TITLE: Staking A Claim (1/1)
AUTHOR: Leyenn
E-MAIL: Leyenn@aol.com
RATING: G - I think.
PAIRING: Riker/Troi
CATEGORY: Post-ep for 'Conundrum'
SPOILERS: 'Conundrum', 'Imzadi'.
SUMMARY: It's the day after the end of 'Conundrum', and Deanna's finding out that really letting go isn't as easy as she imagined.
DISCLAIMER: I think it takes about four weeks of writing fic to be utterly out of these, and I've been doing it for about five years now. None of it is mine, no infringement is intended, so can I please go play now? Thank you.
ARCHIVE: As always, put my name on it and it's yours.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: I took some inspiration from the song 'Feel It' by The Tamperer feat. Maya. I've included some lyrics just for your enjoyment.

'Feel It' - The Tamperer feat. Maya

You got it on the side
A little one night thing
I've thought it over and this time I will forgive you
Well I'm not letting go
But don't forget I know
You made your bed and she was in it, no no no

Well I'm not blaming you
But she's still hanging round
And she's so crazy tell you now I just don't trust her
She thinks she's right on time
But I think she crossed the line
And I'm ready for the ride I'm ready if it's fighting time...

Staking A Claim
By Leyenn@aol.com

    Deanna Troi sat on her office couch, pretending to herself that she was actually paying attention to the personnel reviews in her hand. It was a mundane task that needed re-doing as soon as it was done, and the one thing above all others that bored Deanna to tears. Right now, however, she was paying very little attention to the PADD she held: much as she tried to convince herself of her enthusiasm, there were limits to her acting ability. The truth was, her attention was floating elsewhere - the Enterprise bridge, for example, where she knew Will Riker was on command duty.

    And Ro Laren was on helm watch.

    Shaking her head, she looked down at the review and tried again to study it. It was ludicrous: she could no more dictate Will's relationship with Ro than she could any other on the ship. She and Will were good friends, two people who shared memories of a time long past. There was nothing more to it... and yet it was just understood among the crew that Riker was untouchable for anything more than playful flirting. He wasn't the type to settle down into a steady relationship, that was true, but it was more than that. It was simply known on this ship that no one, especially bridge crew, made moves on Will Riker in Deanna's presence. Or out of it, if there was a chance she would get wind of the incident. And they certainly didn't talk to her about it, as Ro Laren had done the day before. There might not be a steady relationship between Troi and Riker, but there was... something... that was not to be disturbed. They were occasional lovers, she had to admit that - generally when shore leave spirits got the best of them - and there were times when their exchanges were decidedly unplatonic, but still... nothing had ever been said, officially. Wary of past experiences, they shied away from the commitment of a declared relationship.

    But that was no excuse for Ro's intrusion. Admittedly she was new to the ship, she probably hadn't grasped things quite yet - and yes, it had occurred under duress when neither had known who they were or who they might be - involved with. But still...

    Gods, Deanna, stop it! she shouted at herself. It wasn't as if she had a claim on Will, was it? Yes, they had stayed Imzadi, but what did that mean? That they loved each other above everything else? If that was true, then why were they not together permanently? And if that answer wasn't the correct one, then what right did she have to judge his actions?

    She sighed and dropped the PADD, looking around the desk for another. Ensign Ro Laren's file stuck out from the crowd: Troi picked it up and scanned it. She knew she shouldn't; she couldn't do the report in this state, angry and bitter as she was toward the young ensign. And what had she done to deserve it? Taken a completely understandable - especially from Troi's point of view - course of action based on what she had known at the time. And Will... Will hadn't known any different. Perhaps -

    Perhaps, she'd feel better if he hadn't made a pass at her as well. She didn't honestly believe that Will was capable of cheating on her, despite her past experiences. He never intentionally hurt her: he just seemed to have a knack for it. But with his identity gone, with only his basic personality left behind, he had chosen not to choose between them.

    That hurt.

    With a deep sigh, she tossed the PADD back onto the pile. She had no appointments this afternoon, held up as she was with the personnel reviews. Will was supposed to go over them with her, but she wasn't sure she was interested in seeing him right now. She knew that if it had been a simple case of he and Ro, she could have gotten over it... all right, not quickly, she admitted to herself. But that he had carried on with Ro after finding out what she, Deanna, meant to him - that was one fact that she couldn't come to terms with immediately. Maybe not at all.

    Just as she was about to tidy the reviews away, there was a chime at the door. She sighed, set the pile back on the table, and turned deliberately away. She knew who stood beyond the door, and why he was here.

    "Come in," she said reluctantly.

    Riker stepped inside the room, sensing immediately that something was wrong. "Hi," he said tentatively. "Are you all right?"

    "Fine." He knew as soon as they were into one-word answers that he was in trouble.

    "Obviously you're not." He sat down on the couch as she continued to tidy the sparse shelves around the room. "It's Ro, isn't it?"

    "You and," she corrected. "Yes."

    He sighed and ran his hand through his hair, stroking his beard with a long sigh. "I guessed as much. Deanna-"

    "I don't want to hear it." She turned around, her face perfectly composed. "I'm fine. I'll get over it. It's not as if we have anything I should be jealous about."

    He coughed slightly at the word. "Jealous?"

    She shrugged, pushing the word away. Eventually, unable to look at him, she lifted her head and regarded the wall in front of her.

    "Yes, all right, I am jealous. Did you expect I wouldn't be? When no one else on the ship will touch you because of me, no one approaches me for fear of your reaction, and she just waltzes in and takes what she wants without a second thought? Did you think I'd be okay with that?"

    "I hadn't thought," he said honestly.

    "You don't," she returned callously. She regretted the words even as they emerged from her lips, turning instantly to offer an apology. "Will, I-"

    "Deanna." He looked vaguely sympathetic, but the hurt showed. "I know I'm not as sensitive as you want me to be. And you don't need to tell me that our relationship is complicated - I know that much already. But there's no reason to-"

    "Will," she tried to interrupt again, seating herself beside him, asking for a chance to say sorry. "Will, please. I didn't mean it that way."

    "There's no reason," he said more forcefully, taking her hand in his, "to be jealous of Ro." He returned her smile of relief with a small grin of his own. "What happened with her isn't something I plan on continuing."

    "And does she realise this? She seemed quite content with the situation." Her voice was harsh, wanting him to hear the pain in her mind.

    "Deanna." He regarded her seriously. "I know there's nothing between us right now - nothing permanent anyway - but that doesn't mean I'm ready to get serious with someone else."

    "Even Ro?"

    He frowned. "That's uncalled for. There's nothing about Ro Laren that makes her any different than any other member of this crew."

    "Except that she slept with you," Troi snapped back.

    His defences went up: she felt it as he raised his eyebrows, smirking slightly. "That isn't an entirely unique trait, Counselor," he said caustically.

    His comment, for some reason, made her more angry than anything else he could have said then. "The way things were going, you didn't seem to have a problem with that," she replied in an icy tone.

    Riker fought to hide his pain at the implication, covering the hurt with a mask of nonchalance. "Fine. Obviously we can't talk about this. Why don't you call me when you're ready to do some work - or maybe talk rationally for a change." The doors closed behind him before she could speak again.

    Deanna Troi sank into her chair, angry and upset - with both herself and Will. She had intended for them to talk this through, to work past the problem, not to compound it. She sighed heavily. What had happened just now? Had she been so bitter, so jealous of Ro's encroachment that she would actually push Will away from her... and likely into the other woman's arms?

    The other woman... she hadn't realised until now just how seriously she had taken this incident. She had never, never, in all the years, thought of any of Will's other relationships as the Other Woman. Even Wendy Roper, who had ended their first tempestuous love affair, she had never viewed with so much animosity. She had been civil, courteous, even friendly to some of them; and when Will had begun to turn back to her, when their own relationship had begun to hover in its complicated position, she had turned a blind eye to those few indiscretions. They covered the truth of his relations with her: that they would be, if either of them ever got past their self-imposed barriers, a permanent couple. She allowed him those few instances, and he had always come to her for advice beforehand, subtly asking her permission. This time had been different. Granted he hadn't known, but when he had discovered that they were very likely together it hadn't stopped him going after Ro. More importantly, though, it hadn't stopped her taking advantage of the situation.

    That was it. She had taken advantage of him, and indirectly of Troi.

    That was a mistake which could not be allowed to pass unnoticed.

* * * * *

    She didn't speak to Riker when she reached the bridge for her duty shift, even though he was in the command chair as she sat tersely down in her own seat. Ro was again at the conn: Deanna made a conscious move to avoid looking at her. It angered Troi even further that Ro was perfectly comfortable: in fact, she could sense a definite touch of amusement and satisfaction from the Bajoran. She was sure that if they were standing face to face there would be an unmistakable smirk on her face. Troi was glad there were no other telepaths on duty as the thought produced a flash of fury and she wondered, just for a moment - a long moment - how it would feel to break that damned ridged nose of hers. The feeling abated slightly, for Deanna wasn't a violent person, but the jealousy she felt now made her desperate to break something - preferably a part of Ro Laren's anatomy.

    "Commander." Worf's deep bass interrupted her thoughts. "Communique coming in from starbase."

    "On screen." Riker stood and stepped forward.

    Away from Deanna.

    Closer to Ro.

    Anger coursed as Troi felt the ensign's - an ensign, for the sake of the Gods! - uninhibited reaction to Riker's closeness. Troi forced herself to hold her emotions in check as the viewscreen blinked on. She could not be seen to lose her temper over a personal incident on the Enterprise bridge in front of another commanding officer. And certainly not in front of Will - that would accomplish nothing but to make her look foolish. Deanna Troi, daughter of the Fifth House of Betazed and heir to both the Sacred Chalice of Riix and the Holy Rings of Betazed, was *far* subtler than that.

    As she listened to the commander of the starbase on the viewscreen, a plan began to form in her mind.

* * * * *

    Studying her reflection in the full-length mirror in her closet, Troi nodded in satisfaction. The commander of the starbase, one Captain Harrigan, was a middle-aged man, Human, but from a somewhat blue-blooded line and used any occasion to throw an extravagant gathering. He had been excited to say the least that not only would the crew of the flagship be attending his reception, but that one Daughter of the Fifth House of the Betazoid aristocracy was among them.

    Troi had to admit, she did like attending such innocuous gatherings. Filled with jovial emotions and harmless, peaceful exchanges, they provided a respite from the harrowing existence as an empath among so many minds - and they did give her the chance to dress up a little. She regarded herself with a scrutiny she hadn't used since that time at the Falls, with Will... the day he had left for the Potemkin. It had been two years then, before they'd seen each other again... she was not going to let anything else separate them. She knew her feelings for Will were complicated, but she also knew that at least one of those feelings was an undivided love for him. This was the last time she allowed any other woman into her territory. She smiled lightly, remembering an old Earth saying: 'if I can't have him, neither can anyone else.'

    But she could have him, that was what was so idiotic about the whole situation. She knew she could have him, if she tried, if she made it clear to him, if she fought hard enough and long enough. They had never fought for their relationship, since that day at the Falls: even reunion had done nothing to rekindle what they could have had. It had taken Ro Laren, a precocious and foolhardy ensign, to make her realise that what she wanted more than anything in the world was ever-so-slowly slipping out of her grasp.

    Troi was not going to let that happen.

    She toyed with her hairstyle, wondering if it was the best choice, and just as quickly pushed away the notion. She looked perfect - or as perfect as she could get with four hours work. Her dress was white and a flowing silver, in a ballgown style, with a fitted white bodice decorated with tiny diamonds. It was a halterneck that plunged down to the small of her back, cut to show a clear amount of cleavage, and around her neck she wore a silver torc with a simple diamond pendant that fell to just above her breasts. Her earlobes sparkled with matching earrings, and her eyelids were a smoky grey, accenting her dark, Betazoid eyes. Her lips were a dark wine, her skin shining with subtle powder. Her dress was white satin down to a subtle V-shape over her abdomen, where the silver velvet skirt flared outward a little, slit up to her hip on one side. She wore silver heels that boosted her a few inches in height; high enough to take advantage of the proximity to Will, anyway. She wore a white gold bracelet on one wrist, a thin bangle to match the single white gold ring on the middle finger of her left hand. She had considered doing something complex with her hair, but had opted instead for a simple style: it was loose, an ebony black that cascaded down her back and over her shoulders, sparkling with tiny diamond clasps that pulled it back from her face.

    Nodding in satisfaction, she glanced sideways and lifted the final adornment from her dresser. For once, being a daughter of the Fifth House was a help, not a hindrance, she thought with a smile as she placed the silver circlet around her head and settled it into place.

    The battleground had been prepared, the armour donned: it was time for the fighters to enter the arena.

    Straightening her dress, Troi turned and headed for the transporter room.

* * * * *

    She materialised on the main platform, only a few hundred yards from the conference room which had been turned into a ballroom for the occasion. Most of the Enterprise crew would be attending, as well as many of the starbase command staff. However, as Deanna Troi stalked down the corridor, for all intents and purposes there would be only three attendees tonight.

    The doors were open as she turned the corner, able to see the impressively arranged ballroom in front of her. The entire room was decorated in the style of an old Elizabethan Earth banquet, complete with plush chairs and ornate tables around the perimeter. In the center hung three gigantic crystal chandeliers, each of which could easily have lit the entire star system. The party was in full swing, music playing, the dance floor packed with attendees, the room filled with people and noise, both mental and audible. She blocked out the mental 'static', concentrating all of her senses on one mind -

    - she spun around, instantly aware of exactly where he was. Whether it was the bond they still shared or simply the intensity of her feelings tonight, she didn't know, but she heard and felt his mind as clearly as if it were her own. He was standing a little to the right of the doors, melding seamlessly into a group of senior officers from the starbase. Geordi LaForge stood near him in the same group, each smart and handsome in their dress uniforms. Troi was glad that female crew members were not required to wear dress uniform to such occasions. It would definitely not match what she had in mind.

    Having found her quarry, all she had to do now was to await the right moment. Now wasn't it: if she approached them now she would be enveloped into a clique she had no interest in joining. She needed to catch him alone first, to press her advantage before she exploited it to the full. Satisfied that she had a secure grasp of her prey's whereabouts, she nodded slightly to herself and looked about to find the bar. It was a little way across the room, so she briefly abandoned Riker and approached a young barman, enjoying his reaction as she leaned delicately on the bar.

    "C-can I help you, uh...?" He was obviously new at this, she noted with an inward smile. She'd go easy on him - save the effort for later on.

    "Miss Troi," she informed him with a genial smile. Tonight, she would play the part that suited her motives. "And yes. I'll have a samarian sunset, and my partner will have a Betazoid brandy."

    "Y-your partner, Miss Troi?" He looked about, confused. "You don't seem to have one."

    She smiled and flicked her hair back nonchalantly. "I will."

    The barman, extremely flustered by not only her appearance but the tone in her voice, nodded eagerly. "Uh, yes, Miss Troi. One samarian sunset and one Betazoid brandy coming up."

    Troi flashed him another smile, and he ran off to the other end of the bar.

    She sighed and shrugged, turning to explore the room with her gaze. As her eyes met the corner where Riker stood, they narrowed perceptibly.


    "Hello, Commander." Ro's voice was husky silk. "Fancy seeing you here."

    Riker greeted her with a broad grin. "Well, Ensign. Good to see you made it."

    She returned the grin with a hint of amusement. "I couldn't let you suffer all on your own. Besides, I kind of like these social occasions."

    He regarded her: in a long, fitted red dress slit provocatively to mid-thigh, her hair up in a complex style, she looked enticingly... enticing. "So do I."

    Ro's smile was pleased as she settled her hand comfortably on his arm. "A lot of choice for someone as handsome as you."

    Riker grinned knowingly. "Or someone as dazzling as you," he returned.

    She grinned enticingly. "Well now, that deserves a dance, Commander."

    Riker smiled and set his drink down on the nearest table. "Lead the way."


    Troi's expression deepened to a frown as the Bajoran ensign led her target onto the dance floor to a fast waltz. She considered her options; should she go for the classic approach and simply cut in, or should she be more subtle...

    Before she could decide, however, a voice behind her did it for her. "Counselor Troi!"

    She sighed inwardly, showing no sign of it as she smiled, albeit slightly falsely, and turned to face her commanding officer and his companions.


    Picard, seeing her fully for the first time, seemed momentarily speechless. Her smile widened as she felt the wave of amazement from her captain, the surprised approval from Beverly Crusher at his side. She smiled as Crusher nudged her date subtly in the ribs; he blinked and coughed politely.

    "You look especially attractive tonight, Counselor. Here with Commander Riker, I presume."

    Troi's eyes sparkled. "Not that he knows, sir."

    Picard looked slightly confused: Crusher chuckled lightly under her breath. Struggling back onto safe ground, Picard gestured to a tall, blond Human holding a thin-stemmed wine glass. "Counselor, this is Captain John Harrigan, our host. Captain; Counselor Deanna Troi, of the-"

    "The Fifth House of Betazed." Harrigan flashed her a pleased and not unattractive smile. "A great pleasure, shil'haya."

    Troi smiled, looking politely surprised. "I didn't know Betazoid was such a well-known language among Humans." Harrigan seemed pleased to have surprised her, although she was sure that he realised she'd been expecting his preparation. A lifetime of aristocratic functions had left her with an impeccable sense of propriety where these things were concerned - not to mention an intimate knowledge of the complicated rituals involved.

    "I've visited your homeworld," Harrigan explained. "Too long ago, sadly. A beautiful planet, with beautiful people." He smiled warmly at her, and the sentiment appeared to be sincere. Troi smiled back and tipped her head slightly in appreciation.

    "Thank you, Captain." Sensing that the exchange was floating away from their companions, she glanced back at Picard and Crusher. "Shil'haya is the traditional title of a Daughter of the Fifth House," she explained. "Although, generally 'Daughter' will do." She enjoyed Picard's surprise at that offhand comment. He was very rarely faced with the aristocratic side of her; even during her mother's visits, she was never called on to perform any of the duties of her position. Oh, she had acted in a diplomatic function any number of times, but the only person who had ever really seen her as a Daughter of the Fifth House was Will.

    Which meant he was the only one who would understand the full meaning of her appearance tonight.

    She hadn't thought of it that way.

    She smiled slightly to herself.


    "May I 'cut in', Commander?"

    Riker looked over his shoulder in surprise, not expecting the voice, and nodded with a nonchalant grin. "Sure, Data. Want to practice your dancing skills on some unsuspecting ensign?" He tossed Ro a sparkling glance and grinned.

    The android nodded as he expertly took Ro from his commander. "Indeed, Commander. Since Chief O'Brien's wedding, I have studied in detail the intricacies of Human dance forms. Now would be an ideal time to test my knowledge."

    Riker shrugged. "Sure. I needed to get another drink anyway."

    "Commander," Ro protested.

    Riker grinned. "Have fun."

    Data cocked his head slightly. "Thank you, Commander, but I am incapable of 'having fun'."

    Riker chuckled as the android swung the reluctant ensign away. "Whatever, Data." With a knowing shake of his head, he headed toward the bar -

    - and stopped in mid-turn, his eyes and mind picking her immediately out of the crowd. Not that it was hard to do, the way she looked at that moment. She was talking to their host, making some idle comment, but her gaze slid sideways with a knowing smile as she seemed to notice his scrutiny. He actually felt his heart miss a beat as the emotions rushed through him; it felt like one of those old movies where everything went silent as he caught sight of her, and the only person he could see or hear or even remember at that moment was her.


    She felt the instant he noticed her, felt the sudden jolt of surprise and passion that raced through his mind, heard the breath he held and the involuntary silence as he momentarily forgot how to speak.

    He couldn't take his eyes off her. God, how did she manage to look so stunningly beautiful and look as if she hadn't even tried? And the circlet... she never wore that. Ever. He'd only ever seen it once, on a ceremonial occasion on Betazed, years ago. He hadn't even known she still had it, except that Lwaxana would never let her get rid of the thing. Lwaxana would burst with pride if she saw her now, he thought dazedly. Oh my God, Deanna, you look amazing.

    In his disarrayed state of mind, he hadn't even considered that she might hear him until he saw her looking straight at him and heard the 'Thank you' in his head.

    Idiot, he admonished himself. You should have known she'd hear you.

    The image of Troi's smile touched his mind. ~Weren't you going to tell me how I look, Will?~

    He cursed himself again, trying to redeem the slip. Of course I was. I just wanted to do it face-to-face.

    Deanna smiled in satisfaction; he'd provided her with the perfect opportunity. ~Well, you're on the floor, Commander.~ She smiled openly at him from across the room and set her drink down, walking toward him. ~It would be only fair for you to do me the honor of a dance.~

    His protest, she sensed, had more to do with her effect on him than any real reluctance. ~Actually, I was going to get another drink.~

    She smiled, subtly licking her lips, and flicked her gaze to an empty table. ~Well, then, isn't it lucky that I have one waiting for you?~

    He watched her as she purposefully turned her back on him and crossed to the table; captivated by the way she moved, it took him a few moments to concentrate enough to follow. She stood beside the table, holding a small, intricately carved glass in one hand and offering the other to him as he joined her.

    "Commander." Her greeting was gentle, polite and had so many subtones that Freud himself would have gotten lost in it.

    "Shil'haya." He looked down slightly and bowed as he took her hand, turned it over and kissed the inside of her wrist in the traditional greeting. Despite her frame of mind, Troi couldn't help the gentle blush that crept into her cheeks.

    "You remember."

    His smile met hers. "Of course. Your mother was very insistent that I learn the proper way to address you."

    Her eyes sparkled. "And it finally came in useful after all."

    He chuckled. "It came in useful back then, if I remember. She wouldn't let me near you until I knew my place."

    Troi couldn't help laughing. "You never knew your place. That's what I always loved about you. If you had, you would never have bothered me in the first place."

    He raised his eyebrows, slightly affronted even though her words were amused and not meant to insult. "Is that what I did? Bother you?"

    She smiled coyly. "In the beginning, yes. But not for long." Her eyes glittered in private understanding as she licked her lips seductively and took a step closer to him. "Not in that way, anyway..."

    Riker, to her pure delight, went a shade of red almost as deep as his uniform. "Yes, well..." He coughed politely and stepped back, saved from her attentions by his own chivalry as he pulled out a chair. "Why don't we sit down?"

    Troi smiled and tipped her head in agreement, making sure her body brushed his as she moved around him and sat down. Riker, looking slightly flustered, took the chair directly opposite. Perfect. She pushed the Betazoid brandy across the table and took a delicate sip of her own drink.

    "So," he said uncomfortably. "Where's your date?"

    Troi raised innocent eyebrows. "Date? I don't have one."

    He couldn't help the look of surprise that crossed his face, followed quickly by an expression of wary comprehension. "You don't?"

    "No." She took another sip of her drink. "Are you offering?"

    "Uh..." He dared to look at her for a moment, then looked down and stiffly swirled his drink. "I just figured you'd be with someone, dressed like that," he murmured uncomfortably.

    Troi smiled at his confused and very discomfited expression. As adorable as he looked when she managed to out-do him in the flirting stakes, he deserved to be put out of his misery. He'd done very well so far, all things considered. With a soft laugh, she reached across and put her hand lightly on his.

    "Will, how many other people here know what this means? You're the only one who knew me as a Daughter of the Fifth House and not a Starfleet officer. No one else has any idea."

    He looked up at her, and the look in his eyes made her suddenly less certain of her control. "Do you really think that matters, Deanna?" he said softly. She frowned slightly. He turned his hand and grasped hers gently, letting her understand what he meant. "You look amazing, Dea."

    She blushed and looked away, momentarily embarrassed at the honesty in his eyes. Why? she screamed at herself. Wasn't this what she had set out for? Wasn't this what she had wanted in the beginning, for Will to notice her again? To stake her claim where no one else should touch? Why, then, was she suddenly so nervous again? It was almost the same as all those years ago, when they had first gotten back together - wanting to forget their time apart and yet uncomfortable because she could not.

    "Do you want to dance?" His slightly uncertain voice intruded on her thoughts, and she realised that he felt the same way. Both wanting to forgive and forget, neither one sure how to go about it.

    She smiled up at him. "Why not?"

    She let him lead her to the floor, a surprised smile touching her lips again when he rested his hand on her wrist: a traditional Betazoid gesture and one - she was sure by the subtly pleased look in his eyes - that he remembered from the marriage ceremony.

    The music playing was a slow waltz, and it suited the mood perfectly. She gave him no chance to escape her grasp, sliding her arms around his neck and drawing her body up close to his. Riker, for his part, didn't seem completely uncomfortable with the notion, wrapping his arms easily around her waist.

    "Never one for subtlety, were you, Deanna?"

    She smiled knowingly. "Only when necessary."

    He flashed her a grin. "It's been a long time since you made this kind of effort."

    "For anyone," she agreed softly, resting her head lightly on his shoulder as they moved in time to the waltz. A teasing smile touched her lips. "Especially a handsome young officer like you."

    "Not so young any more," he reminded her. Troi laughed.

    "Oh, you poor thing, growing old before your time."

    "At least you'll grow old with me."

    She raised her eyebrows and looked up at him. "What makes you so sure of that?"

    He grinned at her. "Well, you're gonna grow old anyway; may as well do it in good company."

    "And you're good company?"

    He frowned half-seriously. "Aren't I?"

    "From time to time."

    Riker smiled and leaned back to look down at her. "Well, I think another one of those times is just about due... don't you?"

    She smiled back in answer, lifting her head in response to the finger crooked under her chin, and her eyes met his as he leaned down, his lips grazing hers-

    "Excuse me, Counselor."

    Tensing involuntarily, Troi pulled abruptly back from the near-kiss and frustratedly turned her head to regard the other woman. "Yes, Ensign?"

    Ro Laren smiled invitingly. "I was wondering," she raised an eyebrow in Riker's direction, catching his eye, "if I might cut in."

    Troi hid her frown, but Riker saw it clearly in her thoughts. This close, it was impossible not to notice. He smiled smoothly at Ro and laid a conspiratorial hand momentarily on hers.

    "I'm afraid I promised the Counselor this dance, Ensign. But," he grinned expectantly, "you could go restock our table."

    Ro fell for it; Troi had to turn her head to avoid a smile.

    "Of course, Commander." The ensign turned with a flick of her heel, her eyes grazing Troi as she smiled privately at him. "I'll be waiting."

    "You will." His comment was so quiet that even Troi barely heard it; she smiled lightly and rested her head comfortably into the crook of his shoulder. A lightly possessive hand came to rest on her hair, smoothing an errant black curl onto her back.

    "You know," he murmured conversationally in her ear, "from time to time, you can be pretty good company too."

    Troi smiled and turned her head to rest underneath his chin, knowing he could sense her expression.

    "In fact," his voice was low enough to be private now, and she could feel his breath on her ear, "I have it on very good authority that from time to time, we've made quite decent company together."

    "From time to time," she echoed softly. From her vantage point in his arms, she could see Ro Laren watching them from an empty table. Two glasses, one full and one empty, stood on the glossy surface.

    They turned in time to the music, and after a moment he leaned back to look down at her. She knew why, and a speculative smile touched her lips.

    "She's waiting for you."

    He glanced back over her shoulder. Ro caught his glance, raising impatient eyebrows. He ignored her and looked back down at his imzadi.

    "She'll be waiting a long time." He tilted her chin up slightly and kissed her softly on the lips, then swung her away.

[END 1/1]