Riker jumped, feeling slightly flustered. Being startled aboard the vessel he called home was one thing. It was quite another when it was the soft, melodious voice of his Imzadi. Suddenly feeling a renewed pang of guilt as he realised that Deanna Troi could absolutely sense his discomfort, and then another pang of guilt because he knew she could also sense that – this was getting paradoxical – Will turned, straightened up to his full height, tugged on his uniform and innocently enquired “Something I can do for you, Counsellor?”
Troi tilted her head. “Well, we’re both off-duty. I wondered if you wanted to spend some time together, but the computer said you were back down here. Again.” She hesitated, gesturing towards the large archway that Riker had been bracing against. “It was only a few days ago that you and I stood on that very holodeck and watched Admiral Archer–”
“–Jonathan Archer give the speech that birthed the Federation. The Pegasus incident is behind us, Will. Admiral Pressman is facing charges. He’s probably also facing being shipped out to some…I don’t know, some deserted island somewhere. Why are you still so tense? And also…”
Troi’s gaze drifted down towards Riker’s hand and her brow furrowed. “Is that a… tomato? A burnt tomato?”
Ten thousand lies, bluffs, strategies, excuses… None of them would be enough to faze Counsellor Deanna Troi. Riker knew that well enough by now, and sagged a little. “Look, Deanna… after we got done rooting through the past adventures of Archer’s Enterprise. I got greedy.” He let out a slow breath. “Perhaps I even got a little reckless. So I asked the computer to disable the heuristic protocols and predict our future. To see where we’d all be fifteen years from now. Give or take.”
Troi’s dark eyes widened in surprise. “Will! The heuristic protocols are only supposed to be enabled during tactical emergencies. There’s no reason for you–”
“Captain Picard is going to die.”
He didn’t remember Deanna reaching out, but there she was, her hand clasped tightly over his. “We’re all going to die, Will. And the holodeck isn’t a fortune-teller.”
“No, but…” Riker shook his head. “I was stupid, I went in blind. I could have read the synopsis but I just dove straight back into– well, me, I guess. My life. Yours, too. We were…” He hesitated, but there was no turning back now. “Together, you and I. A family, with a little girl.”
“Will, that’s nothing to be–”
“It used to be two.”
Mercifully, Deanna said nothing. Riker’s sleeve found its way across his face, wiping away a sudden wetness as he continued. “Nepenthe. We moved to this planet because of a virus… and Data was gone, and the Romulans… The Borg… Oh god, Deanna, it all went so wrong.” The words forced themselves out of his heaving chest now as the anger bubbled. “The Captain. Data, for God’s sake! Our family, our friends… They all deserve more! SO MUCH FU–”
Riker practically gagged on the word as it floundered on the tip of his tongue. Angry or not, he was a Starfleet officer. There were some old Earth customs, like cursing, that had had their day, and he’d be damned if he’d allow his fear or fury to rebith them. “They deserved more,” he finished, limply.
Troi’s voice filled Riker’s thoughts as she pulled him close, and though he felt vaguely ridiculous with her tiny figure ungainfully wrapping his own, he allowed himself to be drawn into the embrace. Their touch brought a kind of contact he had all-but-fogotten over the years and he sank down inside himself, allowing Deanna’s mind to wash over him.
I can’t promise we’ll always have good times, Imazadi. I can’t promise that we’ll never be sad. We might even lose hope, sometimes. When those moments come, we shouldn’t cast our net outward in search of answers We should look inside ourselves. We, each and every one of the burning stars of this galaxy. If one of us loses that hope, the others ignite it. That’s our oath. That’s what it means to be part of a family. However long that family gets to be together.
Riker’s eyes were heavy and sore, and tears flowed freely from them as he held Deanna tightly. He knew that she and Worf were… close, now, but in that moment he’d have fought the whole damn Kilngon Empire to feel his future wife – if that future were indeed to be – against him. After a few moments of silent, agonising release, he felt the last of his pain flow away, into the ether. Despite the Dickensian images of Christmas Yet to Come, William T. Riker was himself again.
“Thank you, Deanna.” He said, hoarsely. His throat felt red-raw. “You’re right. Whatever happens, whatever I saw, I won’t let it define who I am. You know what? Despite everything, I actually still like who I am. Who we all are. Nothing’s going to change the people we were yesterday.”
“Then tomorrow can’t be all that bad, now can it?” Deanna pulled herself away from Will. “Well, I have an appointment to get to. See you on the bridge at eighteen-hundred?”
“Mmm,” Riker watched, still queasy as he recovered himself. Hugh… Gulping deeply, he decided that maybe it was best to place a blocker on his holodeck protocols for a while, at least when it came to speculative fiction. Clearly there were still a few kinks to work out. After all, he reasoned, regaining something of his customary swagger as he made his way to the turbolift, it wasn’t like the computer, churning out stories with the dreadful arithmetic of a device seeking to offer entertainment, understood the human adventure.
It didn’t understand it at all.