Kyle Riker faced the board with an unintimidated glare, his posture rigid with barely controlled anger while he continued to stare down each member in turn; shoulders back, chin up, expression firm as if chiseled from stone. He had faced greater obstacles in his life, had stared death down many times over and had put the toughest of Starfleet admirals into their place, and he would be damned if he couldnít use that rapid stubborn streak which was renown for dominating the Riker gene pool now when it most counted, and his sonís future hung in the balance.
"What youíre asking is impossible!" an Admiral by the name of Turner roared. "Reinstating Thomas Riker as a Starfleet Lieutenant, complete with the rights and privileges thereof would be unfit, unjust, and potentially disastrous. He is a known criminal: he left his post to associate with a band of terrorists known as the Maquis, he willingly attempted the outright theft of the starship Defiant, and although we know full well that he willingly surrendered himself to the Cardassians, smoothing over ruffled feathers, the end does not justify the means."
"Yes, but my son has had years in that prison camp as just punishment and to contemplate his actions," Kyle Riker responded smoothly, using every bit of strength at his disposal to keep the bitterness out of his tone. "He regrets his past and is now ready to look towards a future in Starfleet. Certainly you must realize that life has not been easy for him, and yet when push came to shove he not only exhibited character, but a strong moral sense and a code of ethics. Given the proper circumstances he can once again prove himself a worthy officer, as Will has done many times over."
At the mention of Commander William Riker a small buzz went up across the committee, as Kyle had known it would. Using Willís exemplary record as an officer was the last card he had, and one he knew would cause the most stir. After all there could be no greater paradox: two genetically identical men, one a highly decorated officer, and the other a known criminal, and yet they shared the same basic foundations, the same building blocks that structured who they were. Surely Tom Riker would be capable of great things, if, given similar circumstances that Will had had, he was awarded the opportunity to prove himself, or at least that was the conclusion that Ambassador Riker hoped the committee would reach.
They were softening towards his proposal, he felt it with the seasoned knowledge of one who had dealt with diplomacy as a vocation for many years. They were almost there but not quite, however, it was simply a matter of time. He allowed a small smile to catch the edges of his face, grateful for this opportunity to make amends with yet another son, and perhaps dull the rough edges of past sins he might have committed while battling the hardships of single parenthood during Will and Tomís youth, a guilt that never quite escaped his waking consciousness.
"There is another factor to consider in all of this," another voice chimed in, and Kyle looked up to catch the soft, sympathetic stare of one of the female board members, her tone thoughtful and reflective. "Lieutenant Riker has spent years in a prison camp, the psychological ramifications of such conditions have to be both profound and damaging. I wouldnít feel safe reinstating his rank until a full psychological evaluation has been completed."
"I think Tom would agree to a psychological evaluation," the Ambassador stated, tasting his success even sweeter than before, but also sensing another opportunity, one that ensured that Tom had the same sort of influence that Will had had; a presence that had been by Willís side that had greatly impacted his personal well being and balance of mind, even before they were lovers and had served together only as friends. "I even have a suggestion on who should conduct the evaluation."
"Well, then by all means, share with us who you feel has the capabilities of undergoing such an arduous task," Turner spoke out once more, still not too keen on the idea of allowing Thomas Riker any sort of reprieve from what he saw as purely traitorous actions against the Federation.
"Commander Deanna Troi, shipís counselor to the USS Enterprise E," Kyle Riker stated with a flair, delighting with the murmur that went up within the board once more. Like Will, Deanna had a reputation that was impeccable, both as an officer, and as one of the most successful and highly respected psychologists in Starfleet.
Personal reasons aside, her name made the most sense, and no one would even think to question the results of her evaluation should she be the one to give it. But more than that, having Deanna do the evaluation provided a drastic advantage, both in her familiarity with Tomís background and her more than obvious affection for his genetically identical Ďbrotherí Will. Additionally Kyle hoped that she might provide something else as well, a sort of semblance of stability for Tom, not in regards to romantic relations, but in the category of support, as she had done for Will for years. The strength Will gained from Troi had not escaped Kyle during his visits on the Enterprise, even prior to Will writing him a couple of years ago to tell him that he and Deanna had renewed their romantic relationship, an event that didnít take the elder Riker by the least amount of surprise. Kyle knew that Will relied on Troi for stability, advice, and encouragement, and he couldnít help but hope that she could provide the same for Tom: if out of a sense of obligation to the family she was soon to be a part of, as well as her own deep seeded drive to help others in need.
If Kyle Riker knew Will, and he did, he would be directly opposed to the involvement of Deanna in these procedures, but if he knew Deanna, like he gathered he had gotten to know her pretty well over the past few years, she would surely insist on helping out. And for this the elder Riker was willing to risk Willís wrath, if not for anything than some sort of closure to the apparent disfunction that plagued his family.
"Commander Troi would be an acceptable choice to conduct the evaluation," Turner admitted begrudgingly, seeing no dent in Kyle Rikerís argument, save one. "She is an exemplary officer who had proven her worth many times over, and Starfleet is fortunate to have her in the ranks. However, one aspect of this whole thing bothers meÖ is Deanna Troi not engaged to Commander William Riker? And donít you think that this causes a conflict of interest?"
And just like that the wind was knocked out of Ambassador Rikerís proverbial sails. He had been banking on the fact that Will and Deannaís engagement was not yet common knowledge. In fact, he himself had only recently heard the news and had been heading towards a rendezvous with the Enterprise in order to personally offer his congratulations before hearing of Thomasí release from the prison camp that had entrapped him for many years. It was apparent that Will and Deannaís engagement had already caused a stir within the hierarchy of Starfleet, though that didnít really surprise him either as they were both pretty renowned figures within the Federation. However, it did put a dent in his request, which, in turn, became quickly squelched when reprieve came in the form of another voice.
"I donít think that it would," another Admiral spoke up, turning to her comrade. "Commander Troi was the one who counseled Captain Picard when he was captured and tortured by the Cardassians, her experience marks her as the only logical choice. Besides, her service record clearly indicates that she should be regarded as nothing less than a professional. Iím sure whatever personal interest might be involved, any recommendation that the Counselor would offer would be fair and sound."
The show of nods amongst the rest of the board showed that the majority were in agreement, and Admiral Turner had no choice but to give in, his authoritive gaze troubled as he eyed the elder Riker, weary about the decision he was about to vocalize. "Very well then, Lieutenant Thomas Riker is hereby ordered to a psychological examination per Starfleet Counselor Deanna Troi, granted that the Enterprise and her Captain can spare her for the length of time a task such as this would take. Any decision Commander Troi reaches is recognized by this board as final and will be carried out specifically as she should specify. Upon reaching this outpost Commander Troi will be briefed on both sides of the arguments presented to this committee today prior to contact with Lieutenant Riker. Are there any objections?"
The utter silence that followed this proclamation was all the sign Kyle Riker needed to consider the day a raging success, although he carefully sculpted his features to remain neutral as he gazed back at the committee impassively. He knew that there were still some uncertainties: he had called in every favor at his disposal to get a board to form to determine his sonís fate and he may have well extinguished any sort of pull he had with Starfleet in doing so, and whether Deanna would still find Tom unfit to serve despite her indepth understanding of the situation at hand would be anyoneís guess, but Tomís prospects were a lot brighter than they were before, that much was certain. Of course now he had an even harder counsel to sway, and Will Riker proved a much more difficult task to convince than even the most stringent Starfleet Admiral.
Deanna Troiís stomach seemed to roll with the motion of the shuttle craft, tumbling and twisting, consistently churning to the point of nauseating dizziness; much like the bruised and battered swell of her turbulent emotions. Instinctively she glanced at her left hand, now bare of the ring that had adorned it just a little over a week before being viciously torn off and flung by her during the midst of an argument. It amazed her how much she felt its loss, even though it had been worn by her for so little an amount of time. Her hand felt too light, naked even, as if an intricate piece of her was missing. If possible her spirit sunk even lower, a dark sea of apparently endless sorrow in which she was rapidly drowning.
An arduous task lay before her: days of dealings with admirals, red tape, active debate and a battle of wills, and all of that before she was even allowed to do the part of her job that she felt the most natural doingÖcounseling. Only this time she wasnít just counseling a random face amongst a crew of dedicated officers, this time the face bore an identical resemblance to the man she loved but whom she also bore a history with. For years the guilt of Tom Rikerís fall had plagued her conscience, as if she partially and irrationally blamed herself for his apparent downward spiral. She had always been left wondering if things might have turned out differently if they had kept in touch all those years ago when Tom had first been rescued from the abandoned space station and he had proclaimed his devoted and undying love for her.
But they hadnít and Tom had been left on his own; left to live in the shadow of his genetic duplicate Willís success, left to battle the constantly present horror of being alone on a rapidly degenerating space station for eight years, left to confront the universe at large and without a soul in the galaxy to understand the courage such actions took for anyone, even a Riker, to undertake.
Of course Will hadnít understood her guilt - he who believed firmly in self accountability and that any person, regardless of circumstance, was directly responsible for their own actions. However, there had been more to their argument than that; feelings on both sides that ran so deep, so furious that she was still going through the process of trying to sort through it all in her head over twenty-four hours after the incident had happened. It hadnít mattered what comfort she had tried to provide or what assurances she uttered to Will when she had first agreed to accept the assignment, the First Officer couldnít and wouldnít accept her reasoning, insisting that she turn the assignment down and that they were both completely absolved from the situation.
Subconsciously she knew that Will was scared of a multitude of things: of what feelings might churn up once she saw Tom again, of his own guilt over a decision to place his career above their romance during their youth; a decision that Tom had never had the opportunity to make, and one that Will had spent the past fourteen years trying to make up to her. Deanna knew that despite his normally self-assured personality, Will was very much insecure when it came to her, his Ďtwiní and anything directly involving the two of them together. After all, Tom shared the history of their time together on Betazed just as Will had and despite nearly two decades of divergent paths; they were still technically emerged from that same young lieutenant that had fallen helplessly and hopelessly in love with a young psychology student also struggling to make her mark on the universe.
She had tried to point these things out to Will, had used every bit of logic and reasoning at her disposal, but finally it boiled down to a lack of trust on his part that stung deeply. She couldnít help but lash out while in the midst of anger. Hurt, frightened, and alone for the first time in a very long time. And oh the things they had said to each other: angry, bitter words that still continuously plagued her brain, as if she were doomed to listen to the same recording over and over again, haunting her all the while, robbing her of the ability to sleep, to eat, to concentrate for any length of time on her assignment.
"It is not your responsibility to save him, Deanna, and quite frankly I donít see why you are so hell bent on helping him, unless of course there is some unresolved feelings there that you arenít telling me aboutÖ" he had said, his voice laced with venom.
"I canít believe you just said that!" she had roared in response, her posture frigid. "In case it has escaped your attention, I help people, itís what I do. How could I not help? And how can you even sit there and question my intentions? This is something I have to do - for me, for you, for Tom, and for your family, to purge our lives of past ghosts and to allow us all to move on and start with a fresh slate. And I have never, ever given you cause to doubt me."
"Any psychologist could take this assignment. Any one of them could provide the same service to a man who doesnít even deserve the second chance that he is getting. And I am quite comfortable with where my relationship with Tom stands now. I donít need or want any further contact with him. I have no problem with these Ďghostsí you seem to think are present. Why are you so determined to be the one to save him? The fact that you are so unwavering in your decision to help him is enough evidence to make me question the reasons behind itÖ" he had trailed off, blue eyes flashing as an inevitable storm brewed turbulently in his gaze.
"If that is the way you feel, if you donít know by now how much I love you, if you donít trust me after everything, EVERYTHING that we have been through together than I see no point in this," she had stated, holding up the hand with the engagement ring that sparkled brightly on her finger.
And he had laughed: a cold, bitter, chilling laugh that sent a shiver up her spine and goose bumps on her flesh. "No, I suppose not," he said with finality, as if he had reached the same unswayable conclusion.
And that is when she had taken the ring off. That was the point in time when she had carelessly thrown the object at his chest. Tears had stung her dark eyes, anger had clearly been evident in her posture, and her soul had been torn into tattered pieces and blown away with the wind, replaced only by the hurt and empty shell of everything she had only so recently dreamed.
There had been more after that of course. More anger, more yelling, more bitter retorts; one statement blurred into another and the horrific aftereffects were forever burned in her weary soul.
Just remembering it caused her stomach to knot again, and a sudden, dizzying heaving wracked her small body, sending her rushing to the bathroom where she emptied the contents of her stomach, releasing more bile than any actual food, as she remained sitting on the bathroom floor, head down, her brain spinning in dizzying circles while a bitter after taste remained in her mouth; almost ironically metaphoric for everything that had transpired the past two days.
She had not spoken to Will since the argument, both of them having far too much abundance of pride. He had not accompanied her to the shuttle pad to see her off on her journey, but the Captain and Beverly had. The two of them looking at her with unsuppressed sympathy, as if they knew exactly what had transpired and they were both very troubled by it yet helpless to do anything but offer her smiles of encouragement. Beverly had given her a hug, softly whispering meaningless words of support, such as: "It will work out, everything will be okayÖ" and a multitude of other things that Deanna hadnít really believed, but felt heartened to nonetheless. And she had left - quietly, sullenly, her gaze riveted through a window of the shuttle as the Enterprise disappeared gradually from her view and with it her heart.
Jolted back to the present, she eventually stood up from her position on the floor, walking over to the sink to spray a refreshing splash of cool water over her face before looking up into the mirror and gasping at the horror of her reflection, something that she hadnít been able to do since the argument had transpired. There were dark circles clearly evident under her eyes, and her skin was ashen and pale, as if she were sick. She looked every bit like a woman who had just been to hell and back and the thought edged her conscience on top of everything else. If her appearance was any indication, it was no wonder the Captain and Beverly had been so obviously in tune with the events surrounding her assignment, for she had clearly worn her heart on her sleeve, displaying every tortuous emotion she had undergone.
Somehow, someway, she knew that she had to place her turbulent love life on the back burner and put on the face of professionalism for as long as it took. She instinctively stood up straighter, continuingly watching her reflection as she mentally reminded herself that she ultimately had to face Tom, Kyle, and a board of weary, mistrusting admirals whose opinion she would more than likely have to sway during the course of her stay on the Federation outpost.
Using every bit of mental discipline and training she possessed she desperately pushed the anguish she was experiencing aside, attempting to at least put on the front that all was okay in the universe and she was more than capable of carrying out her task.
The reminder seemed to work, albeit begrudgingly, as a small rosebud of color returned to her features and the dizziness seemed to pass. And although her spirits were as dark as ever, she felt more ready to face the music, as it were, when she felt the shuttle start to descend for a landing.
By the time the ramp to the shuttle was opened to signify the official start of her assignment, Deanna had her emotional walls firmly in place, her expression an unreadable mask of stark professionalism. As unmistakable in intent as the stiff posture she used and the crisp and clean uniform that she wore, every hair neatly in place, with nary a spot of lint or stray thread to mare her appearance.
The smiling face of Kyle Riker greeted her as she descended the ramp, his eyes sparkling in a way she was achingly familiar with, for Will carried that same happy yet borderline mischievous expression, as if it were a genetic trait.
"Ah Deanna," he stated affectionately, regarding her with obvious gratitude when she had come to stand before him. "Beautiful as ever, though I would have expected nothing less. Thank you for agreeing to do this, it means a lot to both Tom and myself."
And he lifted up his arms for a hug, which she had little choice but to return, quickly mumbling a soft, "Of course, it is the least I can do," while struggling desperately not show the price she had paid in which to come.
The smile on the elder Rikerís face quickly disappeared as he leaned back and regarded her, as if he somehow knew or somehow suspected that something was amiss. And Deanna was beginning to wonder if insightfulness was yet another genetic trait among these men that was shared.
"Will insists on refusing to talk to me. Iíve been sending one communiquť after another and he has yet to answer," her would be future father-in-law stated, an unmistakable sympathy shinning in his eyes.
"Hopefully Will will come around given time," Deanna returned evenly, as shocked as he that she had somehow managed to keep the infliction of her own sorrow out of her voice, effectively hiding any trace of the heartache she endured.
"Of course, Will is as stubborn as any one of us, but his heart is in the right place and Iím sure heíll come to understand eventually when he allows himself to think it over," Kyle Riker replied with certainty, leaving Deanna to wonder if he were reassuring himself or her with his words.
They both turned to face the Federation impound, the elder Riker placing a gentle hand on the womanís, whom he already considered a daughter-in-law, shoulder to subtly lead the way, all the while mulling over the knowledge that this was the one woman destined to not only metaphorically save one son, but two.
Deanna didnít think it was possible to get a raging headache in the twenty-fourth century, not with all the advancements in medicine and the generally healthier lifestyle that everyone embraced in the present time as opposed to a rugged past where pioneers actually experienced such a phenomenon, but she could almost state with utter certainty that she had one now. The fake smile that had been pasted on her face all afternoon was beginning to hurt her cheeks, and the insistent drumming in her head refused to let up, if even for awhile. And still the meetings continued, one board member after another, all divided into two sides: either sympathetic to the fate of Tom Riker, or adamantly opposed to granting him pardon for his past actions, yet every single one having a strong, predetermined and unwavering opinion they felt the need to vocalize.
Her empathic sense was over worked and just about at its breaking point, as was her impatience to see Tom, yet she kept her frustration carefully hidden behind years of diplomatic training, both as a Daughter of the Fifth House of Betazed and as a career officer aboard the Federationís flagship. Time and time again she calmly stated the same logical argument, pointing out that she would have to speak with Tom before determining his mental state and that she must remain impartial towards his future until such a meeting, or rather multiple meetings, had transpired. And finally she managed to drill into the committeeís conscious that she held an unbiased perspective that could only be changed by Tom himself, even though it had literally taken her the better part of a day to accomplish such a feat, much to her rapidly growing irritation.
The only positive side to it all was that her preoccupation with filtering through the many voices and emotions she had heard and felt that day kept her too occupied to think of Will, their argument, and just how much her heart ached for him. A fact that she had no delusions she would wallow in later when she was alone in her quarters with nothing but the darkness of night to keep her company.
Finally the last meeting wound up and she was allowed reprieve for a short while before the end of her workday concluded with her first meeting with Tom, an event that equal parts terrified and energized her. She did not have too long to ponder her emotions over seeing Tom for the first time in so many years, however, as Kyle Riker was waiting for her as soon as she stepped out of the conference room, his facial expression betraying his curiosity, though he was careful not to vocalize his concernsÖ just yet.
"Iíve come to request your presence for a late lunch," he said inquisitively, his tone making it clear that she was in for yet another interrogation.
"Certainly," she replied with a forced smile, grateful at least that Kyle was familiar, companionable, and that his emotions would be easy to categorize and sort out without adding to her throbbing headache. And to his credit it wasnít until they had sat down at a local diner and had ordered their food that he brought up the conversation she had been dreading.
"Will must have taken this news pretty hard," he started, his voice laced with compassion, noting her raised eyebrows before adding, "I noticed that there isnít an engagement ring on your finger."
Deanna sighed, backed into a corner that left her no choice but to admit her grief to the father of her ex-fiance while battling the swell of sorrow that threatened to overcome her as the memory of her fight with Will once again surfaced. Her eyes were haunted as she met the elder Rikerís gaze, and she swallowed the lump in her throat before finding her voice, almost not recognizing it through the sadness that laced her tone.
"No, he was not the least bit thrilled to find out about Tomís conditional release, nor did he want me to come. In fact, he was pretty adamant against it," she finished softly, noticing just how much her hands were shaking when she reached for a glass of water that she couldn't hold still.
"And yet you came anyway, risking Willís wrath. Now donít get me wrong, Iím extremely grateful, but I am curious as to why," he questioned further.
An unsolicited shudder rose up through her body that she was powerless to stop, yet still she looked at her meal companion head on, her voice adopting a faraway air. "Because I owe it to TomÖ we both do," she stated softly, suddenly feeling very cold as she rubbed her hands up and down her arms.
"When we first discovered Tomís existence Will and I were both thrown emotionally," she continued hesitantly, weighing her words carefully in her mind. "For Will it meant reevaluating his life, questioning decisions he had made, pondering what he could have become and what he would have become if it were him that were stuck on the space station, virtually trapped in time. He had to come face to face with himself, including owning up to parts of himself he may not have liked. Where as I had to face the past, reliving a pain that I had thought I had put behind me while trying to separate the person I had become over the years from the young woman that I had been when I had first been involved with your son. Ultimately Tom decided that he wanted to get his career back on track and realizing that it would be uncomfortable for he and Will to serve on the same ship he asked me to go with him. But I had already come to my own conclusions by that point, knowing that I was a different person than I had been when Tom had seen me last and that I was happy with my life on the Enterprise. Tom left for the Gandhi and we lost touch after that, but there was never really any closure - between Tom and I, between Will and Tom, between the three of us together. After hearing about what happened with the Defiant, I wondered if things might have been different if there had been some sort of conclusion to it all."
Kyle Riker was silent as he regarded her, mulling over all she had just admitted to him, his age showing in his eyes for the first time since she had met him. And finally he nodded, as if reaching some kind of resolution in his mind. "You know, the day you and I first met, that time I visited the Enterprise to make amends with Will, you told me that I should question why it was I was so competitive with my own son. And Iíve been going over your words in my mind ever since. You were right. I was highly antagonistic with Will, stuck in a trend of comparing my own successes to his. It took me awhile to reconcile that, to realize the full implications that my apparent rival nature had on my relationship with my son. I understand, to that context, what Tom must have been going through when confronted with Willís very commendable advances in life. And Tom hasnít had near the chances that Will and I have."
"No," Deanna agreed softly, indicating with a nod that he should continue with the direction of his thoughts.
"Will wrote to tell me about all that had transpired with that transporter accident and I tried to get in contact with Tom shortly after he was stationed on the Gandhi, but at the time Tom had refused to talk to me. For years Iíve lived with my own guilt over the matter. Worrying about him, relating to him, wondering if there would ever be the chance to patch things up with Tom as I had with Will," the elder Riker stated, somehow feeling comfortable enough with Deanna to share things his usually stoic nature kept stored within. But then that was all a part of the counselorís charm, and a trait he knew that Will had often stated that Deanna possessed; the ability to really listen to a person without forming her own opinions before all was said.
"And this is your chance," she finished for him, complete understanding flashing in her dark eyes, squelching her own pain as she pondered all she had learned from him during the course of their conversation.
"Yes, this is my chance," he replied with a sad smile, clearly regretting that it was such harsh circumstances that granted him this opportunity.
"Have you talked with Tom yet?" Deanna found the courage to ask, her heart pounding loudly in her ears as she anxiously awaited how he might respond to her question, which in turn might prepare her for what she was about to face.
"Yes," the Ambassador affirmed, meeting her gaze and recognizing the questions that flashed before her eyes. "He was actually happy to see me, or rather to see a familiar face. Although I wonít lie, he is troubled, continuously haunted by ghosts that I canít make disappear for himÖ no matter where our relationship stands."
"And you think that I can?" Deanna guessed; her heart sinking at the hope she felt swell within him, an expectation she wasn't completely certain she could fulfill.
"I know that you can," he said with confidence, noticing the doubt that crossed her features.
"No one but Tom can do that," she responded hesitantly, her mind racing with the combined feelings of apprehension, hope, remorse, strain, and uncertainty, "but I shall do what I can to help him."
"I know that you will," he replied with a smile, leaning back in his chair while crossing his arms, regarding her thoughtfully.
"You know," he continued after a moment had passed, his gaze reflective, "after Will and I started communicating with each other once again I never received a letter that didnít mention or allude to you in some way. 'Deanna had been up to this, Deanna had said thatÖ.' It was obvious to me that my son was deeply in love with you, even back then, and it didn't surprise me when he finally wrote to tell me that the two of you were seeing each other again. Will worships the ground you walk on, Deanna, anyone can see that; I have no doubt that he will not let you go that easily or without one hell of a fight."
"Thank you," the Counselor said softly, unable to prevent her eyes from welling with tears or her heart from swelling, his words effectively alleviating a portion of the sorrow she felt.
For seconds they sat there, alone with their thoughts, both of them retreating into the shadows of a past that haunted them. After awhile Deanna stood, reminding herself that she had a job to do, one that could help mend the bruised pieces of more than one heart.
"I should go see Tom," she announced, more out of formalities sake than anything else, knowing that Kyle had already guessed her intent. He nodded, watching as she turned and walked away, a spark of eagerness for the future and the redemption of his son flashing in his eyes.
A million thoughts rushed through her head as she made her way to the quarters Tom was being held in, her heart heavy with the weight of all that stretched before herÖ before him. She wasn't fully prepared for what she was going to face; whether Tom would blame her or Will or himself for fate's unkind twists and turns. He could very well be hostile; he could not; the Cardassians could have broke him into a shadow of his former self, or there could be the familiar Riker charm smiling out at her through a face that was so achingly familiar. Any number of circumstances in a variety of manners could play out before her, each one equally frightening in their own right and intimidating her in a way that so few circumstances could after years of serving on the Enterprise.
Instinctively she reached out for him with her mind, preparing herself for the emotional onslaught of his essence, feeling for a soul she subconsciously knew would respond without thinking, as only one who bore the same genetic code and past experiences of Will Riker could. Her heart lifted as she felt an answering caress, like a faint tinkling sensation against her soul; although the caress was devoid of any tell tale sign of strong emotion, as if Tom were still practiced at blocking her empathic entreat as she had trained him so long ago. The thought lifted her spirits rather than dampen them, for she knew if he remembered that much from their time together on Betazed she would still be able to reach him, some how, some way.
With trepidation she rang the doorbell to Tom's accommodations, reflexively blinking when the doors hissed open before her without bravado. Slowly she took one step, then another, her eyes adjusting to total darkness as they glanced curiously around, picking out only shadows in the barely lit room. A voice from the corner of the room spoke, surprising her, causing her heart to race on its own accord.
The darkness was an unforgiving obstacle, keeping the image of Tom Riker in the shadows as Deanna fought desperately to see with her eyes what her heart and mind were too distracted to decipher with her empathic sense. He knew what it was doing to her, felt the anxiety that clutched her heart as she glanced wildly around trying to pinpoint his location, and his own heart swelled in response. He couldn't see her either; not fully, the dimness portraying only an outline of her shape, but it was enough. Oh god it was enough. Enough to stir up a storm of emotion he had thought he was no longer capable of feeling, to pin him face to face with what it was to be a man, to be human, to experience longing, emotional pain, and the faint echoes of a shattered heart.
Memories surfaced - in that moment, in that instant, flashing across his mind at irreconcilable speeds. The memories were part of a past that a Cardassian prison had nearly severed him from, making him feel like these remnant thoughts belonged to another man, in another timeÖ a time he wanted desperately to recapture. Slowly he stood and walked into the dim light in the center of the room.
Her heart was pounding wildly in her ears, thumping like the fast and steady beat of a rhythmic drum, so loudly that it was as if a dove were flapping its wings in a furiously erratic pattern next to her head. Then she saw him, emerging from darkness, and everything stilled. He was thin, that much was sure, starved from food and attention. His shoulders were sagged and his hair was speckled with gray he was far too young to own, but it was Tom, still there, still in one piece; looking back at her as if he couldn't quite believe she was real.
Her heart stopped, and then rushed again, her mind not being able to stop the impulse she had to compare his physical appearance to Will, categorizing their similarities, looking for traits in Tom that she had long sensed associated to the man she loved. The last time she had seen him they had been identical, nearly indistinguishable from one another, but that wasn't the case any more, for Tom Riker looked infinitely older than Will Riker ever had. It was the eyes that did it; bright blue and shinning more brightly than any sky she had ever seen. They held an age to them, a maturity gained through horrific experiences that made him appear as if he had lived for centuries.
He stared at her wide eyed for moments, the silence screaming at them with intensity. The air in the small room was charged, electric, an undercurrent of sizzling trepidation marring her capability of speech. Gradually he started walking towards her, taking little, slow steps as if he half expected her to disappear into a cloud of smoke before him. Deanna drew in a ragged breath, allowing him the time he needed to collect himself. Reaching out to him with her mind as she steadily watched him approach while using every bit of training, any lesson she had ever been taught, to assist her in seeing him through the dark road he was traveling. And finally he stood before her, silent, awed, staring at her with a wild, frantic look.
Time ceased altogether as he slowly lifted an arm; his fingertips coming up to brush against her cheeks ever so softly, as if her skin were being caressed by a small gush of wind. His hands were icy cold, and the feeling of them on her face sent a shudder through him like a being who had just woken up from an all-encompassing nightmare. Before her gaze his expression crumbled, and he sank to his knees, buried his face in her abdomen, rubbing his cheek against the stiff fabric of her uniform, and started to cry.
Huge, bellowing sobs racked his body, and he clung to her with every bit of strength at his disposalÖ and Deanna's heart broke a little more. Desperately she tried to collect herself, her own eyes welling with moisture as she forced her mind to travel back to a time when she had been a student learning about the intricate teachings of the mind. She steadied her breathing, purposely clearing her head, driving any claim to her own feelings, her own emotions, into the background while focusing entirely on Tom.
And she felt his anguish wash over her, she felt it, held it, and she sent it back to him laced with whatever calming effects she could muster. Gradually the tears subsided, and she gently caressed his soul with the touch of hers, feeling his emotions switch from one extreme to another. A dark, morbid anger welled within him, and she felt it grow, felt it fester as he raised his head from its position against her and met her gaze with an angry glare shining in his tear stained eyes.
"You're angry," she spoke for the first time, looking back at him with unwavering eye contact.
"Yes," he bit out under his breath, harshly pushing himself away from her.
"Good," she said simply, never moving an inch. "Are you mad at me? Will? Your father? The Cardassians?"
"Yes," he hissed again, the emotions in him swelling once more, only this time she didn't try and calm him, this time she allowed it to grow, feeding it, encouraging it, watching him as he grappled with what little control he had left.
"Bad things have happened to you. You were made to suffer. That makes you furious," she continued, noting the frightening light in his eyes, yet still she wouldn't budge.
"I wish the Enterprise had never come to Nervala IV," he exploded, reaching his breaking point. "I wish I had never seen you again, or met Will. I wish I were still alone by myself on that station."
"Go on," she replied, undaunted, her eyes as black as the darkest storm in the farthest region of space.
"I hate you!" he yelled, ridged, tense, his bitterness radiating off of him in droves. He rushed her then, fury in his gaze, intent to hurt her the way he had hurt, and still Deanna stood as still as a statue. He reached for her menacingly, yanking her into his arms, brushing his mouth harshly against hers with punishing force, kissing her with an urgency that sent the room spinning wildly.
Deanna fought the rush of panic that consumed her, squelching the urge to push him away, using all her internal strength to calm her nerves and once again send that back to him. Slowly she brought her hands up to place them flat against his chest, responding to his kiss, showing him that she was a willing participant and therefore any control he found in the situation was gone. And as if someone had pushed a button, his emotions switched once more, and remorse spread through him and thus her, with fervent strength.
Slowly and ever so softly he pulled away from her, sorrow shinning so brightly out from his soul. "I'm sorry. I don't hate you. I didn't mean it," he babbled softly, almost incoherently.
She watched him then; still holding his gaze, making sure to it that she held him spellbound before finding her own voice. "Yes, you did. At the time you said it, you meant it."
He shook his head, troubled by her words, not willing to face up to the anger that had plagued him only moments before.
"It's okay, Tom," she continued, instinctively reaching out with her hand to gently touch his shoulder. "It's okay to be angry, to be hurt. It's okay to feel."
He still wanted to deny it, she could feel that much from him, and so she continued on, determined to reach him. "Anger, hurt, and betrayal are all emotionsÖ as are happiness, joy, and love. To feel them is natural, to experience them is normal, to confront them is the sign of strength. Are you feeling strong, Tom?" she asked him, tilting her head to the side and eyeing him encouragingly.
He didn't answer her right away; intent to just look at her instead while his head fought to clear - memorizing details to her features that he hadn't taken the time to before. He marveled at the changes he saw in her, greedily soaking her presence with a new kind of longing, one that he hadn't been capable of in his previous emotional state. And it dawned on him for the first time since she stepped into his quarters that the woman he had only dreamt about during his years of captivity now stood before him in vivid color. The reality of the situation jolted him awake, as if before he had been sleeping, living in a daze that she had brought him out of.
"You've become one hell of a counselor," he stated at last, directly avoiding her question.
She smiled at that, the corners of her lips turning up slightly as she regarded him with a tolerant look. "You've become one hell of a patient," she retorted, placing her hands on her hips.
For the first time in many years Tom Riker laughed, the unfamiliar sound welling up in his throat and begging for release, coming from a part of himself that he had kept hidden for so long.
"Is that why you came all this way, Deanna?" he asked without emotional infliction. "For the challenge? To save the poor, tortured soul whom you had cast aside."
"You know very well why I came, why I wouldn't leave you alone to face this," she said evenly, refusing to rise to his bait.
"And what does Will think of you coming here to counsel me, Counselor?" he asked inquisitively, one eyebrow firmly raised as he regarded her, but there was a sadness there as well, a deep sorrow that squeezed his heart as he taunted her.
"What Will thinks is not the issue," she replied, swallowing a lump in her throat as she battled her own sorrow which once more tried to make its presence known. "We will deal with him, the relationship between you and him, and the relationship between me and him, later. Right now we need to focus on you."
He was silent for awhile after that, his eyes softening as he stared back at her thoughtfully, his eyes once again growing ancient, like Atlas carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.
"Are you sure I'm worth saving?" he questioned under his breath, turning his eyes away from her as if he were afraid of how she might respond.
"Yes," she answered honestly, willing him to feel the truth of her claim in his heart.
He smiled slightly at that, the tips of his lips curling in a slight grin as his eyes shined with an unfamiliar light.
"Well then, Miss Troi, I am at your disposal," he stated finally, nodding his head in confirmation while looking up to meet her gaze once more.
"You never did answer my question," she reminded him softly, feeling optimistic for the first time since she had heard of his release. "Are you feeling strong?"
"I'm feeling stronger than I have in a very long time," he affirmed, showing her, and himself, that he was ready to take the next step in looking towards a possible future.
"Well Mr. Riker, welcome home," she formally announced, happiness piercing her soul when he beamed back in response.
Will Riker was frantic. In fact he had been moving nonstop since leaving the Enterprise: chasing through space, avoiding one set back after another, running on stored energy while his mind remained driven by one, single unseen forceÖ he had to get to her.
It took him all of a day to get over his initial anger. One day of festering, of avoiding the general public, of sitting in his quarters stewing, of ignoring duty, friends, and family, includingÖ her.
It was the night after their fight that a nightmare plagued him. He had been alone standing in the midst of desert sand. The area around him was barren, desolate: nothing for miles and miles save a howling wind and the stirring of the dust from a hot desert floor. He had screamed out at some point, needing to hear the voices of others in response to his. Hoping against hope that someone would hear, that someone else was in this wasteland to share the burden of silence - a place so utterly devoid of life that his own voice echoing across the landscape caused him to shudder. But there was nothing. No answer to his call, no presence to share, no spirit around to tell him that everything would be okay and he had nothing to fear. It was as if his soul had been forced into solitude, cut off from that part of him that kept him grounded, focused, and a part of something infinitely precious and larger than all he was... larger than all the universe. And then he had woke up, alone in his bed, forehead wet with perspiration, his heart racing and his throat panting for breath, laying on the right side of the bed because she had always slept on the left.
He had never been an expert in analyzing dreams, in fact, he had always teased her that she must have a common ancestor in Sigmund Freud whenever she had tried to do it for him, and yet suddenly he became determined to find out what it all meant. A part of him already knew. He could even almost hear her telling him that he was projecting, his guilt over their fight, his fear of losing her, the very idea of ever being without her at any given point in time. All of which could have accumulated to generate the very real panic he had experienced in his dream.
But there was another part to that as well, a glimmer of thought he didnít want to give credence to, and one that he explored only begrudgingly in his mindÖ and that was that he could have been seeing through the eyes of his genetic double, Tom. Tom who had turned his back on his Starfleet position to join a band of terrorists, Tom who had attempted to steal the Defiant only to wind up in a Cardassian prison. Tom who had been left alone, lost to a world of desolate nothingness these past, infinitely boundless years.
He couldn't shake the feeling from the dream, even during waking hours where everywhere he looked there were reminders of her, his imzadi, the one thing in the whole damn universe he loved beyond measure. He felt her absence on the bridge, in ten forward, during senior staff meetings, even in the hallway in front of their quarters. Everywhere he looked he saw something that related to her in some way, a dish that Guinan made that Deanna would have loved, a new display in the arboretum featuring flowers that were Betazed in originÖ her hair brush on the counter in the bathroom. The Enterprise was haunted with her spirit, her aura, the sound of her laughter as it echoed of the walls, the sense of her smile as he felt it in his soul and he found it almost unbearable to be there without her.
It disturbed him that she had left angry, thinking he felt the same towards her, both of them far too prideful, too stubborn, and too set in their own perspectives for their own good. But the most maddening thing of all was he was beginning to wonder if she had been right.
To be trapped on an isolated space station for eight years was intolerable, to be stuck in a commonly known hostile prison for many years more was unthinkable. And yet, he resented Tom. Resented that there was a clone out there who bore his face, resented the fact that he shared a love and a bond for the same woman he himself adored, who was meant only for him. What he didn't resent was the fact that while he had spent the last couple years sharing his joy and sorrow with his beloved, Tom had been pining away in a metaphorical desert wasteland.
When Will had first met Tom it had been a rude awakening, like watching a hologram taken during the years of ones life that they were least proud of. He was determined, headstrong, overtly ambitious - all traits that Will himself had struggled to reign in during his years of Starfleet service. He hated being reminded of the cocky arrogance of youthful experience; it was the worst kind of mirror image to be reflected back from a glimpse into oneself.
He wondered if Tom had those traits now.
Deanna saw good in him. She believed that Tom could be redeemed, could function again out amongst society, but then again Deanna believed that there was some degree of good in everybody. There were so many times he wished he could look out at the universe the way she did, without the cynicism he sometimes feltÖ and oh gods, how he loved her.
There were times, in the dead of night, when shadows danced across the walls and the hustle and bustle of daily activity stilled, where they would stay up wide awake in bedÖ talking. The sound of her soft, exotic voice would calm him, as did the fingers she ran through his hair, effectively massaging his head. They would discuss anything and everything: the philosophies of life, the places they'd seen, the ones they had yet to see, their hopes, their dreams. Often times he could listen to her until he fell asleep, snuggled in her arms with his head laying gently on her chest, and other times she would be the first to slip into a world of dreams.
That was when she would instinctively nestle in the crook of his arm, fitting against him as if she were made for it, oblivious to the fact that he sat there and watched her sleep for hours on end, never wavering in his marvel of her. He loved the way her hair fell across the pillow, the way her long lashes lay against her cheeks, or even the way her chest rose and fell with her breathing.
Those were quiet times they often shared, when the rest of the universe faded away and it was as if only the two of them existed in this little haven they had created - a haven that now lay on the verge of collapse.
The first morning he had awoken without her he had been irritable and cranky, snapping over the littlest problems, storming through the halls with a no nonsense glare, his normally vibrant personality dark and grim. The second morning he awoke without her he added insomnia to the list of already rapidly growing ailments, having spent the night just staring at the ceiling, wondering how she was doing and if she felt his absence as he felt hers. The third day he awoke without her in his arms the Captain called him into his ready room. He had looked at his first officer sadly, concern flashing through eyes that rarely missed anything, even the smallest detail, and he wasted no time to state outright that the Enterprise was going to remain at its present location until the Counselor returned to them safe and sound. He attempted to grin then, his face mirroring the wizened empathy of a friend rather than the stringent Captain he normally portrayed, remarking that he didn't need his Number One for the next few days if the Commander had any inclinations towards taking a couple of days off.
And that was all he needed to hear, as if the Captain's orders were the final straw to motivate him to do what he had been mulling over since he had recovered from his initial anger. He had to get to her.
He went immediately to the shuttle bay from the Captain's office, not taking the time to pack a few things, or tell anyone where he was going. At that moment anything else just stood as a triviality that would prolong the time it took to reclaim that part of his soul he had so recently lost. And he knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that he didn't want to spend another night without her.
That had been hours ago. Hours left to flying a small shuttle alone while he continued to grapple with his thoughts. He still thought Tom's actions inexcusable. That couldn't be helped. Willingly assisting a terrorist group into stealing a Federation vessel, giving up his career in Starfleet to commence such an act was almost incomprehensible to him and yet, it did get Tom noticed. A man whom Deanna claimed had been rescued from Nervala IV only to realize he walked in the shadow of the highly successful Commander William T. Riker, who literally had almost everything Tom had only dreamed about when they both had been young and the same person.
He had the spotless and hard earned career, he had the Enterprise and tons of comrades whom he considered friends, and most importantly he hadÖ Deanna, her beauty, her grace, her ability to look into his very soul and touch a part of him that only she had ever been able to reach.
He had a clear picture of her in his head over how she would react to his recently conflicted thoughts in regards to Tom. He could just see her placing her hands on her hips, informing him that he was being callous and petty while she stared him down with those huge dark eyes of hers, entirely indignant. The thought brought a wry grin to his face as he could almost hear her telling him that he had no cause to be jealous, and that Tom needed their support right now. She would then fold her arms across her chest and proceed to remind him of all the times throughout his career he had been motivated to violate the Prime Directive or Starfleet's orders for a cause that he felt was right. Granting him that exasperated look of hers that he would never admit out loud that he found so endearing.
But most of all she would remind him that the last time they had both seen Tom she had remained on the Enterprise instead of joining him on the Gandhi. Showing clearly where her heart belonged - a point she had tried to bring up during their explosive argument three days prior when they had both been too hurt to really think clearly or listening to what the other was saying.
He had a long way to go before he was at the level Deanna was in regards to how he felt about Tom. But he did realize that there were two sides to every coin and although he might not agree with her assessment entirely, he did recognize that perhaps her arguments were valid and deserved serious contemplation.
His hand went down to the pocket of his pants, subconsciously feeling for the small circlet of gold and diamonds that lay there cool to the touch. He remembered what it had been like when he had first showed the ring to Deanna, a night where they had been curled up together on her couch, nestled in each others arms, simply watching the stars as they passed by the window of their quarters. It had been a peaceful moment, loving and serene, one without doubts, or regrets, and or trepidation - a moment when the universe at large made utter sense, as did his deeply abiding love for the woman warm in his embrace.
Deanna was the only being in the universe he had ever shared a moment like that with, a gentle point in time where silence was not uncomfortable, and conversation was unneeded. He had taken her small hand in his, occupying himself with playing with her fingers, and softly tickling her palm. Turning it over to bring it up to his lips, before announcing to her that skin as beautiful as hers should be complemented by decorations of equal grandeur.
It was at that point he produced the ring.
She didn't say much at first, shocked into speechlessness, but he felt her emotions, felt the joy that surged through her, and the love. She had looked deeply into his eyes, her own gaze welling with happy tears as she whispered an answer that was unmistakable in intent and one that summed up the way they both felt with everything that they were.
"I love you."
"Say it again," he had told her, squeezing her tightly in his arms while his own eyes started to water, his heart so full he felt it could burst.
"I love you."
"And again," he had smiled, leaning forward to meet her for a kiss.
"I love you."
And it had been the last thing she had said before the universe quietly slipped away and the all-encompassing storm of wondrous emotion overtook the moment as their lips and hands laid siege on each other, the way an embrace between the two of them never failed to do.
He couldn't wait to put the ring on her hand for a second time.
Tom had expected Deanna to show up in full uniform, ready to tackle another counseling session in his quarters. And so he couldn't help but be startled when the doors opened to reveal her in a long, flowing, loose fitted dress, hair down and cascading over her back, sandals on her feet, and a light, gauzy shawl around her shouldersÖ Looking more beautiful then even his imagination had pictured under the best of circumstances in the Cardassian prison. He physically took a large swallow of air, his heart beat increasing as his pulse steadily hummed, and he fought desperately to clear his mind the way she had taught him so long ago, unwilling to feel things that he knew she would be able to decipher within him.
"I figured we'd try something different today," she stated with a sheepish grin, pointing to her attire to emphasize her words while raising an eyebrow at him when he subconsciously nodded his head in agreement.
"Where did you have in mind?" he asked in curious tone, intrigued by the mystery.
She grinned at him then, her eyes sparkling as if they were sharing a secret. "You'll see," she replied evasively, turning to lead the way. "But I can tell you that we are going to the holosuite."
"Well then, Counselor, you have my interest piqued," Tom responded, genuine amusement shinning in his eyes as he followed her down the corridor to pause in front of a door that hissed open for them upon their arrival.
The sight that followed caused Tom's breath to catch for the second time that day. A beach stretched before them, endless and boundless, silver blue/green water that glistened under the golden rays of sun, and a limitless stretch of golden sand that sparkled like tiny particles of diamonds in the light. The sound of the surf washed over him, caressing his weary soul like the gentle song of the siren, while gulls called out in the distance, completing the overall aesthetic pleasures of the sight before him with graceful perfection as they skimmed across the surface of the water.
There had been days, some worse than others, when he had come to believe he'd never see an ocean again. Would never see the sun reflecting in bright golden splendor off of the water, or watch the sky and the sea meet off in a distant horizon. He turned to Deanna after moments had passed, face filled with awe, a slow smile spreading across his features as he found his voice and whispered a simple, "Thank you."
She grinned back in return, her gaze filled with wisdom and understanding. Watching him enjoy the sight of the sea brought a pang of sorrow for all that he had lost; up to and including the lack of hope, and she felt her heart lift over his simple joy in the moment. But as much as she would have loved to just allow him to bask in the pleasures of the land, she had to be the counselor, she had to give him what he needed most... the possibilities of a future.
"There is a reason I brought you here," she stated in response, never releasing her hypnotic hold on his eyes. "I wanted to show you something."
"You mean you wanted to show me something more than this?" he asked incredulously, waving his hand in the air to emphasize that their location was more than enough to fill his senses completely.
"Yes," she nodded in confirmation. "I want you to look closely, really, really closely at where we are and where we are standing and tell me what you see," she continued cryptically, gracing him with a small smile of encouragement.
"I see a beach: sand, water, all kinds of sea life. I see the sky, an occasional cloudÖ thatís pretty much it. Is there something else that I'm missing?" he asked in confusion, not sure where all of this was leading.
"Close your eyes and hold out your hand," she replied, giving him a nod of affirmation when he shot her a strange look. She knew what she was asking took a high level of trust. Presumably he had been tortured while under the cruel eye of the Cardassians, marking the closing of his eyes as something he'd least want to do, but he did it anyway, gazing at her with complete faith before slowly closing his eyes. And her heart felt a pang once more. Slowly she bent down and scooped up some sand in her palm, feeling the warmth of it against her skin before placing it gently in his offered hand.
"Now open your eyes and tell me what you see," she said at last, taking a step back to observe him.
He looked at the sand in his hand wonderingly, then gazed back up at her with curiosity evident in his features.
"I see sand, Deanna," he stated bluntly, wondering where this all was going.
She smiled again, tilting her head to give him a gentle, knowing look, letting him feel the earth against his skin a moment or two longer to truly experience it before respondingÖ "What you see is thousands of particles: of crystal, of rock, of shells or coral - all pieces of what was once something else that came together to configure another conformation entirely in the form of this beach."
"Are you saying that I am like a particle of sand?" he asked, the light going off in his head as he stared at her in wonder.
"In a way we all are," she affirmed, shaking her head while a wizened light shined in her eyes. "We start out one way, maybe as a rock that we think is unbreakable. Like the sand of the beach we weather storms: we get beaten down, we break away from old places and ideals we used to call home, and drift aimlessly in a large and sometimes volatile sea. All of that to form something that may not be what we had originally intended, but could be equally grand and wonderful, like the beautiful beach we stand on."
She turned and gazed at the water then, her eyes reflecting the sparkle of the ocean as the waves started to roll up closer to their feet with the rise of the tide. "Your past experiences have been traumatic, there is no denying that. However, you now have the choice to not drift anymore. To not be a victim of circumstance, to willingly choose to be a part of a future of your own making and sparkle like the brightest particle of sand on a beach of millions of others who were once cast to drift like you."
"No one has ever had to face all that I have," he replied bitterly, throwing the sand on the ground with a fierce force. "No one woke up one day to find he was really a copy of someone else. No one else has had the courage I've had to have to face nothing but unspeakable horror since the day I left you behind on Betazed."
He stared back at her as if daring her to argue his claim, eyes defiant and angry. But she simply nodded, once again internally looking for a calm place that she could send back to him. "Thatís true, your experiences are unique, as everyone's experiences unique to them. But you are not alone in cursing fate, you are not alone in living through instances where it would have been easier to give up. Everybody does, everybody has points in their life where they feel as if they could nearly burst from the weight of it. Just living through the level of pain, the level of hurt, the level of sheer torture isn't the true sign of courage. Courage is what you do with your experiences, molding them into who you are and going on from there. Courage is becoming determined that despite a horrible and retched past you wont let it effect your future. Courage is not hiding behind excuses, or blaming others, but realizing that you are in control of your own destiny and that any decision you make is one of your own choosing."
He looked as if she had slapped him. Like she had just taken any resentment he held, any scapegoat he often used: her, Will, his fatherÖ and invalidated it. She couldn't have hit him harder if she had punched him in the gut. Yet a small part of him saw the truth in her words. That guilty part of him that questioned his actions while he was doing them, the same part of him that led him to turning himself in to the Cardassians to preserve the treaty they had with the Federation at the time. He looked at her then, really and truly looked, and suddenly, as if someone had lifted a blind that had been covering his eyes, he saw her in an entirely different light. Before him stood a woman of unparalleled strength and spirit: one who was wizened and knowledgeable, not just through education, but through a richly laid out past. He hardly knew this Deanna Troi at all, didn't know the woman who had been drifting out at a volatile sea of her own making while he had been dealing with his. And he recognized that she was not the same woman she had been all those years ago when they had shared dizzying, passionate encounters under the sweltering Betazed nights.
"Courage is recognizing when it is time to move on," she stated softly, after a moment had passed, feeling the truth of her words penetrate his spirit.
"And I have been clinging to the past?" he asked rhetorically, already knowing the answer. Deanna simply smiled at him, gazing out at him with the affectionate eyes of a teacher who took great pride in her student.
"You know, I was right. You really have become one hell of a Counselor," Tom announced after a beat, letting the sound of her laughter in response to his words caress his soul with pleasant vibrancy.
"I haven't done any of the work here, Tom. You have. A Counselor simply guides, the hardest part is up to you," she replied with a wink, turning out to once again face the sea and let the wind blow though her hair and caress her face as he watched in silent awe of her beauty.
"Deanna," he started in a serious tone, turning to face the sea as she had, "a part of me will always be in love with you, will always cling to the memories of our time together on Betazed."
"I know," she responded quietly, turning to gaze at him softly. "And so will I, but we are different people now then we were. Different people, different roads, different hopes and dreams."
"I know," he echoed, watching the waves break before crashing to shore. "I was hoping that when this was all over that we might keep in contact this time, that we might beÖ"
"Friends?" she finished for him, a large smile spreading across her face, as the sparkle returned to her eyes.
"Yes, friends," Tom replied, smiling back at her in return.
"I would like that," she said with a nod, letting the quiet, peaceful moment pass between them and wash over them both with healing force.
"Does Will even realize how lucky he is?" Tom asked then, looking in her eyes. But it wasn't Deanna who answered him, instead a third voice entered into the conversation, its sound sending a swell of joy up through Deanna, clenching her heart.
"Yes," Will Riker answered evenly, "he does."
And both Tom and Deanna turned in that instant, facing a man whom stood before them with love in his eyes, and his heart on his sleeve. All of it for herÖ his Imzadi.
For a moment everything stilled, as if life had been put on pause by the touch of a button. There were no crashing waves, no calls of the gull, no verbal interaction of any kind, just a still kind of shock that permeated three spirits. Deanna recovered first, hers eyes meeting Willís with the fervent need to assess his emotional state and to determine the reason he had come, both out of preparation for herself and for the delicate line that Tom walked towards recovery. Animosity was the last thing that Tom needed at that point in time, especially from Will, and all three of them knew it.
Will felt her empathic caress, like the downy soft caress of silk against bare skin, and he welcomed her into his mind, allowing her to see for herself his need to understand, his willingness to listen, his curiosity over the situation, and his ever present, deep and vast love of her.
She smiled then, a wide and wondrous smile, amazed that Will had apparently done some soul searching of his own the past few days. She felt the understanding in him as he regarded her, blind to anything else, including the presence of Tom. Felt the truths he had reached and yet the conflict he still felt, and she purposely reached out to caress his spirit with her own once more, relaying without words the happiness she felt by his perceptive means of exploring the situation, if not still tainted by a smidgen of indignant repertoire over the angry words they had exchanged. It was his turn to smile, lifting his hands as if in surrender, conceding her point with shameful tolerance, his blue eyes dancing with laughter as she beamed in return.
Tom watched the whole thing play out before him with sinking reverence. Awed by their ability to communicate without words as he had no doubt that an entire conversation had taken place without a syllable being uttered. And it definitely hit home that he truly didnít know Deanna anymore, at least not to the point Will didÖ not to the point where every expression, every turn of the head or smile was in fact its own form of communication. He wondered how much time it took them to learn to read each other in that manner. How many years had it taken where a slight nod was a language in and of itself?
The feelings between Deanna and Will ran deep, he didnít need to be linked with Deanna or Will to sense that, but he was, and it stung. Try as he might he couldnít ignore the way Deannaís face lit up in the presence of Will, her countenance nearly glowing with a golden hue of joyful exclamation, nor could he ignore the answering emotion evident in Willís features, his Ďbrotherí eyeing the Counselor as if the suns of both Earth and Betazed rose and set on her and she was the very center of all he held the most dear. And despite Tomís earlier revelations about himself, Deanna and where everything stood between the two of them he couldnít help but wish it was him experiencing that kind of devotion towards another, more specifically HER, the one woman at the middle of his whirling mass of confusion.
He was jealous. He couldnít help but be jealous, and a small, irrational part of him resented Will for showing up at that moment, when Deannaís attention had been solely focused on him while helping him come to grips with his shattered past, and now it lay with the genetic duplicate whose life he had envied. Yet another part of him knew that logically this was the way things were, the way fate had worked out for them, the knowledge of which he had accepted before she had come to him with the offer of help. And he tried to focus on that part of him, the part of him that had grown, aged, and saw the universe through the learned eyes of experience, bringing with it a more weary knowledge of lifeÖ the drifting particle of sand struggling to become a part of something whole again.
It was then that Will looked up at him, almost on cue, as if he had been sensing Tomís thoughts. Deep blue eyes, so recognizable to his own yet not, regarded him thoroughly, as if Will had the power to assess his very soul. For ages they stood that way, staring at one another with nary a sound between them, Will seemingly taking inventory of all that Tom was and all that he had become while Deanna remained stoically still, as if she recognized the need to allow them this exchange without her interference. And finally Will sighed and looked away, almost but not quite humbled by the knowledge that for the first time since learning of Tomís existence he didnít look towards Tom and see a youthful, driven version of himself, infact he looked towards Tom and saw another person entirely.
"That was some stunt you pulled with the Defiant," Will said at last, in greeting, sending shock waves through them all by piercing the silence with confrontational words.
"WillÖ" Deanna started in a warning tone of voice, her dark eyes flashing and readying for battle as she witnessed Tom physically blanch over Willís less than subtle reprimand.
"I figured it wouldnít exactly be something youíd approve of," Tom replied bitterly, his posture indicating that he was on the defensive.
"No, and at first I couldnít understand it. I mean, how could someone who has the same genetic make-up as me do something so drastically anti-Starfleet. I used to like to claim that Starfleet was in my blood, and it angered me that youíd throw away your career like that without so much as a backwards glance," he continued, his eyes once again locking on Tomís as he ignored Deannaís disapproving look. "However, Iíve come to realize that you are not me, and that no one is infallible or incapable of making mistakes: me, you, all of us. I looked on your situation as someone who had spent more than half of his life in Starfleet whereas you looked towards the situation as someone who didnít have the same sort of experiences behind you, especially after being trapped on an abandoned space station for years with no thoughts or orders other than your own. I have no doubt that you did what you thought right at the time, even if it was as stupid as hell."
And Will smiled as he saw Deanna noticeably relax if not hold back a grin as a result of his words, while Tom eyed Will with a new sort of respect and perhaps a small glimmer of newly forming kinship, realizing without further explanation that this was as close as Will was going to get to accommodating the differences between them.
"ThanksÖ I think," Tom replied, holding out his hand as an offering to a shake as a means of showing that he knew how much it had taken Will to come to that conclusion.
Will took his hand, a look passing between them that spoke of understanding, acceptance, and the first step towards healing. Deanna bit back a joyful laugh as they both turned towards her simultaneously, granting her with the identical expressions of two men pleased with the step they had taken and were waiting for her proud acknowledgment of that fact.
"Well done," she breathed, her eyes sparkling with happy tears as she regarded both men in turn.
It was Will who responded, his blue eyes meeting hers with pleased humility as he once again reached out his thoughts toward hers. He found himself basking in the feeling of being close to her again, the few days of agonizing torture they had spent apart becoming a dim recollection in his memory as he regarded her with equal parts sorrow and adorationÖ completely wrapped up in the present.
Tom watched as they lost themselves to each otherís presence once more, feeling like the odd one out. And although the tinge of jealousy was still present, as he undoubtedly knew it always would be, a part of him was at peace. His universe had just started to right itself again and perhaps a future of potential happiness wasnít so abstract a thought, even if it must be done without Deanna Troi looking at him as she looked at Will Riker now.
"Iím tired, I think Iím going to turn in," Tom announced to the lovers, granting a polite nod towards them when they looked his way before turning and heading out of the holosuite, his shoulders up and his posture firm and proud for the first time in years.
"Thank you for doing that," Deanna said to Will after Tom had left, her gaze soft and thoughtful. "I know that it must have been hard for you."
"That wasnít hard. Especially after I finally realized what you had been trying to tell me when we argued. Hard was living these past few days without you," he replied with gentle fervency, reaching through the gap that separated them to crush her tightly against his body, as if to confirm that she was actually there and that she still belonged to him. His throat constricted when he thought of how close he had come to losing her and he looked down to meet her gaze with desperate longing etched in his features.
"I know exactly what you mean," she replied in a whisper, her voice cracking with pent up emotion. "It was hell. I never want to do that again."
"Me either," Will vowed wholeheartedly, drawing her even closer to his chest. "God, me either. I donít think I could stand it."
She pulled out of his grasp enough to free her arms, her hand reaching up to lightly touch her fingertips to his cheek, glorifying in the heat she felt there, almost a direct mirror to the warmth she saw radiating in his eyes.
"Iím sorry for everything I said in anger. I do trust you impeccably, Deanna. I guess I just felt threatened," he continued earnestly, closing his eyes over the sheer emotion he felt sweep through him in response to her touch.
"Iím sorry too. However, I had to do what I could to help Tom. I may not have handled explaining that to you in the best way, but I donít regret coming here," she explained as best she could, willing him to understand.
"I know," he breathed finally, letting out a gust of breath that he had been holding. "And I do understand, despite my adamant protest against it. I see now that you did the right thing, although I have a long way to go before Iím completely accepting of the whole situation."
She smiled then, a wide and brilliant grin, her face relaying the earlier pride that she had verbalized. "I know that, but Iím very proud of how far youíve come nonetheless. The rest will come later. Besides, I happen to know of a psychologist who would be more than happy to clear her schedule to give you some much needed one on one."
He laughed then, his body shaking as he once again squeezed her tightly and raised an eyebrow. "Sounds promising. Want to start now?"
"No time like the present," she teased, raising an eyebrow suggestively and laughing when he lurched forward and wrestled her down to the warm sandy ground.
"Touch therapy works best on me," he announced in mock seriousness but with a devilish twinkle in his eyes, rolling on top of her to tickle her relentlessly.
"Then you must be completely cured by now," she teased when his touch became another matter entirely, laughter turning into desire as she felt his spirit all around her.
"No, not yet, but there is something that might definitely help the process along," he responded, his eyes serious as they regarded her with unconfined adoration. And as he spoke her world seemed to still, as if she sensed that they were about to enter a defining moment.
"What?" she asked softly, feeling his feeling for her swell while her own heart lurched in response.
"This," he answered, reaching into his pocket to bring out the ring, the holographic sunlight causing it to sparkle brilliantly in his hand as his eyes shone down at her with equal grandeur. His love for her was apparent, in his gaze, in his heart, in his soul, and its sheer power touched her in ways she couldnít fully articulate.
Deanna looked at Will then, deeply, firmly, without hesitation or flounder, "I love you," she announced, her heart filling her eyes as he reached down to gently place the ring on her finger, the gentle brush of his fingers sending enjoyable shock waves up her arms.
"Say it again," he requested, his sea blue eyes engulfing her being, swallowing her whole.
She smiled then, and verbalized the truth she held above all other certainties she had learned throughout her life. "I love you."
"And again," he stated, slowly lowering his face towards hers for a kiss as the bond between them demanded no less.
"I love you," she repeated for the third and final time before lips met, passion conquered and the rest of the universe faded from existence.
Commander Deanna Troi stood stoutly before the board of admirals, her expression one of thoughtful reflection and stern estimation. Slowly she met the eyes of every admiral in turn, pausing briefly with each one before turning towards another, her dark eyes unreadable in intent, as her posture wore her professional persona with learned ease. The air cackled with intensity, curiosity evident in the room like a dense fog that refused to let up, and the anticipation each officer felt bombarded Deannaís empathic sense with deliberate insistence.
Silence screamed in her ears, as she had known it would, every attention in the room focused on her as if she were a judge about to pass a verdict over the court. She knew that her decision would directly impact the future of someone she held dear, yet she also knew that there was still a rocky road ahead, opposition likely to create direct obstacles in the dizzying whirlwind known as life.
"It is my opinion that Thomas Riker is of sound mind and judgment. That he is capable of fulfilling duties as a Starfleet officer and that his experiences with the Cardassians have served to further his wisdom and experience, resulting in a more mature and capable means of dealing with responsibility. I would recommend that Lieutenant Riker be reinstated in Starfleet, and I believe that he has the full capabilities of becoming an exemplarily officer."
The buzz started then, as she had known it would, some faces delighted, others angry, and some yet more curious than anything else, undoubtedly wondering how or what had transpired between her and Tom for her to reach that decision. And quickly she constructed walls around her overwhelmed mind, unwilling to deal with the onslaught of otherís emotions when she was so busy trying to squelch her own for the sake of readily needed professionalism.
Admiral Turner cleared his throat, demanding silence, his unwavering expression meeting Troiís head on as years of experience clouded his eyes with a learned knowledge of life.
"And do you feel that Mr. Riker is ready to respect the rules and regulations of Starfleet? To withhold the standards of the Prime Directive? To honor the Federation with unswerving loyalty?" the Admiral asked, his gaze intense.
"Yes and no," the Counselor stated honestly, her words once again met with a murmur amongst the crowd. "If youíre asking if Tom Riker is ready to perform his duty to the utmost of his ability, respecting the wishes of Starfleet and the Federation while doing so, then the answer is yes. However, if youíre asking on whether he will perform his duty with no thought to his orders as he receives them, following blindly through the ranks without introspectionÖ then the answer is no. And I do believe that no officer is truly capable of fulfilling that last requirement, regardless of species."
The buzz grew louder still, and Troi held her breath as she waited for the final verdict of Admiral Turner, inwardly squelching a sigh of relief when the corners to the Admiralís lips turned up in an amused grin.
"Fair enough. Commander Troiís decision stands. Although I do have one last penalty to add on behalf of the Defiant - Thomas Riker is hereby reinstated in Starfleet but to the rank of Junior Lieutenant. Any further advancements in his career will be based solely on his performance from here on out," Turner announced with a smile flashed in Deannaís direction.
The news was met quietly and without incident, nods being made all around to signify that the majority agreed with the decision. Deanna felt her shoulders physically relax, as if she were truly free of the weight that had plagued her conscience since the days of the Enterprise D when Tom had first appeared in their lives.
The future, as ever, was flocked with uncertainty, but at least Tom now had the option to create one of his own choosing, as she knew first hand that everyone struggled to do throughout the journey of life that ultimately led to knowledge. The decisions from that point on were up to him.
Kyle Riker walked into his sonís quarters to find a game of poker severely underway as Will, Tom and Deanna all sat around a small table on their last day at the outpost staring each other down, each clinging to a hand of cards.
"Iíll raise you twenty credits," Thomas Riker announced with a flair, flashing a grin at Deanna as he eyed her over his hand.
"You got it," the Counselor replied without fear, a devilish gleam sparkling in her large dark eyes as her lips smiled impishly.
"You must have a good hand," Will commented to his fiancť, subtly reaching out mentally through their bond to determine her confidence level.
"No fair, thatís cheating," Deanna chastised her beloved, resulting in a pouting expression from Will and a muffled chuckle from Tom.
"So then, call already," Tom requested with a slight degree of impatience, eager to see what the Counselor was hiding.
"Iím in with a straight," Will announced, flashing his cards to the table with gusto.
"Three of a kind," Tom frowned dejectedly, glaring at Willís less than subtle smirk.
"Full house!" Deanna proclaimed smugly, laughing at the crest fallen expressions on both men.
"You Riker men can be such sore losers," she teased, reaching towards the middle of the table to gather her recently acquired chips.
"Yup," Tom responded with a smirk of his own.
"Absolutely," Will added with mock seriousness.
"They get it from me," Kyle chimed in from the doorway, unable and unwilling to hide the pride that shined brightly in his eyes.
"Good gods, what am I marrying into?!" the Counselor jokingly asked the universe at large, waving her hands in the air for emphasis while all the other occupants of the room joined in her laughter.
Kyle felt his heart swell just watching them, three very different people bonding together to form such an aesthetically beautiful picture of warmth and love. Of two men, the same yet different, each struggling to form some sort of brotherly relationship between them and the woman that brought them all together, inserting a spirit of heart into the family that was long sense overdue.
And at that precise moment, and at that precise time, all was right in the universe - for all that was precious, and sacred, and right lay before his gaze with profound worth. This was as the universe should be; this wasÖ family.
"Experience is not what happens to you. It is what you do with what happens to you." ~ Aldous Huxley