Who's Fooling Who?
by Carol Sandford
I felt everyone's eyes upon me as I skidded into my seat, late again for the
meeting. "Sorry I'm late, sir." I muttered, self-consciously. Before
me sat all my colleagues, my friends, my captain, and
*him*. I inwardly groaned at the prospect of spending another painful session sat opposite my most hated enemy, Commander William Riker.
I hated these meetings almost as much as I hated him, the one man I wanted to punch out more than anything in the whole universe. But then, I sighed, expertly averting my thoughts and my gaze, he was also the one man in the universe that I wanted.
Acutely aware that all eyes were still upon me as I settled into my seat, sparking my intense unease even more so, I made the monumental mistake of gripping the table's edge with my fingers and yanking myself towards it. Unfortunately, the chair hit the table with such force that I shot forward, smashing my ribs against it, forcing my feet to shoot forward, and, none-too-gently, kick Commander Riker squarely in the shins.
To see his face grimace with pain and to watch as his teeth bit his lip to contain the oath that I felt and silently heard, was, to say the least, perversely gratifying.
I ignored the stunned gasp that zoomed around the table as they all invisibly felt his pain. "Sorry," I mumbled and he gave me a withering look that said, 'Yeah, sure you are.' But his professionalism and rank, and pride managed to let him squeeze out in a tight lipped growl. "It's okay, I'm sure it was an accident."
The underlying accusation in his voice stung. Of course it was an accident. I knew I hated him. Hell, he knew I hated him, but not enough to hurt him, especially when an image of me crawling under the table and pushing up his pant legs to kiss the grazes, that I'm sure were now there, better, zipped through my mind.
A flicker of something lit through Will's now slightly watery blue eyes as he watched me warily across the table. Did he know how I really felt about him? I wondered. Did he see what I just saw? No, he couldn't have, I surmised. I'd learnt to school my facial expressions and my thoughts down to near perfection now. I'd had two long years of practising it down to a fine art.
And then, before I knew it, I found myself on the Enterprise with *him*, wishing that he were anywhere but here. But the hidden part of me was glad. Glad that he was. Seeing him was torture. Being with him was torture, too, but being without him...
All I'd ever wanted was for him to say sorry; tell me why and be done with it. But he hadn't. After breaking my heart and effectively dumping me, Will hadn't said one word about it since we'd boarded. He hadn't given me any explanation, any word of apology, for his actions. Nor any sign that he wanted me.
Dammit! I had wanted him.
But not now, not after the way he constantly treated me; like he hardly knew me. Like I hardly existed. Oh, he couldn't avoid me completely as our jobs were too closely connected. Our lives crashed into one another's too often. Sometimes I wondered if he did it deliberately; just to torment me.
But occasionally, when I looked into his mind, all I saw was anger and loathing and I could only assume that it was aimed at me. Everybody else with a heartbeat thought Will Riker was either a God or the dishiest thing that ever walked.
Not me. I knew better. I knew he loved the Enterprise more than anything else. More than even me. Me, who had given him her heart and foolishly her body once. Me, who now caused him more grief than he probably deserved. It hadn't been his fault that I expected more than he could give. And it wasn't his fault that I was a Betazoid. And it wasn't his fault that I still loved him. Still wanted him. Still remembered every second of our union when we had become one.
For me, one had been forever. For him, one meant the two seconds that it took to break my heart.
I hardly heard any of the itinerary for the shore leave that was being discussed. Lost in a time past, I remembered, I hurt and then I remembered again, but the second time was a difference remembrance. It was when he had left me, and it still hurt.
By the time the meeting was over my slightly slipped shield was firmly back in its place and I could dare to look at the man opposite me again straight in the eye again with my own eyes devoid of anything but contempt. And he, in turn, seemed to manage to create the same illusion and as I stood to leave, I threw Will a glare of spite for making me remember things that I didn't care for. The look he returned was tinged with so many factions, I briefly wondered which one was upper most in his mind. *Probably hatred*, I sniffed, as I continued on my way.
Beverly Crusher caught up with me as I hurtled down the corridor out of harms way. Out of accusing eyes way. "What's wrong, Deanna. What are you so worked up for? It was only an accident!" She chuckled nervously as she struggled to match my fleeing steps with her own.
But with each step that I took further and further away from Will's presence, I felt my anger slowly extinguish and by the time we had reached sickbay, I was walking normally and in control of not only my myself, but my turbulent emotions once more.
Beverly's voice finally filtered through the fog of self-loathing. "You only kicked him when your chair shot forward. You couldn't help it." She added helpfully.
I gratefully sank into the chair opposite Beverly's desk and watched miserably as she lowered herself into hers. "I know," I sighed, dramatically. "But you know what Will's like. He'll make something out of it, like tell people that I was so desperate for his attention that I had to resort to physical violence to get it."
Beverly giggled. "Well, let's face it, you wouldn't be the first to use that tactic, although others don't normally draw blood."
"Not me!" I brooded. "I am *not* a member of the Will Riker fan club, thank you."
"Okay, okay!" She held her hands up defensively. "He's not my cup of tea, either, really. But you have to admit, Deanna, he *is* rather attractive."
I eyed her speculatively. She had said that the other day, too. When he'd been catching some sun on a beach that we'd happened upon, visiting an M class planet that held little more than sunshine and girls. Lots of girls. Girls that though that Will Riker was the hunkiest thing they had ever seen. And he had lapped it up.
"He's got terrific legs," She'd sighed, dreamily.
"So has a centipede," I snapped back. "and more of them."
The trouble was that everybody on board the Enterprise knew that Will and I had a past. They also knew that we more or less hated each other, too. If I wasn't putting him down for being a conceited pig, he was totally ignoring me, but only outside of our working relationship. Ever the professional! was Will Riker! And the odd time that we clashed outside of our working hours we always ended up arguing. I sometimes wondered if it was the pain of of love that kept us going at it, or the love of pain. Either way, it always hurt. Dreadfully.
"They say he's a fantastic dancer, too." Beverly added, her smiling face beginning to wilt with desire.
"It's a good thing the captain is taking shore-leave too then, isn't it? You're beginning to sound like all the other single and desperate females on board this ship, Miss Beverly Crusher." I retorted, forcing her to snap out of her daydream with a guilty sigh.
Very few people knew how Beverly felt about our captain, Jean-Luc Picard. I was one of the few that did. They, too, like Will and I, had a past, a past that left behind too much to forget. But the doctor and the captain still had a chance. Will and I did not. Too much was between us, but not enough to hang on to, or put aside.
In Ten Forward that evening, I sat at the bar nursing between my hands, the largest cup of hot chocolate that I had ever ordered. Guinan had slid it across the narrow expanse of bar with a very large and secretive smile upon her face.
"What?" I frowned.
"Feeling a little sorry for yourself, Counselor?" she asked, the smile somehow turning gentler. Knowing.
Taking a sip of the sweet and deliciously sickly concoction, wondering why in hell I had ordered such a fattening disaster, I grimaced. "Some, I guess." Not wanting to add anything more in case of saying more than I should.
"How can you be so down on the eve of your first holiday in months? All that sun. All that sea. All those men." She added with a wink.
But when my eyes met hers, I think she already knew which man I wanted.
"Plenty more fish in the sea," She said knowingly, taking a swipe at the non-existent moisture on the bar's surface before continuing with a slight nod toward the door, "especially when you can throw them back when you've finished with them."
I was still frowning at her strange piece of advice when I felt rather than heard someone approach me from behind. For a spine-tingling second I thought it was Will. But it wasn't.
It was Worf.
"Counselor, may I join you?" He asked with his deep timbre voice and suddenly, the penny dropped. I knew what Guinan was proposing.
"Of course, Worf," I smiled brightly, suddenly really pleased to see him. "and please, call me Deanna. We are off duty, you know?"
"Sorry," he murmured as he sank his long frame down beside me and signalled to Guinan for his usual tipple.
"So, Worf, tell me," I grinned. "Who are you taking on shore-leave with you?"
"Worf fancies you like mad."
It was already day three of our shore-leave on Risa. One more day and we'd be going home; back to the Enterprise. One more day to put up with seeing Will constantly surrounded by fawning females wearing little more than a giggly smile. I had come close to screaming so many times that I almost permanently had a headache. Hell, all that body. All that tetosterone. All that man! He was just driving me beyond crazy.
I squeezed another line of sunscreen onto my already darkened leg and proceeded to vigorously rub it in to my heated skin, pondering on her observation.
"Did he tell you that?" I asked, worriedly.
Her burst of laughter drew gazes from people near by. "Of course he didn't! Don't be daft, this is Worf we're talking about. And anyway," she added, dropping her voice for our ears alone, "he doesn't need to. It's obvious."
She picked up her smaller towel and rubbed the ends of her coppery hair thoughtfully before adding, "He never takes his eyes off you. Haven't you noticed?"
I had but I wasn't going to admit that to her. "You're crazy. He's just looking out for me, that's all." I turned my head fractionally towards the object of our conversation, and sure enough, there he was, looking completely out of place, sitting under a huge parasol, wearing enormous sunglasses, a straw hat, shirt and pants. But, to be fair, he didn't have anything on his enormous feet, the one thing that he *should* have kept covered up, in my opinion. And he was watching me with nothing less than stern desire. I didn't have to see his shielded eyes to know that as it practically oozed from his body.
Stern. Yes, that just about summed Worf Roshenko up perfectly. Not once had I seen any other facial expression other than stern. Even when he had walked me home to my room, his face had stayed stern. But his voice changed, it became lower. Softer. Romantic even, a word I would never have associated with the stalwart Klingon.
His first kiss good night had landed clumsily upon my nose. His second had been so brief and full of surprise that he had leapt away from me with shock. His third, last night, had been a revelation. Much more than I had expected. Much, much more. It had been... wonderful. It must have been the way his lips had gently settled onto mine. it must have been the way he had tenderly pulled my body plush up against his. It must have been the low moan of desire that I had heard rumble through him as he deepened the kiss. It must have been my response back that had startled me into giving him more than I thought I had. And tonight - tonight, if he wanted me, I was going to invite him into my room.
Damn you, Will Riker, you sorry son-of-a-bitch for not wanting me! Payback time!
Once again, Beverly's voice broke through my rapidly diminishing train of thought. "You just won't admit it, will you; that you actually like Worf. Come on, Deanna, what's the problem?" She wheedled, sadly, after watching my face turn sadder and sadder with each painful memory that cascaded through my mind and squeezed at my heart. Worf didn't even enter my head, but she would never know that.
Satisfied that I had rubbed the cream completely into my skin, I lay back on the towel and slipped my sunglasses back into place, effectively cutting out Beverly's inquisitive gaze and my own turbulent, revealing eyes. "There's no problem," I murmured defiantly, "I like Worf, he's...nice."
"Nice!! Is that all. Just nice??!" Her voice rose a pitch. "I just don't understand you, Deanna. You've been in a weird mood all vacation. You've either hardly said a word or you've gone out of your way to needle Commander Riker, which, by the way, I find a little strange as he's done his utmost to stay out of your way."
"Good," I groused back. "It's no more than he deserves, the jerk!"
After a long tense silence when I could almost hear Beverly's mind churning over my latest outburst, she said slowly, "Perhaps..." A feeling a dread swept over me when it suddenly dawned on me that perhaps I had revealed a little too much passion in my unwarranted and very unnecessary outburst.
"perhaps," she continued, "all this slagging off Will routine is all just a big cover-up. Perhaps, you really do want him."
I sat bolt upright and briskly grabbed the sunscreen again and squirted a huge dollop into my palm and slapped it onto my shoulder automatically working it in with a flourish before my counter-attack. "Don't be stupid, Bev, of course I don't want him!" Venom dripping from my words to hide the tremble in my voice, and the lie.
"Oh?" She said, the question in it rising the tone of her voice again. "I'm just wondering, because, from the way he looks at you when he thinks no-one is looking, I'm beginning to think he's pretty interested in you, too. So, who's fooling who, Deanna, Hmmm?"
She pushed herself to a stand and stretched her long limbs up to the cloudless blue sky, sarcasm oozing from every inch of her slender body.
I looked up at her through squinted eyes. "Going somewhere?" I grumbled again, aware that she was abandoning me; leaving me wide open for Worf to approach, something, at that moment in time when my feelings were raw and exposed, I didn't need, and, when I knew that Will Riker was barely a heart-beat away coyly watching.
"I am." Beverly crowed, her grin filled with devilment. But as she turned away she swung her thoughtful gaze back to me. "So, go on - if you can't stand Will and you don't fancy Worf, who does turn you on?"
Quicker than I ever thought possible, I shot back, "Jean-Luc Picard, of course!"
"Humph" she grumbled as she stomped away, completely unaware that the object of her own desire watched from behind the huge book that he'd been engrossed in almost from the moment he'd stepped foot on the island.
Slowly I began to pick my way through my clothes, looking for something to wear for the party being held as a celebration for our last night on Risa. It had promised to be good; Held on the beach with a kind of luau affair as the highlight of the evening's festivities.
I had continually pondered on Beverly's parting words as I held up one garment after another, but I didn't need Beverly to tell me about Will. I already knew. More and more over the past few days, Will had let his guard down. *Must have been the sun and surf frazzling his mind and his over active libido*, I sniggered, before the absurdity of the situation shattered my mirth.
I pulled a vibrant lilac sweater over my head, knowing that Risan nights quickly turned surprisingly chilly. Gazing at the image in the mirror before me as I tugged out my hair from the sweater's neck, I murmured, "You're an idiot, Deanna Troi. Suppose she's right. Hell, you know she's right, but what are you going to do about it?"
I sniffed at my own reflection and smeared some gloss onto my lips, still mumbling. "Nothing. You're going to do nothing, because you're an idiot and you hate him."
Beverly bounced through my door barely a moment later and without even taking time to pause she said with just an overly drop of humour, "Nice outfit. That should raise an eyebrow or two."
I looked down visibly cringing at the sight of the lilac jumper and the bottom of the lacy black panties that peeped out from below it. Huffing dramatically, I grabbed the black leggings that I had sorted out to wear and tugged them on. "Shut up, Crusher."
Coming to a stand before me, her hands gently resting on her slender hips looking decidedly gorgeous in her sky-blue jump-suit, her eyes, her whole body suddenly wilted as remorse swept through her. "I'm sorry I ribbed you earlier, Deanna. I..I just hate seeing you look so miserable."
Reaching out for her arm and squeezing it, I mustered up a smile that I really didn't feel like sharing and whispered, "It's okay, Beverly. You're probably right - about Will and I. Thanks for putting me in the picture."
In reality, it had felt more like she had been ramming it down my throat, but it wasn't her fault, not really, bless her. She didn't know that I loved Will with all my heart. And she didn't know that Will had been my first, my only, or my last. And she didn't know that Will was my Imzadi and was the true reason that I couldn't let him go, even if I wanted to.
She just didn't know.
How in God's name I ended up between the two men that had been upper most in my mind for the entire vacation was beyond comprehension. Or, I belatedly realized, it was a well set-up ploy.
Part of the luau festivity was to haul the fish in and you got to eat whatever you could get your hands on within that net. The large net had been cast hours before and with a roaring fire-pit ready to accommodate the catch, all the hotel's residents had gathered around to begin the haul. All except me.
I tried really hard to stay out of the jovial chaos that ensued but Beverly, in her bright blue jumpsuit, and Jean-Luc Picard, with his trousers rolled up to his knees, stood before me, both with very large cheesy grins upon their tanned faces. Both had no intention of leaving me out of the party frolics, let alone leaving me to wallow in my own self-imposed misery.
"Counselor, I am ordering you to get your butt up off of that blanket and earn yourself some supper." Picard said, just loud enough for the entire Enterprise crew to hear.
Well, hell, what could I do. Tell my captain to butt out? Damn it, of course not. And besides, I was hungry. A few more minutes in *his* company couldn't hurt, surely.
Sighing dramatically, I accepted Picard's out-stretched hand and let him pull me to a stand. The next minute, I found myself between Worf and Will heaving on the thick cord between my hands. Like it or not, I certainly felt like the rose stuck between two very prickly thorns.
But once the hauling begun all animosities were forgotten. My voice joined the cacophony of, 'Heave! Heave!' and I hadn't laughed from the sheer bliss of doing something like I was for far longer than I wanted to remember. Foot by foot the huge net slowly crept up from the murky depths of the evening sea onto the still warm beach. I watched in wonder as probably hundreds of fish - far more than we'd ever need, splashed about futily for their freedom.
It was an image that I would never forget, but not as much as the one that I would treasure forever. It was when Will's laughing face looked over his shoulder at me and included me into his own magical moment.
That was until he looked beyond my shoulder and saw the man behind me. Worf. I saw the love in his eyes die there and then. I guessed that Will had seen and heard enough to assume that Worf and I were a couple and I wanted desperately to cry that out that it wasn't true. That I wanted him and no-one else but him. But stubbornly, my mouth, my mind, and my heart let me down again.
Will turned back to face the surf again, but not before I'd seen and felt the flicker of pain surge through him and with it came that little red devil that persisted in taunting me. Actually, taunting both of us, I was beginning to realize. Staring with heart-breaking grief at Will's broad back I screamed silently, "Good, damn you, I hope you're suffering as much as I am!"
But then in then next instant, my silent, hoarse and hurt whisper turned into a desperate whimper as the tears welled in my eyes. "I love you, dammit, Will. Why can't you love me!?"
But above the roar of the surf and the excited chatter of the people surrounding us my plea fell on deaf ears. Suddenly pissed at the futility of our dour situation, my anger quickly sparked again. Unwittingly, completely unaware of what was happening around me, I gave the rope within my hand a hefty, angry yank and watched in horror as the man before me lurched back, over-balance and begin to fall my way. Everything slowed and I could do nothing more than watch as Will staggered back, inching closer and closer to me, unable to stop his fall.
Instinctively, I stepped backwards, straight into the unsuspecting arms of the huge Klingon behind me. Surprised, and stunned, Worf stumbled himself, grabbing and taking me with him as he spectacularly began to fall onto his backside. The collective gasp of horror as Will landed on top of me from those watching helplessly around me mingled with the crashing waves on the shore, echoing into the darkening night.
But I only heard one word reverberated through the night as shock and crushing pain pushed me into unconsciousness.
Two things assailed my ears and my senses as I drifted out of the deepest sleep I had ever endured. The comforting sounds of the Enterprise sickbay; the peep, peep of the machines surrounding me. The low murmur of voices - Beverly's, nurse Ogawa's, Captain Picard's.
The other sound I heard, both in my ears and within my mind was the silent, desperate pleading of the man that I knew was there before I'd even opened my eyes as he crouched down beside me, willing me to waken. Willing me to be all right.
Will Riker had my cold fingers gripped tightly within his own, the murmurs falling continually from his lips, caressing my knuckles, radiating more than his love for me with his words. 'Please, God, let her be okay. Please, God, let her be okay...'
Letting his voice and his concern roll through me, I wallowed in the glow of feeling loved, and then the chant stopped when I heard Beverly's distinctive and smiling voice break through the quiet. "Welcome back to the land of the living, Deanna." The damn machines around me had registered my changed status; telling the world that I was awake.
Just one split second before I opened my eyes, I felt Will's stunned confusion, panic and guilt sweep through him as he realized that he was about to be caught. When I felt my now free hand hit my chest with enough panicked force to make me gasp, I knew that when I opened my eyes and turned my face to his, his would not be there.
And my heart broke in two again when I found that it wasn't.
The only thing my stinging eyes saw was Will's hastily retreating back as he passed through the sickbay's doors. Before my foggy mind could make any sense of why Will wasn't ready to admit that I was more to him than a sparring partner, Beverly's blue lab. coat filled my vision. But even so, it was a long moment before I could tear my tear-filled eyes away from the doorway and raise them to meet my friends.
"Want to tell me who's fooling who, now, counselor?" She said with a mixture of kindness and sadness, her hand reaching out and stroking my cheek with affection.
The tears rose so quickly, clogging my throat, cutting off what I really wanted to say, but even so, before I completely succumbed to the the tears that I knew were hovering just waiting to break free, I turned my head away and squeaked gruffly. "Shut up, doctor." I needed time to think about what was happening between Will and I. Something obviously was but were we both ready for it? Were we ready to face it. Reveal ourselves. Admit that we were both wrong?
Could I forgive him for letting me down, before? Yes, but only if he could forgive me for not forgiving him.
*Imzadi.* I had heard him say the one word that had revealed everything Will felt about me. He could have uttered his undying love to me. He could have pledged his entire life to me. But all of it would have been meaningless without that one word.
Imzadi meant that Will loved me. Imzadi meant that I was ready to accept his love. All of it. Was he ready to say it and mean it, and love me completely?
A while later when sickbay quieted down for the oncoming night with me stranded in sickbay until tomorrow, I could only lay in my bed and mull over my life aware that Will and I's relationship had taken yet another turn. We'd been lovers and we'd been mortal enemies. But what came next?
When I heard the sickbay doors quietly swish open, I knew it would be Will that walked through them. I wanted it to be Will. He stepped through and stopped hesitantly as he saw me. He looked so handsome. Beverly was right; he was a dish.
For a long moment Will simply stood, watched and waited and I could see his blue eyes studying me in the dimness of the room. He cared, I could see it there within his eyes and I could feel it in his heart. Nervously, I stretched out my hand beckoning him to me. His gaze dropped to my hand and he took a step forward.
Puzzled, I searched his face. He was unsure, so very, very unsure. And then, his voice, loud in the quietness, asked, "Tell me what Worf is to you."
So that was it.
Smiling widely, I wriggled my fingers on my still out-stretched hand suddenly desperate to hold his hand within mine. But I knew he needed reassuring first. "Worf is a friend, just a very good friend."
I heard the whoosh of pent up air leave his lungs before he took those last few steps and slipped his hand into mine and pulled my fingers up to his mouth and kissed them gently. "Deanna," he murmured, relief pouring from the very depths of his soul.
Tugging on his hand pulling him nearer to me until he was just barely a few scant inches away from my face, I whispered, "So, it's back to Deanna now, is it? I thought we'd gone beyond my name and all the other ones you'd created for me, Will."
Grinning, he mumbled, "Imzadi," before settling his cool lips against mine, suddenly desperate to do what he'd wanted to for so long. The hand that was still crushed within his was now against his heart and I could feel it's beat, strong and true.
I whimpered when he broke away, but he didn't go far; just far enough away to look deeply into my eyes and whisper huskily, "I'm sorry."
"So am I," I replied.
"Friends?" He asked.
"More than friends." I responded with a smile.
"Imzadi?" He asked, his heart in his throat.
"Imzadi," I agreed, knowing that we had now had come full circle.
It was time to start again for us.