A.N.: An interlude after "Pre-Emptive Strike".

Hey, I'm just surprised that no one else has ever used this title, at least to my knowledge. I just thought that there were some things left unresolved between Laren and Will. Not to mention with Jean-Luc Picard. This story isn't part of any of my other alternate universes. (See THE BEST LAID PLANS, THE SKY'S THE LIMIT or ATTACHED MEANT.) And unlike all of my other stories, this one is actually close to being canon. And, believe it or not, it is actually a new story that was never published in a fanzine. Though I've had the plot line in my head for years...

All the usual disclaimers apply. I just like to play in the ST playground. Though I wouldn't mind living here...

And please be kind and feed the author with a review or a comment. Your reviews are what keep all of us writers going and creating new material. So be kind and review all the stories that your read. At least, every now and then.

Ro, Ro, Ro Your Boat…

"I didn't order this." The first officer of the Enterprise 1701-D shook his head and blindly shoved the glass away, not even bothering to look at it.

"Yes, Commander - you did," the barkeep replied. She thrust the low-ball tumbler back in his direction, across the white backlit surface of the square, glass topped table located next to a star portal in Ten-Forward.

"Guinan!" Will Riker was bothered by her action. But his disturbance began to blossom into annoyance when instead of leaving and taking the unwanted glass with her, she sat down across from him, folded her arms and stared at him with dark eyes seemingly untroubled by thoughts of loyalty, duty or command. He was about to shove the glass back toward her again when some inner sense of self-preservation caused him to hesitate. Instead, he glanced down at the amber brown liquid and began to wonder why she had served him this instead of his usual favorite synthale.

"What is it?"

Instead of answering his question, she asked one of her own. "I heard that Dr. Crusher has taken you off active duty for the next forty-eight hours. You're supposed to be recuperating from you mission and your reconstructive surgery from Bajoran to human." Her glance took in everything about him from the weariness on his face to the distress of his troubled heart. "Correct?"

"What? Yes." he answered, instinctively rubbing the bridge to his newly-restored nose. He did not bother to hide his displeasure at being subjected to Dr. Crusher's overcautious nature or being exposed to Guinan's invasive nosiness.

"Then, you ordered that drink," she firmly announced, silently daring him to again deny her declaration.

This time he picked the glass up, brought it close to his nose and sniffed it. It smelled like a liquid that rarely was ever consumed on board the 1701-D, though a hundred years ago it was a more common drink administered on board another starship named Enterprise.

"Guinan, is this what I think it is?"

"The captain drinks the green stuff. But, being from Alaska, I thought that you'd prefer the good, old-fashioned brown stuff instead."

The first officer took a cautious sip and for the first time since his return, a slow familiar smile appeared.

"Canadien whiskey," he sighed in appreciation as the silky fire slid down his throat, soothing some of the ragged edges to his soul.

"The real McCoy," Guinan added as she bent forward, rummaging about her bombazine outfit as if she were searching for something.

"What?"

She pulled out from under the front flap of her mocha over-tunic a large tote bag. And then she removed a big glass bottle - a very, very old glass bottle full of whiskey. It was accompanied by another glass. She filled it. And then she placed the bottle bearing a 'Canadien Club Black' label, between them.

His eyes widened in appreciation. He'd only heard about this legendary libation. He'd never tasted it until now. "The real McCoy?"

She nodded.

"As in Admiral McCoy?"

"I know that he was prodigiously fond of this particular hootch now and then." She looked off into the stars for a moment. "I once knew another McCoy. He was a bootlegger in the 1920s in America. Used to smuggle real French champagne - probably Picard - and Canadien whiskey into New York on board his yacht. Those were the days…," she sighed.

Riker took another sip. And sighed with pleasure. "Good stuff, indeed. Well aged."

"It certainly is. My old friend used to get the stuff that was aged twenty years in oak barrels." She drank her whiskey with respect for its pedigree.

For a while they sat drinking in companionable silence until Riker finally noticed that he was the sole customer in the now darkened Ten-Forward. The table light was one of the few sources of illumination left in the entire area.

"I'm keeping you up, Guinan. Everyone else has left. I hadn't realized that it was quite so late." He stood as if to leave. She shoved the bottle toward him.

"You're not going anywhere, Will Riker. Finish your glass then fill it up again. You need it." She arched a hairless eyebrow. "Fill mine up again while you're at it."

"If I drink what you've already poured, I'll be needing a hangover cure in a few hours."

She slapped a hypospray down onto the café table.

"No problem."

"You're a doctor as well as a barkeep? You're allowed to administer such cures?" His tone of voice was colored with more than a dollop of sarcasm.

"Actually, I am a doctor. But that is another story and another life time ago." She snorted. "And don't tell me that you don't have a hangover hypospray or two stashed in your quarters. Every Starfleet captain I've ever called 'friend' has had one." She reached over and placed her now-empty glass directly in front of Will. "Care to fill 'er up, Commander?"

Recognizing that she was challenging him some more, he sat back down, filled her glass, and then finished off his own drink before pouring more liquid into it.

"Why me?" he quietly asked as he studied the chocolate brown lady in her matching chocolate brown dress and chapeau. For Guinan, it was one of the most sedate, conservative outfits he'd ever seen her wear.

"You had a rough assignment. You need it."

Riker shook his head in denial. His automatic smile turning dour at this statement. "No, Guinan. I like it." He raised his glass, swirling the neat liquid about. "I don't need it. But, maybe Captain Picard could use a drink."

Guinan's benign expression didn't change, but something in her look hardened. "Captain Picard is beyond whiskey tonight, Will."

Somehow, he knew that this statement was true. The embittered man that he'd left alone in his ready room tonight, was a far cry from the self-possessed, composed Captain Picard with whom he usually dealt. "You're his friend, Guinan. Is there nothing that you can do for the captain?"

"I offer captains my assistance when I can, Will. But, Jean-Luc doesn't want any help right now. And I can wait until he does. But, right now, you do."

"I'm not a captain."

She snorted again. "As if you don't know in your gut that one day soon you will be, Will Riker."

He drank some more before he finally stated, "Not too soon, I hope."

"Might be in Starfleet's best interest if it were soon, Will."

"Starfleet's best interest - that is the only thing that really matters, isn't it?" There was a bitterness to his words that was unusual for the man. "What about Justice? Friendship? Loyalty? Doing what is really right instead of what the politicians and the bureaucrats ordain is right?"

Guinan drank a while, mulling over his words before she asked, "A lot of your Academy classmates have resigned Starfleet and joined the Maquis, haven't they?"

"A few."

"And it bothered you to support the Cardassians against the Maquis, didn't it?"

He bristled at her implication. "I followed Captain Picard's orders to the letter."

"In practice, maybe. But obviously not in spirit. You disagreed with Jean-Luc."

"I sometimes do, Guinan. If I didn't, I wouldn't be a good XO. And I like to think that I am a good first officer to the man. I know my duty and I do it."

"I never said otherwise."

He slammed his tumbler down onto the table top. "Then exactly what are you saying, Madam Guinan?"

She reached for the bottle and filler her glass up as well as his again before she responded. "Jean-Luc Picard is my friend."

"And I am Captain Picard's first officer."

"And his friend?" Her question sounded innocent. Her tone of voice was not.

"Of course!" he snapped back. The alcohol was beginning to lubricate his tongue.

"Then, tell me really what happened…"

"What?" He couldn't believe what she was asking of him. "Not for a moment do I believe that you can't get your hands on my official report. So, you already know what happened."

"Tell me what really happened, Will. The truth."

"What?" He couldn't believe what she was daring to ask of him.

"Ro Laren is my friend too…"