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Story Notes: Several years after the events of Star Trek: TNG - Retribution; Thomas Riker and Toni Steele deal with real life.

Sol System
Earth, North America
San Francisco
Starfleet Medical Building
Outpatient Psychiatric Wing
Suite #223


Thomas Riker eyed his psychiatrist warily. Sometimes he really just tired of the telepathic tricks. Betazoids and Irriol and even some Remans were now part of his psych team and they all knew what he was thinking – even if he refused to acknowledge it.

Three years of constant therapy led to two years of intermittent therapy. Now he was wondering whether or not the black-eyed analyst sitting across from him was either going to make him begin more frequent visits or maybe, and worse, just laugh at him.

To his surprise, the woman didn’t laugh at all. “Honestly Thomas, I’m surprised that you have come to terms with your true feelings so quickly. It’s a very positive thing.”

Thomas let the knot in his stomach slacken a little. “You mean, you don’t think it’s completely wrong for me to feel this way about her? You think it’s okay?”

“You two have…an awful lot in common to be honest,” the Betazoid woman replied with a smile.

Thomas scowled a bit. “Don’t you think that maybe we’ve shared a bit too much in common?”

“What do you mean by that?”

“We were Academy sweethearts and she ended up becoming the innocent recipient of the memories of my years of torture. I’m not so sure that’s a great foundation for a relationship Doctor.” He leaned back in his chair, absentmindedly stroked his well-trimmed beard and let his eyes drift from the desktop in front of him out the window to the image of the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. Its red-orange color glowed from the reflection of the sunset and the bridge’s massive pylons stood like two stalwart sentinels of the bay.

“Yet you love her. The fact that you feel this so deeply is what should be celebrated Thomas. You have finally reached another milestone in your recovery – you have allowed yourself to feel that emotion once more.”

Thomas felt kicked in the gut. “It’s terrifying me.”

“I know.”

Thomas growled. “Yes, you always know.”

“When did you start to realize that your feelings for Captain Steele had crossed over to attraction?”

Thomas had to allow a small grin cross his lips. “Well, I’ve always been attracted to her – she is part Deltan.”

The psychiatrist smirked. “You know what I meant.”

Thomas nodded and drew his eyes back from the bridge in the distance to look his therapist in the eye. “Last night. I walked her back to her apartment from the hospital. I felt myself wanting … to take her into my arms and hold her … and …” he stalled.

“And what Thomas?”

A pained expression wafted across his features and he closed his eyes softly. “And never let go.”

“What did you do?”

“Same thing I’ve done since we got to leave this place, I said good-night and watched her enter her apartment, turned and left.”

“But what was it this time that made you realize that your feelings for her are so much stronger?”

“Sorry?”

“Come now Thomas, there’s always a trigger. There’s always something that people in your position find as an avenue to open up to love again. Something that hits you straight in the heart and makes you not care whether or not you’ll get hurt again,” she said.

Thomas cocked his head to the side and swallowed hard. “She laughed.”

“She laughs frequently Thomas…”

“No she hasn’t…well – you misunderstand. Yes, she laughs all the time, but that laugh isn’t her real laugh – it’s not the laugh I know. It’s not the laugh that comes from deep down…inside of her.” Thomas connected his eyes to the therapist again. “I know her real laugh. I know it. When I heard it last night it meant…it meant everything to me.”

“So – what are you going to do about these feelings?”

“That’s why I’m here Doc. I wasn’t sure. I mean, I know what I want to do – but I’m not sure it’s the right thing for me…or for us.”

“If you’re asking permission, that’s not…”

“Not permission Doc, no. What I’m asking is – if I ask her out and if she says yes and if we – well, get back together – I need to know it’s not going to be a step backward for her – for us, for our recovery.”

A smile crossed the Betazoid woman’s face. “Love is never wrong Thomas. Never.”

“Maybe not. Still scary though.”

“Are you afraid that you’ll lose her like you have Deanna and Laren?”

Thomas’ nostrils flared and his heart ached with the mention of his former lovers’ names. “Of course I am,” he whispered. “Of course I am.”

“But…”

“Deanna gave me her love and I blew it. Well…I guess you can say that eventually I figured it out. At least Will figured it out.” Thomas snorted a sarcastic laugh. “Deanna is with her Imzadi now and I’m happy for her. And Laren? Laren gave me her life…” Thomas rubbed his eyes and inhaled sharply. “…as well as her love.”

The therapist lifted her chin in a bit of concern when Thomas stalled again. “And Captain Steele? Has she given you anything?”

Thomas rolled his eyes. “You’re kidding right?”

“No.”

“Toni? Toni has given me … the greatest possible gift.”

“Even more than her life?”

Thomas grimaced from the blow and let his pain stay reflected in his eyes. “Maybe.”

“What gift could be greater than that?” she asked pointedly.

“I feel like Toni has given me…me.”

“What do you mean she gave you…you?”

“Toni is the only person I’ve known since the transporter accident on Nervala IV split me in two who really does understand how I feel. She’s the only person who sees me as me. She knows I’m Will. She knows I’m a different Will Riker sure, but she knows it’s still me. I can’t even say that Laren knew that about me and I know damn well that Deanna never did. To them I was Thomas. To them I wasn’t the same man that I know I am.”

“But you are a different man than Will Riker.”

Thomas shook his head. “I am a different man than Commander, excuse me – Captain, Captain William Thomas Riker. Yes, now we are very different men. He’s married to Deanna and got the realization of the dream we had when we were the same man.”

“Odd.”

Thomas lifted his head curiously to his therapist. “What’s odd?

“You’re not carrying the same anger or resentment about Will or Deanna that you normally do when you speak of them. Have you forgiven them?”

Thomas allowed another chortle of embarrassment to escape. “It’s not about forgiveness Doctor. There’s nothing to forgive. I guess I just realized that Deanna has done nothing but follow her own path. She’s done nothing but fall in love with the man she was destined to be with.”

“Even though at one time you believed that man was to be you?”

“Yes.” Thomas grimaced again.

“But something still bothers you. Are you having a hard time forgiving Will?”

Thomas shook his head succinctly. “No. It’s not about Will either. There’s nothing, nothing to forgive them for. I’m actually happy for them and … dammit – I really am rooting for them believe it or not. In some bizarre way if they’re successful in their relationship it will only go to prove …” he stalled again and dropped his head.

“Prove what Thomas?”

Thomas sighed with reluctance. “It will prove that the way I felt for her all those years on Nervala IV wasn’t just a waste. It will prove that I really did love her, that I really didn’t just think of her as disposable when Starfleet offered me promotions…that somehow…I really did grow up.”

“You didn’t feel that way when you were with Laren?”

Thomas shook his head ruefully. “No.”

“That’s the first time you’ve been able to admit that to yourself you know.”

Again, he felt a twist of a knife in his heart. “No, it’s not. I guess I always knew that about Laren. Somehow … somehow I think that Laren knew that as well. It wasn’t like our love affair was built on a foundation of daisies and rainbows you know.”

The therapist couldn’t help but grin with Thomas’ simile. “No. No it wasn’t. You two found a singular source of affection, tenderness and love in the middle of a torture labor camp. Your love was built on something completely different.”

“Laren was my only avenue to my freedom – she was the tangible thread that kept me from losing that last piece of myself,” he said softly, reverently.

“Yes,” the therapist replied. “And you were her avenue to her freedom as well. Even the freedom to chose to die as she wanted.”

“Head on.”

“Held high.”

Thomas swallowed as the memory of Ro Laren’s death sped past his eyes for the millionth time. This time however, the agony that used to accompany the memory seemed to bring out less anger and now brought out more admiration and acceptance.

“Yet you feel something different when it comes to Captain Steele?”

A smile briefly tugged at Thomas’ lips. “I … I haven’t felt this way about someone in a very, very long time doctor. Maybe I never have.”

The woman’s eyebrow lifted sharply. “No? Not even with Deanna?”

Thomas swallowed. “No. I’m not saying I didn’t love Deanna, because you know for a fact that’s not true. I was … was …” He laughed out loud and looked to his therapist in the eyes again. “I was her Imzadi. But I’m not now. Will is. He always was and the life I was handed is different. There’s no doubt that Deanna’s connection with me was special, but – it’s just, I don’t know, it’s just different. I have to admit, it’s a lot easier to let her go knowing that she ended up with well – me really.” He laughed again. “And the love I felt for Laren was definitely made from a pure need to feel real, to feel tenderness and affection in the middle of hell. But that too is very different from how I think I feel about Toni.”

“Which is what? A need to protect her? A need to be around someone who knows all your secrets?”

Thomas didn’t even fall for the bait, which elicited a smirk from his therapist.

“Yes…and no,” he replied. “Don’t forget Doctor, I know an awful lot about her too. While she may have memories of my torture implanted into her – I have a few of her memories as well. I know exactly how much she loved Paul Rice. I know the pain she felt at his loss and it was no less painful than how I felt when Laren was killed.”

“Even though she did not witness his death?”

Thomas scowled deeply. “Witnessing Laren’s death was actually a little bit easier doc.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“As awful as it was – as terrible and as heinous…” Thomas had to let the vision cross his mind once again. “As godawful as it was watching her chest explode from the Jem’Hadar rifle…” He lifted his gaze to this therapist again. “I got to say goodbye to her. We got to look each other in the eye and express our love and we got … we got to say goodbye.” Thomas shifted in his seat, inhaled and exhaled, then turned his gaze to the bridge in the distance again. “Toni never got that. Toni felt cheated. Toni had her heart ripped out. Paul died and she didn’t get to say goodbye. There was no finality to his death. She saw him one night and then he was gone. No body, no tangible evidence that he was …”

Thomas closed his eyes as he allowed a memory, a memory that didn’t belong to him, ripple through his psyche. He saddened as much as he had when the memory of Laren’s murder had entered his mind. “She loved Paul. She loved him very much. Her pain is just as real as mine is.”

The therapist nodded. “It is.”

She tilted her head again and tipped it in such a way that Thomas knew another hard question was going to be put forth. He buckled himself down for the inevitable self-revelations these questions always seemed to bring. “But…” he led.

The psychiatrist smiled. “You’re already preparing for a but…”

Thomas merely drifted his bright blue eyes to his counselor. Years ago he used to be bothered by her black irises. Memories of Deanna always seemed to be associated with them and those memories always seemed to bring feeling of inadequacy, of shame. But that was no more. He actually looked to his counselor’s eyes with comfort now, knowing that it was useless to hide his feelings and realizing how much his life seemed to be easier now that he was learning how to revel in truth. “Yeah, well – it’s the inflection of your voice. I already know you’ve got a whopper of a question for me.”

“Then I won’t beat around the bush,” she offered. “What if Captain Steele rebukes you?”

Thomas saddened immediately then huffed a breath through his nose. “One, that’s not quite the whopper of a question I anticipated and two, it’s not like I haven’t been thinking about that very question since I realized I was in love with her.”

“Well, what question were you expecting?”

“Now you’re just being mean.”

She smiled softly. “You opened the door Thomas…”

“Yeah, I guess I did,” he admitted with some agitation. “I thought you were going to ask me if I was allowing myself to become infatuated with Toni as a means to continue to use her as a crutch – to continue to allow myself to wallow in my victimization and torture again.”

“Well?”

“I fear that sure. I fear hurting her. I don’t want to – I can’t. I can’t hurt her. I don’t know if I could live with myself knowing that I ever, ever hurt her.”

“Do you think you may be using her as a crutch?”

“I don’t think so, but I’m not sure. I mean … like I said it’s been a long time since I’ve had feelings like this and to be honest, I’m not sure I ever really have. But considering what we’ve been through I don’t want to take the chance that I’m not just completely screwed up in the head and may not be feeling this way because of the fact…”

“Woah, woah! Thomas!” she sat forward in her chair. “You have been in therapy a long time. It shows. I think you’re over-thinking this whole thing. You’re scared. Good. You should be. Everyone who’s ever experienced real love is scared of being hurt and of hurting someone else. You’re worried that your feelings aren’t real? Well, considering that you’re here and expressing those normal fears means that you are at least considering the possibility that that may be true – or maybe you are merely trying to find an excuse not to deal with your real feelings for her. Finally, I have to ask does any of your hesitation revolve around the fact you don’t feel you’re worthy of having love? That you don’t feel you deserve to have happiness?”

Thomas was used to this now. He was used to having his therapist jab him from the side when his armor was facing forward. He chewed on her questions. He chewed on them hard. He learned long ago that she was not about to let him off without really thinking about her questions. Usually, he would have to give in – to admit defeat to her – to have to acknowledge that she was digging up some nasty stored-away bit of himself that he was hiding for fear he’d have to face it.

But this time he was surprised that the answer he was coming up with wasn’t quite what he thought it would be. He thought hard about it. Do I really feel like I don’t deserve love or happiness? Do I really feel like I’m so unworthy?

The answer was simple. No. I do feel worthy. I do feel like I deserve it. Damn – it’s almost the opposite. I feel like I’m overdue for some happiness and I feel like it’s about time. “No Doc – but I will tell you this. I am feeling guilty for wanting it. I’m feeling like somehow I’m cheating…” he drifted off again.

“Cheating on Laren?”

Thomas nodded. “She deserved happiness too. Of course I’m angry she didn’t get it.” He rolled the thought around in his mind, once again letting himself feel the emotions his brain was saying were there. “I still very strongly about my promise to her.”

“Your promise that you’d never forget?”

He merely nodded.

“Here’s a question. If you were to make love to Captain Steele – would you feel like you were going behind Paul Rice’s back?”

Thomas lifted his eyes. “I can’t say that I ever really thought about that. He’s been dead for seventeen years.”

His therapist smiled. Thomas both loved and hated when she found that one little iota of information that made Thomas twist his own thoughts. She leaned back in her chair confidently. “Something tells me that you wouldn’t think Paul would want to deny his widow’s happiness – why would you sell Laren so short?”

Burned, Thomas let the pain shoot through him. “She wouldn’t. Laren would have wanted me to be happy.”

“Well then?”

Thomas sat quietly in his chair. The sun had set and the standing sentinels of the Golden Gate Bridge muted in their hue. Softly, slowly his thoughts broadened and something clicked inside and he wasn’t sure he wasn’t more frightened now than when he faced a line of torture tools.

“Could it really be true?”

“Could what be true Thomas?”

He connected his gaze to her. “Could it be true that I really do just want to move on now?”

The therapist let a small exhale escape her chest. “Well now.”

“All of a sudden all I want to do is move back home. But I don’t want to move there alone if I don’t have to. I’d like Toni to consider going with me.”

“That’s a pretty big step for someone you haven’t even asked out on a date yet.”

“I know,” he admitted. “But I just feel like I’ve wasted a lot of time. I feel like I have a future again and I’d like to move forward. But … but I’d want her to share it with me…even if it’s just as a friend.”

The therapist sat back and eyed him cautiously. “You were offered a job, weren’t you?”

Thomas licked his lips and dipped his head. He didn’t answer.

“Interesting.”

“How so?” he asked.

“I take it you’ve accepted?”

“Not yet.” He eyed her again. “But I want to.” He finally stood from his chair and turned to walk through the spacious office.

“I take it from the fact that your guard is up that you don’t want to talk about the offer?”

Thomas turned to face her and smiled. “It’s not that I don’t want to … I’m just not so sure I can, to be honest.”

“Ah,” she replied. “I think this is where I will politely say I understand and then ignore most of what you’re about to say to me.”

Thomas chuckled. “It’s an amazing opportunity really.” He twisted around and began to slowly walk around the room again. “It’s unlike anything that’s ever been done.”

“You certainly seem to feel like you’re qualified for the job,” she offered willingly. “I recall a day a couple of years ago you were convinced you’d never feel needed in the work-force again.”

Thomas shot her an appreciative smile. “I am … uniquely qualified for this job Doctor.” The look that crossed the therapist’s face alarmed Thomas. “No Doctor – I will NOT be torturing anyone.”

“No? Well that is a relief,” she said with enough sarcasm to let him know she wasn’t really worried about it, but with just enough honesty to let him know that the thought had crossed her mind.

“No.” He moved around and sat back in his chair. “No, this job might actually allow me to help people. It might actually help people keep from ever getting into the position I was in.”

“You’ve been asked to go back to Starfleet Intelligence?”

Thomas didn’t answer.

“After everything you’ve said about them? After you were convinced that they were the ones who let you down – left you to suffer… and you’re considering returning to them?”

Again, Thomas didn’t answer.

“Look, I know I don’t quite have the clearance to talk to you about this – but I will bring in Dr. Loveni if it’s what you’d like.”

“I don’t like him.” Thomas said tartly. “His clearance level is exactly why I don’t trust him.”

“And I can’t help you with that decision Thomas. I have no idea what it’s about and frankly – I am damned sure I don’t want to know.”

Thomas pressed a small smile again and again drew his hand down the length of his beard. “Doc – I’m not here to talk about me taking the job. I’m here to talk about whether or not my asking Toni to go with me is a horrifically bad idea.”

The therapist sighed heavily. “Well Thomas, what’s the first axiom?”

Thomas shook his head and smirked. “Only I am responsible for how I feel. Others cannot make me feel anything than what I allow them to. If I hand the power of my feelings over to someone else, I only make myself suffer.”

“And…?”

“Toni can only say no.”

“And if she does?”

“Then I can live with that.”

“Can you?”

“I love her,” he said strongly. “But I also love her enough to feel the need that she be happiest with herself.” He cleared his throat slightly as he accepted his own words. “And if she’s going to be happiest living away from me – then I can’t be angry with that.” He looked to his therapist directly. “It also doesn’t mean I won’t call you.”

She smiled. “Fair enough.” She stood from behind her desk. “But I have a strange feeling that I may not be seeing you again Mr. Riker.”

Thomas let a saddened expression drift over his face. He stood to face her. “Maybe not,” he admitted.

“Don’t be afraid to feel the joy Thomas. And don’t be afraid to feel pain either.”

Thomas sought for a response to her. Realizing there wasn’t much further to add to her words he merely nodded and extended his hand. She took it in hers and the two shook hands professionally.

“Thank you Doctor, for everything.”

“You’re welcome Mr. Riker.”

Thomas turned away from her and began to walk for the door. Just as he reached that door his mind filled with terror, excitement and trepidation. The power of the emotions shook him to his core and he spun on his heel and turned to face his psychiatrist – not hiding any of his fear from his stance or his mind. “Doctor?”

She offered him a wizened smile. “It’s okay Thomas. That’s called life.”

Thomas laughed nervously and choked back a rise of mixed joy and sadness – tears eeked to his eyes. “Wow. Kinda forgot what this was like.”

“Welcome back Mr. Riker.”

Thomas shot her a look of astonishment then released another nervous laugh. “Thanks … I think.”

She laughed quietly. “Goodbye Mr. Riker.”

Building up his courage again he nodded his head and stood tall. “Goodbye Doctor.”

Without so much as turning back again, Thomas Riker walked out of his psychiatrist’s office and onto his new path – a path he never knew was there before and only now realized was made precisely for him...

Now all he needed to do was determine whether or not his path was also paved alongside the path belonging to the woman he loved.

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