Flash Fiction Fraturday – What Love Means

I’ve been watching a lot of Star Trek: The Next Generation lately and having a lot of feelings about how Deanna Troi is treated as a character and the weird romantic-adjacent situations she keeps being placed in by the show’s writers (and how little screen time her friendship with Beverly Crusher gets). So I decided to write some fanfic. I’m sure it goes against the Troi/Riker canon of later seasons by a ton (I’m only in the beginning of season 6) but here it is all the same:

What Love Means

Deanna only barely registered when Beverly asked if something was on her mind. Lifting her gaze from the lightly steaming surface of her cup of hot chocolate, she found a familiar, open expression on her friend’s face, eyes warm and curious as she leaned in slightly over the table they shared, head titled just a little to the side. 

“Actually…” Deanna responded slowly, wrapping her fingers around the cup in hopes the head of the ceramics would ground her, calm her suddenly racing heart. “There is something on my mind. Something I’d like to tell you.” 

Beverly made a soft humming noise, a gentle nudge to go on, yet Deanna found herself tongue-tied. “I…” she started, but her throat tightened and her gaze dipped from Beverly’s face. The force with which fear unfurled inside her took her by surprise. She knew that coming out was a very emotional experience for most, that fear of rejection, ridicule or worse was natural even though it was centuries since such reactions had been the norm. Yet somehow she’d let herself believe that all the times she’d guided others through that maze would allow her to reach the end of her own without a single wrong turn or a shred of confusion. How naive, she thought and a flush of embarrassment spread across her cheeks as though anyone but her knew the mistake she’d made. 

“Deanna…” Beverly reached across the table and squeezed her hand. “You know you can tell me anything.” 

She nodded and breathed in slowly through her nose, taking in the warmth and affection that dominated the emotional output she felt from her friend, the curiosity that tinged it at the edges, the worry that was starting to blossom underneath it. 

“I’ve been doing a lot of… soul-searching lately,” she began, easing herself into it. “Thinking about myself, the relationships I’ve had. Somehow I think, as an empath, I had this idea that I had it all figured out, that I knew exactly what was in my heart and what was in other people’s, but… when it comes to people I’m close to, I’m finding that things can get very… muddled and…” She paused a moment, felt the hand that was still holding hers give another squeeze of quiet reassurance. “Beverly, I’m aromantic.” She lifted her gaze to meet the eyes that had no doubt been watching her the entire time she spoke, silently praying that she’d know what that meant, that she wouldn’t have to stumble her way through an explanation of that, too. 

“Oh.” Beverly blinked a few times, eyebrows lightly raised, but Deanna felt it for what it was – surprise, nothing more. 

“I know it doesn’t make much sense.” She heard her own voice tremble, the absence of a negative reaction having the paradoxical effect of making her own emotions harder to control. “I’ve had a lot of… entanglements over the years. My whole adult life, really. I realized recently that I’ve never thought myself infatuated with someone who didn’t feel that way about me, and that made me wonder, you know?” Beverly began to say something, but she kept going, as if stopping now would lock the words inside her forever. “Because things really can get muddled and I thought I felt it, I really did but now when I sit with it, when I really sit with it, I know that I didn’t and-and I just feel like such a liar a-“

“Hey, hey, it’s okay. It’s okay.” 

She felt Beverly’s hands on the backs of hers, and when she looked down she saw her knuckles were white from her tight grip of the cup, which she was holding at an angle where its contents nearly spilled onto the table. She let go of it with a jerk, as if it were hot, the liquid sloshed slightly.

“It’s okay,” Beverly said again. She took the cup, setting it aside on the table.

Deanna sniffed, wiping at her eyes. “I’m sorry.”

“You have nothing to be sorry for.” She caught her hands again, both of them this time, and sought out her gaze. “Do you hear me? Nothing.” Her meaning was clear – not knowing until now didn’t make Deanna a liar, didn’t mean that she’d used anyone. She sniffed again, turning her hands to take Beverly’s and squeeze them right back, quiet appreciation.

“For what it’s worth,” Beverly said. “I think it makes perfect sense. But even if it didn’t, you know yourself.”

She sniffed again, and nodded slowly as something tightly wound unspooled in her chest. “Yes. Yes, I… I think I finally do.” She took a deep, slow breath, letting go of Beverly’s hands and reaching once more for her cup. Silent settled over the pair of them, a much pleasanter one then the anxious quiet that had preceded this conversation.

“Deanna?” Beverly said after a few moments.

“Yes, Beverly?”

“I love you. I hope you know that.”

“I love you too,” Deanna replied, and for the first time she knew exactly what she meant by that. 

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