He'd been on board for more than four hours and she hadn't met him yet. I know that he'd had an indepth meeting with captain and then he'd gone to have a meal - the first square meal he'd had for years. And then he'd retired to his assigned quarters to rest.
It had been one of those days that had marked the end of a mystery. Complete ignorance on our part, but not to the man that we had beamed aboard only a few hours ago. William T Riker. Another William T Riker.
And he had still yet to come face to face with Deanna.
When I'd left Nervala Four some eight before, things had escalated in my career. My very new and infinitely fragile relationship with Deanna Troi had fluttered away, leaving a large gaping wound in my soul that festered until we came together again on board the USS Enterprise.
But even then, it had taken another almost six years to get to where we were
now. Lovers, the closest of the close.
My musings were broken by the chirp of the communication panel and I punched the button to activate it, speaking at the same time. "Riker here."
"Will." It was Deanna. "How are you doing?"
I knew what she was asking of me and I took a deep breath before responding. "I'm good, Deanna. I imagine it's more of a shock for you than for me, after all, you've got to put up with two of us now."
I didn't need to see her face to know that she was smiling. Despite the situation, this was going to be as tough on her emotions more than the arrival of my 'brother' ever would be for me, for I had no doubt that the other Will would still have strong feelings for the woman on the other end of the line. Stronger maybe due to the lack of female company on Nervala. He'd had eight long years to wallow in lost chances and fantasy dreams.
"Oh, I think I can handle the two of you, Will."
"That's what I'm worried about." I groused and then deliberately chuckled to lighten the insane mood that suddenly slipped into place before I could even blink.
"One Riker is more than enough to play with." Her own responding husky chuckle drifted off and the sudden pregnant pause lengthening, reminding me of our early days when they were frequently apart and linked only by a comm system or a vidi-screen where we would sit silently grinning at each other, so lost in love that even the silence between us was exhilarating.
But even I knew that this time we weren't thinking about us. Eventually knowing that this first important meet needed to be done with, I asked. "Are you ready for him, Deanna?"
I heard her deep shuddering breath and the catch in her voice when she finally responded. "Yes, I think so."
There was no way she was meeting him on her own. I know me, and I know what I'd do if I come face to face with her after eight years of abstinence, but when I told her that I would be joining her, I was surprised at her reluctance.
"Do you think that's necessary, Will? I think it's going to be enough of a shock to him just to see me without him knowing that we are..."
You could have heard a pin drop and my first sense of foreboding raised its ugly head. "We are what, Deanna?"
"Together." she said sadly.
I tried logic. "He needs to know, Deanna. He needs to know that there is no chance of a happy reunion for you both."
"That's cruel, Will." She cried.
"Life is cruel, Deanna. Nobody knows that better than he."
"You sound as though you don't trust me, Will." I heard the pout and could visibly see in my minds eye the large, dark eyes filling with pitying tears.
I softened - a little. "I trust you, sweetheart. I don't trust him, and both you and I know that he'd only have to touch you with one finger and you'd be lost."
"Like us." She admitted.
"Like us." I sighed and then went for the jugular. "I love you, Deanna."
It was a sad reply that was returned but at least she said it. "I love you, too."
Resigned, I pushed myself to my feet and prepared myself for a meeting that I would have done practically anything to avoid. "I'll meet you in the corridor. Ten minutes."
"Ten minutes! I've got to get myself ready. I've got to take a show...." She protested.
"He's going to have to accept you as you are. He won't give a damn if you're dressed in an old sack cloth. He won't even care if you smell like a hog, and that is why I am going to be there, Deanna."
I heard her defeat. "Ten minutes."
"Ten minutes." I said grimly as I headed for the washroom to take a good look in the mirror and make sure that I looked a damn sight better than he did.
I swung her into my arms, pulled her hard against my body and kissed her deeply. Her initial shock at my strange behaviour quickly wore off as I gave it my all, and as her arms lifted I felt her small hands cradle my head as she deepened the kiss further of her own accord, unable to resist the magnetism between us. The magic.
I hadn't realised how hard this moment was going to be as we had strolled hand in hand up to his door. It wasn't until we reached it that I also realised that I couldn't go in there and watch him fall apart when he saw her again, and I knew instinctively that he would. The vision was as crystal clear to me as it had been when it had happened to us so long ago. And I'll be honest, I don't think I could handle seeing her with him either.
Okay, I accepted that he would probably kiss her, which is why I made damn sure that when she walked into that room, she could still feel the remnants of my kiss lingering on her lips and thoughts, and I revelled in the knowledge that he'd 'know' - he'd 'see' that she'd just been devoured by me.
It took a monumental effort to reach for the access button on his door panel, look deep into her eyes to let her know how I truly felt about her, give her one last sharp shattering kiss, hit the damned button and walk away before I could change my mind.
Within seconds, I heard - I felt the raw emotions fill my mind as the other Will responded in the only way that I knew he could. He would still be crazy about her and he would still want her and I knew I was going to have one hell of a fight on my hands to keep her away from him, and I'd just handed her to him on a plate. What was I doing?
I didn't doubt Deanna's love for me, that was a given. What I did doubt was her ability to actually separate him from me. I was aware that it wouldn't take much to make her lean towards him. Over the years, I'd lost that rough, unrefined excitement that had kept me functioning in the early days. But he still had it, I saw it in his eyes as soon as I first met him. I also saw that he resented my success because he'd been trapped on that planet for all that time.
I also saw the glimmer of hope within him at having a second chance at finding the woman he'd left behind, the same woman that I knew was now encased within arms and hopefully doing nothing more than kissing him.
It took a humongous effort not to grill Deanna when she returned a little later. But even so, I didn't miss the melancholy way that she glanced away when she said his name, nor did I miss the feint tinge of pink that sat high upon her magnificent cheek bones. Nor did I miss the swollen, now lipstick free lips that struggled not to tremble in front of me.
I couldn't stand it any longer. I had to know. I had to ask and my heart thumped as I gently and quietly pulled her into my arms and searched for her eyes. It wasn't until she eventually and reluctantly rose them to meet mine, and when I was certain that she was back with me, that I asked with unwarranted dread, "Are we okay, Deanna?"
After a moment her beautiful obsidian eyes looked at me with puzzlement. "That's a strange thing to ask, Will. Why did you say we and not you? Of course 'we're okay'," She hesitated before reluctantly admitting, "I'm just not too sure about me, though."
Somewhat contrite, I swept my lips gently across hers, feeling a bit of an ass for being so melodramatic. Her response to my kiss was automatic which I somehow found a tad unsettling, so I kissed her again, this time sweeping my tongue into her mouth, wanting - needing her to come back to me. I felt her shudder against my body and I recognised from her inner turmoil that I was pushing her too hard, too soon as she was silently struggling to replace him with me, her pity for him overshadowing everything.
She'd spent almost an hour in his room and it had driven me to distraction. Crazily, I had imagined all kinds happening within those four walls. I had imagined them locked together in the mother all embraces. I had imagined... Oh, God, I was going crazy imagining. Utter madness on my part, but I did have good reason, after all.
And now a very subdued Deanna had come back to me and I felt as though I'd lost her all over again.
I knew she needed time so I made to let her go, but suddenly she thrust her body against mine, slipped her slender arms around my waist and hugged me tight. Her tortured, "Hold me, Will." broke my heart and as hugged her harder still, I appreciated right then just how much this meeting had cost her. And maybe us. I had to find out where I - we stood, for my own sanity.
"What happened, Deanna? Can you tell me, or is it too... personal?" I asked gingerly.
She shivered as she remembered how he'd taken the news that she and Will were an item. "He had hoped for another chance, Will and it killed me to tell him that there wasn't one. God," she moaned, "I don't ever want to go through another moment like that again."
Suddenly I didn't want to hear anymore as my perverse curiosity had been somewhat appeased by her heart-rendering confession and as I lifted her lips to mine, I bleakly wondered if that would be the end of it. I didn't doubt for one minute that Deanna would betray me, but I did doubt though that the other me would, if he got the chance, especially now he knew who his competition was.
Our subsequent love-making was strange, even by my standards, and when her breathy sighs eventually cried out my name, I couldn't help but wonder who was really in her arms. Was it me, or was it him? And as I kissed away the trail of tears that ran down her face, the disturbing image of us climbing to the stars together suddenly turned foggy as it deliberately obliterated my mind, leaving me in no doubt that the woman still entwined around me had just made love to someone else, of that I was certain.
The only thing I needed to find out now was whether it was from a memory of long ago or a meeting that I really probably should have gone to.
The atmosphere in the Ten Forward lounge was lively a few days later. It had taken Deanna a couple of days to get over her initial meeting with W. T. as he'd been christened to save confusion and since then, she had stuck by my side like glue. I know she was afraid of being around him and had, so far, managed to avoid being alone with him. But I knew it was only going to be a matter of time before they'd get caught in a position that would change things.
And just like a bad penny, the object of many of my thoughts appeared at the entrance and swept his gaze over the throng of people already settled, and eventually spotting us, he made his way over to our table, grabbed a chair, swung it around and sat on it. I bit down the resentment that jumped into my throat at his casualness around my friends, but it hadn't taken him long to fit in as though he belonged - just like I had done.
The light-hearted rush of 'hi's' and 'hello's' swept around the table and he grinned up into Guinan's face as she placed a glass of rootbeer before he'd even asked for one. I knew the infamous bar-tender already had a soft spot for him. I don't know why. Kindred spirits, I guess.
Geordie was the first to kick off the conversation. "How goes it, Lieutenant? I hear Picard busted your balls over your goof down in engineering."
A chuckle rippled around the table and he looked sheepishly down into his beer before responding. "Yeah, well, can't help being a bit rusty. Technology has progressed a bit since I last touched a tacheon enhancer."
As a ripple of sympathetic laughter rounded the table, his eyes swept around the group slowly before coming to settle on Deanna's. It was like watching something in slow motion as I watched as the laughter die in his eyes, along with hers and for a long moment, they just simply stared at each other. I almost died when Deanna's eyes suddenly widened as an invisible thought passed between them, turning the air electric. As I watched I realised that I, and the rest of table, had been well and truly forgotten. I could have been a million miles away for all they cared, and right then, I bet they wished that I was.
It was Chief O'Brien that brought us all back to earth with a timely bump. "Lieutenant Riker, are you going to stay on board the Enterprise? I guess you must be thinking about moving on and I heard that there is a position on the Ghandi just waiting to be snapped up by a professional like you. You interested?"
The spell was broken and with it came the opportunity to pull Deanna's gaze away from his. Just by sheer will alone I reached out to her and dragged her back to me. I felt her struggle to return but eventually I won. This time. Was this how it was going to be for us. The battling triangle? But now seeing them together and seeing that silent plea, it was going to be even harder than what I first thought. I wasn't just fighting against my doppelganger, I was fighting against my own Imzadi.
Determined, I slipped my hand into her chilled one and pulled it over to my lap. Reluctant to show the entire population of Ten Forward that we were an item - despite the fact that I'm sure they already knew - I moved closer to her, sliding my arm around her now trembling shoulders, but even then, she still fought against his pull.
W. T.'s eyes met mine above her head and I was surprised to see dazed shock there. Clearly the moment between them had been so intense that they'd lost all sense of reality just for those few stolen moments and seconds later a seemingly highly embarrassed, W. T. pushed himself to his feet and without saying another word, left Ten Forward as though the very devil himself was hot on his tail.
The ensuing silence was heavy with a multitude of silent questions until at last, Geordie asked. "What's with him?"
I shrugged. "Guess he just remembered that hot date I heard him making plans with in the cargo bay earlier. Guess he just remembered where he left her." I joked, desperate to break the stunned silence that shrouded the entire table. Deanna obviously didn't like the idea of him with someone else and visibly stiffened beside me, and then, mortified, I felt her shift as though she was going to go after him.
I knew without a shadow of a doubt that if I'd have let her go a devastating transition would have happened between them. I couldn't let her go. I wouldn't let her go, and using the pretence of nestling her neck, I huskily whispered against her ear. "Please don't go, you'll only hurt him further. And us." I added, just to make sure that she realised what was at stake.
For the longest time I thought she was going to ignore me; I felt the torment within her. I felt her need to comfort him. I felt her ache for him. And then eventually, I felt her wilt with acceptance as she realised that going to him was the wrong thing to do, for all of us.
She turned her misty eyes to me and whispered sadly, "Take me home, Will."
I had won again, for now.
"Do you love him, Deanna?"
I heard her gasp. I felt her dread and smelt her fear.
I hovered above her, feigning interest in the trail of perspiration as it trickled along her shoulder when all along I was being swallowed whole by fear. She shifted her legs that were still entwined around mine seeking freedom but quickly realising that I had her pinned. Another time it would have been erotic. Another time I wouldn't have succumbed to the jealousy that was currently gnawing away at my soul. Another time, she wouldn't have hesitated.
But moments before, as I'd made almost frenzied love to her, something sinister had drifted in between us. Something that I couldn't define. Something that shifted my equilibrium enough to question us.
I met her eyes head on. In the muted light of the bedroom her beautiful eyes were wide, Scared even as they looked up into mine, like a doe caught in the headlights. But even so, the dark chocolate orbs still shimmered with desire in the aftermath of our love-making and I hated myself for doing this to her. I hated what I was doing to us. What he was doing to us.
I knew she had deep feelings for the other me, that was a given. How could she not have feelings for him? How could she even begin to separate us? Even though I was fairly confident that since they hadn't been put in the position to be anything more than be professional, nothing untoward had happened. But I was acutely aware that they didn't need to be in the same room to be something more. I'd seen the proof of that with my own eyes when I witnessed what had passed between them earlier in Ten Forward and it had scared me. It had really scared me.
Could they be having a silent affair? I wondered constantly. Seemed implausible, but not impossible and it hurt to know that they could be strengthening bonds without so much as one word spoken between them. It hurt me more to know that we'd never had that level of love before we became a couple again and even though we were Imzadi, it had to take more than just romance to ignite the spirituality that Imzadi required and I was convinced that it couldn't have happened without us being lovers.
Could they reach that from a just a dance of minds? I wondered.
I held my breath for her answer. I desperately needed her to say 'no, don't be ridiculous'. But more than that, I needed her to be honest with me.
Eventually I got honesty.
"I...I'm not sure, Will."
Sighing with reluctant defeat, I rolled my body away from hers, lay on my back, stuck one arm behind my head and studied the ceiling as I contemplated where to go from here. There really only was one way and moments later, I surprised even myself with my candid response. "I understand, Deanna. If you want to be with him then I won't stand in your way."
"No! no," She cried, pushing herself to her knees to face me, uncaring of her nudity as her magnificent naked body now sat before me, tormenting me further still. "That's not it. That's not it at all, Will!"
Her tiny hand settled upon my chest and I instinctively placed my own much larger one upon it, gripping it as though it were a life line. "Then tell me, Deanna," I plead. "Tell me what's happening between us."
I watched as she battled for reasons, and I watched as she tormented herself to find a way to explain herself without hurting me. She'd already hurt me, even if I understood why she had. She really didn't have a choice. Faced with a duplicate me - a me that loved her more than life itself, what choice did she have? None really. None, whatsoever.
She wilted before my very eyes and my heart broke for her. Pulling her into my arms, I tucked her head against my shoulder and held it there as I struggled against what I wanted to know and searching for a way of my own to not hurt her further. "Forget it, Deanna, I'm sorry I asked. It doesn't matter. I don't want it to come between us. Okay?"
I inwardly groaned as I heard her sniffle against my throat and dragging her body completely on top of mine, I began to rain tiny penitent kisses everywhere that I could reach, whispering my apologies as I did so. I felt her battle against the onslaught of my sudden repentance until eventually desire overrode despair and as I slipped into her desperate body once more, Imzadi took us both over, reminding us that what we had between us was stronger than love.
But was it going to be enough? I wondered miserably as we both somehow climbed back up to heaven, goaded on purely by desperation.
Later at lunchtime in Ten Forward, a group of us were chilling down before the next shift began, chatting about the evening ahead. "Earth to Deanna. Hey, wake up." I laughed as Beverly Crusher gently shook her arm. "I hope you're not going to sleep away the evening later on. I've got lots of dancing to catch up on and I'm expecting you to be freaking out with me, my friend."
Deanna chuckled, bringing herself back from wherever she had drifted off to. "Course, wouldn't miss it for the world. It's the only place that I can guarantee that I can get a good old fashioned cuddle without being ravished at the same time."
I squeezed her shoulder and said with as much devilment that I could muster. "That's what you think, Ms. Troi. There are ways, y'know?" I waggled my eyebrows as several sets of eyes looked at me, either with admiration or astonishment, all pretence of our blossoming relationship completely out in the open for all to see. People were slowly getting used to seeing us as a twosome. That I struggled to keep my hands off Deanna at the best of times was also becoming very evident within our closest friends. With that in mind, I added for good measure. "Guess you haven't been subject to the ol' Riker Waltz Manoeuvre yet." Now I had them interested.
One look at my face had Deanna gasping nervously. "You wouldn't dare!"
I chuckled with delight at managing to embarrass the object of my affections, but still, a little teasing wouldn't hurt. "That depends on which dress you wear tonight, doesn't it, Ms. Troi?" There, the challenge was set. I was looking forward to seeing if she would go out of her way to avoid an embarrassing scene or whether she would indeed call my bluff.
Seconds later, Beverly was dragging her off to their quarters to peruse their wardrobes and I laughed at the absurdity of the woman's mind.
Data's voice cut into my enjoyable musings as we all watched them walk away. "If I may ask, Commander, what kind of sexual experience would deem suitable at a dance? I would have thought that any kind of shenanagens would result in a disciplinary, sir."
I laughed as I slapped the ever curious android on the back before walking away. "Data, you have a lot to learn about women - and no, I do not want to teach you. Ask Mr. Worf. I'm sure he'd be more than happy to satisfy your curiosity."
As I walked away I heard the unmistakable growl of the Klingon as the the innocent Mr. Data rounded on him, intent on learning more about the weird mating rituals of the rutting male.
When I punched the door buzzer later to escort Deanna to the dance, I inwardly laughed at her attire when she eventually acknowledged me. She obviously decided that she wasn't going to risk being ravaged on the dance floor so had opted to wear a pair of deep, dark emerald floaty trousers teamed with a shimmering sequinned halter-necked top in pale turquoise. Her hair was piled high with delicate tendrils framing her face and her make-up was overly flamboyant with lots of kohl accentuating her gorgeous dark eyes. Her heady scent made me groan aloud as it impinged on my libido and her cherry red lipstick had me quickly spinning away from her as that same libido quickly became a possible embarrassment and it took quite a few deep breaths to get myself back in order before I dared to face her again.
In her valiant effort to ward off my lewd advances, Deanna Troi had effectively done completely the opposite. She looked hotter than I'd seen her for a long time, and how in the devils name I was supposed to ignore her tempting body now was beyond my comprehension. But then, dressed in a sack cloth, Deanna would still manage to look drop dead stunning.
On the way to the holodecks we met Beverly Crusher en route and walking into the dance hall with both women on my arm, I felt like a million dollars. That was until I spotted the other Riker propping up the bar clearly waiting for us to arrive. Correction, waiting for Deanna to arrive when I saw his nostrils flare with unabashed desire.
I had hoped that he wouldn't come. I had hoped that he would feel uncomfortable enough to stay away. But then why would he? I wouldn't have, no way. I'd never have missed out on the chance of a bird-pulling session no more than he would have and as I unconsciously pulled Deanna closer to my side, my eyes reluctantly met his over the top of her head and I saw him nod slightly, acknowledging the silent threat that he plainly saw there.
But then as those same eyes dropped to look at the woman in my arms, a cold inner shudder of dread washed over me and it slowly dawned on me, that tonight could be the night when everything that could go wrong, would. The night that, given a smidgen of a chance, the other Riker would steal Deanna away from me. Belatedly, I realised that coming to the dance was possibly the worst thing we could have done and as Deanna pulled me onto the dance floor and began to move, I had absolutely no choice but to hope and pray that he would stay away from her.
But instinctively, I knew that he wouldn't, because he couldn't.
There is only so much dancing a man can do before he begins to feel decidedly sick. I had managed to keep Deanna either within my arms or at least less than two feet away from me for a large part of the evening, but I was shattered and eventually I had to beg her for a break. I was phenomenally thrilled when she too left the floor with me and hand in hand, we trailed wearily back over to our table.
There was only one chair left so I sat down and pulled Deanna on to my lap, reaching for a glass around her as I did so. Deanna picked up her own glass and we both took a long grateful swig before settling down and watching those who were still shaking their booty around the multicoloured lit floor.
As we'd been lost within the throng of the other dancers for the bulk of the evening, we'd lost track of the other Riker and for a while I completely forgot that he was even there. But now as we sat and caught our breath, he came to haunt my thoughts again.
I hated that he had that power over me. I hated that he was still here, on our ship, getting in the way of our life. And I hated even more that he knew that he was the proverbial thorn in our side. The transfer to the Ghandi couldn't come soon enough for me, as far as I was concerned. But I knew that the other ship was still several days away, stuck on some diplomatic mission in the Earondach System. Several days in which my entire world could drop away from me. Us.
'If' I let him get near her, and I didn't intend to.
But, so lost in my own tumultuous thoughts, I didn't see him come to stand before us his hand already extended towards Deanna. Startled, I watched incredulously as she tentively reached out her own and linked her fingers with his. Smiling tenderly at her, he spoke loud enough for the entire table to hear, a deliberate ploy to put me in the position that gave me no choice to agree unless I wanted the entire senior crew to know how much I was rattled. "You don't mind, do you, Will?"
Damn! What could I say? My quick glance around at my now avid comrades, who were watching for my reaction with interest, told me that to refuse him would be petulant. But I knew, I damn well knew that if she went, it would be the end of us. An irrational thought, I know, considering it was just a dance. But dammit! I didn't want her to go. The fact that she was already rising from my lap meant that the decision was no longer mine, so in a truly magnanimous gesture I laughed at the ridiculous situation. "Sure. Just make sure she comes back in one piece."
He knew what I damn well meant and throwing that all too familiar grin at me, he simply acknowledged it with a wink over his shoulder and walked into the middle of the crowded dance floor with my girl. My Imzadi. Damn it! But she was his Imzadi, too! It took a monumental effort to keep myself seated in that chair and I was aware of the conversations around me, but nothing in the entire Cosmos would let me take my eye off the couple on the dance floor.
It was a long dense moment later that I realised that the music had changed and as I listened to the ballad now playing I wondered what I'd done to deserve this kind of torture. Did he deliberately plan the change in tempo? It wouldn't have surprised me in the least. The strains of an old Earth favourite, Garth Brooks, 'Baby I'm amazed by you' just added to the pain that now chewed away at my gut as I watched them in tortured agony.
For the longest time, Deanna swayed against his body, lost only, I hoped, in the music. He had her hand captured within his against his chest, with the other resting gently upon the slender nape of her long neck. His chin was perched gently upon her head and his eyes were closed. So were hers I noticed, when she eventually turned my way. They didn't talk, not one word because they were lost to the dance. Completely and utterly lost.
Or were they?
My suspicions were confirmed when before they slowly returned to the table as the last strains of song ended, he dropped a tender kiss upon her forehead. The tension was heavy as they came towards me and he reluctantly put Deanna's hand back into mine. Sadness poured from their souls, I could feel it. I could see it and I couldn't help biting at him. "I asked you to bring her back in one piece, damn you."
The shock in their eyes as they guiltily looked first at each other and then at me told me exactly what I needed to know. More had happened between them on that dance floor. More than words, and they both knew it, and as I watched one solitary tear fall from her eye as she watched him spin on his heels and leave I realised then what I had to do.
"Are you going to tell me what's going on, Will?"
"Don't call me that, Guinan. I'm beginning to hate that name."
"So what are we to call you then. Asshole?"
"What did I do now?" He groused and then added, "And you can call me Thomas."
"I kinda liked asshole. Sort of suited you. You know the rumours that are going around, don't you?"
Tom sighed, plonking his glass down onto the bar, harder than he intended, slopping the inch or so of beer over its edge. "Yeah, I've heard 'em. Christ! All I did was dance with her, Guinan." He guiltily eyed the mess he'd made and mumbled, "Sorry."
"You sure about that, Tom? I heard that you did a lot more than dance last night."
Thomas Riker studied the dark El-Alurian as she wiped the spilt beer away, watching him with something akin to sympathy, his body warming with remembrance at what had truly transpired between him and Deanna on the dance floor. He thought they'd got away with it. He thought that what had sizzled silently between them had stayed deep within their own souls. How wrong he'd been. Damn it.
"We just danced, Guinan. That's all. If people want to see more than that, then that's their loss." he grumbled guiltily, picking up his glass again and studying its contents as though the entire ships safety depended on what he found there. Eventually he rose his now suspiciously bright eyes to hers again and repeated solemnly. "We just danced."
Guinan leaned nearer to him and whispered kindly to him. "No, you didn't, Tom. You made love to Deanna Troi on that dance floor last night, and now you're here asking me what to do from here onwards, aren't you?"
All Ten Forwards occupants drifted off out of their sights as the two friends locked horns and brooded over the problem at hand, and there really was a problem now, they both were acutely aware of that.
Eventually Tom swallowed and whispered huskily back to the hovering woman. "I want her, Guinan. I want her so much that I'm prepared to risk everything to win her heart."
"Is this about Deanna, Tom, or is it about stealing her from your brother?"
"He's not my brother," Tom responded with more vehemence that was necessary, squirming on his seat, revealing his agitation. "He's just another me. He's just..."
"The man who's got your Imzadi." Guinan stated on a sigh, finally getting to the point of her intimate grilling.
Tom deflated before her very eyes. "Yeah, the man who's got my Imzadi."
He drained his glass and pushed it towards her waiting fingers dejectedly. "Fill it up again, this time with something a bit harder."
"Going to down your sorrows, Tom? That won't win her, you know that, right?"
"Wanna tell me how I can? I'm fresh out ideas here, especially as I've now got the entire crew on my back for betraying Will."
"You haven't betrayed him yet, Tom, not really."
"It won't be long before I do, Guinan." He responded with honesty. "I can't stop thinking about her and I can't stay away from her anymore, and even though I know she's torn in two, I know she wants to be with me, Guinan, I just know it."
"What did you expect, Tom? You're offering her everything that Will cannot."
"Such as?" he asked, his curiosity piqued.
"Imzadi." She responded patiently.
Now Tom really was intrigued. "She has that with him."
"It's stronger between you two. That's was she's being pulled towards you. The bond is stronger because it's new. What Will and Deanna have is somewhat muted because they've been together for so long. You've reignited the spark that can make Imzadi reach a whole new stratosphere, Tom. She doesn't really know you. For her it's like being reborn again. There isn't anyway that she can resist it's pull, Tom, despite what Will feels for her.
"He loves her though, doesn't he, Guinan?"
"More than life itself."
"But she could love me more." He stated, distracted and lost in the possibilities that were unfolding before his very eyes.
His eyes creased with puzzlement when he looked back at her. "On what?"
"On what you do when you leave here, of course."
For a long moment the young lieutenant and the age old El-Alurian wordlessly looked at each other until finally Tom asked. "Why are you doing this, Guinan?"
She smiled enigmatically at him. "Destiny, lieutenant. Destiny."
Impulsively Tom leaned over the bar and placed a tender kiss on the darker woman's warm skin, smiled his thanks to her and left the bar. Guinan followed him out with his eyes and whispered to nothing but his departing shadow, "Destiny, lieutenant. Destiny."
As Tom strolled purposely along the corridor he spoke to thin air. "Computer, location of Commander Riker?"
<<Commander Riker is on the bridge>>
"Location of Counselor Troi?"
<<Counselor Troi is currently in the gymnasium>>
By the time he reached level 19, Tom was in a somewhat better mood than he'd been in an hour ago, deciding that destiny had been kind enough to give him a second chance of getting back the love that he'd lost.
I'd been prepared to let Deanna go. I'd gone through hell and back trying to find a way of keeping her from going to him, and now as we stood arm in arm as he left her quarters to start his new life on board the USS Ghandi, I wondered if it had all been in vain. But then, maybe not.
Toms arrival on board the Enterprise had done the unthinkable. He had shook my relationship with Deanna to the very core, bashed it about, abused it in the worst way how, and then, surprisingly, and disturbingly, he had handed her back to me on a silver platter.
He was leaving and Deanna wasn't going with him. Her choice, not his. Feeling them and seeing them in my minds eye a few days ago making love on the floor of the gym had almost knocked me to my knees. Unashamedly I had silently wept in front of my captain and when Picard gently touched my shoulder and told me to take some time, I knew that I could no longer leave what I needed to do.
When Deanna finally sought me out to tell me what I already knew, I had to give her my blessing and let her go. I simply had no choice. It had been the hardest thing that I had ever done -- harder than leaving her on Risa eight years before. But way back then I had, what I now realise, was a very feeble excuse. I had a career to establish. And back then, I was young enough and foolish enough to think that I had all the time in the universe to find her again and make up for my thoughtless, but what I considered then, very important transgressions.
And it had all come true.
Until he had come here and reminded her of what I'd done to us so long ago.
Deanna would have gone with him to the Ghandi, of that I was certain. I'd seen the look in her eye when she'd come to tell me that they'd gone beyond us, and if I hadn't have planted the seed of doubt in her heart and mind and reminded her that he was still no better than me, in six months time, she would have undoubtably left to be with him. He'd promised her what I had not, and surprisingly, she had turned him down.
I guess in the end, what we had had been even stronger than I'd imagined. The man had eight years of catching up with time and change, least of all, acknowledging the changes in the woman that he had longed for for so long. She had matured. She had come into her own. She knew her own mind, and most of all, she knew her own heart, and it was clear that her heart now very clearly belonged with me.
I had won.
I'm glad that they'd made love now. It took me a while for that fact to register, but now I know that it had been the catalyst of their demise, so I'm glad it had happened. No more, 'what if's'. No more wondering about what was and what could be. Thomas had promised her the moon, the stars and lots more besides, and I...I had simply been true. True to her. It would take a life time to explain that particular sentiment, but to those who knew, 'us', would know what I'm talking about.
I guess I'd better ask that girl to marry me now. But then, maybe I'd better wait a little while. I don't want it to look like I was only asking because of him. But I won't wait for too long. I'm not letting anyone else get in between what is mine. Damn! There could be another one of me out there somewhere, like in an alternate universe, or something similar. You never know what you'll stumble across out here amongst the stars and I'm going to make sure they all know that she is my woman.
"What can I get you, Tom. The usual?"
As he settled onto the familiar barstool, Tom mumbled, "Sure." He was scheduled to leave the Enterprise in less than half an hour but was determined to make this one last, important visit before he left. In his heart he was aware that he was unlikely to ever return to the ship that one week ago he thought had been his saviour, but now he wasn't so sure. Down there, on Nervala Four, a place that he truly believed he would eventually take his last dying breath, he had only survived for so long, he was sure, because of Deanna Troi. And now, brought back from a fate far worse than death, he now felt that he had lost his sole reason for living.
He had lost in love, again, and this time, there was no turning back for them. This time it had been Deanna to turn him down, and God, that had stung, even more than losing her to his brother.
Guinan quietly placed the tall glass in front of him and he instinctively curled his long fingers around it and took a long swallow of its chilled contents. It wasn't until he slowly put it back onto the bar that Tom finally raised his eyes to meet the dark ones of the woman waiting patiently before him.
"You want to know what happened. And you want to know why I told you to go to her and find your destiny, don't you, Tom?"
His simple, suspended and hissed, "Yes." was all he could manage as he fought against the nausea that bubbled deep inside of him. He'd hurt when he'd placed his one last, lingering kiss on Deanna's lips before walking out of her life. And he'd hurt more when he reached the furthest end of the corridor and realised that she wasn't going to come after him and tell him that she'd changed her mind.
But that one word that had fallen from Guinans mouth, 'destiny' had been the catalyst to release all the bottled up emotions that he'd suppressed since walking away from what he'd thought had been his destiny. How had Guinan got it so wrong? He had to come to her to find out. He had to know, before he left for good.
Guinan reached out a dark hand and gently settled it upon his forearm. "Tom, haven't you yet realised? This IS your destiny because you were never meant to be with Deanna. The time you had with her was only ever meant to be very short. Your destiny, Tom, lies out there still waiting for you to find it."
Suspiciously bright eyes locked onto hers as he whispered brokenly, "Then how come Will has her? How can it be his destiny and not mine? We're the same person, Guinan."
Guinan smiled sadly at him. "If you believe that then you're a bigger klutz than I originally thought. You are not William Riker, Tom. You have not led his life. You have different goals and different dreams. You're still searching, Tom. Will is not. Everything he's looked for, he has finally found here, on the Enterprise."
"But I wanted her, Guinan, so much."
Guinan touched his cheek with the palm of her hand and whispered to the broken man, "I know you did, Tom, I know you did. But she belongs with Will. She always has done. You know that."
"Then why did she...?"
"She had to, Tom, don't you see that? She had to be with you one last time to let you both go."
"I don't think I'll ever let her go, Guinan."
"Of course you won't, not until your own special girl comes along one day, and she will, Tom. Someday soon you'll meet your own own one true love and she'll be yours, heart body and soul. You won't have to share her with anyone and that I promise you."
Suddenly Guinan pushed herself away from the wilted man before her, took a tell-tale sniff, wiped a non-existant mark from the bar and told Tom firmly, "Go and find your own destiny, Thomas Riker, and don't forget invite me to the wedding, y'hear? And for good measure, she added, "And don't leave it too long. I ain't getting any younger."
Chuckling as Tom stood, determinedly shaking off the melancholy shroud as he did so, he impulsively reached across the bar and pulled Guinans face to his, giving her a kiss that was loud enough to echo around the lounge before pushing himself away from the bar.
"Bye, Guinan, and...thanks."
Picking up Toms discarded glass, she grinned at her friend. "Keep safe, Thomas Riker, just keep safe. That's all I ask."
And with a familiar wink and cheeky grin, Thomas acknowledged her with a wave and headed off to the shuttle bay, leaving behind more than he thought he ever would, but taking with him something infinitely more precious.
His very new and exciting life. A life that he'd once thought he'd lost but now had something more valuable to find, some day.