"Oh yes, Number One, about that Horga'hn you requested,” Picard said, his eyes glittering. “You and I need to have a little chat about that."
Picard gestured for Riker to lead the way into the ready room, following immediately after. He waited until the door was firmly shut to cross his arms and give Riker a piercing look. “You neglected to mention that that souvenir you requested I buy for you was some sort of sex totem.”
“Must have slipped my mind, sir,” Riker said, with a completely straight face.
“Really, Riker?” Picard gave his first officer a disbelieving look. “I assure you, if I wanted to go around holding a sign that says ‘Call Picard for a good time,’ I would make my own. I don’t need your help.”
“But you had a good vacation, didn’t you?” Riker pointed out, unable to suppress his grin.
Picard frowned. “Yes, I suppose I did,” he admitted. “But not because of this ‘souvenir’ of yours! Did you know what one woman said to me, when I told her it was for a friend?”
“What?” Riker said, still grinning.
“She asked if it was for someone close to me. Someone I loved. I looked it up. Apparently, in the Risian culture, a Horga'hn is a gift one gives to a close friend to signal sexual attraction.”
“I had no idea, Captain,” Riker lied cheerfully.
Picard sat down at his desk. “You know, Number One, a gesture like that could easily be misinterpreted. Someone knowledgeable about Risian culture but not privy to our . . . strictly professional . . . relationship might take it the wrong way.”
Riker put his hand on the desk and leaned over. “Are you sure that isn’t the right way to take it, sir?”
Picard stared up at him. “Why, Commander, I believe you’re hitting on me,” he said after a moment.
“What clued you in?” Riker said, smirking.
Picard frowned slightly. “Riker - as your commanding officer, I cannot - ”
Riker waved a hand. “Come on, Jean-Luc. After everything we’ve been through, don’t you think we’re past that? If you’re not interested, tell it to me straight. Nothing has to change, we can go right on as if I never made any kind of offer.”
“It’s not that I’m not interested, Will,” Picard said, leaning back in his chair. “It’s a matter of ethics and practicality.”
“You can’t tell me you’ve never been with another Starfleet officer before,” Riker said.
“Not one under my command,” Picard protested. “There is a conflict of interest that comes into play when dating one’s subordinates, Riker. What if I were to be accused of favoritism - of making you my first officer because I am attracted to you?”
“A-ha! So you are attracted to me,” Riker said.
“That’s - that’s not the point, Will. Of course you are a - a very handsome young man - ” Picard was turning red, and he stopped himself. “In the years we’ve served together, you and I have grown very close,” he said, gently. “I value our friendship. But what if we were to enter into a relationship and it were to end badly? Would you still feel comfortable serving under me? Would we be able to carry out our duties effectively, without our feelings interfering?”
“You’re overthinking this, Captain. We haven’t even held hands, and you’re already planning our divorce.”
“I have to think about these things, Will,” Picard said. “This is a very complicated situation which could have negative repercussions for both of our careers.”
“Captain. Jean-Luc.” Riker pulled out a chair and sat down in front of Picard’s desk. “You should know by now that you’re more important to me than my career.”
That stopped Picard in his tracks. The earnest affection in Riker’s eyes took his breath away. “You’re not merely proposing a short-term dalliance, are you, Riker?” he asked, just to be certain.
“Of course not.” Riker smiled at him. “Besides, I don’t think casual is your style.”
“I suppose not,” Picard admitted. “But I have to think about our future, Riker, casual or not. I have no intention of disrupting the peace aboard this ship with my personal relationships.”
“All right,” Riker said. He leaned back and crossed his arms. “How about this: If we break up, I’ll transfer off this ship. Maybe I’ll accept one of those promotions Command is always tossing at me.”
“I was under the impression that you didn’t want to leave the Enterprise,” Picard said, carefully. He had to admit, he felt a pang at the thought of Riker leaving his ship.
“I don’t. But I’m willing to risk it if it means a chance with you, Captain. What’s life without a little risk?”
Picard smiled softly at his first officer. “I think our lives already come with plenty of risk, Number One.”
“Then let’s take our chances while we have them.” Riker smiled back at him.
Picard found he couldn’t say no to that. He sat up in his chair, trying to look unaffected. “Very well, Number One. Will. Come to dinner tonight, and we’ll see how it goes.”
“In your quarters, sir?” Riker’s eyes twinkled.
Picard found himself grinning back at Riker. “In my quarters.”
Riker’s grin widened. “See you there, Captain!” He turned to go, and then paused. “Oh, and Captain?”
“Make sure to bring the Horga'hn with you.” And with that parting remark, he walked back out onto the bridge.