced, looking often upon his
Rachael rapped lightly on the
door. "Will?" She called softly. "It's
7 am. Breakfast is ready.
Do you need help with the baby?"
Thank you. We'll be down
in a few minutes..." He
answered her politely and her mother's heart when out to him. She'd listened to him pacing throughout the night.
She wished she knew him well enough to break through his carefully
constructed control and reach the man inside to comfort him.
Cecily had obviously chosen a good man, someone who had loved her very
The morning had
dawned dark and dreary. Heavy fog
shrouded the mountainside and a light mist was falling, covering the grassy
slopes with droplets of moisture. Because
the temperature had dropped considerably during the night, Jean Luc Picard
pulled a coat on over his dress uniform as he prepared for the funeral
service. He was dreading this ceremony.
Although he respected it's purpose in providing closure for those left
behind, he found it cruel as well. It
would be a difficult day for Will. Starfleet
be damned, he was glad that he had come.
The mourners streamed up the hill
from the old adobe church and gathered closely around the open grave.
Laforge, Thompson and Chao's uniforms earned them some speculative
glances from the friends of the family. On
the other side of the grave, Will stood slightly apart from the rest of
Cecily's family; almost as if he were not included in their circle of
closeness. Rachael had wisely
prevailed upon him to leave Laurel back at the house with one of Cecily's
aunts rather than expose her to the cold rain that was falling. Jean Luc Picard went to stand at his former first officer's side.
Riker glanced at him but quickly looked away; knowing full well that
Picard might be uncomfortable with the grief he was unable to contain.
Jean Luc found himself wishing
that Beverly had been able to come to the service.
She would know how to help Will through this.
Jean Luc cared for Will, and had become quite close to him during their
years together on the Enterprise; but they had rarely shared their emotions
with each other. He'd never seen
Will cry before this, and he could only remember a single occasion where he'd
allowed Will to see that side of himself.
Picard's memory unwillingly turned back to
the days following his assimilation into the Borg collective.
Beverly had been able to remove the implants, and Deanna had talked
with him for hours about what had happened. Her compassion and understanding
had been very therapeutic, but the biggest help had come from his first
officer who'd smoothed everything over for him professionally, and then put
himself at his Captain's disposal personally as well.
Picard remembered well his mortification at losing control and crying
in front of his first officer, but what he would remain forever grateful for
was the graceful and compassionate way Riker had dealt with it.
The minister began the service, quietly speaking
of Cecily and all the good she had done in her life- a dutiful daughter, a
talented physician, a loving wife and mother.
Jean Luc saw Will's shoulders shake with silent grief as the eulogy
came to a close. Compassion
overruled reserve. He put his
arms around the younger man, pulling
him into an embrace as the coffin was lowered into the ground and the minister
dropped the first handful of dirt onto it, intoning "ashes to ashes and
dust to dust."
Deanna was standing to the rear of
the crowd, opposite from the side of the grave on which the family stood. She have arrived late on purpose, guiltily hoping she could
sneak in and not attract too much attention.
Gratefully, she spied Geordi and slipped quietly in beside him.
Geordi didn't speak but instead reached over and grasped her hand
tightly; not seeming the least bit surprised to see her.
Picard stood stiffly next to Will, looking distinctly uncomfortable.
Deanna could easily sense the depth of his compassion and his strong
desire to support Will. From long
acquaintance, she also knew that he was uneasy in the role of comforter, but
he seemed to be coping extraordinarily well with today's ordeal .
Will himself seemed shrouded in a dense fog, his responses gray and
blunted. Deanna felt no
compulsion to delve deeper, knowing that this was just Will's attempt to
protect himself against his
overwhelming emotions. She watched him carefully, noting that he had
positioned himself somewhat off to the side of the family, not quite seeming
to be a part of their group. Somehow
this seemed odd and troubling although she couldn't quite understand why it
would be so. She felt her eyes
well with sympathetic tears as she watched him standing so stiffly, looking so
vulnerable and alone. Deanna wanted to reach out and smooth away the lines of
fatigue and grief that had been etched around his eyes and mouth.
But she couldn't. She
wanted to reach out with her empathic senses and comfort him. But she didn't. The
minister's words droned on hypnotically in the background.
Deanna closed her eyes momentarily as she bathed herself in the
sensation of Will's nearness again. Even
though his outer emotions were chaotic and filled with guilt and confusion,
the warm strength of his personality and the solid comfort of his presence
hadn't changed. If anything, she found that it had deepened like a fine piece
of wooden furniture deepens it's color as it is burnished with age and care.
The sensation was like finding the lost piece to a complex puzzle and dropping
it firmly into place. The picture
was finally complete.
Deanna knew that Will was not even
aware of her presence, and for that she was glad.
Later she would find time to talk to him.
Maybe after the hard edge of his grief had faded.
She found comfort in the presence of Phil Chao and his wife; knowing
that Will was in fine hands. The
closing words of the ancient earth ritual penetrated her thoughts.
The wooden casket rattled hollowly with the first shovel full of dirt
thrown upon it. She watched the
minister hand the shovel over to Will and wondered if he would be able to play
the grim part given him. Will's
hands shook as he finally dug the shovel into the loose pile of dirt and
dropped it into the hole. The
casket echoed hollowly again. Deanna
shuddered deeply. Will's control
had broken and she was buffeted by a sudden uncontrolled outpouring of his
abandonment and loss. As Geordi
grabbed her arm to help steady her, she refocused her blurred vision to see
Captain Picard wrapping his arms around Will's shaking shoulders, as if he
could contain force of his friends anguish within the bounds of his embrace.
The service was over, and Deanna watched as
Picard led Will back to the church where their transportation back to the
house awaited. Geordi asked if
she was coming to the Braxton's home, but she told him she thought it would be
better if she waited. He nodded
his understanding and gave her a long hug and kissed her cheek.
Acutely sensitive to Will right now, Deanna abruptly felt something in
his balance shift. Tentatively
she reached out, but could feel little of his former pain.
However brutal his anguish had been, she was now far more distressed to
feel this hard blunted barrier. It
was like steel door slamming shut on the most sensitive part of his soul.
She watched him, her heart deeply troubled, until she could no longer
see the group of mourners clearly.
Back at the Braxtons, Will sank deeply into
the overstuffed chair; almost as if he might hide from the multitude of family
and well-wishers who accosted him.
Repetitiously, he thanked the people who came to give their
condolences, stoically bearing the attention focused on him and Laurel.
He just wished they would go away and leave him alone to be with his
daughter. Holding her warm sleepy
body against his chest made his protective instincts surge.
How on earth could he possibly leave her here with her grandparents?
But what if Thomas was right, how could he take her when he left? Will honestly didn't think he could face the prospect of
living apart from Laurel. Her
love and dependence was the only thing that had kept him from complete
despair. But his duty to the
Federation tore at him, and he knew that he couldn't leave Starfleet during a
time when they were stretched so thin; when a Borg invasion seemed
inescapable. Both questions hammered at him relentlessly, with no easy
answer in sight. The slight
headache he had started the day with began to pound with savage intensity.
When Laurel finally fell asleep, clutching her bear with one hand and
her daddy with the other, he thankfully made his excuses and escaped up the
stairs to his room.
Will spent the next few weeks mechanically going through the
motions of living and working. He
and Laurel spent two days in France with Jean Luc before the Enterprise
captain had to return to duty; afterwards Will returned with his daughter to
New Mexico. Rachael and Tom
insisted that he live there while the Soyuz was refitted and he was reassigned
to train crews. It was a
convenient solution and Rachael did her best to make her son-in-law feel
welcome. Tom said nothing more about Will leaving Laurel behind, but it was
obvious to him that the bond between Laurel and her grandparents was growing
stronger every day. After the
first two days she didn't cry any more when Will left for work in the morning,
and when grandpa offered to take her to town for ice cream after dinner she
was always eager to go, despite the fact that she hadn't seen her daddy all
day. Will tried to console himself with the fact that Laurel was happy and
well-loved, but he found himself feeling less and less important in her life.
It was the only thing that hurt him anymore.
Everything else had subsided to a dull, gray ache.
Halfway around the world Tessa Chao frowned
at her husband. Phil
was uncharacteristically upset. "Tessa,
I know this is a terrific opportunity for you...and you've put your career on
hold for the last three years for me- and turnabout is only fair play.
But I feel like I'm deserting Will by leaving right now."
Tessa Chao nodded.
"I understand, dear. I
feel for the poor lamb too. But
even if you stay, you can't bring Cecily back.
One way or the other he's going to have to learn to live with
Phil drummed his fingers on the table
thoughtfully. "I'm just
worried about leaving him in someone else's hands.
You know- someone who doesn't understand him."
Phil stood up and shoved his hands into his pockets worriedly.
"Hell, Tessa, fact is, there's probably more than a few ship's
counselors out there who'd pull the rug out from under him right now."
"What do you mean? You
don't think he's competent to command?"
Phil shook his head.
"Of course I think he's competent!
Blast it all Tess, I wouldn't put the crew at risk!
I'm just saying that someone who doesn't know him might think
otherwise...and someone who doesn't know him isn't going to get anywhere
trying to help him through this. He's in complete denial about his feelings."
"Then you need to find someone
to replace you who knows him well."
Phil's wife observed quietly.
The Soyuz's counselor sighed in
frustration. "That's easier
said than done."
Tessa studied him for a moment,
carefully gauging his mood. Well,
she'd already done it, and it couldn't be undone.
"I invited Deanna Troi for dinner tonight dear."
Phil looked at her in surprise. "Deanna? Considering
their history - I really don't think-."
Tessa knew better than to say anything.
She could almost see the thoughts churning slowly in her husband's head
as he carefully considered the idea.
"She did come to the funeral," he muttered to himself.
"and she did say she was turning down the professorship because
she wanted to get back out into space."
Phil's worried expression gradually dissolved into a self-satisfied
smile. "Tess, my darling,
Deanna and the Chaos had a very pleasant meal, gossiping about mutual friends
from the old days and discussing her doctoral thesis.
After starting on dessert Phil brought up the topic of Will Riker. Deanna had meant to call him after the funeral, but somehow
couldn't think of what she would say, so instead she'd just sent him a note of
condolence. She listened with
concern as Phil talked about the
way he was handling- or rather, not handling his grief.
It was the typical Will Riker reaction of bury the pain and go on.
He had done it many times before, but Deanna knew that the powerful
grief she had sensed at the funeral was not going to go away on it's own.
Tessa gave her excuses and left Deanna and
Phil to their professional discussion. Phil
found Deanna's insights helpful, but didn't let on that he was really more
interested in Deanna's personal feelings about Will than her professional
opinions. They'd talked for over
an hour before Phil made his suggestion.
Deanna paused for a moment before saying she'd think about it.
She wasn't lying. It was a
difficult decision, knowing her feelings were not necessarily her best guide-
and for that matter, Will might not even want her there.
Captain Riker took the news of
Phil Chao's resignation with muted regret.
He was sorry to lose his best friend and an excellent ship's counselor,
but he also understood the reasons. There
was little for an eminent xenobiologist to do on a ship that was involved
primarily in diplomatic and defensive missions.
Tessa's job offer was just too good to turn down.
Phil had not expected a major reaction from this man who allowed
himself to feel so little these days, so he wasn't surprised by Riker's quiet
resignation. "Well, we're
not scheduled to leave for another five weeks.
I guess that'll be plenty of time for Starfleet to reassign someone to
"Actually, Captain, I
already had someone in mind for you,"
Phil confessed. "I
already took the liberty of speaking with her-
and she's interested in the position."
"Fine, I'm sure
she'll be fine. Drop off the
paperwork to me and I'll sign it..." Will answered dispiritedly.
He tried to care, but it really didn't matter to him.
In fact, he wasn't at all sure that he was even going to be on the
Soyuz when it left port. He'd been thinking more and more about taking a ground-based
assignment. Space no longer
seemed so appealing with the growing prospect of losing his daughter. And if he stayed on earth, he wouldn't have to worry about
handed him the padd that he was carrying.
"I have it right here Will."
Riker accepted it without
comment, scrawling his signature on the bottom of the page before even
glancing at the name of the officer who's transfer he was approving.
Phil saw his eyebrows arch slightly in surprise.
"Is there a
problem?" Phil asked neutrally. Will
looked at him for a moment, searching inside himself for the emotional
reaction he'd expected her name to elicit.
There was none. He
couldn't feel like that anymore. Not
No problem. It's
fine." Will handed back the
Tom looked up from the magazine he was reading as Will
came in. "Hello,
Captain." He greeted him. Will tried to smile gamely although he hated
Tom Braxton's habit of calling him 'captain' whenever he was in
uniform. There was something
hostile and mocking about it.
"Is Laurel still up?"
Tom shook his head.
"She had a busy day Will. We
took her blueberry picking and she fell asleep right after supper.
Rachael put her to bed since you weren't here."
The statement somehow sounded like an
accusation to Will and he winced. His
schedule had been brutal for the past two weeks and he hated the fact that it
had robbed him of so much time with his daughter.
"I'll go check on her," he said quietly, mounting the steps
leading to the second floor. He
stood over his daughter's crib and watched her sleep as he stroked her hair. It was precisely the color of Cecily's. A lump rose in his throat and he pushed the thought of his
wife away. Laurel stirred and
sighed in her sleep, tightly hugging the stuffed bunny her grandpa had given
her. Will looked around for the
ragged blue bear he'd bought for her when she was only six months old. He spotted it laying discarded in the toy box.
you had any dinner?" Rachael
asked softly from the doorway. He
glanced up at her, trying to hide the pain he was feeling.
you Rachael. I grabbed a bite
between meetings." He lied.
He'd lost a good ten or fifteen pounds since Cecily died, but it didn't
matter. He just wasn't hungry.
"You can at least have some dessert,
son. I made a blueberry pie.
It was Cecily's favorite and I want to initiate you.
Get changed and come on down,"
Will gave her a smile and changed
into jeans and a comfortable old sweater that Cecily had bought for him on
shore leave on Araborn VI. Looking
once more at Laurel, he went downstairs to join his in-laws. Just as he sat down on the sofa with his pie, the comm unit
beeped. Tom answered and signaled
his daughter's husband. "Will.
It's for you." He
watched Will's face as first consternation, and then resignation crossed it. Will came back and remained standing as he broke the news.
He had to leave tomorrow.
Rachael exclaimed in disbelief.
"doesn't give me much of a chance to get the crew together."
He scanned through the padd, looking for Thompson's home number.
Upstairs, Laurel started to cry and he looked up.
Rachael touched his arm. "It's
OK. I'll get her."
Will contacted Thompson
and spoke tersely to his first officer. "Things
are breaking down quickly on the Cardassian border, Number One.
Star Fleet's afraid this one is going to escalate into a full-scale
confrontation. We have 24 hours
to pull together as much of the crew as we can and get underway."
I- I'll get going on that right now..."
Thompson's voice sounded uncertain but by this time Will knew that was
deceptive. His Number One would
be on top of the situation. "Right, I'm counting on you."
Will clicked off the channel and looked up at Tom Braxton who'd
remained standing nearby.
Laurel?" the older man demanded. "You're
leaving her here with us, right?"
Will took a deep
breath. He'd hoped to have more
time to decide. "No Tom.
I've decided she's going with me."
on him. "Like hell she is,
Riker! You can't even give her a
decent home. What kind of father
are you? She needs a loving
family, not some hot-shot idiot who's going to get
her slaughtered like her mother!"
as if Tom had struck him; his face flushing with guilt and anger.
He opened his mouth to reply, but Rachael spoke first from the top of
the stairs. "Tom!
You have no right to talk to him that way!"
Tom turned on
his wife, his face full of fury. "Well,
it's true Rach. He's going to
take Laurel out there and she's going to end up dead just like Cecily! He has no right..."
"He has every
right. He's her father, Tom"
she said gently. Will turned his head, staring resolutely out the window,
wishing he was anywhere but there.
damned dangerous!" Braxton
insisted. Rachael came down the stairs and confronted her
husband, looking somewhat dangerous herself despite her diminutive height.
Will was reminded, with a sharp pang, of his confrontation with Cecily
so long ago; when she'd stood in his ready room and shouted at him about his
degrading attitude. Obviously she'd inherited her fire from her mother.
I remind you, Thomas Braxton," she continued unabated, "that we
raised three children on board star ships?
Life is a risk, no matter where you live it.
Will is going to take Laurel with him because that's where they both
belong. Can't you see he loves
her, just like you always loved your daughters?
And Will is no more responsible for Cecily's death than you or me, and
if you don't soon get it through that hard head of yours, you are going to end
up losing your son-in-law and granddaughter too!"
Braxton gave a choked retort and wheeled, striding out the door and into the
night. Will and Rachael stood
there in silence for long moments until Will finally spoke.
"I'll go get Laurel and leave now."
He started up the stairs, but she grabbed his arm.
don't. I know Tom, and he's just
grieving the only way he knows how, which is by being angry.
He'll get over it, I promise. He's
really a good man. He doesn't
blame you. Not really.
Please don't leave us tonight. For
me and Laurel, Will-
Will stayed, but he lay
awake that night, listening for the sounds of Tom Braxton's return.
The door slammed and he heard them arguing loudly for a while, then
finally there was silence. In the
morning when he left for Star Fleet Headquarters, Tom was nowhere to be seen.
When Will returned in the late afternoon to gather up Laurel and their
belongings, he still had not appeared. Rachael
walked with them to the landing area where one of the Soyuz's shuttles was
waiting for her captain. Rachael
embraced Laurel fiercely and bid Will a tearful goodbye.
Just as he stepped onto the craft
and was ready to shut the hatch a voice stopped him.
He turned to see
Tom Braxton crossing the tarmac. Tom
stopped before him. "Forgive
a foolish old man?"
Will nodded, his
visage softening as he accepted his father in law's extended hand.
luck, Will. Be careful out there
and come back to us. Remember that. You
and Laurel will always have a home to come back to." The older man looked straight into Riker's eyes.
"Whatever else happened, you loved my daughter-
and you made her happy. For
that I'm grateful to you."
The shuttle lifted off
into the clear New Mexico sky and Rachael gently took her husband's arm.
"That was a good thing you just did, Tom."
He nodded and smiled down
at her, wiping a tear from her cheek. "Don't cry now, Rach.
They're going to come home again.
I feel it."
Deanna had gotten the call from her new commander just before going to
sleep the night before. Usually
not at her best at 0700 in the morning, she grumbled while throwing a few last
few minute items into her valise. Hunger pangs annoyed her as her stomach fluttered.
She had a bad case of nerves; partially, she thought, from excitement
about being space borne again, but mostly it was from thinking about coming
face to face with Will. Three years since they had shared a real conversation.
Three years since she had shared his thoughts.
Without a clue as to what to expect, she pushed her awareness outward.
His presence was warm and sure, but his emotions were hidden from her
by imposing barriers. Walls, she suspected, to keep others out, and his emotions
Phil's concerns about Will had been
plaguing her since their dinner, and she turned them over carefully in her
mind. The door chimed, announcing the arrival of her transport.
"Come," she yelled, grabbing her valise and slinging it over
her shoulder. Emerging from her
bedroom, she stared in surprise as she recognized the first officer of the
Soyuz standing in her living room.
"Commander Thompson," she said, "I didn't expect an escort, but I am
grateful." The first officer
stood ill at ease and eyed her with distrust.
His feelings seemed to almost border on hostility.
"Dr. Troi," he began, but she wouldn't let him go on.
"I will be using the title Counselor,
He nodded, slightly nonplused. "Counselor Troi, I came to let you know one thing, and
one thing only." She waited
for him to go on, but he seemed to deflate, losing some of his steam.
"I just... well, I wanted you to know, to realize... that the
Captain's not.. well he's.... I mean I don't want you to think...." He broke off
abruptly in frustration. Deanna
could feel his intense desire to protect Will, and she suddenly realized that
Thompson had come to the privacy of her home to say something in his Captains
defense; before she met him on board the Soyuz.
He was upset, and seemed deeply worried about Will.
She tried to put him at rest . "Commander, Will and I, Captain Riker if you will,
are friends of long acquaintance. And
though I haven't seen him in the past three years, I still know him better
than he probably knows himself." She
smiled warmly, but Thompson still looked doubtful. She was not the least bit offended. It was encouraging to find that Will was surrounded by people
who cared about him. She
continued. "I know what he's
been through, and actually, Commander
Thompson, I was hoping that our past relationship would be of benefit in
helping him work through this. And
I had also hoped that I could rely on you to fill me in on his past time with
the Soyuz." Thompson relaxed
visibly, his smile a little less guarded.
"Well then, let me welcome you, Counselor Troi, to the Soyuz;
Pride of Starfleet's defense." She
nodded and accepted his help loading her things into the waiting shuttle.
Will was checking with all of the ship's
departments to assure himself that everything was in order.
In engineering he was stopped by Geordi.
"Everything's ready Captain," the Chief Engineer said
confidently. They bent over a schematic and continued to talk about the
modifications that had been implemented to the warp engines when Geordi's face
broke into a huge grin. Looking
up, Will saw the object of his attention.
Deanna Troi. He
straightened up slowly as she and Commander Thompson approached.
Deanna reached out her hand and he took it.
"Welcome aboard, Counselor. It's
good to see you again."
Deanna felt a flash of surprise
and disappointment. She'd been so
excited about finally seeing him again, but she sensed none of that reaction
in him. His emotions were muted
and contained none of the passion she'd come to associate with his
personality. No sexual
attraction, no deep affection, none of his usual joy and enthusiasm.
There were not even any of the negatives present that had come between
them in the last few months on the Enterprise.
Her presence didn't elicit anything in him, except for simple
"It's nice to see you,
too, Captain," was her response, as if nothing was amiss.
Will glanced back down at
the schematics. "Thompson,
notify the other officers that we'll meet in the command center at 0900." He dismissed them with a wave.
hadn't been wrong in their assessment of the situation on the Cardassian
boarders. The increase in
activity keep the Soyuz and it's crew frantically busy for the next several
months with everything from diplomatic negotiations to rescue operations.
The crew quickly fell into it's previous rhythm of efficiency and
camaraderie. The only difference
was the lack of the Captain's involvement in ships' life.
He no longer conducted poker games for the officers in his quarters,
and his usual manner of relaxed discipline had been replaced with a cool
efficiency that separated him emotionally from the crew.
Thompson, Geordi and Deanna had talked many times of the change in
Riker; but had not come up with a solution.
Deanna almost despaired of ever getting through his self-imposed cloak
Eventually, things calmed down on the
Cardassian border. With the
pressure off for the moment, Deanna decided to take the opportunity to break
through Will's emotional withdrawal before it hardened into permanence. She
would force him to talk, and if that didn't work, she would at least get him
"Captain," Dimonelli said,
"we have a priority one message coming in from Starfleet Command." Will glanced over at his first officer. "You have the bridge Thompson. I'll take it in the command center."
He gave Deanna what passed for a smile these days and left.
Thompson and Deanna exchanged looks.
The first officer had been aware of Deanna's hopes for progress with
the Captain, and was now aware that her plan would have to be put on hold
again. A priority one message boded ill for any thoughts of
relaxation for the exhausted crew of the Soyuz.
Riker came back from the command center, his face a deceptive mask of
calm. "Number One, call a
meeting for all the executive officers right now".
Riker looked over each of his officers
carefully. "We are going to
the Ramev system, to a planet called Cantos which lies along the outer edge of
the Cardassian border." At
their questioning glances he continued. "This
will involve both a planet-side mission, and ships' reconnaissance. I am leading an away team to the surface." he quelled
Thompsons objection with an icy look, "and Commander Thompson will take
the Soyuz and map out the activity of the Cardassian fleet in this area.
We need to know exactly where they are, and what capabilities they
"What's happening on the planet,
sir?" Thompson asked him, trying to get more information before he
attempted to talk his commanding officer out of leading an away team.. Will's face twisted with distaste.
"The Cantonian government is corrupt
beyond belief and their cities are densely populated.
They have neither the resources nor the inclination to take care of
their peoples' needs, although they possess advanced technologies.
Only the very rich or the very corrupt have access to them, and those
two characteristics seem to go hand in hand n on Cantos."
Will took a deep breath. "Cardassian
transport ships have been reported to be taking large numbers of Cantonians
off planet, and are returning none of them.
New technologies have been turning up within the governing class."
He shook his head before going on.
"It is suspected that they are trading the one thing they have
plenty of, which is people, in exchange for new technology.
In other words.... Slavery."
There was silence around the table as the officers took in the
implications of his statement. "Starfleet
is rightfully concerned," Will continued.
"The Cantonian government is ripe for takeover by the Cardassians,
which if it happens, will give Cardassia a very strong foothold in this
sector." Will gave each
officer a hard look. "Avoiding a conflict which might destroy our treaty with
Cardassia is of paramount importance to this whole sector.
You are ALL aware that the treaty is on very shaky ground right
now." They all nodded.
"Our mission is of prime importance, but Starfleet Command has expressed
its' utmost confidence in us. I
don't intend for us to let them down." Everyone nodded again grimly.
"Number One - the details of your mission..." He handed
Thompson a padd and turned to Troi. "Counselor,
you'll be accompanying me, so familiarize yourself with the situation.
Our ETA is five hours and twenty minutes.
I'll be unavailable except for emergency until then." Deanna watched him leave, suspecting that she knew where he
The only time
Captain Will Riker felt anything like his former self was when he was with his
daughter. Laurel was twenty three
months old now and Will was firmly wrapped around her little finger.
With her he could be warm and affectionate and his smiles were always
real and heartfelt.
Deanna loved watching Will when he played
with Laurel. She marveled at what
a skilled parent he had become, although it was the little things surprised
her most, like the gentleness of his big hands when he delicately braided
Laurel's auburn tresses, and the quiet, soothing way he was able to calm her
when she was overtired and whining. Deanna
was thankful that he had this one emotional outlet, and that he was taking the
time to relax with his daughter before their next mission.
She spent the next two hours reviewing everything she could find about
the socio-dynamics of Cantos. It
was a troubled society and she found herself hard-pressed to remain objective
as she read the reports on the slave trade with the Cardassians.
Several questions remained after she'd examined all the files, and she
decided she would drop in on Riker for a few minutes, despite his request not
to be disturbed. She admitted that the truth was she just wanted to be near
him for a while. Although he was
totally oblivious to the fact, they were still connected at a certain level,
and she found his presence deeply satisfying.
"Come," he said.
Deanna entered and found the
vaunted captain of the Soyuz and his daughter laying on the floor with their
heads close together, playing house with a family of stuffed animals.
Laurel looked up at her with her remarkable blue eyes and smiled.
"Hi Danma!" Deanna
grinned at the childs pleasure and sat down on the floor with them, ignoring
the fact that Will didn't seem particularly pleased to have her here.
As ship's counselor it was part of her job to know all the children of
the Soyuz, and one could hardly blame her if she took a special interest in
the motherless daughter of the ships Captain.
She frequently took time to play with her when she stopped by the
ship's child care center.
"Something I can do
for you counselor?" Will
asked neutrally and she nodded as Laurel scooted over beside her and handed
her a stuffed giraffe. "There
were a few things I wanted to discuss with you about our upcoming mission
Captain." She said, taking
the giraffe and walking it playfully up Laurel's arm, causing her to giggle.
g'affe." Laurel said
brightly and Deanna smiled at her.
"This is the
daddy giraffe? Where's the baby?".
scuttled off to find it, clamoring over Will's legs as he sat up.
"You looked over the reports, right?"
about to reply when Laurel interrupted. "Baby
g'affe!" She pronounced
proudly, dropping a smaller stuffed giraffe into Deanna's lap.
made a show of examining the little creature.
"Oh, it's a nice baby, Laurel.
I bet the daddy giraffe really loves her."
draping her arms around her own daddy. "un-hunh."
Without thinking, Deanna
asked "Where's the mommy giraffe?"
looked solemn as she took the two stuffed animals back from Troi.
"No momma." She
lisped softly. "Momma gone. Daddy g'affe cry."
briefest moment Deanna saw the grief plainly in Will's face, and then his
control snapped back into place so swiftly she almost recoiled.
"Laurel. Why don't
you go pick out what jamas you're going to take to stay
with Aunt Ana tonight?" The toddler skittered off again happily,
as Will looked at Troi with embarrassment.
"Out of the mouths of babes."
He said resignedly.
It was the
most vulnerable Deanna had seen him in all the time they'd been on Soyuz
together. She decided to take
advantage of the moment, reaching out to lightly touch his arm. "Will,
you can't just go on forever, pretending that you don't feel anything.
Even Laurel can sense that you're in pain over your loss.
You need to acknowledge it and come to terms with your grief. Both for your sake- and for Laurel's."
down bleakly at the stuffed animals in his hands.
"I know Deanna. I
just don't know how," he admitted softly, looking up as she laid one of
her hands over his.
what I'm here for Will. To help
you." She almost added "Imzadi," but quickly caught
herself. "When we get back
from this mission will you please sit down and talk with me?
About Cecily and Laurel, and about what's happening inside that
stubborn heart of yours. It IS my
job, you know."
hesitated a moment and then practically broke her heart with a weak imitation
of his usual smile. "OK Deanna," he
agreed, just as Laurel came running back toting her pink footed pajamas with
the bunny tail attached.
Chapter Thirteen "The
Ensign Schmidt piloted the shuttle as
Will acquainted lieutenant Aaron Levitz and Deanna with the details of their
mission on Cantos. Levitz was
sitting in the co-pilot's seat as Deanna went over their supplies with a fine
tooth comb; making sure that all was in order.
Aaron was newly assigned to the Soyuz, having joined the crew barely
two weeks earlier. The Lieutenant was about ten years younger than Riker, and
was almost satyr-like in looks. His
curly brown hair's length had been extended for the mission, and seemed
unacquainted with the likes of a comb. His
light brown eyes slanted slightly upwards at their outer corners and sparkled
with good humor. "Captain,
did I hear right that you have a little girl about the age of mine?" he
Will glanced over as if surprised that the
younger man had spoken to him. Deanna watched him brighten perceptibly at the
mention of Laurel. "Yes...I
have a daughter who will be two in another month."
Levitz, obviously a proud papa, gave Riker a face
splitting grin. "My Maya
will be two years old next week. I
just hope that we can get back from this mission in time for her party, or her
mother will kill me." Aaron
stood in order to pull out a likeness of his child and handed it to Riker who
studied it with the interest only another parent would show.
She was a carbon copy of her father in miniature.
"She's a dandy," Will said finally, giving the
picture back with a smile; the first real one, Deanna noted, that had graced
his countenance in days.
"Well?" Aaron asked him expectantly.
Riker turned back around, "Well what
Lieutenant?" he replied
patiently, feeling somewhat lightened by the young father's enthusiasm.
Aaron's laughter filled the shuttle. Deanna
thought it was quite delightful after Will's solemn ways . "Well,"
he asked grinning, "where's YOUR picture Captain?"
Riker blinked, caught off guard, and then
laughed as he pulled Laurel's picture from his pocket.
"Here," he said handing it over to Aaron, a glimmer of his
old grin hovering around his lips," and don't you dare say she's anything
less then perfect."
Aaron stared at the picture Riker had given him.
It showed Cecily, Laurel and himself all smiling, the perfect family.
It was the very one that the news vids had plastered across the
quadrant when the mining tragedy had occurred.
Obviously this was the first time Aaron had made the connection, and he
looked over at the Captain with barely disguised sympathy.
"Well, she's a beauty sir, and that's no lie."
Will's smile faded as he saw the Lieutenant's
expression change. "That she is,"
was all he said, taking the picture back from the subdued young man.
Will remained silent until they reached orbit around Cantos.
"Sir, we've reached the beam in
coordinates," said Ensign Schmidt.
Riker nodded and looked at Deanna and
Aaron. "This is it. Lets go." Riker
gave Schmidt some final instructions for emergency beam out,
then joined the others on the shuttle's transporter pads.
They materialized outside of the city, in a
sparsely wooded area close to the main road.
"We should be about two miles outside the city's entrance,"
Riker said. "Remember, the
people here are poor and defeated, and we can't go in there looking like we
just came from a party," he said, glancing meaningfully at the grinning
Levitz. Aaron dutifully
changed his expression to one of dejected resignation.
The quick change brought another smile from Riker and he shook his
head. "Deanna, why don't you
walk between us."
They eased themselves onto the dusty road.
The ragged clothing they wore was soon covered with a layer of fine
dust, and they blended easily with the groups of people who were making their
way in to the city in hopes of finding a better life for themselves and their
families. Deanna's luxurious hair
had been captured into myriad's of tiny braids, and then tied back with an old
piece of string. Her ivory complexion had been darkened to mimic
those that had been exposed to a lifetime under the harsh Cantos sun. Riker's hair was several
inches longer than usual, and raggedly cut, and his beard no longer retained
it's polished nautical look. He had layered several shirts, as if he were
wearing everything he owned on his back.
All three had their comm badges hidden from sight.
By the time they reached the city gates, they were hot, thirsty and
tired. The guards at the
gates mechanically asked each group of people the same questions. One stopped
in front of Riker; looking him over more carefully than Riker was comfortable
with. "Name, village and
what is your business here in Cass,"
he asked, his surly voice holding a challenge.
Riker answered quietly, presenting
himself in the manner of someone who had no fight left to him.
"Weller Mentas, my
wife Kajon," he said nodding to Deanna, "and my cousin Jedrey
Anten." He stared
steadfastly at the guard's boots in the manner of one who had been thoroughly
subdued by his life's circumstances. "We
have come looking for work here. Our
village, Antile, has all but died since the crop failure this year.
I can no longer support my family there."
Riker's voice came out sounding distressed and non-threatening.
He looked up only when the guard remained silent.
The man was staring at Deanna with a speculative gleam.
"You don't have children?" the
Riker tried to keep the hard edge
from his voice, but was only partially successful.
"Our son died in the famine, and my wife is now with child."
The guard nodded, apparently
Go on. Stay in the Quartos
sector," and he waved them past as if they no longer held any interest to
Riker grabbed Deanna's arm and jerked
his head at Aaron, hurrying them down the filthy street till they were well
away from the entrance. Slowing
down, he kept his voice pitched low. "We've
got to find Benton, our contact. His
report said it's too risky for us to make inquiries, so he's set it up for us
to meet him in one of the local inns; The Palace.
We're to wait there through the supper hour each day until he finds
Deanna looked about her in distaste. The stink of the city assailing her delicate sense of smell.
"It smells like a sewer."
Will smiled without mirth, "It IS a sewer
Deanna, watch where you step." With
that admonition the three of them continued their trek down the crowded
avenue, avoiding what filth they could.
"Here," Will said about
forty-five minutes later, finally stopping in front of a building which seemed
able to remain standing only through the support of neighboring buildings it
was squeezed between.
The paint peeled off of siding that was a patchwork of wood, metal and
some other unknown substance, and it's once proud sign canted off to one side,
it's gilded writing barely legible.
"THIS is the place?" Deanna asked him
Will put his arm around her shoulder. "Come on, let's go in.
It can't be as bad as it looks from here."
Aaron snorted his amusement and followed behind.
The large room was dark and smelled of
mildew and other unidentified odors. Riker
motioned for them to wait, and he went to the bar at the far end of the room.
An overweight woman rose from behind the bar like a leviathan rising
from the deep. Her garb was
better quality than most of what Riker had seen on the streets, but had been
ill used. The dress was filthy,
and the seams, stressed by the bulging flesh, were slowly losing the battle to
remain whole. She leaned against
the bar and practically knocked Will out with her foul breath.
"What can I do for you, handsome?"
Riker played the part of defeated immigrant
still, not raising his eyes from the bar top.
"Rooms please, for my wife and I, and my cousin."
The woman squinted as she looked across the
room. "Rooms, Ha!" she
said. "We have but one room. And you'll have to share it. Meals included."
Riker raised his eyes to her grimy neck,
stifling his revulsion as a black bug crawled out of her hair and made it's
way down her bosom. "How
much?" he asked quickly, knowing it was expected.
Her voice changed, becoming slightly husky.
He inadvertently looked up. "That
depends on you, dear. My what
gorgeous eyes you have!" she said, batting her own lashes preposterously.
"Three soviniets a night, with breakfast and supper.
Unless, of course, you'd like to work a little trade."
Riker's stomach lurched at her implied innuendo.
"No, three soviniets is fine." he said, realizing too late
that it was probably far too much.
He spun on his heel to her venomous retort.
"Fine, I'll give you
the "best" room in the house."
Somehow Riker doubted that she would
Benton did not show up at the Palace that
evening. Will and the others were
hungry but none of them were inclined to try the unwholesome looking slop that
was supposed to be dinner. The
bowls and cups were no cleaner than the skinny young girl who slapped them on
the table and then skittered away in fright as the hulking proprietress made
her way to their table. "What's
wrong? Food ain't good enough for
you?" She demanded, shoving
Deanna's shoulder rudely.
Mindful of their roles as poor
immigrants, Will picked up his dirty spoon and took a big bite of one of the
unidentifiable brown lumps in his bowl. Fighting
his gag reflex he swallowed and gave the woman a timid smile.
"No. It's fine...my wife just...isn't feeling well."
Levitz kept his head studiously down as he went through the motions of
sampling his food, without ever actually touching it to his lips.
Leaning close enough to Will
that he was nearly overwhelmed by the stench of her body odor and cheap
perfume, the woman smiled suggestively. "I
bet a big powerful man like you ain't near satisfied with a sickly little
thing like that."
Deanna began coughing convulsively
and Will wondered whether she was acting "sickly"
or hiding laughter at his predicament.
Unsure of what to say, he looked back down at his food, hoping the
proprietress would lose interest. Instead
she leaned even closer.
"Tell you what.
You come upstairs with me for a while and I'll see that your little
precious there gets something to eat that more suits her delicate
He was completely unprepared for her
big meaty hand reaching down between him and the table and grabbing his
crotch. Deanna's eyes widened.
She had seen Will Riker face a core breach with less shock in his eyes.
He stood up abruptly, knocking his chair over in the process. "I'm sorry..."
He protested, trying his best to escape her clutches while retaining a
shred of diplomacy. "I'm
married ...I'm really not interested..." The men at the table next to
them dissolved into raucous laughter and the woman's expression turned from
seduction to fury. She took a
step closer to Will, her foul breath and yellowed teeth making him wince.
"You're going to be sorry you said
that." She threatened,
leering at Deanna as she turned away.
The room was as bad as they expected it to
be. The only furniture was one stained mattress sitting on a metal frame in
the corner. A single bare light bulb illuminated the filth.
"Oh god, I hope this guy contacts us tomorrow."
Levitz muttered as Will locked the flimsy door behind them.
"That makes two of us." Will agreed. He
could think of few worlds that he
had found so utterly squalid and depressing.
Deanna made a sound of dismay and
Will turned to look at her. She
was peering at the bed, with her face wrinkled in disgust.
"This mattress is crawling with bugs."
Lt. Levitz smiled sardonically. "Well, I was wondering how we were going to do
He glanced at Riker. "Seeing
that you're the captain, sir, I'd say that you get the bed.
I'll be happy to sleep on the floor."
"...and they say
rank hath it's privileges..." the
captain muttered with a smile.
Deanna was glad to see him
responding to Aaron Levitz's sense of humor.
The lieutenant was a good influence.
They did their best to make
themselves comfortable on the filthy wooden floor.
They laid in the darkness, listening to the shouts and noise coming
from the street, and trying not to think about what kind of vermin skittered
around this room at night.
Aaron commented in the darkness and Deanna piped up.
"Think how I feel.
I could have had a decent meal if the captain wasn't so
She heard Will turn
to her in the darkness. "Counselor
- I'd do just about anything to assure your comfort...but that was WAY above
and beyond the call of duty..." The
three of them laughed quietly, and then lapsed into silence.
Slowly their weariness caught up with them, and they slept.
Deanna woke with a start two hours
later. There was another gunshot in the street and some screaming before the
silence reclaimed the night. She
shivered and sat up stiffly. The
temperature had dropped and she was very cold.
She took one of Will's
shirts that she'd been using as a pillow and wrapped it around herself.
whispered in the darkness, surprising her.
"Are you OK?"
cold..." she whispered back,
sorry that she'd wakened him, but finding his voice reassuring none the less.
here-" He instructed
quietly, and she scooted over across the foot or two of space that separated
them. Very gently he pulled her
down, pillowing her head on his chest, his arms encircling her protectively.
"Go back to sleep..." he
murmured, already drifting off himself.
sensation of being wrapped in his
warm embrace was sublime. She laid
awake, listening to his even
breathing and the steady beat of his heart as he slept.
His shirt was a loose-fitting tunic, and tentatively she slid her
fingers beneath it, resting her
hand on his bare skin. She
resisted the urge to caress him, knowing that her touch would be even more
unsettling to him than the crude groping of the inn's proprietress.
Deanna sighed. She'd
known, even before returning to the Soyuz, that she still had feelings for
him. But she had not been
prepared for how powerful those feelings were going to be.
Professionally, she knew he needed time and objective counseling to
help him cast aside the grief that covered him like a shroud, but it was agony
for her to be so close to him, and to hold in all the things she wanted to
say. He was asleep, so she said
one of them now- whispered it almost soundlessly in the dark.
felt so very good to her, as if this was always meant to be.
She closed her eyes, pretending they were somewhere else- pretending
that they were lovers again, wrapped around each other in the afterglow of
lovemaking. It wasn't hard to
imagine and she finally drifted to sleep dreaming of the Jalara jungle.
Deanna woke early, as the first
light of morning began to illuminate the room.
Will still held her and she opened her mind to his.
She could sense the emotions there, shrouded by slumber, and she
smiled. He was at peace and she
allowed herself to luxuriate in the familiar sense of him as he had been
before grief had gripped his heart so completely.
Will murmured something softly in his sleep and held her a little more
closely. Deanna knew the loving,
semi-erotic thoughts that flowed from him as he began to awaken were not for
her, but even so, it was hard to move from his embrace.
Reluctantly, she removed her hand from under his shirt and sat up.
"mmm - Cecily..." he
breathed softly, reaching sleepily for her.
Deanna bit her lip.
It's me. Deanna."
He repeated dully, opening his eyes to look at her in the dimness.
She both felt and saw his grief reemerge again, obliterating all the
joy and peace she had sensed this morning.
said again, as if to assure himself that Cecily was really not there.
"Oh..." He sat
up, glad for the dim light that hid him from Troi's scrutiny.
They sat there in
silence for a few minutes, Will
too pained to talk and Deanna too unsure of her own heart to try to help him.
Finally he rose, brushing the dirt from the floor off his clothing and
going to look out the grimy window at the ramshackle street below.
"I'm going to go for a walk..."
He said at last. "Stay
The cold, predawn haze suited his
mood perfectly as he aimlessly wandered the
squalid streets, thinking of
The proprietress of the Palace
watched him slip out the front door into the street and smiled to herself.
He was one gorgeous hunk of a man.
Maybe, with his skinny little wife out of the picture, he'd be more
asthmatically, she waddled over to a table in the corner where four slave
traders were eating their grease-laden breakfasts.
"I've got some goods for you upstairs that I think you'll like.
The kind of sweet, delicate little thing the Cardassians just eat up.
She should bring us a nice price ..."
. Deanna sighed and leaned back against
the wall, straightening back up abruptly when a cockroach-like creature
skittered beside her head.
"It must be really hard
for him..." Aaron observed
from the other side of the room, taking her by surprise.
She'd assumed he was still asleep.
"Losing his wife, trying to raise a kid on his own, and run a
starship at the same time..."
Troi felt self-conscious for a
moment, wondering if Levitz had seen her sleeping in Will's arms, but she
heard no innuendoes in his voice, and sensed only sympathy in his
She agreed, "It's very hard for him."
Lt. Levitz sat up "I felt like
an idiot yesterday when I asked to see his kid's picture.
There I am babbling about how my wife is going to be upset if I'm not
back in time for Maya's party...I had heard about his wife - but I just wasn't
Deanna slipped gratefully back into
the role of Counselor, relieved to have something to think about besides the
way Will Riker made her feel. "Aaron,
there's no reason to feel awkward about that.
One of the biggest problems that a grieving individual encounters is
the tendency for everyone to walk on eggshells around them.
The captain was not upset with you for talking about your wife and
child. In fact, I think he was
enjoying the opportunity to interact with another new father. You two have a great deal in common, and I think that you
could become good friends."
Levitz was silent for a moment before
asking "You are, aren't you?
...good friends, I mean? It seems
like you understand each other..."
Deanna sighed enigmatically.
"Yes. We are good
friends. Whether we understand
each other or not anymore...I'm not sure..."
Aaron cocked his head.
She shook her head, a little
mortified that she'd let her feelings show.
"Will and I were once...we were once very close...it was a long
time ago...and things just didn't work out..."
Aaron was about to comment when there was a
loud rap on the door. "You
want breakfast or not?" The
loud voice of the inn's proprietress demanded.
shot Troi a grin, as he stood up
and dusted himself off. "The
captain's going to be sorry he missed her..."
he said under his breath as he went to open the door.
The woman peered inside the room before
handing him the covered tray. "Where
did your friend go?"
"Looking for work."
Aaron answered warily and saw her nod.
This would work perfectly, she thought to herself.
As soon as they had a few bites of the "special" breakfast
she'd made them they would be out cold. The
traders could make off quietly with their goods and she could tell the good
looking one that his wife had run away with his cousin.
She grinned salaciously. Then,
she would "comfort" him.
Aaron said, shutting the door in her face before his already churning
stomach rebelled against her aroma. He
turned to Troi doubtfully. "Breakfast
has arrived. Do I risk taking off
She nodded doubtfully, hunger warring
with the certainty that whatever the woman had brought them was going to be
inedible. Aaron peaked under the
lid and then smiled as he took it off the rest of the way.
It actually looked good. There
were two pieces of some sort of melon, accompanied by a flat bread and
beverages in sparkling, clean glasses.
"I think our
landlady is trying to make a good impression on the Captain."
He said with a grin and Deanna had to laugh as she took her portion of
melon from the tray.
"I don't think it's going to work..."
She smirked, "But you can't blame her for trying..."
They were both starving, and dug into the
food with relish. Aaron had eaten
almost his entire portion of melon before he paused suddenly. "I feel really strange...dizzy..."
He tumbled face forward and Deanna moved to help him, but the sedative
overcame her before she could reach his side.
Her last thought was that Will would be back soon and everything would
be all right.
Chapter 14 "Capture"
Will walked the streets of the
city for more than an hour. The
morning's heavy mist had made the thin layers of his clothing damp and clammy. Dismal squalor and abject poverty assailed him from every
side. Instead of dissipating, his
depression seemed to grow more oppressive with every step.
With conscious effort, he pulled his mind away from the dark thoughts
of his loss and loneliness. He
chided himself for wandering the streets in a haze of self indulgence,
realizing he couldn't allow himself time for self pity if their mission was
going to be accomplished. Picking up his pace he hurried back to the inn, remembering
as he entered to change his erect posture.
He slumped his shoulders and restricted his gaze to shifting sideward
glances, and views of the vast vistas of filth which covered the inn's wooden
"Hey handsome," the innkeeper
called to Will from across the room, the unmusical grating of her voice made
him cringe inwardly. Not seeing
any way to politely avoid her, he slouched to the bar.
"Come a little closer to me handsome," she wheezed, posing
herself lewdly in what she must have perceived as a provocative stance.
Will reflexively leaned back away from her, than cursed himself for
breaking character. Thankfully,
she appeared not to notice his untimely aversion.
The room suddenly became quiet, causing the hair on Will's arms and the
back of his neck to prickle. He
turned his head, trying to look up the stairs just as the innkeeper placed her
hefty paw on his shoulder. He
gritted his teeth smiling, forcing himself
to not wrench away from her touch. She
leaned closer to him, the stench of her breath nauseating him.
"I fixed it so you and I could have a little time together;
handsome. And I WILL make it
worth your while," she said, licking her greasy, painted lips.
Will faced her again reluctantly, revolted by the thought of what he
might have to do to satisfy her enough to let go of any information.
Making himself lean in closer to her, he gave her the full benefit of
his electric smile.
"Well darlin, if we're going to
be better friends, I need to know your name don't I?"
Being the unexpected object of Will's unmitigated charm elicited a
torrent of flustered simpering and grotesque posing from the ungainly
behemoth. "You can call me
Sari," she said, leaning over to expose even more of her grimy bosom as
she fluttered her false lashes at him.
There was a loud thud from upstairs and
Sari cast a furtive look towards the stairway.
Will craned his neck in the direction of her glance, his premonition of
danger increasing as he saw three large men shuffling down the upper hallway
towards the top of the stairs. One
carried what was obviously a person wrapped up as tightly as a cocoon in an
old blanket, while the other two seemed to be scanning the room.
A warning klaxon went off
in the back of Will's head as he turned to face the stuttering innkeeper.
"What's happening?" he asked her with deceptive mildness.
He heard the clomp of booted feet on the stairs and felt the vibration
through the wooden floor.
"Nothing to concern us," she snapped.
"Just some patrons who got sick.
They're taking 'em to the sick house." Will turned again to
observe the three men, his sense of unease escalating exponentially as another
man appeared from the hall, carrying a similarly bundled person.
What appeared to be the head of the first bundle was bobbing heavily
with each step of the man who carried it.
Riker swore belatedly when he saw several thin black braids slide into
They had Deanna!
Without stopping to think that he was outnumbered, he jerked away from
the fanatic grip of the innkeeper and launched himself at nearest of the three
still coming down the stairs. He
hit the first man in the gut with all the force of an Alaskan grizzly, and the
slaver toppled like a felled tree, the weight of his body pushing Will over
backwards as the two of them rolled down the stairs into a disorganized heap..
Will disentangled himself and shook the stars out of his eyes, only to throw
himself up the stairs once more.
Where is Benton?, he wondered frantically as he raced up the stairs two
at a time. The man carrying
Deanna had retreated behind his partner, the oily trader in front giving a
roar of his own as he charged Will at the edge of the stairwell. The two big
men were evenly matched, but the trader was on higher ground, giving him a
distinct advantage. He was also
carrying an ugly club which was imbedded with short ragged hooks of metal.
He swung powerfully, aiming it at Riker's head.
Riker stumbled sideways, barely saving his head from being crushed. But he couldn't avoid the club completely, and its spiked end
ripped into the muscles and bone of his shoulder, causing him to cry out. The
spikes caught the thin material of his shirts, ripping them half way off.
Rivulets of blood ran freely down his arm. The powerful blow left him
off balance and a booted foot which connected with his unprotected kidneys
drove him to his knees in agonizing pain.
The slaver smiled in anticipation as he finished the job with another
carefully placed kick, this time to Riker's face.
It knocked him through the flimsy balustrade and down ten feet to the floor
"Get him up," the leader
bellowed with vicious satisfaction as he spat on the unmoving form of his
Sari's high pitched protests could be heard
above the clamor, "He was to be mine Sorjen!
He was my price!!!"
The leader looked her
over with unveiled ridicule. "He
saw too much Sari. Besides, he is
big and quite strong. Exactly the
type they're looking for. So...
you will just have to find another..... toy," he spat, his voice dripping
with amused contempt.
The trader who had kicked Riker off the
stairs was now trying to rouse him. When
he had no success he walked over to the corner and picked up a bucket filled
with dirty water used to mop the floors.
Grinning, he threw it in the unconscious man's face.
Riker moaned as he regained consciousness. Sorjen nodded to the other
slaver and they grabbed Riker's arms and roughly pulled him to his feet.
They tied his arms behind his back, drawing the rope cruelly tight at
both at the wrist and the elbow. Sorjen
jerked his head to the others, and they left through the back exit to the
animals which awaited in the alley.
Deanna awoke to the forward swaying
motion of a riding beast, and also to fierce pain.
Other than a drug induced headache, she judged that it wasn't her own
pain that she was feeling, but Will's. Her
wrists were loosely tied to the pommel of the saddle, and her feet were
strapped to the stirrups with leather thongs.
Her thighs and ankles were chaffed raw, but other than that she seemed
to be intact. Opening her puffy eyes, she squinted against the brightness of
the mid-day sun. Nothing ahead of
her but more road, with mountains in the distance.
Her placid mount was tied securely in between two others, both of which
were ridden by slavers. She
twisted around as far as her bonds would allow and looked behind her.
Her heart twisted as she saw Aaron and Will being dragged along behind
them. They were tied to the last
mount by a ten foot rope which was split into two along the last four or five
feet of it's length.. At one end
was Aaron, the loop tied securely around his wrists, and at the other end was Will.
His arms had been pulled tightly behind him, so the rope had been
secured around his neck. The
dragging gait of the pack beasts raised clouds of
dry dust on the trail. Both
men were covered with thick layers of the
dust and were obviously exhausted.
The sun was brutal in it's strength and
dark stains showed where sweat had soaked the clothing of both men. Not that
there was much left of Will's shirt, she noticed.
Maybe she could get the traders to stop, she thought hopefully. She could feel the mind numbing exhaustion of both the men
behind her. She tried to send
Will both encouragement and strength. His
head snapped up to look at her briefly, but then he stumbled and fell to his
knees. Deanna's throat tightened
with anxiety. Aaron tried
desperately to pull him back up to his feet, but he wasn't able to help Will
stand before the forward pull of the rope jerked him face down in the middle
of the road. The beast continued
its slow pace unabated and began to drag him.
Aaron and Deanna both yelled simultaneously for the men to stop, and
grudgingly they did.
Riker didn't even remember how he came to
be face down in the dirt of the road. He
remembered feeling the surprise of Deanna's sudden presence in his mind. He knew she was trying to help him, but it broke his
concentration and the next thing he knew, he'd been choking in the dirt. He
felt himself being dragged roughly up to his feet by strong hands.
Blinking furiously, he tried to rid his eyes of the dust that blurred
his vision. His forehead ached
where he'd been kicked and his back, above his kidneys, throbbed.
Thankfully, he couldn't even feel his arms, or the injury to his
shoulder he'd taken in the brawl. Someone
pushed him down again to his knees, but in the shade this time, and on some
grass. "Captain," he
heard the breathless voice of Aaron close to him, "are you ok?".
"I'm OK," Will assured him. "I
just need to catch my breath". He
let himself collapse awkwardly onto his side, smelling the fragrant grasses
under his nose as he wondered whether the numbness in his arms indicated any
permanent damage. "How's
Deanna?" he whispered.
Aaron replied quietly, glancing at Troi
still seated on the beast and watching them worriedly.
"Well, she's certainly doing better than me or you sir."
Riker forced a smile and coughed from the
irritation of the dust in his throat. "These must be slavers," he
Aaron nodded dismally.
"I'm afraid you're right sir.
We've got front row seats to this event". The Lieutenant watched
the captain carefully as he closed his eyes, and tried not to worry.
Riker looked bad. One of the traders came over to them and threw some chunks of
hard bread onto the ground beside them.
"You need to undo his hands so
he can feed himself," Aaron complained.
"Not bloody likely." The trader grinned. "It's
up to you to feed him, or he doesn't eat," the trader mocked.
"After the fight he put up at the inn, Sorjen doesn't want him
untied until we reached the pens."
Aaron levered himself
painfully onto his knees and crawled over to where Riker lay.
He picked up the bread and ripped a piece off with his teeth with great
difficulty. His own wrists had been rubbed skinless by the rough ropes and it
was becoming quite painful to move them.
The bread was as dry as dirt and had about as much taste as wood
shavings. Aaron forced himself to chew, and managed to get the bread down his
dry throat. He painfully reached over and offered some to Riker, but the Captain shook
his head in refusal and closed his eyes again, just trying to rest and regain
his strength.. Aaron
grimaced with sympathy and called to the guards.
"Please. We need
water over here."
Deanna had been sitting against a tall tree
when one of the guards reached down and grabbed her wrist, yanking her to her
feet. "Here, wench " he
said, "Make yourself useful and take this to your friends over
there." Keeping her eyes
lowered so he wouldn't see the relief there, she hurried over to where Will
and Aaron were. Will was lying on
his side with his back towards her. She
handed the canteen to Aaron first and watched him as he gratefully drank the
warm, brackish water.
After a few swallows, Aaron motioned for
Deanna to help. "C-"
Aaron started to say Captain and quickly changed it to "Cousin",
aware of the slave-trader's scrutiny. "You
need to drink some water." Together,
he and Deanna pulled Will into a sitting position.
Deanna bit back her concern as she got her first good look at him.
Even covered with dust, she had no trouble seeing the dark purpling
bruises which had spread over his cheek bone and brow.
She quickly began examining him for further injuries and sucked in her
breath when she saw his shoulder. The
flesh had been wickedly shredded and the bloody wounds were now caked with
dirt and filth from the trail, which was why she hadn't seen them from her
vantage at the front of their train.
Will saw her distress.
"My arms are numb so it doesn't hurt, Deanna.
Don't worry about it," he whispered.
She gently touched his battered face, turning it so that she could help
him drink. Will raised his eyes towards her gratefully.
She let herself bask in the trust she saw there.
Aaron was gratified to see the return of some spark to the Captain's
"Deanna, have you
tried your comm badge?" Riker asked quietly. She nodded, indicating her
lack of luck in getting a response.
The Captain's had been lost along with most of his shirt, and Aaron's
was not responding either. He
sighed, realizing there would be no help from the Soyuz in the foreseeable
The slavers began shouting at
each other and Aaron whispered for Deanna and Will to get ready.
They both helped the captain to his feet, and Aaron grimaced in
sympathy as Riker swore at his own helplessness.
With his arms tied so tightly he had no balance or leverage.. Sorjen's second in command came over with his beast and
grabbed the single end of their rope. Tying it to the other slaver's saddle he
sauntered back. He grabbed
Deanna's arm roughly and gave the captain
a look of taunting challenge. "Your
wife eh?" He said expectantly, running his hand up her arm and around her
back, pulling her suddenly towards him as he forced a brutal kiss on her.
Aaron saw the blood drain from Riker's face and tried to caution him
with his eyes against responding rashly..
When Will saw the trader mauling
Deanna, every bitter accusation that Cecily's father had made against him
filled his mind. He hadn't been
able to protect Cecily and she had died because of it, and now he was unable
to protect Deanna. Grief and rage
consumed him as he lunged against the rope to get at the slaver.
But the other man had been watching for just such a move from atop his
mount, and he yanked the rope which bound both Will and Aaron together with a
sadistic savagery. Aaron was
jerked roughly onto his knees with enough force to make his teeth rattle.
He opened his eyes and saw that the captain was face down in the dirt
again, gasping for breath from the pressure of the rope on his trachea.
He scrambled over to him and got his fingers inserted in between the
rope and his neck, relieving the pressure.
"Up and on the road you two," the slaver growled with
satisfaction as he spat at their feet. "We
need to make the pens by nightfall."
The rest of the journey was a haze of
choking dust and burning sun, and putting one foot in front of the other. They reached the encampment an hour after the sun went down.
Standing in the middle of the grounds with heads hanging, they waited
as Sorjen approached them. It was obvious his pride was still smarting from being downed
by Riker's unexpected attack on
him at the inn. Sorjen grabbed
the Captains hair and pulled his face up to force Will to meet his eyes with
his own. Riker opened his eyes a
crack and gave him a look of pure contempt.
"We're here, slave."
Sorjen said, twisting the last word into the vilest insult. "You
will go to the pens now and await your new masters."
"My wife?" Will had the
presence of mind to mumble. "What
about my wife?"
"You no longer have a wife, slave." He pushed Riker backwards into Aaron, motioning to the other
slaver. "Cut them loose and
then put them in the central pens Jatok, and see if they sink or swim."
The man nodded and grabbed the rope which still bound them together.
"Welcome to your new
home boys," he said with a short laugh.
One of the slavers lifted up the heavy
metal grate while the other cut the bonds holding Will's arms behind his back,
then shoved him roughly into the hole. Will
managed to land on his feet, but didn't have any time to celebrate the fact
because Aaron Levitz came tumbling in after him, hitting him square in the
back and driving him to the ground.
"Ugh- sorry sir."
Levitz mumbled, disentangling himself from his commanding officer.
"Next time, YOU go first." Will grunted breathlessly.
Levitz almost smiled, until he saw that they were surrounded.
They scrambled to their feet and Will murmured softly
"Back-to-back with me, lieutenant."
Will scanned the circle of men around them, searching for their leader.
His arms hung loosely at his sides, the impaired circulation slowly returning
with a vengeance. He cursed as
the shooting pains escalated. His arms began to throb with the unaccustomed flow of blood
to the starved tissue, and his joints were stiff and painful.
But the worst pain was the shoulder that had taken the hit from the
club. He couldn't move it without
excruciating pain, and falling on it hadn't helped; breaking open the half
formed scabs, causing them to bleed freely again.
Will used his training to close his mind to the pain, which was by no
means the worst he had ever felt, knowing that he'd have to use all his skill
in the fight he assumed was coming.
One of the men stepped forward from the rest of the
rabble. "We want your
clothes, now," he snarled. Will
looked him over, letting his face show disdain.
The leader was reasonably attired, but Will noted that there were
others wearing little more than rags.
Riker cast a look at the shreds of his own tunic
and smiled sardonically. "Well-
you can have my shirt, if you really want it."
With a curse, the prisoner nodded to one of the other men in the circle
and they advanced on the two Starfleet officers.
The fight was short.
The other men were strong and brutal, but their fighting methods were
crude and they didn't stand a chance against Aaron and Will's years of martial
arts training; even though Will was handicapped by his shoulder.
In moments, the two attackers were pinned to the ground, and the rest
of the group stepped back warily. The
vanquished ringleader didn't dare move. Will
Riker's boot heel was on his throat and he was painfully aware that Riker
could crush his trachea at will. He
stared up at the big man, wondering what he was waiting for.
"Take HIS clothes!" One
of the ragtag band called out.
Will shook his head, taking his foot off
the man's neck. "No.
They belong to him." He
said simply, turning to Aaron and gesturing for him to release the man he had
pinned. The leader and Riker
stared at each other for a moment, each taking the others measure.
Finally the leader broke eye contact and turned his back on the two
Riker and Levitz quickly explored their
prison, the other prisoners giving them wide berth.
"Ain't no way outta here."
One man finally volunteered and Will found himself forced to agree.
He sagged with defeat as he and Levitz chose a spot in the corner to
sit, resigning themselves to wait for an opportunity to present itself.
Will steadfastly ignored the fire in his shoulder and his other various
aches and pains left over from the fight at the inn and the tribulations of
the trail. The hours passed
slowly, marked by the movement of the shaft of sunlight that entered from the
barred grate and made it's way slowly across the floor of their prison. With the setting sun the cell became a murky black and the
oppressive heat quickly gave way to bone-chilling cold.
Aaron huddled beside Riker, hugging his knees, his head jerking up
periodically in an effort to stay awake.
"Go ahead and get some sleep
Aaron," Will told him
sympathetically after feeling the young lieutenant jerk himself awake yet
again. "I'll keep an eye on our 'friends' for a while."
As weary as he was, Will knew he wouldn't
sleep. His mind was churning,
turning over each bit of information they had gathered, trying to figure out a
way out of this predicament. His
thoughts kept turning back to Deanna Troi.
He knew with a sick certainty what the slavers intended for her. He tried to clear his thoughts so that he could be open to
her mind, but it had been so long that he doubted it was possible anymore.
Five hundred yards away Deanna suddenly
straightened. The sensation was
unfamiliar. It had been a long
time, but it was definitely him. Reaching
out to her- worried for her. She
concentrated a moment, trying to send back to him thoughts of comfort and
reassurance, but the fleeting touch was
gone as suddenly as it had come. Still,
that brief caress of her mind had bolstered her courage and given her the
conviction that she had to act now.
Apparently the slavers had some rather quaint
ideas about women. While the men
were kept locked securely in the pits, surrounded by armed guards at the
ready, the few female prisoners here were kept in comparative comfort, with
only minimal security. Deanna
suspected wryly that they never dreamed a female would attempt an escape. She'd been locked in a room in the trader's house.
The wood floor was bare of
furniture or coverings except for a sagging steel bed, and the window was
boarded up; but there was a cramped bathroom, complete with running water.
Gratefully, she washed the dust and grime from the day off her face,
doing her best to rearrange her hair into a pleasing style. Steeling her
courage she walked to the door of her room and knocked.
"What do you want?"
The lone guard stationed in the hall demanded.
Telling herself it was the only way, she
assumed the sexiest voice she could manage.
"I'm lonely in here all alone.
I could use a little company," she purred.
There was a long pause, as she felt
the guard's sense of duty warring with his lust.
"I promise- I'll be a VERY good girl," she encouraged
suggestively. She was rewarded by
the click of the key in the door. Swallowing
her rising revulsion, she smiled invitingly as he stepped in the room, and
moved towards him. He grinned,
exposing his rotting teeth as she stood on her tiptoes and planted a kiss on
the side of his mouth. "Oh,
you're very handsome!" she flirted.
"Why don't you take off this big 'ol coat so I can feel you
The guard hesitated again, but the woman
ran her tongue over her lips enticingly and he felt his body respond to her
luscious promise. He swallowed,
causing his adams apple to bob nervously. There was really not anything to
worry about, he rationalized. She's
just a woman, and a small, fragile one at that.
He'd been working at this camp for months, often pulling double shifts
with practically no time off for relaxation. He decided suddenly that he deserved this little prize.
Laying his heavy shotgun down on the bed behind him he started to take
off the bulky coat with her assistance. She
pressed up against him as she slid it back off his shoulders, caressing his
muscles. The unaccustomed feel of
a woman's body rubbing up against his caused his lust to rise, blinding him to
anything else. She pushed the
coat down his arms, moaning with her own excitement.
He closed his eyes, grinding
his body against hers. Then, at the moment where both his arms were entangled
in fabric, his groin exploded with mind numbing pain as she lashed out at him
with her knee.
With a strength born of desperation,
calling on every minute of self-defense training she'd been forced to endure
over the years, Deanna kicked him again.
He went down like a stone, still struggling to free himself and fight
off this wild woman who was hurting him in a way he had never dreamed
possible. Deanna grabbed the shotgun off the bed, and trying not to
think about what she was doing, she smashed the heavy butt brutally into his
skull. He went limp and she stood
up in astonishment for a split second, both proud of and appalled by what she
had just done. A sound outside her window reminded her that there was no time
to waste, and she quickly pulled the coat the rest of the way off the
senseless guard. Donning both it
and the guards' cap, she grabbed the gun and made her way out into the hall.
Finding no more guards, she quickly passed beyond the slaver's house
and sprinted across the narrow field and into the safety of the woods beyond.
The rebel guerrillas had
spotted her as soon as she came around the corner of the structure.
She was moving stealthily, and then broke into a run, as if afraid of
capture. She ran straight for
their position and Tremin had no trouble reaching out and snaring her,
grabbing her shotgun as she slipped into the underbrush.
She struggled vainly against his strong arms, and the cap fell off, her
braids cascading down around her shoulders.
Tremin released her in surprise. "You're
a woman!" He observed dryly.
Then, yanking her arm, he hauled her back under the cover of the brush.
For a moment she was afraid that she'd run
directly into more slavers, but the emotions she sensed from this one were
different. "I was a
prisoner...I got away..." She
explained breathlessly. Tremin studied her for a long moment and then turned
to his companion and said something softly.
Turning back to Deanna he nodded.
"You will come with me."
His voice was sympathetic and almost gentle and Deanna's mind was
flooded with relief.
The relief became even greater when she met
the man to whom Tremin whispered before calling her forward.
He was a thin, intense whip of a man and she strained to see his face
in the deep shadows of the nighttime forest.
"I am Benton." He
said simply. "I understand you have escaped from the slavers..."
Deanna quickly told him the entire story, noticing their grins in the
darkness when she related how she'd gotten away.
Benton nodded with satisfaction.
"I heard what happened at the Palace and feared that it was you
who were captured. We came here
to find out- and to free our other comrades being held."
He was interrupted by another
man who emerged from the shadows like a ghost. "Benton.
Everyone is ready. It's
time," he whispered.
Benton nodded and looked back at
Troi. She impressed him as an
extraordinarily lovely woman, as well as one of exceptional intelligence and
courage. "You can wait
here..." he told her, "Or you may come with us to free your
Deanna squared her shoulders.
"I'm going with you."
Will was in the shadowy world
between wakefulness and sleep. He
had barely had anything to eat or drink in two days, and his injuries left him
feeling weak and exhausted. His
mind drifted between the uneasy rustlings of his fellow prisoners, memories of
Cecily, and worries about Deanna and the safety of his little girl back on the
Soyuz. Suddenly startled into full awareness by the sounds of shots
being fired, he scrambled to his feet, along with Levitz and the other
prisoners, straining to make out what was happening above them.
There were shouts of alarm and the sounds of people running.
Gunfire crackled in the night and he heard the scream of someone who'd
been hit. After what seemed like
an eternity someone pulled back the metal grate over the entrance to the pit
and shined a light in on the dazed men below. "Hey!
Don't worry! We're friends
and we've come to get you out! Stand
clear, we're lowering a ladder for you."
Will and Aaron pushed to the front of
the milling group of men and when the ladder was lowered they were the first
ones up out of the pit. Will's
arms were still not strong enough, and he cursed softly at himself as he
accepted the help of the two men kneeling above the hole.
As soon as he was out he turned back to them. "Where are the women
prisoners kept? I've got to find
my wife," he demanded, as Levitz emerged next.
One of the men pointed to the structure at the end of the compound and
Will and Aaron sprinted away.
They rushed through the house,
shoving open doors, calling her name, but the rooms were silent, abandoned
except for one soldier with an ugly head wound who was sprawled unconscious
beside a bed. Will turned to
Aaron. "Damn it. She's not here!" He
exclaimed, thinking the worst. What
if she had already been sold to the Cardassians?
What if she was dead? He
felt the same agony grip his soul that he had felt that day in the mining
colony while looking for Cecily, knowing she was dead, knowing he had failed
to protect someone he loved.
Aaron saw the look on his captain's face
and guessed at what thoughts were going through his mind.
He almost reached out and told Riker that it wasn't his fault, but the
captain had already turned and started down the steps, taking two at a time.
"Maybe they've got her somewhere else...c'mon - let's go!"
Deanna was wandering among the milling
prisoners, looking for some sign of Will or Aaron.
She felt her desperation rise as she realized they weren't there.
She turned once more and scanned the surrounding area, and clasped her
hands together as she saw them emerge from the house.
Her heart leapt as she saw Will, battered and bruised, but still alive
and whole. "Will! Here!"
she shouted, waving to catch his attention.
She felt his emotions clearly as he spotted
her. Fear and grief giving way
suddenly to joy. "Deanna!"
He exclaimed, breaking into a huge grin.
She wasn't sure who ran into whose arms, but suddenly they were hugging
each other tightly, their minds touching as they shared a moment of oneness
and celebration. To Deanna it
felt like coming home again. Aaron Levitz hung back and watched them, grinning himself,
but unwilling to intrude on this happy reunion.
He caught a movement out of the corner of his
eye, a glint of light on steel. On
the ground just a few feet from Riker and Troi, one of the slavers who'd been
left for dead had regained consciousness.
With the last of his strength he'd picked up his gun and taken aim,
determined to take someone with him into the netherworld.
"WATCH OUT!" Aaron
screamed. Will looked up just in
time to swing Deanna out of the gunman's sights before he fired.
He took the shot to his left side and staggered, looking into Deanna's
eyes with a look of surprised regret before he collapsed.
Troi grabbed him as he went down, breaking his fall.
"Imzadi!" She screamed the word, not even aware of what she
was saying as his blood splashed onto her tunic.
Aaron ran to the group of rebels who had
gathered around Riker and Deanna. He
pushed his way to the center and stared in horror at the mess the close range
shotgun blast had made of his captain. Gathering
his wits he ripped off his tunic and folded it into a compressed bundle.
Laying it on top of the gaping wound he applied as much pressure as he
dared to slow the bleeding. "Come
on," he shouted, "We've got to get out of here and get the Captain
to a doctor now!" Tremin
nodded and motioned to his men to help Riker.
Aaron grabbed the arm of the dazed Betazoid and took off for the cover
of the woods.
For several hours Deanna was still numb
with shock from the brutality of Will's shooting.
His blood still covered her tunic and arms, turning her skin sticky as
it dried. She let Aaron's touch
guide her as she strove to keep contact with Will.
His presence was weak but steady, and she spent herself as she reached
out to him, giving him strength and encouragement even though he was barely
conscious. The men had
immediately given up trying to get him to walk.
Even with a man on either side it was impossible.
So they rigged up a crude stretcher with coats and two stout straight
branches, and were making good
time as they sped through the dense woods.
"How long till we can get him to a doctor?" she asked
Benton turned briefly, worry
lining his face. "If we're
lucky, by dawn. That's if we
travel all night."
Deanna let the words sink
in with stunned disbelief. She
didn't know if Will could survive that long.
She reached out and grabbed his hand as his arm slipped off the
stretcher. It was sticky with
blood, but felt cool and clammy. She
gnawed her lip, worried, and hoping he wasn't in shock.
"Can't we stop for a minute?
I'm worried about Captain Riker."
Benton turned his head again.
His expression told her everything.
"We can't stop yet, Deanna. We're
still too close to the pens. We
killed some of their own and they won't be giving up so easily.
I'm sure that they're still looking for us."
Deanna knew he was right but she protested
anyway. "At least stop so I
can check his bandages."
Benton grudgingly complied and motioned for
the group to spread out and keep alert. He
watched as Deanna pulled back the cloak that Aaron had laid over Riker's
torso. The wound was serious.
Riker's chances didn't look good at all to the guerrilla leader's
experienced eye. Dark red blood
saturated the rough bandage Aaron had rigged earlier, soaking through the
make-shift stretcher as well. Even in the darkness Benton could detect the deep pallor of
the man's skin. He reached over
and felt for a pulse. It was weak
and thready, and very rapid. A
sure sign of shock after such a great blood loss.
Riker's heart was overworked as it tried to compensate for the loss of
blood volume by pumping what was left through is system at a frantic rate.
He looked at Deanna, knowing she could sense his mood.
"Make another bandage. We've
got to move on." When she
reached to take off the old one he grabbed her hand.
"No don't move that or the bleeding will start again.
Put the new one on top of it."
Benton gave her another heavy shirt from his backpack.
"Here, use this." He
noticed the shaking of her hands as she quickly rigged the shirt into another
bandage. Reaching down, he tore
more strips from the bottom of her skirt and helped her bind the bandages
tightly. "It'll have to do.
We've got to move on." Benton
hardened himself against the pain he saw in her face as they moved out again.
The long hours of the night seemed to drag
on interminably for Deanna. She
was footsore and heartsick, and she couldn't help but see that Will was
fighting for every breath he took. It
was an hour before dawn when they finally reached the edge of the city; the
first blush of the sunrise creeping from behind the tall spiraling edifices
which rose from the center of the most densely populated area.
As beautiful as those central structures were, the effect was ruined by
the sprawl of the drab industrial complexes which came right up to it's edge.
The industries in turn were surrounded by the cancerous spread of
ramshackle homes that reached the cities outer edge.
Deanna looked at Benton, brushing her braids back from her face.
"Where are we taking him?"
Benton answered her slowly.
"I'm sending Tremin in to scout, he'll find the best place."
Deanna's heart was sank even further,
but she knew they had no choice. She
sat down next to Will and checked his bandage again.
It was saturated as she knew it would be.
He was still bleeding, despite their best efforts to stop it.
With the loss of each precious drop, he was quickly losing the strength
he needed to fight. Deanna asked Benton for another shirt and sluggishly bound it
on top of the others. Finished
with her task, she tore what remained of Will's shirt off of him and wet it
with water from the canteen. Gently
she cleaned the filth and blood off of his face, revealing the deep purple and
blue of the bruises from his fight at the inn.
She combed his hair with her fingers.
It was damp with sweat as she pushed it's unaccustomed length away from
his eyes. Resting her head for a
moment on Will's good shoulder, she wept silently, too exhausted to be aware
of Lieutenant Levitz's gaze. Tears
would do Will no good, she knew, and scrubbing her face resolutely, she
grabbed her canteen and poured it's contents over his shoulder trying
unsuccessfully to wash the dirt and filth from the wound.
It was ugly and swollen with fever, the shredded flesh filled with
purulent infection. But her mind
told her that this injury was secondary.
It wasn't what was stealing his life from her. Under the blood soaked
shirts was the cause, the gaping wound in his side.
Loss of blood could easily kill him- but he was also in danger of a
systemic sepsis from massive infection. The
longer they waited, the greater risks he faced.
breathed, hardly loud enough for Deanna to hear.
whispered, brushing his hair back off his face, over and over.
struggled, "take care- Please." She felt the fear that clawed at him. He was telling her to take care of his daughter.
He was telling her that he was going to die.
Deanna's throat constricted around the words she wanted to say to him.
That he wasn't going anywhere. That
he could take care of her himself. That
there was no need for any of this silliness.
But finally she just nodded in defeat, whispering to him that she would
never let anything harm his daughter- and that she would love her like she was
her own child. Blackness filled
her heart, feeling that what she had said was an admission to both him and to
herself that she had given up.
But it seemed to bring him comfort, and that was more important now.
Chapter 15 "The
Aaron helplessly watched Riker's life
slipping away before his eyes, his mind drifting back to the night the three
of them had spent together at the inn. Troi
didn't know it, but he had seen her laying curled up in the captains arms, in
a much more cozy position than casual acquaintances would be found in, no
matter how cold it was. Then he
had heard her whisper " Imzadi".
Aaron had picked up some kind of a vague notion of what that meant from
his Betazoid roommate at the academy. It
was like some kind of a life-long bond that Betazoids could share with one
person only. Kind of a spiritual
and physical thing all wrapped together in a way he couldn't understand, no
matter how much his friend tried to explain it to him.
He didn't exactly understand what had gone on between the captain and
counselor Troi., but he had heard plenty of rumors floating about during his
Aaron's eyes refocused and he studied the
two of them together again. Troi's
slumped posture betrayed her defeat. Aaron
felt his ire rise at the unfairness of it all.
He had seen the stark panic in the Captain's eyes when Troi was nowhere
to be found, and he had also seen the joy and relief when they had spotted
each other across the yards. He
was damned if he was going to sit around and do nothing here. He pulled Troi
away from the Captain's side and he forced her to look at him.
"Counselor Troi, the captain is NOT going to die.
Not unless you let him. You
can't give up hope now." Aaron
Levitz was exactly the same height as Troi.
He commanded her gaze. "I
don't pretend to understand what your Imzadi connection with the captain
means, but I'm not so blind that I can't see that it goes deep with both of
you." He tried to convey the earnestness of his belief to her.
"The captain needs your strength, counselor, and I think he needs
your belief to hang on to his life."
Aaron shook his head, "and maybe he even needs more than I know-
but whatever that might be... I
know that only you can give it to him."
Aaron's voice became gentler. "But
Troi, you've got to believe too."
Deanna blinked, causing tears to overflow
and make muddy tracks down through the layers of dirt on her face. She knew in the depth of her heart that Aaron was right.
She had given up hope; and by giving up she may have left Will nothing
to hold on to. Giving Aaron a grateful hug, she went back to Will.
Sitting down cross legged on the dirt she lifted his arm and lay it
over her lap and around her left side. His
other hand she held loosely in hers and worried as she felt its chilled
clamminess. She pulled the cloak
up around his neck and stroked his head with her free hand.
Looking within, she focused deeply to find her own center first.
Pushing through the darkest flow of her emotions, she searched for the
balance of harmony that was her innermost soul.
Finding it, she waited. Gathering
it's calm center close to her, she slowly regained the strength she needed to
leave again. But this time she
brought the balance and peace away with her; wearing it like a cloak, filling
herself with it and feeling it's strength like a potent elixir.
Ready now, Deanna ventured forward
into the vortex of Will's emotions; pushing past fear and pain; pushing past
the resignation and grief. She
searched for his center as she had searched for her own.
There! She found it buried
amongst the rubble of the walls that had protected Will, only now they were
now no longer standing. Tentatively
she reached in to gently touch what she had not felt in years.
Will's unguarded self. The
bare essence of his heart. It was
everything about him that was good, and it was everything about him
that she loved and cherished. What
Deanna felt now was something she was determined never to lose again.
Slowly and lovingly, she began to construct a bridge between his center
and hers. Rebuilding the
connection that, although worn and weak, still existed there between them. Deanna was encouraged as she saw the gradual reinforcing of
their bond. She was forging a
path that would allow her to send Will the strength that only she could give
him. Gently, with great calm and
control, she allowed the flow of energy to begin it's journey to her Imzadi;
willingly depleting her own reserves to give him enough strength of will to
survive. He had to survive.
Benton seen enough wounded men to realize
that Riker might not even make it to the hospital.
He'd lost far too much blood, and it had been much too long since he
had been shot. Infection
would get him, Benton speculated, if the blood loss didn't.
He watched the Betazoid as she kept vigil next to his side. Shaking his head, he turned away. Allowing her the privacy of her pain. Squinting his eyes against the sunrise, he studied the edges
of the city and spied Tremin snaking his way up the trail that led to their
sanctuary. Vastly relieved, he turned to tell the others to get ready.
He was anxious to get Will into medical care, such as it was.
He also needed to get himself back to his base so he could try and
contact the Soyuz. Checking to
make sure that the Captain was secure on the stretcher, he led them swiftly
Deanna stared dumbly at the battered brown
building before them. This couldn't be the hospital Tremin had found for Will.
Could it? She absently ran
her fingers down the splintered door frame as the men brought Will through the
emergency entrance. A harried
nurse met them in the front lobby and hurried them through after taking a
quick glance at the bloody bandages on Will's side. Patients in the waiting
room complained loudly, but were silenced when the nurse said, "Life and
death emergencies have priority." Another nurse came in and they hoisted Will from the
stretcher onto a narrow examination table.
They began efficiently cutting off his clothing, and then covered him
with a light blanket, leaving the bandages on for the doctor to remove.
One of them reached over and lightly slapped his face, repeatedly
asking him if he knew his name, or where he was.
He didn't answer, but he did briefly open his eyes for a moment.
"Hmmm, pretty boy," the first nurse said with a grim smile,
throwing his bloody clothing into a blue hamper on the other side of the room.
She continued to hook him up to various monitors which slowly made Will
look as if he was growing tentacles from his arms and chest. Deanna
stood in the corner, making herself as small as possible.
A man who could only have been the
doctor pushed his way into the room. His
bustling energy making up for his small stature.
"Ok... what do we have here?" he asked as he flipped on the
impossibly bright exam lights.
Shotgun wound to the side and lacerations to the left shoulder are the
worst of it." The nurse said
infection, shock and hypovolemia due to blood loss."
"That'll do for starters,"
the physician replied, deadpan.
The doctor checked the monitors and barely spared a glance for Deanna.
"Pressure's bottomed out. I
want two IV's started... One with Normal Saline wide open...
I need blood gases, and a CBT, lytes and type and cross match
stat." He rubbed his hands
together. "OK... lets
take this off," he said, cutting through the homemade bandages.
He looked at the hole in Will's side without speaking for only a split
second, then he began stuffing the wound with large surgical pads; making
another pressure bandage. "Get those IV's going and call SU so we can get him
moved. Start an ectidosamine
drip, 250 milligrams at 15 cc's an hour as soon as you have a good line; and
get the surgical team up to SU stat! Prep
him for surgery!"
Deanna watched with
fearful apprehension as the nurses worked on either side of Will;
slapping his veins and sticking him with metal needles repeatedly, trying to
find a patent vein without success. "I'm
having a hard time finding a vein that'll hold!" the first nurse snapped
as she held pressure on yet another that had blown.
"Then do a cut down on a larger
vein" he said calmly. The nurse ripped open the sterilized package and scattered
it's contents on Will's lap; using him as a table.
Deanna's eyes were riveted on the wicked looking scalpel she wielded.
Pulling back the blankets the nurse continued her search, finally
grunting with satisfaction as she cut into a large leg vein and deftly
inserted the large bore needle. Deanna's
stomach felt queasy and she closed her eyes for a moment.
It was so barbaric. Needles
and knives, tubes and bags... monitors with their terrifying beeping that
measured the rhythms of his life. Where
was the Soyuz? she wondered helplessly.
She was jerked back to an awareness of the room when she heard gagging.
She saw Will's back arch slightly as the doctor that was standing by
his head shoved some kind of semi flexible tubing down his throat. They had
put a blanket under his shoulders, raising his chest and hyper-extending his
neck. "Got it," the
doctor grunted and pulled the blanket from beneath Will. All right, he's intubated," he said,
"We'll hook him to the ventilator in the S.U."
Deanna remained unnoticed as they wheeled the gurney past her and out
the door. Unable to touch his
body, she reached out to touch his mind.
Only eight hours after the Soyuz had left the away team
on Cantos and departed for patrol of the border, negotiations between
Cardassia and the Federation broke down.
Cardassia proclaimed all previous treaties null and void, and their
fleet swept over the established neutral zone.
As ordered, the Soyuz dropped back to defend Starbase 72, and to wait
for Federation reinforcements to arrive.
They were hard pressed to defend the station, and Thompson wondered
grimly what Riker would say when he saw the condition of his ship.
They'd lost three crew members. There
was a minor hull breach in the cargo bay.
They had significant damage to their propulsion systems and, at least
until emergency repairs were complete, their warp drive was inoperable.
Thompson rested his head in his hands for a moment, and wished, not for
the first time, that his commanding officer would miraculously reappear.
He had no desire to be a captain, especially not in time of war.
His grim thoughts were interrupted by the voice of the officer of the
watch. "Commander Thompson?
I have Commodore Picard for you..."
swallowed hard. He wondered how someone as easy-going and informal as Captain
Riker had been so comfortable working with this man for all those years.
Jean Luc Picard was nothing if not intimidating.
"Put him through."
Picard had only met
Thompson once, at Cecily Riker's funeral.
He'd not been particularly impressed, but Will had spoken highly of
him, and that was enough for Picard. "Commander
Thompson? I was hoping to speak
with Will ..."
"Uh, sir - Will - that is, uh, Captain Riker, isn't on board,
Picard frowned at him, and
Thompson launched into a lengthy explanation, including how they had lost
contact with the shuttle they'd left orbiting Cantos. He was dimly aware that he was lapsing into what Riker
jokingly referred to as bureaucratic doublespeak, but he was determined that
Picard would understand his awkward position and his sincere desire to remedy
Picard frowned at him.
"Considering how rapidly conditions are deteriorating, I
believe we should make an attempt to recover your officers as quickly
as possible. It's likely that
Cantos may end up behind enemy lines in the near future."
Thompson nodded quickly.
"I agree sir...and believe me, there's nothing I want more than
for Captain Riker to be back in the center seat."
Picard studied Will's first officer for a
long moment. "Very well,
Commander. I suggest you withdraw
with the Soyuz and make the necessary emergency repairs.
I'll take the Enterprise to Cantos to retrieve the away team and we
will contact you as soon as we have them aboard." Thompson nodded with relief but Picard was not through.
"Oh...and Commander...just out of curiosity...does the Captain
often lead away missions?"
Thompson frowned slightly himself. "Well, I think he would lead every away team if he had
the choice...we...we have sort of a running battle over that, sir.
I quote regulations and argue what's best for the ship...and he usually
gives in- although he's never happy about it.
He- he claims I act like a mother hen..."
Commander Thompson was unprepared for the
wide smile that Picard graced him with.
"I see- very well then. Picard
out." The commodore
chuckled. He couldn't wait to
discuss that interesting bit of information with his former first officer. Rising, he headed for the bridge to inform his crew that they
were going to the aid of some old friends.
Aaron Levitz tried his combadge for
the tenth time in the last half hour, hoping against hope that it would
suddenly prove functional. It
seemed that a prompt rescue by the Soyuz was the last and best hope for his
It was not for no reason that there
was no answer to Lt. Levitz hail, because Ensign Schmidt's body had been
vaporized by a blast of phaser fire, right after he'd revealed everything
about his mission to the soldiers who'd blown his shuttle out of the sky. His last emotion was disappointment in himself for having
broken so easily under their brutal interrogation.
The Cardassian Commander had holstered his weapon and smiled.
Captain Riker was well known and would make a wonderful trophy to take
home to Cardassia. He ordered a
full-scale search to begin immediately.
Only hours after the
conversation with Thompson, Jean Luc Picard sat in the center seat and watched
the planet of Cantos come into view. He
was relieved to find only a minor Cardassian presence there so far.
The single ship in orbit was a small, lightly armed cruiser that
departed hastily when they detected the Federation flagship.
It took sensors mere seconds to locate the remains of the shuttle in a
decaying orbit. Beverly, sitting
in the chair to Picard's left, heaved a sigh of relief as Data reported that
there were no bodies in the debris field.
She was worried about her friends, and she could see the tension in
Picard, in spite of his practiced calm. Despite
the years that had separated them, Picard still thought of Will and Deanna as
two of his very closest friends. Bev
leaned towards the Commodore and whispered quietly "This kind of feels
like old times; searching for Will and Deanna on an away mission gone
Picard afforded her a momentary
glance. "Let us hope that it
has not gone too much awry Beverly."
Jean Luc sighed. "But
in the meantime, it might be wise to prepare for casualties."
rose from the chair. "Probably
a good idea seeing Will is involved..."
Deanna was feeling overwhelmed as she
sat in the Intensive Therapy Unit's waiting room.
The Emergency room staff had assured her that he would be coming to ITU
after his surgery. Not long
after she had arrived there, a gray haired, small sparrow-like woman had come
to see her with mountains of papers for her to sign.
Stating that she had no employment. Stating that she had no co-payor or
employer who would stand surety for Will's debt. Stating that she had the power to make medical decision for
Will. Medical care was expensive,
the woman assured her when Deanna asked.
There was a limited amount that the hospital was willing or even able
to do when they had critical patients who could not pay.
They had to be practical, the woman said, because they had no help from
the government or other outside sources.
If too many people receiving expensive treatment didn't pay, they would
just have to shut their doors to everyone.
Giving in, she signed everything the woman shoved in front of her.
Deanna wearily leaned her head
back against the wall after the sparrow woman left; exhausted from the ordeals
of the past several days. Working
with Will had also taken it's toll on her body's stores of energy, but
regardless of that fact, she extended questing tendrils towards him again.
She could feel his presence, but had sensed nothing else since they had
used their crude anesthesia. She
began to doze lightly, and then slipped quickly into an exhausted sleep.
She awoke to see Benton sitting across from her reading
from a booklet. He looked up when
he saw she had awakened. "Anything?"
she asked groggily.
He shook his head negatively.
Just then a nurse stuck her head in the door.
She gave them both the once over look.
"You guys with the gunshot wound?" she asked sourly.
At their nod's she popped her gum. "He's on the floor now.
You can go see him if you want. Family
only," she said glaring at Benton when he made to rise.
Deanna followed the nurse through a maze of
dirty corridors that were lined
with both empty and occupied patients beds.
Moans of pain and the emotions of the sick surrounded her, and the
anxiety of their families battered at her worn defenses.
They pushed through a set of double doors marked ITU and walked past
numerous beds that were only separated from each other by worn curtains.
Finally, they stopped and the nurse motioned her in.
"Thirty minutes is all. Then
you gotta leave" she said with a final pop of her gum.
The sounds of humming, beeping and clicking
assailed her from the small space she entered.
She went to him and stood silently, at a loss as she tried to separate
Will from the machines he was attached to.
He had several IV's attached to various bags of fluid, and one which
was attached to what looked like a blood product.
They all ran through a pumping system whose beeping added to the wild
cacophony of the room. He was
hooked up to a pressure monitor of some sort that flashed its incomprehensible
readings across a screen seated above his head.
Areas of his chest were shaved with leads attached.
They led to a monitor which showed every beat of his heart, and kept
it's time with an interminable beeping. The
most distressing of all, however, was the machine next to the bed.
It seemed to be some kind of mini bellows attached to a clear
accordion-like tube which protruded like a growth out of Wills mouth.
It pulled on side of him mouth down and was taped securely in place.
The only thing that kept Deanna from
screaming at the top of her lungs was the steady touch of Will's presence in
her mind. She reached through the
tubing and gripped his hand, running her fingers through his unruly hair.
"You need a haircut, mister," she whispered, hot tears
threatening yet again.
Aaron poked his head suddenly through the
he whispered, "how is he?"
Deanna motioned him to come in and he shook her
head. "We've got to get him
back to the ship," she said.
Aaron smiled grimly.
"I'm working on that. Have
you still got your comm badge?"
Deanna nodded, rubbing her burning eyes. "Good," he said softly, I'll keep you posted.
By the way," he said as an afterthought, "the only way I
could get in here was to say I was your brother."
She gave him a blank smile and nodded her understanding.
Aaron slipped out as quietly as he had slipped in. Deanna pulled over a
chair and sat at the bedside, hoping that the nurse would forget she was here.
Her exhausted body betrayed her again and she fell asleep holding
Will's hand, her head resting against the old mattress he lay on.
Worf had been scanning the surface of the
planet for comm badge signatures. Picard
had debated simply opening a hailing frequency, but he was hesitant to tip off
the small Cardassian garrison on Cantos.
At last, after much calibrating of his sensors, Worf located Riker's
badge. Picard gave the order for
the transporter room to beam the badge and it's owner directly to the bridge.
He was expecting Will, but the figure taking shape certainly did not
belong to the captain of the Soyuz. Worf
quickly drew his phaser as an enormous, malodorous woman materialized and
gawked back at them in confusion.
"Who the hell are you?" She demanded of the Klingon, but was answered instead by
Picard's calm inquiry.
"You're wearing a communications
badge- may I ask how you acquired it?"
She glanced down at the pretty gold pin
she'd attached to the straining fabric covering her bosom.
"An admirer gave it to me," she asserted defensively.
Picard knew Will had an eye for
women- or at least he had before he'd settled down to become a husband and
father. But Picard sincerely
doubted that even Will could find anything to admire in this particular
specimen. "May I ask his
name, madam?" he said dryly.
She looked surprised for
a moment as if the thought of a name had never occurred to her.
"I don't know. I just
called him 'handsome'. He had the
prettiest blue eyes..."
Riker for sure, thought
Picard. "And he GAVE you this badge?" he demanded
Something about this man's
demeanor made her realize that this was not a man to lie to.
"Well, actually - it got ripped off his shirt in a fight..."
She admitted sullenly. "Before
some slavers hauled him off."
Deanna awoke to the sounds of a shrill
alarm going off beside her head. She
jerked her head up off the mattress just as a nurse rushed in and shooed her
out of the way; quickly checking the respirator.
Muttering, the nurse punched a few buttons and then cursed softly.
"His respiration is too fast," she continued to mutter to
herself as she punched the bedside intercom.
"Call the attending physician," she said as she started
listening to Riker's lungs with the apparatus hanging around her neck.
Minutes later, the curtains were flung back and the doctor came in,
looking to the nurse for answers. "Respiration's
are up from twelve to thirty- and maybe some tracheal deviation and increasing
The doctor listened to Riker's
chest. "Absent breath sounds
in the left lung. Tension
pneumothorax," he guessed. "Take
him off the respirator and bag him! I'll try to decompress" he said,
opening a kit from the bedside tray.
"BP is falling and he's
bradycardic," the nurse intoned. Deanna
could see that Will's breathing was becoming more and more labored, but Deanna
was still appalled by the huge needle that the doctor was preparing to stick
into her Imzadi's chest. This
could have been taken care of without ANY invasive procedures on the ship. Suddenly dizzy, she squeezed her eyes shut after the doctor
plunged the needle through Will's chest wall, quickly withdrawing the air that
had compressed his lung.
"There," the doctor said,
watching the monitors closely. He
finally looked at Deanna and motioned curtly for her to follow.
"Reduce the vent settings and hook him back up," he told the
nurse, almost as an afterthought.
The doctor stopped abruptly and
turned to face Deanna Troi. "He
is your husband?" Deanna
mutely nodded. "Is he in any
Deanna schooled her face to
remain impassive. "Trouble?"
she echoed back to him.
The physician looked around.
"There are questions being asked. About
someone with your husband's description and injuries.
I'm afraid you've got more problems than just discontinuing life
Deanna gaped at him.
"Discontinuing life support?" she practically shouted.
"You can't discontinue life support!
He's not dead! And he
won't die unless you take him off the ventilator!"
He looked at her strangely.
"I know that, but you have no way to pay for his care.
The hospital cannot care for a long term patient who cannot pay,"
he said, as if stating the obvious.
Deanna stared dumbfounded,
nothing coming out of her open mouth. "But
he's not going to die," she finally sputtered.
"You can't just stop treatment because we can't pay!"
His eyes softened, "I know
it's hard. But we all have to
face the facts. It's either this,
or have no hospital at all. These
are the hard choices."
Deanna's eyes pleaded with him. "Can't you just give us a little time?"
The doctor was silent for a
moment. "I can't guarantee
anything because it's not my decision to make.
But I'll do what I can. You
go get something to eat. You look
like you're about to fall over. I
promise nothing will be done before you get back. "
by her side and took her arm. "I'll
feed her doctor, and thanks." The
doctor watched them as they left the ITU, knowing there was really nothing in
his power that could change what he'd told her.
Picard looked at the large woman curiously.
" Data, find out what you can about these slavers our guest is talking
about. And then return her back
to where you found her."
Data nodded and took the unresisting
woman by her flabby arm. "If
you will come with me," he said politely.
She gave him a ingratiating smile, already looking the android up and
down with obvious speculation.
Picard shook his head.
"Worf. Keep scanning for those comm badges.
"Aye sir" the Klingon said, in a tone that indicated he had
never stopped doing so.
Aaron Levitz was fiddling with something
that ought to boost the signals of the Soyuz comm badges once he was finished.
"Ahh!," he said aloud, "that ought to do it."
Deanna had returned to Will's room after
Aaron had forced her to eat. She
did feel better. She had quickly
gotten used to the steady buzzes, clicks and beeps that kept the staff alerted
to Will's minute by minute condition. She
had almost dozed off again when the sound of angry voices coming towards their
end of the unit made her sit up abruptly.
She couldn't make out what they were saying.
The curtained partition was pulled sharply back and Will's doctor and a
sharp faced woman entered; looking first at her, than at Will.
"Do it Callori," the woman said
coldly. Deanna sensed acute
distress from Wills' doctor, but felt nothing but a callous lack of compassion
from the woman beside him. "Now!"
the hospital administrator snapped in irritation.
Callori gave Deanna a quick look of apology and walked over to the
bedside. Reaching over,
he turned off the respirator. Deanna's
mouth formed a silent circle of protest, but before she could form the words,
Callori had pulled the tube from Will's throat.
Jumping to her feet as she felt Will's primal
panic, she watched with horror as his blue eyes flew open and he threw
his head backwards, arching his neck as his body desperately tried to force
him to suck air into oxygen deprived lungs.
"Help him," she cried, throwing herself at Will's
doctor. The two Cantosians
watched incredulously as she shimmered and then vanished into thin air.
Worf's tone was
triumphant. "Sir! I
have located Counselor Troi and Lieutenant Levitz!"
well." The commodore
acknowledged. "Have the
transporter room beam them aboard... Let's
hope they are still attached to their badges."
Chapter Sixteen "Rescue"
Unexpectedly, Deanna saw Will's hand
slipping away from hers, becoming insubstantial and then transparent.
She tried to cry out but was unable to make a sound; finally realizing
that she was caught in a transporter beam.
A moment later she materialized on the bridge of the USS Enterprise
with Aaron Levitz. She was no
longer holding Will's hand. He
had been left behind. "No!"
She cried out, even before Picard could say a word.
"Will! You've got to
Jean Luc Picard saw
the panic in her eyes as he grabbed her arms.
"Where is he, Counselor?"
with me! I was holding his
hand!" Deanna said, trying
to control the terror that held her in it's grip.
Picard said, unnecessarily. The
Klingon was already scanning the location they'd beamed Troi from.
There are several life forms present.
But I cannot distinguish between human and Cantosian readings."
twisted away from Picard, her eyes locking onto Worf's
"Beam them all to sickbay! Now
Worf! He's dying!"
Worf hesitated, looking to the Commodore for instructions.
Personally, he wanted nothing more than to comply with Troi's desperate
plea, but as security officer he was against beaming aboard several possibly
dangerous individuals. Deanna saw
that he was waiting for instructions from Picard and she turned back to the
dying..." She pleaded, not
caring how unprofessional she sounded. "Please."
Jean Luc Picard kept his eyes steadfastly on the Klingon, fighting his
own desire to throw caution to the wind.
It was Will Riker's life hanging in the balance, but he could not in
good conscience endanger his ship and the medical team that stood waiting.
boldly around the console. "Commodore! Permission to beam down and retrieve the Captain!"
Picard made a split second decision, nodding a quick affirmative even
as his security officer pulled out his phaser and barked orders to the
transporter chief. A moment later
the Klingon disappeared in a shimmer of light.
The last word Worf heard was Deanna's urgent plea.
Deanna didn't know
precisely how long Will could survive, but she was still connected, her center
to his, and she could feel his panic giving way to blackness.
He was slipping away.
his communicator. "Dr. Crusher! Captain
Riker will be beamed directly to you, hopefully in a matter of
moments..." He warned
"Acknowledged!" Beverly replied as she grabbed her tricorder.
More softly she added "Why
does that not surprise me?" Alyssa
Ogawa gave her a worried look of agreement as they prepared for the worst.
finally allowed himself to look back at Troi.
She had closed her eyes, attempting to regain her composure.
"Deanna..." He said more gently then usual, "Shall we go
to meet them in sickbay?" Picard
turned to the bedraggled looking young man who had given Troi's hand an
encouraging squeeze as she nodded. "Lt.
Levitz I believe? Accompany us,
please. I have a few
questions" he requested,
realizing that Troi was going to be of very little use in her current state of
Down on the planet's
surface, the worn curtain was thrown back and the two Cardassians who rushed
in were just in time to see the transporter effect fade from the spot where
Deanna Troi had been standing. Dr.
Callori wheeled to find a phaser
aimed at his head. The other Cardassian shoved the Hospital Administrator aside
as he stared down at the human thrashing on the bed. "Federation scum!"
He spat, recognizing Riker as the one whom they sought.
He turned and with one swift motion grabbed Callori by the throat.
"Do not let him die!" He roared, shoving the hapless Doctor
forward to stumble against the bed. Callori
grabbed the tracheal tube, his nervousness causing him to fumble and drop it.
He scrambled to pick it back up, desperately aware of the Cardassian
phaser pressed into the base of his skull.
But he was aware also that this patient was beyond his help.
The monitors alarms squealed, demanding attention as Riker's vital
signs collapsed, adding to the surreal quality of the scene.
At last Callori got his numb fingers around the slippery tube and
straightened up- only to find himself facing a huge Klingon who materialized
and aimed and fired his phaser in one motion; dropping the Cardassian who had
held the Administrator. Callori
ducked quickly back down, trying to escape out of the line of fire, and the
soldier who had been holding him got off a shot at the hulking Star Fleet
officer. The doctor's movement
disrupted the Cardassian's aim, causing his shot to barely connect with the
tip of the Klingon's weapon. Dropping
the hot phaser in disgust, Worf launched himself across the bed, pulling out
his dagger as his massive frame smashed into his smaller opponent, sending him
flying. The Cardassian's head
split with a sickening crack as it impacted against the tile wall.
Whirling, Worf quickly assessed the two Cantosians as non-threatening.
The administrator was fighting her way through the curtains to escape
the mayhem, while Callori still cowered on the floor at the head of the bed.
His hands were held up in front of his face in an ineffective effort to
ward off the bodily damage he seemed to expect.
Worf's expression was one of contempt as he turned his attention to
Riker, whose struggles had grown still during the fight.
Worf was not an expert on
human physiology, but Riker's color was gray, and his lips had turned
distinctly blue. He appeared lifeless, or close to it.
Cursing, Worf assessed the tubes and wires running from Riker's body,
and grimaced at the tortures these doctors had inflicted upon his friend in
the name of medicine. Not knowing
what else to do, he used his dagger to slash through the tubes and wires and
picked Will Riker up, slapping his own combadge.
"Two to beam directly to sickbay!"
Callori watched them
disappear and thankfully heaved a sigh of relief.
He collapsed limply back against the wall, praising his gods for saving
him from this madness.
Jean Luc Picard's
stomach was by no means weak, and during his career he had seen more than his
share of horrific sights, but he was not prepared for the macabre appearance
of his former first officer. Worf
materialized with Riker's limp body cradled closely in his arms like a child.
Riker's head was hanging limply back and his arms dangled loosely.
Picard's first impression was of colors:
the shocking deep red of the blood that drained from severed IV lines;
white bandages and blue lips; gray skin and the green lead wires that dangled
from the black patches attached to his chest.
The medical team closed ranks around Will, cutting off his view as
Beverly swiftly barked out orders. Picard
ran a hand over his bald pate, fighting down the dread that hammered at him.
A nurse detached herself
from the crowded area about the biobed, walking towards them.
"I'm sorry sirs. You're
going to have to leave." She
pushed them towards the next room. "You
can wait in the lounge and I promise I'll keep you informed" she told
them gently but firmly; herding Picard, Troi, Levitz and Worf out of the
surgical suite. As they left,
Picard distinctly heard Beverly Crusher's voice above the others, the
uncharacteristic edge of desperation to it chilling him.
"Come on, Will. Please.
Come on back to us."
Aaron Levitz completed
his narration while they waited in sickbay for word of the Captain.
Picard sighed heavily. "The
irony is, lieutenant, that the entire point of your mission has now become
moot. Cantos is not a federation
member and is not strategically significant enough to the Federation for us to
mount a defense against the Cardassians here.
We have been ordered to fall back to The Teanrian system."
Levitz looked over
at Deanna to see her reaction, but she had her eyes closed and seemed deep
into almost a trance-like state. He
ran a hand through his tousled curls. "So
Benton- he and all the others---we're just abandoning them?"
Picard gazed out at the
starfield, his face set in hard lines. "Benton
is a Cantosian national, not a federation officer.
We're at war, lieutenant. And
we are on the defensive. Perhaps
when the tide turns..."
Levitz face was flushed
and he wasn't ready to let it be. "And
what about Captain Riker sir? Is
he going to die for nothing?" he demanded.
Picard shook his head emphatically. "Don't underestimate the will of the Captain, Mr.
Levitz- or the talents of Dr. Crusher."
Picard felt anything but confident himself as he reassured the
lieutenant. He had yet to hear
from Beverly, which in itself was a bad sign.
Fifteen minutes ago a nurse rushing by had reported that Riker was
alive, but that his chances were still marginal at best.
There had been no word since. Looking
at Levitz, Picard saw the worry in the young man's eyes, worry that he knew
was reflected in his own.
"Commodore, you're needed on the
bridge," came the announcement over the comm system.
Picard sighed. It seemed
his duty to the ship would always have to come first, no matter how badly he
wanted to stay until he heard from Beverly's own mouth that Will was all
Beverly Crusher's race had first been one
against time... Immediately upon seeing the cyanotic cast to Riker's skin, she
had swiftly set up a life support to breath for him and oxygenate his starved
tissues. As close as she could
determine, he'd been almost totally without oxygen for three minutes... His
respiratory problems had been caused by the very machine he'd been hooked up
to for breathing. The high
pressure of the ventilator had caused a rupture in the alveoli of one of his
lungs, and then it had been a cascade of problems after that.
She studied her initial readings.
It seemed as though most of the delicate cerebral tissues were
recoverable, and his cardiac muscle was strong and had taken no serious
damage. Now that he was hooked up
to proper life support, his respiratory problems were easing.
She read his lab values and started to give out orders.
"We need four units of red blood cells, stat." One of the nurses left to carry out her order. >From what
Bev could see, he was in the early stages of sepsis as a result of the
severity of the multiple traumas and his early lack of care. She sent another nurse scurrying to set up and begin a heavy
course of antibiotics and antibody therapy.
Dr. Selar remained with her in the operating area.
Bev removed the heavy bandages on Will's side and took a close look at
his wound. She breathed deeply
through her nose as she assessed the mess the crude projectile weapon had made
of his side. The Cantosian
physicians had obviously been afraid to close the wound for fear of infection,
so all they had done was to trim the edges of
traumatized tissue, leaving it to heal by primary intention.
Their primitive methods of sterilization would have guaranteed massive
infection had they closed. As
it was, Will was developing sepsis despite these precautions. Bev noted the
crude repair to his hepatic organ after she pulled away the packing that
surrounded it. She had to stop
for a moment as she shuddered at the unspeakable things Will had been
subjected to under the guise of medical care.
"He'd have died down there," she said, almost to herself.
undoubtedly correct Dr. Crusher," the Vulcan agreed while assisting with
the sterilization process, and further healing of the liver.
They worked side by side for over three hours, Beverly only noticing
the pain in her back and her stiff neck as she straightened up after finally
closing. "I'll be in my
office," she said, rubbing her lower back.
"Call me if there is any change."
Bev pulled off her surgical garb and went to Deanna and the others.
When she got there, Deanna and a curly
headed young man were the only ones left waiting.
Deanna looked up, her bloodshot eyes asking for confirmation of that
which she had already picked up from Bev's emotions.
They hugged first... long and hard.
Bev stepped back and studied her disheveled friend, "He should
recover- but not overnight I'm afraid. The
insult of Cantosian medical science, added on top of his injuries, has taken a
huge toll. But," she said
with a slight smile, " Will
was strong and healthy, and plenty stubborn- I think he should be OK."
Deanna nodded her understanding, grateful
for Beverly's strong faith in Will's ability to pull through against the odds.
"Can I go to be with him?" she asked hopefully.
Bev nodded, and Deanna went into Will's room, pulling a chair close to
the head of the biobed. Slipping
her hand under the light blanket, she ran it along his warm skin searching for
his hand. Finding it, she pulled
it from under the blanket, holding it close to her heart.
Then, she closed her eyes and began to send Will warmth and assurance
along their newly reestablished bond, carefully filtering out her own emotions
of love and longing. Slowly her
consciousness of their surroundings faded as she slipped into the comfortable
sharing they had known so many years before.
Deanna stayed with him as long as she
could, but her own fatigue finally forced her to seek out the quarters she had
been assigned. She showered, ate,
and then collapsed onto the bed. It
was late the next morning before she finally woke and headed back to sickbay. She was relieved when she saw him. "He looks much better," she said, looking hopefully
at her friend.
Beverly smiled at
her. "He's doing just fine.
The sepsis is under control and his wound is beginning to heal."
brushed the hair back from his forehead tenderly.
She could sense him: calm, relaxed and unfocussed under the blanket of
sedation. "How much longer will it be before he wakes up?"
want to keep him sedated for at least another twenty-four hours,"
Beverly replied. "He needs to concentrate all his resources on
healing, and you know as well as I do that as soon as he's awake he'll be
impossible. Clamoring to get out
of here if he has to be carried out."
laughed softly. "Will is
many things, but a good patient is not one of them."
made a minute adjustment to the rich oxygen field that was carrying medication
to his healing lungs. "I
know. That's why I found it so ironic that he ended up marrying his
physician." Bev chuckled.
"Cecily claimed it was a case of
'if you can't beat 'em, join 'em'."
forced a smile at the mention of Will's late wife.
"I never met her. What
was she like?"
thought for a moment. "I didn't get a chance to spend much time with her, but
she seemed very sweet, quiet, but very warm and easy to talk to.
And she ADORED Will. They
were wonderful together." Beverly trailed off, seeing Deanna's pensive
expression. "Come on." she suggested, changing the subject.
"Let's go grab a little lunch in 10-Forward.
Guinan'll be very happy to see you."
An hour later
the two women were still picking over the remains of their lunch, laughing and
talking and catching up on each other's lives.
"I'm so glad to talk to you again."
Beverly confessed. "I've
missed our friendship."
nodded. "Me too.
I wish I'd done a better job of keeping in touch, but things were a
little strained before I left the Enterprise, and I was concerned."
touched her arm. "Deanna, I
never meant to judge you. It was just a difficult position for me."
She searched for the right words.
"Have you ever had a patient who is engaging in some
self-destructive behavior, but isn't interested in your advice?
You feel so frustrated, and helpless..."
"You thought that my relationship with Worf was
doctor hesitated. She didn't want
to open old wounds. "It's
just that I always thought you were still in love with Will," she
confessed softly. "And I
thought that maybe, subconsciously, you were just trying to force a change in
your relationship with him. But
you were going about it all wrong! I
could see how desperately Will was hurting, and it was too hard for me to stay
objective. I was convinced that
you were hurting yourself, and Worf in the long run, too."
stared out the windows at the stars for a long moment.
"After Will left I felt like everyone was blaming me for it.
Will took the high ground and I was at fault..."
was a lot more complicated than that."
Beverly said supportively, but Deanna shook her head.
I'm not sure it was. I
think you're right. I cared about
Worf, but we weren't even remotely compatible...at the time I didn't realize
it, but I really think I pursued a relationship with him mostly because I was
tired of maintaining the status quo with Will....I tried to convince myself
that Imzadi didn't matter - and I closed myself off to him emotionally.
When Will left I was totally shocked...but it also made me stop and
think about what I was doing...and I spent the last three years getting my
priorities straightened out "
Deanna trailed off into silence, and
Beverly sipped her coffee. "I
was really surprised when I heard you took the position on the Soyuz."
Deanna smiled ruefully.
"I think that raised alot of eyebrows. But I had already decided I wanted to get back into
space...and Phil Chao convinced me that the Soyuz was the right place for me.
I thought that I could help Will through his grief. I didn't think our
previous relationship would be a problem because we've both grown and changed
The doctor studied her friend
carefully. "And is it a
"Not for Will."
Deanna said reluctantly.
Beverly leaned closer.
"But for you?"
Deanna almost whispered her
next words. "I knew I still
had feelings for him Bev. I was
at Cecily's funeral and I was almost overwhelmed just by the sense of him. But I thought that just being around him would be enough.
I wasn't prepared for feeling this way."
"What way is that?" Crusher asked softly.
Deanna ducked her head,
embarrassed, but anxious to finally talk to someone about the raging emotions
that she felt whenever he was near. "I
love him, Beverly. The changes in
him have only made my feelings stronger.
The experience with Cecily....fathering a child...he' s acquired so
much more depth and sensitivity..." She
shook her head to indicate that she couldn't find the right words and Crusher
nodded in understanding.
"And he's more vulnerable,
too." Beverly reminded her.
Deanna acknowledged her with a
He is. He still hasn't
allowed himself to come to terms with his grief.
He's constructed this elaborate defense to keep himself from feeling
the pain. I think he's afraid
that if he opens his heart to it he'll never find his way back out
Beverly stared into her coffee
cup. "I remember feeling
that way after Jack died- and feeling certain that I would never allow myself
to love again. Of course, eventually I did.
But it was a long and painful process to get there.
It's not something that can be hurried." Realizing that her words may have sounded like a
rebuke, she reached across the table and squeezed her friend's hand.
"Deanna. I've always felt that you and Will were destined to be
together. And I still feel that
way. Just be patient with him,
and be very sure of yourself before you start trifling with his heart. He's had enough heart-ache for a lifetime....I think maybe
you both have..."
Deanna squeezed her hand in
return. "Thank you for
understanding." She said
softly. The two women
exchanged a look, acknowledging a friendship that been strained, yet come away
stronger for it. Deanna suddenly
felt more optimistic than she had in a long time, and more mischievous too.
Lowering her voice she asked conspiratorially, "....Well, now that
I've told you about my love life. What
about yours? You and Commodore
Picard seem terribly cozy these days..."
Will became conscious first of the faint
sound of voices in the distance. With
his eyes still closed, he wasn't aware of where he was or what had happened to
him. The last clear memory he had
was the escape from the slave pens, and then being shot just as he had found
Deanna. Everything else was
blank. Will ached everywhere and
felt awful, like he'd been camping on death's doorstep.
He groaned as he opened his eyes, his vision was bleary and the room
swam in and out of focus. He
could hear the sounds of a woman's voice approaching. It sounded very much like Beverly Crusher's.
But he knew that couldn't be. She
was still on the Enterprise, and the Enterprise wasn't patrolling this sector
as far as he knew. He blinked his
eyes, trying to force the blurred images into a sharper picture. Partially
successful, he squinted and took a look at the room he was laying in.
It was one that he was far more familiar with then he would have liked.
Apparently he was stuck in the Enterprise's critical care unit.
He heard the voices again... closer
this time. It was Beverly
Crusher- he was sure of it! And
Levitz too. He strained to hear
what they were saying and tried to sit up.... "Damn," he cursed
weakly. Bev had put a
restraining field around the bed. Now
he was struggling with feelings of claustrophobia on top of everything else.
The voices were right outside the door now.
"The Soyuz sustained substantial damage, Doctor," he heard
Lieutenant Levitz say. "I'm afraid they're out of the battle for now."
The sedation was still clouding Riker's
ability to think clearly. His
pulse began to race and his heart hammered in his chest.
What about casualties, his mind screamed.
Where was Laurel! His
mind jumped erratically. Deanna...
was she all right? Will felt the
room tilt and panic began to take over. His
respiratory rate doubled and alarms began to go off, only serving to increase
Beverly heard the alarms and was at Will's
side in seconds. He stared at her in a wild eyed state of extreme agitation.
"Where's Laurel?" he demanded, his anxiety making his words
come out in a breathless whisper.
Realizing he must have overheard her
conversation with the young Lieutenant, Beverly motioned Aaron into the room.
Levitz came around on the other side of Bev and looked to her for
instruction. "Tell the
Captain how Laurel is- and the rest of the crew. "
Will grabbed her hand as she brought it close to his neck with a
hypospray. She paused as Levitz
nodded his understanding.
She could have easily overpowered Will but decided that he might not
need the sedation once he heard what his officer had to say.
Aaron laid his hand on Will's shoulder for emphasis, "I made sure
that Laurel was fine... I promise, she's OK." Gratefully, Aaron saw the major force of Riker's panic fade
from his eyes. He understood it
completely... He'd felt the same fears regarding his own family's safety.
slightly, wondering if he should lie. "Three dead, sir.
Pullayup, Meg Donalson, and Chemoni Cliz. Everyone else is fine."
He swore softly, "and
Captain" Aaron said soothingly, impressing Beverly with his obvious
concern for his commanding officer. "You took a hit that would have
killed her for sure... Now YOU,
on the other hand sir, have some serious recuperating to do. Doctor Crusher put you together on a wing and a prayer and it
was a very close thing."
Bev watched his life-signs carefully.
She wasn't about to let Will get into trouble.
"How do you feel Will?" she asked gently.
She wasn't expecting him to open his eyes and pin her with his intense
"I need to see
Laurel," he stated.
"She's OK, Will."
Bev tried to assure him, watching his life-signs begin to escalate
again. "But the Soyuz is light years away right now."
Levitz broke in.
"Captain. I can set
up a comm link so you can see each other.
Just give me fifteen minutes tops." Riker gave him a grateful look and began to relax again.
Bev pulled Levitz
out of the room. "Thank
you, Lieutenant. I don't want him
upset or I'm going to have to sedate him.
And I'd really rather not do that again because it can cause it's own
problems." Aaron nodded as
she left, then he contacted the Soyuz to set up the comm link.
Geordi already had
his hands full when Levitz contacted him.
"All right," he said, willing to do anything to relieve
Riker's anxiety about his daughter.
"I'll have it ready for you in five minutes... We'll go direct
from the Captains quarters. She's
in there now with her nanny." Geordi
delegated the necessary arrangements and then signaled the Enterprise that all
was ready. He had spent what little free time he had since Will was
gone, playing with Laurel, or at least checking on her when he couldn't leave
the engine room. He had repair
crews working round the clock-but it didn't look like they would be engaging
the Cardassians any time soon. "OK
Levitz," he said, "it's a go any time you're ready."
Aaron thanked him and rushed back into
sickbay. "OK Captain.. it's
a go." He straightened the
covers and moved the unnecessary apparatus away as he began raising the head
of the bed . But he had to stop
when Riker's face paled and he indicated he was suffering from vertigo.
A picture of Laurel filled the
screen. She was wearing a pretty
yellow dress and had her curls pulled up in a ribbon.
Her finger was firmly ensconced in her mouth. Riker smiled at her. "Hi
Laurels face lit up and she
squirmed out of her caretaker's arms and walked close to the screen, reaching
out her hand as if she could touch him. "Daddy,"
she squealed happily. Riker's
eyes filled with tears. "Daddy
come," she demanded. "Daddy
kiss," she asked more uncertainly when he didn't immediately respond.
Riker was at a loss. He
didn't know how to tell her he couldn't come.
His arms ached to hold her close to him.
He actually felt a sharp pain in his chest.
He knew that it had to be from wanting to be with her.
"Sweetheart, Daddy'll come
soon," He promised as a few
unintentional tears slid down his cheeks.
He quickly wiped them away, hoping she didn't see them and hating the
weakness that made him lose control. The
last thing he wanted to do was upset her.
Laurel's hand loomed large on
the screen as she tried to touch his face.
She looked at him with surprised hurt, becoming increasingly upset at
her inability to get to her Daddy. "Daddy
come," she wailed, screwing up her face as the level of her siren cry
escalated. Her pale skin flushed
darkly as she tried to touch
Riker's image on the screen. "Daddy
come!", she cried repeatedly, gasping for breath as sobs shook her tiny
Riker vainly tried to block out her sorrow,
unable to deal with it yet himself. He
couldn't catch his breath, and he fought as much against the pain in his heart
as he did the pain in his body.
Deanna had felt Will's distress earlier,
but had put off going to see him when it seemed to subside on it's own. She sat in ten-forward, which was almost deserted, chatting
with Guinan and catching her up on the past three years of her life on earth.
She could feel the hostess' careful assessment of her.
Guinan had smiled a lot but hadn't said much.
"So how was it being aboard the Soyuz, under Captain Riker's
command?" Guinan finally
Deanna smiled as she talked about her short
stay on the Soyuz. "He's got
a wonderful crew, and they have tremendous respect for him.
But I think they're also worried about him.
Will suffered a devastating blow when his wife was killed; and I'm
afraid he's not taking the loss well."
Deanna stopped for a moment before continuing. "I didn't mean that like it sounded, Guinan.
What I mean is that I'm afraid that Will's not allowing himself to
grieve normally. He's holding it
inside locked away, instead of facing it and making it his own."
Guinan looked pensive, as if unsure that what she was going to say was
a good thing.
"Deanna, I know that Will's marriage to
Cecily was hard on you. But I
think you need to understand how good Cecily and Will were together.
I don't think I ever saw him happier than the last time we saw them
together as a family." Deanna
nodded, hiding the guilty pang she felt as Guinan painted such a rosy picture
of the Riker family. Although she
understood that Guinan wasn't trying to hurt her, it hurt just the same;
especially since she knew he never would have left the Enterprise had she not
stubbornly insisted on continuing her relationship with Worf.
"Guinan, I know..." she
began. But before she could
finish the thought, the building discomfort she'd been sensing from Will
exploded into an acute anxiety and pain that she felt as if it were her own.
She stood up abruptly, spilling their drinks. "I'm sorry," she
said with no small distress, "It's Will- I've got to go."
Deanna raced along the corridors to
sickbay, trying to sense what had upset Will so deeply.
But all she could sense was his pain and increasing agitation.
Almost there, she abruptly felt his consciousness begin to fade.
She entered sickbay to see Bev standing anxiously next to him with a
hypospray in her hand, as the sounds of a child crying filled the room.
She looked at the screen which was still activated to see the contorted
face of Laurel, and then looked at Will, just in time to see the anguished
lines of his face relax under the effect of the sedative Bev had given him.
She stood in front of Will, blocking the childs view of him. Talking soothingly, she was able to calm Laurel down by
telling her that daddy was taking a nap.
Deanna convinced Beverly that her presence
would be enough to keep Will on an even keel.
Beverly nodded. She wasn't going to artificially induce consciousness,
but they would see what happened when the effects of the sedative wore off
naturally. Deanna stayed with
Will for the three hours that he slept, stroking his hair and holding his
hand. She hoped that she hadn't
overestimated her abilities as she felt the anxiety reawaken in him with his
returning consciousness. Deanna
rubbed his hand and focusing on feelings of calm and reassurance. The sedation began to wear off and she studied his face as he
became aware of his surroundings once again.
His eyelids fluttered as he tried to focus. "Hello, Will..."
She said soothingly. He
glanced at her and looked away, but she kept on talking. "Beverly says you're doing fine, and should be up and
around in a few days. Laurel is
fine. I talked with her over the
comm link, and I think she understands that you'll be back soon -"
She went on to explain the whole situation to him, in the same calming,
soothing tone of voice; feeling him relax as he was given all the facts.
While she spoke she caressed the hand that she held in hers, sensing
his growing trust and gratitude. When
Beverly poked her head in a few minutes later she found Will and Deanna
talking softly, and she disconnected the restraining field.
Will sighed. "Thanks, Bev. I
promise I'll behave. Sorry about
earlier- I was sort of
She smiled at him over
her tricorder. "I've heard
that being unconscious for four days will do that to you,"
she teased gently to let him know that she understood.
Laying aside the tricorder she pulled back the blanket and inspected
his side. Because of the massive
infection she hadn't been able to use conventional tissue regeneration
therapy, and it was healing a little more slowly than she wished; however, it
was making steady progress. She
saw Deanna look at the area and turn away with a wince.
"we're getting there..."
She reassured them both, pulling the sheet back up and measuring the
expression on Will's face. "Do
you feel up for visitors? Jean
Luc has been pestering me..."
The captain of the Enterprise
smiled warmly as he walked in a few minutes later.
"Well, good afternoon Will. It's
good to see you back with us." Jean Luc meant it on more than one level,
the image of Will's lifeless body which Worf had carried aboard flashing
through his memory.
Riker gamely tried to smile but it
came out as more of a grimace. "I
guess I owe you a big thank you for coming to the rescue.
From what Beverly tells me you had exquisite timing."
"I would have preferred a slightly larger margin for
comfort..." He agreed,
studying his former first officer. He
was thin, and pale, but he seemed to be doing well enough.
Will grimaced as he shifted his
position. "Not to sound
ungrateful, sir...but when do you think you can get me back aboard the
The Commodore frowned.
He'd known this was coming, and was fully cognizant of the fact that
Will was not going to be happy with the reply. "Unfortunately Will, at the moment we are quite busy with
the Cardassians in this sector. As
you probably know, the Soyuz has fallen back for emergency repairs.
I'm afraid it could be several weeks..."
Picard watched the muscles in Riker's jaw clench
as he bit back a heated reply. "A
shuttle, then?" Riker more
demanded than suggested.
The Commodore shook his head regretfully.
"I'm sorry, Will. That's
out of the question. The
Cardassians would be on you like sharks- even if you were physically well
enough for the five day shuttle trip."
"I've GOT to get back to my ship
immediately!" Riker replied,
not placated by Picard's soothing tone of voice.
Jean Luc tried to strike the perfect note between
firmness and genuine sympathy. "I'm
sorry, Will...it just isn't possible right now.
I can understand your feelings, but there is little you could do on the
Soyuz at this point anyway. She
needs repairs and you need to convalesce."
Will shook his head angrily, pushing himself to a
sitting position despite the obvious pain it caused him. Picard kept himself from helping Will, not wanting to make
him feel pitied. Then the thought
occurred to him that Beverly was going to be very angry about this.
"You DON'T understand my feelings!"
Riker snapped back. "Jean
Luc, It's not the damned ship! Thompson
and Geordi can deal with that! It's
my little girl! Six months ago
her mommy went on an away mission and never came back, and now her daddy's
gone too. She needs me, and damn
it, she doesn't understand! She's
just a baby..." His voice
broke and he looked away.
Jean Luc didn't know what to say. Cecily's funeral and the two following days at Le Barre were
still fresh in his mind. He had
never seen a man as broken and lost as Will had been during that dark time,
and Picard had become convinced that Will would not have survived it if not
for his devotion to his daughter. He
could only imagine the frustration that his friend was feeling right now.
He laid a hand on Riker's shoulder.
"I promise that you and Laurel will not be separated for a moment
longer than is absolutely necessary, Will."
Picard felt him slump in resignation, and Riker nodded his head in
Picard withdrew his hand and there was an
awkward pause. The kind that Jean
Luc had grown accustomed to Will filling with a bit of gentle humor.
Picard smiled slightly. "And
now, Will, there is something that you can do for me."
Riker looked up at him and Jean Luc lowered his voice.
"Please lay back down before Beverly comes in and has my hide for
allowing you to sit up." He
saw the surprise gleam in Riker's blue eyes, followed by a small but
Will agreed, easing himself painfully back down onto the bed.
He admitted to himself that Picard's hands were tied and there was
nothing to be gained by pressing the issue any further.
Will forced himself to swallow his despair, putting on a brave front
for the benefit of his former captain. "I
take it that time hasn't mellowed out the good doctor?"
"If anything, she's gotten more demanding."
"There's a cure for that, you
know..." Will teased,
genuine amusement finding it's way back into his eyes despite everything.
Perfectly aware that he was being set up,
Picard raised one eyebrow skeptically "And
Will murmured, taking advantage of his condition to close his eyes and
pretend he was asleep. Picard
stared at him for a moment, then shaking his head, he walked from the room.
When he was gone, Will opened his eyes again and stared bleakly at the
ceiling, wondering how long it would be before he saw his child again.
Deanna hoped her frustration wasn't
showing. After Picard had left
him Will slept most of the remainder of the day.
She spoke to him for a few minutes in the evening, but she could tell
the window of opportunity was already closing.
As he got physically stronger he was reconstructing his mental and
emotional walls as well. Deanna
knew she was not the only one who noticed it.
The feeling was such that one would have thought that a rank insignia
had been sewn onto his hospital gown. The
nurse who'd called him "honey" in the uncertain hours just after
their rescue had switched to "sir", and even Beverly had referred to
him as "Captain Riker" when Deanna asked how he was doing. Any hope that he might still be open to her emotionally
vanished when he called her "Counselor" as he
thanked her politely for her concern.
Even the mention of Laurel evoked nothing more from him than the
mouthing of all the platitudes they'd used on him the previous day.
"I'm sure she'll be fine, she's in good hands, it won't be too
long." Of course,
Deanna could sense his real feelings that he had buried neatly and
efficiently, using the guise of bringing himself up to speed on the Cardassian
conflict and keeping abreast of the state of repairs on the Soyuz, to ward off
She said, rising from the chair near his bed. "I suppose I should let you work."
He glanced up from the padd
screen, as if remembering that she was still sitting there.
I'm sure you have things to do," he replied, his attention already
drifting back to Thompson's report.
For once he was grateful for his first officer's almost obsessive
thoroughness. "Thank you,
Counselor." He murmured
Deanna was wounded by his dismissal.
As a psychologist she understood the emotional dynamics that were
causing him to behave this way, but Deanna couldn't keep the hurt entirely out
of her voice as she turned towards the door.
She had invested all of her emotional strength in him for the last
week, and now he was apparently
brushing her off without a second thought.
"Sorry I bothered you, Captain," she said, more to herself
The door slid open and she was about
to step through. "Deanna."
She turned back to him at the sound of her name spoken gently.
She sensed his genuine regret. "I'm
apologized. "You've been
wonderful these past couple of days. It's
just this situation." He
gestured at the padd. "I feel like I'm out of the loop.
We're at war, my ship is in pieces, and I have no idea what the hell is
going on. I just need to get a
handle on it all."
She nodded, chastising herself for letting
him see her hurt. "I
He smiled at her, his blue eyes full
of warmth. "You always do,
Imzadi." His eyes widened
and he seemed as shocked by what he'd said as she.
The word had just come out spontaneously.
"It's nice to hear you say that
again." She said with a soft
smile, then turned and left before he had a chance to say anything to spoil
Will stared after her, wishing he
could read her feelings. Hell, he
wished he could read his own. Where
had that word come from after all this time?
Something had changed, but he couldn't put his finger on it.
It felt good, though; like a small glimmer of light warming up an
unused room after a long cold winter.
Chapter 18 "The Party"
Almost three weeks had passed since Will
had been brought to sickbay more dead than alive. Beverly was more than
pleased with his remarkable recovery. Although
he was still thinner than his normal weight, he was suffering from no other
obvious ill effects. She was
concerned, however, with the changes she noticed in his personality. Beverly missed the humor which used to be so close to the
surface in the old Will Riker. He
seemed to hold himself away from the other crew members, and had become so
serious that she couldn't remember
the last time she'd seen his famous smile.
He seemed no closer to reconciling himself to Cecily's death. In fact he wouldn't even talk about it. That worried Bev most of all.
Will left the bridge distinctly annoyed.
He'd paid little attention to establishing any new relationships, or
even reestablishing old ones while aboard the Enterprise.
His recovery had been painfully slow in his own mind, although he
supposed he was lucky to have survived at all.
One crew member in particular had been especially persistent in her
pursuit in her attentions; Lt. Anister, Picard's new science officer.
He politely rebuffed her rather obvious overtures, but it seemed as if
she was oblivious to anything but her own intent. After a few encounters, Will ignored her almost to the point
of rudeness. He did try to spend
time with Picard however, comfortable in the knowledge that his old captain
was not going to pry or try to psychoanalyze him.
Will had risen early to check on the
progress of the Soyuz, and have
his daily conference with Thompson and Geordi about the affairs of the ship
and it's crew. However the most
important times of day for him was always
when he talked to Laurel. He
smiled as he visualized Laurel's sleepy morning face as he'd sent her love and
kisses during her breakfast. Her
bedtime ritual now included waiting for his call after her jammies were on.
Will had moved heaven and earth in order to be there at the appointed
time. Today's workout was going
to have to wait, he'd been putting in long hours at the research center,
studying strategy and tactics, knowing they might be useful if the upcoming
peace agreement with the Cardassians fell through.
Obvious to anyone but himself, he was doing anything
and everything to keep himself from having too much time to think about
Cecily and the anger growing inside of himself.
Will's thoughts drifted towards tonight's plans.
He looked forward to taking off the mantle of command for a little
while with Deanna. They often met
to share a meal in his quarters and discuss the events of the day. He was more grateful than he knew how to express for Deanna's
unfailing availability, both while he was restricted to his bed, and after
he'd been discharged from Beverly's care.
He felt somehow reconnected to her again since he'd let the word
"Imzadi" slip out in sickbay, but he suffered
a deep inward struggle over what, if anything, that might mean.
Their relationship had become one full of contradiction for Will.
On one hand, being with her gave him the peace he longed for, but on
the other, the minute he let himself enjoy her presence, he was barraged by
guilt and anger. No matter how
strong and compelling his desire was to be near her, when they were together,
he couldn't allow himself to go beyond light conversation. That they were both
frustrated beyond belief was obvious to him, but in spite of his ambivalent
feelings, he couldn't deny the enjoyment that being in her presence brought
him, and he couldn't deny that he ultimately wanted more than light
conversation from her.
Last night Deanna had seemed to understand,
and didn't pressure him for more than he could give.
She joked, more than half serious, that she wasn't going to be able to
fit into ANY of her clothes if he didn't stop cooking her such rich meals and
scrumptious desserts. But
he was just going to keep on doing it. It
was the one way he could show her the thanks that he found so hard to
articulate. The Enterprise was
due to rendezvous tomorrow morning at 0800 hours with the Soyuz, and he was no
nearer to a resolution concerning his feelings then he had been almost three
Riker was killing time as he sat at the bar
in ten-forward, nursing the last of his drink in the dimly lit comfort of the
lounge. He felt someone sit next
to him an hoped they weren't looking for conversation.
"Captain Riker," said Lt.
Will put his glass down deliberately before
answering. Guinan glided up to
him and addressed him with a long slow stare.
Smiling, as she so often did, and looking as if she held the universes
secrets in her dark gaze.
"Well, Captain," she said,
leaning towards him, her voice intentionally low, creating an intimate space
between them while pointedly ignoring Anister.
Grapevine says you're going back to your ship tomorrow morning?"
"I suppose you can hardly
He rubbed his glass in a circular
motion on the bar top. "That's
By this time Lt. Anister had finally
gotten the message and left.
Will looked down into the reflective
surface of the bar, and then back up into Guinan's eyes, trying to voice the
question which hung delicately between them.
"Guinan, you told me once that it
wouldn't hurt forever," he began-the air seemed heavy as he struggled to
continue. Guinan waited
patiently. He started again. "You were right, although I didn't believe you at the
time," he said and shook his head. By
force of will, his eyes met hers again, searching for answers to his still
Guinan wished she could share the sorrows
that weighed so heavily on Will's heart; but centuries of hard experience had
taught her that that pain had to be dealt with honestly before one could move
past it. She touched his hand,
her coolness absorbing his heat. She
breathed deeply before she carefully began.
feel things deeply." She
paused, never taking her eyes from his. "But
this is a different kind of pain, and it's going to be a different type of
recovery. "Until you
feel the depth of your own pain and loss, you're just not going to
recover." She watched him
carefully with her next words. "You
know your father felt the same pain when your mother died."
Riker's face twisted. Guinan
continued, determined to finish. "He
never could deal with the depth of his pain; and you both suffered the
consequences of his withdrawal. Are
you going to do the same thing to Laurel?"
Guinan waited and watched, but Will said nothing more than goodbye
after squeezing her hand tightly.
Shaking her head in silence she absently rubbed the already glossy
depths of the bar top. She was sure he had listened.
But whether or not he would allow it to look at his deepest feelings
was anyone's guess. But it didn't
appear that he was going to let anyone in, anytime soon.
Will clenched his jaw.
He knew the truth of her statement, it hit him like a fist in his gut.
As he walked out of ten-forward he purposefully tried to clear his mind
of their conversation, hanging out a mental "do not disturb" sign as
he compartmentalized it neatly away. He
switched gears and decided to stop by Deanna's quarters before going to bed.
He needed to call Laurel yet tonight, and he and Deanna had missed
their supper as a result of some briefings Picard had asked Will to
participate int. While waiting
for her to open the door he thought about the party he and Deanna had planned
for Laurel tomorrow afternoon.
"Will," she exclaimed, breaking
into his thoughts as she pulled him into her quarters.
"What brings you by?"
He grinned like a little
boy. "Just excited to be going back, I guess," he said
glad for an excuse to take his thoughts off of his conversation with Guinan.
"I still need to see Laurel tonight.
Can I talk to her here?"
Deanna smiled and linked her
arm through his. "Of course
Captain. You can connect in the
Will threw himself down on the couch and
had communications connect him to his ship and then to Laurel's room. Her sleepy face filled the screen, lighting up at the sight
of her daddy. "Daddy.
No schweep." she said stubbornly around the finger in her mouth.
Will tried not to laugh at the exasperated
look on her caregiver's face. "Yes
Laurel, you have to sleep," he said sternly.
Laurel looked down
pouting, only to raise her eyes with an impish twinkle.
Will looked around and
saw that Deanna could indeed be seen by Laurel.
He was at a loss. "I
love you Laurel. But you have to
sleep now." Instead of
complying, Laurel pulled her finger out of her mouth.
play," she said, batting her blue eyes.
laughed and quickly covered her mouth at Will's glare.
"Where'd she learn that Will?" she said softly, smirking.
"I see you aren't the only one who knows how to use those baby
blues effectively. Is it genetic
do you suppose?"
with laughter as Will threw a pillow at Deanna and missed.
"Daddy's going to go night night," he said to both Deanna and
Laurel. " And Laurel, it's time for you to go night night too," he
said and then finished the ritual of gestures they had made up to substitute
for a good night kiss. "I
love you, pumpkin. Sleep tight. Daddy will be home soon."
"Night daddy," Laurel
said wistfully as the screen faded to black.
Deanna hated that Will
was going to leave so soon, she knew that there'd be much less time together
after they boarded the Soyuz. Plopping
down on the couch she patted the seat beside her.
"Sit down Captain," she
said. Will hesitated then
complied. She sensed his spirit
of playfulness evaporating like mist under the sun and felt his inward
defenses jump to attention.
"I really need to go,
Deanna," he finally said after a few awkward moments.
Meet you in the transporter room tomorrow morning."
Deanna sensed that Will's
emotions were conflicted and she wasn't sure just how his feelings pertained
to her, although she could guess. "OK
Will," she said, keeping her voice purposefully light and cheerful.
"I guess we could both use the sleep. I'll take care of the details for the party tonight before I
go to bed." Will's
smile emerged again, comforting her with it's momentary warmth. "Thanks, I'll see you in the morning," he said.
Holding her hand he leaned over to kiss her on the cheek, lingering
slightly longer than normal.
Deanna felt his yearning pushing past his
guilt. Her senses reveled in his
closeness, inhaling his scent, feeling the soft brush of his beard against her
skin. His eyes were closed, his
long dark lashes still against his cheek.
Her heart pounded and the rushing of her blood seemed abnormally loud
in her ears. Feeling his
hesitation she held her breath, but it only lasted a moment more before he
withdrew. "Goodnight Deanna," he said. Her pulse raced as she silently watched him leave.
Early the next morning, Thompson walked
erratically around the bridge of the Soyuz; leaning over consoles, poking his
nose into everything and making sure that all was ready for Riker's arrival. He checked and double checked until he practically drove his
crew crazy. The ship was
like new, and the crew was anxious to get their captain back and return to
normal. Thompson had done
an exemplary job in returning the ship to full capacity, but his knowledge of
interpersonal relationships was still lacking.
"Thompson to LaForge," he
"LaForge here," came the instant
"Everything OK?" Thompson asked
for the third time that morning. Geordi's
mental sigh was almost audible.
"Commander, all systems are go.. She's
running perfectly," he said, slowly enunciating each word.
Thompson clasped his hands
behind his back and checked the time.
Thirty minutes till ETA. His shoulders knotted up as he thought about
facing the Captain over the damage to the ship and the fatalities which had
occurred during his command. Suddenly
remembering that he hadn't checked on Laurel Riker since the night before, he
gave over the bridge and went to the command center for privacy.
The child care center staff assured him that all was well and that
Laurel was unaware that today was any different from any other.
Those had been the Captain's specific orders. He hadn't wanted her to be upset if something should delay
"Commander, Captain Riker
and Counselor Troi are ready to transport."
Dimonelli's voice cut into Thompson's fretting.
Thompson's chest tightened and he
said, "Right. I'll be there
right away." He took one
last look around the ready room, making certain that everything was precisely
the way Riker had left it. and then rushed to the transporter room and
smoothed his hair, trying o maintain some kind of dignity while the Captain
and Troi shimmered into view.
Riker took a deep breath and looked around
as the transporter beam loosed its hold on him.
It felt good to be back on board his own ship.
But it was a little strange. Sort
of like coming home after an extended vacation. Thompson stood nervously at
attention. He smiled then,
knowing nothing had changed, giving his first officer a firm handshake.
Nice to see you again. It's
good to be back."
Thompson gave him a nervous smile. "Sir."
Riker patted him on the shoulder
reassuringly, "You've done a fine job in a tough situation.
You can bring me up to speed a little later. Right now I've got someone I need to see," he said with
Thompson looked startled, as if
wondering how seeing someone could possibly be more important than talking
about the ship. He looked at
Troi, and then back at the Captain. "Of
course sir. I'll be on the
Will started out for the door, pausing for
a moment before passing through to look at Deanna. "I'll meet you on the
holodeck at noon to set up for the party? "
Her warm smile captured him for a moment and he took a deep breath
before he made a move to leave. "Ok,
I'll see you there," he said and then turned and followed the corridor
towards his quarters. He
acknowledged the enthusiastic greetings of the crewmen he passed, but never
broke stride. Opening his
door, he witnessed Laurel taking a deep breath to continue the tantrum she'd
been in the process of throwing. Instead,
seeing him, her eyes grew round
and she screamed at the top of her lungs, "Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!" She launched herself into his arms. Will knelt on the floor to catch her and held her tight as
she threw her arms around his neck. Her
hair smelled sweetly of peach shampoo and felt as soft as spun silk against
his skin. She grabbed his ears
and began pulling his head up and down. "Daddy
home!" she shouted, her face filled with joy and excitement, just inches
from his own. Will was laughing
and crying at the same time as they covered each others faces with kisses,
rubbing their noses together. He
rocked backwards, throwing her up in the air making her squeal her delight.
Laurel's nanny grinned and slipped out
unobtrusively during the commotion. They
played together for a long time until Will's yawns mingled with hers. He grabbed her and swung her up under his arm.
"Nap time young
lady," he announced.
"No nap," she said,
her voice muffled in his shirt.
No nap." He agreed,
grabbing a storybook. "We'll
just go lay down on Daddy's bed and I'll read you a story, OK?"
She looked at him speculatively
and then stuck her finger into her mouth.
"Uggy Ducky" she proclaimed contentedly.
Will took her into his bedroom and pulled the cover down, throwing her
on the bed. Sitting on the
edge, he pulled off his shoes and shirt and lay down.
Laurel immediately snuggled in beside him as he opened the book and
began to read the ancient tale of the Ugly Duckling.
It wasn't long before twin
sets of soft snoring filled the room.
Will woke an hour later, feeling more
refreshed and relaxed than he could remember feeling in a long time.
He laid there quietly for a few minutes, listening to Laurel's soft
breathing and marveling at the perfect little hand that laid on his chest. It
was one of those moments that he wanted to etch in his memory to keep with him
forever. Reluctantly, he
finally woke her. She was
perfectly happy to go to day-care when he promised her an extra-special
surprise for the afternoon, and he left her playing on the rug beside another
little girl who he recognized as Maya Levitz.
For the next two hours Captain
Riker reestablished his presence on the ship, making an inspection tour with a
nervous Commander Thompson at his side.
After the first half hour the first officer stopped apologizing and
began to realize that his captain was not blaming him for anything.
By the time they were through, Thompson was actually smiling along with
Riker and looking at his brief stint in the center seat in a whole new light.
Precisely at noon the captain excused
himself and made his way to the holodeck to meet the Ship's Counselor and
address the important issues of the birthday party. "It's perfect."
He said with satisfaction. They'd
programmed a park on a warm spring day. Birds
sang in the trees and butterflies flitted among the flowers.
There were several picnic tables to accommodate the celebrants, and an
old-fashioned merry-go-round to provide rides and joyful background music.
Deanna agreed. "But
we still need party games." There
are going to be eight children between two and five. If we don't have games guess who ends up being the
Will Riker smirked.
"I know a few good party games..." he teased, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.
Deanna grinned at his playful mood,
and slapped him lightly in the belly. "I
really don't think Laurel's old enough for those kind of games."
Will winced at the thought of his
sweet little girl someday engaging in the distractions of his own youth.
""Laurel's NEVER going to be old enough for those!"
She laughed at him.
"Spoken like a true over-protective Daddy."
He shrugged sheepishly, not even bothering
to dispute her accusation. "OK.
What then? Pin the Tail on
Deanna said and then brightened perceptibly, retrieving a large
colorful ball from the bag of supplies she'd brought with her. "... and I also replicated a Tianis."
She tossed the ball to him and he looked at it curiously.
"What is it?"
"A traditional Betazoid game. I had one at all my parties when I was little."
She caught the ball as he tossed it back.
"It has an internal timer. The
children pass it around to the music. The
object is to be the one holding it when it goes off.
It showers the child with glitter and they get to be the Tianis, or
"sparkling one" for the rest of the party.
And they get a special treat."
Will was about to reply when the Tianis
ball erupted in a flurry of shiny confetti.
"What the...?" Deanna
said, brushing glitter which perversely stuck to her uniform.
"It was defective!"
Will dissolved in laughter and
she shot him a warning glare. "I
have to be in a meeting in fifteen minutes!
I can't go to a counseling session like this!"
Reaching up, she felt the confetti caught in her chignon and groaned.
"If I make any puns about your
sparkling personality are you going to hit me?"
Will teased, and Deanna gave in to the humor of the situation.
She said, undoing her hair and letting it fall around her shoulders.
"Computer. One hair
brush." She ordered. Sitting down on the picnic table bench she applied herself to
the task of brushing the confetti from her thick, dark locks.
Will wondered if
Deanna knew how watching her this way was effecting him.
His mind drifted back over the years, remembering when they were
lovers. He used to unpin her hair, loving the way her tresses looked
when they were free, and savoring the silky feel of her hair as it swept over
his body. And after they made
love, he would lay back and watch her as she brushed her hair, just like now.
He remembered that often the sight so stimulated him that he undid her
labors as soon as she was done.
Deanna sat facing away from
Will, feeling his gaze and sensing the shift in his emotions as she drew out
the process of brushing her hair. He
sat on the picnic table behind her and took
the brush from her hand.
"Here, I want to do that for
you..." He said.
Deanna smiled at him for a moment before closing her eyes and leaning
back against his thighs. She
closed her eyes as she reveled in the sensual long slow strokes of the brush.
She was enjoying the flow of his increasingly erotic thoughts and the
feel of his muscular legs and gave a low involuntary sigh of pleasure.
She pictured his big strong hands braiding Laurel's hair, and the
strength of his emotions and his touch made her remember those same hands
doing other things to his Imzadi, long ago.
She wanted to prolong this feeling forever.
"Will? Would you
braid it for me?" He
murmured his assent, and she felt him begin to separate her locks, drawing
them firmly but gently in from each side as he fashioned a french braid.
"You do that well..." She said.
He chuckled softly.
"I never knew how easy this really was. Laurel always squirms around so much..."
Will's close proximity made her feel like
squirming herself, his light touch driving her to distraction.
Much too soon, he came to the end of the braid and reached around her
to pick up her hair band from the bench.
His chest pressed against the back of her shoulders for a moment, and
she controlled her shiver of delight. Opening
her mind to his, she felt a similar response in him.
His face was mere inches from her hair and she inhaled his familiar,
the braid aside. "You have
some glitter on your neck..." He whispered, the heat of his breath
warming her ear. Very gently, he
brushed the nape of her neck with his fingertips and she gasped quietly at his
feather- touch. She bent her head
forward to expose more of her neck and then exhaled as warm lips replaced his
fingers. Soft, sensuous
kisses followed a path down to her shoulder.
She hardly dared breathe for fear that she would break the magical
spell. She had fantasized about
this, hoped for it, dreamed about it...
Her comm badge intruded.
"Counselor Troi?" Lt. Bhai's strident
She felt him pull away abruptly, both physically
and emotionally. Deanna stood,
tapping her badge with automatic response.
"Troi here." But her attention
was entirely focused on Will Riker and the guilt and self-loathing she sensed
"Counselor- Bhat and I
need to talk to you. He is being
a total idiot about this whole thing and I've had it!"
Deanna tried to focus on what her
distraught patient was babbling about, but it seemed inconsequential compared
to her own crisis. Will was
backing away from her, his expression full of pain as his conflicted feelings
fought their way to the surface.
She reached out a hand to him and he shook
his head negatively, mouthing the words "I'm sorry" not having
the will to make them heard.
Are you there? Are you
listening to me?" Bhai said.
Deanna spoke impatiently. "Lt.
Bhai. I want you and Bhat to take
a time out. Just separate for a
few minutes and cool down. Then
both of you meet me in my office in a half hour..."
The distraught woman began to protest and Deanna quickly added
"Troi out. It was too late,
though. Will had slipped out of
the holodeck, unwilling or unable to face the cause of his pain.
sat back down on the bench, tentatively touching the spot on her neck that
still tingled from his kisses. She
thought about going after him, but realized she was probably the last person
he needed to see at the moment. She
wanted to go after him, but regardless of how badly she wanted him, she knew
her presence would only cloud the real issue.
She he couldn't force him to let go of Cecily.
He was going to have to do it for himself.
Later that afternoon,
Will and Deanna kept the children too busy to get bored or in trouble.
The games had been a huge success.
"Dana go round?"
Laurel detached herself from her daddy's leg and held her hand out to
at her. "You want to go on
the carousel AGAIN?" She
asked? Laurel nodded eagerly.
picked her up. "OK.
One more time." She
agreed. "Which horsy do you
from his conversation with Geordi Laforge and watched as Deanna lifted his
laughing daughter up onto one of the Carousel horses.
As the horse began to go up, Laurel clutched the pole with one hand and
clung to Deanna with the other as the ride began to pick up speed.
"Laurel sure does like Deanna."
Geordi commented, following his captain's gaze.
Will nodded absently.
They looked like the perfect mother and daughter pair together, only
they weren't. Cecily should be
the one laughing and sharing this birthday with her little girl.
It made his heart ache to think that Laurel would never even remember
her mother when she was grown. Even
now the idea of "mommy" was
becoming an abstract for her, an idea based on the stories he told her.
Deanna looked so beautiful and
carefree that for a moment he felt only resentment and anger towards her.
Who was she to come bursting back into his life like this?
That had ended long ago - even before he'd promised to be faithful to
Cecily forever. What right did
she have to gain Laurel's love? What right did she have to make him feel the things he'd
swore he'd never feel for anyone again? The
ride ended and Laurel came running back to her daddy, breathless with
excitement. He swept her up in
his arms and hugged her fiercely, fighting back the tears that sprang unbidden
to his eyes.
Deanna hung back and Aaron Levitz came up beside her. "We're going to have to get going..."