Come What May

written by Irene Deitel


Counselor Deanna Troi slipped quietly out of bed, taking care not to wake her companion. Sleep did not come easily to him or to anyone else, for that matter these days, and she didn't want to disturb what little rest he did manage to find. She watched him for several minutes, his face illuminated by the stars that streaked past the window. Actually, it was the Enterprise that was doing the streaking, but Troi didn't stop to ponder the distinction.

Even in sleep, he wasn't completely relaxed. The sheet was tangled up in his long legs, the result of his restless slumber, and the worry lines that creased the middle of his forehead seemed to be permanently etched there. The dark smudges under his eyes, testament to a chronic lack of healthy sleep, were blacker than his beard, which had turned mostly gray in the last few months. The angles of his face were sharper now, clear evidence that he'd lost weight.

They all had.

Extra duty shifts, hurried meals on the go or skipped altogether, and constant worry had left its mark on the entire crew. Her own uniform, which had once fit like a second skin, now had plenty of room to move in. However, Troi knew that this was a method of dieting that Dr. Crusher would never recommend. The unrelenting stress and tension was taking its toll on everyone, and it seemed that her office was never empty anymore. If their situation did not change, then pretty soon there would be a waiting line outside her door and she'd be telling people to take a number.

A sudden wave of love and sympathy for the man lying there, mixed with sorrow for what they all were enduring, threatened to overwhelm her fragile composure. Troi quickly donned her robe and moved silently into the living room. She ordered a cup of hot chocolate from the replicator and sat down on the sofa, legs curled under her body, to await the start of a new day.

Her hot chocolate was almost gone, and the chronometer showed her that there was an hour left before the day had to begin, when she heard his quiet footfalls.

Troi looked up as he came in, seeing the exhaustion and pain that had taken up permanent residence deep in his blue eyes. His pajama shorts rode low on his hips, further testimony to the pounds he'd dropped.

"Are you okay?" Riker asked softly, as he came over and settled himself next to her on the sofa.

"Yes," she lied, moving closer into the circle of his arms and laying her head on his bare chest. The steady beating of his heart was very comforting and made her feel safe and secure. "No," she amended truthfully. "I couldn't sleep, so I've been sitting here, just thinking."

"About what?" Riker knew it was a foolish question. He knew what she was thinking about, because it had been on his mind all day and most of the night. But he wanted her to say it because she had been avoiding the subject ever since they'd gotten the word from DS 9. If they didn't get it out in the open, it would grow and fester and ultimately destroy the relationship they had spent the last year developing.

Since the war with the Dominion started, they had seen many friends and colleagues die. The impermanence of life had been driven home too forcefully. Alliances had shifted faster than the Founders themselves. Allies were now enemies, and enemies were now supposed to be friends. It was hard to know who to trust anymore, and those you did trust were few and far between. Troi and Riker had been friends for many years, and the need for trust and support had caused them to gravitate to one another for comfort and companionship.

The emotional bond they shared had strengthened, and out of this intense friendship, romantic love had blossomed once again as they rediscovered themselves and each other. Riker knew that this time it would be forever. However, since forever was looking shorter and less of a sure thing these days, Troi had turned down his marriage proposal, telling him that for right now, the future was too uncertain to be making such long term plans. Little by little, though, more and more of her things had found their way into his quarters, and they were now, for all intents and purposes, living together. Although it bothered him more than a little that their relationship wasn't official, for a fleeting moment he wondered when had he become so old-fashioned he had managed to put his doubts aside.

Until yesterday, when they'd gotten the bad news.

Riker waited for Troi to respond, prompting her again. "Tell me," he coaxed gently, as his hand stroked her back lightly. His cheek was buried in her hair, and he inhaled the clean, flowered scent of her shampoo.

When she still didn't respond, he spoke the word aloud.

"Worf?" Riker asked, his calm tone belying the uneasiness he felt. Troi had told him a long time ago that it was over between her and Worf, and he believed her. But she had never explained why it had ended, and although he'd never had cause to doubt Deanna's love for him, he couldn't help but be a little afraid that Deanna might suddenly realize that she had made a mistake and still had feelings for Worf.

"Yes," she replied. "I was so happy when he and Jadzia got married. I was glad he'd finally found someone to share his life with. And now she's dead, and he's alone once more."

Riker could hear the tears in her voice, and he felt their wetness on his chest. He held her as she cried quietly, thinking about how he'd feel if Deanna died. He couldn't picture his life without her, and he could only imagine the kind of pain Worf was feeling right now. He regretted not being able to be with his friend to help him through this terrible tragedy, but he knew that even if he were there, Worf was not likely to welcome any help. Klingons grieved alone.

Riker felt icy tendrils of fear wrap around his heart as he contemplated the possibility that he was about to lose Deanna after all. He had never considered himself a coward, but he felt like one now. He was afraid to ask, but more afraid not to know the truth.

"Do you still love him?" he queried in a whisper as taut as the strings on Data's violin.

"Yes, I love him," Troi replied without hesitation, although she did sound slightly puzzled, as if thinking, "what kind of stupid question is that?"

Riker felt his world disintegrating around him, and he struggled to maintain his composure. He didn't want to lose her. But he was smart enough to realize that if she still loved Worf, he'd already lost her. He recalled the words to a song Data had played for him last week. An old Earth tune from the late 20th century. The singer was John something or other. Chicago? John Seattle? He couldn't remember the name, but his lyrics were true enough. "I loved her, yes I loved her, just enough to let her go." He would let Deanna go if he had to, because he didn't want to lose her friendship as well. So he said the only thing he could think of at the moment.

"Then I won't stand in your way."

"What?" Troi sat up, looking at him as if he'd just announced he was resigning his commission to play his trombone full time in a band.

"I said,..." Riker began, but she interrupted him.

"I heard what you said, Will, but I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Since you still love Worf," he explained, "I guess you'll want to be with him now."

"Be with..." Troi repeated. Then, as realization dawned, she giggled. The giggle turned into laughter. Riker stared at her, slightly discomfited by her display of mirth. He didn't consider this a laughing matter. His whole life had just been shot to hell, and she thought it was funny. The tears, this time from laughter, were once again rolling down her cheeks, and her laugh was bordering on hysteria now, a release of long held tension that was totally out of proportion to the humor of the situation. After a few minutes, and with a great deal of difficulty, Troi was able to regain control of herself. She took one of his hands in both of hers and kissed it.

"William Riker, you're such an idiot," she scolded him, albeit so lovingly that it ended up being almost an endearment. He was about to protest this negative assessment of his character, but she raised a hand to forestall his vocalizations.

"I'll always love Worf, as a dear and trusted friend. But that's all. I don't care for him in the way you mean. I'm not in love with him. I'm in love with you. You're the only person I want to be with." One hand reached up and pulled his head down to meet her lips, as the other hand slipped inside his shorts. "Take off your shorts and I'll show you how much I want to be with you," she whispered in his ear before kissing him again.

Riker was already beyond speech and he complied wordlessly, lifting his hips slightly and yanking the blue flannel down his legs and off in one swift motion, then quickly helped her remove her robe and nightgown. With his hands and lips arousing her body to a fevered pitch, he took her right there on the couch. Their lovemaking had a sense of urgency, almost desperation, to it, as if to say to the universe, "we're still alive and we still can feel, despite what you're trying to do to us."

When they were done, Riker pulled her onto his lap and covered them both with a quilt that lay over the back of the couch.

"All right," he conceded with self-deprecating humor, "I'm an idiot."

"No, you're not," Troi countered, cupping his face and kissing him gently. "You're a sweet, gentle, loving man, and the thought of living the rest of my life without you is too horrible to even contemplate. So," she paused, snuggling closer and molding herself to him, "I've made a decision. You made me an offer several months ago, and I turned you down. If the offer is still open, I'd like to change my mind." She gazed into eyes that still held lingering traces of passion, but were mostly clouded with confusion. They cleared as the impact of her words registered. His eyes sparkled with love, happiness, and unshed tears as he asked her again.

"Will you marry me, Deanna?" he whispered, as if saying it too loud would break the spell.

"Yes, Imzadi, I will," she replied, just before his lips claimed hers with a passion that swiftly aroused them both. Riker carried her into the bedroom, where they sealed their agreement with a tenderness and gentleness that had been missing for too long.

"If you don't mind my asking, what changed your mind?" Riker queried later, as his heart rate and breathing returned to a more normal range. They were laying under the covers, spoon fashion, Troi resting in the curve of Riker's body. His breath was warm against her neck, and his arm was across her waist. She pulled it tighter around her as she framed her answer.

"Worf did. He made me realize that I was being a coward."

"Deanna, you're one of the bravest women I've ever known," Riker protested. "You've faced the Romulans, the Borg..."

Troi broke into his recitation. "Maybe as a Starfleet officer I am, but as a woman, I'm a total coward. No, wait, what's that word Data discovered in the archives the other day? Oh, yeah, a weenie. In my own twisted little mind, I figured that if I didn't marry you, then if something happened to you, it wouldn't be as painful. Or as real." Troi turned around so that she was facing him, and his arms embraced her.

"We're living in very turbulent times, Will. The future is not very bright right now. Who knows if we'll be alive next year? Or even next week? But, I realize now that whether we're married or not, losing you would devastate me. Worf was willing to gamble that there is going to be a future for us. Despite all the death and destruction around us these days, he was working on building a life and a future for himself. He was willing to take the chance. How can I do any less? I don't know if there will be a tomorrow for us the Jem'Hadar could blow us to bits today but if there is, I want to spend it with you. I don't want to waste any more time because it's the one thing we may not have a lot of. Nothing in life is certain, and we have to grab what happiness we can. And if our time together ends up being shorter than we would have liked, at least we'll have spent it with each other, building our own future. And if we do prevail, then we will already have laid our foundation, and I won't look back and regret the time I wasted."

Riker smiled, and as it reached into his eyes, Troi was struck by the sad realization that it had been ages since she had seen his smile do that.

"It's called hope, Deanna," he told her, the tenderness in his voice reflected in the softening of his features, as he gazed at the love of his life, "and even if it's the only thing we have, it's enough."