written by Gill Marsden
Angry and frustrated, Riker rolled onto his back and away from the woman at his side. "Damn it, Deanna!" After a moment he kicked off the sheets. Left stranded on the bed, Deanna Troi watched the single movement with which Riker took the comfort of his body away from hers, dragged back the covers and marched into the bathroom.
"Damn it!" She heard the slap of his fist punch against the shower stall. "The re-cyc's down." There was no water. The sonics, drawing too much of the ship's scarce power, were not an option.
Marooned on the bed, Deanna could feel his anger ricocheting around her like a projectile fired into a closed room. No amount of cowering would save her from its wounding.
"Will?" Troi came off the bed, snagging her feet in the sheets puddled on the floor where Riker had kicked them with such self-loathing. "Will?"
He was slumped on the lavatory's closed lid. Then he was back on his feet, fists hammering against the innocent walls, his breath clouding the vanity mirror in front of him. The walls took his beating.
She, the watcher at the bathroom door, lingering in the shadows that now perpetually haunted the decks of the Federation's flagship, took the blaze of his fury with equanimity.. Flagship! That in itself was a joke! For a moment she closed her eyes against the sentiment: to linger on it would bring others crowding out of the shadows. They would in turn lead her - him, all of them - to dangerous thinking. It was dangerous to suspect the futility of their situation, ill advised to compare what they were now against what they had been once. They needed discipline to survive. Hope.
Troi looked at the man beating the hell out of the tiny bathroom. Usually it came from him - the discipline, the hope, the courage.
"Please, Will, stop it."
Only with her - hidden from the eyes who looked to him for encouragement - did he crumble, weighed down by the burden of all their expectations.
"It doesn't matter, Will!"
Her words froze the pounding of his fists. He turned to look at her.
"I'm getting tired of hearing that, Counselor!"
Without replying Deanna turned back into the bedroom, re-made the bed and pulled on her robe.
These were not her quarters, nor his. They had been appropriated from an Ensign Dalish. Ensign Dalish and his roommate had no further use for this cabin, and it being smaller, more economical to heat, illuminate, provide water and gravity to than those staterooms normally enjoyed by the senior officers, they and the other remaining senior officers had abandoned what luxuries came with their rank and had retreated to the lower decks.
Riker and Troi had found themselves together, had gravitated back to one another - here in this small cabin. Doubling up had been a necessity; half the ship had been written off, closed down, sealed. It would have made sense to jettison those now useless parts, but Riker had dismissed the suggestion. He needed to know the Enterprise was still intact, still whole. They all, he had insisted, needed to know that this ship in particular still survived intact.
Intact? Enterprise was barely capable of keeping her skeleton crew alive. And like a body that suffers disease and amputation that crew was becoming less viable every day. The ship barely had enough light to illuminate its corridors, and as a concession Troi moved about lighting more candles.
On first seeing them, Riker's reaction had been predictable, hostile. Like cancer, anger ravaged him.
"What the hell are these?" he had asked, coming through the door from a corridor crowded with darkness, from a bridge slippery at 85 percent gravity. His boots were dirty. There was a limp in his gait.
"Ambience," she had replied, having come from another orphaned child, another grieving widow. The gentle light was a comfort to the second-hand anguish still wailing in her mind.
"Put them out," he had snapped.
"They took less power to replicate than to light this cabin for a night. Did you know that?" Deanna spat back, angry that Riker would not allow himself to pretend she had lit the candles to evoke more gentle times, and not because they would preserve scarce energy. His need to face the situation head-on, to disallow himself and the crew the luxury of self-delusion would destroy him. Troi could see the effects of it on him, how he had aged, as if the years he would not see had come running in from the end of his life to burden him now. He wore his war wounds like medals, living with the fractures that hardly healed, carrying their deaths like a banner. And at his side was Worf who lived this war as if born to it. Worf the last surviving Klingon who carried the heritage of his people and beat the drum of no-surrender.
"They're just candles, Will. I thought for tonight we could forget - "
"They're here, Deanna! There is hardly anything left to fight for!" The sweeping arc of his arm sent the candles and their fluttering flames to the deck. " I can't forget that!" And he couldn't. In his dreams, he struggled to remember the terror of the waking hours, tossing on sweaty sheets, ramming his fists into yielding pillows as if they were cold cyborg flesh and he could tear the life out of them.
* * * * *
On that night of the candles they had rediscovered each others bodies after years of absence and abstinence. The night of the candles had been the last night of their love-making as the text books would describe it.
She had coaxed it out of him, a tenderness he had thought he had lost, a respect for life he could not remember ever having felt. She had thought it might save his life, his sanity. Her life. Her sanity.
"You used to think I was beautiful."
She wore a diaphanous gown, its skirts too long and trailing behind her like the wedding train she would never wear. Its bodice fitted badly, skimming her hips when it should have nipped her waist. She didn't care how she looked, only how she felt - for a moment like a woman again. She needed him to make her feel like a woman, alive, flesh worth fighting for. She needed to remind him who he was, what he was - a chain in the organic life of the galaxy and why he was fighting for it.
Deanna took hold of his hand in hers. It was wrapped in a rag that had once been a uniform undershirt. Blood seeped through the fabric.
Riker pulled away his hand, but she could tell by the way a grimace soured his face that it was bad.
"You should go to sickbay."
"It would heal a whole lot - "
"For Chrissake, Deanna!"
They seemed to be the only words spoken between them these days: protestations, verbatim apologies, bland assurances that no harm had been done.
She watched him unwrap the bandage.
"I did stop by sickbay," Riker said, tossing a hypo and other equipment on the table top by the derelict terminal interface. These days the computer spoke to them only erratically, and then seemed to have no answers to their problems. Deanna watched Riker pushing the hypo against his throat and applying the derma-regenerator. The instrument slipped from his fingers and thudded to the floor.
"Can I help?" Deanna asked, feeling foolish in her evening gown, in her hopes of seducing him. She had only wanted to feel the weight of his body, to comfort and be comforted. Foolishly or not, she wanted to be reminded of how her life had been, how the galaxy had been, before -
Riker knelt to retrieve the knitter from the floor. Instead of getting back to his feet he stayed with it on the deck, his back pressed against the wall. Deanna knew he felt as if it had always been this way for him - his back against a wall.
"Yeah, sure. Bev gave me a shot while I was down there."
"What happened?" Deanna asked, coming to his side in the gown Beverly had given her, the doctor's souvenir of better times. Before they were done, it would probably see out half the female crew.
Deanna took Riker's hand and the derma-knitter knowing that his visit to sickbay would have been brief, surreptitious. He needed them to think him invulnerable, immortal. They had thought that of Picard. And how correct they had been! Picard's invulnerability and immortality plagued their waking nightmares.
Riker's head lolled back against the wall, his eyes dragged closed by fatigue.
"I was on my ass in Jefferies tube Baker 17 with Lefler. The entire conducting shaft sheared right off for a hundred metres. Ah - " He snatched away his hand.
"I'm sorry," Deanna murmured, taking his hand again and applying the slender laser on a lower setting this time. "Lieutenant Lefler?"
Riker shook his head, looking away. Something clouded across his eyes to dilute them another shade paler. He pulled away his hand.
"I've gotten blood on your dress."
"It doesn't matter," Deanna dismissed. Riker wasn't interested in what she was offering; had not noticed that she was even offering it. Once the merest hint of encouragement would have had him with a smile on his face, a swagger in his walk. War had hamstrung him, and survival consumed him. It was a life of subsistence without reprieve. There needed to be the hope of acquittal.
Deanna was getting to her feet when Riker reached out and pulled her back down to his side.
"Do this for me?" he asked, indicating her gown, the coiffured tendrils of her hair, inhaling the perfume she wore. Riker's voice rasped. Deanna could hear his breath wheezing like antique machinery in his chest. On the bridge, they had only partial life support. Only in the crew quarters did they find any respite. A six hour off-watch all the time Riker could find for them to recuperate. It was not enough to restore them to the health stolen by meagre gravity, faltering shields and insufficient oxygen. Their own carbon dioxide was suffocating them, their own water poisoning them and seeping radiation maiming them.
Deanna took hold of Riker's undamaged hand and laid its palm against her cheek.
"We're down to five engineers," Riker murmured. "There's a kid with the colonists we picked up from Zetal Ty. La Forge reckons she was going to the Academy before - before. He's told her he needs her in engineering."
She took his good hand and slipped it to her neck, massaging the fingers against her skin, reminding them of what they used to do.
I can't afford them, De. I can't keep on rescuing survivors. They're deadwood."
Deanna slipped the unwilling fingers against her breast, feeling their weight through the almost-not-there fabric.
"I can't leave them. I can't leave them to the Borg."
She felt her nipples harden under the forgotten familiarity of his touch. She took his hand and slipped it through the opening of her bodice. Pressed it harder against her. His other hand rested in his lap. Holding his gaze, finally capturing his attention, she slid his damaged hand along his thigh, crested his knee, pulled it across her own thigh, pushed it against her. She felt the back of his hand brush against her belly, his rough fingers finally move of their own accord against her skin.
"Make love to me, Imzadi."
He leaned forward, touching her lips, his whiskers scraping against her cheek. She lay back, opening her legs, willing him to finish what she had started.
The first time in - years, decades it seemed. The first time since the night before he had left Betazed, the salty spray of the Generan falls still on his face.
* * * * *
That night of the candles had been the last time Riker had been able to make his radiation-ravaged, oxygen-depleted body respond, had been able to divert his mind from the shadow of the Borg.
Still, Deanna remembered it well, fondly, because new life was in her, cradled in her womb. His child, made in candlelight. She carried it knowing it would not live to see its birth, Beverly's scanners and sensors had told her there was no hope. The two women had held hands in a darkness illuminated only by a foetal monitor and watched the baby's heart-beat skip across the screen. They had agreed this organic life would be allowed this fleeting life in its mother's diseased womb.
"I'm sorry," Riker said, coming out of the bathroom, a towel wrapped around his waist. He was slimmer now, almost gaunt from too much weight lost too quickly. Desperation had aged him. Tenacity had stolen his looks.
Deanna smiled, forgiving him, not knowing if he apologised for his anger, or his inability to make love to her.
"Come back to bed, Will."
Riker eyed the re-made sheets as if the bed were the scene of a crime to which he was loath to return.
"You need to sleep," Deanna encouraged when he lingered at the foot of the bed.
"We lost the long range sensors for three hours this morning," Riker said, suddenly, voicing the preoccupation Deanna had sensed in him. "They could have been all over us and we would never have known about it." As much as he tried not to, there would always be more of him up there on the bridge than down here with her. "Remember that colonist kid I was telling you about?"
Deanna remembered. Shirley-Ann Beck wanted to be a teacher, not an engineer. She didn't tell Riker this since he did not even remember the girl's name. She would be lost soon enough and her freckled face would haunt his dreams. He did not need hers to be another of the litany of names called out in his sleep.
"She brought the sensors back on line! Can you believe that? Geordi would have been - "
Geordi. They had lost Commander La Forge three weeks ago. Neither they or the ship could keep on taking this hammering.
Riker's gaze drifted to the bulkhead wall. In the quarters he once commanded, there would have been a window. Nevertheless, he could imagine the scene beyond the bulkhead and the Enterprise's crumbling superstructure. They were in orbit above the pole of a M class world. A dead world, one of the first to become victim of the Borg's relentless rape of this sector. Once it had been Vulcan, close to home, peaceful place of shifting sands, glistening temples and shimmering cities. Riker had brought them here because they needed time to salve their raw nerves, rest paranoid minds and patch their leaking battleship. He had brought them here to hide, hoping that the Borg who had laid waste to this planet would not revisit the scene of their own crimes. They were hidden here by the radiation of Vulcan's suns and the rage of her quixotic upper atmosphere. Riker had laughed on the bridge to the amazement of crewmen who could barely recall the one-time first officer's former humour. He'd told them he'd always found it ironic that such a turbulent atmosphere should rage above the heads of such a composed people.
Now Deanna watched him putting on his clothes. His uniform. He'd never bothered to add the rank pin of captain to the three he already wore. She often wondered why that was. Did he expect Picard to return to claim his ship, his command? Or did he fear Locutus coming to steal his life from him if he should show such insolence?
"How are you?" Riker asked.
"Fine. I'm fine," Deanna replied, knowing how hard he found it to remember to pay attention to her.
He came across the room, slipping his hands across the swell of her belly. In her womb, Deanna's baby kicked against his father's hand. The captain's head bent to kiss the child within. He knew this was as close as he would come to fatherhood.
"There aren't enough of us, you know," he murmured so quietly Deanna wondered if he was speaking to her, or to their child: passing on knowledge from the father to the son as organic life had done for millennia. "There aren't enough Organics to carry on. You know that, don't you, Deanna?"
It was a matter of pride for them now. A point of honour to defend themselves against the Borg, to die trying to live. Giving them the two-fingered salute, Riker had said: an archaic reference he had picked up from one of the ancient trash novels Deanna had found stowed under their bed. She didn't care what he found to divert himself from the war as long as he found something. And there wasn't much. It only disquieted her to learn the books were war stories from old Earth, tales of bloodlust and bloodletting fought on the high seas and in the war-torn air. She wondered what Picard would have made of his first officer's choice of reading material. Picard. Picard. Locutus of Borg. The captain's personality haunted the hobbling ship and Riker lived every day in the shadow of them both.
"I have something for you," Riker said. He took her hand and gripped it tightly as if knew what she was thinking. And he did: he had seen her expression on all of their faces - the wishful return for the captain who now sought only to lead them to their destruction. Deanna let herself be pulled up from the bed.
Out in the corridor, she saw how Riker mutated into the man who chilled her. She would not have chosen such a man without humanity in his eyes, to have been the father of her child. In private, he allowed himself a little lenience, a little of the man he used to be. Deanna knew it was because of her efforts that he allowed himself to weaken behind closed doors. Sometimes he needed to be weak, to cry in her arms as her baby never would, because out here he captained one of only three surviving Starfleet vessels. Deep in her heart, in the darkest corners of her soul Deanna knew he would soon be lost to her: the Will Riker she knew. He would forget how to be the Will Riker he had been in the days before Locutus' succeeding genocide.
At the holodeck doors, Deanna frowned. She couldn't remember how long it had been since she had used a holodeck.
"Come on." He tugged her hand like a child eager to enter the Christmas grotto.
The doors grated open for them, and after a moment, clanked shut at their backs. The holodeck's gridded walls hummed palely. She didn't think they had always seemed this weakly powered.
"Computer, run program."
"What is it, Will?" Deanna asked, seeing nothing, no transformation. She thought that the program hadn't completed, and was glad that it hadn't. It would have been a ludicrous waste of power.
Riker sank to his haunches.
Deanna looked down.
The bloom lay at her feet, a single long-stemmed flower. Like teeth, thorns dressed its stem.
"It's beautiful," she said, crouching on the deck's cold floor.
"Happy Birthday, Deanna."
Deanna lifted the holodeck flower. The only thing it had created in over 18 months. Native to Betazed, the flower changed colour in the empath's hands.
"I've been bleeding power from the replicators for a week," Riker confessed. "Don't tell Worf, he'll probably call a court martial."
Deanna brushed the petals against her cheek, inhaled the fragile fragrance. Home. It came from home - where the doors had been kicked in, the windows smashed and the occupants dragged into the streets and killed.
"It's beautiful, Will."
"I'm sorry you can't take it with you."
She lay the bloom back on the deck's grimy black surface and was about to say something when the ship rocked. Abandoned, the Betazed rose winked out of existence. Around them, the holodeck's grid pattern were flickering and the lights dimming. Above their heads alarm klaxons were screaming.
"Riker from Worf."
"Were you asleep up there, Lieutenant?" Riker barked, accusation like a whip in his voice.
"Borg ship, thirty seven thousand kilometres and closing."
"Fifty three percent."
"Get us out of here, Lieutenant."
There was no argument from the Klingon who had learned the hard way that there was no dishonour in running away. In the dead of night it was a lesson he wished the rest of his species had also learned.
Riker turned to Deanna who had been knocked from her feet and was sprawled on the floor. Kneeling at her side he helped her up.
"My last birthday," Deanna said quietly.
Riker's gaze went to the swell of her stomach. He knew now, as he had known all along, that his son would never be born.
Deanna gripped his hand tightly.
"I will always remember my last birthday," she said in a tone whose brightness was matched only by its falseness. They strode towards the holodeck door. "I will always remember the last time you held me in your arms. I will always remember ..." her voice petered away, battered into defeat by the emotions coming from the father of her child.
"Say it, Deanna."
"I will always remember the last time you made love to me," Deanna said, bravely.
"So will I," Riker said, knowing it would take a miracle for him to be able to do it again, the same miracle that would get them out of this galaxy where nothing that was not Borg would ever survive. And if it came to pass, he would be damned and burn in hell before he would allow this ship and this crew to be returned to the here and now.