"C'mon, Geordi. You know I wouldn't ask if I didn't have a good reason." Riker looked back at the chief engineer with an expression best described as an appeal. He had absolutely no idea why he was down here asking LaForge this. He knew his request was being met with understandable resistance. He also knew he couldn't, in all good conscience, make it an order.
"With all due respect, Commander, you are going to be out of here in a couple of weeks. And what I don't need right now is another lame duck." LaForge's gaze was across engineering, his enhanced vision settled firmly on Reg Barclay's back.
"You still having problems with him?"
LaForge turned away.
"You could say that, Commander."
"Think it over," Riker suggested. He turned to leave. He was running a little behind schedule.
LaForge watched his back for a moment.
"You're serious about this, aren't you? You really want him down here."
Riker sighed, calling on friendship more than any leadership skills he might have acquired over the years.
"I know it's an imposition, Geordi. But I'd appreciate it, if you'd give it some thought."
"Okay," LaForge agreed with a reluctant sigh. "I will give it some thought."
"That's all I'm asking," Riker assured with a grin which might have
been requesting more.
The doors to the cabin swooshed shut and would remain so until the start of his next shift. The number of visitors that entered through those doors could be counted on the fingers of a young salian. Who, of course, has no fingers only fins. But then Picard seemed to drift unnoticed and ignored from the cabin to his job and back again. One would have thought the darkened quarters were still empty except for the hoarse breaths that were just short of sobs.
"Lights," the voice whispered. As if not sure that his request would be heeded. But the Enterprise's computer obeyed the plea and the lights came up. The slight figure slumped at the desk, staring at the four walls of his world. Because of his age he had been allowed the privacy of his own quarters. No roommate. No one to see his daily ignominy and constant mediocrity. Of course, no one had really wanted to share his quarters; afraid, perhaps, that his failure might rub off on them.
It had all seemed so bright and full of promise at the academy. He and his friends had been at the top of their class and life stretched out ahead, filled with wonders and awards. Then had come that horrendous night they met the Nausicaans. He could still see the look of shocked disbelief on Corey Zweller's face as the giant Nausicaan's serrated blade slammed through his spine and out his chest, cleaving his wildly beating heart in two and splattering Picard with a huge arc of gore.
His other friend and lover Marta, was half conscious from the other alien's strangle hold and unable to prevent him from starting to strip off her tattered uniform. Her eyes stared at Picard, willing him to do something anything. To stop everything from happening. But he couldn't move. He was welded to the spot, stained by Corey's blood and the blackness of fear beginning to cover him like a heavy cloak. All his pride and confidence had leaked out of his boots that night, flooding the barroom floor along with Corey's blood.
He was still standing there when the patrol roared into the bar. It had been the Starfleet Patrol who had saved Marta. It was they who had vanquished the Nausicaans; not he. His cheeks still burned when he thought of that night. Indeed, it rarely left his thoughts. He had played it safe and paid the price.
It had all ended that night. All his friendships. All his hopes. All his dreams. All gone with Corey Zweller. Martha had never spoken to him again and who could blame her.
It had all ended that night. And the nightmares and failures began. His path to command had been blocked subtlety but certainly by the Heads of the Academy. If he froze in a barroom brawl what was to stop him from doing the same thing on the bridge of a star ship.
His trembling hands wiped the sweat from his face.
"What's on your mind, Will?" Troi asked across the dinner table. After a moment, Riker's gaze shortened to focus on her.
"I'm sorry. I'm not being very good company this evening." He plucked up his glass from the table and tapped its silver rim against the one in the counselor's own. "And, as I hope you know, nothing is good enough for you." He smiled one of his more charming smiles. It glimmered around the edges of his eyes like a seduction he had only half a mind to pursue. The other half was on something completely different.
"Hmm," Troi murmured, sounding dubious. She leaned forward, concern darkening her eyes. "What is it? You have been distracted all day."
"So you said."
Riker pushed away his plate and carried their glasses to the couch. After a moment Troi abandoned her supper to follow him.
"The Sikorsky?" she asked.
"Something a little closer to home," Riker murmured, settling against her on the couch.
It was Troi's turn to apologize.
"If you don't want to talk about it "
Riker leaned back into the cushions behind him. He felt Troi's hand resting lightly against his thigh. He covered it with his own.
"I have had I can't describe it. A sensation? A feeling? All day."
"It's understandable you should be feeling a little uncertain, Will. The Sikorsky "
"It isn't the Sikorsky." Riker drained his glass to give himself thinking time. He wished he had brought the rest of the bottle over from the dining table. He didn't want to disturb his companion by going back over there to get it. "I found myself down in engineering a couple of hours ago. I was trying to persuade Geordi to take him. Geordi was looking at me like I'd taken leave of my senses. Of course, he hid it very well. Geordi's team is young, dynamic. It thinks on its feet. It goes the extra mile. I don't know what the hell I was thinking!"
"Will, I'm not following you?"
"You see? I just automatically assume you know what I'm talking about. I have been thinking about this since yesterday afternoon. He's been on my mind all day."
Finally, Troi understood. Her hand squeezed his thigh as if in understanding.
"He's haunting me. I swear the man is haunting me!"
Riker came to his feet, returned to the supper table and snagged the champagne bottle by its neck, and refilled their glasses.
"I must admit," Troi allowed, watching the dry fizz trill up the side of the antique flute. "I have been experiencing something similar."
Riker studied her skeptically.
"You're humoring me?" She so rarely did so, he probably would not have recognized it if she had been doing so now.
"Not at all. There was...something about him. Something..."
"Desperate?" Riker was familiar with desperation's many colored faces. He'd felt a few of them himself from time to time. He had seen it yesterday afternoon in the Ten Forward lounge. He hoped he never saw on his own face what he had seen on the face of the lieutenant's. There had been a deathliness about the man's eyes that brought a reminiscent, sympathetic chill to the first officer's spine.
"Familiar," Troi amended.
"It was more than that," Riker pressed watching her.
"It was like breath caught in his chest," Troi remembered. "As if he had just had a terrible shock. And fear. I should have stayed with him."
"You didn't have the chance, Halloway wanted us on the bridge."
"I should have gone after him later."
"You said he should make an appointment."
"I know." Troi's head rolled back against Riker's shoulder. "I know. Do you think Geordi will agree to the transfer to engineering?"
"I don't know. I doubt it. I can't blame him, and I'm not prepared to make it an order."
"It is really bothering you, isn't it?"
"I can't explain it. I am actually considering taking him with me to the Sikorsky." Riker said it as if he was waiting for her to talk him out of it.
Troi had realized he was serious. She sat up straighter, moving away from him. Riker could see she was giving the matter serious consideration, no doubt sensing in him that he was giving it serious consideration.
"How do you envisage he will contribute to the ship? It's the Tholian boarder, Will."
"What?" Troi asked. "What's so funny?"
"You have just undertaken your first counseling session with the captain of the Sikorsky, Counselor!"
"Yes, I suppose I have. But that was not what I meant to do. I meant to get rid of these." Her fingertips traced the frown lines still around his eyes.
"It could have been so different. I know you had such high expectations of this posting. The legendary Enterprise. Although that legend seems to have dimmed lately. But it's not your fault that Captain Halloway didn't have the sense to appreciate your, um, more free-wheeling, um, style."
He shook his head ruefully. "Too true. Maybe if he had been a different captain. Perhaps if we had complimented each other rather than wearing against each other. Perhaps if I had tried harder. Felt it was worth it."
Perhaps," Troi echoed her as he took her in his arms. "Perhaps many things would have been different. But they aren't. And it is futile to speculate on them, Imzadi."
His velvet lips brushed hers softly. "Umm. But maybe there's one thing that is in my power to change."
Perhaps it's time to look into the merchant service, Picard sighed. Perhaps I might at least serve with honor there. Perhaps...
His futile musings were interrupted by his door chime. Merde, what unnameable thing had he done wrong now! And who would take the time to actually come to his quarters to ream him out?
Riker strode into Picard's quarters and the room instantly grew smaller. The walls closed in and the ceiling seemed to fall about two feet.
A leap to attention and a strangled gulp, "Yes, sir?
Riker's sharp eyes swept the room noting that there were almost no personal touches except for a small ship's model of the original U.S.S. Enterprise.
"Lieutenant, as you may have heard, I am taking command of the Sikorsky when we reach Starbase 212. I'd like you to transfer over with me to act as liaison between the various department heads. They would still report to me but you would take care of the day-by-day things. I would want your suggestions and notes on any foreseeable problem areas..."
Riker paused, waiting for a comment or question. "Lieutenant, if you have any negative thoughts about joining my command..."
"No, sir!" Picard took a deep breath and lowered his vocal volume. "I, I would be honored, Captain Riker."
"Fine." That's better, stronger, Riker thought. "Start getting all your gear together but don't make any announcement as yet. I'll take care of that before we embark at the Starbase. Then you can say your good-byes. I'll want you to begin working with me as soon as possible see how we mesh. Perhaps after our shifts are finished. Think about ways to make this work without getting up anybody's nose. Use your diplomatic skills, Jean Luc. I have a feeling that is where your talents may lie. And God knows, we're going to need all the diplomacy we can muster.
"I have a feeling that, as we get to know each other, things will mesh well."
"Yes, sir! Thank you, sir."
The doors whooshed shut behind the tall commanding figure and Riker's deep resonant voice slowly faded away.
He had called him, "Jean Luc." His heart was beating so fast he thought it would burst through his chest. His eyes caught sight of someone across the room. His reflection in a mirror. But it was different changed somehow. His head was high, his shoulders back, his eyes filled with tomorrow. He blinked, no, the look was still there. A confidence and resolve he had not seen or felt in decades. Since the Academy. This was not charity Riker implied that he would really contribute to the mission.
He also could still feel the strength and power of Riker's presence. It permeated his quarters, sweeping all that was dark and disruptive before it. Riker had refreshed his soul like the electrified air after a pounding spring downpour. Cleansing and invigorating.
This chance a last chance was as golden as the man who offered it. Picard
knew he could work for and with Riker. Yes, with him. He had finally found someone
that he would follow to the ends of the galaxy and beyond. He drew a breath
so deep it filled him down to his boot tips. Then he began to pack.
"Feel better? Captain? Well, you certainly made him happy. How about doing the same thing for your long suffering counselor."
"Suggestions?" Riker asked in a well-executed parody of the captain's favorite saying.
"How about showing her just how much you appreciate her insight and clarity of vision?"
"How about I show my wife how I appreciate her other attributes?" Riker asked, his lips echoing the words against Troi's bare shoulder.
"Why don't you do that, Imzadi?"
Riker picked her up and carried her into their bedroom.
Their lovemaking was almost always satisfying, unless one or both of them were tired or bothered by problems. But tonight, Troi's husband seemed inspired and she rose to the occasion. Three times. The last time in the shower. The room still smelled of her clean, crisp Betazoid lotion. A tribute to her husband's native Alaska. Even her mother liked it.
A long time later, when they awoke; still in each other's arms, he sat up and looked down at her.
"It will be good to leave this ship."
Troi's fingertips traced the softness of his lips. "True, she said. "And we will make sure that the Sikorsky is a happy ship, filled with love and delight even if only in the Captain's cabin." Riker leaned forward, settled back into his wife's welcoming embrace.
"I love you."
Deanna Troi-Riker smiled.