By Irene Deitel


Deanna Troi stood outside Holodeck 2, frowning. The menu indicated that program ‘Riker 4’ was currently running. She read the summary, her frown deepening. “Alaska in winter?” she muttered to herself, oblivious to the searching look directed at her by a passing crewman. “Things are worse than I thought.” She noted, curiously, that the privacy lock was not engaged, then realized that there wasn’t any need for it. She couldn’t think of anyone who wanted to use their holodeck time freezing their butt off.

Troi corrected herself. There was one person. Commander William T. Riker. She debated running back to her quarters for a jacket and decided against it. Will had been avoiding her for days, physically and mentally, and an opportunity to get him alone might not present itself again any time soon.

Troi also reluctantly acknowledged some feelings of guilt in having left him alone for so long. She had been so preoccupied with helping Captain Picard recover from his ordeal with the Cardassians that she had let everyone else’s problems take a back seat.

Taking a deep breath, Counselor Troi entered the holodeck.

The icy cold wind slammed full force into her, knocking the breath from her body and almost knocking her down. The wind whipped her hair around her face and into her eyes, obscuring her vision. Using one hand to hold the long black tresses together, Troi used the other hand to shade her eyes from the glare of the sun. The snow sparkled like millions of diamonds scattered about. At least it wasn’t a gloomy, snowy day, she thought wryly, thankful for small favors.

The temperature was well below zero, and even with the sun shining on her Deanna was cold. So cold, that she considered leaving, an option that became much more attractive when her perusal of the barren, rocky, snow-covered landscape failed to reveal the presence of any life forms, especially the tall, bearded, male, humanoid kind.

Maybe she’d missed him. Maybe he’d known she was coming and left before she got there. Troi kicked herself mentally. She was the empath, not Will. He couldn’t have known she’d pick this time to come after him.

Troi scanned the terrain more carefully and failed again to spot the First Officer. She debated again about leaving and decided her numb toes and fingers needed to warm up. She was about to turn and leave when a voice called above the wind.

“Over here,” Riker called out reluctantly.

“Over where?” She still couldn’t see him.

“Twenty meters to your right.”

Troi looked over. Several large boulders were there, and as she examined the area carefully, she saw that they formed a vee, providing some shelter from the relentless wind.

Bending over to keep from being blown down, Troi traversed the distance carefully. Her regulation issue boots were not designed for trekking across ice and snow. She made it without actually falling, although she knew she wouldn’t win any awards for grace.

As Troi came around the boulder, she found Riker huddled in the protective shelter. Icicles hung from his beard, and his rosy cheeks were an indication of how long he’d been sitting there.

He glanced at her briefly with his piercing blue eyes - the color of the Alaskan sky, Troi thought idly - and looked away again. Troi noted gratefully that he slid over to make room for her. She sat down and noticed an immediate drop in the noise level. The wind was blocked by the boulders, and she was grateful for the relief from the constant force pressing against her. The howling sound abated, and the place was almost tranquil. Or would have been, if the temperature were about 80 degrees warmer, she thought.

As Troi tucked her hands under her arms in a vain attempt to warm them, she studied her companion out of the corner of her eye. The distant look was back in his eyes, as if he’d already forgotten she was there. At least he was dressed for it, Troi rued. The parka engulfed him, and the fur-edged hood allowed only part of his face to be visible, from his eyebrows to his chin. His hands were shoved deep into his pockets, and fur-lined boots encased his feet.

Troi sat next to him quietly, her gaze on the vista that seemed to fascinate him. She tried to decide what was going to come first - her freezing to death (she wondered briefly if the holodeck fail-safes would prevent that, or not) or Will speaking to her. Deciding that she didn’t want to test those fail-safes, she opted to break the silence.

“Couldn’t you have picked a warmer place to do your soul-searching?” Troi questioned wryly.

Riker looked - really looked - at her for the first time since she came in. He took in her pink, runny nose, blue lips and chattering teeth at a glance. Smiling for the first time (in what seemed like weeks to Deanna, but was actually only a few days), he shrugged off his heavy parka and draped it over her shoulders. Then he put his arm around her and drew her close to him.

“It can get a lot colder than this,” Riker told her. “The secret is to dress appropriately, Counselor,” he admonished her in a half serious tone. He couldn’t decide if he was angry at her intrusion or relieved. He knew that he had been brooding for the last five days, and Deanna’s presence meant that she’d decided he’d stewed long enough, and it was time to get it off his chest and move on.

“If I’d taken the time to get a jacket, you probably would have disappeared on me again. You’ve been avoiding me,” she scolded.

“Guilty,” Riker confessed. “I wanted some time alone, to think.”

“For five days?”

Riker squirmed uncomfortably. The truth hurt. “I meant today,” he lied, trying to avoid her scrutiny.

“Then why didn’t you activate the privacy lock?” she asked, choosing to ignore his deliberate attempt at evasion.

“Alaska in winter?! They’re not lining up outside for a turn, Deanna,” he replied, sarcasm heavy in his tone.

“Not if they have the sense God gave them,” she agreed.

Riker laughed harshly before turning away from her gaze.

“This place is lovely, in a primitive sort of way,” Troi admitted, “if you don’t mind frostbite.” Actually, she was feeling much warmer, now that she was huddled in Will’s jacket, nestled at his side.

“The cold helps clear my head. Helps me organize my thoughts. Valdez is about ten kilometers that way,” Riker told her, pointing into the frozen vastness. “I used to come here all the time, to get away from my father and to think. It’s really beautiful in summer. I’ll run that program for you sometime,” he promised.

“What did you used to think about here?” Troi queried softly, reaching for his hand. His fingers were ice cold.

“I planned my future - what I wanted to be, to do, once I was old enough to get away from him.”

“A Starfleet Officer,” Troi stated. It was a fact, not a question.

“A Starfleet Captain,” Riker corrected, and a flicker of regret showed in his eyes.

Or was it anger? Troi wasn’t sure.

“It seems to me that you’ve made most of those dreams come true, so far,” Troi told him.

“I almost lost it all, Deanna,” Riker admitted. “If Jellico hadn’t needed me to pilot that shuttle, and if we hadn’t gotten Captain Picard back, I’d probably be halfway back to Earth by now.”

“I don’t know about that,” Troi protested. “It might…”

“Maybe not,” he cut her off angrily. “Maybe I’d have been lucky and gotten on to a freighter, running supplies through some godforsaken system in who knows what quadrant,” he said, unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice. “I keep thinking about what things would have been like if Captain Picard hadn’t come back.”

“In time, we would have adjusted,” Troi responded, “although I’m sure the number of transfer requests would have jumped dramatically.”

Riker’s lips twitched slightly. “It comes back to the same question every time. What am I still doing on the Enterprise? If I’d taken the captaincy of the Melbourne, I…”

“You’d be dead,” Troi interrupted sharply. “We’d all be dead, and the Borg would have destroyed Earth. Don’t start second guessing yourself, Will. The decisions you’ve made in the past were good ones. The right ones for you at the time you made them. The time you’ve spent here on the Enterprise has been invaluable. You’ve learned a great deal from Captain Picard. And when the time IS right, you’ll be the best Captain that Starfleet has.”

Riker squeezed Troi’s hand gently, in silent thanks for her faith in him. “I’ve been First Officer for so long that I guess I assumed that if Captain Picard ever left, I’d get command of the Enterprise. It was quite a shock when they gave her to Captain Jellico. Maybe I’ve said no once too often.”

“I don’t believe that. The Enterprise is the flagship of the fleet. She’s too important to give to just anyone, especially a pompous boor like Jellico. Haven’t you ever wondered why Starfleet didn’t insist more forcefully that you take command of another vessel after the Borg disaster?” she questioned.

“Yes…” Riker responded, a thoughtful expression on his face. He wasn’t exactly sure what Deanna was driving at.

“Commander Shelby thinks very highly of you and your abilities.” Troi’s smile matched Riker’s as they both recalled his initial dealings with Shelby. He and Commander Shelby had come a long way, though, and had learned to respect, and even like each other. “When Captain Picard is promoted,” Troi continued, “and the day WILL come when he’s bumped upstairs, who better to take command of the Enterprise than you? This crew is special - we’re a family, and we work very well together. Shelby knows that. As leader of the task force, her recommendations carry a great deal of weight. She could have had you pulled, but she didn’t.”

“Probably wants my job,” Riker observed wryly.

Troi laughed. “I don’t doubt it. I’m sure she’d love to serve under your command. My point is, they’ve left you here, in perfect position to take over.”

“That sounds very nice, Deanna, but you’re overlooking one detail. Why bring in Captain Jellico?”

“I don’t know. But I don’t believe that Starfleet intended for that to be a permanent assignment, whatever Jellico thought. Captain Jellico may know more about dealing with the Cardassians than you do, but when it comes to dealing with the crew, he doesn’t know squat.”

Riker laughed aloud, a sound that warmed Troi more than the layers of his parka ever could.

“I think Starfleet would have pulled him, even if Captain Picard hadn’t come back, although I can’t be sure of that,” she admitted candidly. “That’s something we’ll never know for sure. In the meantime, there are some valuable lessons to be learned from all of this.”

“Regarding the Cardassians, or my relating to senior officers with different command styles?” Riker queried with self-deprecating humor.

Troi’s eyes lit up with amusement. “You’re smarter than you look,” she teased gently.

“And what is THAT supposed to mean?” he asked with mock severity.

“Anyone who would willingly sit here and freeze must have a few screws loose. I can’t even feel my toes anymore. How about continuing this discussion somewhere warmer, with a cup of hot chocolate?” Troi stood up, still holding his hand, and pulled Riker to his feet.

He nodded his agreement. IT WAS cold, without his parka.

“Computer, freeze program and save,” he ordered.

The rugged Alaskan terrain vanished and the familiar holodeck grid reappeared.

“I feel warmer already,” Troi smiled. “Your place or mine?”

Riker’s eyebrows rose in silent inquiry, and a wicked grin crossed his face.

“To talk, Commander,” she retorted.

Riker sighed in mock disappointment. “Mine,” he responded. “You know how I get after one drink. I don’t want you to take advantage of me,” he joked.

Troi punched him lightly on the arm as Riker tried to wipe the smile off his face.

There was an easy silence between them as, hand in hand, they made their way to Riker’s quarters. Once inside, Riker hung up his parka. “I go there often enough,” he told her in response to her quizzical expression.

After getting two steaming cups of hot chocolate from the replicator, he handed one to Deanna, then sat down next to her on the sofa.

“You remembered!” Troi smiled with pleasure at the sight of the little white marshmallows bobbing up and down in the brown foam.

“How could I forget?” Riker said, one corner of his mouth turning up. “The replicator makes terrible marshmallows. You’re the only one on board over the age of four who will eat them.”

“I don’t care,” she sniffed indignantly. “I like them.” She sipped carefully, sighing with delight.

Riker watched her, and for the first time in days, he felt the knot in his stomach loosen.

“This is why, isn’t it,” he stated.

Counselor Troi just looked at him.

“Moments like this,” he continued, putting his cup on the coffee table. He softly caressed her cheek and stroked her silky hair gently before dropping his hand onto the back of the sofa.

“Moments like this,” he repeated, “are why I’m still here on the Enterprise.”

“Oh?” Troi feigned nonchalance, poking at a marshmallow with the tip of a manicured nail.

“Yes. Life’s simple pleasures.” Riker smiled, and Troi was pleased to see it reach his eyes. “Sharing a drink with a friend, watching you play with your marshmallows,” he paused, enjoying the blush that spread across her cheeks as she chuckled and took her finger away from her cup.

“Playing poker every week, workouts with Worf. I have friends here. People I care about and who care about me. The Enterprise is my home, more than Valdez ever was. I’m happy here. I don’t want to leave.” Riker eyed the Counselor carefully, trying to gauge her reaction. Introspection was not his strong suit. He was more a man of action than of words. He also realized, however, how important it was for him to really clarify his thoughts, to know exactly how he felt, and why. The last two weeks had been a time personal crisis for him, and if he was to learn from his mistakes, he needed to understand why he had made them in the first place.

Troi stopped toying with her drink and met his clear, steady gaze, nodding slowly.

“I’m glad you’re able to finally understand what your needs are, Will. What a person wants isn’t necessarily what’s best for them. Subconsciously, I think you’ve realized that all along. That’s why you’ve turned down those commands. They weren’t right for you.”

“Maybe someday I’ll grow up and be ready to leave,” he said dryly, “but not yet.”

“No,” Troi agreed. “You still have a few things to learn. Especially in the area of diplomacy.” She gave him a knowing look.

“Ouch.” Chagrined, Riker looked away. “I guess saying I didn’t handle Captain Jellico very well would be an understatement.”

“Captain Jellico is your superior officer. It would be more appropriate to say he didn’t handle you very well. What you didn’t handle well was yourself and your feelings. There’s a big difference, and an important one, as well.”

Riker sipped his drink as he considered her words. He reached down to pull off his artic boots, then leaned back against the cushion, propping his stocking feet up on the table.

“Do you think I was wrong?”

“Right or wrong isn’t really this issue, and you know it.”

“No, I guess not. Losing my temper wasn’t too smart, was it?”

Troi shook her head, a ghost of a smile on her lips.

“I couldn’t help it, Deanna. He stood there and dismissed the Captain’s life as if it were nothing.” The anger crept back into Riker’s voice as he recalled his confrontation with Captain Jellico. “He’s a cold, unfeeling son-of-a-bitch, and that scares me more than anything else.”

“In what way?”

“All those people under his command, Deanna. Does he have such a low regard for their lives as well? Is getting the job done more important than the lives of his crew? He would have sacrificed any one of us and never looked back if we had gotten in the way. He was obsessed with beating the Cardassians, at any cost. If losing my humanity is the price I have to pay for winning, I’d rather lose. If, in beating them, I become like them, then I haven’t won anything.” Riker looked at her, expecting an argument.

Troi didn’t give him one. “The fact that everything worked out didn’t help matters, did it.”

“No. It just reinforced his insufferable behavior. He didn’t learn anything.”

“Did you?” she questioned gently.

“Yes. The next time I’ll keep my outrage to myself. Not only did I suffer from my conduct, but in getting myself relieved of duty, I put everyone else on board at his mercy. I was no longer able to intercede on anyone else’s behalf. Not that he listened to me, anyway,” he acknowledged ruefully.

“The key to victory, in almost any adversarial situation, is to remain calm, while your opponent loses his cool,” Troi informed him. “Although the two of you are supposed to be on the same side, in reality, personality conflicts can be extremely destabilizing. You’ll run into others like him, Will. People who’s leadership styles vary greatly from your own. Even after you become Captain, there are admirals and diplomats and other bureaucrats to deal with. Captain Picard is a very private person. He almost never lets his feelings show. You aren’t like that. It’s much easier to read your emotions, and a clever opponent will play off those emotions. You’ve always managed to control your feelings, though. I’ve never seen you get quite so worked up.”

“No one’s ever had such a callous disregard for the Captain’s life before,” Riker told her.

“Ah,” Troi responded cryptically.

“Ah, indeed,” Riker’s eyebrows shot up. “Point taken, Counselor. I allowed my personal feelings for the Captain to interfere with my handling of the situation.”

“He’s more than your captain, Will. He’s your friend, and in some ways, almost a father to you. There would be something wrong with you if you didn’t have those feelings. You have to aware of them, yes, but at the same time you must remember that you’re a Starfleet Officer. We all are. We’ve accepted the risks and responsibilities that come with this uniform. You have to put your feelings aside and know that what you are doing is best for the people under your command, no matter how much it may hurt you personally. You’ve done it before,” she reminded him.

Riker’s eyes clouded and a frown creased his forehead. “The Borg.”

“That’s right.”

“But in that case I was fighting the Borg to get him back, not one of my own people.” He put his hand on her shoulder to forestall her interruption. “I understand what you’re saying, though. Believe me, I don’t intend to let it happen again.”

Troi smiled and patted the leg propped up next to her. “You know, Will, in all the years I’ve known you, I’ve never seen you make the same mistake twice. I’m confident you’re not going to start now. And in the long run, I don’t believe that this misstep is going to hurt you. It might even end up being a blessing in disguise.”

”I hope you’ll be around to find out if you’re right,” Riker said softly, his face drawing closer to hers.

“I intend to be,” Troi whispered, just before their lips met.