Locutus stared at them, bathing the bridge in the red laser's glare. Riker
stared back, swallowing hard. His throat seemed to be glued together and the
words had to be forced out.
"Mister Worf, fire."
"Stop!" Will Riker sat up, his hoarse scream echoing in the darkness of his quarters. Sweat streamed down his face and naked torso, soaking the already damp bedding. He began to shiver in the chill air and grabbed his robe from the chair by his bed, then staggered over to the food synthesizer.
"Tea, mug, Earl Gray, hot!" He'd been drinking that for a while now, as if it were a tenuous connection to Picard. It really wasn't, but it helped to think so.
He held the warm mug in his hands and stood staring out at the blue-green ball of Earth spinning serenely below him. It had been over a week since he had destroyed the Borg ship and, along with it, his friend and mentor, Jean-Luc Picard.
Rationally, he knew it had been his only course of action-one life for over a thousand on the Enterprise. He closed his eyes and wished that somehow that one life had been his own-not Picard's.
He sat, the tea growing cold, until his alarm rang, signalling the start of another day for the new captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise.
Starfleet Command was having its own problems. Some wanted Riker transferred to another starship as captain, not that of the Enterprise. Another powerful faction felt equally strongly that as the hero that saved Earth and its people, he deserved no other ship but the Enterprise.
"Look, Starbuck, it's not fair to subject Riker to the stresses and strain of commanding a crew that might blame him for Picard's death."
Admiral Starbuck, a grizzled veteran of the Klingon Wars, rose and pointed an angry finger at the current head of Starfleet Command, Admiral Georgina King.
"Listen up, Georgie, if Riker can't take the heat, he doesn't deserve to be captain. I missed meeting him when he and Picard were here after they got rid of those parasite things. But, baQa', anyone who could take on the Borg-and win-deserves the Enterprise."
Admiral Hansen, who had spent time with both Picard and Riker aboard the Enterprise, spoke next. "I was the last of us to see Jean-Luc before...well, before his death. He trusted Riker implicitly -without reservation. And so did Starfleet. Hell, we'd just offered him a third ship."
Starbuck broke in. "What does your Shelby say about all this? She was bragging to one of my officers that she would have Riker's job without even trying. baQa', she's the reason we're all here."
Hansen suddenly looked haggard. "I don't really know what to say... Picard was one of her gods, a legend she grew up on. She couldn't understand why Riker would stay on the Enterprise when he could have his own command."
"No," Hansen shook his head tiredly, "no, except that there was a strong feeling of contentment and belonging about him, about everyone on the Enterprise."
"You mean complacency?"
"No, not all. Look, why don't we ask him?"
A handsome female Equasitian, who had the looks of a high-bred race horse with her long face and full silver mane, stood up and being recognized, began to speak.
"I was one of Will Riker's instructors at the Academy. In every graduating class," She continued, "One hopes to see a cadet that will go on to great things. A Kirk, a S*et*a, a Spock, a Picard. You can always tell by the look in their eyes. The look that says, 'Let's see what's out there!' Riker had that look, and he still has it."
Before she could continue, a messenger entered the room and whispered something to Admiral King. She raised her hand for attention. "Captain Jansen is on the speaker. As you know, he has been offered the Enterprise, and, if he accepts, Riker would be transferred to the Farragut. He may very well solve the problem for us."
The entry signal twittered, and Riker looked up from his padd. "Come."
Troi entered and looked around, slowly shaking her head of dark curls. "You still haven't put away any of Captain Picard's things." Her fingers skimmed over the pages of the huge volume of Shakespeare on its stand. It was open to Julius Caesar. "When are you going to put your things in here, Will? and when are you going to move into the captain's quarters?"
She walked behind his chair and touched his shoulders. He shrugged her off and, rising, walked over to the window port.
"I've been extremely busy, you know that...all the reports..." He stared unseeing at the Earth below.
"Will, remember who you're talking to." Her large black eyes mirrored his pain. "You can't go on like this, especially after only an hour or two of sleep."
He turned, jaw muscles knotted. "Stay out of my mind, Counselor. I'm fine."
"You're not fine, and it's impossible for me to shut you out, especially when you are having dreams like the one you had last night."
illustration by Mickey Sayles
Riker leaned his head against the perma-plas of the huge window port, hoping its coolness might mitigate the throbbing that seemed to have taken up permanent residence in his right temple. Not even Doctor Selar's Vulcan healing mode helped. He signed inwardly; Beverly seemed always to be busy elsewhere whenever she heard his voice in Sickbay.
Knowing his thoughts, Troi asked, "What are you going to do about Beverly?"
"Beverly? She wanders Sickbay looking worse than most of her patients. Waiting, as we all are, for Starfleet to make a decision-a final judgment."
He turned to her and she noticed new lines around his eyes. Eyes that were dark with pain. "Perhaps it would be better for everyone if I were transferred to some garbage scow in the Delta quadrant."
Troi reached out to touch his shoulder, and he shrugged her off almost angrily.
She reached out to touch him again.
"No, Deanna!" His tone was sharp. "Don't do that unless you want it to mean something."
Her hand pulled back as if slapped. "Will, I don't feel..."
He turned to face her, his voice hoarse. "You don't feel? You don't feel how much I love you, need and want you?"
Then, his anger spent, he turned away, rubbing his hands through his hair. "Okay, I know we can't- forget it. I'm just tired, that's all."
Still standing behind his chair, shocked and shaking, Troi stared at him as he gazed out the port. "Will," she thought, "Oh, Will."
The buzz of the intercom interrupted her thoughts. Data's unruffled tones announced that Admiral Kesko was on.
Troi, still shaken, left without a word. Riker slid into Picard's-his-chair.
Admiral Kesko had been one of Riker's instructors at the Academy and his counselor the last year before graduation. She remembered, with a smile, the almost beautiful young man who had to constantly comb female cadets out of his hair in order to study. He was handsome now, the seriousness tempered with humor. But the last week had definitely taken its toll. There were lines around the eyes, and was that a touch of gray at the right temple?
"Admiral Kesko, you're looking well, sir."
"Humph, wish I could say the same about you, Will. You look like something the targ dragged in, looked at in the light, and dragged out again."
Riker granted her a smile that did not reach his eyes. They remained a tired dark gray. "Is that why you called, sir, to tell me how bad I looked?"
She smiled back. "Partly. At least you can still smile. Will, Starfleet's set up a Council of Three to hold hearings on the Borg incident. It's not a court-martial, but, as you know, that would be the next step should it be deemed necessary. They want to see you at 1000 hours today."
In spite of expecting the summons, Riker paled.
Kesko's long face was expressionless. "Come down to the east door at 0950 hours, and I'll take you in."
His mouth twisted in a wry smile. "Want to make sure my face is washed and my shoes are shined?"
Kesko raised one arched eyebrow, "Not quite. I just want to cool you down before you see King, Starbuck and K'Orval. This will be a very private meeting with the only other person present being myself. And that took just about every marker I had. But I didn't want you to be alone down there."
Drawing in a breath that almost reached his toes, Riker nodded. "Thanks, Admiral. I'll need all the help I can get." Geeez!
Riker materialized at the east door at precisely 0950 hours, hair brushed, face washed, and boots bright as mirrors. And a gut twisted like a Capellan maze.
In a strange way, he was looking forward to seeing the Council Chamber again. The first time he'd been a green cadet and, in his excitement, the only memory he retained was of the famous holographic ceiling. Using the best artists the Federation could command, it changed the view to whatever star system or planet was under discussion. The day he had visited, it had displayed the Klingon worlds-beautiful and savage.
"Have you been here since the Academy, Will?"
"Yes, sir. But I didn't have time to visit the rotunda."
She smiled. "Care to guess what's on display today?"
"Earth, of course."
"Why don't we go in and find out?"
It was exactly 1000 hours when Admiral Kesko proceeded him through the huge oaken doors. All the seats in the circular rotunda were empty except for the few around the gigantic Carrara marble slab in the center of the polished teak floor. He glanced upward, Earth and its satellite circled above him. He and Kesko exchanged looks.
Starbuck stood and indicated one of the two chairs opposite his, directly across from three of the most famous 'fleet officers. Well, Riker thought, if I'm sitting down they can't see my knees knocking. He looked at each of the legends before him. This was not the way he had wanted to meet Starbuck, King and K'Orval.
Starbuck; all grey, including the eyes, which resembled tempered steel. He kept his hair cut short in an old time "crew-cut." The still broad shoulders seemed ready to burst out of his uniform. Riker remembered reading how he had convinced the Klingons to form an alliance with the Federation. The story was he'd beaten the shit out of one of their best warriors and then drank him under the table-or was it several tables. The Klingons hadn't changed much. They still didn't care for the subtleties of diplomacy. But a good fighter who could hold his booze...that they could understand and respect.
Georgina "Georgie" King, came from a military family, whose history stretched back for centuries. The most famous being Admiral Ernest Joseph King, who was Commander-in-Chief of the then United States fleet in the still famous World War II. But Georgie plowed new ground. She might have been female, but she acted and thought and fought like a man, despite her china doll looks and slim build. Her feats were almost as legendary as Starbuck's. There was no one in Starfleet who did not respect Georgie King.
K'Orval, also grizzled, but erect and smooth-skinned as most Vulcans. His ambassadorial feats needed no recounting. His black eyes gazed serenely into Riker's blue ones as if reading his very soul.
It was Starbuck who began the interrogation, the questions coming at Riker like a flight of photon torpedoes. Each of the officers took turns, questioning his decisions and orders. But it was the last questions, from Admiral King, that were the most painful.
"Why didn't you make a second attempt to capture the creature called Locutus?"
"We had only minutes of warp power left," Riker took a deep breath. "The Borg ship was repairing itself and powering up. There was no way we would have been able to catch up with them again. In my estimation, we had one chance to defeat the Borg ship before they destroyed the Enterpriseand headed for Earth. That was to use the weapon Lieutenant Commanders LaForge and Data, and Acting Ensign Crusher designed, using the ship's forward deflector."
Riker suddenly realized the pain in his hands was from his nails biting into his palms. He had to force his fists to open and relax. His gaze slid to Starbuck, who slowly opened his own hand to display a nail-marked palm. He had known Picard well.
"Did all your officers agree with your decision?" King asked.
Kesko's hand touched his knee willing him to be calm and tell it slow and true. "No, Commander Shelby wanted to make another try for Captain Picard, as did Doctor Crusher."
"I understand that two other officers were on that away team."
"Yes, sir. Lieutenant Worf and Lieutenant Commander Data."
Admiral King looked at her screen and then back to Riker. He was well aware that his officers had been interviewed and that testimony had been taken.
"Worf is a Klingon and the head of security on the Enterprise, is he not? And Data is an android and part of the bridge crew? Did they have any comments or opinions?"
"Mister Worf's only comment was that the captain was now a Borg. Data said much the same, sir."
Riker could see that scene on the bridge in his mind's eye and felt a line of icy sweat trickle down his spine. He was afraid his back would begin to spasm from being braced for so long.
"Then in your opinion, despite the protests made by Shelby and Crusher, you were sure that you had made the right decision?"
"Yes, sir. That is true."
The three officers looked at one another, and King signaled for a conference. A table was wheeled in with refreshments, and Kesko took Riker's arm and dragged the exhausted officer over to it. She placed a large glass of orange juice in his hand and ordered him to "Drink!"
"God, I didn't realize I was so thirsty!"
Putting down her own empty glass, she said, "Well, I think we deserve to be thirsty after those three hours, don't you? And I wasn't even talking!"
"Three hours? It felt like three days. How much longer?"
"I think they'll want to hear from the crew in person."
"And they will want them to say it to your face."
Admiral Kesko was right. His officers from the Enterprise were called upon to testify. Data, Troi, Shelby, Worf, Gleason, Wesley, Beverly...the testimony went on for hours. All were agreed that Riker had done the only thing possible to save the Earth and the Enterprise...except for Shelby and Beverly Crusher. Their words were, to him, as white-hot pokers stabbing him in the gut. It was Troi's calm voice in his mind and Kesko's cool hand on his knee that kept him sitting straight and not doubled over, screaming. Looking into that direct blue gaze, one would never suspect he was anything but perfectly composed and at ease.
Afterwards, Will was sitting with Kesko, Worf and Troi, a now cold cup of tea in his hand, when Starbuck came and stood before him. He got to his feet as the older man put out his hand and grasped his.
"I want to be able to tell my grandchildren that I shook the hand of the man who beat the Borg. And, Riker, I'll say this: Jean-Luc would be proud too."
Riker cleared his throat. "Uh, sir, does this mean it's over?"
"Yup, son, I guess it does. Admiral Kesko, why don't you take the captain into your office and fill him in on what comes next. And play him the Jansen tape. Oh, and I'll expect you for dinner one night before you leave, Will. Give me a call." He glanced appreciatively at Troi. "And bring a friend."
Kesko led the still-dazed captain of the Enterprise down a side corridor to her office. He didn't even register the simple furnishings and decorations. "I knew we'd make it. But I'm royally pooped so I'll get to the point. I'm sure you're aware that the reason you were put through the wringer was because several of your officers: namely Commander and Chief Medical Officer Beverly Crusher, Lieutenant Commander Elizabeth Shelby and Lieutenant Robert Gleason sent Starfleet Command a strongly-worded protest in reference to your solution to the Borg situation. In it, they insisted that you were derelict in your duties by not finding an alternative solution that did not involve killing the person Locutus-né Jean-Luc Picard."
Riker ran his fingers over his mustache and beard and tried not to sigh. "Shit, Admiral, didn't they realize I would have taken his place in a nanosecond? But I had over a thousand people on the Enterprise to consider plus all the billions of lives in our system."
"I know that, Will-and now so does Starfleet. The Council feels you did all that could possibly have been done.
"You're a hero, Starfleet says so, and the medal is being struck as we speak. The Medal of Honor with diamond clusters. I know that doesn't mean a rat's ass to you, but years from now, when people remember you as the man who beat the Borg..."
"Oh, God," he groaned. "Don't they know it wasn't just me, it was Data, Geordi, Beverly, Worf, Shelby, Wesley..."
"Yes, and some of those so named will also be in line for a medal or commodation, which brings up the other reason that we are having this conversation. Per Starfleet regulations, when a crew member formally disputes a decision of his superior, and loses (which just happened), such crew member will be transferred from under the command of such superior within forty-eight hours of receipt of said official decision."
"Since the Enterprise is currently orbiting Earth, those affected can beam down to Starfleet Headquarters any time after 0800 hours tomorrow."
For a fleeting moment, Kesko's eyes reflected the pain in Riker's. Then she went on. "Knowing Liz Shelby, before you tell her our decision, perhaps you should remove all the breakables from her cabin and the surrounding area. And how is she taking this?"
Riker's jaw tightened. "She's gone very quiet."
"Umm, not a good sign. This is really the first time she's ever stumbled on her headlong leap up the command ladder. I'm not sure how she'll handle it, Will. The sooner she leaves the Enterprise, the better for everyone."
"She came up the ranks at warp speed, and I'm not saying she didn't deserve her promotions or that she doesn't have a brilliant intellect. But she was Hansen's pet, and he let her get away with a lot. I know for a fact she expected Hansen to get the Enterprise for her. Lordy, but she could play those old admirals like you play your trombone. She knew what she had and how to use it. Except for once, when a captain's wife gave her what for. And that officer and his lady have been marooned on some backwater starbase ever since. So watch your back, my lad, watch your back."
Riker shook his head and came up with an almost grin. "I don't really think that I have anything to fear from Elizabeth Shelby. She knows that Admiral Hansen will get her a good posting."
"Don't bet on that, Will. He was very upset when that protest came down with her name top of the list. That sort of thing just isn't done unless you're very sure of your ground. And not even then. As a matter of record, there is no posting at this time. She will be kept here, twiddling her thumbs. She won't like that at all."
Kesko opened up a drawer in her desk and took out a dusty half-filled bottle. "I think we could both use some of this. It's very old, and it's brandy, but don't ask what kind because the label came off years ago."
She poured them both a hefty dollop in two coffee mugs and drank half before continuing. "Now, young Gleason, I feel, just got caught up in Shelby's wake, so I've gotten him another posting, and I think he'll do well."
"Good." Riker felt the brandy hit the bottom of his belly and carom off his liver before heading further south. He carefully placed one ankle on the other knee and notified his back that it could go to 'at ease.' "Frankly, I think Shelby talked him into it."
"Will, do you know all the personnel on the Enterprise?"
Startled, Riker nodded.
Kesko smiled, albeit sadly. In time, he would realize that as captain he would no longer have the luxury of time for that. And for such a warm-hearted considerate man with an "Age of Innocence" decency as Will Riker, that knowledge would come hard.
"Now, the time has come for Beverly Crusher."
"That's the one that's most painful, Admiral. We've been friends since we came aboard together. Wesley's been like a son to me...I just realized...he'll be leaving with his mother."
For an instant, Kesko almost reached out to comfort him but caught herself in time.
"Will, joining Starfleet is always having to say goodbye. But before we do, I think there is something that you should see. It was one of the things that decided the Council that the Enterprise should be yours."
Reaching over to her computer, she typed in a code, and a large screen came to life next to Riker's chair.
"This is Captain Dan Jansen of the Farragut. Did you know him, Will?"
"Slightly, we met at a medal ceremony at Starbase 122. But that was before he got the Farragut. What-"
"To put it right out there, some people didn't think you should remain on the Enterprise. They knew you deserved to be a captain-but not of the Enterprise. Just listen to what Dan has to say, because I think he made quite an impression." She pressed the play button.
Dan Jansen was handsome in the Nordic mode, with fair hair and deep-set blue eyes. "Admirals, Council members, I have given deep thought to your offer, and, while honored you think me worthy of the Enterprise, I must refuse."
He put up a large square hand at the murmurs in the hall. "There are several reasons behind my decision. First, I feel my crew needs me at this time, not a new captain, no matter how prestigious. If we are going up against the Borg, this is not the time for that kind of change. Now, I've spoken with some of the Enterprise crew currently on leave. To them, Riker is a hero...their hero and deserves the Enterprise. Picard was a legend and greatly respected. They were proud to be part of his crew, but Riker was the C.O. they knew, liked, looked up to, and worked with. Also, I could never look my friends in the face if I took the E away from the 'man who beat the Borg!' I thank you for the honor, sirs, but I must, in all good conscience, refuse."
His drink forgotten, Will sat staring at the now empty screen. "No comment, Captain? I thought he said it very well."
"What? Uh, they were going to give him my ship? Without telling me? Without-"
"Calm down now, Will. It was just a few old fossils, and they were shouted down. I wanted you to see this so you would know what your crew and other officers think about you. I wanted you to leave here with a good feeling."
Riker took a big swallow of the brandy and took in what Kesko had said. She was right. It could have turned out so disastrously-but it hadn't, and he should give thanks for that.
"Well, I don't know about you, Captain, but I have work to do. Best of luck with the Enterprise, Will. You've earned it. I know this is not the way you wanted it, but I also know the ship is in good hands."
He swallowed hard. "Thank you, sir. I'll do my best."
As he left Kesko's office and walked down the hall, Riker took a detour to Starfleet Medical. After that, he knew he should beam right back up to the Enterprise. But this was his first visit to Earth in three years, and this might be his last chance to breathe the air of home.
He stood in front of the huge exit door and finally pushed it open. Spread before him was the famous Green Square of Starfleet Command. The spring sunlight permeated the very air, and dust motes flitted with the abandon of microscopic butterflies.
The smells. He'd forgotten the smell of spring. Freshly turned earth, newly mown grass, tulips, hyacinths, day lilies, clover... He closed his eyes and opened his other senses to the glorious day before him. The heat of the sun on his face-real sun-muted by a light breeze bringing the aroma of water from the lake across the park. The sound of birds high in the trees mixed with the hum of insects. The faint chatter of people as they passed, the thud of a horses hooves...his eyes popped open in time to see steed and rider canter majestically down the bridal path.
His joy evaporated along with his pleasure in the day. The horse was a white stallion much like Picard's favorite mount on the holodeck. The rider wore the same kind of riding gear, even to the cap.
Unbidden, his feet followed the horseman down the path between the tall oaks and elms, their branches a fluttering symphony of greens. As the rider changed his pace to a gallup, Riker slowed and sat at the foot of a hundred year-old oak.
He missed Picard so much. The mere strength of his presence; the rich calm of his voice; the gleam of humor in the deep-set hazel eyes. All that made him Human-all that the Borg destroyed. Knowing Picard, he would not have wanted to live and be used to destroy all he held dear.
He had to believe that, otherwise he didn't think he could live with himself. But if he were wrong...his head dropped into his hands, and he prayed with all his being that he had not been mistaken.
Then Troi's worried voice came over his communicator. "Will, are you all right?"
His lifted his head, eyes bright with unshed tears. "Yes, Deanna. I'm fine. Did you know it's spring? And my greatest wish has come true. But I'm not sure I really want it now-not this way."
"Give it time, Will, give it time."
"Right, Counselor. I'll beam up in a few minutes."
He stared after the horse and rider as they disappeared in to the greenery. He sat a little longer, committing the day to memory and capturing his composure. Finally rising, he brushed the leaves and dirt off his uniform and took a deep breath-a last look around.
"Riker to Enterprise. One to beam up, O'Brien."
The screen went dark as the report was finished, and Riker got up and stretched till his ligaments popped. Rubbing his eyes, he went into the head and sluiced his face with icy water. Then he returned to his desk and the endless river of work.
Beverly Crusher stormed into her son's quarters, frustrated by the fact that there was no door to slam. Wesley looked up from his peanut butter and banana sandwich, put his computer on hold, and braced for a tsunami.
"He's won! That spineless set of senile Starfleet s.o.b.'s have given Riker the Enterprise. Let that be a lesson to you, Wes. The way up the ladder is not hard work but assassination and murder."
With that last burst, she threw herself on the couch and began systematically shredding a pillow.
Her son took another bite of his sandwich and a gulp of milk. As he chewed, his mother began silently to weep, the tears following the tracks of those before.
"It's as if Jean-Luc never existed. Will tramples over his dead body and takes his place and no one is supposed to say shit."
Wesley shook his head sadly. His mother was really upset. She only used language like that at those times. It was a leftover from when she and his father used to fight.
She took an already damp tissue out of her sleeve and blew her nose. "Well, we have to be off the ship in forty-eight hours, and now is not too soon. Come on, Wes. I'll help you pack."
Wes swallowed and braced himself anew. "I'm not leaving, mom."
His mother's red-rimmed eyes almost popped in astonishment. "What do you mean, you're not leaving?" Her usual alto tones rose with each word. "You certainly are! I won't let you stay on the same ship as the man who killed-"
Beverly sat there, mouth open, stopped in mid-phrase. She had never heard that angry and deep a tone in her son's voice before. He went to kneel by her side. "Mom, I saw Captain Riker's face when he ordered Worf to fire; you didn't. I have never seen such pain before. You're acting as if he wanted to kill Captain Picard. He had no choice. It was either him or us-and by us, I mean the whole fuckin' Human race.
"I've talked with him, Mom. He would have done anything...anything if he could have taken the captain's place."
"I wish he had, the bastard!"
Wes grabbed his mother by the shoulders, trying to calm her. She grabbed his arms, nails digging deep.
"I can't believe you'd rather stay..."
"Please try to understand. Will has been like the big brother I never had. My teacher, mentor and friend all rolled up into one. I have so much more to learn from him and from the other people on the Enterprise.
"And did you really want all of us to die with the captain? What good would that have done?"
Beverly pulled herself away to stand by the port, tears again streaking her cheeks. She was beyond hearing, beyond reasoning. Her thoughts were caught in an endless circle, repeating and repeating, "You never told him that you loved him. You always thought there'd be time." Now she was going to lose her son to the same man who had taken away that time.
Her lips tightened. Head thrown back, eyes now dry, she left, leaving a troubled Wesley in her wake.
Lieutenant Robert Gleason left the captain's ready room pale but relieved. It could have been so much worse. He had been such an idiot, but he was getting another chance and for that he thanked Captain Riker and the gods. Whew, he wasn't even being demoted, although he'd have to wait a little longer for that third pip, he knew that. But he had a new assignment, and this time there'd be no mistakes.
Riker was just coming out of the galley with water for another pain pill when Elizabeth Shelby announced herself. After entering, she stood rigidly erect, hands clenched so tightly her knuckles were white. She stared at a point fifteen millimeters past Will Riker's left eye.
He sat, also rigid, hands clasped in front of him. "As you are well aware, Commander, this was not my decision, but 'fleet regs. I do want you to know that I wrote a detailed report on your excellent work while on the Enterprise."
"How nice of you...sir." Her voice could have scraped the finish off the entire port nacelle. "But that was hardly necessary. Starfleet knows my talents. I'm sure that a new posting will be waiting for me."
Riker took a deep breath. He desperately wanted to get up and pace but was aware that his height could be overwhelming. Especially if one was a 5'3" female. On second thought, he didn't think a nine-foot Gorn would impress Shelby at this point, so he stood and walked around the desk. He knew there was no posting and that she knew it too. He noticed that she was once again wearing her lieutenant commander's pips.
"Shelby, I'm sincerely sorry that-"
She focused eyes like lasers. "Permission to speak frankly...sir."
Riker almost fell back from that flash of icy blue. "Permission granted."
"We knew from the moment we met in this office-Captain Picard's office-we were at odds with each other. Perhaps because you knew I saw that you had become soft in your ways, that I could take your job without even trying. And I would have-with no problem-if Picard were still alive. But for some reason, Starfleet has given you the Enterprise. Someone who wasn't worthy to lick Captain Picard's boots!"
As she spoke, Riker felt both anger and outrage as color flashed in his cheeks. His own eyes were now as cold as hers. "Are you finished, Commander?"
"According to Starfleet Regulation 475 Paragraph 2, you have forty-eight hours to pack your belongings and beam down to Starfleet Headquarters..."
"I'll be gone by 0800 tomorrow, sir!"
The bridge crew looked up as the ready room doors opened. One look at Shelby's face and her grim expression, all eyes went back to their business. Except for Data, whose endless curiosity kept him an observer so that he was the first to see Beverly Crusher get off the turbolift as Shelby got on. He also noted that they passed without a word or glance.
Crusher's eyes swept the bridge, as if committing it to memory, and then made for the ready room. Data made as if to rise, as did Troi, but both decided better of it.
Data's learning, Troi thought, then she frowned. Beverly's rage was, if anything, stronger and deeper now.
It was so difficult; Bev was her best friend, and Will was...Will. The two had become so close. Bev knew that Wes was in good hands that year she was away. Then there was Odan-that they were able to return to their old footing was because of Will's determination to make it so.
She had tried to discuss Picard's death with Beverly but had been shoved away. It was as if the doctor was keeping the wound open, forbidding it to heal. As friend and counselor, she would be there for them both-later.
The doors to the ready room pushed open, and the C.M.O. of the Enterprise swept in, hair and eyes ablaze.
Riker felt the hair on the back of his neck rise. He put a hold on his report and faced his visitor.
"It does not become you!"
Startled, he stared, then his hand touched the four pips on his collar. "It's regs, I-"
She strode over to the desk and leaned on it, looming over him. "I didn't mean the stupid pips. I mean this office, that desk, that chair! I thought it was against the law for murderers to profit from their crimes."
Will had known of Beverly's feelings from Deanna but he had not expected this flood of hatred washing over him. "That's enough, Doctor. I did what had to be done. You can't really believe I wanted..."
Beverly's fist crashed down on the desk. "Wanted to get the Enterprise any way you could? Even to blowing your captain and best friend into his basic atoms? You betcha. And now you're robbing me of the only thing left to me-my son."
Riker rose from his chair and stared. "Wesley! What-?"
"Don't you give me that innocent baby blue look. You know exactly what I'm talking about." Her face twisted in a rictus of pain.
"God help us all, he thinks he can still learn from you-from the man who..."
"Beverly...please, what you're saying makes no sense. You know how I felt about Jean-Luc."
Her hand flashed out and struck him across the mouth. As if in slow motion, she saw his eyes widen in blue shock and his head rock back from the blow. She rubbed her palm, burning from the force of her hand on his beard. He must have bitten his lip, because she saw a drop of blood form at the corner of his mouth.
She could see that she had hurt him more with her words than the blow, but she could not stop herself. "One more time, Commander Riker," she breathed. "Just one more time. You on my operating table and me with a laser scalpel in my hand. You would never be able to make a woman happy again."
At each word, Will's face became paler than before, until he was a waxy white, his beard and eyes the only color left on his face. He swallowed hard, and whispered. "According to Starfleet regulations-"
"Don't worry, Commander. I'll be off your precious ship first thing in the morning."
With that, she spun gracefully on her heel and marched out to the turbolift. Only by great determination did she manage to hold herself together until she reached her quarters.
Riker splashed icy water on his face several times and inspected the burgeoning bruise caused by the doctor's blow. If he didn't take care of it immediately, it would mean a swollen lip and cheek, not quite the thing for a captain.
A moment later, he came out onto the bridge to tell Data he was going to engineering.
Data nodded. He noticed the swelling lip but said nothing. Counselor Troi had left the bridge, following Doctor Crusher.
Troi stood outside of Beverly's door, waiting and listening. She could use her emergency override to gain entry, but she didn't want to do that. Bev had to want her help.
"Beverly, please let me in. We need to talk."
Her only answer was a closed door and the disturbed roil of thoughts spewing through it. She finally left after a few more minutes. She'd try again later.
Doctor Selar heard the captain as he entered Sickbay. One glance at his face, and she took him to a private room for treatment.
As she deftly removed the last of the redness and swelling, she cocked her head, eyes bright. "Shall I say you ran into a bulkhead, sir?"
Riker gave her a wry look.
"I do have to put something in the report, sir."
"Yes, I suppose you do. We can't say a mother's rage, can we?" He grimaced. "A bulkhead's fine, Doctor."
"Captain, If I may speak freely?"
He blinked slowly, the thick lashes hiding for a moment his pain and tiredness. "Of course, Selar, always."
Unconsciously, she adopted one of Beverly Crusher's poses and leaned against a cabinet and crossed her arms. "Doctor Crusher is not thinking logically. She and Captain Picard had a very close relationship, yet it was never vocalized. I believe that regret is what is fueling her anger and her grief."
Riker took a deep breath, smoothing his beard and moustache thoughtfully. "I know that. But this entire situation was taken out of my hands the instant she added her name to that protest of Shelby's. It's Starfleet regulations...God, I seem to be repeating myself endlessly today.
"The bottom line is that a captain must have absolute trust in his C.M.O. In her current mood, I wouldn't trust Beverly Crusher to put a band-aid on a paper cut-especially if it were my paper cut.
"Since I'm here, I might as well tell you that while I was Earthside, I spoke with the Starfleet Surgeon General. I told her I did not want them to send a replacement. That I wanted you as my new C.M.O. The papers may take a while, but it's official. I know you have had offers to be C.M.O. on other ships, but you are needed here on the Enterprise. And here I hope you will remain."
Vulcans were known for their calm demeanor and Doctor Selar was no exception. However, this was almost too much for her. "Captain, I don't think I can-"
"Ah, Doctor, but I know you can."
Riker rose from his perch on the diagnostic bed and put a large hand on her shoulder. For the first time he noticed she was almost as tall as he. He smiled inwardly, perhaps that was because he was usually flat on his back when she was treating him.
"You see, I want someone who knows and cares about this crew in Sickbay. You're one of us, Selar, and well-deserving of a promotion. It's my first appointment as Captain, and I know you'll make me proud."
Eyes lowered, lean cheeks a deeper green blush, Selar nodded.
"Captain." Data stood in the doorway of the ready room, an expression of inquiry on his golden face.
Riker looked up, rubbing at the throbbing over his right eye. "Yes, Data? You wanted me?"
"No, sir. I wished to inform you that the third shift has just come on. You, sir, have been on duty for over two shifts. As your first officer, it is my duty to insist that you have some sustenance and then rest. You are not an android, after all."
A small smile crinkled the corners of Riker's mouth. "A joke, Data. You made a joke."
"Did I, sir?" He cocked his head to one side. "I did not mean to. I am quite serious. You cannot go without food or sleep as I can."
The two friends gazed at one another until Riker put aside his padd and rose from his chair. "You're right, of course, Data. The ship is in your hands."
He stepped out onto the bridge and took comfort in the easy efficiency of talk and motion. The ship and her crew had survived the Borg. God willing, they will survive having him as captain.
He was drying his hair after a long hot shower when he heard someone at his door. He knew it was Deanna before she entered.
Her huge black eyes took in the barely touched sandwich and half-eaten bowl of soup. Will had reburied his head in the towel. His only garment was a pair of turquoise sleep shorts that she had gotten him for his last birthday. She could tell, almost to the ounce, how much weight he had lost in the last week.
Waves of exhaustion, shot through with stress and sorrow battered her from across the room. The muscles in his neck and shoulders stood out like steel cables against the pale shimmer of his still damp skin.
"I'm not going to ask how you are, because you'll only say you're fine, and I'll get so angry I'll have to spank you-hard!"
He stared at her wide-eyed, towel hanging from one hand and hair spiking in all directions. Then an almost Riker-like grin flashed across his lips. "We never went in for that sort of thing even when we were lovers, Imzadi."
"I knew that would get your attention. Will, I want to talk about what happened in your office this morning."
He ran long fingers through his still damp hair and gave her an embarrassed look. "That was-I'm sorry, De. I was tired...I didn't mean it."
Relieving him of the damp towel, she tossed it over one shoulder and took his hand. By this time, he had noticed that she was out of uniform and in a long amethyst floaty thing that caused all sorts of things to happen to his breathing. She led him to the couch and pushed him down. She could sense his heart and temperature levels rising and smiled.
"Oh, yes you did. Your glands know more than you care to admit."
Her eyes dropped to the hand she was still holding, large, well-shaped with long, slender fingers. She missed those hands. They knew exactly how to raise her to the heights of passion with a tender touch.
"Will, I know that we agreed to put an end to our relationship, and, with all our other liaisons, I felt we were right."
He stared at her, his eyes so huge and deep she felt as if she were falling into them. He had not said a word. She began to feel her own temperature climbing as she took in the wide shoulders, broad chest, and strong well-shaped arms and legs. She blinked and tried to remember what she was saying.
"However, I've come to the realization that you think you have to be the same kind of captain Picard was. Cool, impersonal and always in control. Not needing anyone or anything outside of the ship and your work. But you are not that kind of man. His idea of relaxation was a glass of wine and a good book or a ride on a horse. You need people. You love to go to Ten-Forward and, what does Geordi call it, schmooze."
She saw a slight lift to the corners of his mouth and knew she was on the right track.
"I've also heard that you and a certain Klingon officer like to go at it on the holodeck. You love music and to play your trombone. You also like-no-love women.
"For what ever reason, Jean-Luc Picard had chosen to live an almost celibate life. Ask Beverly. Uh, no, don't ask her; just take my word for it. He was alone but not lonely. He valued his few friends: Beverly, you..."
He looked at her inquiringly. "Weren't you friends? I thought that-"
She shook her head sadly. "No, he wasn't that comfortable with me. He couldn't get used to the fact that I could read his emotions; that prevented real closeness."
She rose and walked behind him and slowly began to massage his neck and shoulders. "What I'm trying to say is that I would like to see if we can develop a working, umm, if we can-"
He broke in. "Begin again? But this time knowing what we want and what we will have to do to make it succeed?"
Troi nodded, her hands still working out the kinks in his neck. "Exactly. Realizing that we both have positions important to us and to the ship and crew. But that your well-being is also important."
"As is yours to me." He reached for her hand and kissed the palm. "As it has always been."
"Yes, I know." Her other hand touched his face, bemused by the silky feel of his skin against the roughness of his beard.
Then in his mind she spoke a word. Imzadi.
He stood and pulled her to him. The kiss seemed to encompass all the longings and needs of the past years. When they finally broke apart, it was to discover that their clothing had vanished. Neither remembered how it happened but they were on the bed, hands and lips melding, feeling, remembering.
His breath seemed to sear her skin as his mouth traced a burning path from her earlobe to her breast, pausing at her nipple just long enough to set it afire. Then the kisses flowed down to her navel and the dark sweetness between her thighs. In breathless wonder, she could sense his joy in her pleasure.
At the same time, his hands were rediscovering every inch of her body, causing tiny orgasms to pop like the bubbles in fine champagne. Troi was not idle as she cupped his round buttocks and squeezed and kneaded its firmness. She sighed in ecstasy. She had wanted to do that every time he walked past her on the bridge. She giggled as she thought of the look on Worf's face if she would have dared.
"What's so funny?" He murmured as he bit her tiny ear lobe.
Will had come up for air. Both of them, so close to climax but wanting to prolong the exquisite torture.
When she told him of her bridge fantasy he laughed-a real laugh for the first time in a week. Then they kissed deeply, lovingly and came together without his even entering her. The second and third times they rectified that omission.
His eyes opened halfway. "Where are you going?"
Troi was dressed and attempting to restore some order to her hair. It was a total loss. She sighed, she looked exactly what she was. A woman who had just made mad passionate love-several times.
She sat down on the bed, smoothing the rumpled sheets and fluffing his pillows. "I have to go. I have an early appointment."
She placed a small finger on his parted lips. "And your replicator doesn't have my patterns-yet." She smiled a wide self-satisfied smile. "Tomorrow, we will rectify that, my captain."
Stretching and yawning, she waved to him as the doors swooshed open. Riker also stretched and yawned, then turned over and went back to sleep-a deep sleep.
The dream returned, and the pain was still there, but now Troi was also there, to share it with him, to ease his way. It seemed as if Picard was meant to die, for to live out his life as half a man and all Borg was worse than death. In his dream, Riker had saved him from having to stand by, unable to do anything to save the billions on Earth and its sister planets.
It was more than an hour later that the doors silently opened and a slim silhouette darted in. In that moment, the lights from the corridor glittered on the Klingon d'k tahgs in both hands.
Silent and still, the figure stood by the bed watching the slow rise and fall of the broad sweat-streaked chest, the wide flung arms, and the sheet twisted about the long legs. Eyes glowing with an inner flame, the weapons were raised high, the faint moonlight from the port over the bed flashing off the double blades as the arms slashed down towards their target.
It was the slight motion of air from that downward rush that brought Will Riker out of a sound sleep and aware that death was standing over him. His brawny arms swept up almost before his brain realized the danger. His right hand grasped a slender wrist, twisting and turning it so that it did not stab but instead plowed a deep furrow from below his right nipple and down his ribs. His left hand skidded off the knife, but his forearm hit her wrist and deflected the blades from his heart to just below his left floating rib and into his belly.
At first, it was the searing path of the long gash across his chest that shrieked for attention. Then he became aware of the white-hot poker embedded in his belly which exploded as his assailant's hand released the bleeder blades. As they sprang apart, they ripped and tore twin paths through his small intestine, spewing the wounds with contamination.
Troi was out of bed and halfway to the door before she realized what had happened to whom. She caught at a chair back as the pain almost sent her to the floor.
"Computer," she gasped. "Security and medics to the captain's quarters-on the double!"
She and Worf met at Riker's door, and, when no one answered, Troi used her medical by-pass.
Darkness and gasping sobs.
Worf growled, "Computer, lights!"
As the lights came on, Troi screaming, went as white as her gown, and even Worf grunted.
The bedroom walls were splattered with gouts of red. Riker sprawled on the floor with his shoulders against the side of the gore-streaked bed. A bloody d'k tahg lay between his legs. His left hand was attempting to staunch the outpouring of blood pulsing from around the other knife buried in his side, while more streamed from a gaping gash in his chest. His right arm was flung around the hysterically sobbing form of Elizabeth Shelby.
With one stride, Worf had the blood-stained Shelby by the shoulders, and, effortlessly lifting her, made his way to the door where he handed her over to the white-faced security guards. Troi ran and knelt by Riker's side attempting to stop the bleeding, her face almost as ashen as his. She lifted her head and cried frantically.
"Sickbay, where are those medics?"
Just then a disheveled Beverly Crusher burst through the doorway with a hover gurney and two nurses. She sped to Riker's side, taking note of his ghastly color and dull eyes as her tricorder twittered and beeped.
Riker, despite his agony, turned his head toward Troi and gasped one word.
Beverly, hypospray in hand, stopped as if frozen. Then lips clamped and almost as pale as her patient, she injected him with triox, blood amplifiers and texedrine for shock. She motioned for the nurses to place him on the board and they started for Sickbay. Suddenly freezing, Troi plucked Will's robe from the back of a chair, and slipping it on, followed Beverly.
As his bloody hand grabbed Troi's gown, Will fought with his leaden lids and stared into her eyes, pleading. Her eyes widened, and she turned to look at Beverly.
"Computer, locate Doctor Selar," ordered Crusher.
"Doctor Selar is in Sickbay."
Beverly Crusher's voice broke in, "Selar, we are on our way. Please prepare for emergency surgery. See if Doctor Lomazoff is available to assist."
"The doctor is already here and so are Nurses Ogawa and Nelson. I have accessed all of Captain Riker's blood from the bank. We have seven pints on hand. All other crew members with his type are on alert."
Troi leaned over and touched Riker's cheek. It was clammy and cold. His now blue lips were clamped shut to prevent the moans at the back of his throat from escaping.
When they reached Sickbay, all was in readiness. All was in red-the operating table, the doctors and the nurses. Riker was no sooner on the table when Alyssa Ogawa had cut off his shorts so that the wound in his side was fully exposed. The other nurse, Tina Nelson, set up the large sterilizer, determined to ignore her captain's nakedness and the fact that Alyssa was calmly sopping up the blood from his wounds. The captain had known, even in his agony, not to remove the knife.
Alyssa began to inject more blood amplifiers, electrolytes, and set up drips to keep his fluids stable.
As Selar and Lomazoff peered into the internal scanner, Alyssa turned on the sterilizer. It began its slow march down his body, removing all bacteria and foreign bodies as it set him up for surgery.
"Boy, is he going to be mad," Alyssa murmured.
"What do you mean?" Tina stared at her.
"The captain kinda liked that chest hair, Tina. Now it all gone. All his body hair is going, too. It'll itch like hell when it grows back."
The machine continued down Riker's body, leaving him as hairless as a new-born babe. He looked like a marble statue in a museum. As Ogawa placed a red cloth over his hips, it emphasized the unnatural paleness of his flesh. Setting instruments on the shelf by the operating table, she eyed the gaping gash in his chest and the gleaming obscenity embedded in his abdomen.
"Nurse Ogawa, while Doctor Lomazoff and I attempt to remove this Klingon weapon, I would appreciate your helping Doctor Boudreau attend to the other wound."
So Ogawa and Nelson worked on the long gash with Boudreau, repairing the ripped muscles and ligaments of his chest, all determined that there would be no scar to mar the smooth skin.
Meanwhile, Selar and Lomazoff, an abdominal wound specialist, worked at removing the d'k tahg. Alyssa had placed a smaller sterilizer with a vacuum attachment next to them. It would aid in accessing the damage, as it would keep the inner wound clear as all the blood was removed. It would also remove the contaminating matter from the slashed intestine.
Lomazoff was a huge bear-like man, with gentle gray eyes and a beak-like nose. At this time, his brow was deeply furrowed. "Even with the internal scanner, we can't be sure that the bleeder blades will follow the same exact path. Also, we must keep the abdominal cavity as sterile as possible."
Selar's black eyes were thoughtful above her scarlet mask. "It won't be easy since the blades have severely perforated the intestines. The sterile field has been programmed to destroy anything not necessary to maintain the captain's life. We will use the hand sterilizer to follow the laser scalpel as we open the wound further to withdraw the blades."
By this time, that long gash in Riker's chest had been closed. All that was left was a thin pale line, which would fade away in time. They were ready to assist the two doctors. The operating team worked smoothly and quickly, knowing every second's delay lessened Riker's chances.
Beverly Crusher, ex-C.M.O. of the U.S.S. Enterprise, stood in the shadows of what once was her Sickbay and watched other doctors do her job. She barely moved except for her hands, which mirrored each move and motion Selar and Lomazoff made. Deanna stood next to her friend, aware of her pain and heartache. But all her strength, energy and prayers were for the man on the table.
Suddenly, an alarm sounded! "Doctor, he's flat-lining!"
Ogawa slapped a hypospray of tricordrazine into Selar's hand as the words formed in her mouth.
"I've got the knife, now we can clean and close." Selar's calm voice belied her tired eyes and sweat stained reds.
They almost lost him one more time as they repaired the tears made in his intestines by the bleeder blades.
"That last hypo did it. He's on the board again." The relief in Ogawa's voice was almost palpable.
Deanna slowly realized that the form at her side was no longer Beverly, but Worf with O'Brien next to him. They watched as the doctors moved faster, closing the wound and inserting various drips. Will's face was still bleached but much of the greyness was gone. Then he was carried into a private room.
She found Beverly in her office, head in hand with a cup of lemon tea at her elbow. She lifted a drawn, tear-stained face and wiped her nose with a shredded tissue. Troi sank gratefully into a chair by the desk and took her friend's hand. It trembled like a frightened bird.
"De, what am I going to do? I must leave, but Wesley won't come with me. Oh God, how will I go on?"
"You will go on because you must-because you know you have to. Just the way you did when you lost Jack."
Troi knew it was cruel to remind Beverly of Jack's death at this time, but she had to come to grips with that death and Picard's. Beverly wiped her eyes and gulped the now cool tea.
"I know, but I don't remember the pain being this sharp-this deep. I know it must have been, but then I had Wesley, my career...now I have nothing."
Deanna took her friend by the shoulders and gave her a gentle shake. "Bev, Starfleet has done a lot of stupid things but not utilizing the finest C.M.O. in the fleet is not on that list."
She then tossed Beverly a lifeline she was determined to make true. "I feel, in time, that we may all be able to put this behind us. Things change, provided we allow the healing process time."
Beverly sighed. "I know what you're saying, Deanna. I'm already regretting the things I said to Will. I'll never forget how pale he got-and then when I..."
She stopped, her hand over her mouth as her face turned an ugly red.
"When you hit him?" Troi whispered.
Beverly nodded, seeming to shrink before her eyes.
Rising, Deanna walked over to a botanical display to give her friend time to recover her composure. "I don't think I've ever known you to strike anyone before. Except in self-defense."
"How did you-of course, you felt it."
"Yes, and I also felt Will's shock and sadness. Mostly because you could believe that he could act in that fashion. That you did not believe or even seem aware of his pain, at what he had been forced to do."
Beverly's head dropped into her hands and she began to rub her eyes again. "I know. I think I always knew but was too angry and upset to admit it. God, but I'm going to miss all this-the ship, my friends-especially you, Deanna."
"And we will all miss you, very much." She patted her hand and then hugged her. But even as she comforted Beverly, her thoughts and heart were at the bedside of the man who was her lover, friend and captain. He needed her now. She'd see Beverly again later.
As she approached the room, Selar met her in the doorway. "The next twenty-four hours should tell us if he will make it or not. Normally, he is one of the strongest and most stable beings on the ship. However, the past week's events have stripped his natural bodily defenses almost naked. I will be monitoring his readouts at all times."
Troi felt as if the weight of the saucer section had settled onto her shoulders. Paler than before, she nodded and entered the room. Worf stood by the bed, finger tips barely touching Riker's forearm. Troi could sense his attempt to impart some portion of his vast Klingon strength to his friend.
For a long time, Tasha Yar and Will Riker were Worf's only friends on the Enterprise. His only real friends-the kind one goes to hell and beyond for. Tasha was gone. He would not permit Will Riker to follow her.
Her eyes took in the biochart as she finally walked over to the bed. Not good. In fact, the wavering indicators were barely above the flat-line. There were three different drips and a drain going all at once. His color was still bad and, even with all the drugs, the pain would break through and scrape across his face. His hands would tremble; his breathing turn shallow and skitter unevenly, then settle-until the next time.
Worf became aware of Troi's presence and pulled his hand away in embarrassment. He prepared to leave, but she stopped him with a look.
"Two who care can help him twice as much. I'll pray to my God, and you pray to yours. It can't hurt, and it may help."
"Counselor, does anyone know where Commander Shelby got those d'k tahgs? Mine are still in my cabin."
"Worf, I'm sure that no one thought for one moment that they were yours. She must have had them when she came on board. I'll try to find out. Meanwhile, I know the captain would want you to stay."
He stood looming over her for a moment then nodded that magnificent head. She sat in a chair by the side of the bed, and Worf stood at the foot, barely touching Riker's ankle. She reached out and her fingers tenderly traced the shuttered eyes, fluttering over the thick fringe of lashes, the line of his beard, the blue-tinged lips. She whispered soft words in his ear.
Later, through a haze of exhaustion, Troi realized that Worf had gone and that Geordi had taken his place. Vaguely, she seemed to remember Data, Wesley and others joining the watch.
"Counselor, if you want to rest or get something to eat, I'll be here for a while."
Realizing she was still in her nightgown and Will's blood-spattered robe, she dragged herself out of the chair. "Thanks, Geordi. Enough people have seen me in this nightgown. I'll be back soon."
She felt better after a quick shower and change of clothing. She'd managed almost all of a bowl of chicken soup, too.
Sickbay informed her that nothing had changed, so she decided to take a small detour past the brig. Shelby was sitting on the edge of the bunk, staring into space. She was still wearing her blood-stained uniform, but her hands and face were clean. She looked up as Troi entered the security area then looked away.
"Elizabeth, I wish you had come to see me..."
Shelby began to laugh softly. "And what, Counselor? Discuss how I planned to kill Will Riker? I don't think so."
Troi took a small step back from those burning blue eyes. "Perhaps if we had talked, we could have prevented..."
"I don't think so. Someone had to avenge Captain Picard's death and destroy his murderer-I guess that someone was me. I wish they hadn't washed my hands and face; I wanted to wear his blood like a badge of honor. Well, at least I still have it on my uniform."
She touched the stiff dark stains in an almost loving fashion. And smiled.
God, Troi thought, she's mad.
"Elizabeth, where did you get the knives? Worf was very upset by your use of them."
Again Shelby smiled that odd smile. "The knives were a present from me to Captain Picard. Riker killed him before I got the chance to give them to Picard." Her giggle was chilling. "So I gave them to Riker."
Troi swallowed bile. She had to remain calm. "Shelby, it would not bring Picard back. Why-"
"Since you're here, I surmise I was successful. He's dead. Who is the new captain?'
Troi lifted her head to stare into Shelby's face. Not all traces of Will's blood were gone. It seemed to be ingrained in her skin. "The captain is still William T. Riker. And he will be the Enterprise's captain for a very, very long time. The only person you destroyed is yourself..."
She leapt back as Shelby threw herself at the force field causing it to flare and spark. "Noooo! You're lying! He's dead! I know it! You're lying!"
The security guard on duty rushed over, but Shelby pulled herself together and still white with fury, went back to sit on the bunk. To stare into space once more, seeing only she knew what.
"Sickbay, send a medic with a sedative to Security Cell Three."
Troi then turned to the security guard, an older woman she remembered from the Hood. "Lieutenant Cheron, why wasn't someone informed about the commander's situation?'
The guard, a handsome black woman with huge yellow-green eyes, answered. "She wasn't like this until just now. She just sat and stared at the wall, not saying a word. Even when we cleaned her up."
"I see. Be sure to tell the medics all this when they come. I'm going to Sickbay now."
"Counselor? How is the Captain? Is he going to be all right?"
Troi forced a smile. "Of course. He survived the operation and is doing fine."
She met the arriving medics and gave them instructions, and was just about to leave when Worf arrived with Admiral Hansen and a Starfleet security squad.
The admiral acknowledged Troi, then signaled for Shelby's release. The guard looked at Worf, who nodded. Shelby walked out of the cell, her head held high. She and Hansen stared at each other and said not a word.
Hansen, looking suddenly older and greyer, signaled to the squad, and they escorted Shelby out. He turned to Troi. "I've just been to Sickbay and spoke to Doctor Selar. It's a miracle Riker's alive."
Troi's face was like stone. "Yes sir."
She could read his emotions, and they were a mixture of horror and fear. He was afraid he would be dragged into Shelby's case because she was his protegé. He was probably right.
She watched them leave and then headed for Sickbay.
Her heart began to gallup as she spotted Selar and Beverly standing in Will's doorway. Their expressions were grave.
"Something's wrong. Why didn't I feel it? I should never have left..."
Beverly put her hand on Troi's shoulder. "No, he's still holding on. We...Doctor Selar felt that perhaps a change in medication might help. We just changed two of the drips and gave him some stokaline."
Deanna felt herself begin to sway, and there seemed to be a roaring in her ears. Both doctors caught and half-carried her to a biobed.
"No, please let me see him!"
"Deanna, you're not doing Will any good running yourself into the ground like this."
"Please, I have to be near him. He knows when I'm there. I shouldn't have left him alone."
She held on the Beverly's hand, but her eyes pleaded with Selar.
"There's a folding cot in my office, Selar. We could put it next to Will's bed."
Selar looked at Beverly then at Troi. It was not logical, but if she had learned anything from her time on the Enterprise with Humans, it was that there were times when Vulcan logic had to be tossed aside for the Human kind. She nodded, and an orderly was sent for the cot.
Once they had left her alone, Troi sat up and reached over to touch Will's face and his bare chest, through the opening in the clam shell. He was so cold. She huddled next to him, trying to give him some of her own warmth. Her voice murmured soft words of love from the previous night and eons ago. A time that they would discover again, if she had her way. Even as she whispered, her mind was filled with black guilt.
If she only had not left him alone, If she had been there, at Will's side, she could have stopped Shelby...no, no more ifs. That way lay madness. He would live, and they would be together-all their lives, Gods willing. Her eyes filled with tears of self anger.
Who will counsel the Counselor?
She reached for a tissue and blew her nose, determined to think of other things. They were headed for a real commitment. Was he ready for that? Damn it, was she? Could she live with the fact that his job would always be pulling him away from her? But, an inner voice argued, wouldn't her job do the same? Would having only a part of him be enough? In her soul, a whisper became a shout: Yes. Yes! A tightness in her chest that she had never acknowledged slowly eased.
She took his hand and placed it between her own to warm it. She kissed each finger, those delightfully knowing fingers. How she had missed those hands, that mouth, the clean male smell of him fresh from a shower, the more exciting sharp muskiness after their lovemaking. And his eyes, sparkling with humor and love. His joy in her joy. His concern that she always be as contented and fulfilled as he. A gifted, tender, passionate lover, who had elevated her to heights she'd never known existed.
Still holding his hand, she fell into an exhausted sleep.
Pain. Such pain. Burning heat. Moaning.
Pain. Someone sobbing.
It was dark, but the moonlight pouring through the port over his bed let him see that he was covered with a black liquid streaming from a deep gash in his right side and from around a gleaming keen-edged thing in his belly. He blinked. It was a d'k tahg. Worf? What had he done to Worf? Then the huddled shape at his side became a stained and teary Elizabeth Shelby.
He tried to sit up, swinging his right leg over the side of the bed. The agony in his stomach escalated unbelievably and caused him to half slide, half fall, landing on his butt with legs asprawl. Things went dark for a while, then he came to with Shelby's head on his chest. She was crying, her bloody hands clawing at him, pleading for understanding.
"He was my god, Riker. The legendary Jean-Luc Picard, Captain of the legendary Enterprise. Then you killed him, his first officer and a total incompetent. I couldn't understand how that was possible. Then when Admiral Hansen gave you the Enterprise instead of me, I could not let that stand."
Her voice had become stronger and more confident, with a razor's edge to it. "So I filed that protest disputing your orders. Starfleet had to see my logic and that I was right as always. Then, when they sided with you...called you a hero..." Now her voice was choked and bitter. "It was then I decided you were not fit to live. But I never imagined all the blood. And the hurt surprise in your eyes... But you're still alive, Riker. Why won't you die? Like Picard did. Then Hansen will give me the Enterprise."
She began to giggle. "Imagine old Kirk's face if he knew a woman was in command of the Enterprise."
Despite his agony and the darkness nibbling at his vision, Riker tried to reason with Shelby. "Listen, Elizabeth, you need some rest. We all need rest after the last week."
He kept mumbling nonsense as his vitality ebbed, praying she would not pick up the other knife at her feet and finish the job. Praying he could get up enough strength to call for help.
Then the lights came on and someone screamed.
Deanna woke, her mind filled with her own screams. She whispered his name and long lashes fluttered.
"Will, it's over. You're in Sickbay, and everything is fine. Please, please don't leave me." She buried her face in her hands.
"Still here?" His voice was raspy and faint. But when she uncovered her eyes, a tired blue gaze met hers.
She smiled a watery smile. "I could say the same."
He had seven o'clock shadow, bloodshot eyes in a pasty white face and was still the handsomest man she'd ever seen.
At that moment, Nurse Ogawa glided in with a tray followed by another nurse with all the ingredients for a sponge bath. Troi took the hint and after planting a light kiss on his forehead, left him to the machinations of experts. She was also in need of food, a long hot bath and an even longer nap.
She ended up sleeping half the day away before returning to Sickbay. Selar met her at the door to say that Will had spent a restful night.
"The captain is amazingly resilient-for a Human."
Troi laughed. "Will Riker is amazingly resilient for any race!"
She had just settled herself by the bed when he began to stir and opened his eyes. "How do you feel?"
"How do I look?"
"I asked you first!"
He smiled faintly. "That bad, huh?"
Troi also smiled, delighted she had something concrete to smile about. He still looked exhausted, but his lips were their normal pink, and his eyes were bright-not with fever, but life.
Alyssa entered with a tray upon which were two bowls. One of broth and one filled with chocolate ice cream and syrup. Her eyes twinkled. "I think you know which one the captain gets, Counselor."
Will took in the ice cream filled bowl and raised an eyebrow. She returned the look and reached for a spoon and the soup. "Now, open up like a good boy."
Both eyebrows went up at this but he 'opened up' as directed.
When he had finished the soup and she her ice cream, Troi washed his face and combed his hair.
"My goodness, you take such good care of me."
"Stuff it, Riker, and get some sleep."
"I've had enough sleep to last until the end of next week. I want to talk." His voice was a hoarse whisper.
She leaned back in her chair. "What about?"
A faint blush of color washed his cheeks. "Us-if there is to be an us."
Troi's breathing stopped. "Do you want there to be?"
Wincing, he took a shallow breath, then resumed. "Yes, I do, very much."
"I'm glad. Because I would have had to track down those d'k tahgs if you had dared to change your mind. We Betazoids do not take rejection well."
Will managed a small chuckle. "I can see that I must remember to keep all sharp objects out of reach. Uh, do we move in together or just sneak around?"
Troi laughed. "Oh, I think that the crew can survive our living together. Provided, of course, that we move into the larger captain's quarters."
His eyes clouded for a moment, then he straightened up as much as the clam shell would allow. "Deanna..."
"Could...could we have a contract? For just as long as you like, with options or whatever...I-Whew! What I mean is...can we get married? I mean, I don't want to go without you at my side."
Deanna had begin to giggle halfway through Will's bumbling proposal. Usually so articulate, he was almost tongue-tied. But the last sentence stopped her laughter and made her eyes glow. "All of the above, Imzadi, especially the last. Now, that should take care of all your conversation for the day-and no backtalk!"
Then they bother wore slightly silly grins for quite some time.
A smothered hiccuping sob from the doorway announced the entrance of Wesley Crusher.
Her fingers entwined in Will's, Deanna sent a welcoming look his way and nodded. He hadn't seen his captain since the night before. He came over to the bed.
Though his throat resembled the Vulcan desert in full summer, Will managed to croak, "Wesley, you're staying?"
Troi slipped a sliver of ice between his lips while Wes quickly reviewed his chart with relief. "Yes, sir."
Will looked at her, and in her mind, she heard him say, His mother's not going to be happy with that.
She nodded and turned to Wes. "He says that your mother's not happy with that decision."
Wesley's glance swung between the counselor and his captain and realized he had be privileged to see their telepathy at work.
He shrugged his slim shoulders. "She'll get used to it."
Will's eyes narrowed. "You didn't hear what she said about you, sir. She called you a..."
A spasm of pain crossed both their faces at the memory.
"He knows what she said, Wes. She said it to his face after she said it to you."
The boy looked like a deflated balloon. "I'm sorry, but Mom, that red hair's real, you know. She didn't mean it, I know that, but I have never seen her that angry before."
"She knows better now, Wes," came a voice from behind them.
All eyes in the room turned to face Beverly Crusher standing in the doorway.
"Mom, I was so worried."
"I know, I know." Beverly opened her arms, and her son flew into them. There were a few moments of soft snufflling and hugging before the turned to face the man in the bed.
Troi smiled at Beverly as Will's thoughts filled her mind. "He knew you didn't mean what you said, Bev. But you sure do pack a wallop. He says you almost cracked a tooth!"
Eyes glistening, Beverly reached for his hand. "I know you'll take good care of him, Will."
He smiled up at her, blue eyes also suspiciously bright. "Like he was my own." He managed to say.
They had shared so much these two. Perhaps, in time, there would be an opportunity to make more memories.
Troi sat back and promised herself that she would make sure of that. And promise made by a daughter of the fifth house of Betazed...