Two's Company Three's a Crowd

by  Irene Deitel

 

The door chime sounded, breaking the oppressive silence that hung in the room. Counselor Deanna Troi ignored it, hoping the person would go away. But she knew he wouldn't, as surely as she knew who it was.

The chime came again, sounding more impatient, just like the man, although she knew that was impossible.

"Come," she called softly, brushing her hands across her tear-streaked face in a futile attempt to make herself look more presentable.

Any idiot would be able to tell that she had been crying. And Will Riker was no idiot. Stubbornly, she refused to look up, even after the doors closed and his footfalls came close to the couch where she sat, her knees drawn up to her chest and her arms wrapped protectively around them. She could feel his concern, and his pain for her suffering. And his guilt. It surprised her, for she knew he had nothing to feel guilty about.

Deanna felt him sit down next to her and wait patiently until she finally looked up at him. Her pain, reflected in his bright blue eyes, caused fresh tears to spring to her own eyes. She tried to hold them back, but the effort was just too much for her. As Riker wrapped his arms around her, she buried her head in his chest and gave vent to the sobs welling up inside her.

Riker said nothing, just held her gently and stroked her hair as she cried. Cried for lost dreams. Cried for what might have been, for the way things had turned out, and for what she had lost. Not once, but twice.

"I'm so sorry, Deanna," Riker told her, his voice heavy with sorrow, as the sobs subsided and gave way to occasional tears.

Deanna remained nestled in his arms, unwilling and unable to break the contact. She drew comfort from his quiet strength. For once, the Counselor needed counseling. And Will was the only person who could truly understand how painful it was for her.

"I know," came her muffled reply. "So am I. I hoped it would be different this time, but you were right," she said shakily, as the tears threatened to start again.

Riker tightened his hold slightly as he rested his chin on the top of her head. "I would give anything not to have been right," he told her.

"I was stupid enough to throw away the best thing that ever happened to me. I had hoped Tom wouldn't make the same mistake that I did. I really thought we were different enough. I was wrong, and now you've been hurt again."

"I knew the risk when I started. And you warned me. But I had to try." "It's all my fault," Will whispered.

"I've never meant to hurt you Deanna, and I've done it more times than I know."

"It's not your fault, Will," she contradicted him. "I knew what I was doing when I got involved with Tom. To me, it was worth taking the risk. I gambled, and unfortunately, I lost. You Rikers are more alike than you care to admit."

Her sigh was audible, and Riker thought his heart would break as he heard it.

"It's all right, Imzadi," Deanna told him silently, sensing his anguish for her, and anxious to allay his feelings. "Don't blame yourself: It's not your fault."

"Yes, it is," Riker disagreed out loud. "Not only for what happened between Tom and you, but for what happened between Tom and me. If I had handled things differently, more professionally, he might never have left the Enterprise. If he hadn't been on the Gandhi, he wouldn't have met up with the Maquis.

"Will," began Deanna. "You can't start blaming yourself. If you want to look at it that way, then I should blame myself. I chose not to go with him when he asked me to. I needed more time to be sure of my feelings. Maybe if I had been there, he wouldn't have gone. You could drive yourself crazy with might-have-beens. The truth is that Tom made his own decisions. No one forced him to join the Maquis. He chose to make a life elsewhere, and in doing so, accepted the consequences of that decision."

Riker's voice, when he spoke, was laced with anger and regret. Anger that he had not been able to prevent Tom from leaving, and regret that his brother had thrown his life away. "And now he is in the hands of the Cardassians. You know what that means. I'm not sure that Commander Sisko did him any favors by getting the death sentence reduced. Life imprisonment in a slave labor camp. I think death might be preferable."

Riker had seen first hand what the Cardassians had done to Captain Picard, and to the Bajoran people. O'Brien had told him stories that made his hair stand on end. He had no illusions about the kind of conditions his brother would have to endure. And being a Starfleet officer would no doubt single him out for special treatment. He couldn't suppress a small shudder at the thought of what lay ahead for Tom; true, he had made his bed and now he had to lie in it, but no one deserved a fate like that.

 "Don't ever say that again," Troi countered sharply, sitting up and looking him squarely in the eye. "Life is always a better choice. Where there's life, at least there is hope. Tom is as strong willed and resourceful as you are. He'll survive whatever the Cardassians do to him, just to spite them. As you once told me, you Rikers are ornery creatures. Besides, the Maquis are not noted for leaving their comrades behind. They won't leave him there. If there is ever a way to get him out, they'll do it."

Troi snuggled down against him again, wrapping her arms around his waist. She missed the security of his broad shoulders and the feel of his strong arms around her, and the warmth of his very presence. Beneath her cheek she could feel the beating of his heart strong and steady and sure. It soothed and reassured her and she felt a peace descend over her. She found comfort in his arms, and the realization dawned that she had always felt that way. When they were lovers and then later friends, his presence had always made her feel safe and secure. He had never asked for more than she was willing to give. His support has always been unconditional. That was why she had always sought his companionship, even when she was romantically involved with other people. Riker exuded a command presence, a natural air of understated authority that surrounded him like an aura. It was not obtrusive or overbearing, it was just there. He was always in control of himself, if not the situation, with a steadiness and calm that was felt and absorbed by everyone around him. Troi trusted him to be there for her, to be her anchor, her support. She drew strength from his presence, just as she knew that her presence and understanding was a source of support to him. The man who held her in his arms now, providing solace to her battered spirit, and asking nothing for himself in return, was the only man who had ever touched her soul. Not Tom. Not anyone else. Her true Imzadi.

The knowledge both frightened and excited her at the same time. Troi knew she was about to make the most important decision of her life. She was either going to try to build a life with the only man she had ever really, truly loved, or she was probably going to spend the rest of her life in search of a love that would only be second best.

Riker was unaware of Troi's inner turmoil and the fact that, for better or for worse, his life was about to irrevocably change. He stretched out his long legs and, after slipping off his boots, propped his feet up on the coffee table. He shifted slightly to low Troi to settle more comfortably into him. Holding her without speaking, he reflected on how right and natural it felt to be here with her.

He knew he had never stopped loving her, but until Tom had arrived, he hadn't realized how strong his feelings still were. Seeing them together h brought back vivid memories of all the times that he and Deanna had been there to support and encourage each other, no questions asked. Riker had known then that Deanna was the only woman in the world he would ever be truly happy with. He had done the decent and honorable thing, however, as painful as it was for him, and silently withdrawn when he saw that Tom and Deanna were developing an intimate relationship. He had very carefully kept his feelings hidden so Deanna wouldn't sense them. He had owed them both that much, at least. He still valued her friendship too much to do anything to jeopardize it. Two was company and three a crowd, his roommate at the Academy had frequently reminded him as he handed Riker his toothbrush through the crack in the door and told him to sleep elsewhere for the night.

 Now, however, it seemed that fate might be giving him a second chance. But he remained silent. Deanna was hurting, and he would sooner cut off his right arm than cause her more pain. At this point, she was probably ready to swear off Riker men forever. Or even longer.

 He knew, though, that his feelings wouldn't change and he couldn't hide them from her forever. Some day soon he would have to open up and tell her the truth. For now, though, holding her in his arms and being here for her when she needed him was enough for him.

He kissed the top of her head and stroked her back gently. He felt her breathing become more regular and the tense line of her body relaxed. He wondered if she were falling asleep, and decided that worse things could happen. If she could find a haven in his arms, even if only for a little while, it was the least he could do for her. Sleeping with the ship's counselor, he observed wryly to himself. If only.

Riker was toying with the idea of carrying Troi into her bedroom so she could get some real sleep when she spoke into the silence. Her voice startled him out of his reverie and his eyes popped open. He hadn't realized that they'd closed, and he felt uncomfortable knowing that she had been awake the whole time. He wondered if she had sensed his feelings for her, and if so, how much. The last thing he wanted was to appear to be an insensitive, selfish jerk, moving in on his brother's lady, with him barely gone.

"It wasn't going to work you know," she remarked conversationally, as if she were just discussing the weather, or what to have for dinner.

 If Riker had known the truth, he would have been astonished. Riker's emotions were churning like a witches brew, and Troi was having difficulty sorting them out. She could feel, however, his tenderness and love for her, and she drew on that for the strength to help her get though the next few minutes. Her heart was in her throat, and Troi felt as if she were about to plunge off a cliff, unsure if anyone was going to be at the bottom to save her. She considered it a leap of faith, and she prayed silently as she leaped.

"What?" The confusion was evident in Riker's tone. He had no idea hat Troi was referring to. The last thing he remember her telling him was about the Maquis. Had he missed something somewhere? Maybe he had fallen asleep.

"Tom and me." Deanna paused, then the words came tumbling out tepidly, practically tripping over one another in their haste to get out, as if she were ai raid that if she stopped speaking, she'd never find the courage to say them again.

"I'd been slowly coming to that realization for some time. Not the physical part. That was wonderful."

Riker could hear the blush in her voice, and he smiled to himself. Deanna had never ceased to amaze him in that department, when they had been together. If she had half the energy she did eight years ago, his brother had been a very lucky man.

"It was as if we had recaptured our time on Betazed."

 Riker felt his cheeks redden slightly. He remembered that time very well. How young they had been! Their relationship had been very new, and he and Deanna had spent all their time together getting to know one another, both physically and emotionally. He had never really felt the same way about anyone before her. Or after.

Reluctantly, he drew his attention away from his very fond memories to listen to Troi, who was still talking to him. "But we're eight years older now, and we've grown in countless ways. So much has happened to all of us, to change us. My needs and my priorities have changed. I'm not the same person I was eight years ago. Being with Tom was like going back in time and reliving a glorious memory. But it stopped feeling real a long time ago. He's the same person you were eight years ago. Back then, that was enough for me, but not anymore. I've grown beyond that person and that time. And you've grown with me, but Tom hasn't. He didn't know how to meet my needs. He didn't even fully understand what those needs were." Troi paused to organize her thoughts. She knew it was vitally important to make Will understand what she was trying to tell him. "I think he began to see that our relationship couldn't succeed. That's why he chose the path he did. It was something new of his own making, with no comparisons to anything or anyone else. It was also the only way to gracefully extricate himself from our relationship without deliberately hurting me or admitting that it had failed. He and I may have been Imzadi once, a long time ago, but not anymore. You are my true Imzadi," she finished softly, voicing out loud the thoughts that she had, until now, held only in her heart. She turned her face to his, to gauge his reaction. Time seemed to stand still, but Troi knew the ground was rushing up to meet her. She hoped she was right and Will would be there to catch her. Riker was speechless, a very rare occurrence for him. He felt as if his heart had stopped beating. He wasn't quite sure if he was hearing what he thought, what he hoped, he was hearing. Had she sensed his true feelings for her? Was Deanna telling him that the door was open to the possibility of a relationship between the two of them, or just stating a simple fact? As an empath, she was accustomed to talking about feelings and emotions as calmly as he discussed the crew rotations with the captain. Her own feelings were besides the point, she had told him, on more than one occasion. He felt her eyes on him, compelling him to meet her gaze, and for the first time in his life he felt like a coward. Drawing on all his inner courage, he forced himself to look down at her, afraid of what he would see. Or wouldn't see. He knew the answer to his unspoken question would be in her eyes. Yes, this could be a beginning, or no , this was the end of the line for them. And he knew, with sudden clarity, as if a veil ha been lifted from his face, that more than anything in the galaxy, he wanted that answer to be yes. Bright blue eyes met warm brown ones that still held traces of tears. Riker's breath caught in his throat and his heart leaped with joy as her hand came up to cup his face gently, and her mind spoke to his. I love you, Imzadi. The answer that he found in Deanna's face was reflected in his, and his lips curved into a tender smile even as they came down to meet hers. It was a kiss filled with the promise of a bright beginning and a new tomorrow.