"A Little Bit of Time"
Disclaimer: You know the drill.
Synopsis: A melancholy evening for Riker on the eve of a life-changing day.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the U.S.S. Enterprise E found Will Riker sitting by the fire. It was a chilly night bordering on cold he thought even though his first officer didn't seem to notice.
Will sat with his knees up and his arms draped over them. The firelight whispered over his face and suggested a hint of melancholy. Riker took in a cleansing breath and let his head fall forward slightly.
"Thought I'd find you here," Picard said as he rounded the fire and sat next to his comrade. Truth was, he noticed when Will had slipped away from his bachelor party early and was concerned for him. It wasn't like Riker to leave a party early-especially his own.
Will glanced at his captain and then turned his gaze upon the fire. "I've just been thinking about tomorrow." His voice seemed small in a way that caught even more of Picard's attention.
"You left early. Do I not throw a good party or something?" Picard saw a smile flicker across Riker's face mirroring the flickers of the flames in front of them.
Will drew in another deep breath as his smile faded. "The party was great, although I think Worf was enjoying himself more than I ever could."
The captain chuckled at the thought of the burly Klingon throwing himself into all of the chaos that goes on at such a celebration. He definitely had been enjoying himself. Probably still was. "I'm sure he'll feel the effects tomorrow." He let the words linger in the air before adding, "Speaking of tomorrow, you're not getting cold feet are you?"
Riker's brow shot up and he looked at Picard fully. "Deanna would have my head if I were. No. She and I have been waiting for this. It's just that we were so eager to get here at this point that we looked past having to give up a lot of things once we did get here."
Picard eyed the old fashioned pot of coffee sitting on the ground next to him. He reached for it and a spare cup near by. Slowly, he let the liquid drain into the dark blue mug and savored the smell of fresh coffee just brewed over the fire. "We've spent a good many years together. But we all knew that it would have to come to an end. You can't go through life in the same place."
"Why not?" Will turned sharp eyes on the captain and Picard backed the cup of coffee away from his lips as he was about to drink.
He stared at Riker for moment and then completed his motion to drink. "I'll tell you why not. When we get too comfortable, too familiar with something, we tend to take it for granted. We start to relax our minds and our bodies and that can impair growth. You can't learn as much staying in one place. That's why the Enterprise exists. It's why Starfleet exists. Just think what our lives would be like today if man had opted to stay on Earth. It's our comfort zone. But just look at everything we would have missed out on."
Riker smirked and readjusted his arms. "Well, when you put it like that…" he trailed off and shifted his eyes to the stars. "What we leave behind is not as important as how we've lived?"
Picard raised his eyes to Rikers, genuinely surprised that you younger man had remembered what he'd said years ago. "We've all lived wonderful lives on the Enterprise together. But there's so much more out there to do and see. We've had our time."
Will nodded absently and continued his stargazing. "You know, it was really hard for Deanna and I to make the decision to leave. You and everyone else mean so much to us. It would be perfect if we could just get married and stay on the Enterprise."
"But Starfleet has other plans for you. You need to go. If you get any better they might just demote me and put you as captain. So I'm going to see to it that you get onto your own ship before that happens."
Riker chuckled and shook his head at the friendly jibe. "The only reason I'm so good is because I've learned everything from you."
"Now that I will not argue." He raised his cup and Riker did the same. "Here's to lessons learned and new adventures."
They clinked their cups together and the sound of tin hitting tin crackled through the sounds of the Alaskan night. "I'm not sure what's going to be more of an adventure. Marriage or the Titan."
"Well, if you ever need advice on your adventures on the Titan, I'm only a subspace communiqué away. However, if it's advice on marriage, I can't guarantee any."
They both laughed at the prospect and Riker pitched what was left of his cold coffee on the ground. "I wonder if Deanna's party hit it of as well as mine?"
They both looked in the direction of Riker's large log home across the field. The lights were on and inside there were high-pitched voices of females having a good time. They could even make out some sort of strange music playing. Picard drowned it all out with his voice, "I think that's a yes, Number One. I'm not sure you should have let them use your house for the party."
"It'll be all right. Beverly said they weren't going to do anything too wild. Of course, I was stupid to believe her."
Picard clapped Will on the shoulder and stood. "Well, it's going to be a long day tomorrow. I think I'll turn in. You should too."
Riker glanced up at his captain and then shook his head. "No thanks. I think I'll stay here a little longer."
Jean-Luc hesitated for a moment and was tempted to stay as well. But he decided that Will probably needed some time alone on the eve of a life-changing day. "Very well. But consider this, Will. We do have very little time left together but your life from here on out is inside that house right now. It pains me to know that I won't be able to share in that life with you as fully as I want to. Life isn't perfect. It's just tolerable at times like these, save for you marriage tomorrow. But we all have to grow up sometime and accept the fact that things have to change. It may not be pleasant. But it is good for you. I couldn't be happier for you and Deanna. Your life will change many more times as mine has over the years. This is simply another one that I have to get through. And I will, just as you will. In time, this will all be just a happy memory and we'll just be distant friends that see each other on occasion."
"You could never be just a distant firend-"
"But I will be," Picard cut him off. "It doesn't seem like in now, but it will. I promise you. I've been through this before and I assure you that it all works out just fine in the end. I'll see you tomorrow."
Riker didn't say anything. He sat there on the cold ground and listened to the captain's retreating footsteps in the grass. Would this all end up a distant memory? Would Picard become just another friend in his past that he'd had the pleasure of serving with? Would all of them? He could swear that he felt something wet on his cheek but he didn't bother to brush it away. He would let it fall. Tomorrow his life would change and soon after that it would change again. Was he ready? No. He could never be ready to leave these people. They were his family. They always would be. He would make sure of it.
Will sighed and poured the rest of the pot of coffee onto the fire causing it to go down a little. It didn't burn as much. A loud shriek came from inside the house followed by a herd of laughter. He smiled. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad after all. He would miss them. But he had Deanna with him through it all. Together they would build a new life on the Titan. Soon there would be a new family to get to know and children to consider. Who knew? The way things were going between Picard and Beverly, they could be back at Earth this time next year for another wedding. Maybe two years. He hoped that they would.
Riker stood and finally decided to head back to the Enterprise. He would roam through the corridors and memorize every detail about his flagship. Then he would go back to his quarters and try to get some sleep before his wedding. What a thing that would be.
He threw some dirt on the fire, effectively smothering it. With one last glance at the stars from the ground he tapped his communicator and requested to be beamed up. In less than 24 hours his life would change. All of their lives would change. But for the first time, he knew that everything would be all right in the end. It would just take a little time. Blue light shimmered around him and the tingle of the transporter enveloped him.