The Last Goodbye
Character codes: R, T, Tom
Author's Note: This story takes place directly after the events detailed
in the DS9 episode "Defiant"
Deanna Troi sat very still, her eyes misted with tears she was trying her best not to show. After what seemed an eternity, the Cardassian emblem on the screen faded to a familiar face.
"Counselor Troi," Gul Dukat greeted, smiling his most ingratiating smile. "You're looking well."
She didn't bother responding, for she knew she looked nearly as devastated as she felt. Instead, she waited, staring dully into the small desktop monitor, until he chose to continue.
"I understand your distress," Dukat allowed after a beat. "It must be difficult to accept that a lover could turn traitor to all you believe in. I extend my sympathies."
With an effort, Troi gathered her voice. "Commander Sisko said I would be allowed to speak with him."
"It was his last request," Dukat agreed. "And although the sentence wasn't death, it was somewhat of a ... final ... determination. We thought it only decent to honor the petition." Dukat smiled. "You see, we aren't the barbarians you make us out to be."
"May I speak with him then?" Troi asked, her voice tight with pain.
"Yes, of course."
Dukat stepped aside, and after a moment, the familiar bearded countenance of William T. Riker dominated the screen. He looked good: well treated and only a little gaunt around the eyes for his ordeal. He smiled when he saw her, an expression that lit the deepest recesses of his eyes.
For a moment, neither of them said anything more.
It was Troi who finally broke the silence. "I wish I could say I understand, Tom," she whispered, her voice breaking.
His smile became forced, pained. Only years of poker kept the agony in his eyes from bleeding into his expression. "I wish I could explain," he returned gently. "But they haven't allowed me much time. I don't want to waste it expounding on political treatises, or justifying things that don't seem all that important any more. I'd rather spend it looking at you. I'd rather spend it saying goodbye."
"I don't want to say goodbye."
Riker drew a long, slow breath and released it. "I love you, Deanna," he said calmly. "I always have, and I always will. Someday -- someday soon -- you'll understand exactly how much."
"You loved me so much you wanted to spend the rest of your life in a Cardassian work camp?" she demanded bitterly.
He shrugged slightly. "That wasn't the plan," he allowed. "That's just the way it worked out."
Behind him, a Cardassian barked a curt warning.
"They're telling me we've wasted enough of the rest of my life," Riker told her wryly. "I guess they have some big rocks waiting for me to break into a bunch of little rocks. I guess my father was right: he always said I'd end up dead or in prison. Tell Jean-Luc goodbye for me, and tell Wes I expect great things from him."
There were tears in his eyes, but his chin was lifted in defiant pride. "Goodbye, Imzadi," he whispered as the screen faded to black.
She sat where she was for almost a full minute, too devastated to cry. Her thoughts were a tangle in her mind, her emotions a whirlpool of grief.
The call button to her quarters buzzed quietly. She didn't answer, but the door opened anyway.
"Imzadi?" Riker called from the doorway.
She stood and turned. He came to the pain in her eyes because it wasn't in him to stay away. For minute upon minute he held her in silence, his arms a safe haven from the storm. When she could, she stepped back.
"I don't understand," she whispered, sinking to the edge of the couch. "He had so much to live for, and he threw it all away."
Riker took a seat at her side. "Imzadi ..."
"Don't call me that, Will," she interrupted. Her eyes lifted, found his. "I know that for years, imzadi has been a term of endearment between us. A term of friendship. But that isn't what it means. It means beloved. It means --" her voice broke. "Just, please don't call me that," she finished.
He drew a deep breath and released it.
"I don't mean to hurt you, Will --" she started.
"I'm not Will," Riker told her quietly. "At least, not to you."
Troi froze. "What do you mean?" she whispered.
"I mean that the man you're speaking to when you say Will is in a Cardassian prison."
Troi's eyes lifted slowly. She stared at him as if he were a ghost.
"He was on a mission, Deanna," he explained quietly. "A mission to expose the Obsidian Order's secret fleet. Starfleet asked me to do it: He volunteered instead."
"Tom?" was all she could manage.
He smiled at her, the reflection in his eyes a veiled apprehension Will Riker could not have managed. "Disappointed?" he asked.
She began to tremble. Tear welled in her eyes, tracking wet rivers down her face. "Why?" she murmured.
"He said I'd lost enough of my life."
"And you ..." her voice quavered "... you let him go?"
The question cut him, but he didn't look away. "He outranks me, Deanna," he reminded her quietly instead. "And it wasn't a request. Someone had to go, and he made it clear to Starfleet that he wanted that someone to be him."
"But they said it was you --"
"Starfleet couldn't allow an officer of Will's stature to take such a visible role. It had to be someone expendable: Someone who'd be an embarrassment, but not an intergalactic incident." His eyes flickered bitter. "Someone like me. That's why they contacted me in the first place. I guess they figured Will had everything I might want to live for."
She stared at him for a long moment in silence, then whispered, "So what happens now?"
"I take his place," Riker answered just as quietly. "As he once took mine."
"Here? On the Enterprise."
"And with you," he agreed. "If you'll have me."
"We were friends," she noted.
"You and I?"
"Will and I," she corrected. "We were friends, not lovers."
"He told me that," Riker allowed. "He said that was why it had to be him: Because you and he were friends, and because you and I weren't."
"He went for me?"
"He went because he felt it was his duty. And because he felt he was more qualified to keep the other members of the team alive long enough for Sisko to do his part with Dukat. I don't have any command experience: He does."
"But you're going to take over here? As the first officer of the Federation flagship?"
"Starfleet feels I can handle it. Will did, too."
"Does the captain know?"
"Yes. The captain, Commander Sisko, maybe three others in Starfleet's top echelon of command."
"What will happen to Will? Are they just going to leave him to rot on Lazon II?"
Riker sighed. "It wasn't part of the plan for him to get captured. He made a tactical error -- under-estimated someone he shouldn't have under-estimated -- and it was the best Sisko could salvage out of the situation."
"What about a rescue attempt?"
"It has to look like Starfleet wasn't involved. If he were to be rescued now ..."
Troi put a hand over her mouth. She turned away for a moment, her shoulders trembling.
"Imza --" Riker stopped himself and re-phrased, "Deanna ..."
"No." Troi turned. Tears ran freely down her face; but her lips trembled to a smile, and mingled with the agony in her eyes, was something else. "No, Tom," she whispered, placing a hand on the side of his face. "Not Deanna. Imzadi."