"Who do they think they are fooling?" Lt. Hetherington broke the lull in the group's conversation, speaking to no one in particular. His companions followed his gaze to a far table that was set off from the main bustle of Ten Forward. Commander Riker and Counselor Troi were engaged in what appeared to be a very intimate conversation. Their heads close together, the conversation was punctuated by occasional light laughter.
Lt. T'San was the only one at the table that seemed uninterested. "It's really none of our business Erik."
"He's right though. They are about as subtle as the tail of a comet." The others at the table shot Lt. Brelarc a strange look. "What? It's something my Bolian grandmother used to say."
"Well, I don't think that they are anything more than friends. I'll admit that they are close, but anything more would be illogical." Lt. T'San took a sip of her drink and turned away from the topic of their conversation. "We really should stop staring at them before they realize they are being watched."
"I doubt they are even aware there is anyone else in Ten Forward right now." A small sigh escaped Lt. OíConnor's lips as she placed her chin in the palm of her hand, her eyes never leaving the couple in the corner. "Do you guys think the stories about them are true?"
"What stories?" The blue-skinned humanoid's curiosity was obviously piqued.
Hetherington gave the Bolian a look of disbelief. "Don't tell me you haven't heard them Brelarc. I thought it was common ship wide gossip."
Keara OíConnor leaned in closer to Brelarc and whispered, "It's been said that the two of them share a torrid romantic past."
T'San raised an eyebrow. "Don't tell me you actually believe the stories."
"Actually, I know for a fact that they are true," Erik declared. "At least the ones that I have heard."
"Oh really, and why is that."
Before he could explain, the waiter came with their dinner orders. As he sat the dish down in front of Lt. Hetherington, a strong odor assaulted their senses.
"What's that smell?" Keara fought down her urge to gag.
Erik put on a mock look of offense. "It's called lutefisk, an old Terran dish from a region that was known as Scandinavia. I was feeling a little bit home sick I guess." He scooped up a fork full of the foul smelling fish and offered it to Keara. "Want to try it?"
Putting her hand up to prevent the fork form getting any closer to her, she shook her head adamantly. "I think I will stick with my pasta and Terran chocolate mousse, thank you."
Lt. Hetherington greedily shoved the piece of fish into his mouth. "You really are missing out."
"I'll have to take you word on that."
The quartet enjoyed their meal in a comfortable silence until Brelarc's curiosity got the best of him. "OK, I have to hear these stories. I hate being kept out of the loop and always being the last to hear about all the good stuff."
"Well," Keara began, "From what I hear, the two of them met while Riker was stationed on Betazed, they had a steamy, passionate affair and Riker ended up breaking her heart and leaving her for his career. But that's not even the best part --"
"Let me tell the story Keara," Erik interrupted. "I'm the one that has connections to the events in question."
"Oh really?" The Vulcan's deadpan chimed in. "And what exactly are those connections?"
"If you must know, my older cousin's ex was a security officer stationed on Betazed when everything happened." A satisfied smirk spread across Lt. Hetherington's face and Lt. T'San turned her attention back to her meal.
"So what happened?" Brelarc's tone contained his obvious impatience.
"Riker was stationed to Betazed while he awaited his new assignment. The planet had been having some problems with Sindareen raiders so Starfleet security was beefed up." Erik paused his story to make sure he had a captive audience. When he was satisfied that his friends were hanging on his every word he continued. "According to Andrew, my source Ė"
"Your cousinís boyfriendís motherís friendís son?" Lt. TíSan interrupted dryly.
"And they say Vulcanís donít have a sense of humor." Keara shot her roommate a sharp look. "You were saying, Erik?"
The young Lieutenant continued his tale. "Andrew said there was an incident where some Sindareen raiders kidnapped Deanna. Their ship was shot down and crash-landed in the jungle. The search party combed the jungle for days and found no trace of either Deanna or the one surviving raider. Everyone wanted to give up, but Riker insisted t hat she was still alive and that it was his duty to find her. He refused to give up."
Keara let out a small sigh. "That is so romantic."
A slow smile consumed Lt. Hetheringtonís face. "The story gets even better. Andrew was a part of the search and rescue effort and was monitoring the base when the call came in form Riker that Deanna had been recovered. According to him, from the location that was logged when the call was made, it should have taken the two of them a couple of days to reach the rendezvous, but they didnít make it back to the base for almost six."
"What took them so long?" Lt. Brelarc interrupted. The look of confusion that danced across his blue features caused his two human friends to both stifle a laugh.
Erik leaned in closer. "Well, that part is still speculation since no one was with them while they were in the jungle, but Andrew swears that something happened between them. He has no proof, but he could have sworn that during the transport back to the city, the two of them were having entire conversations without saying a word."
"That is illogical. Commander Riker is human and Counselor Troi is only half Betazed. Telepathic communication between them would be genetically impossible."
"I didnít think you were paying attention TíSan." Erikís teasing tone was always trying to get some sort of reaction out of the stoic Vulcan.
Lt. OíConnor could not hold back her laughter. "Itís funny the way he spurs you on Ė or at least makes a valiant attempt. He really should know by now that he is never going to be successful."
"You doubt me Keara? I can do just about anything when I put my mind to it Ė including spurring an emotional reaction out of a Vulcan or evenÖ" He waved a hand through the air, trying to think of another outrageous claim to make. Finally, he settled on, "Ö going on a date with Counselor Troi."
This last declaration almost caused Keara to choke on the bite of dessert she had just placed in her mouth. "Itís bigger than I thought!" Her exclamation earned her a confused look from Erik. "Your ego I mean. Is that Starfleet issue or did you develop it all on your own?" Brelarc joined in her laughter as Lt. Hetherington sat there slack jawed.
"You doubt my abilities to charm the opposite sex?" Erik was on the defensive.
"I doubt your abilities to charm a very unattainable shipís counselor. Not only is she a senior officer, but she is way out of your league." Keara raised her hand, silencing his protest. "None of your smooth lines will ever work on a Betazoid."
Erik stopped to consider her last statement. "Yea, youíre probably right. Besides, I donít think I would want to step on Commander Rikerís toes."
The conversation fell silent again as the four friends finished up their meals. Keara's eyes never left the couple in the corner. After placing the last bite of chocolate mousse in her mouth Keara stated, "I just have a feeling that those two are going to end up together."
Erik nodded his head. "You can almost see the emotional connection between them like it's a physical, tangible thing."
The group gave the young Lieutenant a collective look of surprise, but it was Keara who spoke up. "I didn't think you believed in that sort of thing Erik. I would have never pegged you for a romantic."
Taking a long drink from his glass, Lt. Hetherington took his time to answer. "I'm not usually." He shrugged. " I guess it's just that particular piece of ship wide gossip that has got me thinking."