Character codes: R, T, PReality, like control, is a fragile illusion.
"Will. Wake up, Will. You're dreaming. Wake up."
Flailing wildly in her arms, his eyes wide and panicked, he stared at her with an expression of the pure terror stained into handsome features.
"Get away from me!" he raged. "You're not real! None of this is real!"
He broke free, shoving at her as she tried to get another grip on his sleep tunic. A clenched fist caught the rise of her cheekbone and she fell back, dazed, as he stumbled from the bed. Clawing at the furniture, at the floor like a fear-crazed animal, he scrambled across the room. He found a corner and cowered there, his large body knotted to a trembling mass.
"You're not real," he moaned. "Not real, not real." Large-fingered hands gripped his skull like a vise; the heels of his palms dug mercilessly into soft temples. "None of this is real."
"Oh, Will," Troi murmured.
His eyes were huge. They stared at her as if she were some sort of horrific specter borne of the deepest bowels of hell. For a moment, she could do nothing but return his horrified gaze.
"Imzadi," she whispered finally.
"Go away," he pleaded. "Please, go away."
"It's me, Imzadi." She slid across the floor, moving slowly but inexorably, never ceasing her approach entirely. "You're safe now. You're back on the Enterprise. It's real, Will. I'm real."
"No," he moaned. "None of this is real."
He didn't struggle when she reached his side and touched him. He didn't fight as she wrapped her arms around him, holding him as she would have held a wounded child.
But neither did he respond.
"Ward 47," he murmured to himself. "I'm in Ward 47."
Troi rocked him, stroking his hair.
"This isn't real," he whispered. "None of this is real. Ward 47. I want to go back to Ward 47."
Riker watched as Beverly Crusher continued her tests. He didn't speak to her, didn't try to broach the silence between them.
"Everything seems to be fine, Will," Crusher told him brightly. "The drugs are completely flushed from your system. There's been no new damage to your neural synapses."
"It's not fine, Beverly," Riker corrected. His voice was cold, detached. "It's getting worse, not better."
Riker didn't answer. After several moments, Crusher set aside her instruments and faced the hollow-eyed commander.
"You mean the nightmares."
Still, he didn't answer.
Crusher sighed. "Not everything about your experience was physical, Will," she reminded him gently. "Significant psychological trauma is to be expected in conjunction with a fracturing of reality to the degree which you suffered. It's only natural that you have nightmares for a while."
"Nightmares are dreams, Doctor," Riker said calmly. "They happen when you're asleep." His eyes shifted to her's. "I was awake when I hit Deanna. I knew what I was doing."
"Give yourself some time, Will."
"Why?" Riker snapped bitterly. "So I can wake up in Ward 47 again? Maybe for good this time?"
"That isn't going to happen. Ward 47 wasn't real. It was a figment of the Talonian neural reconstruction."
"That's what they said about you."
Crusher studied him for a long moment before speaking again. She noted the way his gaze seemed to meet her's, but didn't. In reality, he was looking through her, beyond her, as if she wasn't there.
She placed a hand on his arm, and he flinched. "Look at me, Will." She waited until his focus shortened. "I promise you: I am real."
"Ward 47 was real," he countered.
"Maybe it was. Maybe it was as real to you as we are. But it's gone now. Ward 47 is gone."
"Ward 47 isn't gone." Pushing off the edge of the biobed, he tapped his forehead with one finger, saying, "It's still here. All up here."
And then he strode from Sickbay, his spine stiff and his gate measured.
"I'm worried about him, Jean-Luc." Crusher sank gracefully to the couch in Picard's quarters, her delicate features lined with concern. "He seems to be punishing himself for experiencing perfectly Human reactions to such severe psychogenic stress."
"What kind of reactions?"
Crusher sighed. She accepted the teacup Picard extended and sipped of it content's disinterestedly.
"Nightmares. Mild hallucinations."
Picard's eyebrow arched in question as he took the seat opposite her.
"There are times," Crusher elaborated, "directly following particularly vivid sub-conscious episodes, that he can't just wake up and shake it off. The sense that it's the Enterprisethat's the delusion follows him into awareness."
"But that isn't out of the ordinary," Picard surmised from the way she stated it.
"No. Not at all. He recovers quickly enough, as soon as his mind has had a chance to realign itself."
"Then what?" Picard pressed gently.
"He refuses to accept that it's all a part of the natural healing process. He seems bent on destroying every vestige of Ward 47 that remains in him, and he's determined to consider himself crazy until he accomplishes the task."
For a long time, neither of them spoke. Sipping tea together in a companionable silence of well-worn friendship, each mulled over their own thoughts about the first officer and ordeal he had so recently endured.
"Will he ever be able to divest himself of it?" Picard asked finally.
Crusher's gaze rose to his. "I think you can answer that better than anyone, Jean-Luc," she returned quietly. In her expression, and in her tone were his own memories of madness and recovery.
"Yes," he muttered, eyes growing distant. "Yes, indeed I can."
Ward 47 was real. It was grey and metal around him, the walls holding him in their clutch as surely as his quarters had an hour ago. Doctor Syris spoke to him, but he wasn't listening. He was watching the other inmates shuffle around the common area, watching them live their daily lives in drug-fogged delusions.
Yiya spoke into her spoon. She looked to him and smiled.
A flash of blue and black passed the doorway. It returned, stood there and studied him with disapproving brown eyes.
"Will," Deanna Troi called, crossing the common area in long strides. "This isn't healthy."
Riker watched her come. A slight shadow of bruise lay on her cheekbone, a gathering of blood beneath pale skin that Crusher's instruments had been unable to completely dispel. Riker's hand clenched in memory.
"I want you to come with me," she said firmly.
Riker glanced to Doctor Syris. "Do you see her?" he asked.
Doctor Syris looked around. "See who?"
Riker's eyes swung back to Troi. "Go away," he told her.
"Will." Her hand laid itself on his arm. He jerked away as if it was hot, lurching to his feet. The chair tipped over, clattering to the floor.
"Get out of here, Deanna," he snarled.
"Computer," Troi ordered of the air. "Terminate program."
Immediately, Ward 47 dissolved around them. In its place was a cavernous room, walled with a slightly glowing grid.
"Program terminated," the computer informed them.
"It isn't real, Will," Troi said gently.
"Computer," Riker snapped. "Terminate program."
"No program currently active," the computer responded.
Riker stared at Troi for a long moment.
"I'm real, Will." She stepped closer, taking his hand in her's. "See? Feel me." She placed his palm against her face. "Feel me, Imzadi. Listen to what you know."
"I don't know anything any more."
"You know." She took another step. Her body was nearly touching his now. He dwarfed her in size. "Here." Her free hand rested lightly over his heart. "Here, you know that I'm real."
"Are you?" He pulled away and stepped back. "Am I?" Giving her no chance to answer, Will Riker spun and stormed from the holodeck.
She found him in his quarters, huddled in a corner and staring. When he didn't answer the summons by the forth call, she used a security over-ride code it was against regulations for her to have.
"Will?" She hesitated in the open doorway, unsure whether this room was home to him, or Ward 47.
His gaze sharpened, focused. "Come in, Counselor," he grunted.
Troi stepped across the threshold, and the door hissed shut. "Computer, she requested, "lights."
Obediently, the half-dim flared to bright.
"Computer, lights down," Riker countered. The lights dimmed to their original level. "What do you want, Deanna?"
Troi eased slowly across the room. With every step, she felt his resistance. It was an effort to ignore it, but ignore it she did. Finally, an eternity after she'd started, she settled to the floor beside him.
"Would you like to talk?" she asked gently.
"Well I would. I want to talk about the holodeck."
"It isn't what you think."
"And what do I think?"
Riker turned blue eyes on her. They were angry beyond description. "Don't play mind games with me, Counselor," he told her darkly. "I've had enough of that to last a lifetime. A thousandlifetimes."
"I'm not playing mind games, Will," she countered. "I asked a question. What do you think I think?"
"I think, you think, I'm crazy as a hoot owl."
Troi smiled slightly. "I think you have our opinions confused," she said gently.
"I was on the holodeck in a re-creation of Ward 47," he told her grimly. "If that's not crazy, I don't know what is."
"I agree." She touched his arm, and when he didn't pull away, let her hand settle to it. "You don't know what is."
"Then what was I doing there?"
The question was at least as much challenge as it was inquiry. She turned it deftly back on him.
"I thought perhaps you might tell me."
His jaw tightened. Beneath her hand, so did the muscles of his arm. "I don't know what I was doing," he admitted finally.
"I think you do."
"Then you tell me, Counselor," Riker snapped. "What was I doing?"
Troi remained calm. Unflappable. She watched him with disturbing composure, the pressure of her fingers specific where they held to his biceps.
"I think that you were trying to place Ward 47," Troi informed him slowly. "To make it a reality on the holodeck, so you could terminate it on command."
Riker grunted. It was a snort of disgust, but also one of agreement.
"Did it work?"
"Tell me how you know."
"I know," Riker retorted angrily, "because I can still feel it." He tapped his temple sharply. "Up here."
"Feel it? Or remember it?"
"What difference does it make?"
For a moment, they sat together in silence.
"Do you remember your mother's death?" she asked suddenly.
Riker turned to her. He studied her in the darkness, trying to discern her intent.
"Don't think about it, Will. Just answer me. Truthfully. Do you remember her death?"
"Yes." His voice was tight, strained. "In a way."
"You were very young."
"Not that young."
"It was a long time ago."
"Not that long."
"Do you remember it in detail, Will? Or do you remember the feel of it? The pain, the anger, the desolation."
Riker's gaze swung away. "It's not the same, Deanna."
"Isn't it?" Her hand tightened on his arm. "We aren't supposed to forget, Will. That's not the way Humans are made."
"I need to forget," Riker murmured.
"No. You need to remember. You have to remember that Ward 47 was the delusion. A delusion that was forced on you. None of this was your fault. When you can remember that, only then, can you heal."
Riker closed his eyes. His breathing was slow, fiercely measured. His head dropped back to the bulkhead, thudding quietly in the silence.
"Sometimes," he told her, eyes still closed, "When I look at you ... or at Beverly ... I'm not sure. I wait for the room to change around me. I wait for the bulkheads to go grey and the doors to become impenetrable seals."
He opened his eyes then, turning them on her. "It happened. Over and over again, it happened. Even when I was so sure. And now ..." His voice trailed to silence.
"It's over, Will."
"Nothing's over," Riker whispered. "Not until I can know this isn't just another delusionary episode. Not until I'm sure that five minutes from now -- or ten -- a doctor won't tell me that you're nothing more than a figment of my delusion. That I have to leave you behind if I want to get better. That I have to forget you. To acknowledge you aren't real ... that you never were."
"But I am real, Will. Have been since the day of my birth." She smiled at him. "And if you don't believe me, just ask my mother. I'm sure she'd be delighted to tell you all about it: the ceremony, the grandeur, the agony inherent to the delivery of a daughter of a daughter of the fifth house."
At that, Riker laughed. It was a tired, coarse laugh, but a sincere one. "Lwaxanna," he murmured. "Dear Lwaxanna." The turn of his lips sank slowly into his gaze. His eyes, though still dull, seemed not quite so haunted. "You may be right, Counselor," he said quietly. "If you really were a figment of my imagination, then she would have to be, too, right? And God knows I don't have enough imagination to conjure up Lwaxanna Troi."
"I don't think anyone does," Troi agreed gently. "She defies the imagination."
"She defies the laws of physics," Riker added.
"She defies," Troi decided. "Therefore, she is."
"Real, you mean," Riker surmised after a long moment of silence.
"Real," Troi agreed.
Riker nodded. His free hand moved to cover the one she'd laid on his arm. "I'll try and remember that," he whispered, "the next time I visit Ward 47."
"Will. Wake up, Will. You're dreaming. Wake up."
He struggled in her arms. His eyes flew open, wide and panicked.
"You're dreaming," she repeated. "It's not real, Will. I'm real. Me."
Instead of pushing her away, his hand clenched into her.
"Deanna?" he whispered.
"I'm right here," she assured him firmly. Her arms tightened around his slumped shoulders. "You're on the Enterprise. You're safe, Will. This is real."
"Ward 47--" he started.
"No. It's not real. It never was. A delusion, Will. A set in a play."
"I was there--"
"You were never there," Troi interrupted. "You were in a Talonian mind experiment. Remember that, Will. Remember waking up. Remember escaping."
"Worf..." he muttered. "Data... They tried to rescue me."
"No, Will. They never did. Your subconscious tried to rescue you. It tried its best to return you to reality. To us."
Riker shuddered, clutched at her arm. "Deanna," he whispered. "Don't go."
"I'm right here, Imzadi," she returned.
He looked around himself, recognizing his quarters. "I'm here," he said as if trying to convince himself. "This is the Enterprise."
"Yes." She squeezed his hand reassuringly. "The Enterprise."
"The Enterprise," he repeated.
"Lie down, Will," she urged. "You need sleep."
"I don't want to sleep," he told her. "I go back when I sleep."
"You have to sleep, Will." She brushed the sweat from his face, ran her fingers along his temple and the line of his beard. "I'll be here. I'll stay with you." She coaxed him back into the comfortable mattress, curled herself around him. "I'll be here," she whispered again. "I'll be here."
Riker lunged abruptly to his feet. Betrayal edged every line of his tense body. He stared at her like she was some sort of abomination.
"Liar," he spat. "You're a delusion. You're not real!"
The accusation was an announcement. Vindication flared in eyes no longer fogged with the disorientation of sleep. Clear and bright and angry, those eyes fixed her with a penetrating gaze Will Riker used when he planned to wilt his opposition by intimidation.
"Talk to me, Will," she urged.
"This is all a delusion!" he snapped. His arm arched around the room. "I'm still in Ward 47, aren't I?"
It wasn't a question. It was a demand for clarification.
"Why do you think that?"
Riker lunged forward and caught her by the arms. He dragged her off the bed and pulled her to him.
"It's all part of the delusion," he accused. "The holodeck. You. Only the nightmares are real. Only the nightmares."
"Why, Will?" she pressed. "Why?"
"Because you're here!" he snapped. "You wouldn't be, if you were real. It's over between Deanna and I. We don't sleep together. We're friends, not lovers. You're a fake. A charlatan. A delusion."
"I'm not real," Troi repeated quietly, "because the real Deanna Troi wouldn't be sleeping in your bed?"
"Yes." Riker shook her. "You're not real!" he repeated vehemently.
"But she is."
"She is," Riker repeated.
"Your friend, Deanna Troi."
"She's real. She wouldn't be here."
"Would she be in Ward 47?"
The question stopped him cold. He stared at her, his eyes loosing everything but confusion. And finally, fear.
"It's all right, Will."
His fingers opened like sprung traps. "Damn," he whispered. "Damn, damn, damn." He walked to a corner and boxed himself in, his face to the wall.
She followed him there, her hands seeking his back. For some time, she said nothing, did nothing but stroke the stone muscles clenched along the length of his spine.
"Come back to bed, Will," she murmured finally. "You need sleep."
He followed her like a sheep to the slaughter. When they reached the bed, he lay where she indicated and let her settle in next to him.
"It's all right, Will," she told him again, stroking his hair as she cradled his head against her uniform. "It's getting better."
His hand touched her sleeve. "You're in uniform," he noted dully.
Troi smiled. "A counselor's work is never done," she whispered. And then she placed her fingertips on his eyelids. "Close your eyes, Will."
He closed them.
"I'm sorry, Deanna."
"For assuming ..."
"That we were together for less than professional reasons?" She stroked his face, his beard, curled her body around him so he felt possessed. "I forgive you, Commander."
"I just ..."
She waited a long time for him to continue.
"Just what?" she prompted finally.
His eyes opened slowly, meeting hers. He reached out and laid one hand on her waist. It rode the rise of her hip and then the downslope of her thigh, finally settling near the bent knee that pressed itself into the curl of his body.
"Is this in the job description?" he asked quietly.
"For counselor?" she responded with a gentle smile. "Or for friend?"
She continued stroking his face, holding his head nestled against her. Her fingers reached out and once again closed his eyes. "Sleep, Commander," she ordered. "And dream of my mother."
He shuddered and pulled her closer.
"Come," Riker answered quietly.
He'd been reading, trying to kill time between the beginning of Deanna's shift and the end of it, when the call buzzer intruded on his solitude. Though he wasn't expecting a visitor, it didn't surprise him either. Both Geordi and Worf had dropped by several times. And according to Beverly, there were others who asked about him on a regular basis.
The door hissed open, and Jean-Luc Picard stepped across the threshold.
That surprised him. It showed in his expression as he started to an instinctive stand, but Picard waved the show of respect off.
"Am I disturbing you, Number One?"
Riker settled back to his chair and shoved the book aside. "Not at all, sir." He gestured to the couch. "Have a seat."
Picard smiled, but shook his head. "Actually," he ventured, eyes scanning the younger man carefully, "I thought we might go for a walk. If you're up to it?"
Riker nodded and rose. Together, first officer and captain took to the corridors of the USS Enterprise for the first time in over a week.
"Beverly put you up to this?" Riker inquired wryly as they left his quarters behind. "Is she recruiting volunteers now to shame me into establishing that exercise routine she's been harping about?"
"Actually," Picard answered, "I've been speaking to Deanna. She told me about the holodeck."
Riker's step hitched. He developed an intense interest in the dull shine of his boots for more than a dozen steps. "Oh," he allowed finally. Rolling his shoulders one at a time, he ran an uncomfortable hand across his beard. "That."
They took another dozen steps in silence.
The click of their footstep rang hollow in the empty corridor.
"I thought there was something on the books about doctor/patient confidentiality," Riker commented, only half in jest.
"As I'm sure you're aware, Number One," Picard countered calmly, "a counselor is not a psychiatrist." He glanced at the first officer from one corner of his gaze. "And there is no such thing as privacy in the service."
Riker grinned. Several occasions when the lack of privacy aboard a space-faring vessel had proven not only an inconvenience, but an embarrassment as well, reminded themselves to him. "Yes, sir," he allowed. "I've run up against that on occasion."
"Lieutenant Swanson," Picard surmised.
Riker started, staring at his captain. Picard answered the look of amazement with a half-smile and a shrug. "Word travels fast in a closed environment, Number One," he allowed blandly. "And on occasion," he mimicked both Riker's word choice and tone with exacting accuracy, "even the captain gets wind of the juicer tidbits."
Riker sighed. "Great. Just great."
Picard drew to a halt before the door to holodeck three. It was only then that Riker realized he should have seen the destination coming. Picard's expression sobered, as did Riker's.
"I thought," Picard stated calmly, "That, considering the circumstances, there was something you might like to see." He re-directed his voice. "Computer. Load Picard one dash oh dash one."
"Program protected," The computer informed them. "Authorization code required."
"Authorization: Irrelevant," Picard responded.
"Authorization Picard one dash oh dash one accepted. Program loaded."
"Run program." Picard glanced to Riker. "Ready, Number One?" The younger man nodded, unsure what to expect.
Picard stepped forward. The doors hissed open and together, they crossed the threshold into the simulation already in progress.
The ship was huge, just as both men remembered it. Hundreds of thousands of Borg went about their business, ignoring the presence of two Starfleet officers in their midst as if it were irrelevant.
"This is the bridge," Picard announced quietly. "As much a bridge as they had, anyway."
Riker stepped slowly to the captain's side. He stared out the huge viewscreen, watching the destructive battle at Wolf 357 replaying itself in the cold black void of space.
"I don't understand, sir," Riker said finally.
"Neither did Deanna." Picard's eyes were distant. "Or Beverly. But I found it necessary to the healing process. I needed to exercise some semblance of control over my nightmares. I needed to be able to end them on command, before I could control them when they invaded my dreams."
"Did it work?" Riker asked, his voice barely a whisper.
"After a fashion," Picard admitted. "And after a great deal of time."
"What did you do until then?"
Picard smiled. It was a sad, painful expression pulled from years in the past. "I waited, Number One. And I prayed."
Riker nodded. "I've been doing some of that myself, sir."
"In the vast unknown of space, there is a place for a belief in a benevolent God," Picard mused. He shot his first officer a side-long glance. "That, of course, is a personal opinion."
Riker nodded. "One I find comforting."
Picard looked once again to the viewscreen. For several moments, he watched the destruction that blazed across it.
"Computer. Terminate program."
"Program terminated," the computer agreed.
The holodeck melted around them, resuming its unadorned grid to await further instructions.
"Well," Picard said finally. His voice echoed slightly in the emptiness as he turned to Riker. "I've shown you my nightmare, Number One. Why don't you show me yours?"
Riker drew a deep breath. "Computer. Load program Riker 47."
"Program protected," The computer informed them. "Authorization code required."
"Authorization: Thelonius Monk," Riker responded.
"Authorization Riker 47 rejected."
Riker jolted. "What?" he demanded.
"Authorization Riker 47 rejected," the computer complied helpfully.
"Authorization code Thelonius Monk no longer valid."
"Why?" Riker demanded again.
"Authorization code changed."
"On who's authority?"
"Authority 001," the computer answered.
Riker turned to the captain. "That's you," he announced unnecessarily.
"Counselor Troi requested permission to change the authorization code," Picard agreed. "She seemed to think it was important."
"What did she change it to?"
"She said you would know."
"Well I don't."
"She said it was something you should be reminded of whenever you chose to visit Ward 47."
Slowly, Riker smiled.
"Computer," he ordered. "Load program Riker 47."
"Program protected," the computer repeated. "Authorization code required."
"Authorization: Lwaxanna Troi," Riker responded.
"Authorization Riker 47 accepted. Program loaded."
Riker squared his shoulders. He glanced to Picard and then drew a deep breath. "Run program."
Slowly, Ward 47 formed around them.End