Just Let Her Go
by Carol Sandford
He stood half-hidden behind the huge yew tree, it's branches drooping low, forcing him to peek through the thick foliage to see down to the main arrival gate. Around his feet amongst the tangle of weeds that were unreachable to the grass cutters, lay the oldest of gravestones, all wanting the comfort of the trees serenity, it's groans and creeks hushing the long dead, its rustling leaves hiding the heavy, troubled breathing of the man seeking it's favours.
It was a beautiful spring morning. Cobwebs hung everywhere, with each and every one glistening with the dawn's early dew drops. Clumps of delicate snowdrops stood tall through the heavy frost that carpeted the ground, revealing footsteps that should not be there. But he didn't care, not really. He was too far away to be seen, but not far enough away to miss her when she eventually arrived.
As he waited, his mind drifted back to the last time he'd been to the chapel. It had been to his mother's funeral so many years before. He momentarily let his eyes drift longingly towards the spot where he knew that she lay. Even without seeing it head on, his mind's eye saw the heart-shaped black onyx headstone, now lying slightly at an angle, sunken with time and her name proudly, lovingly emblazoned on it. Elizabeth Mary Riker. Cherished wife and mother. Always loving. Forever loved. Always in our hearts.
Never enough words to convey how much he had loved her, but she'd known how much, of that he was still sure. With a lonely, heavy sigh, his gaze swept around the rest of the graveyard. It wasn't a large one, but then neither was the chapel that sat in it's heart. Typical for Alaska, it was small, sturdy, welcoming and peaceful. So, it's paintwork had been battered with time and the weather, but it only served to make it even more charming. He loved it here, even though the only times he'd been here had been for sad ones. Even today. Even as his ears picked up the feint tune as the old fashioned organ music started up and drifted through the church doors, telling him that it had begun.
But he couldn't have stayed away, or left, now. He had to come. He had to be here. He had to see her, just one last time. He had to come and say goodbye, but how did you say goodbye to the greatest love you'd ever known? It hadn't been so long ago that they'd learnt to say hello again, and now...now he had to say goodbye again.
He was hurting, afraid of losing her forever, even though, deep in his heart, he knew that she'd always be with him. She'd always be 'his'. She belonged to him, and he, her. But she had made her choice, and he'd lost, again.
He had to learn to 'unlove' her, but how? She was a stranger to him now and he had to let her go. But he was afraid. He tried to imagine a life without her and it terrified him. He wanted to talk to her. He wanted to say 'I love you' But he knew that saying words that he'd never said before would be the same as saying goodbye, and he wasn't ready to do that. Not yet.
A distant, 'whump' drew his gaze back down to the driveway. Perched on the top of a shallowish hill, he had to look downwards towards the large ornate gates. He knew from remembrance how treacherous the walk up to the church could be, but today was not going to be one of them. The morning sun had already melted the thin sheen of frost that had covered the pathway when he had first arrived almost an hour ago and his own footsteps vanished along with it.
Somehow he was surprised to see Will arrive in full dress uniform. But then again, he was a Starfleet officer. A captain, no less. So he guessed that it was appropriate. Will had his back to him, but even so, he could see the joy and pride ooze from his proud stature. The white and gold outfit suited his dark features, even though he was older now. He would have been devastatingly handsome if he'd have had this day ten or more years ago. The dark hair would have still been dark, with none of the peppered grey to age him, and he would have been several pounds lighter, too. But he was still a fine figure of a man, even so, and he envied him something fierce.
As laughter reached his ears he glanced at the shorter, bald man beside him. Captain Picard. Presumably his best man. He, too, looked fit to burst with that same joy and pride, making his heart ache deeper still. This day had been a long time coming, for everyone. Even himself. A day that would stand stark in his memories for ever as the day that he'd finally lost her. Truly lost her. And it had been his own, stupid fault. So stupid that when he'd heard, he'd alienated himself enough to not even be included in the day's events. It should have been him that was by Will's side, handing him over to his new wife. But it wasn't. He'd chosen his captain over him. He'd blown it. Truly and royally blown it.
But he still couldn't have stayed away. He had to come, just to see her. Just to say his silent goodbye. He had to tell her that he loved her.
As the two men started to walk up the winding drive towards the church, he slunk further into the shadows of the tree. He should go, he knew that, but not yet. As the sound of their laughter reached his ears his own heart died a little. But then, they had every right to be happy, didn't they? Will was marrying the only woman that he could, and wanted, had always wanted. He'd waited patiently for twelve, very long years to get her to here, so of course he was happy. They were the perfect pair. They were Imzadi.
As the two men disappeared inside the church, his head turned back to the gateway as another vehicle pulled up. The driver jumped out and opened the rear door with a flourish and a sea of white poured out from it's depths as more of the Enterprise's senior crew arrived. Beverly Crusher looked radiant. Tall and lithe, her copper hair glowing in the morning's rays as she stood apart from the others, waiting anxiously. Puzzled, he wondered momentarily who was giving the bride away as he watched Geordi, Worf and Data almost circle around Beverly as they laughed and chatted as they waited.
A sound echoed through the valley as yet more vehicles arrived and Beverly raised her hand in welcome. Slowly as more arrived, people began to make their way up to the small chapel. He watched as a figure dressed all in gold tagged along behind, valiantly holding on to her vast, ornate hat as the light breeze lifted it, threatening to send it off into outer space. But as her feet slowed, puzzlement clouding her features and he held his breath as she turned her head and seemed to look straight at him. He gasped in surprise and quickly moved further behind the tree, his heartbeat thumping against his chest at the thought of being caught out.
For a long moment he simply hid there with his breath held, half expecting her to suddenly appear before him and give the game away. But after a minute, he breathed a sigh of relief when he realized that she hadn't seen him, couldn't have because he'd been too quick. Peeking somewhat more cautiously from around the gnarled bark of the Yew's trunk, he was shocked when his wide eyes met her knowing ones. Even though she hadn't moved one inch from where she'd stopped, Guinan had known he was there and with a secretive and sympathetic smile and a small wave of her hand, she turned slowly on her heels, her dress billowing out about her as she strove to catch up with the others, disappearing inside the ancient chapel.
But he didn't have time to ponder on the moments strange meaning as his eyes caught movement from inside the church and then the doctor came hurrying out and made her way back down to the bottom of the hill. What in the hell...!? he worried and then gasped as his eyes settled upon a sight that he would never, ever forget for as long as he lived.
She stole his breath away with her beauty. She stood as serenely as an ethereal angel would, surrounded in a cloud of baby pink satin. He wasn't one hundred percent sure what he'd been expecting when he'd lay in his bed at night, picturing her in his mind how she would look on her wedding day, but he hadn't expected this. He hadn't expected her to look...so at peace.
And it was then that it truly and finally hit him. He had lost her, forever. Seeing her, ready to marry his brother - and deservedly so - Tom's heart broke, irretrievably, there and then. He thought it had broken when he'd let her go the last time. But this time, he knew there was no going back and he struggled to hold the block in place so that she didn't know he was there, watching and dying, little by little.
The tears welled in his eyes as he watched the two women chatter nervously to each other, their four hands linked in nervous joy and trepidation. He could see Beverly mentally preparing Deanna and then with matching deep breaths, the two women began the walk up to the chapel, hand in hand, Deanna's other hand delicately holding up the gossamer folds of her long dress away from the ground.
On reaching the ancient oak doors they both paused, but it was only for a second. The music changed to the classic Wedding March and they both disappeared inside from view.
He wanted to run but his legs wouldn't let him escape. He wanted to scream but his lungs hurt too much from the pain of his loss. He wanted...
To see her, marry her Imzadi.
Her true Imzadi.
He slipped from his hiding spot and hurried up to the chapel. Slipping quietly inside, he tried to make himself look as small as possible, half hiding behind the throng of other guests, none noticing his late arrival, all now transfixed in the ceremony before them.
It was a beautiful service and as Will recited the poem - the same poem that he'd written for her in the jungle on Betazed so many years before, and then kissed her long and lovingly, he couldn't bear to watch. But he had to.
'She's mine!' he wanted to cry out. 'It should have been me! She's my Imzadi, too!'
But he didn't. Instead he stayed in the shadows of other people and suffered the last of his pains in tortured silence as the priest finally and proudly pronounced them husband and wife.
So lost in his own thoughts as he stared into his lap, unable to move with the inevitable grief that consumed him, he was too late to slip out before everyone else. He remained sat in his seat, conscious now that everybody else about him had risen to their feet as the newly married couple began to make their way back down the aisle, arm in arm.
The murmurs of, 'congratulations' and the loud raucous whoops and hollers along with clapping hands that followed them as they finally reached the doors gave him his chance to slip further into the shadows, but he didn't make it there.
Still half squatting to hide his tall shape, he turned and found himself at the same level as Guinan's face. She'd been waiting for him.
His, "Guinan!" came out as a half-strangled sqwauk at his surprise at being caught out. But she simply stood there serenely, her infamous half-smile unchanging as she watched him squirm and flush with embarrassment. Other people around him finally realized who was among them and within moments the bride and groom were forgotten as all eyes settled upon him.
Slowly he came to his full height and Guinan's eyes never left his. Eventually, quietly, very, very quietly she murmured, "Be happy for them, Tom. If not for them, or for yourself, then be happy for my sake. You owe us all that. Don't blow it now, you've got too much to lose. You've lost her, but you can gain so much more, if you just let her go."
For the longest of time, Thomas Riker stared down into Guinan's upturned face and let his universe turn itself to rights. He had lost her, that he couldn't change. But he could still be a brother, a friend and part of a family.
Family. That was all he ever really wanted. What he'd gotten wasn't quite what he'd imagined, but it was what he'd got, and he loved them both too much to walk away and never see them again.
Noise at the doorway broke the tense and heavy silence and all eyes turned towards it. And there, Tom's eyes met those of his lost love's. But those eyes were full of tears of happiness. Her whole face was alive with disbelief and joy.
"Tom!" She cried, as she pushed her way through the throng and come to a stop before him, her hand still clutching her husbands. "You came!"
Tom glanced nervously at his brothers face, expecting to see the familiar distrust and jealousy etched upon the mirrored features, but when he saw only relief and a welcoming smile, Tom shakily sighed with relief. "I'm sorry," he began, "I didn't want to intrude."
He didn't get any further as Deanna threw herself into his arms and hugged him tight. "Thank you, thank you. You don't how much this means to us."
Still conscious of several expectant eyes upon them, Tom nervously hugged her back and reached for the waiting hand of his brothers and shook it. He took a shuddering breath and murmured shakily,"How could I have missed this day?"
Tom held Deanna away from his body and looked down into her radiant, upturned face. "The right man is by your side, and, I wanted to tell you that..." he broke off, unable to complete his mission and unable to hide the sheen of tears that had lay threatening for hours, it seemed. Instead he promised. "I'll always be on the other side, looking out for you guys, if you'll let me."
A gasp of sheer emotion rippled through the entire congregation and Thomas found himself swamped by people that had never really given up on him, but had stepped back and let nature take her own side in the ever changing life of Deanna Troi and the Riker brothers.
And now, on their wedding day, Thomas knew that the best man had won and he'd
witnessed the birth of a whole new family. His family.