AN ENDURING SONG
DISCLAIMER: Paramount owns it all; I just play. No profit gained.
FEEDBACK: Yes, please but no flames.
WARNING: This story is heavy on angst. It is a tale of death and redemption.
"After everything, you are a song.
No longer flesh and blood,
No longer a living woman,
But just an enduring song.
And it weaves words,
Words and melody
And a certain rhythm.
After everything, you are an enduring song."
- "Achrei Hakol At Shir" (words and music, Shlomo Artzi; translation, mine with assistance from Gloria)
DEDICATION: This one is for Pam (you know why, my friend), Gloria and Shasta (my ever-tolerant reader).
It was a perfect moment. In a lifetime which had seen many special and wondrous things, still he knew that this instant was unique in its flawlessness. The warm sun shone brightly on his face and washed the surrounding foliage and trees in golden tones. A soft breeze danced lightly in his hair. Beside him walked his beloved, her fingers wrapped around his large hand. He paused and turned to drink in the beautiful features of her face. An instant later, he brought his lips to hers. His eyes slid shut as he lost himself to the contact of his skin and tongue to hers. Mindless of his surroundings, he plundered her mouth with affectionate abandon and reveled in her needful response. He drank deeply of the waves of soul-warming energy that flowed from her being to his. And then his lips parted from hers.
He stared solemnly into her depthless obsidian eyes. <<I can't begin to tell you ,>> he started to send. With a wise smile, she put her finger to his mouth. Whispering, "Shh ," she sent back, <<Rabeem >> He kissed her fine-boned finger and draped his arm around her slim shoulders, feeling deeply loved and supremely contented
Enmeshed in the comforting web of sleep, Will Riker let a half-conscious "Imzadi" escape his lips on a whisper. Instinctively, he stretched a searching hand out to touch the subject of his dream. His blind groping was met with only the cold surface of the bed sheet. With that contact, Will bolted awake and turned his eyes to the empty half of the bed.
For the briefest instant, he stared at the vacant spot on the bed in total confusion. "Imzadi?" he called out, seeking her presence. Why wasn't she here with him? It was still night. Shouldn't she still be in bed with him? And then a split second later, the memory of what happened came crashing down on him. And with the weight of that sudden recollection crushing his heart, the burly captain of the Titan slumped against the headboard and buried his face in his hands.
As had been true the last time he was awake, the death of his beloved Deanna played itself repeatedly in his mind. The flashbacks taunted him with her dying face and flooded him yet again with feelings of utter helplessness and profound loss. Hoping for a measure of comfort, he pulled Deanna's still fragrant pillow to his chest and wrapped his thick arms around it. But instead of succor, the lightly sweet scent that was uniquely Deanna's wrapped his heart in a vise of bottomless grief and wafted through the yawning chasm of his shattered soul. And all he had left was utter emptiness, gnawing and dark.
As his mind replayed images of her demise, he began to rock back and forth, clutching the pillow as if his life depended on it. Glistening tears trickled down his face, staining his beard and the fabric of the pillow. "Oh gods," tore out of him in ragged sobs. "Why did you have to die?"
There was no answer to his poignant lament. He was totally alone and bereft,
with only the sound of his weeping filling the room. He collapsed on to the
surface of the mattress and buried his face in the pillow, as if to inhale every
last molecule of Deanna's scent.
And yet again, his mind relived her death
It had been a beautiful day, the sort that was only possible in the mild clime and gentle sunlight of San Francisco. The only thing that had detracted from the perfection of the day was the insistent headache that Deanna had awoken with. But when Will inquired whether she wanted to cancel her appearance at a psychology conference at Starfleet Medical, she smiled in that knowing way of hers and replied, "I'll be fine. It's not like I've never had one of these before." And so she went ahead and presented at the conference.
By the time the conference was over, he sensed that Deanna was in even greater pain. He didn't need to be a Betazoid to intuit the persistent throb pulsing in a rhythm of suffering in Deanna's head. So, at the program's end, he went up to her. After offering a proud smile and a congratulatory kiss, he placed a gentle hand on her cheek and locked his now-concerned eyes on her face. "Are you okay?" he queried in a whisper.
"It's just this headache, Will. It doesn't seem to want to go away," she had answered, pain lines now evident on her delicate features.
"Is it getting worse?" he asked as he wrapped a protective arm around her slim shoulders. A mute nod was his answer. "I think we should head back to our quarters then, Deanna. Maybe some rest will help." She bowed her head slightly in assent and gratefully leaned into the comforting warmth of Will's torso.
They had taken only a few unhurried steps outside when it happened. One moment, the couple was walking slowly, with Will sending waves of soothing energy across their bond to his suffering wife. The next moment, Deanna let out an agonized scream, drove her fisted hands into the sides of her head, and slid to the ground. Faster than Will could even react to her scream, her body twitched with the spasmodic movements of a convulsion.
In an instant, Will dropped to her side, and as a horrified "Imzadi!" shot out of his mouth, he slapped his hand against the comm badge on his chest. "Starfleet Medical, this is Captain Riker. Medical emergency. Please come in!" he yelled in panic.
"This is Starfleet Medical. An emergency team will be at your location very soon," a disembodied voice announced. Will nodded grimly and leaned over close to Deanna's face, her visage a mask of suffering. "Imzadi, hang on," he urged her in a frightened voice.
As he spoke to her, he felt her warm presence within him begin to recede, as a wave slides back to the sea. "Please, Imzadi," he begged, "Don't leave me." Tears of desperation began to make their way down his cheeks, wetting his beard and Deanna's face. Without thinking, his hands began to stroke her face as if that contact would re-awaken her. "Please come back to me, Deanna. Gods, come back to me."
A moment later, two silhouettes shimmered into existence at Will's side. One of the medical technicians took a quick look at Deanna's prostrate form and deathly white pallor. Touching his fingers to his combadge, he announced, "Starfleet Medical, this is Med Tech Andrews. We need a point-to-point beam out to the Emergency Room now. Four to beam out." And with that, the two technicians, Will and Deanna were transported to the Emergency facilities of Starfleet Medical
Will lay on his bed, hugging Deanna's pillow and staring mindlessly at some imaginary point on the cabin wall. The steady sound of his heart beat seemed a mockery of life; but for its sound, he would have thought that nothing whatsoever existed in what had become the dark, yawning chasm of his soul. It had been that way since that final moment when the last remnant of his Imzadi's energy was snuffed out from his inner being. The moment when she died. With that thought, his mind's eye viewed once again the final moments of her life
As soon as they materialized in the Emergency Facility at Starfleet Medical, a team of doctors lifted the prostrate Betazoid's form onto an anti-grav cart and rushed her straight into the treatment area. A pair of strong hands restrained Will as he surged forward to follow his beloved. "Captain Riker, Sir, you need to let them do their job," the med tech counseled in a kind but firm voice.
"No, I've got to be there," Will demanded as he struggled to be free of the med tech's vise-like grasp. "You don't understand " Sweat began to make wet paths down the sides of Will's face. "I've got to be there She needs me." He couldn't let her be alone, face this crisis by herself. He was quite possibly the only person who could help her. He didn't have to the time to try to make them understand. With a sudden burst of strength, Will broke free of the hands that held him back and he took off at a run. And as he sped down the hallway, all he could think was, "Hang on Imzadi, hang on."
In a matter of minutes, the panic-stricken captain of the Titan reached the treatment cubicle the doctors had rushed Deanna to. To his great horror, he saw the physicians shaking their heads sadly and turning the biomonitors off. An instant later, the few remaining sparks of Deanna's presence within his spirit winked out, as if a switch had been flipped off. The energy that had caressed his core for over twenty years was gone, leaving a huge, jagged hole in its place. And as that void opened mercilessly in his soul, he stumbled blindly towards the bio-bed which held the lifeless form of his beloved Deanna. And though he knew with a certainly that she was already gone, he stroked her face with infinite tenderness and repeated a plaintive mantra of "Oh gods, oh gods "
One of the physicians stepped to Will's side and placed a solicitous hand on his arm. "I'm sorry, Captain Riker. There was nothing we could do to save her." Will turned to the doctor, an unspoken "why" clearly written on his now-tortured features.
"An aneurysm, Sir. It had already ruptured by the time we got her back here." Without a word, Will turned once again to view Deanna. Gently, he smoothed the pain lines from her face. As he did so, silent tears trickled down his cheeks and dropped onto Deanna's face. And then he lowered his lips to hers in one final kiss. Uttering, "I love you so, so much," he buried his face in the fragrant crook of her neck, attempting in that moment to imprint on his memory forever the softness of her skin, the sweetness of her scent. His memories would be all he would have left of her.
After an untold number of minutes, Will righted himself stiffly. As he did so, a distraught Beverly Crusher, the Chief of Starfleet Medical, rushed into the cubicle. A look of utter horror covered her face, her rich blue eyes full of shock and sadness. As soon as she spotted Will, she went to wrap her arms around her former colleague.
"I just heard what happened, Will," she murmured against his chest. "I'm so sorry." Her tears forged staining tracks down the front of his tunic, but he didn't seem to notice. Hugging her tightly to himself, he whispered in broken tones, "She's gone forever, Beverly. Forever. And I can never get her back."
Grey, rainy days were rare on Betazed. But the day that Deanna Troi was laid to rest was one of those few times. The persistent patter of precipitation prompted more than one of the mourners in attendance to remark that it was as if the gods of Betazed themselves were crying for Deanna.
The funeral was a simple affair. The only words spoken aloud were uttered by Jean-Luc Picard, her former commanding officer. The captain of the Enterprise delivered a brief eulogy, his normally mellifluous baritone voice broken with emotion. In simple words, he described her years of outstanding service to the Federation as both an officer and the first-ever starship counselor.
Picard's laudatory epigraph went unheard by Will Riker. Crushed by the weight of his profound loss, the captain of the Titan sat slumped in his chair, staring with glassy, unseeing eyes at the crystalline coffin that bore his late wife. All he could feel was the relentless ache of a heart shredded by grief.
Picard's voice cracked as he continued to speak. "Deanna was not just an officer under my command. Nor was she just the closest of friends." A lone tear made its way down his cheek. "She was :" Picard paused to swallow the lump that had lodged in his throat. "She was like a daughter to me...the daughter I never had. And her death leaves a gap in my heart that will never be repaired. I will miss her."
Jean-Luc walked the few feet from the lectern to Deanna's casket. As he came to stand by it, he placed a shaking hand on the coffin's glassine surface. And though he stood in silence, the tears that now flowed freely down his craggy cheeks were a poignant testament to his anguish.
After a few moments of mute contemplation, Picard made his way over to Will Riker. Placing a hand on Will's stooped shoulder, the captain of the Enterprise murmured, "I'm so sorry, Will." Riker directed his reddened eyes up to the tortured countenance of his former commanding officer. "Thank you, sir," he responded in a tight whisper.
Jean-Luc gave Riker's shoulder an affectionate squeeze and then turned to Lwaxana Troi, matriarch of the Fifth House. Her appearance shocked him. In a matter of weeks, the once proud and flamboyant woman had shriveled to an old woman, bent by the burden of sorrows too profound to articulate.
The patrician captain leaned down before her and said, "Mrs. Troi " With those two words, the damn that had held back her grief broke. A torrent of glistening wet orbs flooded her face. An anguished cry tore from the depth of her being. "Oh gods, Jean-Luc," she wept, "children are not supposed to die before their parents " She grabbed onto Picard's sleeve. He instantly wrapped his hand around hers in a gesture of sympathy and understanding. "And now I've lost everyone Ian Kestra Deanna. There's no one left "
Will had been a mute witness to his mother-in-law's heart-rending outburst. Her pain-filled words cut through his own depthless grief and he turned to her. In an instinctive desire to comfort, he leaned over and wrapped his strong arms around her shaking body. His now-audible sobs joined hers in a chorus of lamentation. Without thinking, Will began to rock gently with her in his arms. And as he did, he murmured through his tears, "I'm still here, Lwaxana, I'm still here."
Picard stepped back from the entwined in-laws, recognizing that his moment to offer comfort had passed. Instead, he turned back towards the glassine casket. He noticed that some of the mourners had begun to walk up towards it to pay their final respects. With only the sound of shuffling feet, each of them stepped to the casket and stood by it for a few silent moments. And so, one by one, those who wished it were able to share a final moment with the deceased daughter of the Fifth House.
It was not until the coffin had been borne up to the family crypt and the mourners dispersed that Will and Lwaxana rose from their chairs. With steps slowed by the weight of sadness, they made their way towards the crypt. Despite the fact that Will still had a protective arm around her shoulders, their absorption in their own sorrowful thoughts kept them each locked in separate universes of aching loss.
After a seeming eternity, they arrived at the Troi family crypt. Will looked at his mother-in-law with questioning eyes. In a small voice, Lwaxana said simply, "Yes, William." Together, with her hands grasping his arm, they approached the crystalline casket that held Deanna Troi. Once at its side, Lwaxana rested one trembling hand on the smooth, cool surface of the coffin, as if to touch the entombed face of her daughter. And then the Betazoid matriarch closed her eyes, shutting out the world from her private thoughts. Silent in her communion, tears traced new paths down her lined face.
Will walked over to the other side of the coffin. Staring at the calm visage of his beloved, a stricken sob erupted from the depths of his soul. He bent over and rested his head and arms across the top of the casket. "Oh gods ," he wept, "what am I going to do without you, Imzadi?"
Later that day, well after he had returned to the Titan, Will went to their quarters. No, it wasn't "their" quarters any longer he reminded himself sadly; there was no "they" any more. That had been torn from him the day Deanna died.
The crushing sadness that gripped his heart was unbearable. Hoping to blunt the pain, he poured himself a glass of scotch whiskey from a bottle that someone had given him years before on the Enterprise. He dropped himself heavily on to the living room couch and fixed his eyes upon some imaginary point on the wall. Taking successive sips of the biting amber liquid, he waited for the familiar anesthetizing wave of intoxication to wash through him.
Will sat in silence, aware with the passing minutes that the liquor was relaxing only his body. In his heart, however, there was no escape from the excruciating pain of his loss. Like an ever-changing collage, a kaleidoscope of images of Deanna tumbled with restless persistence through his mind. Her face, one moment filled with laughter and the next flushed with arousal, appeared in his thoughts. And then, reliving his loss yet again, his Imzadi's pale features, calm in death, stared back at him. Over and over, these images played themselves out in his mind, magnifying and sharpening the searing misery that had his soul in a choke-hold.
Then he heard again in his mind the voice of the doctor who had spoken to him after her demise. The aneurysm was due to a congenital defect in her paracortex, he had said. Something about it stemming from her mixed heritage. Aneurysm. Such a clinical, cold word for the thief that had taken the life of his beloved. It echoed with relentless cruelty in his head, taunting him.
Riker shook his head, trying to clear his mind of the haunting memories. And though he rose from the couch, he hadn't a clue why. Mindlessly, he wandered into the bedroom and walked about the room in aimless shuffling circles. A moment later, impelled by a sudden impulse, he walked into the closet. A couple of steps brought him to the part that still held the apparel of his beloved Deanna. Without thinking, he grabbed a handful of the closest dress and held it to his face. He inhaled deeply, taking in the faint trace of Deanna's sweet fragrance. For the briefest of moments, the familiar scent soothed his soul. But then the aroma brought reality crashing down once again upon the captain of the Titan and an anguished cry tore from him.
Will gathered up the whole garment in his embrace and held onto it as he wept. It was the closest he could come to holding his deceased wife in his arms. Rocking back and forth on his feet, his grief poured out of him in ragged sobs. And in this way, Will Riker mourned his loss yet again.
After an untold number of minutes, his crying eased. Emptied of his tears for the moment, Will let the dress slide from his shaking hands and return to its hanging position in the closet. As he watched the cloth slip from his hands, something on the floor caught his eye. With a bittersweet smile of recognition, Will realized it was the box that Deanna had kept her keepsakes in. He bent down to pick it up and then walked out of the closet.
Riker returned to the living room with his discovery and sat down on the couch once again. After removing the lid, he took out the items one by one. First, he lifted up a gauzy headband. It was the one that Deanna had worn at Chandra Xerx's wedding so long ago. Instantly, he remembered that first experience he'd had of Deanna Troi: the immediate attraction and affinity he felt for her and the simultaneous embarrassment he felt when he realized she was probably reading his thoughts. An amused smile crawled across his face at the memory.
He reached into the box again and pulled out a piece of vine. As he fingered the remnant of foliage, a vivid recollection of a young Deanna Troi with her face flushed with desire and her chest heaving with passion beneath him filled his mind. Without thinking, he ran a gentle finger along the length of the desiccated plant specimen as if he were stroking the cheek of his beloved. He put the piece of vine down with a heavy sigh.
Looking once more in the box, he recognized the piece of paper that lay there at the bottom. With an embarrassed blush, he recalled yet again the words of poetry he had penned on that sheet while he and Deanna were in the midst of the Jalara Jungle and lost in their own newly minted world of marvel and discovery. She had always said she loved the poem and insisted on keeping it. And now that he had it in his hand, a powerful rush of mixed feelings coursed through him. Gratefulness and sorrow vied for ascendancy within him. Tears filled his already reddened eyes and traced new trails down his cheeks and into his beard.
As he reached up to rub the tears away with the back of his hand, he noticed one item in the box that he'd not seen before. It was a computer disk, the sort that people used for personal communications. Will picked it up carefully and examined it. As he contemplated what might be on it, his hands began to tremble. His brain counseled him that he hadn't a clue what was on it and shouldn't worry; his heart screamed that he knew precisely what was on it.
Will rose from the couch with the disc in his shaking hands. He grabbed his drink off of the table where he had left it; he had a feeling he was going to need the numbing effect of that beverage. Then, with slow, hesitant steps he walked to the computer console on his desk. Slipping the disc in, he sat down and waited with a pounding heart for the contents to be displayed on the monitor's screen.
It took only a moment for Deanna's lovely face, vibrant and alive, to appear on the screen. With a strangled sob that lodged in his throat and a sharp stab of pain that shot through his inner being, he waited for her to begin speaking. But the instant he heard her sultry, melodious voice once again, wet orbs of grief coursed down his face in earnest.
"Dearest Will, Imzadi," she began with a smile that made his heart shatter yet again into a million anguished shards, "if you are watching this, then I am no longer of this world. And knowing you as well as I do, I know you are suffering terribly because of it. Know, Imzadi, that there will be a day when it will not hurt so much. And when that day comes, my love, it will be time for you to go out and embrace life once again.
"We were fated to be Imzadi, dear Will. It was in the stars and dictated by the gods of Betazed. We were meant from the start to love one another, to be *in love* with each other, and to be connected as few others are.
"The bond that we share has been an awesome burden at times for each of us - but so much more often a source of profound joy. But I wouldn't change one minute of our shared lives. Not one.
"My sweet Will, I have never loved anyone as I have loved you. You opened the doors to adulthood for me so many years ago and showed me the path to maturity. And while on that road, you gave your heart and soul to me. And you loved me as no one ever has.
"As I take my final leave now, Imzadi, know that part of me will always be in your heart. And when the day comes that your grief has lessened, maybe you will hear the echoes of my soul in yours. And on that day, my beloved Will, we will be reunited." With those words, she offered a brilliant and wise smile and reached her fingers out as if to touch his face. And then the screen went blank.
Riker dropped his glass on the floor and buried his face in his hands. Wails of suffering poured out of him. "Gods, Imzadi," he wept, "what am I going to do? How can I go on?" He grabbed at the part of his tunic that lay over his heart as if to seize the organ itself. "How will my heart ever be whole again?"
The time following the funeral passed the bereaved captain of the Titan by in a turbulent blur. He spent the next several days in the Troi mansion, barely aware of the steady stream of visitors who came to extend their condolences. Lost in his own universe of pain, his mouth offered polite responses as if it belonged to someone else. Like a robot, he went through the motions.
After returning to his ship, Will took a day of personal leave. He hoped to rein in his gut-wrenching grief enough to be able to return to duty. But his time off just intensified the ache in his soul. Every place he went on the Titan held up a mirror to his memory, reflecting different moments he'd experienced with Deanna. The Forward Lounge held echoes of her laughter and sultry voice The staff meeting room reminded him of her seated at the table for meetings and ready to offer her opinions The arboretum brought back recollections of shared intimacies and, as if she was still there with him, he could hear once again her passionate moans and feel her hot breath upon him
The worst of all was his own cabin - what had been their quarters. Every inch was replete with her presence. The furniture still held a hint of her delicate scent. The décor's soft violet shades bore the sure imprint of Deanna's aesthetic tastes. And every holopic on display had her in it. The space surrounded him with unceasing reminders of his Imzadi that tore at his heart.
By the end of that day, he was exhausted. His sadness weighed heavily on him, crushing his heart and bowing his once-proud shoulders into a posture of profound defeat. His tears flowed freely, extinguishing the once-habitual twinkle of life in his sky-blue eyes.
All he could think of was an atavistic desire to dull the pain in his soul. And so, as he had before his sojourn on Betazed, he sought out the bottle of scotch. He poured himself a drink but downed it in two swallows. Immediately he filled his glass again. Then he tossed back that drink as well.
In short order, he felt the familiar alcoholic numbing warmth begin to spread through his body. But unlike before, he did not stop with that glassful. This time, he wanted some relief from his unrelenting psychic ache and, just for a moment, to forget that his beloved was gone forever. And so he dispensed with the glass altogether, and began to take swigs directly from the bottle.
It was not long before Riker found himself drunk. But the liquor did not give him the respite that he sought. Instead, he found himself with his head swimming wildly but the misery in his heart sharper than ever. With each successive swallow, the pain stabbed deeper and deeper and he became drunker and drunker. He barely felt the tears that were steadily tracing paths down his cheeks. And then he passed out, unintentionally spilling the contents of the bottle all over himself and the couch.
The next morning, he was drawn out of his drunken slumber by the persistent beeping of the chrono's alarm. As he attempted to sit up, his head began to throb ferociously. A wave of nausea washed through him, and he vomited what was left of his late-night binge.
Hanging his head miserably in his hands, he moaned to himself, "Oh gods, why did I do that?" He could not remember the last time he had been so inebriated. Still, he immediately knew the answer to his question. And that brought a fresh wave of tears to his blood-shot eyes. "Oh gods," he wept anew, "she really is gone. What am I going to do?"
At that moment, the com unit on the desk announced an incoming message. Wincing in agony as he rose slowly from the couch, Will stumbled his way over to the desk. He propped his unsteady body against the desk and pressed the 'receive' button with a shaking finger. Instantly, the concerned face of Ben Arens, the Titan's Chief Medical Officer appeared on the screen.
"Captain Riker!" Arens exclaimed. "You look like hell!" Will covered his eyes with his hand and mumbled back, "And I feel worse Had a bad night "
"It looks like you had more than just a bad night, Captain. I'd say you spent it communing with a bottle of that scotch you're so fond of." The doctor's face wore a stern expression. "And you thought you were going to go back on duty today?"
"I just need a shower and a cup of coffee, Ben," Will battled back.
"William Riker," Dr. Arens began, "I can tell you are in no condition to be reporting anywhere today." Riker's hands went up defensively. The gesture was not lost on the ship's doctor. In a gentler voice, Ben continued, "Will, you've just lost your wife. This is too soon for you to be back on duty."
Will collapsed into the chair. Deflated, he pleaded in a small voice, "I know, Ben, I know But this is all I've got left. Please don't deny it to me " A lone tear rolled down his cheek.
"Will, you will return to duty when you are ready. But you are not ready now." Riker stared at the doctor's face in dejected silence. The ship's physician noted the forlorn expression on his captain's face.
"You know, Captain, there is a practice that those of my faith follow when in mourning. We take a week where we do nothing but mourn. Nothing else."
"A whole week?" I can't ," Will began to protest.
"I'm not saying you must sit around for a week, although you certainly can if you need to," the physician interjected. Will opened his mouth, obviously ready to argue again.
"Look, Will, all I am saying is that you should take a bit more time. You've suffered the worst loss imaginable, and it will take more than four days for you to be back to the point of being able to run this ship," Ben observed in a comforting voice. Then, noting the tortured face of his superior officer, the doctor added, "But you shouldn't do this alone. I'm going to come over and visit with you for a while."
Will shot a glance wildly around the room, cringing at the sight of the spilled liquor and vomit on the couch and rug. "I'm not sure now would be so good," he hesitated. Ben did not miss the momentary look of horror on Riker's face. "I'm sure there is nothing in your quarters that I've not seen before," the doctor counseled. "You needn't worry about me. Will you let me come over?"
"Yeah, I guess a short visit would be okay," Will winced, evidence of his hangover written clearly on his clenched features. His stomach was churning and his head still swimming, and his inner being felt numb. But somewhere in his tortured core, he was grateful for the offer of company. Maybe that would lessen the loneliness that his grief had imposed on him. And at the very least, Ben Arens would be someone he could share memories with.
After the Titan's Chief Medical Officer signed off at the end of their conversation, Will Riker shut the comm system off and rested his throbbing head on the surface of the desk. "Just a moment I just need a moment ," he mumbled to himself, hoping that a brief rest would help ease the pulsing percussion in his head.
Before he knew it, the door chimes to his quarters rang out. Sitting up slowly, Will crooked open one blood-shot eye and looked around. With a sense of defeated resignation, he realized that he hadn't done anything to clean up either himself or the odiferous result of his drinking binge. "Oh shit ," he murmured as he stumbled towards the door way.
When the door slid open, Riker was greeted by the disgusted face of the ship's physician. An instant later, Ben Arens managed to slap on a more neutral expression. "Ben, I'm sorry ," Will began to apologize. Arens raised his hand to silence the towering captain. "No, Will, no apologies."
The doctor stepped through the entrance and took a quick look around. Wrinkling his nose for a moment at the putrid smell, he then took Will by the arm and started walking him to the hygiene unit. "No," Will protested, "I've got to clean this mess up " The kindly doctor gave Riker a firm shove from behind. "That's not for you to worry about, Captain. Your job now is to get yourself into that shower and that uniform into the recycler."
A short time later, with his hair still wet and tousled, Will sat at the dining table, nursing a cup of coffee. He directed an idle glance over to the living room. He was surprised to find the couch and carpet newly cleaned.
"Ben," the captain of the Titan began. The ship's physician, who was sitting on one of the easy chairs, looked up. "Yes, Will? What can I do for you?"
"You didn't have to clean up my mess you know," Will commented in a muted voice.
"It was nothing, believe me," Ben smiled. "It's amazing what one can do with a recycler and purification and filtration systems." The doctor stood up and walked over to his commanding officer. Placing a friendly hand on Will's shoulder, Ben asked, "How are you feeling now?"
"Is that on the inside or on the outside?" Will asked. The doctor locked his compassionate eyes on Will's sad face. "Let's start with your body, Will. Are you recovering from that bender of yours?" Will winced and rubbed his scalp to relieve the persistent remnants of his headache.
"I'll take that as a no," Arens noted. "I had a feeling the shower and that coffee might not be enough, so I brought a tried and true back-up." He reached down and pulled a hypospray unit out of his pants pocket. Without waiting for permission, Ben pressed the device against Riker's neck and released the contents. An expression of calm relief spread across Will's face as the medicine worked its healing magic on his abused body.
"Thanks," Riker said, as he placed a grateful hand over Ben's forearm. The doctor smiled and patted Will's hand. "All in a day's work, my friend," Ben assured him with a playful wink.
"Now, my next task ," he then began. Will raised his eyebrows in a silent question. " Is to get some food into you. I'm willing to bet that you've not eaten since you got back on board the Titan." Ben shot a judgmental look at his captain. "Am I right?" A silent shake of Riker's head was his answer.
"Well," the doctor said, "that's why they made replicators." In an instant, Ben was at the replicator console, telling the computer what food to create for the captain of the Titan. In short order, a plate full of warm food was sitting in front of Will, waiting for him to dig in. He took one bite and then began to chase bits of his breakfast around the plate with his fork. Looking up at the doctor with apologetic eyes, Will shook his head and pushed the plate away.
"I'm sorry. I'm not really very hungry," Riker sighed. Ben just watched his captain in silence. He knew that Will was not usually one to talk about himself, but then again these were not usual circumstances. So the doctor waited until the broken man before him chose to speak.
Riker focused his sad blue eyes on some imaginary spot on the wall. A moment later, he began to run his finger in idle circuits along the rim of his coffee cup. Then he let out a tremulous sigh. "You never really got to know her well," he said in a small voice, never breaking his gaze at the wall.
"No, not as well as I would have liked, Will. But just the same, she had a way of making everyone who knew her feel that they had a friend they'd known for years," Ben responded, still watching his captain intently.
"Yeah, she did at that. At least later on she did." Will cracked a brief grin.
"Later on? What do you mean?" Arens asked, his eyebrows raised in curiosity. Riker broke his mindless scrutiny of the wall and looked at the doctor. Offering the first smile that Ben had seen on him that morning, Will explained, "Well, when she first met me so long ago on Betazed, she wanted nothing to do with me."
"You must be joking!" Ben exclaimed, totally amazed. Will shook his head and grinned again. "That's the truth, Ben. She thought I was a cocky, arrogant, self-interested go-getter." Will looked at Arens and offered him a playful wink. "And she was right, too. I was all of those things."
"Well, obviously something must have changed somewhere along the road," the doctor chuckled. The smile on Will's face fled, leaving a sorrowful mask in its place. "Yeah, we fell in love and became Imzadi ," he murmured, his voice suddenly husky. "Imzadi ," he repeated in a whisper. A familiar heaviness invaded his heart and soul.
"Imzadi?" Ben asked, suddenly intensely curious. "I've heard that term used before. But I never knew what it meant. It's a Betazoid word isn't it?"
"Betazoid ," Will uttered in a soft voice. "Betazoid Yes, it's Betazoid." A lone tear made its way down his cheek and nestled in his beard. "It means 'beloved' " He wiped the tear's glistening trail away with the back of his hand. Ben reached out and placed a comforting hand on Will's shoulder. Riker turned his mournful eyes to Ben's face.
"We shared a bond a connection not only here," Will pointed to his head and then at his heart, "but also here. We shared knew each other's souls and minds " Rubbing his hand now over his trembling lips, Will added in a ragged voice, "We were soul mates, forever connected " A hiccupped whimper escaped his mouth. "And now she's gone forever Gone, gone, gone." Will buried his head in his hands and wept silently.
Arens gave his captain's shoulder a sympathetic squeeze. "She's gone from here, yes," Ben pointed in a sweeping gesture to the space around them. "But Will, she will never be gone from your heart. She is as much a part of you now as she ever was." Will pulled his hands momentarily from his tear-stained face to fix a sodden stare on the physician.
"When I lost my wife ten years ago, at the time I felt absolutely shattered," Ben related in a soft voice, suddenly lost in his own memories. "But with time, I came to see that so much of what I'd had with her and of what she'd given me was still with me, still a part of my inner being. So while there is not a day I don't think about her and miss her, I still can smile, knowing that a part of her remains right here." Ben gestured towards his heart. "And in time, my friend, I think you'll find that to be so, as well."
During the three additional days that Will Riker took as personal leave, visitors flowed intermittently in and out of his quarters. Rather than finding the callers a nuisance, the captain of the Titan was grateful for the comfort their company provided. Having someone with him to engage his attention helped distract him from the blanket of sorrow that smothered his heart. In turn, this allowed, for periods of time, his normal buoyancy to emerge and bring a note of animation to his otherwise haggard features.
Nights were a different matter altogether. He had never truly understood before why it was that Deanna had found their bed so empty when only she occupied it during his away missions or late duty shifts. But now, the bed built for two taunted him with its vast empty and cold expanse. Vague hints of her once-intoxicating scent in the bedclothes tormented him with their evocation of shared intimacy and passion now gone forever.
Slumber was thus slow in coming to Will. He would fall asleep only when he was too exhausted and numb to respond to the sensory reminders of his loss. But sleep offered him no respite from his pain. Every night, dream images of Deanna tumbled wildly though his somnolent mind His beloved, her onyx eyes sparkling with amusement and her laughter musical The two of them, standing in their own universe, as they were joined in matrimony Then the shock of seeing her drop prostrate to the sidewalk, her tortured scream grim evidence of the aneurysm that was about to take her life His Imzadi intertwined with him, sweat-slicked and moving to an ancient choreography of passion Deanna lying still and serene in death's grip, her eyes and soul forever closed to the world of the living
After five restless nights doing battle with his memory-laden dreams, Will found himself exhausted but ready for any distractions that another day of callers might provide on this, his last day of personal leave. After an early-morning shower, he dressed and walked over to the replicator to get a cup of coffee and a light breakfast. Once the requested items appeared on the replicator pad, Will gathered them in his hands and went to sit at the dining table. Yet again, he found that he had little appetite; a few bites were all that he could manage. A moment later, as had become his meal-time habit, he pushed the plate away with a sigh.
Riker sat back in the chair, stroking his beard, his mind momentarily blank. Feeling the new growth on his cheeks, he remembered he'd not shaved in nearly a week. An instant's recollection of Deanna's "Yuck!" echoed in his brain, causing the slightest of smiles to tug at the corners of his mouth.
Will was suddenly startled out of his reverie by the trill of his door chime. Jerking his head up, he yelled out an invitation for whoever was behind the door to enter. He was curious who might be coming to see him so early in the morning.
The cabin door slid open to reveal two unexpected visitors: his former commanding officer, Jean-Luc Picard, and the head of Starfleet Medical, Beverly Crusher. Although they had each spoken with Will after the funeral, neither had said anything definite about coming aboard the Titan to see him. Their appearance now was a total surprise.
"Captain Beverly," Riker stuttered, his eyes wide with astonishment. He gestured widely to invite them in. "Please please come in." Offering hesitant smiles, the two Starfleet officers nodded and stepped into Will's quarters. Without a word, Picard grasped Riker's hand in a firm, warm handshake and clasped his other hand over Will's arm. The earnest compassion in Jean-Luc's eyes spoke eloquently of his feelings for his former First Officer.
The captain of the Titan nodded, signaling his understanding. "Thank you, Sir," Will murmured. Breaking into a friendly smile, Jean-Luc pointed out, "Will, you needn't call me 'sir' any longer " Will shook his head, a brief grin dancing across his features.
Beverly watched the short exchange between the two captains in bemused silence. As soon as Picard moved towards the couch, she trained her luminous blue eyes on Will's face. "Will," she began, "I know this is unannounced but " Riker shook his head and gave her arm an affectionate squeeze. "No apologies, Beverly. Not now." An instant later, he pulled her into an anguished embrace and held her for untold minutes. Into that tight hug he poured all the pain and sorrow that racked his soul. And though his grip was uncomfortably tight, her own grief and her affection for her former colleague overrode her discomfort. Without a word, she leaned against his chest and fought back the sudden tears that threatened to spill over.
Will sighed as he released her and then stepped back. With tired but concerned eyes, he studied Crusher's sorrowful mien. He nodded slightly, the heavy pain within him mirroring what he saw on her face. With gentle fingers he wiped away the glistening path left by the lone tear that had rolled down her cheek. "Please," he whispered, "come in."
Once both of his former colleagues from the Enterprise had sat down on the couch, Riker came over to them. "Can I get you anything? Earl Grey tea perhaps?" he asked.
"You still remember!" Jean-Luc exclaimed in amazement. Pleasure lit up his patrician features. "Sort of hard not to, wouldn't you think?" Will needled, his habitual spunk surfacing for the moment. "Now how many years was it that I served under you?" He glanced at Beverly and offered her a playful wink.
Once Riker had retrieved the cups of tea from the replicator, he brought them over to his two callers and then sat down in one of the easy chairs. "Well," he said, "this is rather a surprise " He glanced back and forth between Jean-Luc and Beverly, conveying a silent question.
"Will," Beverly began to explain, "there's no way either of us would not have come. You know that." Riker responded with a tentative nod and raised eyebrows, inviting her to continue. "I'll be returning to Earth later today on a transport ship, and Captain Picard," she gestured to the man seated next to her, "is about to leave on a new mission out of this sector."
"Ah, I see," Will said. "Just couldn't stay away, eh?" His gentle sarcasm was met by amused grins. A brief smile flitted across his face.
They lapsed into silence. Will stared at his coffee cup and began to trace the rim of the cup with his finger. Little by little, the buoyant feelings that had filled him just a few minutes before were sucked into the heavy ache that crushed his heart. The happiness that had warmed his face fled as his spirits sank yet again.
Neither Crusher nor Picard missed the shift in their former colleague. Jean-Luc leaned over, placed a comforting hand on Will's knee and asked in a soft voice, "How are you really doing, Will?"
"I've been better," Will sighed. He dragged his fingers through his spiky hair and slumped back in his seat. Beverly and Jean-Luc waited for Will to continue. Though they knew that their former fellow officer was not one to talk about himself, they both sensed that this time was different. And so they sat patiently, knowing he would share with them when he was ready.
After a few moments, Will began to speak. "During the day, it's not too bad now. A number of my senior staff has stopped in " Again, Riker raked a hand through his tousled hair. "The company has really helped." Looking down with unseeing eyes, he continued in a soft voice, "But the nights " A surge of grief slammed up into his throat and strangled his voice. "The nights alone are hell."
Crusher stood up and came to Will's side. She sat down on the arm rest of the chair and rested her hand on his broad shoulder. "I wish I could make this better for you, Will," she said, her own voice beginning to grow thick with sadness. Will turned his head and focused his sorrowful eyes on the now liquid ones of his friend. "I wish you could, too," he murmured. Then he looked away and added, "But that's not going to happen "
A dense silence resumed its reign over the three Starfleet officers. Then Riker stirred. "Everything that was good in me was because of her," he began. "When I found her, I found my soul. She seemed heaven-sent."
"Even though she didn't like you?" Beverly asked, her mood brightening. She directed a questioning stare at Will.
"Oh you heard about that, did you?" he inquired, his eyes suddenly wide with embarrassment. Beverly nodded, a note of mischief sparkling in her eyes. She chuckled inwardly as she remembered just how many things about Will Deanna had shared in confidence. Riker did not miss the knowing look on Crusher's face. "Gods," he exclaimed, "just how much did she tell you about us?"
"Now you don't expect me to share my best friend's secrets with you, do you?" she snorted, her expression now one of friendly challenge.
"Hey, wait," Will implored, "your so-called best friend was my wife! Doesn't that count for something here?" He threw up his hands in mock helplessness. Both Jean-Luc and Beverly laughed heartily at that. "Sorry Will," she winked, "my lips are sealed."
"Oh man!" Riker grunted, "I'm in big trouble now! If you know only one tenth of what she could have told you, then you know way too much about me!"
Jean-Luc added, "Well then, that makes two of us, Will. Deanna always knew too damned much about me." Picard offered a resigned shrug. "Misery loves company."
"You know," the red-haired doctor added, a mirthful smile dancing on her lips, "she just knew too much about everyone. Thank goodness she would never have dreamed of spilling any of it." Her comments were met with appreciative nods from her fellow officers.
A moment later, Beverly's expression grew serious, and she locked her brilliant blue eyes on some invisible point over Will's shoulder. In a voice suddenly thick with profound sorrow, she uttered, "I will never again have a friend like Deanna." The eyes of both men turned to her. "She was more than a friend She was more than even a sister " A tremulous sigh left her lips. "She was a part of me." A lone wet globule traced its way down her cheek as she locked her sodden gaze on Will's sad countenance.
"That is how it always was with me and Deanna, but even more so," the bereaved captain offered in a tight voice.
"Because of the Imzadi bond?" Beverly inquired softly. Will sighed, "Yeah, because of our being Imzadi."
"I never understood that bond you two shared," the Enterprise's commanding officer commented. "But it was obviously at the heart of your relationship with Deanna." Jean-Luc watched as Will's eyes glazed over with sudden memory. "At the heart ," he responded, "yeah, at the heart "
Beverly rubbed the wet trail off of her cheek with the back of her hand. Taking a cleansing breath, she said, "You know, I'll bet you've not ventured out of your quarters lately." Will shook his head. "Well then, it would do you some good to get out," Beverly advised brightly.
"I don't know ," Riker started to argue.
"That's a splendid idea, Dr. Crusher," Picard chimed in with enthusiasm. He began to rise from the couch. Offering his former first officer a pointed stare, Jean-Luc added, "Besides, it's been a while since I've been aboard the Titan, <Captain> Riker. Care to show me around?"
"Okay, okay," Will conceded, "you two win!" With that, the captain of the Titan stood up from his chair and walked slowly to the door. He pressed the wall switch to open the door, and gestured to the corridor outside. "After you," Will invited them with a tentative smile. Then he stepped outside of his quarters for the first time in days.
On the morning of his first day back on active duty, Will Riker awoke after a restless night of haunted sleep. As he arose from bed, a sudden attack of nerves did battle with the constant ache in his heart. He did not know how he would react to sitting in the Captain's chair with the Counselor's seat next to him empty. The thought of facing that vacant seat sent a wave of fresh grief washing through him, drowning his soul in a flood of sadness. He shook his head and reminded himself, "This isn't going to get any easier if I put it off."
With a tired shuffle, he made his way to the hygiene unit. Once there, without thinking he picked up his razor and began to trim his now-unkempt beard. As he watched his effort in the mirror, he considered the haggard stranger that stared back at him. He was shocked to see the dark circles under his dulled eyes, and his normally ruddy complexion so pale. Shaking his head, he mused aloud, "Gods, I look like Hell. What would Deanna say if she saw me now?" Then, with the barest hint of a grin warming his face, he answered himself, "I know what she'd say " And in that moment, he heard her sultry voice upbraiding him for not taking care of himself. A fresh stab of sadness shot through him. "Deanna " exited his lips on a breath.
He took a cleansing breath and turned away from the mirror with its haunted image. Turning his thoughts forcefully to something less potent, he focused on readying himself for his first day back at work. He lost himself in the mindless performance of his morning routines as he went about the steps of dressing and breakfast preparation.
No sooner had he sat down to the meal for which he knew he had no appetite, than the door chimes sang out. "Come in," Will called out, not sure who might be on the other side of the door. The door slid open to reveal the avuncular ship's physician, Ben Arens.
Arens stepped into Will's quarters. Training his friendly brown eyes on the careworn face of his commanding officer, Ben announced, "I know you're going back on active duty today, Will. I thought you might like to have some company on your way to the Bridge."
Riker's face lit up with an appreciative smile. "Yes, as a matter of fact, I would." He picked up his plate, still laden with its breakfast foods, and started to move towards the recycler. Arens noticed that the food had barely been touched.
"You're still not eating, Captain," he admonished Will. Giving the captain's physique a critical once-over, the doctor added, "You're losing weight Will. You need to take better care of yourself." Riker sighed and replied, "When food starts looking interesting again, Ben, then I'll eat." Arens shook his head and threw up his hands in mock defeat. "You are a stubborn man, Will Riker."
The trip from his quarters to the Bridge took only a matter of minutes. However, to Will it seemed to last an eternity. Lost in a swirling morass of pain admixed with nervousness, he was oblivious to the actual measure of time. The mournful thought that the last time he was on the Bridge, his beloved Deanna was alive kept repeating itself in his mind as if it were an endless loop. How would he ever be able to handle being on that Bridge knowing she would never be there again?
The turbolift doors swooshed open to reveal the pulsing nerve center of the Titan, the Bridge. Will stepped out of the turbolift and looked around. For a split second, for no discernable reason, he half expected to see his Imzadi sitting in the seat next to his Captain's chair, ready to advise him. As he drew closer to his chair, he was confronted with the cold truth of the empty Counselor's chair. His heart shattered yet again and a sharp pulse of sorrow filled the void that remained. But outwardly, the only evidence of his inner turmoil was a slight twitch of his eyebrows. Only Ben Arens, who had been intently watching his captain the whole time, saw the movement and knew what it represented.
As Riker came around to face his seat, his recently acquired First Officer rose to greet him. With a pleasant smile, Lieutenant Commander Robin Lefler saluted her superior. She had served with him years ago on the Enterprise when she was assigned to Engineering and impressed him then with her ambition and competence. When his former First Officer left for another post, Riker learned of her availability and invited her to join the crew of the Titan. Lefler, knowing an unparalleled opportunity when she saw one, readily accepted the post. And now she stood before her captain, studying his careworn and pale face and waiting for his orders.
"As you were," Will said, taking a deep breath and sitting down. He deliberately sat at an angle so it would be easier to ignore the vacant Counselor's chair next to him. The First Officer noticed her captain's posture and the forlorn expression on his face. A wave of sympathy for him washed through her. Still, since he seemed to want to conduct business as usual, she said nothing and kept her feelings to herself.
"Status report, Commander?" Will asked, trying to get back into a rhythm that once seemed as natural to him as breathing but now seemed alien.
"Nothing out of the ordinary to report, Sir. The star-mapping expedition in this quadrant is going as planned." She knew that Starfleet, aware of Will Riker's loss, deliberately assigned the Titan to the most routine task possible to enable the ship to be run without his involvement and allow him time off. There were few other officers that Starfleet would do this for. However, the Admirals in Central Command were well aware of Riker's many years of outstanding service and felt that such an arrangement was clearly warranted.
"Very good," Will murmured. He accepted the padd that she held out towards him. His face was a mask of professionalism as he poured over the information displayed on the device. But while his eyes roamed the surface of the padd, a dull ache filled his inner being. With only minimal awareness of what he was reading, he went through the motions of scanning the padd's data.
With excruciating slowness, the hours of his tour of duty ticked by. Each time he accidentally looked at the empty seat by his side, his heart fell through the floor yet again. And in those tormented moments, he lamented to himself, "How am I ever going to get past this?" Then he would shake his head slightly, take a deep, steadying breath and force himself to return to the matter at hand.
Finally, the end of his shift arrived. With a sigh tinged with exhaustion, Will rose from his seat. Immediately, Robin Lefler stood up. "Beta shift will be coming on shortly, Sir," she announced. With a mindless nod, Riker acknowledged her comment.
He turned to step down from the platform on which his chair sat. "And Sir?" Robin began. Riker turned his tired, spiritless eyes on his First Officer. "It was good to have you back here today, Sir." The obvious sincerity of her remark brought the first real smile that she had seen on his face the whole day. "Thank you, Robin," he replied, his face now warmed by the light of appreciation. And then he walked towards the turbolift.
Robin shook her head as she watched her captain leave the Bridge. Though he had kept up a good front, she had seen occasional forlorn expressions flit across his features, clear if transient evidence of the emotional battles raging inside of him. "It will only get better," she whispered after him.
Later that night, after he had eaten a small meal, Riker sat at his computer console. He was writing an entry in the Captain's log when the chimes to his door sounded. Turning towards the entrance to his quarters, he called out, "Enter."
When he saw Ben Arens step through the portal, Will grinned. "Well, why am I not surprised to see you here?" he asked, a note of gentle sarcasm in his voice. The ships' physician gave Riker a warm smile.
"I just wanted to check in with you about your first day back," Ben explained as he leaned casually against the wall.
"Ah, I see," Will said. "Mothering me again, are you?" He offered Arens a tired but playful wink. Ben laughed heartily at that and replied, "Sure, Will. Everyone needs a Jewish mother."
"So where's the chicken soup then?" Will asked in jest. Ben snapped his fingers and exclaimed, "Oh shoot. That's what I forgot!" This brought a chuckle out of Will, lifting him for the moment from his mind-deadening fatigue.
Ben approached his captain. "Will, how was it for you?" Arens's smile had fled, leaving in its place sincere concern. Will slumped in his chair and ran a tired hand through his tousled hair. Training his blood-shot eyes on his friend's face, Will said, "It was hard, Ben. Damned hard I never thought I'd see the day when I knew she would never be with me again on the Bridge "
Arens rested his hand on Riker's shoulder and gave it a comforting squeeze. Locking his sincere gaze on Will's haggard face, he said, "I know, Will, I know. But I can tell you one thing for certain here." Will stared at the doctor, waiting for him to continue. "Will, you've just taken the most difficult step: rejoining the regular world. This is the worst it will ever be. It will only get better."
The Titan's Chief Medical Officer, Ben Arens, had told Will Riker that his first day back from bereavement leave was the worst things would be for him. But it was months before Will was aware of any lessening of his gut-wrenching grief. Time and time again, various places on his ship evoked painful memories of time spent with his beloved Deanna. Only slowly was he able to look at the empty Counselor's chair on the Bridge, sit at any table at all in the Forward lounge, walk by even just the outside of the arboretum without a sharp stab of sadness shooting through him.
Still, he was intent on performing his duties as captain of the Titan fully. So he forced himself to build a lead shield around his heart and soul and stored his pain and sorrow away in a corner of his being. But this had the unintended effect of muting the engaging warmth and sparkle of his personality that had once made serving under him such a pleasure for his crew. Instead, he carried out his responsibilities with a flatness of affect than made him seem more android than human. He made no errors, but neither did he experience any real joy in being the commanding officer of the U.S.S. Titan.
The Ship's Physician, Ben Arens, noticed the changes in Will's personality but could not find any basis for complaint. Still, filled with concern for his friend, Arens kept a surreptitious eye on the captain. He watched during the ensuing weeks as Will, having buried his feelings, ran the Titan with somber precision. It was rare that he saw his commanding officer break into a true smile while on duty with his crew. And in those infrequent moments, he was reminded of the vibrant and dynamic man his friend once had been.
It was only off duty, in his quarters, that Riker's true feelings bled out into the open. With disconcerting unpredictability, a sudden surge of anguish would steal him from whatever activity he had been focusing on. Despite his best efforts to contain the rush of grief percolating up from his soul, his tormented feelings overtook him in those moments and made it impossible to hold on to the impassive persona he wrapped himself in most of the time. Writing Log entries, meal times, showering, even dressing, had all been punctuated erratically with his unbidden waves of melancholy. The inevitable result was always the same: he would crumble into a helpless heap, ragged sobs tearing out of the depths of his soul and tears flooding his cheeks and wetting his beard.
One evening, nearly two months after Deanna's funeral, Will had returned to his quarters after ending his duty shift. Several of the Bridge officers, thinking that some good company and a few syntheholic beverages might brighten their captain's spirits a bit, had invited him to join them in the Forward Lounge. Mustering a scintilla of a smile, Riker tersely declined their offer and exited the Bridge alone. A murmured "When do we get the real Captain Riker back?" followed in the tall captain's wake.
A short while later, Will was seated at his dining table, staring with disinterest at the food on the plate before him. He took one bite and then pushed the plate away. Will shook his head and slumped back into his chair. With a tired sigh, he fixed his blood-shot eyes on some imaginary point on the wall and began to talk to himself. It was a habit he'd developed recently to fill the thick silence at mealtimes.
"Another shift, another day," Riker mused. "And what have I got to show for it? No mistakes no nothing." He glanced at the food still sitting before him. When had it last had any real appeal for him? He couldn't remember.
In the next moment, Deanna's sultry voice spoke softly in his mind. "You're not eating, Imzadi," she scolded. It cut right through the insensate veneer he had maintained through his shift on the Bridge. The dam holding his suffering back broke yet again and despondent wails tore out of him.
In the midst of his weeping, he heard a sound. Or rather felt it somewhere in the depths of his being. For the briefest of moments, his beloved's voice echoed within him. Without words, the soft, musical tones wafted through his soul, warming his shattered heart.
Before he had a chance to react to what he had just experienced, the chimes to his door sang out. Riker's head jerked up in surprise. "Enter," he called out in a tremulous voice.
Will was wiping the tears from his reddened eyes when the door slid open. Standing in the portal were two people: the Titan's physician, Ben Arens, and a woman he did not recognize. "Might we come in, Captain?" Ben asked, noticing Will's distraught appearance. Riker nodded without a word.
As the newcomer came closer to him, Will got a better look at her. Tall and lithe, she had pointed ears which hinted at possible Vulcan ancestry. Her wavy hair suggested another heritage however. But when the Captain of the Titan saw her eyes, his heart dropped through the floor: the woman's eyes were the depthless, ebony eyes of a Betazoid. Eyes that evoked instant memories of his late Imzadi.
A whispered "Deanna" escaped Will's mouth. A pained expression flitted across his features, then was gone. Neither Arens nor the stranger missed Riker's subtle display of emotion, but said nothing about it.
"Are we interrupting anything?" the doctor asked after a moment of uncomfortable silence.
"No," Will responded in flat tones, "nothing at all." He looked from Ben's face to the woman's and back again. "Come in." Riker gestured into the living room. The two guests walked in and waited by the couch for the captain to join them.
"Captain Riker," Ben began, "this is our new Ship's Counselor." He rested his hand on the woman's back. She stepped forward and held out her hand. With a warm smile, she introduced herself. "My name is Danita Lanay. Most people just call me Dani, although I'll answer to just about anything said nicely."
"Dani?" Will said, looking everywhere but the counselor's eyes. Lanay noted his lack of eye contact. She did not have to use any of her empathic or telepathic skills to know that her captain was feeling very uncomfortable. And she knew precisely why.
"Yes, Dani," Lanay responded in a pleasant voice. "Might I sit down?" Her question broke the near-trance Will had fallen into. "Yes, of course! Please!" he exclaimed, a genuine smile warming his features for the first time that evening.
After they sat, Will began to explain, "I knew I had a new crew member coming aboard, but I hadn't yet had a chance to "
"It's not a problem, Captain," Dani assured him. "I'll be happy to tell you about myself." Will nodded, silently inviting her to continue.
"You obviously noticed my appearance." Riker opened his mouth to apologize. "No apologies necessary, Sir. I've often found that my mix of features attracts attention." Will offered a grateful nod. "And your heritage ?" he started to ask.
"My mother is Betazoid, my father Vulcan. Both of them are educators. And though I was raised mainly on Betazed, my father made sure that I spent a lot of time on Vulcan so that I would feel comfortable on both worlds."
A look of deep compassion then filled her angular face as she watched Will's features sag under the weight of sadness triggered by the mention of her home world. "Yes, Captain, I knew your late wife, although not very well. Our families were casual friends "
She extended a comforting hand and rested it gently on his shoulder. "I am so sorry for your loss " Momentary bitterness twisted his features. "Yeah, I'll bet," he murmured.
"Captain, I understand how you feel more than you realize," Lanay commiserated.
"How?" he shot back. "Did you read my mind?"
"No, Sir. I didn't. You should know I would never do that uninvited." The counselor directed a stern stare at her captain. Immediately, he began to apologize. "I'm sorry, Counselor That was a cheap shot "
"Cheap or not, don't worry about it, Sir," she responded. Staring now at some unknown spot on the wall, Lanay continued in a soft voice, "No, I understand it, Sir, because I've been there."
Will looked at her in shock. "I was married to a wonderful man, a Terran as it happens. He was a bio-researcher the University of Betazed. He worked with exotic exo-bacteria. An unfortunate accident happened in the lab one day, exposing him to a bacterium that sent a fatal infection roaring through him. He was gone in a week." She locked her now watery eyes on the tired ones of her superior officer. "So, you see, Captain, I have been there, and I do know how it feels."
"I had no idea ," Will stammered. "I was going to look over the new crew C.V.'s tonight " The new Ship's Counselor took a deep, cleansing breath, and then smiled at him. "Sir, there will be plenty of time for you to read my records. What I would really suggest for you now, though, is that you consider indulging in the luxuries of a hot shower and an early bedtime. I have a feeling they will both do you good this evening."
"Hey, that was supposed to be my recommendation!" Ben Arens exclaimed with a snicker. Riker matched the laugh with an amused grin. "Does this mean we have a rival Jewish mother here, Ben?"
"Hmmm," Arens mused, raising a mischievous eyebrow, "I knew that you didn't have to be Jewish or a mother to be a Jewish mother. But I always thought that being human was part of the picture " He winked at Will.
"Why do I think that I am being had here?" Dani asked, glancing from Ben's face to Riker's. "And what is a Jewish mother, anyway?"
"I'll explain it all to you, my dear colleague, after we leave from here. Which is exactly what I suggest we do now." The Ship's Physician stood up and began to step towards the door.
"Go to bed, Captain," he then commanded. Will gave his shoulders a diffident shrug.
"That's an order, Will Riker!" Arens shot back. And with that, Ben Arens and Dani Lanay walked out of Will's quarters. As soon as the door whooshed shut, his grin faded as he contemplated another long night sleeping alone in a bed made for two.
Will Riker had not intended on going to bed early the evening he first met the new Ship's Counselor. But when Ben Arens, the Titan's doctor, made the suggestion an order, Will knew that he meant business. Arens had demonstrated on prior occasions that he was not above using the internal sensors to catch the Captain not following medical orders and then marching into his quarters, loaded hypospray in hand, to enforce compliance. And that night, Will had no stomach for uninvited visits from the persistent and zealous physician. With a resigned sigh, he readied himself for the shower.
Later that night, as was often the case now, sleep came to him only slowly. Haunted by images of his beloved, he lay in bed with his arms wrapped tightly around his pillow and silent tears staining the sheet beneath him. His tormented soul, filled only with the pain of loss, allowed him no comfort.
When slumber finally drew him into its embrace, relief eluded him. For much of the little time he actually slept, he tossed and turned with disturbed restlessness. Dreams that relived Deanna's final day of life played repeatedly in his mind. Interspersed with those were ones where he could see her but could not touch her. Each time he approached her, his Imzadi faded into a misty phantasm, leaving him with a forlorn yearning that tore at his heart.
Shortly before he woke from his turbulent sleep, a hint of a voice invaded his dreams. Soft and musical, it was as lyrical in its wordless melody as it was unrecognizable. Still, there was a healing warmth to it. It soothed and caressed the edges of his oppressed soul, bringing it a moment of sweet comfort. And in so doing, it brought a rare smile of contentment to the sleeping giant of a man.
A few moments after the echoes of those delicate tones died in his mind, Will woke up. He had a lurking feeling that something different had happened in his dreams during the night, but he could not remember what it was. All that he could recall were the tormented ones he so often had.
Riker was roused from his troubled reverie by the chirping of the comm system in the living room. He stumbled out of bed and shuffled into the living room. When he reached his desk, he slammed a tired hand on the monitor switch. He was met by the cheery face of the Ship's Physician.
"Good morning, Captain," Ben greeted his captain. "I hope that your early evening gave you the chance for some good rest."
"Not really ," Will mumbled back. "Another restless night."
"Will, this is not good. You aren't eating. You aren't sleeping. You are "
"I am carrying out my duties properly," Riker interrupted in a curt tone. "I have not yet "
"Slipped up?" Ben barked back. "Will, how long will it be before you do? You cannot live on little food and sleep forever. Eventually, it will catch up with you. And as the Captain, you cannot afford to have that happen at a crucial moment."
"Then give me something to help me sleep, Ben. Give me some nutritional supplements." Will threw up his hands in dismay. "Hell, Ben, you're the one with all the magic chemicals there in Sick Bay " A rueful chuckle rumbled out of Riker. "Better living through modern chemistry - isn't that what they used to say?"
Arens stared at his captain with stern eyes. "Will, neither a sleep aid nor nutritional supplement is anything more than a temporary support. Neither of them can replace the real things long-term." Ben crossed his arms in a gesture of authority and glared at Will. "And you damned well know it, Captain." Will shook his head in defeat and drooped into the chair behind him.
"Will," the doctor continued, now in a gentle voice, "you need help." He offered his captain a concerned smile. Will lifted his tired eyes towards the screen. "What kind of help did you mean, Ben?"
"You know what kind of help I mean, Will. And it's the kind that will only be found in someone else's office, not in mine."
As Riker heard those words, a spasm of fear and pain shot through his body. He knew exactly what the doctor had in mind: the Counselor's office. And that had been the one place on the Titan that he had avoided completely since Deanna's death. The thought of even being near that place triggered a tidal wave of soul-crushing sorrow to wash through him.
"There's got to be something you can do, Ben," Will pleaded in a tight voice. "I can't "
"You can't go back there, Will?" Ben inquired, compassion warming his features. "To the Counselor's office?" He didn't wait for Will's response before continuing. "I know that's how you feel, Will. But I would neither be a very good doctor nor a very good friend if I let you avoid doing what needs to be done."
Riker shook his head. Staring at Arens with beseeching eyes, the captain of the Titan implored, "I can't do this, Ben." Unbidden tears welled up in Will's eyes. "I can't go in there " He blinked back the moisture from his eyes and took a deep breath.
"You can, Will, and you will," the doctor insisted. Fixing the captain with a no-nonsense stare, Arens then added, "Now, you can do this voluntarily or I can make it an enforceable order, Captain." Will rolled his eyes and muttered, "You and your orders "
"I heard that, Will Riker " Ben chuckled. "But I'll ignore it." This brought a semblance of a smile to Will's face. "Now that's better," Arens remarked, noticing the change in his commanding officer's mien. But he knew that his next comment would erase that smile immediately.
"Counselor Lanay is in her office as we speak." Riker's face fell. "Now? But I haven't even dressed yet "
"What if I stop by in about an hour, Will? That will give you time to dress and eat," Ben suggested.
"Stop by?" Will asked, puzzled at Ben's request.
"Yes, stop by. That way, I can ensure that you make it to Dani's office." Will shrugged his shoulders in defeat. "And, my friend, a little company on the way will make it that much easier to take that daunting but important step."
The door to Dani Lanay's new office slid open to reveal the Titan's Ship's Physician and her tall Captain. Ben Arens, with characteristic friendliness, had his arm draped across Will Riker's broad back. Riker stood ramrod-straight, his face a blank slate but his tension radiating off of him in waves.
The Counselor stood up from her seat and gestured for them to enter. "Come in, please!" she welcomed them. The two officers stepped in. Arens gave his captain a gentle push from behind and directed a pointed look at the Ship's Counselor; Will kept his eyes fixed on some invisible point on the wall, looking neither to the right nor to the left. In this way, he hoped to be able to see as little as possible of this spot that he had so strenuously avoided for months.
As soon as Riker stepped into the room, Dani was assaulted empathically with his tension and pain. It hit her like a brick wall and momentarily stole her breath away. She winced for the briefest of moments under the impact, and then struggled to regain her balance and composure. Forcing a pleasant smile onto her face, she was relieved to see that her fleeting reaction had escaped her captain's notice.
"Captain, Doctor, please have a seat," the Counselor suggested. She waited until her colleagues were seated before she sat. Then, training her depthless ebony eyes on the stolid face of her commanding officer, Dani offered a warm smile and said, "I'm glad you could find the time to meet with me this morning, Captain Riker."
Will met her gaze with tired eyes full of unspoken suffering. "I didn't exactly find the time, Counselor. In fact, it really wasn't my idea at all to be here at all." He shot a quick glare in Arens' direction.
"I know that," Lanay responded in soothing tones. "In fact, Captain, it was my idea." Riker's eyebrows rose in a silent question. Dani glanced at the doctor for an instant, then focused her attention once again on her commanding officer. "I can see that you think Dr. Arens put me up to this. In fact, last night's visit with you impelled me to suggest to him that he bring you here to meet with me as soon as possible."
"Yeah, I'm a regular basket case," Will shot back. Then, glaring at the Ship's Physician, Riker sneered, "I think you've done enough damage for one day, 'friend'." Arens shook his head and arose from his spot on the couch. Offering his captain a tolerant smile, Ben simply patted him gently on the shoulder. Tipping his head in Lanay's direction, Arens murmured, "Counselor." Then the doctor turned and walked out of the office.
After the doors to her office whooshed shut behind the physician, Dani Lanay turned her penetrating Betazoid eyes back to the haggard face of her captain. One could not miss the torment etched into his drawn facial features. But as an empath, she also felt his profound pain and depression, smothering and deadening in their oppressiveness.
The Titan's new Counselor folded her hands in her lap and took a breath. "This must be very hard for you, Captain. I know this was your wife's office." The bitterness fled the tall captain's face as his eyes glazed over with sudden memories of his beloved Deanna.
"My wife's office ," Will whispered brokenly. His eyebrows knitted in sadness. "Yes her office." He stared off at some unknown point on the wall. Then he began to speak in a voice so soft Dani had to strain to hear him.
"This was her office The one place I haven't I couldn't " Riker shook his head and covered his sorrowful eyes with his hand.
"It is the one place you haven't been in since her death," the Counselor finished for him in a quiet voice. Without removing his hand from his face, Riker nodded.
"Why haven't you come here before now?" Dani inquired gently. Though she knew the answer, she also knew it was necessary for him to volunteer the words himself. It was the only way his presence there today would help him.
Will's shoulders began to shake with silent weeping. Wet orbs of grief escaped from beneath his hand to trace paths through his beard and stain the front of his uniform. It was all Lanay could do at that moment not to go wrap the giant man before her in an embrace of comfort.
After a few moments of heavy silence, Riker slumped back against the couch and dropped his hand from his face. Making no attempt to wipe away the tears that continued to trickle down his cheeks, he said, "This place was so much hers so full of her In a way, more so than anywhere else on this ship "
In his mind's eye, for the briefest of instants, he saw Deanna sitting on the chair before him as if she were still the Counselor. A moment later, a ragged sob tore out from the depths of his tormented soul. "Oh gods why did she have to die?" And then he bent forward and buried his face in his hands. "Why, why, why?"
The Counselor allowed her captain to weep. She knew from experience that he would begin talking again when he was ready. She was prepared to give him all the time he needed to do that.
After a few minutes of crying, Riker sat up. Wringing his hands as if to comfort himself, he said, "She was my very soul my destiny " Lanay nodded, her face now filled with compassion.
"You were Imzadi with her, weren't you?" Will focused his reddened eyes on the woman before him. "How did you know?" he breathed.
"Doctor Arens told me before he brought me to see you last night. He thought I should know." Will nodded and proceeded to rub his hands back and forth along his thighs in a futile attempt to console himself.
"Were you Imzadi?" he asked a moment later, now training his wet gaze on Dani's angular features. Her ebony eyes widened in surprise; she hadn't expected that question. A sudden flash of pain shot through her as she recalled the face of her late husband, pale and calm in death's embrace. She blinked her eyes and took a cleansing breath to force herself back into reality.
"No we were not, Captain, not in the way you were," she finally responded in a quiet voice. "But in the short time Zev and I had together, we got to know each other so well, it was almost as if we were Imzadi " Will nodded, a small spark of interest lighting his eyes for the first time that morning.
"My parents are Imzadi, though, Captain. While I was growing up on Betazed, I learned what it meant to be Imzadi, and I saw it every day of my formative years."
"But I thought ," Will began, happy to be able to think about someone else for the moment.
"Yes, Captain, my father is Vulcan. But you forget that Vulcans are also a telepathic race, so the creation of an Imzadi bond between a Betazoid and a Vulcan really is not so surprising."
"Ah, I see ," Will said, staring once again at some spot over the Counselor's shoulder.
"It is hard enough to lose someone dear to you," Lanay started in an even voice, attempting to steer the conversation back to the man before her. Her change in manner drew Riker's attention back to her and back to his own depthless pain. He crumpled once again into the couch, the animation now extinguished from his eyes. "But to have that person be your Imzadi, too "
The tears began to trickle down Will's cheeks again. "Gods, she was what was best in me She was my very soul " He wrapped his arms around himself as if to comfort himself. Dani waited patiently for him to continue.
"When she died, she took all that was good and left a big, empty hole in the place where my heart should be," the captain uttered in a tiny voice. "There's nothing left but pain and haunting memories." He shot a painful, penetrating glare at Lanay's face.
"Captain, there are many things left there, but you cannot feel them right now," Dani related, her voice quiet and calming. She reached over and placed her hand on Will's knee. "But know that they are there " Locking her depthless dark eyes on the sad ones of her captain, she added, "Your utter commitment to this ship your concern for the crew the affection you still have for your friends And yes, even the undying love you have for Deanna " Will's eyes went wide at the mention of his beloved. "And the love she gave you It has not gone away." She gave his knee a reassuring pat and then withdrew her hand.
Cocking her head at a thoughtful angle, Dani offered, "I learned something very important about the Imzadi bond when I was growing up on Betazed, something you and Counselor Troi might not have discussed." Will stared in wide-eyed curiosity, silently inviting her to continue.
"It is said that Imzadi is eternal, Captain," Lanay explained. "This is not just a saying." Her intense dark eyes bore into his blood-shot ones. "It is the truth. There is something of its essence, of the bonded souls, that survives death. What exactly that is varies from one couple to another." The tall captain nodded, trying to absorb what Dani was telling him. "But know that something does survive. And in time, Captain Riker, you will know what has endured of your Imzadi."
The weeks that followed Will Riker's first session with Counselor Dani Lanay brought a slow change in his demeanor. Somehow, having met with someone who not only could handle his torment professionally but had shared a similar experience of loss created a small chink in the armor Will had erected around his heart and allowed a scintilla of fresh air in. And with that little bit of opening came a gradual revival of the Captain William Riker his crew had known before Deanna's death. Little by little, the smile that had often warmed his handsome features once again graced his face. In turn, his crew, especially the senior members stationed on the Bridge of the Titan, breathed a collective sigh of relief seeing that their old captain was returning to them.
The changes in the Titan's captain extended to his off-duty times as well. Will fell into the habit of filling his previously empty and lonely dinner times with listening to his favorite jazz classics and reading old-fashioned books. And to his great surprise, he began to find to that viewing the holopics of Deanna that were still scattered around his quarters did not always twist his heart and trigger a flood of tears. Now, at least some of the time, the various images of his Imzadi brought a smile of sweet remembrance.
He even resumed visiting the Forward Lounge for an occasional drink and conversation with the Ship's Doctor, Ben Arens. These forays into the lounge, once one of his favorite hangouts with his late wife, were at first awkward and tentative. Sitting ill at ease in a chair designed for comfort, the Titan's Captain rigid posture radiated his disquiet. But Ben Arens, fully expecting the uneasiness Will wore like a second skin, made a point of dredging up every lame but funny joke he could think of; laughter was the best medicine for his friend.
The calm that Will had started experiencing again in his waking hours spilled over to some of his dreams. No longer were they dominated by images of his beloved, ensuring a grief-stricken awakening. Instead, his sleeping mind periodically conjured up neutral scenes and specters having nothing to do with Deanna. After a night of such somnolent ideation, he awoke feeling strong and ready to take on the day's challenges, much as he had been before his loss.
But Riker was not immune to moments of despondency. With frustrating unpredictability, his torturous pain would resurface at odd moments and plunge him into deep despair. The spark of animation, so recently returned to his eyes, would wink out and he would sag under the weight of suffocating sadness, his renascent affability a sudden stranger to him.
The Bridge crew, being accustomed to their captain's prior persistent bleakness, knew to steer clear of him in those periods of renewed grief. They respected the distance Riker so clearly needed and gave it to him. No words were necessary for this. It was simply understood. Each one of the Bridge Officers knew Will Riker would do the same for them, were the tables turned.
And so it was that in early December, no one of the crew paid much attention to the gradually darkening mood of their captain. Little by little, as the days passed, Will slid from his rejuvenated vitality into morose taciturnity. His dynamic leadership of the ship faded once more into robotic efficiency.
The two people who did notice Riker's descent into melancholy were the Ship's Physician and the Ship's Counselor. For a while, they watched their commanding officer with silent concern. When the duration of Will's quiet gloom stretched beyond a few days, they concluded that this was not just another of Will's temporary black moods.
"You know," Arens remarked to the counselor in her office, "this is more than just another bad day or two for him. I think it's tied up with something specific." Dani gave a thoughtful nod as she turned on her computer monitor. "I think you are right. Let me check something. Computer, provide me with the records of Riker, William Thomas, Captain, U.S.S. Titan." An instant later, Will Riker's personal and service records appeared on Lanay's computer screen. She scrutinized the data in silence.
Before the counselor could find what she thought she would in the information before her, Ben snapped his fingers. "Hell, I know what's going on, Dani." Pointing to the computer, he explained in eager tones, "It's what would have been their anniversary tomorrow. See, look at the date there." The counselor nodded and offered a grin of understanding.
"Of course " She turned away from her desk and locked her ebony eyes on the brown ones of her colleague. "Their anniversary ," Dani added in a soft voice. "Yes and the first ones missed are the hardest." In that moment, she was lost in the minefields of her own loss. A sudden wave of sadness washed through her as she remembered yet again the pain of a lonely anniversary. She shook head a minute later to dispel the sorrow spreading through her.
"Yeah, I remember how hard that first one alone was like, too," Ben commented after a few moments of dense silence. "It's been ten years for me," he added, staring at some invisible point on her desk, "and it still hurts like Hell each time our anniversary date rolls around."
Arens lifted his gaze to the contemplative mien of his fellow officer. With a sigh, he slapped his hands onto his thighs, stood up and asked, "Well, good doctor, what in your professional opinion is the best course of action?"
"I think that we are fortunate that our current mission is fairly routine. Thus, I would suggest just monitoring our captain. If his affect does not improve soon, though, some sort of intervention would be indicated."
"Was that spoken by a Betazoid or by a Vulcan?" the doctor laughed as he winked a mischievous eye. Dani shot back a playful look at the doctor. "Hmm, I wonder if Captain Riker would put me in the Brig if I decked you for that one?" she challenged, humor sparkling in her dark eyes.
"Do you really want to find out?" Arens replied. Lanay shook her head and threw up her hands in mock defeat. "That's the one part of the ship I hope never to see!" she declared.
"Well," the Ship's Doctor said, "it's time for me to return to Sick Bay." He turned towards the door and queried, "So we just leave Will alone then?" Dani tipped her head, then responded, "Yes, we leave him alone. My sense of him is that he will just resent any effort on our parts and view it as an intrusion."
"Very well, Dani, that's what we'll do," Arens agreed as he stepped through the door to her office. A second later, the door slid shut, leaving a thoughtful counselor behind.
The next day came and Will showed up for his tour of duty on the Bridge on time in the morning. From the moment he sat in the Captain's Chair to the moment he left the Bridge at shift's end, he was the most silent he had ever been. The whole time he was there, Riker carried out his responsibilities with laconic apathy.
With surreptitious glances, his fellow officers took in his body language. One did not need to be an empath to perceive the utter misery their captain was enmeshed in. And though most of the Bridge crew knew the reason for his depressed affect, each also knew that it would be a mistake to say anything to him about it. And so they watched Will Riker and sympathized in silence for their wounded leader.
When his shift ended, Will stood up. With few words, he turned over command to his second in command, Robin Lefler. She acknowledged her superior officer with a wordless salute. But her impassive mask faded as Riker walked towards the turbolift. She watched him with her face full of the commiseration she dared not express.
The Captain of the Titan stepped into his quarters and collapsed into the nearest chair. His eyes immediately went to the holopic of him and Deanna that had been taken at their Terran wedding. In the image, he clasped his large hands over her petite ones and they gazed into one another's eyes with obvious and profound love.
As Will stared at the holopic, tears began to stream down his face. Every ounce of balance and calm he had regained over the months fled in an instant. A tidal wave of suffering, ponderous and suffocating, rolled through his soul. He crumbled under the weight of haunting memories. "Oh gods," he wept, "how can I spend this day without you? How can I live without you in my life?"
For untold minutes, sorrowful wails tore out of the forlorn man. Then, raising his head up from his hands, he arose and went to the video monitor in the corner of the living room. In a shaking voice, he ordered, "Computer, display video file Imzadi Weddings." An instant later, the screen came alive with scenes from their Terran wedding and reception.
Will slid down onto the floor in front of the monitor. Leaning heavily against the side of the couch, he watched the footage flit by before his eyes. Image after joyous image conveyed the radiant happiness of the newly-wed Imzadi couple. The sad captain watched the spectacle as if he were a total stranger. "I once was that man, wasn't I?" he murmured to himself. With quivering fingers, he reached over to touch the close-up of Deanna then being displayed. "Oh Deanna ," escaped his lips on a sorrowful whisper.
Will knew that he was torturing himself by viewing these images on what would have been their anniversary. But something deep within him insisted on seeing them, painful though it was to do so. For reasons he didn't understand, he couldn't not look. But the pain that suffused him as he watched the footage threatened to choke his very soul.
Without further thought, he stood up and went to the cabinet next to the replicator. Opening the door, he spotted what he sought: a bottle of scotch whiskey. And while his mind told him it was unwise to imbibe while he hurt as he did, his shattered heart told him otherwise. Its atavistic desire for numbness won out over his common sense.
Will poured himself a drink and tossed it back. He reveled in the anesthetizing warmth of the liquor that washed through him. Riker then eyed the glass in his hand, snapped, "Shit, who needs it?" and tossed the glass over his shoulder. An instant later, he took a swig of the fiery liquid directly from the bottle, winced as it burned its way down his throat and strode towards his prior spot on the floor by the couch.
The tall man slid back down onto the floor, cradling the bottle of scotch as if it were a prized possession. Locking his tired eyes onto the screen, Will watched as the happy couple in the holovideo cut the wedding cake and fed each other a bite of it. The next scene, of them engaged in a passionate, no-holds-barred kiss, sent a bolt of pain shooting through him. "Gods, we should be doing that now ," he mumbled in a voice filled with longing and sadness.
Riker tilted the bottle to his lips and tossed back another shot of liquor. A little more numbness crept through his body. Pleased with the rapidity with which the alcohol was dulling the edges of his torment, he took yet another draught of the golden beverage. "No more pain," he slurred to himself.
By the time the footage taken of their nuptials on Betazed appeared on the monitor screen, Will Riker was thoroughly soused. With drunken eyes, he watched the naked couple on the screen exchange their self-written vows. The words "Imzadi eternally" came from the mouth of the overjoyed groom in the holovideo. "Imzhadi " spilled out of the besotted captain's mouth.
Tears welled in Riker's now-bloodshot eyes. He tossed back another swallow of the scotch and rubbed the moisture from his eyes with a rough swipe of his wrist. "No one likes a sad drunk, Riker," he admonished himself. Shaking a judgmental finger in the air, he mumbled, "No, no, no," and then cut loose a laugh filled with equal parts of intoxication and pain.
It was not long before the soporific effects of inebriation conspired with Will's pre-existing fatigue to topple him right onto the floor before the monitor console. Soon, loud snores signaled the exhausted captain's arrival into deep sleep. The rest of the holodvideo played on with no audience.
As had often been the case since Deanna's death, she inhabited the dreams that swirled around in Will's somnolent mind. Prominent among them were images of her naked and in love, standing as she did at their wedding on Betazed. But for the first time, her utterances of that most sacred word, "Imzadi," echoed softly in the recesses of his brain. Over and over again, like a precious mantra, the word repeated itself in soft tones and filled the sleeping man's soul. And soon, all resemblance to a spoken word was lost, and all that repeated itself and warmed the interstices of his being was a pure tone, a musical song of utter beauty. One that gave life and wholeness to all that it touched.
Will Riker's hung-over slumber was impervious to the chirping of his chrono-alarm. The man who would normally awake if the engines were but one nanosecond out of sync slept through the hails of the disembodied voices over the comm system. Even the repeated ringing of the door chimes failed to rouse the Titan's captain from his crapulent stupor. Despite all of the noise, Riker snored away on the floor, oblivious to reality.
The door to Will Riker's quarters slid open, revealing a concerned Ship's Physician standing in the corridor. Ben Arens stepped in. Immediately, he noticed the sound of loud breathing and turned to find the source. As soon as he moved further into the room, the doctor spotted his captain sprawled out across the carpet in front of the video monitor. An exasperated "tsk tsk" left Aren's mouth as he walked over and squatted down next to the prostrate man.
"Well, well, why does this not surprise me?" Ben mumbled. Shaking his head in concerned judgment, the doctor placed a gentle hand on Will Riker's shoulder and shook it. "Captain, wake up." His superior officer did not respond. Arens shook the somnolent man harder and spoke louder. "Wake up!" This earned the doctor a groan. Once again, the physician tried to rouse Riker. This time, Will Riker, without opening his eyes, reacted on instinct and swung his fisted hand hard at the unwanted intrusion, getting the poor doctor in the solar plexus. Arens let out a grunt of pain as he fell backward from the impact.
The sound of a gasp so close to his ears caused Will Riker to crook open one
blood-shot eye. Immediately he spotted his colleague tumbled backwards on the
carpet next to him.
An inarticulate "go away" spilled out of the semi-conscious captain's mouth.
Ben Arens righted himself and brushed his uniform off. Pointing an angry finger at the man sprawled before him on the floor, the doctor growled, "I will not go away, Will Riker. Now it's time to get up!" None too gently, Arens grabbed one of Will's beefy arms and hauled him up to a sitting position.
"Oh gods ," left Riker's lips as a wave of intense nausea rolled through him. But before he could cover his mouth with his hand, the foul tasting contents of his stomach exploded from his lips.
"Okay Captain, take it easy," Ben said in a soft voice. "I'll be right back." The doctor stood and went in search of a towel. In a moment, he returned with one in hand. Ben knelt on the floor, carefully avoiding the regurgitated mess on the carpet. With gentle motions, he wiped the vomitus first off of Will's pale face, then his hand and abdomen. A second later, the doctor whipped a hypospray out of his pocket and pressed the instrument against Riker's neck.
"You should start feeling better soon, Will," Arens assured the suffering man before him. Will nodded, his eyes closed tightly against the ambient light of the cabin.
After a few silent minutes, Ben helped Will sit up and then rise to a stand. "Let's get you to the shower, my friend," Arens said as he guided his wobbly commanding officer into the hygiene unit. With caring hands, he helped Riker undress and get safely into the shower.
After what seemed to be an endless shower, Will Riker emerged from his bedroom clad in his tattered blue robe. He offered his Chief Medical Officer an apologetic shrug of the shoulders. "It seems to me we've been down this road before," Riker commented in embarrassed tones. Ben Arens smiled and waved his hand dismissively.
"I rather thought this was going to happen, to be honest," Arens said. Will opened his mouth to defend himself. "No, no, Will, don't worry. I did something rather similar the first anniversary I spent without Adina. I am not going to sit in judgment here," Ben assured him. A thankful grin spread across Riker's pale features.
"Tell me, Will," Ben began after a moment of dense silence, "how
are you feeling now?"
Will ran his fingers through his wet, spiky hair. "Well, I rather feel like I went one round too many with an angry Romulan " He shut his eyes and let out a slow breath. "But my stomach's better and my head doesn't feel like an exploding photon torpedo." He opened his eyes again and directed his tired gaze to the doctor's friendly face.
"That's not entirely what I meant, Will," Arens responded after a moment's consideration. "Or perhaps I should say, that's only part of what I meant." The physician locked his dark eyes on the blood-shot ones of his superior officer. Leaning over to touch his finger to Will's solid chest, Ben said, "Here, Will. How are you feeling in here?"
Riker drew in a deep breath. "In here?" He tapped himself on his chest. "Last night was awful As awful as any I've experienced since " Will began to trace idle circles on the table top with his index finger. "Since since Deanna died " He smoothed his moustache and beard with his cupped hand, a gesture that gave away his discomfort. Riker's mouth opened as if he was going to say more, but then he closed it.
Arens did not miss his captain's body language. "Why do I think there is a 'but' here, Will?" Ben inquired, resting his hand on the taller man's shoulder. Riker offered a wan smile. "You know me too well." Arens grinned and nodded. "So?"
"There was something in my sleep " Will stared at the stars hurtling by outside the portal. "A word No a sound " Ben's eyebrows went up in curiosity. "I don't remember much more than that " Arens waited; it was obvious his captain had something more to say.
After a moment of heavy silence, Will spoke again in a voice tinged with yearning. "There was something about that sound It touched me in some way that felt so right " Riker focused his blue eyes on the dark ones of his friend, "In a way that I haven't felt since : Will's voice drifted away. "Since Deanna was alive?" Arens suggested. Without breaking his focus on the star-filled space beyond his window, Riker replied in a whisper, "Yes, since Deanna was alive."
When the captain of the Titan walked onto the Bridge late for his scheduled duty, no one said a thing. Each one of them had watched their commanding officer suffer through the day before, a spouseless wedding anniversary. During that day, each officer had stolen surreptitious glances at Will Riker, whose tormented grief wrapped him in a mantle of tangible gloom. Every member of his senior staff knew that his lonely night must have been sheer Hell. It would be cruel to remind him now of the reason for his tardiness.
Without a word, Riker nodded to his First Officer and then sat in the Captain's Chair. "Sir," Robin Lefler addressed him, "here is the current mission report, ready for your approval." She handed a padd to him, and waited for his response. Will gave the device's screen a cursory glance and, without comment, placed his initials at the bottom of the report.
As Riker handed the padd back to her in silence, Lefler studied her captain's features. She was not surprised by his pale and drawn countenance. But there was something else she noticed in Will Riker's face in that moment. It was a note of something indefinable. But she did know she had not seen it there since their former Ship's Counselor was alive.
Her scrutiny of the tall captain's mien was broken by the voice of the Communications Officer. "Sir, we have an in-coming diplomatic transmission. They wish to speak with you directly." Will's eyebrows rose in curiosity. "Diplomatic message?" he queried, wondering what this might be about. He unfolded his large frame from the Captain's Chair and announced, "I'll take it in my Ready Room, Commander."
"Very good, Sir," the Communications Officer replied. Riker nodded and walked off towards his Ready Room to intercept the message. As the door to his office swished shut behind him, Lefler looked to the Communications Officer with a questioning face. The Commander offered a shrug in response.
The captain sat down in his chair and swiveled the monitor screen to face him. Hitting the comm system switch, he waited for the Federation logo to fade from the screen and reveal the sender. The instant he saw who it was, his heart dropped to his feet and a wave of pain mixed with utter shock torpedoed through him.
The face belonged to his former mother-in-law, the once indomitable Lwaxana Troi. It was all Will could do to keep his jaw from dropping in total dismay. He could hardly believe how much Lwaxana had aged in the months since Deanna's funeral. Where Troi's regal features had once seemed ageless, now her grievous loss was etched deeply in the skin of her face. Even her dark, penetrating Betazoid eyes seemed to have lost some of their luster.
After what seemed an endless passage of time, Riker cleared his throat and slapped on a nervous smile. "Mrs. Troi," he stammered in a tight voice, "this is a surprise."
"I know, William," she responded with uncharacteristic gentleness. Her ebony eyes misted over for an instant, and then she continued in a quiet voice. "I know what yesterday was " Lwaxana looked out at him with sad eyes, her own sorrow hovering at the corners of her eyes and mouth. Will stared at the defeated woman before him in disbelief. Could this listless apparition before him be the same Lwaxana Troi who used to steamroll her way through life and exasperate anyone caught in her path?
Another moment of heavy silence slipped between them. Then, with a soft sigh and a barely perceptible shrug of her shoulders, the Betazoid matriarch transformed herself into a facsimile of her former self. In a flash, she became once more the aristocratic diplomat from Betazed. But Will was not fooled. He had come to know his mother-in-law well, and so detected the eternal sorrow that was the constant substrate of her being. Still, Riker understood that Lwaxana now wished to steer away from her true feelings. He was happy to let her do so, for that gave him tacit permission to do the same with his own.
"What can I do for you, Mrs. Troi?" Riker asked.
"William, how many times must I tell you not to call me 'Mrs. Troi'? We aren't strangers, you know!" she exclaimed with some of her habitual pomposity. The tall captain smiled at those oh-so familiar words. How many times had she spoken them to him?
"Lwaxana then," Will responded with a warm grin.
"Very good, William," Troi harrumphed. "Now, I am traveling on diplomatic business. I have been in this horrible shuttle for an eternity." She looked around herself in disgust. "How they can expect one to put up with accommodations like these for an eternity is just beyond belief!"
"Lwaxana," Riker interjected, trying to stifle an incipient chuckle, "Somewhere in there I think I hear a request for a break from shuttle travel."
"Why, William," she replied, her hands waving in a grandiose manner, "how kind of you to offer. I should be there within several hours "
Will muttered under his breath, "Why am I not surprised?"
"What did you say, William? I didn't catch that," the Betazoid diplomat asked, eyeing him sharply. Riker plastered a fake smile on his face and answered, "I'll wait for your arrival, Lwaxana."
"Very good, William. I will see you when this confounded traveling machine gets me to your ship. Troi out." With that, the image of Lwaxana Troi faded from the screen, leaving in its place the static Federation logo.
Hours later, after the Betazoid's shuttle had arrived and she had settled in her guest quarters, the captain of the Titan came to call on her. It was not a visit that he looked forward to. Indeed, seeing her face several hours earlier had sucked him back into the mire of his tormented feelings of loss and grief. And now he stood before her door, his renewed sorrow a weight that threatened to shatter his very soul.
With a trembling finger, Will rang the chimes to Lwaxana's cabin. While waiting for her permission to enter, he made the instant decision not to shield his thoughts from her. He knew he could not summon up the mental strength he would need to do so. And, truth be told, he really didn't even care. He made no secret to anyone about how the loss of his Imzadi had shattered his heart and riven his being. The last person in the world he should hide those feelings from, Riker knew, was the mother of his beloved.
"Come in," Troi's voice called out. The door slid open and the tall captain stepped in.
"Come in, come in," Lwaxana encouraged him. Then, as she patted the couch next to her, she insisted, "Come sit, William." Riker hesitated for a moment, not sure if should sit or stand.
"Come, come, William. Sit and give an old woman a little company," she sighed. Will offered a tentative smile and replied, "Very well. For a short while."
Riker came to join the Betazoid diplomat on the couch. And though they chatted, for a while they danced around giving voice to the anguish they knew they shared. Instead, they sat together, exchanging meaningless pleasantries. Then the conversation took a sudden turn into treacherous territory, with Lwaxana at the helm.
"I can't imagine how horrible things must have been for you, William," Troi uttered in a suddenly gentle voice as she changed the direction of their exchange. Riker's smile fled in an instant and a spasm of suffering slammed up into his throat. Troi's eyes went wide with the empathic assault of Will's agony. A moment later, with tears welling up in her ebony eyes, she reached over and placed a loving hand on the tall man's thigh.
"I think about her all the time, William," she commented in a broken voice. "There is not a day when I do not." Wet orbs of grief rolled down her cheeks. "The emptiness Knowing I will never again feel or hear her here ," she touched her head, "haunts me." Riker's eyes misted over with the sound of Lwaxana's forlorn words.
A strangled sob pushed its way out of her mouth. Without thinking, Will reached
over, wrapped his mother-in-law in an embrace of empathy and comfort, and rocked
with her - just as he used to do with Deanna.
As they swayed back and forth in a gentle rhythm of soothing, Will finally allowed himself to join in Lwaxana's tears. For untold minutes, the guest quarters were filled with a chorus of agonized weeping. And then slowly, their keening eased. With soft hiccups and hands rubbing tear tracks from their faces, they ended their shared wordless mourning.
Lwaxana turned to face Will. "Has she spoken to you, William?" Riker's eyes went wide with total surprise at the question.
"How how do you mean," he stammered, his heart hammering in his chest. Troi's dark eyes glazed over with a sudden inward turn of her thoughts. "You were Imzadi, William " Will stared at the old woman next to him, knowing she had more to say.
"It is said that those who are Imzadi never truly die ," she recited, almost more to herself than to the tall man at her side. "That somehow, something of each one survives " Those words were so familiar to him. Who had told him that once before?
"But how will I know ," Will began to ask in hushed tones an instant later. Troi now locked her depthless eyes on Riker's blue ones. Staring at him intently, she replied, "She will tell you She may have told you already, William." The Betazoid matriarch gave Will's thigh a reassuring pat. "When you are ready to hear her, you will know how to find her."
The day Lwaxana Troi was to leave the Titan, she and Will Riker arranged to have lunch together in his quarters. The Betazoid diplomat wanted to see the space her daughter had called home before her untimely death. Knowing of Lwaxana's propensity for outlandish and intrusive behavior, he granted her request with a certain amount of trepidation.
"Why William," Troi huffed, "why on earth are you nervous? It's just a simple visit to your quarters." In that instant, he realized that she had read his thoughts yet again. Though mildly annoyed by her intrusion, he hadn't the energy to object. Still, he made no attempt to hide behind a fake smile and merely murmured, "We shall see."
The moment that Lwaxana stepped into the captain's quarters, all traces of
her habitual haughtiness faded. As she scanned the space so replete with reminders
of her daughter, Troi's face softened into a mask of abject suffering. "This
," she whispered in a stricken voice, "this place
A lone tear forged a crystalline path down her cheek.
Will moved towards her. "It's so full of Deanna, isn't it?" he said. The tall captain drew in a steadying breath. "I couldn't change anything." Locking his blue eyes on Lwaxana's sorrowful ones, Riker continued, "It hurts to see these reminders all around me " He swept his hand about, pointing to the various mementos in the room. A spasm of misery shot through him, clenching his chest and constricting his throat. Struggling to contain his sudden despondency, Will forced himself to continue. "It hurts But sometimes it helps. And I know it would hurt me even more not to have them."
The Betazoid matriarch nodded in silence and wiped the tear track away. "Well ," she began in an artificially cheerful voice. Riker offered her an understanding smile. "Yes," he said as he reached out to take her hand. He gestured towards the dining table. "Why don't I put the replicator to work. You did ask to join me for lunch, after all."
"I did at that, didn't I?" Troi responded in a quiet voice.
In short order, Will had a hot meal on the table for the two of them. Neither of them were in fact hungry and so spent most of the time chasing the food around on their plates. The renascent grief that coursed through each of them muted all desire for conversation. They sat across from one another blanketed by a ponderous silence.
That quiet was suddenly stabbed by the trilling of Will's door chime. Jerking his head up in surprise, he called out, "Come in." The door slid open to reveal the Ship's Counselor, Dani Lanay. The therapist's smile faded in an instant as the ambient grief slammed into her empathic sense. In a tight voice she stammered, "Uh, excuse me I've interrupted you." She took a step back into the corridor.
A relieved smile spread across the captain's features. "No, Counselor, not at all. Please come in." Lanay took one tentative step into the living room. "Are you sure, Sir?" she queried. Riker nodded. "Absolutely." Glancing at the uneaten food on the table, he added, "A sort of farewell lunch. We were finished any way." He stood up, walked around to Lwaxana's chair and pulled it out for her.
"Ever the gentleman, William!" Troi quipped, a note of her customary bombast entering her voice now. "This must be how you charmed my daughter!" Will grinned in amusement. "Something like that," he acknowledged. Turning towards the counselor, Will added, "Please, come in and sit."
Dani stepped into the living room. As the tall man approached her with the Betazoid diplomat's arm entwined with his, he said, "I believe you two know each other." Lwaxana Troi's dark eyes went wide with astonishment. "Is this you, Danita Lanay?"
Dani's eyes twinkled with pleasure. "Yes, it's me, Mrs. Troi. It's been a long time."
"Yes, it has," the matriarch responded in a wistful voice. The happy expression faded from the counselor's face as she felt the older woman's smothering sorrow. Dani reached out to touch Lwaxana on the arm. "Rabeem," she murmured, her voice full of compassion. A tilt of the head was the Betazoid's sole acknowledgement.
"May Deanna walk peacefully on her new path. And may the gods of Betazed grant you healing of heart and soul." Dani gave Lwaxana's arm a gentle squeeze. In response to the counselor's traditional invocation, the older woman gathered her into her arms and hugged her tightly. Into that embrace, Lwaxana poured her tormented suffering. And though Dani nearly collapsed from the weight of Troi's suffocating grief, she pushed herself to send waves of soothing understanding.
Will watched the silent exchange. Though he could not hear the thoughts of either of the two women, he could guess at the nature of the wordless communication taking place before him. Riker sensed that it was not his place to step in, and so he waited until they were ready to include him.
A few minutes later, Lwaxana released Dani from her arms. The counselor looked back at the Betazoid before her and nodded with understanding. "Rabeem," she said one final time, and then went to sit on the couch.
Once the three adults were seated, Lwaxana spoke up. "Why didn't you tell me earlier that you were on this ship, Dani?"
"I didn't want to intrude on you, Mrs. Troi," the counselor responded in honesty.
"My, my," the Betazoid sniffed, "what's this nonsense about intruding?" Fixing a haughty glare on the younger woman's face, Lwaxana added, "My dear Dani, how could coming to pay your respects be an intrusion?" Dani smirked at the matriarch's bravado, then slapped her mental blocks in place so the older woman would not detect her amusement.
"Well, now," Lwaxana pronounced, "you simply must tell me all about yourself. It's been years since I last saw you. And now look at you, a grown woman " She finished by sending mentally to the counselor, << gallivanting around in space instead of staying home and getting married.>>
The younger woman's face fell when she heard those final words echo in her mind. Unbidden, an image of her late husband, Zev, pale and still in death, flashed in her mind. Lwaxana perceived the thought as soon as it entered Dani's mind. The Betazoid's face contorted with shock when she comprehended what had happened to the counselor's spouse. The older woman's hand flew to her mouth as she gasped, "I'm so sorry, Dani. I had no idea "
"No, it's alright, Mrs. Troi," Dani said in a sad voice. "You didn't know we were married." The counselor's eyes misted over with sudden memories.
"Were you ?" Troi began, forcing herself to refrain from probing the mind of the therapist. Lanay shook her head, "No, we were not Imzadi, Mrs. Troi. But we loved each other very much in the short time we had. And that was enough for us." In a voice suddenly laced with undertones of yearning, she added, "But I would consider myself to be blessed by the gods of Betazed to have the chance for what Captain Riker will have."
A small smile of understanding appeared on Lwaxana's lined face. "Yes, Dani. All we have are our memories." She spoke as if Will was not even in the room. "He will have so much more."
"Excuse me ladies," Riker interrupted, "but I'm here too." He glanced back and forth between the two women's faces. "What will I have?"
"Your Imzadi, William," Troi responded. Offering him a knowing smile, she gave his thigh a friendly pat.
In the days that followed Lwaxana Troi's departure from the U.S.S. Titan, Will Riker found the return to his normal routines to be a welcome relief from the emotional turmoil stirred up by the Betazoid's visit. Losing himself readily in the minutiae of captaining a starship, it was easy for him to tamp his pain and sadness back down far enough in his psyche so those feelings would not suck him yet again into a maelstrom of grief. Indeed, his responsibilities took enough of his attention that only rarely did he give any extended consideration to what had transpired during his former mother-in-law's visit.
There were brief moments, though, that a stray thought crept into his mind uninvited. Like a flashing neon sign, sudden recollections of things the older woman said popped into his mind. At first, they seemed utterly random, words spoken here and there with no apparent connection between them. And as such, Will dismissed them as so much meaningless flotsam floating about his brain.
After a few days, the remembered utterances took on meaning in Riker's mind. With increasing frequency, the Betazoid matriarch's statements about the possibilities that being Imzadi might hold for him and his deceased wife snuck out of his subconscious. In the moments when such recollections echoed within his mind, he found himself drawn from the reality that surrounded him to a place inside himself that he did not understand. Not wanting to risk uncorking his bottled grief, he stuffed the flashbacks back into a distant corner of his brain. Then, with a cleansing breath and a roll of his broad shoulders, he forced himself to return to the tasks at hand.
Not many days after that, something else altogether began to echo unbidden in Will Riker's mind at unpredictable intervals. No longer the voice of the indomitable Betazoid diplomat, it was now the softest hint of a word, repeated as if a mantra. Musical in its repetition, it warmed his soul in a way he had not felt since before the death of his Imzadi. But as soon as the startled captain would focus on the soul-warming sound, it would fade into the recesses of his mind. With a troubled crook of his eyebrow and a shrug, he made himself attend to his duties.
In the days that ensued, the strange musical emanation began to recur frequently enough to become a source of distraction for the captain of the Titan. Indeed, there was something seductive about its soul-filling contentment. Each time the mysterious sound echoed within him, Will found himself trying to hold onto it and the momentary peace that flooded his being. And then the sound would fade, leaving him feeling oddly bereft.
Increasingly, the captain's moments of discomfiture became noticeable to the Bridge crew. They would watch as the eyes of their superior officer glazed over and wistfulness fill his face. The officers, knowing their commander was lost in a private universe, waited nervously for him to return to them. Each one of them knew it was sheer luck that no emergencies arose during such moments, but realized it was only a matter of time before one did.
Fortunately, Will Riker himself recognized soon enough that the seductively pleasurable moments were compromising his ability to function appropriately as captain of the Titan. While he did not understand what was going on in those mysterious moments, his gut instinct told him it was somehow connected to what Lwaxana Troi and the Ship's Counselor had told him about Imzadi. And so it was to the counselor, Dani Lanay, that he turned.
Lanay was in her office working on the computer when the chimes to her door rang out. Pushing her chair away from the desk, she called out, "Come in." The doors slid open to reveal the tall captain. Waves of concern and confusion radiated off of him.
The counselor stood up and walked towards her commanding officer. With a friendly smile, she gestured towards the couch. "Please, Captain, come in and have a seat." Riker stepped in and made his way to the couch. His rigid posture and stiff gait visibly underscored his discomfort.
Once he was seated before her, Lanay said, "Captain, I know you are not comfortable being here." Will began to open his mouth in protest. Dani raised her hand to silence him. "No, Captain, no apologies are necessary." Folding her hands together in her lap, she continued, "I know how you feel about seeing me. But I also know that whatever is on your mind must be very important, or you would not have come here at all." Riker nodded in agreement.
"Sir, tell me what brought you here today?" She focused her dark eyes on the face of her captain. Will looked away from the penetrating gaze of the counselor and began to speak.
"Something very odd has begun happening to me."
"Odd, Captain? Can you tell me about it?"
Riker began to pick non-existent lint off of his trousers. Then running his fingers through his spiky hair, he responded in a quiet voice. "It's the strangest thing, Counselor. The past few days, this this I don't know sound pops into my head at odd times. It's not anything I can recognize "
Lanay eyed her captain intently. "That's not all, is it?" Will shook his head. "No, it's not." He shifted in his seat and crossed his long legs. Then he spoke, almost more to himself. "It's not just a sound. It repeats itself over and over It almost seems like something musical " Riker fell silent.
The counselor sensed that despite her captain's silence, he had not finished. And so she waited with infinite patience for the tall man before her to continue. She knew he would when he was ready to do so.
After a few mute moments, Will Riker spoke again. "The sound doesn't just appear in my mind, Counselor." Now he focused his intense blue eyes on the woman's dark ones. "It fills me, in here." Will tapped his solid chest.
Lanay nodded, a small smile playing at the corners of her mouth. Riker did not miss the hint of the counselor's seeming amusement. "What?" he demanded, his eyebrows knitted in annoyance.
"You must forgive me, Captain," Dani apologized. "You think that I was amused by what you had said." Will tilted his head in assent. "That was not the reason for my smile, Sir." Riker stared at her, waiting for her explanation. "It's just that what you described sounded so much like something I'd heard reported about some Imzadi couples."
"Imzadi?" the captain gasped, his eyes wide with surprise.
"Yes, Captain, Imzadi." The counselor leaned forward, closing the distance between her and her superior officer. "I've heard that for some Imzadi couples, after one has died, the decedent can reach out to the survivor in a manner much like what you have described."
Will Riker's face went pale with her words. The word 'Deanna' exited his mouth on a shocked breath. The grief that lay simmering beneath the surface bubbled up once again within him. But, for the first time, a scintilla of hope began to do battle with Will's ever-present pain. "But how ?" the shaken man murmured.
"Captain, that which was Imzadi in your late wife is beginning to reach out to you."
"But what what is she ?" Will stammered.
"What is she trying to say to you?" the counselor finished. Riker nodded in expectant silence.
"I can't answer that for you, Sir. Only she can " Dani leaned back in her chair and rested her hands on her thighs. "But now, Sir, that you know she is reaching out to you, you can listen for her."
The surprised man found himself filled for the first time with a measure of hope as he digested Lanay's words. Stroking his beard in thoughtful repose, he almost missed the additional comment of the Ship's Counselor. "Captain," she said to the distracted officer before her, "When you do understand what she is telling you, you will know how to find the essence of her that remains. You will find the soul of your Imzadi once again."
Late that night, an exhausted Will Riker readied himself for bed. It had been a long, tiring day since he left the office of the Ship's Counselor, Dani Lanay. Between dealing with all the matters of running the Titan and trying to absorb what the counselor had told him about his beloved Deanna, by the end of the day he had no energy left for anything.
After treating himself to a long, hot shower, Will donned an old tee-shirt and a beat-up pair of sweat pants. With a grateful sigh, he dropped heavily onto the bed and slid his long legs under the covers. As he turned onto his side, he noticed the holopic of his Imzadi that he still kept on his bedside table. Sitting up, he took the image into his large hands. He stared at her likeness and recalled yet again what Lanay had said to him earlier that day: that some ineffable essence of his late wife would seek him out.
"G-ds, Deanna is it possible?" the hopeful man breathed. With reverent fingers, he touched the image as if it was actually Deanna herself. A tear born of pain mingled with profound yearning made its way down Will's cheek. A soft sigh left his lips as he lay back down onto the mattress, hugging the holopic to his chest. "Please let it be so," he murmured. "Come back to me, Deanna."
It was not long before the spent captain slipped into slumber's gentle embrace, the holopic moving with the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest. Once in that restful realm, images flitted about his somnolent mind as they often had before. At first an inchoate jumble of specters, the kaleidoscopic mélange slowly differentiated itself into recognizable features.
Little by little, a place from long ago took form on the stage of Will's dreams. It was a spot washed by the honeyed tones of the sun. A light breeze partnered with the leaves and branches of the surrounding foliage in a gentle dance. The feral voices of the area sang counterpoint to the soft whispers of the swaying vegetation. The whole of the place bespoke a peacefulness beyond words.
Recognition of the place hovered on the periphery of Riker's awareness. It was so familiar, but when had he been in this spot before? And though he could not immediately identify it, he felt no anxiety. Somehow, he knew that discernment would come in due time. And so he stepped forward into the sylvan setting of his dream world, ready to encounter whatever it was that might be waiting for him.
After he had walked for a while through the tall stands of grass, his ears were met with the gentle sound of waves lapping against a shore. He stopped and attended to the distant sonance. Somewhere close was a body of water.
In the next moment, a voice so quiet he almost did not hear it floated on the breeze. At first he could not make out the words. But little by little, the voice grew in volume. And as it did, both the message and the speaker became clear. Bottomless grief, woven with immeasurable ecstasy, flooded Will's soul as he realized that it was the one voice he thought he would never again hear: Deanna's.
The stunned man, with glistening tears traveling down his cheeks, fell to his knees. He reached out a shaking hand towards the dulcet tones of his beloved's voice. "Imzadi " he whispered, afraid if he spoke louder the spell would break.
On the next gust of breeze, Deanna's utterances drifted towards Will. "Come to me," she said. "I'm waiting for you, my love." And then her voice was gone. The gentle wind came again, but no longer bore the precious tones on it.
After a few moment of silence, Will knew for certain that his Imzadi had finished speaking. In that instant of grievous understanding, his heart shattered into a thousand pieces once more. He had lost Deanna yet again. Tormented tears flowed down his cheeks as wails of sorrow tore from the depths of his being.
How long he cried, he did not know. But as his weeping eased into gentle hiccups, her words came back to him in his mind. His soul swelled with the happy realization that she had called him to her. A spark of hope ignited within him as he remembered her last words to him: "I am waiting for you."
An instant later, Riker awoke from his dream. Disoriented for a moment, the recumbent captain looked about the starlit cabin. "Right," he murmured to himself, "I'm on the Titan. Alone." Will picked up the holopic still balanced precariously on his solid chest. Touching the image of his deceased wife with loving fingers, he added, "And you're far away from here "
Riker turned to view the chronometer on his bedside table. The timepiece's screen read 0530. With a disgusted grunt, he swept the mechanism off of the table. "Shit ," he muttered in annoyance, "too late to go back to sleep." He let out a frustrated sigh and rolled back onto his back. "Computer, one-quarter lights." In response to the captain's command, the lighting in the cabin increased to a dim level that rendered everything in a tenebrous grayscale.
Will sat up and perched the holopic on his legs. He began to speak to the image,
aching yearning lacing his voice, as if it was Deanna herself. "Where are
you, baby? Where are you waiting for me?" The holopic remained mute. Resting
his head back against the headboard and looking up towards the ceiling, he whispered,
"G-ds, that place
it was so familiar. Where was it?"
For a few minutes, Riker let his thoughts wander. Treading on an internal pathway through his memories, he sought out the ones that would match what he had seen in his dream. Lush foliage a gentle breeze the sound of waves gently lapping against the shoreline As he painted his mental canvas with recollections, the image grew more and more identifiable.
With a sudden start, recognition flooded him. His eyes flew open as the words 'Lake El Nar' spilled from his lips. An instant later, a potent memory burst into his mind: he was with his Imzadi. It was their last visit to Lake El Nar, on the day before their wedding on Betazed. They lay on the sandy shore of Deanna's favorite spot on her home world, making passionate love to one another. The sweet taste of her mouth the exquisite sensation of her soft skin against his the arousing sound of her sultry voice in his ear the perfect fit of his body with hers and the indescribable way in which their bond caressed his soul All of these memories rushed into his conscious mind with a presence so powerful it robbed him of his breath.
Riker let out a bittersweet sigh as his mind held on to the recollection of his beloved's beautiful face, flushed with the pleasures of their union. And then the memory faded, as if a power switch had been turned off. As it did, Will finally understood what he needed to do to find what remained of Deanna: to return to Betazed, to Lake El Nar. He now knew he would find the essence of his Imzadi in that place of intimate communion.
A new sense of purpose pulsed through the core of Will Riker. With a focus he had not possessed since before the death of his wife, he threw off the bed covers, jumped out of the bed and strode to the comm console in the living room. With a sure finger, he turned on the unit and uttered his request. "Communications, this is Captain Riker. This is a message for Starfleet Command."
"Ready to transmit," came back the disembodied voice of the Communications Officer on the Bridge.
"Very good," the Titan's captain acknowledged. Then he sat down before the console and began to speak. "This is Captain William T. Riker of the U.S.S Titan. I still have accumulated, unused leave. I find now that I have personal business to attend to on Betazed. I would like to use some of that accumulated leave for this purpose. Thank you. Riker out." Will hit the send button and then sat back in his chair. A glimmer of hope battled in his soul with the ever-present dull ache of despair. He did not know whether to indulge in that feeling of promise or not. But until Starfleet Command responded, all he could really do was to wait.
The U.S.S. Titan cruised along an orbital path high above the skies of Betazed.
Within the walls of that vessel, the ship's captain sat in front of a comm unit.
Staring at the monitor before him, the bearded officer uttered three simple
words: "I'm coming back."
The Betazoid matriarch on the screen responded with a knowing smile.
"She finally called to you, didn't she William?"
"Yes, Lwaxana, she did." Lwaxana Troi studied Will Riker's careworn face in silence. He had no doubt that she was reading his turbulent thoughts in that moment. And for the first time in all the years he had known her, Will did not care. It did not matter to him how she learned of the crushing despair and the giddy hope vying with one another that battered his soul and kept his gut tied up in knots.
"You know where to find her now." It was more of a statement rather than a question.
"Yes, I know," Riker whispered in reverent tones.
"Well William," Lwaxana said, resuming her habitual melodramatic manner, "what in the world are you waiting for?" The Betazoid gesticulated and quipped, "You're not getting any closer to her by staying up in that space ship of yours!"
"No, I don't suppose I am," Will agreed. "I'll beam down within the hour. But I'll " he began to add.
"You'll be beaming directly to Lake El Nar," Troi pronounced, finishing his utterance for him. Riker opened his mouth to apologize, but the Betazoid cut him off. With an imperious wave of her manicured hand, she dismissed his unspoken excuse.
"Don't waste time apologizing to me, William. Go to her." Will nodded, a smile of relief spreading across his features. "But when you are done," Lwaxana huffed, "I'm sure you could make time to visit an old woman like myself." Riker rolled his eyes and did his best to stifle an incipient chuckle. The thought that the ever pompous Lwaxana Troi was one of the unchanging phenomena of the universe flitted through his mind unbidden.
"I heard that, young man!" the Betazoid matriarch snorted. Riker offered a placating smile as he reached for the comm system off switch. "Goodbye, Mrs. Troi," he intoned. And before she could correct him yet again about not using her first name, he ended the communication. He smacked a victorious fist onto the desk and exulted, "Finally! I finally got the last word!"
An hour later, the captain of the Titan beamed down to the planet's surface. Scanning his surroundings, he was surprised by how well his dream had conjured up the details of the place. The trees and shrubs that stood near him were in full bloom and lush with dense growth. The thick grass, verdant and sweet-smelling, grew well above his ankles. The air was rich with the natural perfume of blended floral scents. A gentle breeze danced with his hair.
Will started to walk down the rocky path to the lake. As he did, his mind was filled with memories of the many times his Imzadi had brought him here. In that moment, he felt once again her hand wrapped in his, tugging him along and her sultry voice extolling the beauty of the lake. How many times had they strolled along the shore, sat at water's edge to watch the magnificent Betazed sunset?
His feet drew him closer to the shoreline. At the same time, his recollections continued to transport him to another time. Deaf now to the feral symphony chorusing around him, he was drawn into a reminiscence of making love to Deanna on the beach of Lake El Nar. There was a peculiar magic about that spot that conveyed their intimate choreography to a unique and special realm. Even more so than when they first became Imzadi deep in the tropical depths of the Jalara Jungle, this spot engendered a tenderness and intensity in their lovemaking that was unequalled. Was it because this was Deanna's favorite place on Betazed? He never knew.
The gentle sound of waves lapping against the sand of the shore began to weave its way in the midst of remembered moans of ecstasy. Riker knew he was near the lake. This was where in his dream his beloved had called to him. Would he find her here? Would he finally meet up with what his agonized soul had ached for? A charge of nervous anticipation surged through him, leaving his heart beating so hard he thought it would burst right through his chest.
"Imzadi?" Will called out in a tentative voice. He strained to hear a response. He was met with only the natural sounds of the place. A slow stain of disappointment began to seep into his soul. But his aching yearning for his deceased wife spurred him on to another effort. Again he called out, "Imzadi? Are you here?"
Nothing happened. His core remained as empty as it had been the moment before. With that sad realization, renewed sorrow flooded his being. The sudden weight of his grief dragged him to his knees. Tormented tears raced down his cheeks.
"Gods, gods There's nothing Nothing," the bereft man wept. Ragged sobs tore out of him. The incipient hope that had led him down to this place was gone, leaving a gaping hole in his soul. Had the dreams been in fact just wishful thinking? Had he believed the ship's counselor and Lwaxana Troi only because he heard what he wanted to hear? Was this all some sort of cruel joke that his tortured mind was playing on him?
For a few moments, all the grieving man could hear was the sound of his crying.
But then a soft unidentifiable note, carried lightly on the breeze began to
act as counterpoint to his weeping. Once Will realized that he was hearing a
sound he'd not noticed before, he stopped. He sat up and looked around with
wide, curious eyes.
The tone, almost human in its timbre, wafted into Riker's ears. There was something about it that seemed so familiar to him, but he could not say what it was. It seemed almost a wordless song, the recognition of which lurked at the periphery of perception. Still, its very presence demanded attention , whether or not identification was to be had.
Will shut his reddened eyes and focused on the unearthly notes that now permeated his being. Like the waves of the nearby lake, the tones ebbed and flowed within him, soothing his shattered heart with each pass. With each subsequent pulse of the sound, it began to fill the interstices of his soul with healing warmth.
Riker gave up the fight for recognition and yielded to the pleasurable sensations the odd music generated within him. For a while, it was enough just to be and allow the preternatural tones to work their incomprehensible magic in his core.
After a few minutes, the sound began to tickle the edges of his mind, much as the presence of his beloved Deanna once had. With that sensation, Will's eyes flew open. There was nothing else in the universe besides his Imzadi that could produce that feeling in him. Sudden hope tumbled through him. It had to be her!
"Imzadi!" he called out, his voice solid with confidence. The tingling in his mind grew stronger, as if Deanna herself was drawing nearer. Will's heart nearly exploded with unbridled joy. Throwing his fists into the air in a gesture of triumph and with joyous tears cascading down his cheeks, he yelled out, "Yes, yes! Come to me, Imzadi! I'm waiting for you!"
In the next moment, the wordless supernal tune moved from the edge of his mind to caress his inner being, just as his beloved used to. His ears were met with an ethereal whisper, sultry and soothing in its effect. And through its breathy tones, he heard the one word he thought he would never again hear: Imzadi. It was then that he knew, deep in his soul, that the essence that had remained of his beloved Deanna was in this place of miracles. And, as she had so often done while alive, her presence once again made him whole. She had indeed come back to him. And that was all that mattered.