“Come,” the captain said.
I walked into his ready room. “Sir? You wished to see me?”
“Yes, Number One,” he said. “Sit down. There’s a matter I wish to discuss.”
I pulled the chair over and sat in it. I was a little confused, not being aware of any matter at hand.
He looked up at me. “I’ve been speaking with Dr Crusher,” he began. “I understand you have been in her office several times over the past six weeks.”
Okay, at least I knew what the subject was now. “Three times, sir,” I said. “In eight weeks.”
“Holodeck accidents?” He looked down at the padd on his desk. “A broken collarbone? Two fractured ribs. A dislocated elbow, contusions, and a concussion. That,” he said, “was last week.”
“What have you planned for this week, Number One? Broken legs? Jaw? Herniated disc, perhaps?” His look was not exactly friendly. “Just what the hell is going on?”
I shifted in my seat. “Just a vigourous program, sir,” I said. “Perhaps a little too vigourous,” I added ruefully, grinning.
“Is there a joke that I’m missing, Mr Riker?”
He was angry. He was covering it well, but he was angry. I drew in my breath. “No, sir,” I said. “No joke. I’m sorry to have taken up your time with this, sir. I’ll be more careful in the future.”
“Indeed.” He stood up. “I’m not entirely convinced of that, Number One.”
“Sir?” Now I was back to being confused again.
“You see,” he said, coming around the side of the desk, and leaning against it, so that he was looking down at me. “I took the liberty – I’m sure you don’t mind – of reviewing your current holodeck programs.”
“You what?” I said. This was a breach of privacy and protocol.
“You have to understand, Will, that Beverly contacted me,” he said, sounding a little bit more conciliatory. “She is thinking of grounding you.”
“What?” Now I was flabbergasted.
“Look at your injuries,” he said, reasonably. “More and more severe. I told her that I would find out the source of the problem and talk to you, before she takes you off the bridge and sends you to Deanna. I assume,” he said, wryly, “that this is not an issue you wish to discuss with Deanna?”
“Captain, there’s no issue,” I said. “Perhaps the program’s too much, or I’ve been a little careless. You’ve warned me now, sir. It won’t happen again.”
“Well, the problem is, Will, that I don’t believe you,” he said. “I believe the problem will get worse. And it needs to be sorted out. You need to be sorted out, or I’m afraid that I will have to concur with Beverly’s assessment, that you are currently not fit for duty.”
“But – “
“Yes? Is there a program you’d like to explain to me in particular?” he asked.
Oh. I felt the colour rise in my face.
“It seems to me, William,” he said, gently, “that there is a theme running through your most recent programs. One which concerns me.”
“Sir.” What had happened to my day? I’d gotten up. It had been a perfectly ordinary day. A little fun in engineering with Geordi, a good class in the morning, an interesting discussion with Data, and then it ends up with death by embarrassment.
He bent down and put his hands on my shoulders. “Look at me,” he said.
Oh, God. If it were possible to just die now – I looked at him. “Captain – “
“Why, William, do you feel the need to punish yourself? What exactly have you done to deserve such treatment?”
“I’m not – “
“You are. You have created this incredible persona – I must hand it to you, it’s superbly crafted, and it’s held up so many years. The perfect Mr Riker, yes? Brave, loyal, strong, kind, compassionate, dutiful, funny, and saviour – don’t deny it – of the Federation. So what did you do? Did you snap at Geordi? Tease Data? Pull a prank on Worf? What exactly have you done that doesn’t fit in your Mr Perfect mold, so that you feel this obligation to negate yourself?”
“Please – “ I found myself blinking back sudden tears, and where the hell had they come from?
He let me go and leaned back against the desk. “That one program that I saw, Will,” he said quietly. “It was quite abusive. And I couldn’t figure out what you were getting, from that level of abuse. And then it came to me – you didn’t have to be the persona you’d created in that particular program. You didn’t have to be anything. And it's true, Will -- you never seem to be able to give yourself a break from the persona, even on leave. But I believe I know you, Will. You are not your persona. So now what? Which is cracking? The persona, or you?”
“I – I don’t know what to say,” I muttered. I looked up at him. His eyes were full of kindness and concern, nothing else. Did he pity me? I wondered. Was he ashamed of me? I would have to transfer.
“I took the opportunity to dig a little deeper,” he was saying. “You seem to be mirroring some of the injuries you sustained as a child. Injuries that are very suspicious in a child, Will. I’ve never personally liked your father, and fortunately for me, I have only dealt with him that one time. But I looked at some of your childhood medical records and I discover that it appears the man was systematically abusing you. Yes?”
“It wasn’t abuse,” I said, looking down. “I was difficult.”
“Really? And if there were a child on this ship, who was showing up in sickbay with broken bones and contusions, what would you do?” He sighed. “Don’t answer, because I know what you would do. What else did your father do? Besides beat you and emotionally abuse you? Will?”
“Nothing,” I whispered.
“Even when you were hospitalised with internal injuries?”
“I don’t remember --“
“If you’ll pardon my saying so, bullshit.” He sounded angry again. “Why didn’t the Federation do something? Or the local authorities?”
“They did,” I said.
“After he abandoned you.”
“Permission to be dismissed, sir,” I said. “I’ll stay out of the holodeck. Sir.”
“Oh, that’s not the point, and you know it,” he said. He paced around the room for a minute, before stopping at the replicator and ordering his tea. “Do you want something to drink?” he asked.
I shook my head. He sipped the tea and then placed it on his desk.
“So what now, Will?” he asked.
“I’ll have to transfer,” I said. My hands were shaking, and I pressed them into my knees.
“Ah, Will,” he said.
“You – “ I began, but I couldn't figure out what it was I wanted to say.
“I felt such sorrow," he said, "watching you."
“Please," I said. "Permission to be dismissed."
He sighed, and then he said, "I've known for some time, Will. It's not against the rules, you know. We are both at comparable ranks. You could have been captain now, many times over, and have been acting captain too often for me to count. It doesn't fit in with your persona -- but then, you are not your persona, are you?"
"I don't know what you want me to do," I said, finally.
He came to me again, lifting my face so that I had to look at him. “Did you think that I might reject you? Abandon you, too? Because,” he said, and he brushed my hair off of my forehead, “I can assure you that I would do neither.”
He let me go, and moved back to his desk. He picked up the mug of tea, but then he didn’t drink it. I tried to absorb what he said. My thoughts were spiraling. I didn’t know how we had gotten here – and then I didn’t know what to do, now that we were here.
“I – I thought you were only attracted to women,” I said.
“Clearly not,” he replied.
He was waiting for me to say something.
“Will?” he said now. “Can you let the persona go? You don’t feel safe, even now, to tell me what you want?”
“I don’t disgust you?”
“Mère de Dieu,” he said. “How could you possibly disgust me?”
“The program – “
“—was a cry for help,” he finished. “You’re brave enough to face the Borg. Are you brave enough to ask me for what you want?”
I’d been holding my breath, without realising it, and I exhaled, slowly. “I think I've been in love with you, Jean-Luc,” I said, and watched that carefully-constructed William T Riker shatter into a million sherds on the deck.
I was enveloped in his strong arms, then, and he kissed me on the top of my head. “Finalement,” he said. “I will very happily give us both the day off, Number One, if you will accompany me to my quarters. Lunch, perhaps?” He brought my face up to him, and kissed me softly.
“Perhaps,” I said, and kissed him back.