|Primary Characters:||Will Riker, Picard, Deanna|
|Warning:||m/m sex implied|
|Description:||Picard and Riker are on a diplomatic mission. Diplomacy isn’t working the way it should, and Riker has to use other means.|
Picard and his first officer, Will Riker, stood on the transporter pad, awaiting the arrival of Counsellor Troi with some last minute instructions from Starfleet Command. Riker was excited about this new assignment. For his captain to have been selected as the negotiator in the conflict on Suleian Prime was quite an honor, and some of that honor might rub off on the negotiator’s first officer. At least he hoped so. In his years in Starfleet, he had never been involved in anything of this magnitude.Jean-Luc Picard’s outlook wasn’t nearly as cheerful. This was a very serious conflict. The planet was teetering on the edge of a full scale civil war. That was bad enough in itself, but unfortunately, the planet happened to be the seat of the government of an alliance of planets, not unlike the Federation, only smaller. But this alliance was placed at a key position in the Beta quadrant.
If this conflict was allowed to get out of hand, many other, less stable political formations might follow suit. To make things worse, both Cardassians and Romulans had shown interest in the situation. They would only need half an excuse to throw themself into the fray, and drag the galaxy into a cataclysmic war. Picard keenly felt the responsibility weighing on his mind.
Now the door swished open, and they expected to see Deanna Troi, a woman Riker had begun to feel more and more drawn to as they worked together. But the counsellor wasn’t coming. It was Tasha Yar.
“Sir. I have additional information for you.”
“Thank you, lieutenant Yar. What is keeping counsellor Troi?”
“She’s being held up at the comm. But she won’t be a minute.”
“I hope not. Perhaps we should transport down now and let counsellor Troi join us later.”
“Very well, sir.”
Picard made eye contact with the young ensign at the transporter controls. He really did have to request a change in the uniform code for ensigns. What was virtually a short dress didn’t look good on women, in Picard’s view, and on a man, even one as young and well built as ensign Torrence, it was nothing short of ludicrous.
Soon they were down on the surface, inside the huge conference complex. The architecture was stunning, and seemed to bear traces of many other cultures in the quadrant. Picard wished he would have time to explore this civilization’s archaeology, but he knew his work wouldn’t allow him any time off. Perhaps another time. It was always like this. He found something worth investigating, but his duties to Starfleet had to take precedence, and especially on such a momentous occasion.
They proceeded from the foyer into the large auditorium where the negotiations would take place. An official caught sight of them, and ushered them up to the table on the podium.
In the weeks since they had been selected to represent Starfleet in the negotiations, they had processed teraquads of information concerning the conflict at hand. Riker felt his head was close to exploding from the overload. The sensation reminded him of the weeks before his graduation from Starfleet academy. All those facts was more a job for his captain.
Personally, Riker saw himself more as a people person. Hopefully, the chemistry between him and the other negotiators would tip the balance in the right direction. Now, what could be keeping his lovely partner, counsellor Troi?
Soon, though, he was kept too busy dealing with the work at hand, to wonder about Deanna’s whereabouts. The chief negotiator for the leading nation on Suleian Prime was a middle-aged man. He was tall, and striking-looking, with a voice that was commanding and charismatic.
Riker couldn’t help wondering why the other side hadn’t been convinced by his arguments long ago. To a Terran, the demands seemed reasonable enough. Of course, he didn’t know all that much about anthropology and quaint customs didn’t mean much to him either. Except for those of Riza, naturally. That was a different matter.
The minority was represented by an older woman, her hair white and her face lined, but Riker seemed to have read something about the people of this planet that suggested their lifespan was longer than that of the average human. Perhaps she wasn’t as old as she seemed.
There seemed to be an immediate rapport between her and Picard. Riker thought she reminded him of a teacher he’d had back in school. Strict, intimidating, a stickler for rules and regulations. And her demands really did seem a bit exaggerated. Not to Picard, apparently. And this was his show, Riker had to keep reminding himself of that.
“Very persuasive argument, Tarquilia Hxox.”
The white haired lady bowed her head in acknowledgement.
Riker could see that Thimeran Ziffer stiffened at that. Maybe it wouldn’t do any harm accomodating the other side too. It wouldn’t do to appear biased at this stage of the negotiatons.
“On the other hand, Thimeran Ziffer does have a point in his latest argument.”
Ziffer turned in Riker’s direction and subjected him to a penetrating stare. It was as if the man had only just noticed the second Federation representative. Something about the look hinted at a different sort of interest than merely professional. Riker felt his face heat up a bit, and to his embarrassment, it seemed Ziffer noticed.
This was unexpected. And whatever Ziffer’s interest, Riker couldn’t return it. His own interest was purely connected with these negotiations. But he forced down his initial reaction and smiled back at the other man.
Many hours later, it was decided to adjourn the proceedings. That was a relief. Both Picard and his first officer were exhausted. They were walking a fine line, and the slightest mistake could ruin everything. But it turned out they wouldn’t be allowed to retire just yet. An official scurried over and whispered something in Picard’s ear. With a weary smile, Picard nodded his agreement.
“I’m afraid we can’t beam up just yet, Number One. It appears we have been invited to a banquet.”
Knowing how his captain felt about offical functions, Riker could understand the undertone of defeat in Picard’s voice. And for once, he actually could sympathise. Normally, banquets and other parties were just his thing. If only Deanna had shown up.
“I don’t suppose we could contact the Enterprise and invite the ladies to come along. Don’t you think that dr Crusher and counsellor Troi would enjoy -”
“I’m sure they would, Number One. But I think not. We were the ones expected to make an appearance, not our doctor and counsellor.”
“I suppose not. Cheer up, sir. I’m sure we won’t be required to stay for much longer.”
“If only I could be as sure as you seem to be, Number One.”
And the evening did seem to drag out endlessly. Early on, Thimeran Ziffer attached himself to Riker and wouldn’t leave his side. Under most circumstances, Riker took some pride in his ability to attract other people. This man, however, was a little bit overwhelming in his constant staring and accidental collisions. Either the man was the clumsiest person Riker had run into for some time, or he was doing it on purpose. Also, the way he spoke to the Terran was filled with some kind of innuendo, which all but escaped Riker.
“You are from Earth, mr Riker?”
“A very beautiful world. If you don’t mind my saying so, to my eyes you are a very typical Terran. So wonderfully rugged and robust.”
“Uh. Thanks, I guess, mr Ziffer.”
“Please, call me Thimeran.”
“Then you must call me Will.”
“Will? A very interesting name. In my language it means someone who is very passionate and devoted to his cause.”
“Really? That’s not what I – I mean, that’s interesting.”
“If we have time, I would like to show you my home province. We have underground caves that are exquisitely beatiful. And the ocean shore is another beauty spot. Do your people immerse yourselves in the sea waters?”
“You mean swim? Yes.”
“And you enjoy this?”
“Then you must let me take you to the coast. I would like to watch your technique.”
“Uh, yes, quite. If you’ll excuse me, I think I see my captain looking for me.”
“You and your captain are close?”
What? Was he implying what he seemed to be implying? This was a dilemma. Riker didn’t really want to let this tiresome man think he and Picard were any closer than a captain and his first officer normally were, but on the other hand, if he did give that impression, maybe he’d be left alone.
“He’s a wonderful man to serve under. Excuse me.”
In reality, Picard didn’t seem to be looking for Riker at all. Instead, he had finally found something that occupied his interest. Tarquilia Hxox was giving him a fascinating discourse over Suleian ancient history.
“Oh, Number One. Enjoying yourself?”
“Uh. Yes. But isn’t it getting a little late? We’re due back here early next morning, for the negotiations.”
“Certainly. But as it happens, ms Hxox has promised me a private tour of their national museum. It’s very close by and she’s a friend of the curator, so -”
“I see. Perhaps, I should join you. The museum sounds interesting.”
“I wouldn’t impose that on you, Number One. I know how much you dislike museums and similar institutions. Why don’t you stay here and represent Earth, while I visit the museum?”
Apparently there was no help to be had here. All Riker could do was to smile and nod and watch his captain disappear. When he turned to look for a drink, he found Ziffer two steps behind him. Again.
“Looking for something, Will?”
“Uh. Yes. I wanted a drink.”
“Excellent. If you follow me, I’ll get you one of my own favorite wines. It’s most remarkable.”
“Thank you. That sounds wonderful.”
Unable to to think of any excuse Riker continued smiling insincerely and followed Ziffer into a the other room. To Riker’s dismay, he found himself quite alone with his host. The wine that was on offer was thin, sour and quite unpalatable, but one thing could be said for it. It was extremely strong. Riker could feel himself getting far more intoxicated than was advisable at such an official function. But in a way it was a relief. He found it was much easier to endure Ziffer’s attentions with a little of that stuff inside him.
Now Ziffer seemed to have had enough of the hide and seek, and moved closer. He placed a hand on Riker’s knee and began staring into his eyes, in a way that Riker found disturbing. It was definitely time to go. But he was sitting down and Ziffer was standing right above him, blocking his way. One of those hands now moved up to Riker’s shoulder, but at least it stopped there. For the moment.
“Will – I have to tell you, I find you intriguing.”
“Uh, thank you. Well, it’s getting late and I really think I have to -”
“Don’t go just yet. Your eyes, what color are they? I’ve never seen anything like them.”
“What? Oh, green.”
“Green eyes. We don’t have that on our world. Do most people on your world have green eyes?”
“No. It’s a bit unusual. Look, I do have to -”
But Ziffer wasn’t done with him yet. And as Riker tried to get up, on rather unsteady legs, after the wine, he wasn’t quite fast enough to get away. Ziffer’s scent grew stronger in Riker’s nose, and before he was able to twist out of the other man’s reach, those lips brushed Riker’s.
“I have to go now, but I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“I am looking forward to it, Will Riker.”
I wish I could say the same, Riker thought to himself as he made his way back to the foyer outside. Now he wouldn’t let anything stand in his way. He wanted to get back to his quarters right now.
“Enterprise. One to beam up.”
Next morning, it seemed to Picard that his first officer was a bit subdued, but the gravity of the occasion might easily account for that. Besides, Picard made a habit of not prying into the personal lives of his crew, unless their work performance was affected. He imagined, though, that Riker’s changed behavior might be traced to their lovely counsellor’s absence the night before.
In the course of the next few days, it became apparent that despite Picard’s best efforts, he was unable to bring the parties closer to a peaceful solution. It seemed that whatever compromises he suggested, Ziffer and Tarquilia Hxox were further than ever from a common point of view. Even Picard was beginning to despair. And the communications he received from Starfleet headquarters were not encouraging.
Before beaming down on the tenth day of the negotiations, Picard asked Riker to join him in his ready room. Counsellor Troi was already there.
“I have received the latest updates on the situation on the other worlds in the Suleian system and I’m afraid we’re running out of time. If we can’t break the deadlock very soon, the entire sector could go up in flames. We have to go down there, and make one last effort. Starfleet has adviced me to move the Enterprise out of orbit, if we make no more progress in the next few days. Any questions, Number One?”
“No. I guess not. Let’s give it a last shot. Are you joining us, counsellor Troi?”
He cast a hopeful glance in Deanna’s direction. She smiled back, but he could read her face well enough to see that she wasn’t coming along.
“I’m afraid not. It’s been decided that I won’t be needed on the surface. Good luck and do your best.”
By now, Riker’s enthusiasm for the negotiations had diminished considerably. He was more aware of the risks, and less hopeful when it came to gaining personal glory. And Ziffer’s attention was getting close to intolerable. It wasn’t the first time a man had been attracted to him, but when their feelings weren’t returned, most people tended to get the message after a while. This man appeared totally unaware of Riker’s cool reception to his overtures.
Grimly facing each other across the table, the delegates still wouldn’t stray from their demands. The session dragged on, seemingly endlessly, until finally someone recognized the need for a lunch break.
Riker followed the rest of the delegates to the restaurant. It was great to finally be able to get some fresh air, not to mention having a break. He took care to remain close by his captain, just in case. But that proved harder than he had anticipated. Picard was going somewhere with Tarquilia Hxox, it turned out, and Riker was left staring helplessly after their vanishing forms. And sure enough, right behind him, Ziffer waited tirelessly.
“Will, I was wondering if you’d prefer to have a meal in my home. It’s not far from here, and I can promise you the food will be much more enjoyable.”
Squirming uncomfortably, Riker tried his best to think of an excuse that wouldn’t offend the negotiator, but unable to think of one, he weakly nodded his agreement.
“Splendid. This way. There’s also something I’d like to discuss with you.”
Oh, no. Not again. Riker thought he could guess what the topic of that discussion would be. This time, he really had to make himself clear. Ziffer surely couldn’t expect him to play along just for the sake of the cause. The man couldn’t be that unprofessional. At least Riker hoped not.
His apartment seemed to be rather luxurious. It was what Riker would have referred to as a penthouse suite back home. The architecture was different, including the shape of the windows, not to mention the slightly colder quality of the light coming through those windows, but all in all the place was similar to its Earth equivalent. Ziffer placed his hand on a pane beside the door and a small click announced the opening of the door. Inside, Ziffer pulled out a strange-looking chair, and invited Riker to sit down. It turned out to be far more comfortable than it looked.
“Please. Make yourself at home. I won’t be a minute. The dish I have in mind will be ready in seconds.”
And Ziffer walked back and forth setting up the various plates and eating utensils. They too were slightly different from the ones Riker was used to, but they proved easy to use. Again, Ziffer brought out a container of a liquid that Riker suspected was wine or some other alcohol.
“I’m sorry, I don’t think it’s such a good idea for me to drink alcoholic beverages while I still have work to do.”
“Don’t worry about it, Will. This drink is not as strong as the one served at the banquet. You will be able to keep your head.”
The statement was accompanied by a look that again made Riker’s face heat up and take on color. Why did this man have that effect on him? He wasn’t a kid anymore. In school, Martika Sayle had produced something like that reaction, and at the Academy several different women had as well. On occasion, a man would make a pass at him, but never before had Riker felt this disoriented. Perhaps it was because this man didn’t pick up on the Terran’s lack of interest. Or maybe he was determined to ignore it. Either way, this was getting out of hand.
“There. All done. Please, help yourself. I think you will find that dish to your liking. In fact, I have researched our archives and selected something that I suspect will appeal to you Terrans.”
Riker was all for new cuisines and despite the awkwardness of the situation, he was actually looking forward to trying the dish. It looked appetizing, and the drink Ziffer poured him turned out to be far less unappealing than the first wine. Also, just like Ziffer had promised, it was quite harmless.
To Riker’s surprise, the rest of the meal passed more or less in silence. From time to time, Riker felt Ziffer’s gaze travel across him, but other than that, there were no embarrassing moments. The silence gave Riker plenty of time to consider the situation.
Until now, he hadn’t been able to focus on Picard’s news from Starfleet headquarters. As they sunk in, Riker realized that the order to retreat from the planet, meant Picard was being removed from his assignment. And that meant losing some of the respect he had earned in the past decade. One reason Riker had been so pleased to be transferred to the Enterprise was Picard’s reputation. Even if he ignored the implications for his captain’s career and indirectly his own, there was also the risk of war.
From his days at the Academy, Riker could recall in vivid detail the accounts from the Romulan wars, and other conflicts from their history. He had participated in holo-suite reenactments, and knew the price the civilians paid. If there was anything that anyone could do to prevent such a tragedy from ocurring, shouldn’t that person do so? And now it was beginning to dawn on him what might sway Ziffer in his determination not to give an inch to the other side.
Riker had always given his work priority over his personal life. He believed in focusing 100% on his duties as a Starfleet officer. It was only on his infrequent leaves that he allowed himself to let go of that responsibility. And since there did seem to be a chance he could change Ziffer’s mind, he knew he had to try.
He didn’t want to, but he had to set his own preferences aside. This was a job plain and simple. That was how he had to view this attempt. And it wasn’t the first time, though he much preferred women. Back at the Academy, some of the parties had been rather wild. Riker could remember frequently waking up in beds not his own, with people he hardly knew. Most of them were women, but on occasion, he had found himself with men. It wasn’t such a big deal, was it? In a minute he’d find out if Ziffer was indeed open to a little personal persuasion.
“How did you like your meal, Will?”
“It was great. Thank you. I always like trying new things.”
He tried to put a little innuendo in his voice. After all, he knew how do this.
“You do? We still have a while until we have to be back at the negotiations. Would you like to have a seat over there, and we could discuss the matter I referred to earlier.”
Riker thought he could guess what Ziffer was going to say, but he was surprised to find that he had been wrong.
“Your captain. Picard. He seems prejudiced against my people. I must say I am very disappointed in him. The way that witch Hxox turned his head is quite disgraceful. If only he could be brought to see things a little from this continent’s perspective. And in fact, this entire world. You haven’t had time to see all we have to offer, but I must tell you the other party’s demands are quite unreasonable.”
“I can understand your disappointment. But captain Picard isn’t being prejudiced. He’s trying to see both points of view. As you might have noticed in the past week or so, he’s been working really hard to find a compromise that would suit both sides.”
Ziffer took in Riker’s words. Then he nodded.
“Perhaps you’re right. Still, my people depend on me. I must not let them down.”
This didn’t sound promising, and Riker realized he only had one choice. He wasn’t sure it was going to be enough, but he knew he had to try. If Ziffer could only be made to look a little more favorably on Picard’s compromise –
“I understand. If you could come to an agreement, that would give us time to go and visit your home province.”
Ziffer stared appreciatively at his guest.
“Yes. That would be very pleasant.”
“I have always loved the outdoors. There’s something reassuring about it. So many things change, but nature stays the same.”
“That is only too true. In your line of work you must have seen many different cultures, met a variety of people.”
“Yes. You could say that.”
“And what about that interaction? The meeting of different species. Does that hold any fascination for you?”
“Oh, yes. That’s one of the reasons I really like being stationed on a starship. Especially one like the Enterprise.”
Which was no more than the truth, except it didn’t mean what Ziffer thought it did, or rather, hoped it did.
“That is something that has always fascinated me as well.”
And now Ziffer moved closer. Riker took a deep breath and collected himself. This was it. If his acting skills were better than his negotiation talents, maybe he could still save the situation before it was beyond repair.
Feeling Ziffer’s hands on his skin, Riker forced himself to fake an enthusiasm he didn’t feel. The Suleians were predominantly humanoid, and quite similar to Terrans. What differences there were could be described as subtle. Somewhat more body hair, a faintly musky scent and some ridges that were nowhere near as prominent as in Cardassians or Klingons. Riker had to remind himself that this wasn’t a Cardassian. That would be far more difficult and not only that, physically tormenting as well. This was easy really. He knew he could do it.
Riker let Ziffer tilt his head back, and the first surprise occurred. Instead of the kiss he had expected, Ziffer began to sniff Riker’s face, neck and ears. It was an odd tickling sensation, but not unpleasant. But when a very thin, rough tongue began to flicker across his skin, Riker had to repress a shudder. He had a feeling that thin tongue might enter any body orifice in ways he would prefer not to find out. When Ziffer pulled back, Riker was afraid his discomfort had shown, and he prepared himself to renew his efforts.
“How do your people express affection? How do you initiate sexual contacts?”
“This is fine.”
“But how do you do it? Please show me.”
Great. Passivity was apparently not appreciated. Tentatively, he let his lips touch Ziffer’s and when he encountered no resistance, he allowed his own tongue to penetrate the eager cavity that had attached itself to his mouth. That proved popular, so he pushed on. Now he could feel Ziffer’s clawed hands remove his clothing, far more gently than he had expected. But that was only the beginning. There was more to come. A great deal more. And Will resigned himself to his fate, and submitted to Ziffer’s attentions. The life of a Starfleet officer was never dull.
By the time Ziffer finally let Riker go, they had taken a very long lunch break, and now Riker was beginning to worry that his absence had been noticed. But to his astonishment, the proceedings weren’t resumed until a good half hour after his return. At first he was concerned that perhaps his absence had been the cause of the delay. Fortunately, that didn’t appear to be the case.
Picard actually returned from some excursion in the company of Tarquilia Hxox ten minutes after Riker’s own return. Riker couldn’t imagine that his captain’s reason for staying away for so long could be anything like his own. Rather, he put it down to another museum or perhaps a field trip.
Whatever the reason, it seemed it had put ms Hxox in a more compromising mood. And, which was not entirely a surprise, Ziffer too, was more inclined to view Picard’s proposals in a more positive light. The proceedings could be brought to a satisfying conclusion, and a treaty was signed, no more than a week later.
All this contributed to put Picard in a very contented frame of mind. He, quite understandably, put the success down to his own diplomatic achievements. No one disillusioned him. The last thing Riker wanted was for anyone to guess what had turned the tide. All he wanted was to forget and move on.
When the negotiations were over and the last delegates were leaving, Ziffer renewed his offer of showing Riker the splendors of his home province. From Riker’s point of view, it was fortunate that the Enterprise was due at Starbase delta five within the week. They were under orders to depart at once. It seemed Ziffer understood, or at least had too much pride to protest.
After one last meeting, during which he was forced to promise he would visit again one day, Riker could at last return to his own quarters on the Enterprise. He tried hard to put the memories of Suleian Prime and Thimeran Ziffer far behind him. His work kept him busy, but when his shifts were over, he found that his thoughts came rushing back to his decision to tip the scales towards peace.
No matter how much had been at stake, he found that the incident weighed on his mind, and soured the exhilaration he might have felt at the successful close to the negotiations. It reminded him of something he had read at the Academy. History was one of the required courses. Even ancient history, briefly.
Julius Ceasar, the great ladies’ man and political leader, had once as a young man represented Rome on a diplomatic mission. The king of that foreign power had been attracted to the handsome young man. Despite his own preferences, Ceasar had sacrificed himself for Rome.
Just like Riker had hoped, Picard and in some measure Riker himself got their share of the glory. But that didn’t mean as much to him as he had hoped. What was even worse was that his relationship with Deanna suffered.
There was no way he could keep his changed state of mind from the Betazoid. His only recourse was to keep his distance. Even without her empathic abilities, he could tell how hurt and saddened she was by his new attitude towards her. She assumed he had regretted their earlier intimacy and was now going back to being devoted to his career primarily. His work had always come first in the past. There was no way he could explain to her that having met her that had been about to change.
So he lost Deanna. And that loss forced him back to his initial love affair with his job. Why shouldn’t he focus on work, when the only other thing that mattered in his life was lost to him? But he couldn’t bear to part with Deanna, and even when he was offered command of his own ship, he lingered on the Enterprise.
Helplessly, he was forced to watch how the attraction between Deanna and Worf, of all people, grew and eventually turned into a relationship. Worf was a good guy, and Riker got along well with him, but he couldn’t help feeling a little relieved when the Klingon was transferred to DS9. It didn’t change things between Riker and Deanna, but he wanted to delude himself into believing that maybe one day they would.
On the few occasions he had some time off, he would sit at the bar in Ten Forward, gloomily perusing his drink, sometimes chatting with Guinan. He didn’t confide his problem in her, though he suspected she would have understood, and most likely she would have had some useful advice for him. When your lifespan is counted in millennia, it was inevitable that you picked up a little wisdom over the years. But he was too deeply ashamed of himself. At times, he told himself that what he had done was no different from prostitution.
And then at last, after all the wasted years, he and Deanna had a bit of luck. After the insurrection on the Ba’ku planet, they found themselves back together again. Riker didn’t think he’d ever experienced anything quite as wonderful as that moment in the bathtub with Deanna. At first no words were needed. All he had to do was bask in the warmth of their love.
After a while, he became aware of a calculating stare resting on him. It was as if Deanna was trying to get inside his head and find the answer to – What was it she wanted to know? He had to remind himself that unlike her mother, Deanna was no telepath. She couldn’t see into his mind, no matter how much it looked that way. But she did deserve to know if she could count on him this time.
“Mm. Yes -”
“I have to ask. What went wrong the last time? I thought -”
“You were right. I was changing. My career didn’t mean as much to me as you did and I was beginning to see that.”
She stared at him as if she’d never seen him before. And he couldn’t blame her. A long time ago, he had told her that his work meant more to him than she did. How could he expect her to believe that this time, he had changed?
“Then why did you say what you did?”
She moved closer as if the physical contact between their foreheads could bridge the gap in communications. And suddenly, he almost wished she could read his mind. He would have opened up to her, giving her access to his innermost thoughts. As it was, words would have to do.
“Will, I get the distinct feeling you’re hiding something from me. Are you?”
“Not anymore. I was. That’s why I told you those things. I know how much it hurt you, but I thought the truth would hurt more.”
“That you were in love with another woman?”
“Another woman? Who would that have been? There’s only ever been you, Deanna.”
Now she was laughing at him, and he couldn’t blame her for that either. Will Riker was famous for his affairs. He went through more women than some ensigns went through uniforms, or so his fellow officers would say about him. It wasn’t a reputation he entirely resented.
But in another way, he was telling the truth. Those other women meant little to him besides a means of losing himself for a moment. Forgetting the past, drowning out the aching loss of the one woman that had meant everything to him. Making him forget Suleian Prime and Thimeran Ziffer at least temporarily. Or rather not the man himself so much as the humiliation of what he had become.
“I’ll try to take that as the truth, Will. The real truth. If that’s how you felt, why did you break off the relationship? I can understand if you panicked. Many men mature late. Did you want to – what is it you say on Earth – play the field?”
“No. But when I lost you, I did anyway.”
“Yes. I noticed. As you know, I moved on as well.”
“Yes. But there were others, more briefly. Some that you know of, and a few that you might not have heard about. So that’s ok, Will. The past is the past. But I need to know what it is you’re not telling me. This is me, Will, not one of those women.”
“I know. Deanna, I love you. I always did, ever since we first met. But – Something happened. And I couldn’t tell you about it, and you being who you are, I knew you’d be able to read me. The way I changed, withdrew from you.”
“I did. Are you going to tell me why this time?”
“I have to. Believe me, I know that. But that doesn’t make it any easier.”
“It doesn’t have to be so hard, Will. Whatever it is, I think I can safely say I’ll be alright with it. I’ve changed too, you know. We all grow older, and at least we women mature at the same time.”
He had to smile at that. In his eyes, Deanna had always been mature and far wiser than he’d ever be.
“There. I’ve made you smile. Come on and tell me everything now. I’ll tell you about how much it hurt when Worf married Jadzia. He didn’t even contact me to tell me about it in advance. We never formally broke up, and he just went off and married some other woman.”
That wasn’t what Riker wanted to hear, but he knew that whatever Deanna had to tell him, he’d listen and understand. There was no other option. They had to be willing to accept each others’ respective pasts.
“This is different. Remember Suleian Prime?”
She drew in breath and stared at him with something like shock in her eyes. Had she suspected all along?
“So that’s it. That’s when it started. I knew something had changed right away. And I couldn’t figure out why. You and Picard came back to the Enterprise, covered in glory. The Federation was pulled back from the brink of war, at least for the time being. But you weren’t happy about it. Go on. Tell me everything.”
“Picard seemed to find it easier to sympathise with one side. The other side’s representative took offense. On the other hand, he was quite partial to me.”
He broke off to let that thought sink in. Besides, he needed the time to brace himself for the final revelation. She would lose all respect she had for him. Would their love really be enough? He didn’t know how he would have reacted if he’d learned that she had virtually prostituted herself. Most likely, he would have accepted that. There was something about Deanna that made him accept anything she did without question. But this was different. Or was it?
When she didn’t say anything, but also didn’t pull back from him, he continued.
“Ziffer. That was his name. He made it clear from the start how attracted to me he was. I couldn’t go anywhere without him following. And when the negotiations were about to break down for good, I thought I had the solution to the problem. In a way I did. After – Well, as you know, it wasn’t long before Picard’s compromise was accepted, and both parties signed the treaty.”
“You did that? For the sake of galactic peace?”
He couldn’t read her tone. This was one time her face was closed to him, and her mood unknown.
“Yes. And I know I – what I did – Deanna, we were in a relationship and I had sex with another person. I betrayed you. Can you ever forgive me?”
“Hold on. You agreed to have intimate relations with this man? Or did you start a relationship with him?”
“You know what I did.”
“Then I must say that though I wouldn’t have appreciated the distinction back then, I don’t think you betrayed me. What you did was different. Will, you should have told me. Wait. I know. You don’t need to tell me how I would have reacted. But eventually, we would have been able to work it out. For all these years, you let me believe I wasn’t good enough for you. That you wanted more than I could give you. And now you’re telling me you just ran and hid, with your tail between your legs. I guess this changes things a bit.”
That was what he was afraid of. To have come so far, only to lose her now. And he had brought it on himself.
“No, Will. You misunderstand me.”
She had sensed his misery and realized that he had no way of reading her mood in a similar way.
He looked into her eyes again, and what he saw put his mind at rest.
“Don’t you ever do this to me again. I mean it. This is the sort of thing a woman might forgive once, but never again. Do you understand?”
“Yes. But you forgive me?”
“I think you’ve been punishing yourself enough all this time. And I’ve missed you so much. Do I have your word that you’ll never lie to me again, Will?”
“Yes, you have my word. I guess men mature a little too, over the years.”
“Good. Now you’ll have to give me a token of your good will, Will.”
She giggled a little at her pun.
“Alright. What do you want me to do?”
“That beard. I’ve never liked it, so it will have to go. Any objections?”
“No, ma’am. Whatever you say. Your will is my command.”
“You’re my Will and you will do my command. What are you waiting for?”
They had the shaving gear at arm’s length and all he had to do was reach out his hand and take it. She helped him. In a way the act made him feel he was shedding an old skin. Today, they both started a new life. And this time, he’d never let her down.