THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE MEMORIES
by Irene Deitel
As the doors to Ten-Forward slid silently open, Will Riker entered and scanned the room quickly. It was only a few hours into the day shift, so the lounge was almost empty, with only a few tables occupied. The night shift personnel had gone home to bed, and the evening shift hadn't started arriving yet. "Probably planned it that way," Riker thought to himself. The object of his search was seated at a corner table, her back to the door. Riker stopped at the bar to pick up the drink that Guinan somehow had ready for him, then he sauntered over to the table, seating himself opposite Counselor Troi.
With elbows on the table and his chin resting in his hands, Riker watched in silent fascination as Troi used her spoon to excavate a hole in her ice cream so the hot fudge sauce could run down to the bottom of the cup. He'd seen Deanna perform this ritual many times before, but it never ceased to amaze him, how much time and care went into eating an ice cream sundae properly.
"A little early in the day to be hitting the sauce, isn't it?" he quipped, smiling at his own joke.
Troi spared him a brief, icy glance, as icy as the glaciers on Mt. McKinley, before returning her attention to her sundae.
Riker sighed inwardly. Dr. Crusher hadn't been exaggerating when she said that Troi 'looked like she was preparing for her own execution'. She was obviously upset, and not in a talking mood. He wasn't about to give up, though. The "T" in his name stood for many things, (depending on who you talked to), tenacious being one of them. Sometimes, even the Counselor needed counseling. He sipped his coffee slowly, planning his strategy.
"Hmm," he continued, "chocolate ice cream AND chocolate sauce. Tough counseling session today? Or is it PMS?" He winced at the withering stare she favored him with.
"No," Troi finally deigned to reply, in order to spare herself from any more of Will Riker's infamous bad jokes. "Just a letter from my mother."
"Uh-oh." Riker pulled the sundae toward him, peered closely at what was left of it, then slid it back to her. "Well, I don't see any chocolate chips, so I guess she's not coming for a visit," he joked, smiling again, and trying to get Troi to do the same.
"That's not funny." Troi glared at him, but a brief spark of amusement lit her eyes before it was extinguished.
Ah-ha! Riker thought to himself. Gotcha!
"Sorry," he lied, composing his face into more serious lines. His eyes, however, still sparkled with silent laughter.
Troi watched the amusement reflected in his blue eyes - eyes she could never resist, no matter how hard she tried (which usually wasn't very hard, if the truth be told) - and knew she'd lost this round.
"All right," she conceded with a decided lack of grace, "that was funny. But I don't feel like laughing. I want to indulge in some self-pity for awhile, if you don't mind."
"Not at all." Riker watched her devour the rest of the sundae in silence, without offering any to him. Not a good sign, he acknowledged to himself. Resolving this crisis was going to take some time. He leaned back in the seat and stretched out his long legs as he settled himself in for a long siege.
"So, is she?" he asked when she'd finally licked the last remnants of syrup off her spoon.
"Is she what?" Troi looked confused.
"Is she coming?" Riker persisted.
"Your mother," he enunciated slowly. Deanna looked like she was a million miles away. The thought flashed through his mind that Guinan had spiked the ice cream sundae, but he dismissed the idea immediately. He couldn't help but glance at the bartender, though, but she appeared to be busy polishing glasses, a completely neutral expression on her face. But then again, Riker conceded silently, no one could ever read her. He turned his attention back to Deanna as she finally responded.
"Oh. No, she's not coming," she replied.
"Is that why you're depressed?" Riker was searching his mind for a possible reason for Deanna's odd behavior.
That finally brought a smile to Troi's face. "Of course not. I love my mother, but you know her visits make me crazy." Her voice trailed off, and Riker knew that her thoughts had again drifted somewhere else entirely.
"What is it then?" He paused, mentally running through his list of Lwaxana Troi's pet peeves concerning her daughter. Unfortunately, he was usually at the top of the list.
"Is she complaining about me again? Or about the lack of grandchildren?'
"Actually, you'll be pleased to hear that she sees 'a ray of hope' - her words, not mine - about our relationship. I told her about our shore leave last month." Troi paused, enjoying the slight blush that spread across his cheeks.
"I didn't go into detail, of course. Some things you just don't tell your mother, no matter how old you get." Troi watched in satisfaction as Riker fidgeted, gulping his drink, trying to think of something witty to say, and failing miserably. It wasn't often that the Enterprise's First Officer was at a loss for words. And, after his feeble attempts at humor earlier, she enjoyed watching him fumble for something to say.
"Umm..well, yes..um," Riker stammered for a moment, remembering. They'd had a wonderful time on Risa, especially the picnic by the waterfalls. It had been a perfect afternoon. Cloudless blue sky, warm gentle breezes, and no one else for miles. His eyes darkened with remembered passion, and a slow sensuous smile appeared on his lips.
"You're probably right," Riker said, squirming slightly. "No need to shatter all her illusions about you." He shifted again in his seat.
"Is something wrong?" Troi asked sweetly, knowing full well what his problem was. Being an empath certainly had its advantages at times.
"Not exactly," he replied, eyeing her warily. He knew she could sense his arousal quite well at that moment, and he'd learned from experience that her BUTTER-WOULD-MELT-IN-MY-MOUTH tone of voice could be dangerous. He wondered just how merciless she was going to be.
"Is your uniform too tight? Or are you sitting on a tack?" Troi inquired. "I haven't seen you so fidgety since..." she paused dramatically, as if trying to recall.
"Since our picnic on Risa?" he suggested helpfully, turning the tables on her, watching her face redden slightly as she recalled their uninhibited, enthusiastic lovemaking that afternoon.
"Must have been the wine," Troi mumbled, just loud enough for him to hear.
"Or the fresh air," suggested Riker.
"Or the company," she added.
"Definitely the company," echoed Riker, losing himself for a few moments in the depths of her warm brown eyes, watching the pulse beat at the base of her throat. He could recall, in vivid detail, the feel of her hands caressing his body, the whisper of her breath against his neck, and the feel of her body quivering as his hands explored every inch of her. There were times when their relationship went beyond friendship, but those times always occurred away from the ship. It seemed that every time they returned to the Enterprise, they fell back into the pattern of being just good friends. Once again, Riker was forced to wonder about the choices they had both made. He stared at Troi, trying to envision what life would be like for them if they allowed their relationship to progress while on board the Enterprise.
Troi stared back at him, and for a moment she could hear the rushing of the water over the rocks and feel the heat of the afternoon sun and the hands and lips of the man sitting across from her warming her body.. Or was it the blood rushing to her face and pounding in her head? Will Riker had the ability to reach into her soul, to awaken emotions no one else had ever been able to. And he could do it with just a look or a word. He was doing it now, although Troi knew he had no idea how potent his presence really was.
Troi forced herself to look away as the waiter chose that moment to come and remove her empty ice cream dish. How easy it would be to forget where they were, she thought with a touch of regret. On the heels of that thought came another. Maybe they should let down their barriers and permit their emotions and desires to evolve between them.
The sound of clinking glass startled Riker, and Troi watched his glazed eyes refocus slowly, as he reluctantly brought his thoughts back to the present.
"Well, you still haven't told me why your mother's letter upset you so much," he finally managed to say in an almost normal tone of voice.
Troi opened her mouth to respond, then closed it with a snap.
"Deanna," Riker said softly. "Whatever I am to you, I'm also your friend. I want to help if I can." He reached across the table and laid his hand gently over hers.
"Mother wants to sell the house," Troi admitted after a long pause.
"And..." Riker waited for her to continue.
"And, that's it?" Riker queried. He looked at her as though she'd lost her grip on reality.
He felt her anger, saw it in her eyes, in the set of her jaw, before she even opened her mouth to speak. She jerked her hand away.
"I grew up in that house. Some of my best memories are from times spent at home," she told him, eyes blazing. She wasn't sure if she was angrier at her mother for wanting to sell their home, or at Will for not understanding how much it meant to her. "The last time I saw my father was in that house, when he said good-bye to Mother and me as he left for his next assignment. We had no idea he would never be coming back," she added, sorrow briefly etched on her face.
"I'm sorry," Riker said sincerely. He reached for her hand again, relieved when she didn't pull away. "My father and I lived in a house," he admitted quietly. "It was never a home. I guess it's hard for me to imagine anyone becoming so attached to a place that I always tried to avoid when I was a kid."
Troi's anger at Riker dissipated quickly, and she squeezed his hand gently in silent understanding. Riker gave her a crooked grin. "Hey, I'm supposed to be counseling you. My childhood is ancient history."
Troi shook her head. "No, it isn't. Our early experiences shape our whole existence. They affect the way we view life and how we interact with others. I was very safe and secure and loved as a child. When I think of my home, or go back there, all those warm, wonderful feelings come back. I can almost hear my father calling me for dinner. I still remember the sound of my parents laughing at some shared joke as they cooked side by side. It was one of their favorite activities."
Troi paused, watching the parade of expressions cross Riker's face. His childhood had not been happy, she knew, and he had trouble understanding how much a home and a family meant to her. Ultimately, it was more important than a career. His difficulty in understanding that, believing that, had always been a major stumbling block in their relationship. He couldn't trust her, or anyone else for that matter, not to leave him. Although his mother hadn't left him voluntarily - Troi was sure that, rationally, at least, Will knew that dying had not been her idea - the feelings of abandonment were still real. Because she had died when Will was so young, those feelings were deeply ingrained and remained a part of him, no matter how much he tried to deny it.
Her mother's news that she wanted to sell her home - home, not just a house - had shocked her. Everything that she was was tied to that place - the place where her roots were - the only home she had ever known. And while she knew that it was only a place, and it was the people who really mattered, it still saddened her to think that she would never be able to take her children there, to point to the balcony outside her window and tell them that there was the place where she had dreamed all her dreams, where her hopes for the future had been born.
"Did she say why she wants to sell it?" Riker asked.
"She gave me a list of reasons. Too big, too old, too isolated, too much upkeep. How could she do this to me?" Troi wailed.
"To you?" Riker repeated. "Imagine what it's been like for her all these years. You've told me how much your parents loved each other. It must be hard for her to sleep in that empty bed every night, to walk through that house every day, knowing that the man she loved is never coming back." Riker paused, surprised to find himself defending Lwaxana Troi. But for the first time, he felt he could understand a different side of her, the side that was so evident in her daughter. "Your mother is confronted with all those memories every day. The good ones and the bad ones. Her husband dying so tragically and leaving her alone, her daughter gone, roaming the stars. I give her credit for staying there this long. I'm not sure I could have."
Troi nodded slowly, acknowledging his point. "You're right. I never quite looked at it from that point of view. Being there never made me feel sad. I always felt the happiness and love that filled our home. My mother's always been so strong," Troi smiled at Riker's raised eyebrows. "All right, overbearing at times. I guess it's hard to admit that your parents have the same weaknesses as everyone else. It's still hard, though. That old house means a great deal to me. I guess, somewhere in the back of my mind, I fantasized about returning there with my own family some day, to live in the house where I grew up."
"You have your memories, Deanna. Nothing can take them away. Don't make the object more important than the memory. When my mother died, my father took all her pictures down. He removed everything from the house that was hers. Removed every trace of her..." The words caught in his throat, and he took a long swallow of his coffee before continuing. Troi waited silently. Will rarely opened up to her this freely - he rarely mentioned his childhood and almost never talked about his father - and she didn't want to do or say anything that would cause him to retreat back behind the walls he had so carefully built.
"For a long time I hated him for that. I thought he didn't care," he went on softly, absently stroking his beard, as if it were a security blanket. "But as I got older I realized that the reminders were just too painful for him to see every day. Even though I needed to see them and to talk about her, he couldn't face it. And then I resented him for that. For not being able to get past his own grief and see that I was in pain and needed him. And although I can't clearly remember what my mother looked like, I can still remember how her touch felt. Sometimes, at night, if I close my eyes and think about her, I can smell her perfume and hear her voice as she says good-night." Riker's voice wavered slightly and he stopped for a moment.
He took a deep breath to steady himself. "I don't need a picture, or an object, to help hold onto those memories. I couldn't forget them even if I wanted to. They're a part of me. I'm sure my father has his, too, hidden away somewhere inside him. Maybe, if we'd been able to talk about those memories and those feelings, things might have been different between us..." Riker paused, and Troi was struck by the look of profound regret that crossed his features before being carefully hidden. "Maybe that's what your mother wants to do," Riker continued, "put the memories away and take them out when she wants to, not be forced to confront them every day. I can't think of anything more painful than constant reminders of what you've lost."
Riker sat back in his seat, folding his hands across his chest and staring with sudden fascination at an intriguing seam on the edge of the table. He was embarrassed at having revealed so much. When it came to discussing personal issues, he was every bit as private a person as Captain Picard was. He and Deanna could talk about almost anything. His childhood and his father, however, were two subjects that were usually off-limits. Not only with Deanna, but with everyone. Now he was afraid to look at her, afraid she might think he'd sounded too emotional, too weak.
He heard the word clearly, even though she didn't say it aloud.
He looked up.
Troi's eyes were misty with unshed tears, but a tender smile lit her face. He could feel her love envelop him, and he relaxed into it, feeling it seep into every pore, penetrating every corner of his being. And Riker knew that his love for Deanna was reflected in his own face. He knew by the way her eyes cleared and the tense line of her shoulders eased.
"Thank you," Troi told him shakily, her voice husky with emotion.
"For what?" Riker looked at her, slightly puzzled.
"For reminding me what's really important. For sharing yourself with me. I know how hard it is for you to do that. Every word you've said is true, and they're things that I should have said to myself. You said them very eloquently, too. You're getting to be very good at this," she told him.
"I've had a good teacher," he replied, taking her hand in his once again. He continued speaking, his thumb absently rubbing the back of Troi's hand. It was a gesture that was friendly, yet intimate. "Besides, I haven't told you anything you haven't told other people, at one time or another. If you weren't so personally involved, you'd see it much more objectively. It's like doctors being the worst patients. Aside from captains, of course. Counselors make the worst counselees." He flashed her his famous Riker grin.
"Don't look so smug," Troi retorted, returning his smile with one of her own, in silent thanks for his friendship and understanding. "You're not always right."
Riker grinned broadly. "But isn't it nice when I am?" He gulped down the rest of his now cold coffee, grimacing at the taste, and set the cup down with a thump. "Guinan will think we've taken up permanent residence here. May I walk you home, Counselor?" he inquired politely, rising and pulling out her chair.
"Certainly, Commander," Troi replied, matching his formality with a grin and linking her arm through his.
"So, what else does Lwaxana have to say? Has she found a husband yet?" Riker asked as they strolled down the corridor towards Troi's quarters. "Or has she given up and dedicated herself to finding one for you?"
"No to both questions. But she mentioned that she's been seeing someone lately. He sounds like a nice man, but with mother you never really know for sure."
"Well, in any case, the captain will be relieved," Riker chuckled as Troi paused in her doorway. He leaned close and whispered, a friendly leer on his face, "tell her I know a great vacation spot. Waterfalls, picnics, warm breezes, secluded meadows. Veeerry relaxing," he added in a smooth, seductive tone that sent a shiver of desire down Troi's spine.
"Really? Tell me more," Troi responded silkily, blushing slightly as she grabbed his tunic and yanked him inside as the doors closed.