DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc and Viacom. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2003 by Djinn. This story is Rated R.

Minimum Safe Distance

by Djinn



She was dreaming again.  About Shinzon.  Riker could always tell.  There was a different tone to Deanna's cries, a certain desperate quality to the sound that accompanied the thrashing as she tried to escape a tormenter long gone.  After five months of this, Riker had learned not to wake her up.  It did her no good, and he hated to see her close down as she tried to keep the subject of her nightmares from him.  He didn't like to think that there was something that could come between them this way, something she simply refused to discuss with him.  And maybe it would get better on its own?  The dreams were getting less frequent, and seemingly less fierce.  The shadows under her eyes were finally fading, and the smiles she gave him in the morning were real.  But the sex...

He shied away from that topic, ignored the stab of pain in his gut--both an emotional response and a physical one.  He wanted her, needed her.  And he hadn't had her since that bastard had died, apparently taking Deanna's ability to make love to Riker with him. 

"Why?" Riker whispered, not for the first time.  "Why can't you love me?"  It sounded pathetic to him and he pushed himself out of bed.  He'd go to the bridge, sit an extra shift.  Or catch up on work.  Or wander the halls.  Anything but lay in this bed with a woman that no longer needed him, no longer wanted him. 

He stepped into the shower, already touching, holding, rubbing--there were other ways to get rid of the need, of the longing.  This wasn't anywhere near as satisfying as losing himself in Deanna's warm body would have been.  But it was effective in the short term, helped turn the resentment down a notch.  He heard a noise at the door, turned quickly, dropping his hands.  But it was too late.  She had seen, was staring at him now with a strange look on her face.  Then she turned and walked out of the bathroom.

"Damn," he said, then wondered why he was the one that should feel bad.  He knew she was hurting but Riker was also paying for Shinzon's brutality toward his wife.  He was trying to be patient and not push her.  He only wanted her to feel better, find a way to reclaim the vivacious woman he loved.  But she wouldn't see a counselor and there was little he could do to make her open up to someone else when she wouldn't even talk to him anymore.  He felt familiar anger come over him, disappointment in what was his life, irritation that he wasn't a different sort of man--the kind that could go elsewhere for what he needed.  But he wasn't and he didn't.  Deanna was his life.  He wanted her, not some other warm body that would provide a temporary shelter for his wounded pride and pent-up lust. 

He sighed and turned off the shower.  Grabbing a towel, he wrapped it around him as he walked out to the bed.  He used to walk around the room naked.  Used to sleep naked.  Deanna had taught him to be free with his body, back when he was the prudish one and she the hedonist.  Ironic that now he covered up because she didn't like to look at him, would not look at him.  There were days he wanted to grab her and--

And be just like Shinzon, the better part of him whispered to the hurt man. You'd be just like Shinzon.

God, it was even more ironic that this was the area of their marriage that should break down.  Sex had never been a problem for them.  They were so compatible, so in synch in that department that it had made it difficult over the years to walk away from each other when other things broke down.  There had been times during their early days on the Enterprise when they had come together for the comfort of familiar sex, their bodies joining as if there had not been months between the last time they'd touched.  He knew what moved her, she knew what he liked.  When they had made love, everything had been perfect.  It had been later, when they had tried to talk, or even reconnect as a couple, that things had broken down.  But the sex had always been great, perfect, mind-blowing.  He looked down at her lying with her back to him in their now cold bed. Sex with an empath was mind-blowing, he thought, until some psychopath took that all away.

"Deanna."

She didn't turn, didn't look at him.  He realized her shoulders were shaking, that she was crying.  He sighed.

"I'm not going to say I'm sorry that I do that.  I'm just sorry you saw."

She didn't say anything.  The satin gown she wore shivered as she continued to cry.  He was suddenly distracted by the way it clung to her, the light fabric accentuating the curve of her back.  He forced himself back to the present.  All he wanted to do was touch her, hold her, make her feel better.  But when he held her, she acted as if he was suffocating her.  Even the lightest grasp had been unwelcome after Shinzon's attack on her and Riker had learned to keep his distance, even though it was not in his nature to maintain such a gap between him and his partner.  He was a tactile man by nature, he loved to touch and to be touched.  He adored the way her skin felt as she wrapped herself around him after sex, the warmth of it, the slight sheen of sweat that covered her.  He liked to let his hands run over her curves, to push her down and explore every inch of her body.  He loved the way her hair felt as it slid over him when she kissed him, as it covered his stomach, his legs as she explored his body in return.

A sudden moan from Deanna brought him back to the much colder present.  God, he'd been broadcasting just then everything he shouldn't.  Everything she didn't want to know, didn't want to hear.  "I'm sorry," he said, sorry not for wanting her but for hurting her.  He was turning away to get dressed when he heard her whisper something.  "What?"  When she didn't repeat whatever she'd said, he turned away again.

He heard a rustle, a slip of satin sliding against the less silky sheets.  He turned back to her and saw that she had rolled over, was watching him, misery clear in her expression, in the set of her shoulders.

"Is it me?" she whispered, and he realized by the tone that it was what she must have said a moment earlier.

"Well, it sure as hell isn't me," he said, immediately regretting the words and his tone as she visibly flinched.  He closed his eyes, took a deep breath.  "I'm sorry."

"You keep saying that."  Her voice was dead, dull.  The voice of a human not a betazoid. 

She is half human, Riker reminded himself.  It was so easy to forget that.  So easy to get lost in her black eyes and luscious ways and only see the lovely strangeness of her.  But she was human.  And she was hurting.

He sat down on the bed, trying to make sure the towel did not gape, did not show her something she'd rather not see.  He hated the way having to hide himself from her made him feel.

Again she moaned, a low, miserable sound.

He looked away.  "You had a nightmare.  Again."

She didn't say he was wrong.

"I know what they're about.  I know you won't talk to anyone about them, but I know.  I've always known."

"And yet..."  Her lips were set in a grim line, they looked thin and tight.  Nothing generous about them.  Nothing kind or loving.

"I'm only human, Deanna."

She huffed, a soft sound of bitter mocking.  He hated that sound; it recaptured every bad moment the two of them had ever had.  And he knew she realized that, was probably why she made the sound.

He felt anger and something else, a sort of recklessness fill him.  They hadn't talked about this; he'd respected her need to suffer in silence, to deal with this herself.  But he was sick of it.  He was sick of being shut out of his own life, his own bed, away from the woman he loved more than anyone.  His imzadi--a word he hated now because it meant nothing except denial and emptiness and coldness.  He heard her moan again and the frustration he felt at causing her pain, at the pain he was feeling inside, made him explode.  "God damn it, Deanna.  I've tried to be patient.  No, I've been patient.  I've been more patient than I thought possible.  But I'm not a saint.  I'm sorry you saw that just now.  But the old you wouldn't have run away.  The old you would have stepped into that shower and shown me a better way."

He expected her to withdraw, to shrink from him.  Or to get angry and tell him what she thought of his need.  But her expression became puzzled instead.  Where he expected to see emptiness, he saw only confusion.  It stopped his rant dead.  He stared at her, unsure what to say next.

She sat up slowly, wiping her eyes.  "What do you think I was dreaming of, Will?"

He looked away.  "The same thing you've dreamt of for months.  Shinzon.  His attack.  The way it made you feel.  About you, about me, about us.  The way you don't want me anymore."  A new rant started, he could feel the pain welling inside him, begging to be let out.  "The way you can lie in this bed and not want me to touch you, not want me to even need you.  The way you seem to wish you slept in this bed alone, without me, as if we'd never loved."  His voice trailed off on the last, until it was barely a whisper.  Then he looked up at her finally, met her eyes.  "I want you so much it's killing me."

She frowned, seemed to be looking inside herself, as if examining something.  Then she refocused, her gaze no longer quite as confused.  "I didn't understand."

"You didn't want to understand."

Her smile was gently mocking, but he got the feeling it was directed at both of them not just at him.  "I wasn't dreaming of Shinzon, Will.  I haven't dreamt of him in months."

It was his turn to frown.  "I don't und--"

"No.  That's the problem.  We both think we understand each other, but we don't."  She edged closer.  "You never touch me anymore."

"You don't want me to touch you anymore."

She slid closer, the satin rustling against the sheets made it hard for him to think.  "How do you know that?"

He fought down the anger that was threatening.  He didn't want to hurt her.  But she was smiling and that confused him and he exploded again.  "You made it pretty damn clear, Deanna.  I can tell when you want me to touch you and when you don't.  I can see your body respond to me, and I can see when it shrivels every time I get near.  I'm not stupid."

"No," she said, as she touched his hand.  "Just hurt. Deeply hurt." 

She let her hand settle over his where it lay on the bed; the feel of her skin on his after so long was overwhelming.  He had to look away but he couldn't make himself pull away from a touch that felt so good.

"I'm sorry.  I did push you away at first.  I had to.  I had to get some distance from Shinzon and I couldn't do that if I was too close to you.  But, Will, Shinzon has been gone for months.  And so have you."

He slowly looked over at her.  What was she saying?  He felt hope surge through him.  She smiled sadly, gently.  Tenderly.  God, he hadn't seen that look in so long, hadn't seen her eyes light up that way, her mouth curl seductively that way for an eternity.

"I wasn't dreaming of Shinzon, I was dreaming of you."  She looked up at him and he saw the old lost expression come over her. 

And he recognized it finally for what it was.  Disappointment, rejection, fear that she was losing him.  He'd seen it so often on his own face, how could he not have realized what it meant when she wore it?  "You thought I didn't want you?"

She nodded.  "I could feel that you wanted sex.  But you wouldn't touch me, you didn't come near me.  And when I tried to come near you, you seemed to get mad."

He remember those times she'd made overtures to him, appeared to be trying to seduce him.  The effort had seemed half-hearted, forced.  As if she'd been afraid she'd lose him if she didn't make love, but also as if she hadn't really wanted to do it at all.  He'd pushed her away, unwilling to accept sex offered out of pity or fear, afraid that if he ever felt that empty he really would leave her, leave her alone when she needed him to be strong.  Regret filled him.

"No, Will.  The fault lies with both of us.  We felt so much and we talked so little.  And we made such terribly wrong assumptions about what we were feeling for each other."

"You love me?"  He felt stupid for needing to ask, but she was right.  He had a list of assumptions, built over the last five months that were apparently wrong.  He needed to go back to square one.  "You want me?"

She was crying but she laughed through her tears, reaching out for him as she nodded.  "I want you, Will Riker.  I want you to make love to me.  I want you to hold me the way you used to, when I knew you loved me and when being with you was the safest place I would ever find.  I want you to be my friend again.  I want you to love me again."

He pulled her to him.  "I've never stopped loving you, Deanna.  I never could."  He felt his own eyes fill, blinked to clear them but didn't mind if she saw that he was moved, that his life could end at this moment and he would never be more sure of how he felt, of who he wanted to spend forever with.  "Imzadi," he whispered, the word suddenly new and beautiful now that he believed in it again.

He slipped the gown from her body and felt her arms tighten around him.  She pulled the towel from his lap with a laugh and fell back onto the sheets, drawing him down with her.  Her body was warm and welcoming, a temple, a homecoming, a place he'd honestly thought he'd never find again.  Their movements were fevered as their bodies bucked and thrust and tried to recover five months of absence in the space of a moment.  But there was tenderness in their kisses, in the way he could not keep his hands from stroking her face, her hair, her arms.  In the way she kept her eyes locked with his after so many months of avoiding his gaze.  In the way they lay together afterwards, nestled securely against each other, arms locked around bodies even now drowsy with sleep, as if afraid to let go for fear that all would be lost again.

"I'm sorry," he said into the silence.  "I shouldn't have assumed."

"Shhh.  I'm the empath; I should have been able to sort out what I was getting from you."

He sighed, tightened his hold on her.  "We were both too hurt."

She nodded.  "And too afraid."  She pulled away slightly, so she could look up at him.  "After all these years, we really don't know each other very well, do we?"

He shook his head sadly.  Then he felt a grin steal across his face.  "At least we know that growing old won't be boring."

She smiled too.  "No.  It won't be that."  Her expression became more serious.  "I love you, Will Riker.  I have always loved you and I will love you until the day I die."  Tears welled up in her eyes and she let them fall unheeded onto the pillow.  "Promise me that we won't do this again.  We won't not talk, and we won't pull away without trying to fight for what we have."

"I promise," he said as he wiped the tears from her cheeks.  "You promise too."

"I promise."  She smiled.  "From this day forward, to have and to hold.  I never thought about the words before.  Having's the easy part."

He nodded.  "It's holding on that's tricky."  He kissed her, felt his body urging him to do more.  "I want you."  It felt good to say that again, to tell her that.

"I'm yours, Will."  She seemed to sense he needed more than that, that he needed her to be the one that started it, that controlled it, that needed it.  "I want you too," she said, as she moved on top of him, rode him as he stared at her, caught up in her beauty, in his love for her, in his feeling of destiny finally achieved.  He did not try to be quiet as he lost himself in the feelings she was provoking.  She did not try either.

As he held her again a few moments later he felt a surge of satisfaction.  They were together.  They would stay together.  No raving psychopath could take that away.  But they almost had, they had almost destroyed it all by themselves.  It was a good thing to remember, that they were more deadly to each other than any enemy could be.  If they ever again forgot how to love. 

"We won't forget," she said sleepily and he wondered when empathy had turned into telepathy.  He decided he didn't care.  As long as she was in his arms, she could read his thoughts all she wanted. 

"I love you," he said as he pulled her closer, felt the familiar sense of rightness, of safety that holding her always gave him and welcomed it back.  She was his home, his port in the storms that life seemed to always be inflicting on them.  He loved her.  Forever.  From this day forward.  Until the end of time. 

He heard her exhale sharply, but this time the sound wasn't mocking, it was the little sound of touched amusement she made when she felt what he felt and liked it, was moved by it.  "I love you," she said softly, then he felt her body relax against his as sleep claimed her. 

He held her the rest of the night, keeping watch, touching her softly, loving her.  She didn't have any nightmares.

FIN