The Whole Truth
by Irene Deitel
As he stared at his clean-shaven visage in the mirror, he had to acknowledge the truth. It was an ugly truth, but he couldn't avoid it any longer.
He was a coward.
He, Commander William Thomas Riker, First Officer of the flagship of the Federation, was afraid. Not of the Son'a, or the Romulans, or even the Borg.
He was afraid of a diminutive, half-Betazoid brunette who had the power to enslave his heart and soul.
He'd been avoiding her for the past five days, ever since they left the Ba'ku homeworld and its metaphasic radiation behind. At first it had been easy, because he had been so busy with reports and repairs, but it was getting harder to find excuses to avoid her.
He had wondered whether his feelings would change with distance and time, but they hadn't. Worf's words rang in his head - Commander, your feelings for her have not changed since the first day I met you. This place merely let them out for a bit of fresh air - and he realized that the big Klingon had more insight into his psyche than he did. He had always loved Deanna, but his feelings had been hidden. The Ba'ku world had allowed those feelings to resurface. And now that they had, there was no stopping them. He loved her, and he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. Hell, he'd even let her shave his beard off, even though he had become very attached to it. If that wasn't love, what was?
But what if she didn't feel the same way? What if her feelings had gone back to the way they were before? Everything else had. For a brief minute, he contemplated marching over to her quarters and asking her outright where they stood with each other. But he quickly realized he didn't have the nerve to do it.
He was a coward.
It was better not knowing and agonizing about it, and walking around with a sick feeling in his stomach, rather than to find out the truth, if it was a truth he didn't want to hear.
* * * * *
"I'm a coward."
Counselor Deanna Troi broke the silence as she looked at her best friend and partner in chocolate. She pushed aside her empty sundae dish. "It's an ugly truth, but I can't avoid it any longer." Troi leaned closer so that her words wouldn't be overheard by the other crew members in Ten Forward. She didn't think it was necessary for anyone else to know that the ship's counselor, the rock of the Enterprise, was an emotional wreck.
"I'm afraid," she told Dr. Crusher, the admission practically torn from her lips, as if someone had reached down her throat and yanked the words out.
"Afraid? Of what?" Crusher eyed her friend in disbelief. She'd never known Deanna to be afraid of anything.
"Of what?" Troi repeated incredulously. Really, for a doctor, Beverly was remarkably dense sometimes. "Of six feet four inches and two hundred pounds of raw, Alaskan masculinity. That's what," she replied, relieved to have finally admitted it out loud.
"Will?" It took Crusher a few seconds to process the description, and she forbore to tell Deanna that she was off by a few pounds. Then her eyes narrowed. "Did he hurt you? If he did, I'll..."
"Don't be ridiculous," Troi protested, aghast that Beverly would even think that Will could harm her. "He'd never hurt me - physically. I meant I'm afraid of him because of the way he makes me feel." Troi paused. "I'd forgotten how wonderful it is to be with him. I've remembered why I fell in love with him so long ago, on Betazed. And I realize now that I still love him. I thought that maybe when we got away from the metaphasic radiation and the Ba'ku homeworld, that my feelings would go back to the way they were. Everything else did," she observed wryly. "Oh, Bev, what am I going to do? My feelings for Will are stronger than ever. I love him, and I want to spend the rest of my life with him."
"So what's the problem?" Crusher was mystified. The two of them had gotten along like a house on fire. The sparks had certainly been flying last week.
"What if he doesn't feel the same way? What if his feelings have gone back to the way they were before?"
"Did you talk to him about it?" Crusher queried.
"No. I've been avoiding him for the last five days. It was easy to stay out of his way, what with all the work I've had to do helping everyone cope with the effects of the Ba'ku world, but it's getting harder to find excuses to avoid him."
"Why are you avoiding him?" Crusher demanded. Really, for a counselor, Deanna was remarkably dense sometimes. "Just march over to his quarters and tell him how you feel. Emotions are your job, remember?" Crusher knew from personal experience what could - or wouldn't - happen when two people remained silent about their feelings for one another. She wasn't about to let two of her best friends make the same, stupid mistake.
"I already told you. I'm a coward," Troi wailed, as she sank her head into her hands. "I'm afraid to hear the truth. I don't want it to be over."
"And walking around with a sick feeling in your stomach is better? Look at you, Deanna, you're a mess," Crusher pointed out kindly. "Not knowing is the worst thing. Better to find out one way or another than to be agonizing all the time."
"I'm not so sure about that," Troi disagreed. "This way, there's still a chance that we'll be together. If he says no, there's no chance at all."
"Why are so sure he'll say no?" Crusher pointed out. "Deanna, the man let you shave his beard off. And we all know he was very attached to it. If that's not love, what is?"
"That was while we were under the influence. For all I know, he's been growing it back. I haven't seen him in five days."
"Well I have," Crusher told her. "And he hasn't."
"Really?" For a moment, there was a glimmer of hope in Troi's brown eyes. But it vanished, only to be replaced by the same doubt and longing that had been lurking there earlier, when they'd first sat down to consume their chocolate sundaes.
Crusher felt a momentary surge of annoyance. Why was it that Troi wouldn't heed the advice she'd undoubtedly give to anyone else who crossed the threshold of her office with a similar tale of woe? Well, if Deanna was going to play patient, she was going to play counselor. Besides, if Deanna didn't resolve her little personal crisis soon, she, Beverly Crusher, was going to get fat from all the sundaes she'd have to eat while consoling her friend.
"I see I have to take matters into my own hands," Crusher announced.
"What do you mean?" Troi inquired cautiously. That gleam in the doctor's eyes was not a good sign.
"Quiet," Crusher ordered. "You had your chance." She slapped her combadge. "Computer, locate Commander Riker."
"Beverly..." Troi began, then stopped as Crusher glared at her. She had her don't-mess-with-me-on-pain-of-death expression on her face - the one even the captain didn't ignore - and Troi knew better than to defy her.
"Commander Riker is in his quarters," came the smooth reply.
Crusher glanced at Troi sharply. "You know, for a second there, I could have sworn that was your mother talking. She's probably sensing this whole sorry mess all the way to Betazed, and is sending me telepathic signals about what to do. Let's go." Crusher rose from her seat and pulled on Deanna's arm when she showed no inclination towards moving on her own.
"Where are we going?" Troi queried, although she knew full well what the answer was. Crusher's vise like grip on her arm prevented her from bolting, even if the ill thought idea had crossed her mind. Which it had. Which was precisely why Crusher was holding on so firmly. Felicia Howard hadn't raised a fool.
"We are going to pay Will a visit. I can't afford the calories, or the time, to let this drag on. So we are going to settle this matter now."
"Must you hold on so tightly?" Troi asked, trying to ignore the growing dread centered in the pit of her stomach. Her chocolate sundae was beginning to churn uncomfortably.
"Yes. I don't have my running shoes on, and I don't trust you for a second," Crusher replied as they moved into the turbolift.
"You're going to give me bruises, you're holding on so tight," Troi complained.
"I'm a doctor. I'll get rid of them later. Face it, Deanna, you are going to see him now, even if I have to drag you kicking and screaming all the way there. And that would certainly give the rumor mill something to chew on."
"Well, if you put it that way, I guess I don't have much choice."
"None." Crusher was silent the rest of the way there, which wasn't far.
"I think I'm going to be sick," Troi muttered, just loud enough for Crusher to hear.
"And waste a perfectly good chocolate sundae? Don't even think it," Crusher retorted, as she pushed the buzzer outside Riker's quarters.
* * * * *
Riker looked up from his padd as the door chimed. He'd taken the coward's way out and reburied himself in work in order to avoid dealing with his unresolved emotional issues.
"Come," he called with a certain amount of trepidation. He wasn't expecting company and wasn't really in the mood for uninvited guests.
Especially this one, he thought with dismay, as Deanna marched across the threshold of his quarters. Was shoved across, would be more accurate, he realized, as Crusher followed her in, still maintaining a firm grip on Troi's upper arm.
"Hello, Deanna. Hello, Beverly," he managed to croak out, between lips that were suddenly bone dry and barely functioning.
Another basket case, Crusher shrewdly surmised. "Hello, Will," she replied pleasantly. "It's been wonderful chatting with you, but I really must be going. I've stayed too long as it is."
She released Deanna's arm and gave her a little push forward. "I hope I don't hear from you again tonight," she whispered in Troi's ear. "Goodnight, all." She waved cheerily as she rapidly made her exit, before anyone could protest.
Troi didn't bother turning around to watch her leave. Her gaze was fixed on the man seated before her. He's so handsome, so vital," she thought to herself as she felt a familiar tightening in her groin. How in the world did I manage to stay away for five whole days?
Riker stared at the woman standing in front of him. God, she's so beautiful, so sexy, so vibrant, he thought to himself as he felt a familiar tightening in his groin. How in the hell did I manage to stay away for five whole days?
Riker pointed to the sofa. "Why don't you sit down?" he offered. He couldn't get up, the bulge in his uniform would be a dead giveaway. "I'll be with you in one second. I just need to make a couple of notations, before I forget what I was going to say," he told her, lying through his teeth. He took several deep breaths to get himself under control as he pretended to make some notes on the padd. Then he put it down and turned to face her.
"Can I get you anything?" Riker inquired politely.
Troi knew that if she put anything in her stomach, it would come right back up, so she declined. She said nothing as Riker moved to the chair next to the sofa. They were sitting at right angles to each other, knees barely touching. Troi could feel the burning heat right through her uniform. She looked at Riker, but couldn't bring herself to speak.
Riker could feel the burning heat right through his uniform where their knees were touching. He had misjudged the distance when he sat down, and now he couldn't move his leg away without appearing obvious about it. He couldn't bring himself to speak, and he waited for Troi to break the silence.
The silence stretched and Riker was sure that Troi could hear his heart pounding in his chest. He didn't want to sit there, staring at her, without speaking. He wanted to rip her clothes off and carry her into his bedroom and make mad, passionate love to her all night long. He wanted to bury himself in her, and feel her warmth surround him. Most of all, though, he wanted to tell her how much he loved her.
Troi clamped down on her feeling of panic. She was sure that Riker could hear her heart hammering in her chest. She didn't want to sit there, staring at him, not speaking. She wanted to tell him how much she loved him, so she could either slink back to her quarters and wallow in grief when he told her it was over, or rip his clothes off and have him carry her into his bedroom so they could make mad, passionate love all night long.
"Look, I'm sorry..." they both began at the same time. They broke off, laughing nervously.
"You first," Troi told him.
Riker shook his head. "Ladies first," he told her.
"You outrank me," she parried.
"Oh, hell," Riker blurted out. He got up and began pacing, running his hand through his hair. He moved to scratch his beard, a habit that helped him think, but he let his hand drop when he realized it wasn't there. Suddenly, he couldn't stand the suspense any longer. Better to get it over with, so she would leave, and he could wallow alone in self pity.
"Look, Deanna, I'm sorry. I know I've been avoiding you, and that's the coward's way out. But I couldn't help it. I've been afraid to tell you how I really feel."
Troi's momentary surprise at his admission that he'd been avoiding her turned to dismay. Deanna closed her eyes to prevent her pain from being reflected there. Here it comes, she thought. He's dumping me. He's been avoiding me because he doesn't want to hurt me by telling me it's over between us."
"I know we got a little crazy while in the Briar Patch, and things have returned to normal now, but the fact is..."
Troi stood up to face him, cutting off his speech. She couldn't listen to him say it. She'd never make it out of his quarters without falling apart. And she wouldn't give him that satisfaction.
"Say no more, Will," she told him, in a voice so steady she surprised even herself. "It was fun while it lasted, but it's over. I hear you loud and clear." Troi turned to leave, but his astonished cry stopped her.
"What?" Riker stared at her with his baby blues, confusion radiating from him in waves.
"It's over. I understand," Troi said, the tears threatening to spill over. She had to get out of here. She turned to leave.
"Deanna, wait. You don't understand at all." Riker realized she'd misunderstood what he had been trying to say, and he grabbed her arm to prevent her from leaving. He turned her around to face him, placing his fingers under her chin to lift her face to his. "I don't want it to be over," he told her softly, letting her see his love for her reflected in his face and in his eyes. "When I said I was afraid to tell you how I really feel, I meant that I was afraid that your feelings had changed when mine hadn't." He bent his head to let his lips brush hers.
"I love you, Imzadi," he continued, using the endearment that would unequivocally reveal his true feelings for her. "Everyone else may have returned to the way they were, but my feelings for you haven't. I'm still crazy in love with you, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you."
Deanna began to cry, but they were tears of happiness. "Oh, Will, I've been avoiding you, too. I love you more than anything in the world, and I was so afraid you'd changed your mind and didn't want me anymore. I couldn't bear to come here and find out the truth, so Beverly dragged me down here to face you. I can't imagine the rest of my life without you." She wrapped her arms around him and he pulled her into a close embrace, as his lips claimed hers in a passionate, fiery kiss. Desire flared to life, and Troi could feel his hardness pressing against her. As his lips moved to trail kisses along her jaw and neck to the sensitive spot behind her ear, Riker paused to whisper in her ear.
"Know what I'd like to do right now?" he teased gently.
"Rip my clothes off, carry me into the bedroom, and make mad, passionate love all night long?" Troi took a wild guess as she tried to hide her smile.
"How did you know?" Riker picked his head up to look at her. Had she developed some telepathic skills he didn't know about?
"Great minds think alike," she answered, pulling his lips back to hers. "Well, what are you waiting for?" Troi asked, moments later. She was rewarded with the fulfillment of both their fantasies.
* * * * *
A long time later, Riker's voice whispered to her in the darkness.
"I just have one question," he said softly.
"Hmmm?" Troi murmured sleepily as she snuggled closer to him under the warm cocoon of blankets.
Riker hesitated. "Can I grow the beard back now?"