R to NC-17
R/T Tom Riker/ probably anyone he can get;-)
I seem to have developed a perverse attraction to Captain Riker in Same breath and no matter how hard I try I can’t seem to close the Devil's gate on him. I’ll address this at my next therapy session and try to work past this separation anxiety I experience each time I write the ending;-) In the mean time while I know he’s safe in a word pro file I’ve been drifting to this.
Feedback as always is welcome— normally I say flames will be directed to my dark-side. But since my dark side is writing this story, all comments are safe........At least until I’m finished <eg>
"Maybe we should honeymoon on Ba'ku?" Commander Riker's question lifted the dark hair that dusted over Deanna Troi's forehead, he fingered it away from the brows that had suddenly raised playfully.
"Isn't there usually a proposal, an acceptance, a wedding and then a honeymoon?"
"Technicalities." He smiled, kicking the sheet away that had tangled around his ankles. He turned to his back and felt her sighed laugh whisper over his damp chest hair as her head settled in what seemed to be her favorite place lately. He was still smiling when her leg draped over him and her hand stroked hypnotically over his stomach.
"When's your next appointment?"
"In about an hour." The kiss and tongue she dragged over his chest inspired him to entangle her with both his arms, drawing her body as close to his as possible without reenacting their earlier lovemaking. He inhaled a breath, light with her perfume, heavy with their mingled scents and released it as a slow and sated sigh.
Here, sealed inside his quarters, swaddled in the hushed light, surrounded by every gentle nuance of the woman he'd loved for most of his life he could forget and relax, escape the Ba'ku inquisitions and the heated, unexplained attacks on the Federations bases. When he was with her like this he wished he could build a universe around this room, jettison it out of the Enterprise and drift forever in an endless carpet of black velvet and diamond light.
"Do you think I should propose?" he said suddenly, her relaxed muscles tensing under his palms.
"Don't you think you should be asking yourself that question first." She dragged her chin up his chest and rested it there, smiling at him with one of her sleepy half-smiles.
"I already know what I think, I'd like to be sure that if I ever made that decision it followed the proper path."
"Chicken," she said, reclaiming the strand of her hair he'd taken custody of and sliding back down on his chest, her lips and tongue following their earlier path.
"Chicken," he returned as if he was going to object, "Yep that's me, a chicken."
He chuckled with her and didn't bother sharing how close he'd come to asking her over the past several weeks; instead he sneaked a glimpse of the Chronometer on the bedside table, and with a sudden movement flipped her to her back. Pinning her hands easily above her head with one of his, he kissed the swells of her breast... the warm moisture they'd generated earlier hot against his growing erection. Her taunt nipples grazed his chest; her light sigh drifted warm against his skin, he consumed her lips and her sigh with a groaned and hungry kiss.
A flat red light and a high pitched chirp, insistent and nagging pulled his attention to the Comm on the desk against the wall. Another groan escaped him, this one harsher and accompanied by several descriptive curses. Deanna attempted to suffocate them with a distracting and tempting kiss, one he would have responded to if it hadn’t been for the ribbed arch, and multicolored words he’d seen flash across the screen.
"I’ve got to take this Deanna." Distracted he stumbled out of bed, dropping an apologetic kiss on the corner of her mouth. "I won’t be long."
Without dressing he shuffled to the terminal in his living quarters and locked the door behind him.
<<If you can't grant my request for leave Captain I have no choice but to resign by commission. >> Riker's urgent words and the hollow rattle of his communicator as it rolled over Picard's desk had played out repeatedly in his mind for two days. His long exhaled breath mixed with the frigid air; he followed the ivory stream with his eyes wishing he could send his inner turmoil spiraling away as easily.
Beside him the ocean thundered, angry waves beating against the jagged rocks of the shoreline, its spray dancing like liquid pearls on the wind. It was almost dusk and the wet streets of this sleepy little East Coast town had already begun to fall quiet. His steps slowed and for a moment he only stood outside the heavy oak doors that led inside the Mill Wharf cantina, A face smiled at him in his mind...perhaps the most beautiful face he'd ever seen, at least he'd thought so the first time he'd seen her. She was twenty-two years old to the day when she'd stepped into Starfleet headquarters held out a hand of welcome to him, and he'd touched her. A steady stream of testosterone had replaced any blood that had flowed through his veins, and he knew he had to have her, feel her flesh against his, hear his name tumble in heated anticipatory breaths over her moist full lips. He hung his head and shook it as if he could shake his mind away from the memories that would always haunt him. His shoulder drooped and his bag slipped off with a heavy thud.
"William Riker, I knew I could count on you." At the exact moment his reservations had snowballed into fear, his guilt over lying to Deanna had sliced a near fatal blow to his heart her voice sounded behind him—rich and sweet, her brogue played his name like a sympathy of remembrance.
"Manda." He whispered her name before he'd turned, before he lifted the weight of hair in his gloved hand and pressed it softly against his lips. "You look beautiful, just like I remember." He offered his compliment and his smile easily, his reservations and regrets tumbling and getting lost in the liquid emeralds that looked up at him.
"I see you've gotten even more accomplished at shoveling the bullshit." She smiled, a smile that wrinkled her nose and caused her eyes to twinkle, but behind the flashing green he could see her memories and pain glimmering like unshed tears.
"Shall we." She gestured to the door and bent down to pick up his bag, he interrupted her gentlemanly move and slung the bag over his shoulder, hesitating before pushing the door open with the other.
Sequestered in one of the back tables in the Enterprise lounge Deanna Troi stirred the scoop of rich Manarian chocolate ice cream she’d added to her already rich cocoa. She lifted the dripping spoon to her lips and barely grazed it with her tongue before tapping it impatiently against the rim of the thick glass cup. In the dusty lavender lighting that graced this part of the lounge she could hear the muffled whispers of the coupled officers, she tried to ignore them, but the entangled fingers, brushing foreheads and hushed laughter continued to drag her eyes to them sadly.
<Please be safe Will, > she thought, closing her eyes as if somehow he could hear her. The approaching footfalls and a familiar sense tugged her from her attempt and transformed closed eyes into wide and curious ones.
"Well?" she asked, pushing aside her double chocolate concoction and leaning closer to the woman that had sat down beside her.
"Well nothing." Beverly’s nose wrinkled, first at her and then at the melting ice-cream beside her. "I’ve treated more appealing looking viruses."
Deanna smiled and arched understanding brows; they wrinkled almost instantly. "I don’t understand Beverly...what could he be doing?"
"Jean-Luc spent half the night tracking the code you saw on Will’s screen, it seems either Rainbow thirty-six never existed or has been sealed up so tightly even the master of diplomatic deception couldn’t finagle a way through it." Beverly drummed her fingers thoughtfully, "He didn’t tell you anything."
"Only that Captain Niles needed his help and th..." Deanna’s words fell off. "What is that face Beverly, why are you looking at me like that." Under the polished skills of Commander Riker, Beverly had mastered a poker face...she held one now that would have made Will damn proud. But fortunately for Deanna the ship’s doctor hadn’t mastered the art of cloaking her emotions. "Why are you so stunned...Do you know Captain Niles?"
Beverly ran a hand through her hair; the auburn wisps she’d just pushed away feathered back over her wrinkled brows. "The communiqué wasn't from Captain Niles." Crusher hesitated, but Deanna didn’t notice. <Will lied to me, > she thought, cutting through her shock and hurt looking for a valid reason, any reason that he’d deceive her after years of honestly.
"How do you know that?" She too rid her face of any emotions and stared blankly and rigidly at the Enterprise doctor.
"Jean Luc was able to track the source to a small town in the eastern United States." She paused again and leaned back in her chair as if distance would make it easier to share. "A Doctor Amanda Mckinnon."
"I know that name, I saw it once about a year ago on a saved transmission in Will’s quarters."
Beverly nodded. "Yes, the Captain said they served together on the Potemkin very briefly before Commander Mckinnon and her husband left Starfleet in favor of a more simple life. She was a brilliant doctor," Beverly added absently.
If it had been jealousy Deanna was feeling it evaporated quickly. "Will’s stint on the Potemkin was soon after our relationship began to crumble."
"Deanna I’m sure..."
"No," Deanna waved off her friend’s concern with a loose hand. "We still kept in touch..." Her verbal explanation fell off, and in spite of Beverly’s hard stare she continued her thoughts silently. She remembered it all vividly. Will’s struggle over his feelings for her and his career had hung like an aura in the background of his communiqués, so when his transmissions had stopped for almost three weeks she’d thought his career had won. But they’d resumed just as suddenly, the same struggles playing over his features and no mention of where he’d been for the three missing weeks. Soon after that he’d gone to Nervala four and their relationship had ended completely.
"I know how to find out what happened, and what could be important enough to force Will to give up his career." <And lie to me, > she added silently.
"How." Beverly looked genuinely pleased until she'd answered her.
"Tom Riker! Are you insane!" Beverly straightened in her chair then relaxed loosely against the table edge. "How would you find him?"
"I’m not sure." She shrugged, silently plotting, oblivious to the glare of Doctor Crusher.
"First officer of the Enterprise." Amanda handed him a glass of red wine to accompany the plate of food she'd set in front of him. "Somehow that doesn't surprise me."
Will lifted his glass and smiled over the top of it, strangely comfortable here in her apartment, the rustic ambiance reminded him of home or at least the home he thought he'd someday have. "I'm suppose to be a captain by now," he reminded her.
"Sometimes things interfere, but usually because they're more important."
"Is that why you packed it all in, gave up your military career and professional one for a simpler life?" He eyed the plate of food, real food they'd brought up from the restaurant downstairs and wasted no time cutting into the large cut of beef.
She didn't answer him right away, he wasn't sure if she was waiting for a culinary review or considering her answer. He answered the culinary question before he'd swallowed. "God, this comes close to orgasmic."
Her fair cheeks flushed, watching them he wondered if that's why he'd said it. He'd always found something titillating about her easily blushed cheeks, a sensual vulnerability and an honest one, something hard to find in twenty-fourth century women. He complimented the hardy taste of the beef in his mouth with the oaky flavor of the wine and tipped his head awaiting an answer to his question.
"I didn't want Haley growing up a Starfleet brat, I wanted her to have some stability." She looked down and fumbled the napkin in her lap. "That's what Logan wanted to."
Riker swallowed, his throat suddenly dry he gulped the rest of his wine. "And how is Captain Mckinnon?"
She laid the fork she'd just picked up on the edge of her plate and leaned back in her chair. "He's dead Will."
"What." Riker's glass thumped heavily against the wooden table mimicking the sound of his heart. "When—How?"
"About six weeks ago, a shuttle accident." Her green eyes darkened like a wintering cypress and drifted over each of his features looking for the emotion he was trying like hell to hide.
"I'm sorry Manda, I didn't know." He took the hand she'd rested on the table, the simple gesture forcing tears to manifest themselves in her eyes. "Why didn't you call me then, I'd have been here for you and Haley." It was so hard to say her name; it crawled over his throat after a million years and battled past the darkest regret of his lifetime.
"I know Will, but it didn't seem fair."
"I always told you no matter what."
"I think you've sacrificed enough for me Will." The emotions he wished he could portray rolled down Amanda's cheeks like liquid diamonds.
He studied her closely; easily read, behind her grief and disappointment he saw fear, a dark fear that froze his heart in mid-beat. "Where's Haley now?"
She dragged her hand out from under his, a broken breath escaping her. "Admiral O'Mally will be here soon, he'll explain."
Another familiar name and one that due to why he was called should have evoked curiosity, but only one thing screamed through his mind. "Where the hell is Haley Amanda!" he shot to his feet, his glass of wine shattering on the table, beads of burgundy shimmering like muddy teardrops. "I may have stepped back, but I'm still her Goddamn father! If something's happened to her I have a right to know." His rage, stemming from his own regret welled inside him and shook his every word.
"Sit down Will—Please. There's something I have to show you."
Deanna Troi, her legs crossed, her arms folded, her posture straight but relaxed appeared the epitome of composure as she sat on the Enterprise bridge. She watched the stars stream like liquid moonbeams past the ship and dropped intermittent glances to the display screen beside her, to the compliment of the bridge she was doing her job, but behind the alert dark eyes she had only one focus, the x-first officer.
She’d tried contacting him directly but where Picard said he was going and where he actually had gone didn’t coincide, and her brilliant idea of digging into Tom Riker’s memories had fallen flat too, mostly because Tom Riker was nowhere to found. His last known whereabouts were a penal colony in the Banine quarter and she’d needed her access code to attain that information, if it weren’t for her worries about Commander Riker, what her x-lover was doing these days would have piqued her curiosity.
The hiss of the ready-room doors drew her eyes to it, the rare and broad smile on her Captain’s face inspired her brows to raise.
"Mr. McDaniels," Picard said, nodding to Commander Data as he vacated the center seat on the bridge, "There’s a been slight change of plans, bring the Enterprise to all-stop we’ll be rendezvousing with the Drake before continuing on to Starbase 113." He settled into his chair and inhaled a breath that swelled his chest, he released it slowly, it had a pleased and satisfied sound.
Deanna shifted, repositioning herself so that she was turned towards her Captain. "Captain," she finally asked, her own curiosity getting the better of her.
"It seems Counselor I won’t need to replace my first officer after all." Internally she shot out of her chair, slapped impatient hands on her Captain’s shoulders and shook the rest of the story from the slow speaking man; Outwardly she said, "Sir?"
" Admiral O’Mally didn’t fill me in on all the details, but it seems there was a mix-up in Fleet Command."
"Will was under orders—to resign?" A whisper of disbelieve crept into her words, the same sentiment leaking into Picard’s restrained emotions.
"I’m sure Commander Riker and Captain Niles will be able to shed more light on this once we rendezvous with the Drake."
That was it on information. Empathy wasn’t necessary when it came to this Captain, once his eyes returned to the view screen Deanna settled back in her chair, the woman in her elated that Will was safe and coming home, the officer in her chilling her warm happiness with an icy suspicion.
The lounge of the Enterprise E was bathed in a watery blue glow, the faint sound of jazz mingled with the upbeat murmerings of his crew. Commander Riker would be arriving soon, welcomed home by a crew that respected him and had missed him. Captain Picard shared that view, but the enigma that loomed ominously over his first officer’s abrupt resignation didn’t allow him to participate in this little party with the same enthusiasm as the rest of the crew. His meeting onboard the Drake with Captain Niles and Commander Riker had shed little light on what had transpired, the orders he’d received from Admiral O’Mally were just as vague.
"Is everything all right Captain?" Counselor Troi’s voice and the light touch of her hand on his arm pulled his attention away from the dappled carpet of black space to an equally magnificent sight.
He wasn’t sure if he’d ever seen Deanna look lovelier. The sleek ivory lines of her shimmering dress draped perfectly over her body, her dark hair falling in loose ringlets around her face accentuated her glowing skin. He decided instantly it was the glow of anticipation that shimmered pale pink over her cheeks that breathed more elegance into her normally regal beauty.
"Everything’s fine Counselor." Beneath the glittering ivory that lined her lids her deep gaze was more delving; he reiterated his fine and punctuated it with a gentle squeeze on her arm.
She smiled and turned towards the sound of the lounge doors opening, the breath she’d just drawn sticking momentarily in her lungs. He found himself smiling in spite of his feelings as he watched Commander Riker move casually across the floor, stopped several times by friendly greetings, outstretched hands and short hugs the first officer’s eyes never drifted away from Counselor Troi. He watched the Commander gently cradle Deanna’s cheek and looked away only for a moment as they shared a brief kiss, he felt his smile growing. Perhaps he was suffering from delayed and lingering effects of the Ba'ku planet, but seeing this young couple finally reawaken their relationship warmed his heart and rekindled images of Anij.
He exhaled a long wistful breath and moved slowly towards the crowd that huddled around his first officer, extending his own greeting and very sincere welcome back.
"Thank-you Captain, it’s great to be back!" Riker’s easy and infectious smile was more contagious tonight then he’d ever seen it, unfortunately his words and subsequent apology were reiterated several more times throughout the night.
Picard smiled and set his second and final drink down on the bar as again Commander Riker made his guilt known. "We’re going to get going now," Riker said, holding up the small hand he held in his, "But I wanted to tell you one more time..."
"Please don’t Will." Picard held up his hand. "You’re beginning to make me feel guilty."
"Sorry." Riker’s brows arched apologetically, his expression only for an instant manifesting the youthful and devilish grin of the clean-shaven young man who’d joined his ship at Farpoint station.
He interrupted whatever else Riker was going to say with a pleasant but insistent Goodnight.
"Good night Captain," Riker said, tugging Deanna away before she’d completed her rendition.
"It’s been a busy day." Riker kissed the hand he held in his before the doors to the corridor slid open; he freed it from his as soon as they both stepped out and the doors hissed shut.
He took several steps, long ones that brought him to the lift well ahead of Deanna, he waited for her to catch up and move inside before stepping in beside her. The doors swished shut and Deanna’s arms folded rigidly under breasts tightly hugged by satin, her dark eyes moving up the length of his body like an animal sizing up his prey. He stood back and awaited the impending attack.
"Why are you here," she said after giving him ample time to sweat.
He shrugged and rolled some of the knots out of his shoulder. "You got me Deanna."
She stepped forward and strangely enough he found himself stepping back. "Where’s Will, Tom—Tell me now or I’ll go the Captain."
Will looked away from the runabout view-port and cast another look over his shoulder. He'd lost count of how many times he'd turned to look at Amanda’s sleeping form. Enough times that he knew just how the fabric of her fatigues wrinkled over her breasts each time she inhaled, how when she slept her lips twitched seductively, and how each curve and muscle in her legs could be seen under the military leggings that hugged them. She shifted slightly; he snapped his head around, back to the blur of black and white that sliced by the ship.
Stretching his arms high over his head he groaned a yawn and redirected his thoughts. He looked beside him to the floor under the copilots seat and the Diahlo chimes Amanda had found in the back of Haley's closet, his reminiscent fantasies swallowed alive by the angry rage that bubbled up inside him.
Against his better judgment he called up the transmissions Amanda had been receiving since her husband had died, gloating and nasty words of triumph, and threats to take back what was rightfully his. Four times he read the signature at the bottom of each transmission, and four times the name rolled venomously off his tongue.
Well after he’d cut the computers power and closed his eyes to sleep Tom Riker’s name echoed in his mind. The same eyes flew open moments later, his realization rippling the cobwebs that clouded his mind. "How can that be," he grumbled to himself, "How did Tom even find out he has a daughter—I didn’t find out until after the mission to Nervala four."
"Back off Deanna!" Tom Riker spun to face her, a dangerous glint sparking his deep blue eyes. "I’ve been bouncing on shit for two years, working twelve hour days and eating dirt to stay alive, some Admiral strolls into my nightmare with spit shined boots and a promise of release you can bet your ass I’m gonna take the deal no questions asked!" He flopped on the couch as if he’d expended all his energy, slid his arm under his head and stared at her challengingly.
Deanna maintained her perfectly composed posture and sat stiffly on the edge of the couch in his quarters, doing her best not to let her reaction to the drastic changes in this man bleed into her persona.
"I have a responsibility to this ship," she said instead of asking the first question that crept into her mind; why was he serving time.
The same arm he’d just rested under his head now draped over his eyes, he laid silently for endless seconds.
"I tell you what." He sat up, his legs rattling the coffee table as he draped them over it. "If you can tell me what I’m thinking or even what I’m feeling right now, I’ll go to your captain myself and tell him everything."
Like a valve had been shut down she felt his thoughts and emotions fold in on themselves, strangely enough the vacant sensation swept a chill up her spine just as it did when Will insisted on blocking her. "I get it Tom—You could have fooled me but you didn’t... that doesn’t mean I should trust you."
"I’m not sure I understand why you wouldn’t, I’ve never given you a reason not to, have I?"
"No." She answered him quickly, and by all rights he was right, she should trust him as implicitly as she trusted Will. "But you’ve changed," she added, justifying her reservations.
"So have you Imzadi, so have you." His monotone comment held a cutting edge that threatened to draw blood, she fought the memories he was deliberately projecting to her.
"This isn’t about us Tom, it’s about this ship, its crew and my responsibility to it. What I feel towards you can’t play in that decision."
"Fair enough." A faint smile touched his mouth and tamed his eyes; he nodded his head once in agreement. "Then I guess it comes down to how much you trust Starfleet."
Without moving he’d backed her into a corner, his obvious pleasure deepening his grin. "I’ll think about it," she said, relaxing back in her chair and lowering her defenses, "I have a few questions though."
"Go head." He shrugged. "But I wasn’t shoveling anything when I said I didn’t know Jack."
When he looked at her like he was right now, his eyes twinkling, the lines on his face softened it was hard not to return his smile. Brash and undisciplined, still guided by his instincts and feelings it was like looking into the eyes of the man she’d fallen in love with on Betazed. Her smile broadened.
"Well," he said, shifting under her scrutiny, "If you’re going to drag your feet on the inquisition I got a few questions to start off with."
"I’ll start," she insisted gently, locking onto him with every empathic skill she could muster, "Who’s Doctor Amanda Mckinnon?"
Before she’d completed the doctor’s name she felt it, a clash of emotions so volatile she felt the color drain from her face.
"A woman,’ he said, snatching them all away before she could target any of them, "A woman I use to know...from the academy. We served together for awhile on the Potemkin."
"Did you have a relationship with her?"
"Nope." He chuckled smugly. "This is only a warning, but if I were involved with a woman and she went to Will to find out something that happened in my life before the great divide, I’d send her packing pretty damn quick."
"This has nothing to do with jealousy Tom, only concern. It was Amanda Mckinnon that contacted Will."
"Really?" His brows raised, his lips thinned and his head tilted, everything about him displayed genuine surprise, but then the Rikers, all three of them could have excelled in the theater; She took his reaction with a grain of salt.
"How about Rainbow thirty-six, have you ever heard of it."
"What is it?"
"Sorry?" Her sense of him had been empty before, but at the mention of rainbow 36 he withdrew even further; if she closed her eyes right now she wouldn’t have been able to tell he was in the room.
"Best I can do, sorry." He exhaled a long breath shedding one of the most somber expressions she’d ever seen darken his features. "Don’t suppose you got any easy questions spinning around in that brain of yours, like when was the last time I had sex. Eighteen months and twelve days ago." He answered his question before she could object to it.
"OK, I can take a hint." She stood up and moved towards the door. "We can continue this in the morning."
"Where are you going, I thought you were taking the hint."
"Come on Deanna, for old time sake." He clasped his hands together and tucked them under his chin in a pleading gesture. She couldn’t help smiling—Why was it so easy to like this man.
"In your dreams," she replied coolly.
"Or in the bathroom." He wiped invisible tears from his eyes and feigned a desperate sob.
"Good night Tom." She accessed the door and felt the momentary light he’d shed on her dark mood dissolve.
"Deanna." He stopped her before she’d stepped out. She turned back slowly. "Don’t worry about Will, whatever he’s doing he’ll be fine. He can take care of himself."
"Thanks," she said, somewhat stunned, "I hope so."
He nodded reassuringly until the doors closed then shot to his feet quickly, stumbling over the table. "Computer?" He hardly waited for the irritating little chirp to sound around him. "Call up Military files for Kestrel six."
Another delay and another annoying chirp. <Voice authorization required; please state your name. >
"William Thomas Riker." Years since he’d used his own name, it sounded foreign as he spoke it.
<Please state password>
"Aurora blue, encrypt code— Rainbow thirty-six."
The dormant screen on the wall in his quarters glittered and flattened, a map of the planet Jaier filling the screen. He engaged the lock on his quarters and stepped closer to the screen. "Computer limit topography readings to section four-one-three, recent satellite scans."
A yellow-orange grid crisscrossed over the screen, he dropped his head and only listened to the clicks of the screen... he lifted his head only when the sound had faded. "Now we’ll see if he’s in over his head," he mumbled under his breath, "Ignore all interstellar signatures, track only matter, antimatter trails to the surface."
He’d expected two, possibly three, his eyes widened as he watched the computer’s rundown blip over the screen. "Jesus," he mumbled turning his back to the screen and leaning stiffly against the ledge in front of it, "Either Willy boy has decided to get is hands real dirty or he’s going down for the third time."
<Authorization request has been intercepted.>
He startled at the computer’s warning and spun towards the red warning on the screen, his communication terminal sounded simultaneously behind him. "Ah shit," he growled, smacking an irritated hand against the ledge behind him, "Looks like I’m going down with him."
Cradled in the hand of sleep Will Riker’s anger defused, the past he’d hidden from crawled obediently into the darkened unexplored corners of his mind. Only one face smiled at him from behind his closed eyes, her cheeks flushed in passion, her onyx eyes looking up at him with infinite love and trust.
He felt the barely there breath that whispered his name, and the soft hand against his shoulder...His hand involuntarily reached up for it, drawing it to his mouth. He kissed it gently; the taste and texture against his lips tugging his eyes slowly open.
"Manda." His mouth still nuzzled against her palm, her name was muffled. He freed it reluctantly and smiled a sleepy lopsided smile that only appeared to magnify the naughty sparkle in her eyes.
"Who is she Will?"
"Why, what did I say," he asked guardedly, pulling the cup of coffee away she held in her hand. He sipped it carefully, his mouth curling into a distasteful scowl. "How is it you can’t replicate coffee?"
She flipped her hair with mock indignation and confiscated the warm mug from his hands. "I like it like this." She sipped it and flashed a satisfied smile.
"Mud—mud with a bite."
"It’s better then colored water," she retaliated, sitting in the copilot's chair and tucking one leg underneath her. "Stop avoiding my question...who is she, I could use some good news."
He exhaled a groggy chuckle and moved to the replicator creating his own muddy poison. He picked up the steaming black mug and walked slowly back to his chair; too slowly he guessed when he heard her impatient sigh.
"It’s just a woman," he lied, averting her probing gaze, "I’m not sure my love life is that important right now."
"A woman that haunts your dreams."
He’d expected her to ignore his indirect plea to drop it, he shook his head and answered warily. "My dreams are always haunted by women, you know that." He smiled arrogantly and checked the Nav-screen, making a few modifications in trajectory that didn’t need to be made.
"Knock it off Riker, when I met you were running from fate, don’t tell me your doing it again?"
He felt his shoulders begin to burn, a sick ache growing in his gut. He couldn’t tell her it was the same woman that he’d been running for almost twenty years. He sipped his coffee and arched secretive brows. "I’m not one to kiss and tell," he said, frowning at his own choice of words.
Suddenly she looked sad, the flecks of teal and jade that always shimmered in her eyes dulled and she released a slow and lonely sigh. "I know you resent me Will, I’m sorry."
Her words strangled his pending questions about Tom, and personified the acute ache in his chest. "No, no I don’t," he said quickly, "I always understood how deeply you loved Logan, how much better Haley's life would be without me in the picture. I’m the one that deserves to be resented—by you, by Haley and certainly by Captain Mckinnon."
"No Will," she objected quietly, resting both her hands on his knee, "You made a difficult and responsible decision"
"After making a very irresponsible one, I made the easy decision."
"You weren’t alone in that foxhole Will," she countered protectively, once again accepting the weight of the situation and contorting his guilt into anger; an anger at himself he needed her to feel.
"You were scared."
"And you weren’t?"
"I knew what I was doing Amanda...Did you?"
He hadn’t noticed until now that the liquid that had only tinted her eyes was rolling silently down her cheeks. With the back of his index finger he caught one of the tears; he held it out to her as evidence. "How many times have I made you cry?"
She shook her head, wisps of hair clinging to her cheeks. He knew her well, and he knew when she cried silent tears elevated into heartfelt sobs if she spoke, he took the responsibility away from her.
"I never cried Amanda."
For a long moment she just looked at him, not moving, hardly blinking, her broken breaths evening. "You gave up a child Will." She said after he’d decided she wasn’t going to speak on the subject again. "For me and Logan, for our marriage...I’m not sure I could be that brave and selfless."
His chuckle, low and bitter seemed to startle her; the harsh hand he gripped her face with widened her eyes. "Stop it Amanda," he yelled, releasing his fingers from her cheeks leaving behind the crimson brands of his anger, "Stop pretending I’m something other then what I am. I’ve been running from the same woman for twenty years— pushing you, Haley, all my mistakes into the shadows of mind. I’m not brave or selfless...I’m a fucking coward. Jesus Christ even Tom has regrets." He watched her eyes widen further with his reference. "What he did was wrong, but shit at least he remembers and isn’t hiding. I just keep running."
"You were always there Will."
God, why didn’t she ever get angry, punch him a few times in the jaw like Logan had. He could still feel those stinging blows and they’d felt good, that was how he’d expected to be treated, not like some hero who’d performed some noble and selfless feat.
"Yea, good old Uncle Will—Birthday presents and a letter of recommendation to the academy... don’t get any more involved then that." His sarcasm failed to provoke the emotion he was looking for; again she simply tilted her head and looked at him with an unshakable understanding.
"It’s not like I couldn’t have seen her," he admitted, "I didn’t want to, seeing her would have taken courage, the ability to look directly into the eyes of my biggest mistake."
"Stop it!" The never seen emotion flashed red across her face and shot her to her feet where she accentuated it with a sharp slap to his jaw. He massaged the faint sting, the one he thought would satisfy him, but the pain on her face overshadowed his own.
"I don’t care how far up your ass you want to bury your feelings...," She continued before he could apologize, before the instinct he was fighting forced him to wrap her in his arms, take away her ache.
"I don’t care how you feel about me, about Logan, about the mission to Jaier or even this woman your hiding from." She inhaled a breath that shook from her lungs and waved a hand in front of his face that trembled with the same vehement emotions. "If you EVER call my daughter a mistake again I’ll make sure you never have to run. I’ll make sure Haley's parentage is known not only by Fleet Command but by Deanna Troi," she paused as if to let her threat, the memories she’d retained hang ominously over the cockpit. "I won’t have any problem telling her that her Imzadi fucked the woman he’d been lusting after for years only two weeks after leaving her on Betazed!"
The same fierce devotion that had caused this outburst would also prevent Amanda from carrying out her threat; Riker knew that, but still sat deflated in the pilot's chair. He listened to the heavy sound of her footfalls until they faded and were finally swallowed behind the hiss of the runabout doors.
He slouched further down in his chair and reflected on what Amanda had just said, in her words, behind the anger and regret was the buried key that had always kept him from Deanna. His feelings for Amanda, one unthinking moment in time had followed him like a dark phantom for twenty years. Each time he came close to reaching out for Deanna the invisible memory stepped in front of him and erected a barrier that had thickened with time. If he’d told her then, before they’d constructed this unconditional bond of honesty he would have hurt her, but maybe she would have understood, if he told her now...He shook his head, ridding his mind of the liquid expression of disappointment it presented him. He swallowed hard, the nasty acidic taste in back of his mouth stinging his throat and biting his heart.
Emotions were detrimental; they clouded logic and beguiled rational thought. Four hours and twenty-three minutes after Amanda had sealed herself in the back quarters of the runabout Commander Riker had placed a containment field around his.
Sprawled out on the couch that hedged the back of the cockpit, the leather squeaked as he shifted uncomfortably, the PADDS he’d been studying tumbling from his chest to the floor. He glared at the PADD that still glowed with topaz lettering and tucked his hand under his head. Three little nits had spawned his research and he wasn’t sure any of them deserved the suspicions they aroused. First there was Tom and the inkling he had that his brother wasn’t aware he had a child and then there was Amanda and her little outburst. Too well thought out, too concise for someone that struggled to speak through emotions and tears, he found it hard to believe that she was able to rattle off angry words without choking or for that matter taking a breath. And then there was the use of the word, the dreaded fuck word she despised so vehemently. Not much to go on, but enough that it had gnawed at him enough that he’d looked into some things. He shook his head at his own scrambled thoughts and retrieved the PADD from the floor, staring narrow-eyed at Tom Riker’s last known whereabouts. Not as current as he would have liked, but current enough to confirm that he was serving time on a work force when Logan Mckinnon had been killed. He wasn’t sure how rigid the penal colonies rules were, but he had a hunch murder leave wasn’t granted or the release of threatening transmissions.
A glimmer of silver-blue light dotted the runabouts console and drew his eyes first to the viewport and the nebula in the distance and then to the crimson numbers on the countdown display.
"One hour," he said to himself dropping the PADD on the lightly carpeted deck and moving to the replicator. "Ceylon tea, hot." He ordered his peace offering and wrinkled his nose as the perfumy scent hit his senses. Repressing his aversion to the ruby colored liquid he turned slowly towards the back of the ship.
"I’m sorry," he said, startled to see her standing in the doorway.
"Me too." Her apology came just as quickly as his; accompanied by the tangles of hair she brushed from her swollen eyes the entire picture made him feel guilty. Maybe he was wrong, at least about her part in it, it had been a long time, she may have gotten over her aversion to the word and learned to contain her emotions enough that she could speak through tears.
She smiled at the cup he’d handed her before looking to the padds he’d strewn over the floor. "Researching something interesting?"
With the side of his boot he kicked a few of the padds aside and gestured to the couch. "I’ve been logging some information on Thomas Riker," he said, astutely aware of how quickly her eyes moved from his to the floor.
"Really and what did you find?"
"It seems Tom Riker is serving sometime on a work force for an attempted sabotage attempt on the Merdian outpost." He watched her lightly blushed nail spiral around the rim of her cup. "He’s been there for about eighteen months."
"How is that possible?"
Using a gentle thumb and index finger to raise her square chin he forced her eyes to meet with his. "One of the key factors in the art of bullshitting is eye contact with your pigeon—Now try it," he challenged, pinning her with a frigid stare.
For a long moment she merely looked at him or through him as the case be. The moment was too long; he released her chin and stood up. "Fine, I’ll turn the ship around, maybe Fleet Command can answer some questions for me."
He was banking on the fact that with her limited piloting skills and her long absence from space travel she wouldn’t realize the interference from the nebula would make his threat impossible. He smiled inwardly when she assured him his bluff was a success. "No Will, don’t...I can explain."
He dropped, satisfied into the pilot's chair and tapped an impatient finger against the countdown display. "You got nine minutes Amanda; I’m not going through there if I don’t have to."
Looking like a person that had recently been kicked in the stomach she nodded. Her expression mirroring the way he was feeling. What he really would liked to have done was stall the transmutation and cut the runabout’s engines, but he had a hunch even after she explained he’d be visiting Jaier again. She may have brought him here under False pretenses, but there was only one way he could think of that anyone could convince someone like her to deceive. Unless she’d changed the very essence of who she was Haley was still at the root of everything.
Minutes past, the crimson reminders pulsed from between the fingers Riker had draped over the consul. On the back wall of the cockpit he saw the yellow-orange stream of intermittent light, the reflected beams of the warning beacons his team had installed years ago. He interrupted Amanda only after the midnight-blue dust of the Nebula dimmed the light in the ship.
"Why you lied isn’t what I need to know," he said, after he was certain she did believe Haley was in danger and someone had convinced her that Tom Riker was the threat, "I want to know why when the shit hit the fan you contacted O’Mally instead of me..."
"I didn’t," she interrupted, "He and Captain Niles showed up at Logan’s memorial service, they stayed for several days. Having them there was comforting somehow." She shrugged. "They were Logan’s friends, I guess it was like having a piece of him there. I wanted to call you then, but they insisted I wait, something about inquires into the Enterprises last mission."
Riker nodded and cast a precautionary look over his shoulder to the viewport. Navigating the nebula under the converted shields wasn’t dangerous, contrary to what the federation had led the fleet to believe, but he couldn’t shake the edgy feeling that was haunting him. "And Tom?"
"I told them about my concerns, about the threats against Haley." Maybe his expression had softened or maybe her muscles had begun to ache from the rigid attention she was holding, but her shoulders relaxed and she moved slowly to the copilot's chair. "The threats weren’t signed Will, at first I thought." She looked down without completing her thought.
"You thought it was me?" Her confession stung him more then he wanted to admit and drowned the idea that she thought of him with the same affection that he thought of her.
"I didn’t know there was a Tom Riker, I’d never heard about the accident on Nervala." She justified herself quickly and lightly grazed the hand that dangled at his side with her own. "I never really believed it could be you."
Her watery apologetic gaze did nothing to douse his feelings, but he led her to believe it had with a soft smile and an equally gentle I understand.
"Admiral O’Mally told me they’d been tracking Tom Riker and his activities for a year, that he’d been traveling back and forth from Jaier to Cardassia on a regular basis."
At this point he was completely lost; his frown must have suggested it because she continued quickly.
"The recent Starbase attacks." Her pause and her fascination with her fingernails suggested to him this was what he needed to hear.
"Go on," he said a bit more forcefully then he planned, his personal feelings eclipsed by his duty.
"They said Tom took Haley to the valley of the rainbows, to protect her. They think he’s running varine that that’s what's being used in the base attacks."
Will felt his stomach roll and flopped instantly into the pilot's chair, his hand automatically throttling back on the ship’s controls.
"They wanted you off the Enterprise before you could see the victims, recognize the signs."
"Why?" Shocked and disgusted that for any reason, even her daughter she’d allow this to be pushed under the rug he glared at her as if he was seeing a complete stranger.
"If they’re wrong, if you thought you’d identified it and drew attention to the source of the toxin it could unnecessarily open up a can of worms that could cause a catastrophic war."
"That’s a chance we’re going to have to take. I’m not lying to protect ever again." He leaned into the sharp turn he put the runabout into. "I made that mistake once on the Pegasus, I won’t do it again."
"Will." The hand she brought down on his wrist, firm and demanding caused the ship to veer, he compensated and shook his head without looking at her. "What about Haley."
"Haley is not on Jaier Amanda, and she’s not with Thomas Riker. They used you, used you to fool me and that pisses me off as much if not more then the thousands of people they’ve let..." The scent, sweet and pleasant, the kind of aroma one wants to draw deeply into their lungs strangled his voice. "Don’t breath," he ordered without allowing himself to fill his lungs.
Her breath stalled, whether she’d smelled it herself or the severe look of panic on his face had inspired her he couldn’t be sure, he could only be sure they needed to get out of the cockpit now.
Deprived of the benefit of a deep inhale he already felt his stomach twist, his heart rate increase before he snatched a single pack off the floor and jerked his head toward the down chute. After practically throwing Amanda down the chute he followed behind, hoping like hell they hadn’t considered infusing the Jaier ship with Varine.
The roof hatch of the lower ship rattled closed, he gulped a short breath knowing it would be his last if he were wrong. Behind him he heard Amanda gasp for breath, the shuffled tap of her stumbling footfalls against the metal flight deck.
"Here." Willingly he inhaled the clean oxygen she offered him, cleansing his system of the small amount of toxin he’d breathed.
"You all right?" Steadying her with an arm around her waist he lowered her into the low bucket seat in front of the narrow tinted viewport. She nodded, an expression of fear replacing the panic that had flushed her face.
"Looks like they wanted more then to keep me off the starbases. We’ll be safe here until we pass through the nebula."
"I’m sorry Will."
"Why, did you do that?" He grinned, a crooked grin he hoped would lighten her expression.
"No, but I believed them."
"Ya know what Manda." The hand he’d taken in his disappeared as he covered it with his other. "Your trust in people makes you who you are, if you lost that you’d be someone else. I wouldn’t like that."
It was strange when she finally decided to smile how it made him feel inside...proud, pleased, as if he’d just accomplished the most important thing in his life. How could a woman he’d only spent two volatile weeks with give him so much reason to care, engender emotions as deep as any he’d ever felt. He closed his eyes and thought about her, about Haley, about fatherhood in general, the loud crack above him shattered his complacent thoughts.
"Shit!" He shot to his feet, smacking his head on the low ceiling of the primitive cockpit. "They give me more credit then I deserve,’ he said sarcastically, his eyes raised to the depress-clamps that held the Jaier ship in the runabout.
"Guess we’re leaving." He hoped he sounded more confident then he felt. This ship had a snowballs chance of making it through the nebula, but he offered her a self-assured smile that suggested the opposite.
"Will, we can’t...it won’t."
"We can— and it damn well better."
"Shit!" Thomas Riker, his eyes glued to the padd Picard had had delivered to his quarters stopped suddenly and turned in a complete circle. <Lost again, > he thought.
He'd been given schematics to study for this new improved Enterprise, but he hadn’t bothered looking at them; at the moment he wished he had. This was the third time since getting up this morning he’d apparently zigged when he should have zagged. He cursed again, this time in Cardassian and kept his eyes on the corridor instead of the padd.
He'd been summoned to a senior staff meeting in the observation lounge in ten minutes and had scarcely grazed the surface of Picard's notes on the attacks. After his little communiqué from Admiral O'Mally where he'd been threatened with everything from being slapped back into prison to a nasty form of castration he'd accessed more available information. It had taken him awhile, most of the night, but he'd managed to track everyone with knowledge of the preventative observation mission to Jaier. That was fourteen people, fifteen if you included his personality split, out of those fourteen, nine were decomposing corpses, and none of them had been decomposing for over five months. Nothing to take note of in the large scheme of things, but in the smaller world of rainbow thirty-six the results had rattled his cage.
He spotted the lift and stepped into as if it were sanctuary, at least now he could say bridge and he'd know where the hell he was going.
"Commander wait!" He heard the female voice and turned towards it, of course the voice was attached to a beautiful young ensign that of course had to be running towards him. He held the lift and watched her breasts move with every stride, her golden-copper curls falling over them, leaving just enough to his imagination that could increase their size by an inch or two.
<Don't leer Tom, > he reminded himself as this goddess stepped into the lift and offered him a breathless thank you.
"No problem," he said, his eyes still focused on her lips, wondering if they always looked that way or if they'd been kissed to their perfect fullness.
"Are you OK Commander?"
At that moment he realized his eyes had traveled over her neck, between the swells of her breast and were now gauging the rich moisture between her legs. His head shot up quickly.
"Yea, fine." He cleared his throat, his raw, parched throat and nodded. "I've got a lot on my mind, I didn't mean to be rude," he said. <Or mentally rape you in the lift, > he added to himself.
Returning her smile as the lift doors opened he watched her walk away, exploring the part of her body he hadn't completely embellished yet; he tucked it away in his memory for his next bathroom session and shuffled towards the observation lounge. The way he had it figured, unless he could talk Deanna into a major indiscretion he wasn't going to get laid again until he got off this damn ship and figured out what was going on. He redirected his sexual energy into doing just that, the throbbing urgency of it quickening his steps.
Tom paused in the doorway and scanned the faces at the sleek conference table, all but one was familiar to him, he entered causally and dropped into the first chair he came to.
<Shit wrong chair, > he thought when all eyes fell on him.
He smiled. "Change is good sometimes." The smiles he received, all vague and forced inspired him to dip his eyes to the padd he’d laid on the table, play the concentrating part of his stick up the ass brother.
He heard Picard inquire about Counselor Troi’s tardiness but found himself leaning closer to the screen he now gripped tightly in his hand. The bases that had been targeted were all centers for strategic defense, weapons accumulation, and offensive development, so what the intruders were after had never been in question, it was the who and the how that had an already faltering federation in a state of chaos. But what caught his eye was the indiscriminate attacks of this unknown, two Romulan outposts and one Cardassian tactical station had also been targeted, combined death toll, twenty-eight thousand. He swallowed and lifted his eyes to ask Picard about the specifics of the attacks, it was then he realized apparently Picard’s question about Troi had been directed towards him.
"Would you like me to get her Sir?"
"No, I thought maybe you knew why she was late?"
"She didn’t say anything to me Captain." He caught the smirk on Crusher’s face and returned a scowl; if he remembered correctly Will’s feelings towards the auburn-haired spitfire reflected his own.
"Picard to Troi—Deanna answer please."
It was Picard’s third rendition and the increased concern in the captain’s voice that motivated him to concede to the visual game of chicken he was playing with Crusher. Maybe it was the long list of threats he’d received from O’Mally the night before or maybe it was the way he’d been living his life lately that had caused the hair on the back of his neck to bristle. Whatever it was, he found himself on his feet before Picard had asked the computer for her whereabouts.
<Counselor Troi is in her quarters. >
Ditching protocol for instinct Tom shot out of the conference room, Picard’s firm wait lost behind the hiss of the doors.
Deanna would be fine, third degree burns on her hand and a jolt that had shook her pretty good, Tom had found that out over an hour ago and he still clutched the burned out conduit conductor in his fist. He’d left sickbay as soon as he was sure of Deanna’s condition although the look on Crusher’s face suggested it was not a Will-like thing to do.
"Maybe I’m getting paranoid," he said to himself as he dropped into the center of the couch in his quarters. He’d expected a communiqué; an ah-ha communiqué reminding him how differently the accident could have gone if coincidentally the power relay hadn’t malfunctioned. He glared at his communication terminal then at the chiseled conduit. "Screw it I’ll contact him."
The conduit rattled over the glass of the table as he dropped it, he moved to his desk and fell loosely into that chair.
The screen flashed with a rainbow arch before he’d reached for it, he found himself smiling and questioning his reasons for it, the federation had already screwed him twice, he wondered why he was so willing to give them another shot.
He accessed the screen prepared to act as hardheaded as he was feeling, but the face on the screen brought his arrogant off the cuff posture to a rigid attention. "Sir," he said, rigidly studying the features of a man he hadn’t seen in over twenty years.
"Son." The simple endearment spoken by the near stranger on the screen drew his hands into fists and thinned his lips into a malignant scowl.
<Cardassians my ass. > Sitting on Picard’s right on the Enterprise bridge Tom Riker’s thoughts weren’t on his job as first officer or the most recently attacked space station that shimmered outside the ship’s viewport. His mind was on his father and the cock and bull story the older Riker had tried to get him to swallow. A wonderfully woven fairy tale about a race was that was barely treading water and their attempt to unify the super powers of the quadrant to protect their dying civilization by introducing an unknown. He had a hunch the plot wasn’t far from the truth but that the players weren’t spoon-necks but tight-ass federation Admiral’s that had fooled themselves into thinking thirty thousands deaths meant nothing in the big picture.
He’d felt Deanna’s intermittent gazes earlier, but at the moment as his thoughts churned her dark eyes felt like an isotonic drill against his temple; he shut down his restless emotions.
"We’ve finished a first sweep of the station Captain." He lifted his eyes to the android, his peripheral vision affording a view of Picard’s beyond somber expression.
"Prepare your away team number one."
"Aye Sir," he said, hoping he didn’t appear too eager. "Commander Data, Ensign Mcneil," he took a step towards the lift and paused as if his next addition was an afterthought. "Counselor." Considering the Betazoid’s recent accident he’d expected an objection from the captain. He smiled to himself as Troi followed him to the lift and the overcautious Starfleet captain sat stiffly, his gaze never leaving the viewport.
"Doctor Crusher," he ordered after tapping his communicator, "assemble a medical team and meet us in transporter room three." He hadn’t wanted to add her, but procedure insisted he did. The little redhead would only make his escape more difficult, especially in light of the fact that he had no intentions of leaving Deanna behind as a bargaining chip.
Too fast; passing through the storm cells and less then a kilometer from the surface Riker kept his hands on the trembling braking thrusters and cursed silently to himself.
Behind him, tucked safely in the envro-podd Amanda was safe from the gee-forces that had begun to overtake him; he felt his breaths begin to shorten, the vice that felt as if it had been clamped around his chest tightened. The ship yawed, leveled, skipped over the tangled trees, the vibration of the deck rattling up Riker’s legs and through his body, jarring his teeth inside his helmet.
"Keep Amanda safe and let Deanna know I love her," he whispered the words under his breath; always prepared for his own fate, but never prepared for the ramifications it might have on others.
The wires on the consul snapped and burned distorting the viewport with inky swirls of smoke that blurred his vision and intensified his dizziness. A loud crack slammed over the ship, white foam obediently quenching the red flames but not before the main stabilizer cuff tore of the port side and sent the ship into a violent downslide. He fought to compensate, with burning muscles he throttled back, putting all his weight into the stall.
The ship hit the ground with a crack, lifted off and hit again... heart-stopping sounds of grinding metal and shattering glastine rattling above the shivers that lashed over the ship.
Still too fast, what was left of the shattered hunk of metal skipped like a stone over the dimpled sand flats. Riker pulled back on what was left of the braking jets and hoped like hell nothing got in the way of the out of control ship before he could slow her. The sun glinted against the fractured glastine, blinding his view and dashing his hopes with a nasty smack that tore him from his harness and thrust him to the back of the ship.
Still conscious when he hit and struggling to fight the blackness that was vying to take him away he struggled to sit, take off the helmet that had smashed over his face. Wanting nothing more then a huge breath of air he shook his head to remove the glass, the dizziness that had threatened him since they’d entered the atmosphere taking possession of his body, churning his stomach and watering his mouth.
"Will." Her face only slightly bruised, a trickle of blood dripping from her nose Amanda skidded to halt in front of him and dropped to her knees.
"Open the hatch," he coughed, feeling the blood well inside his mouth, trace a warm path over his beard. He leaned against the wall and inhaled slow shallow breaths, hoping like hell the blood was coming from the glastine cuts and not from inside him.
Above him he heard her grunt a curse as she fought to open the dented hatch. With weakened fingers he battled with the helmet, finally unlatching the neck clamp and freeing his head from the deadly mask. He spit several times, the fragments of glass in his mouth prickling and cutting his tongue and lips.
No sooner did he hear the hatch creak open then she was on her knees beside him again, one hand gently under his chin, the fingers of her other hand easing the glass splinters from his mouth and face. "Don’t inhale deeply until I’m done," she warned.
He tried to swear at her because what she was doing hurt like a mother, but swearing and breathing deep both proved impossible with her fingers probing the inside of his mouth. He gagged once when her long fingers withdrew a jagged fragment from the roof of his mouth; he tasted the blood seconds later.
"Jesus," he grumbled when her hands finally moved away, "You're about as delicate as a Klingon in heat."
"I need the med-kit for these external fragments." Her boots crunching over the disheveled cockpit she disappeared without responding.
Riker gulped the air, the nasty, chemically enhanced air of Jaier and decided nothing had ever tasted better. He shifted his weight, heard the pop in his shoulder and groaned as his dislocation made its presence known.
"Shit, now she’s really going to hurt me," he mumbled, deciding then and there if this was what space travel was like where he came from he’d have opted to be a professor of biology at Archie’s academy for women.
He chuckled in spite of his pain and followed a blurred image of Amanda as she moved back towards him. He heard her voice assure him he was fine, felt her hair tickle against his cheek and winced at the hypospray she shot into his neck. Splinters of crystal light crossed over his fading vision; prismatic and mesmerizing they were swallowed seconds later by a fearful and lonely blackness.
Tom Riker veered the freighter he’d liberated from the skiff that hovered above Titan hard to port, avoiding the radar signals; the grin that had ignited his features from the time he’d left the starship enterprise standing still in his wake still curled over his mouth. It wasn’t so much that he’d gotten off the starbase in a federation shuttle with Deanna unconscious in the back. It was the look his mind kept presenting of the stock Captain Picard when he’d ordered his ship to pursue and found out the ship’s computer was running a stage four warp check. He figured it had only taken the chief engineer about four minutes to realign to system, but he hadn’t needed anymore then that.
The rustling behind him spun his head around, his signature smile fell, replaced by a pessimistic grimace. Deanna was waking up, she wasn’t going to be as impressed with his maneuver, and she was going to be less impressed that he’d drugged her and brought her along. Fast talking wasn’t going to work, holding her at gun point would be even less successful, the only choice he had was to be honest, tell her the unvarnished truth and hope like hell she hadn’t fallen into the mold of officer first, humanoid second.
They’d be back on earth in two hours, if he couldn’t convince her to stay with him willingly by then he’d let her go, take his chances with the federation.
He pulled a stool up to the cot she was laying on and eyed the stasis cuffs he’d used to bind her arms and ankles, he considered releasing them, but for his own safety changed his mind.
"What happened?" Her lashes dusted over her skin and she seemed to be struggling to open her eyes. He hoped like hell he hadn’t given her too much of the sedative, he’d slammed it into her neck pretty quickly and hadn’t given himself a lot of time to research the dose.
"Deanna.... Can you open your eyes?" The little pang of panic he’d felt prompted him to shake her shoulder gently.
She moaned softly, opened her eyes, scanned her surroundings and finally looked at him. Stared at him with a poisonous look that made him wish she was still asleep and convinced him he’d never be able to get her to go along with this.
"What have you done?" She fought the cuffs. "Let me go Thomas...Now," she added in a tone he’d never heard from her before.
"I can't do that Deanna, you have to listen to me first."
"I’m not going to listen to you—why would I listen to you."
He slipped a hand under her back to help her to sit and felt his reward seconds later as two-handed blow in his chest. "Hey," he snapped, "That hurt—and it wasn’t very Betazoid of you." His smile was met with an even uglier glare then the one she’d awoken with.
"Where's the Enterprise, where are we...Why did you take me?" His brows raised at the descriptive Betazoid curse she mumbled under her breath, and he decided in that instant he’d never seen her look so angry.
"You better talk to me Thomas Riker and right now or I’ll personally see to it that not only will you never have sex again it will be a physical impossibility."
"Geeze." Male instinct prompted him to roll his stool back, away from a look that was sharp enough to carry out her threat. "Ya think ya know somebody...I never realized what a bitch you could be."
"A bitch!" Her rendition echoed through the large cockpit of the freighter. "What did you expect me to be, a flushing damsel that fell limply into your arms, helplessly into your sensual gaze."
"Now you're being a smart ass."
"I’m going to kick your ass if you don’t let me go and tell me why I’m here!"
"For a short shackled Betazoid you talk pretty tough, you’ll have to excuse me while I wipe the sweat from my brow." He stood up and turned his back on her and not because she was looking at him like he was vermin (although that bothered him too), but because he was watching his honesty idea float out the portal.
"It’s Will Deanna," he said once he was certain he’d scrambled his emotions to the best of his ability. "He’s in danger and if we don’t get to him he’s going to be dead." He slipped back onto the stool and buried his face in his hands, dramatizing the moment to the best of his ability. "For all I know he might be dead already."
"Oh God I wish I were dead." Will Riker grumbled the sentiment, rolled his aching shoulder muscles and spit away the muddy dirt that fell over his face. Under the moss covered ledges that led into the city of Jaier, the swamp water came up to his chest and god only knows what was making itself at home under his shirt. In front of him he could hear Amanda’s labored breathing and he watched the snarled strands of cinnamon curls that escaped her clip disappear below the greenish-brown muck. Beside him he heard the clean splash and felt the water lap against his chest, he tossed a cautious look in the direction.
The swamp that separated the eastern and western blocs of Jaier was a vile smelling home for some ugly carnivores, a naturally occurring moat that had separated the two factions for years, generating fear in there primitive mind. The primitives had feared the spirits they believed lived in the bodies of the Aliwon that prowled the shores and the banshee’s that danced their eerie glow over the waters in the night. But evolution and technological progress had eventually brought the two races together where they’d clashed and began a war that had snowballed out of control for hundreds of years.
Riker shook his head and swatted away the hover fly that had been stalking him.
"Quiet isn’t it?" Amanda’s hushed voice, a shadow below a whisper still startled him.
He nodded to her inquisitive and concerned question. "Too quiet—Way too quiet."
Her concern sparked his own and diverted the senses he’d been using on his thoughts to reach out to the unusual silence around them. Daylight hours on Jaier were seventeen hours long and from what he could gauge from the sun that hung high in the sky this day was at its peak, and yet only the sounds and the odors of the swamp loomed over this violent world.
"What do your readings say," he asked when the low warble of Amanda’s tricorder dragged on too long.
She didn’t answer him right away and walked blindly until she reached the glades that hedged the more solid entrance to the swamp. Against the pressure of the water he picked up his pace, snagging her arm to help her as she struggled to step up against the weight of her repellent suit.
"Will, these readings suggest the closest life is over 161 kilometers in that direction." She gestured with her chin but he didn’t bother following her gesture; he knew who lived in the southern mountains of this otherwise desolate planet.
"No, that doesn’t make sense, your tricorder must be malfunctioning or the Jaier are using a new technology that interferes with our scans."
"Is this I-have-a-hunch-Riker talking?"
The squinted gaze he’d fixed on the snarled tangles of mossy trees that concealed the entrance to the Jaier city drifted to her; he smiled at the nickname he’d earned on the first mission.
"I haven’t heard that in awhile," he said, inwardly cringing at some of the risky and unplanned maneuvers he’d made.
"You don’t play your hunches anymore?" She looked doubtfully up at him.
"No, I still do, but old age has forced me to look at the pitfalls before I dive in."
"Really, that’s not what I heard." She pocketed her tricorder in exchange for a medical scanner. She waved it over his body, he knew gauging the pain he was feeling since he wasn’t about to share with her that he felt like he was going to collapse.
"Haley has kept a scrapbook on you, some pretty impressive stunts."
"She does!" Shock, a hint of pride cracked his voice and turned his nebulous smile into a wide grin.
"She’s very impressed with her Uncle Will."
Pride was strangled again by his deep seeded regret; he snatched the med-scanner from her hands before she could complete her research of his body. "Let’s go."
He stepped towards the Jaier city even though he understood that wasn’t the direction she wanted to go, to be honest he would have led them anywhere just to get away from that look. Before this meeting with her he’d only seen it once, it was the look she’d continued to hold him with while he’d sat through the most uncomfortable meeting of his life with her and Captain Mckinnon. He hadn’t understood it then, but like unspoken words it had haunted him. It was that picture of her his mind had presented him over the years.
He stopped suddenly after a few paces and pivoted around to face her. "Truth or dare Amanda," he said, mentioning a game they’d played for hours during the endless surveillance of the Jaier.
"What?" She walked past him, avoiding his gaze. "I don’t want to play that."
"Truth or dare," he repeated.
Several yards ahead of him she finally stopped and turned back. "Truth." The caviler smile she was shooting for fell well shy of its mark.
"When I gave up Haley, walked out of your life and hers, you said it was what you wanted—" She nodded. "—It wasn’t, was it?"
"No." She answered much quicker then he’d expected and headed towards the city before he could respond.
He jogged to catch up with her. "Why?"
"You can’t asked another question." She was practically running and against his aching muscles it was a struggle for him to keep up. Taking one long stride he snagged her upper arm and spun her to face.
"Why Amanda...Tell me what the hell you expected me to do!" His voice escalated and he sent a cautious look past the vines to the still city gates. "I did what you asked me to do," he added, suddenly feeling a need to justify himself.
"And how long did you wrestle with that decision... five minutes...five seconds." The contempt she was looking at him with confused him but also angered him, he freed his hold on her arm with a harsh jerk and walked away.
"Your answer for everything, turn your back and walk away!"
He heard her angry words, the slap off her boots as she ran to catch up with him but he didn’t turn back—At least he didn’t turn back until he heard the low growl behind him and Amanda’s frightened scream.
He fired his phaser almost before he’d turned, dropping the Aliwon as it lunged but not before its venom launched. He ran, feeling as if the mud was sucking him in, deliberately stalling the few crucial minutes he had to get to her.
"Where’s the med. kit!" Dipping his eyes over the weedy mud around her, he masked his revulsion from her.
The Sepac, a live venom, a mutual collaboration between the two life forms momentarily stunned the Aliwon’s victims affording it the flesh and blood it craved while the Sepac sought out the bone, feeding and breeding in the marrow.
"There’s no time Will, use your phaser...burn it!" The pain that twisted her mouth, forced silent tears to rain over her cheeks was nothing compared to the wide-eyed look of fear she was staring at her arm with.
He replaced the small hand she’d wrapped around her arm with his own as if he could stop the Sepac that was disappearing under her skin and reprogrammed his phaser. He hesitated only for a second, and tried to steady his hand, ignore the look of desperation on Amanda’s face. His phaser pressed directly against her skin he fired. Her flesh reddened and puckered, he held his breath in his lungs avoiding the stench.
Amanda’s screams, the most chilling he’d ever heard, fell silent, her head fell limply on the knee he’d supported her with, her body still trembling as he deepened the beam. Between the bubbling blood, the bristling muscles and tendons he found the head, relieved and disgusted as its now hardening shell of a body stopped moving. Trying not to think about what he was doing and understanding better why the medical profession had never appealed to him he dipped a thumb and index finger between the flesh and tore it away. He dropped it beside him before he’d allowed himself to feel it and on the side of caution fired a phaser burst into the mud.
It was only then after he’d exhaled a breath of relief, the taste of burning flesh so heavy in his throat he almost gagged that he looked at the arm he’d mutilated. His mandatory and minimal med. tech training wasn’t going to do shit to repair it; he had to get her inside the city; inside a city that hadn’t even reacted to her chilling screams.
"Truth or dare Deanna?"Tom Riker let the boat he’d rented drift into the side of the pier, his most charming grin wasted on the Betazoid.
"It’s a game." Without her help he snagged the dock line and crawled over the bow.
"I’m not playing a game with you."
She wasn’t shackled anymore although she may as well have been from the rigid and uncomfortable posture she was holding.
"I told you everything," he grunted, tying off the boat and offering her hand, a hand that was rejected with a swat.
"You showed me a padd," she said, stumbling and still refusing his help, "A padd where every third word or words was encrypted."
"It’s classified Deanna, what can I say." The dock swayed as she stepped onto it and he saw her shiver in the crisp ocean breeze; he wasn’t dumb enough to do anything about it. "You asked about rainbow thirty six." He shrugged. "I gave you the data."
A rumble of thunder sounded in the distance, a perfect mate for the dark, stormy look she pinned him with. "What I want to know about rainbow 36 is inside that-tiny-brain-of-yours." She punctuated her last four words with an equal amount of finger jabs in his forehead.
"That’s it," he snapped, "you poke me, hit me, or smack me one more time your taking a dip in the icy Atlantic...got it."
"And I’ll scream."
"Deanna, this is Maine...it’s past nine, everyone’s in bed— they don’t care." He shrugged again and picked up the lighter of the two bags he’d tugged out of the boat. "You take that one." His hope was maybe some of her bitchy energy would have to be diverted into trying to haul the pack; his theory was proven wrong.
"And that’s another thing," she said, "why are we here...on earth. You said Will was on some planet and that he was in danger."
"Because I have a hunch we should start here."
With the tide out, the ramp that led up to the small town was at a steep incline, he heard her stumble behind him and struggle with the pack. He turned slowly around and took it from her.
"I can do it," she objected.
"I’m not doubting your manhood Deanna, but that wasn’t the point of you carrying the bag." He was making this up as he went along. "You watched me pack this bag...you know there’s weapons and communicators in it. You had access and you didn’t take it." He walked the rest of the way up the ramp and dropped both bags at his feet.
1"That doesn’t prove anything."
"Fine." He reached under his jacket and tugged his phaser from its clip; with his other hand he grabbed her wrist, opened her hand and slapped the phaser into it. "Phasers only on stun, no moral dilemmas to worry about." He pivoted around and walked away before she lifted her wide eyes from the weapon.
It took an effort not to turn around, keep walking over the pebbled embankment and onto the dimly lit streets. He wasn’t too worried about her shooting him but the communication devices he’d left behind didn’t afford him the same confidence; he’d practically turned the first corner when he heard her shuffled steps behind him.
"You win." Breathless, she dropped the bags she was lugging on either side of her and stared at him disgustedly. "And not because of that overly dramatic stunt." She rolled her eyes and almost smiled. "If Will’s in trouble I want to help him. And in answer to the truth or dare question you wanted to ask me in the boat, the answer is yes— I trust you."
He felt a smile break over his face in spite of the fact that she’d been able to access his thoughts after all these years. "Thanks, I needed to know that. Come on." He picked up both bags; comfortably uncomfortable with the look she was holding him with. "Let’s see what Wills gotten himself into and why."
For several steps she was quiet giving him a chance to think; the silence ended abruptly. "Tom?" Under the moonless sky with only the pale globe lightening of the street lamps her face was dark with shadows; he didn’t need to see her eyes to know what she was going to say.
"If you’re right about the federation being in involved, How can we stop them...help Will."
"Don’t worry Deanna, in my experience the federation hasn’t been unified on anything in years, they’ve been running into each other trying to stay afloat any way they can. Will knows that too, although you’d be hard pressed to get him to admit it." He chuckled to himself. "The way I got it figur..."
With a sharp hand around Deanna’s arm he tugged her back and down, pressing a silencing finger to this lips. Dumping the sacks he had slung over his shoulder he poked a cautious head around the edge of the building he’d crouched behind.
"That’s Wayne Niles," he whispered.
"Captain Niles." She attempted to sneak her own look; his arm around her shoulders restrained her movements. "Why are we hiding from him?"
He shook his head not wanting to explain Niles involvement in the rainbow mission or anything about Jaier that wasn’t necessary.
"Tom, what’s he doing?"
"I think they call it arson Deanna." He pulled a disruptor from his pack. "Now stay here and prove that trust you say you have."
"I think that’s illegal." Tom had chosen the disruptor because of the low recognizable hum it made as it charged. His target apparently didn’t hear it or was unaware of the weapon he had hovering behind his back.
"Back off Riker." Niles stood up and spun around quickly. Tom raised his weapon and tightened his grip on his gun; he lowered it as soon as he saw the shadowed weapon Niles held in his hand.
"Relax Captain." He dropped his disruptor on the ground and held up both hands, but never took his eyes off the modified ZTL shooter. Different then he remembered from his time on Jaier this new design was as sleek as a phaser, but he had a hunch it still packed more venom then the entire weapons arsenal on the Enterprise. "You don’t want to use that."
"Why not—we’re both going to die anyway." The Starfleet officer shifted his weight, leaning into the pale overhead lamp. His skin was pale amplifying the dark circles under his blood shot eyes and his hand was far from steady; not a good thing when one was holding infused varine.
"Maybe so." Tom shrugged a shoulder, "But we don’t have to take half the town with us. You don’t want that do you?"
"What’s a few more deaths for the cause." His voice was bitter and Tom had to assume someone was pushing his buttons using the same tools they’d tried to use on him when they’d hurt Deanna. "Russell's dead," he continued, loosely waving the gun and tensing Tom’s shoulders, "Myers, Michael's," he hesitated, "Will—Amanda."
Tom felt himself react and tried to mortify his sudden flinch; it was too late, he felt the barrel twist against his chest and heard the impending whine. He jumped and closed his eyes, hearing the buzz and feeling the heat seconds later. But in less then a heartbeat he realized he felt no pain; he felt no pain and he heard footsteps.
He opened his eyes slowly, his hand instinctively lifting to his chest. "Deanna." Over his raw throat her name choked out in syllables, still shaken it took him a minute to see Nile’s body at his feet and gather enough resolve to yell at her.
"That was a dumb-ass thing to do...I told you to wait...there!" He stabbed a finger in the direction of where he’d left her. "You could have killed us all. Can’t you do what you’re told."
" You were taking along time." Momentarily leaning into the light he caught a glimpse of her self-satisfied smile. "When I didn’t hear any chest thumping victory cries I assumed you needed me."
"I’ve never been one to pound my chest Deanna and that was a sexist remark." She was already on her knees running scans on Captain Niles; he dropped beside her but not because he cared about the scans. "However if that’s a fantasy of yours?" Her disgusted sigh was followed by her lack of attention, he took the opportunity to pull the weapon off the ground and tuck it in the back of his pants.
"Come on Deanna, let’s get him inside." He tilted his head towards the locked restaurant.
"Inside...but it’s locked."
"It’s called breaking and entering Deanna." He wrapped his arm around Niles chest and began dragging him towards the back. "Get the bags boss," he smirked, "B and E shouldn’t be anything to someone that just shot a man in the back."
Dragging a nervous hand over his beard Will’s eyes darted between the silent streets outside the med-center to the half-ass job he’d done on Amanda’s arm. In the distance flashing like a lighthouse in a storm he could see the tangled bands of colored lights that always danced over the valley of the rainbows.
"Will?" Her voice was so soft at first he’d thought he’d imagined it.
"Hey—How do you feel?" He failed to hide his grimace. "I messed up your arm pretty good."
Her hooded eyes moved to it but only for an instant. "Is it dead?"
"Yea, it’s dead." He smiled and wrung out the cloth he’d been using on her perspiring forehead. He ran it softly over her again and brushed the damp stands of hair away from her eyes.
"I can life with a scar Will...Thanks."
"Made me wish I hadn’t ditched those four or five emergency med courses." The cot squeaked as he sat down beside her. "You scared the shit out of me," he said, pressing a kiss against her forehead to ease the tremble in his bottom lip.
"I was never scared, not with have a hunch Riker at my side." She smiled a weak and rehearsed smile.
"Yea," he chuckled softly, "Your fear was hardly visible behind your collected screams."
Her smile still shaky but genuine this time waxed then quickly waned. "Where is everyone?"
He cleared his throat, stalling on a topic he was hoping to avoid until tomorrow. "What’s left of the Jaier—at least this bloc is in Elation."
She looked doubtful and he could see the questions spinning behind her eyes; he held up a hand to put her off from asking what he didn’t quite understand. "There was no one around when I brought you in—I was a little panicked at the time didn’t pay much attention." He shrugged. "I don’t know what I thought, or if I thought, I yelled for help, nobody came. It was like running into a ghost town. I heard the Diahlo chimes about an hour later."
"Will," she interrupted, "The Jaier use the chimes on the people of the rainbow, how could they fall victim."
"Maybe we were wrong about the effects of the chimes—Maybe there’s more to it then a desire to believe." He pushed off the back of the bed and sat up, rolling some of the tension from his shoulders.
"We know that Will."
He knew she was referring to the combination of tones the chimes sounded, he’d felt it himself, a vague tingle in the back of your mind and a momentary wash of pleasure. They’d studied it and its effects, and the endorphins the chimes released were nothing more intense then the kind of buzz one would get from an Arcturian Fizz.
"But the endorphins aren’t enough to convince a race as technologically advanced as the Jaier that the Wodah is blessing them."
"Maybe not!" He chided himself for the frustrated elevation in his tone and inhaled a deep breath. "But that’s what their doing...There’s a temple of light on the west side of town and somebody's ringing those goddamn chimes!" The deep breath didn’t work; he opted for pacing instead. "I think we should get out of here, through the catacombs as soon as you're up to it."
"The catacombs—We don’t even know if they're still accessible."
They’d created the underground labyrinth before attempting their first mission, a simpler more discreet way of infiltrating both blocs observing and assuring Starfleet that neither side was moving towards warp capacity; that the Varine could never leave this world. He watched her massage her arm above her wound site and for an instant his out of control speculations were eclipsed with concern.
"Do you want something...for the pain?"
She shunned his offer and the hand he’d laid over hers. "What are you thinking?"
"I’m thinking we should get out of here before whoever tried to kill us finds out we’re not dead and decides to try again." He already knew who tried to kill him and yet he still couldn’t bring himself to say it, admit to anyone else that the same cause he’d given up most of his life for was willing to sacrifice him without batting an eye.
"Then we should go now, before the sunsets." She sat up, leaned back down, but sat up again before he could help her.
"I don’t think you’re ready." His automatic objection came as he was wrapping an arm around her waist and bracing her unsteady body with his.
"Will." She stopped him after only a few steps; her green eyes dark and smoked with an uncertain fear. "If it’s O’Malley—If it’s the federation, if they have Haley?"
"Then we’ll get her back." If she’d picked up on the lack of conviction in his voice she didn’t let it show, she slipped back under his arm and walked quietly beside him. Both of them staying in the dusty shadows of the hauntingly silent streets.
The low thumps of Deanna’s footfalls against the carpeted living room shifted to clicks as she moved into the bedroom. Tom didn’t bother turning around.
"You’re enjoying this?"
He rolled his eyes at the flip sound of her voice and the similar facial expression his mind supplied him. He stopped rooting through Amanda's drawer and turned around.
"You caught me Deanna—I get off on digging through ladies lingerie." He brushed a pink silk pair of panties against his cheek and shuddered dramatically.
"I prefer perverted thank you." He tossed the panties over his shoulder. "Didn’t I give you something to do?"
"You ask me to check the communication records. You didn’t tell me what to look for." Her arms folded tightly under her breast his eyes drifted blatantly to them. He needed her out of here; at least until he could find a safe spot for Nile’s weapon; he intensified his leer. "Are you wearing a bra under that shirt?"
"No," she said quickly, "I don’t wear underwear." She spun around and left before he could respond, turning the tables on him and turning his leer into a stunned but thoughtful frown.
"She’s full of shit." He directed his comment to the unconscious Starfleet captain sprawled on Amanda’s bed, but mostly it was spoken to eradicate any unwanted fantasies from invading his mind.
He moved a few steps closer to Niles and eyed the hypo-spray on the bedside table, the hypo-spray Deanna insisted they not use. Some medical BS about it being better for a patient to wake up by themselves. He slid a cautious look to the door and picked up the hypo; less then a second later he laid it on the bed when his eyes caught the almost invisible ridge in the table.
"I love secret places," he mumbled under his breath, sliding his fingers over the indents, the sides— the front— the back— "Shit!"
"Did you say something Tom?"
"No!" He answered quickly before she came to see for herself. "Just admiring this garter belt!"
He heard something about the fact that he was an ass but he ignored it, instead he examined the lamp embedded in the table. Brass, very out of place in the otherwise prismatic glastine decor Amanda had chosen. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirrored wall behind the bed gratifying the lamp with tender two-handed strokes, an amusing picture until he noted the colored switches in the back wall.
He moved to them and tapped in the first color sequence he could think of when it came to Amanda, the access light pattern for the underground catacombs. The glow of the room shifted...red...red...blue...yellow but to his impressed surprised the top of the other night table shimmered away.
"Hot damn I’m good," he complimented himself and rubbed two excited palms together. His self-satisfied grin fell away when instead of data chips he found only a box; a jewelry box he’d surmised before he picked it up.
Sitting crossed-legged on the floor he opened it, doing a double take of the first item he saw. "This is mine." He pulled out the dirty kerchief etched with his initials, a pang of guilt he shouldn’t feel lifting his eyes to the door. "Why would she keep this."
He massaged it through his fingers... memories, passionate, desperate, fearful and sweet swept over him, laboring his breathing and bringing a slight tremble to his hands. He closed his eyes and swallowed, envisioning that moment. He’d thought of it a hundred times since it had happened, but never with such clarity with all the fuck it were going to die intensity he’d felt in that muddy foxhole. He’d wanted Amanda since the moment he’d seen her, but when he’d taken her that day it was the most all consuming moment he’d ever had. Death loomed in mighty explosions over their heads, debris rained in stinging bursts on their bodies; it tasted of tears and blood and the sweetest sexual flavors. The harder he’d pumped into her, the deeper he’d kissed her, the more severe her cries of pain and pleasure the more the world fell away, the faster the fear of death dissipated.
He opened his eyes and ran two harsh hands briskly over his beard. "Get a grip Tom," he whispered, looking towards the door shocked she wasn’t standing there considering the emotions he’d just lost control of.
He pushed aside a few of the other things, baby bracelet, baby hair, marriage certificate; he was smiling now, pleased that what had happened between them hadn’t ruin her relationship with Mckinnon.
<A daughter, > he thought, skimming over the birth records before placing the thin padd down and lifting up the one below it.
He blinked a few times to convince himself he wasn’t seeing things and swore under his breath. "That son of a bitch." The signature, his signature blurred. Another life altering decision made for him without his consent.
"Tom, what’s wrong?"
He felt his body slump and barely heard Deanna’s repeated question from the doorway.
Amanda’s knees gave out again and although she was resisting he was practically carrying her. Going back for the bags had been necessary, but an extra hour of travel she couldn’t handle. The additional hour it had taken them to find the catacomb entrance hadn’t helped, but now that they were inside, concern for Amanda was replaced by panic.
"What’s going on Will?" Her slurred words reiterated the question he’d just asked himself.
The catacombs once chiseled rock or hemmed in mud had been replaced by a local brastine metal and were embedded with lights and circuit panels. His steps slowed and not because of the hundred and twenty pounds that leaned against him or the choke hold grip she had on his waist. Considering the hundreds of miles the catacombs covered the technological reconstruction they were moving through would have taken years and certainly wasn’t something the Jaier would be capable of.
Ahead of him where the straight corridor branched off and the maze of passages he remembered began, the lighting shifted, dulled.
"Still under construction I guess." He’d been so consumed in his own thoughts her weight had become a part of him; her fragile state had slipped his mind. She smiled, but it wasn’t enough to convince him she was fine. She needed to rest. "The Mynite in the natural walls will jam their sensors if they’ve picked up an intruder alert. But we’ve got to go a little deeper, you going to be OK?"
"I’m fine," she whispered, "You’re doing all the work—I’m sorry."
Gently he guided her to the left and into the unfinished passage. "Don’t worry about it, if I didn’t have you to worry about I’d have gone off half cocked by now."
She was apparently still doped up enough to buy the facsimile of a smile he offered her; that pleased him, no sense in both of them fuming with anger.
A few other passages ran off this one, some finished, some still under construction and some still untouched, but one caught his eye and caused him to back step suddenly. Amanda stumbled; he steadied her, but never took his eyes off the long aisle of blackened cells. From where he stood he could hear movement inside them, shuffled steps, possible sobs, but mostly silence. He had to assume the sound was only able to filter out of the cell not in. Deprivation of stimuli to induce regression was a common technique and from the looks of the three-foot by six-foot cells the captors here were looking to induce it as quickly as possible.
"Coercion," he mumbled, never looking down at her but feeling the gaze she looked up at him with. "Let’s go."
For a woman that only moments ago had no strength she tugged hard on his waist, fruitlessly trying to prevent him from moving on. "Sorry doc, we can’t worry about them now—and I doubt they’d welcome us; you know that."
Sadly she nodded, but he knew she understood the three D’s of coercion and programming, debility, dependency and dread.
He inhaled a deep breath, its slow unsteady release stalling midway at the muffled sound of voices moving from a corridor behind them. His anxiety already heightened his sudden sprint swept Amanda’s feet off the floor. Practically dragging her he moved them into the nonexistent light of an unfinished corridor. He crouched, tucking her beside him and waited, straining to hear as the voices moved closer.
At first he heard only fractured words muffled by the echoing thump of the boots against Brastine, but as the garbled tones became audible sounds he felt his breath catch and slapped a less then gentle hand over Amanda’s mouth. In her weakened state she could hardly struggle and he knew his harsh grip was making it hard for her to breathe...but he couldn’t let go, allow her to react.
<We found the crashed Jaier ship...not much left of it. They must be dead sir. >
The footsteps stopped along with Will’s heart.
<William Riker is nothing if not a snake in the grass—Sweep the planet and search the catacombs. When you find him bring him to me. I’d like the honor of killing him myself. >
One set of footsteps began to move away and he felt Amanda’s shoulder’s shake, the tremble of sobs she was trying to stifle.
<What about your wife Captain—Do we keep her alive too? >
The footfalls that were moving away stopped, under his arm he felt Amanda’s body go rigid.
<No...kill her. >
Amanda was quite, so quiet that even the sound of her breath was eclipsed by the trickles of water that bled over the obsidian walls. He’d wanted to talk to her, ask her how she was feeling, comfort the betrayal he knew was consuming her. Instead he’d stayed quiet, kept his eyes straight ahead of him and turned his thoughts to Deanna. He wondered where she was, if she missed him or was angry with him for running away from her again.
Know that I love you Imzadi whispered through his mind on an echo, the brush of Amanda’s arm against his swallowed the sound and took the single star that shown through his black feelings and shadowed it in guilt.
He inhaled a sharp breath; the breech in the cold silence drew Amanda’s gaze up to him. In the pale lighting her eyes looked haunted, a ghost of a chill swept up his spine and he looked away, mentally facing an image of Deanna. Though his crimes weren’t as ugly as Logan Mckinnon’s he couldn’t help wondering if Deanna would also feel that kind of pain when she found out about Haley, about the secrets he’d kept out of his own selfish fear. He willed the image away with a tight blink of his eyes and directed himself to focus only on the moment.
Ahead the light shifted, a brilliant blue-gray glow encasing a metal and glass enclosure. Movement behind the glass and the hushed whisper of voices prompted him to move deeper into the darkened passage on his right, but his eyes continued to drift over his shoulder to the emblem etched into the sectional windows.
He’d seen it only in pictures and many years ago, but strangely it still tormented him. Amanda’s shallow breathing, her almost nonexistent hold on his arm both increased in strength and he looked down on her.
He completed her sentence when as if she had to assure herself her eyes drifted behind her. "Swastika," he whispered, pulling her to him and away from whoever had found a need to use and justify an emblem that to him represented only blood.
Even under the dark cloud of anger that rained stinging drops of regret and sadness upon him he reacted to Deanna’s approaching steps and slammed the lid on Amanda’s box.
"It’s nothing Deanna." He shrugged a shoulder and slipped the box back into the nightstand. "This whole thing is dragging up a lot of memories that’s all." He pushed himself up with a grunt. "It wasn’t the most pleasant assignment I’ve ever had."
He figured that wasn’t a direct lie more of an evasion—with that rationale in mind he had no trouble not buckling under her visual and mental probe.
"Did you find something...Or have you just come to your senses and realized you picked the wrong Riker." He rolled his hips to compensate for the lack of spirit he heard in his voice and even added a low growl to his performance. None of it seemed to be working. "Are you considering the possibilities or—" He used his hands, motioning for her to fill in the blank.
What seemed an eon later she finally responded. "I did find something...I don’t understand it."
He arched curious brows and gestured nonchalantly to the door, but nonchalance was far from what he was feeling. There was something wrong, it simmered in her scrutinizing gaze and had taken her normally soft, almost seductive voice and transformed it into one he could hardly recognize.
"Deanna—what did you find?" He incorporated his own shock, anger and guilt into the defensive shield he begun to erect around himself.
"Communiqués." She folded her arms across her chest. "From you to Amanda."
"What?" He didn’t have to feign surprise and moved distractedly towards the door, Deanna’s odd behavior and his own guilt obscured by this new information. "Are you coming." He paused before moving out.
"You lied to me."
"About what?" He turned and leaned against the doorframe, targeting her with a look as frigid as the one she was throwing at him. "I never sent any communiqués."
"Maybe you should read them and then tell me the truth."
She was much calmer this time, but he’d seen that same look tarnish her features before when she'd found him with Wendy Roper on Betazed. He swallowed over a throat that was beginning to sting, but refused to act on anything until he understood exactly what she was talking about.
"Fine," he said, flipping her a look that was meant to show little concern over what she was accusing him of. After all this wasn’t him, he hadn’t lied to her about Amanda Mckinnon, not exactly anyway...No, if they passed out super prick awards Will would be the winner hands down.
Very aware of the close proximity of her footsteps behind him he attempted to appear unaffected as he sat down in front of the flickering comm.
"I didn’t write this." He began defending himself before he’d finished reading the first threat. "Why would I threaten her husband—or kill him," he amended in a cracked voice as he scanned further down. "You can’t believe I’m capable of this!" He pivoted his chair around to face her.
"Did you read it all?"
"I don’t have to read it all Deanna." His protest elevated his voice and brought him to his feet. "I never sent it."
Her anger always had a placidity that made him want to choke her, considering all that he’d learned about his life in the last hour he felt his fists clench at his sides.
"Someone that wanted to manipulate Amanda," she continued.
"We’ll trace it, considering this entire picture reeks with federation stench I’m certain what we’ll find." He sat back down but she didn’t join him, look over his shoulder or even offer an opinion.
Finally as his eyes dipped further down the screen and his chest tightened she spoke. "So you agree that it was manipulation."
"I don’t know." He changed his tune as he began to understand her implication. Not out of fear or guilt exactly, but because again he found himself as an extra piece to a puzzle and he wasn’t sure how or if he belonged in it.
"You’re a liar!" He’d scarcely turned when he felt the sting of her palm against his face, and because maybe somehow he’d deserved that single smack he let it go. But when he saw her other hand approaching, heard the hurt and betrayal in her ranting words he stopped her with an angry hand of his own.
"Knock it off Deanna!" He was mad, maybe as mad at Will as she was, but he’d be damned if he was going to take the punishment for a mistake he’d hadn’t realized existed until moments ago.
"You were intimate...My god you have a daughter!"
Considering his own explosive feelings, taking her down, pinning her wrist above her head and straddling her body with his weight to stop her struggle took little effort and was almost pleasurable.
He hardly listened as she questioned him about how "they" could have kept this from her all these years and he hardly felt the jerks and twitches of her hands and legs as she tried to fight him. Maybe he should have been reacting, feeling guilty, raking Will over the coals, but as he watched her, listened to her angry voice fractured by choked back tears all he could concentrate on was how bizarre her behavior was.
"What the hell is the matter with you!" He practically screamed his question and it caught her attention for a moment, a moment where she snared him in a potent stare that wrapped like a hand around his throat. He matched it of course, but never doubted that there was a hell of a lot more behind the bottomless pit of onyx pain he was staring into then a hundred-year-old transgression.
Maybe in concentrating on her he’d eased his hold on her or maybe this uncharacteristic wrath had given her more strength then he’d given her credit for, whatever it was he felt her leg come up against his balls and felt his body’s gut wrenching reaction simultaneously.
He’d been hit a lot worse and this blow was only enough to make him choke and wince as it lashed through him, but in that mind melting moment of pain his concern for her shattered, and retaliation, brutal and heartless sprung from his twisted mouth.
"Will’s dead Deanna—None of this fucking matters anymore!"
From his position on the floor beside her he watched her rigid muscles go limp, the snapping fury that had sparked over her eyes glazed and dulled as if her own death had overtaken her— and maybe it had.
Each labored breath that huffed from his chest burned with a frigid heat, the sting of his own tears and sweat blurred his eyes, but he didn’t move...not towards her, not away from her. Instead he laid completely rigid, welcoming the biting chill of her emotions as they devoured his own and became a part of him.