- !
Star Trek TNG
William Riker, Tomas Riker, Deanna Troy
PG-13 so far

Chapter 1

Sorry, Ive got to go now.
Of course. We will talk later, Tom.
Deanna closed the communication channel and sighed. It has been three months now since Thomas Riker got assigned to Gandhi, and with each passing week it was more and more clear to her that they were falling apart. History was repeating itself. Despite all their affection for each other, long distance relationship just did not work for the two of them: they were both too sensual and too career driven. They missed each other but they were also both busy all the time, and their schedules didnt work well together, and the inability to touch each other and do things together wasnt helping... they got distracted, they learned to be apart, and - she knew - they were quickly losing that second chance life gave them. It hurt. She really did hope that this time they will make it work.

Deanna never stopped loving Riker, he was too much a part of her. When they met on the Enterprise she was barely over him, and Will was on his way to getting his own ship. Or at least thats what she thought at the time - that he wants few years on the Enterprise before he accepts his command and goes away yet again leaving her behind. He made it clear he was not ready to compromise his career for her. There was no point trying to restart their relationship at the time so they decided to try and be friends. Over the years they became best friends, and despite the occasional sparks and loaded looks they remained just that. She learned to live with it and quite enjoyed their friendship - that is until they found another William Thomas Riker who brought all those feelings back to the surface again. She was hesitant at first, but Thomas convinced her to try, and she let herself hope. And now she was losing him to his career - again... oh well, she really shouldve known better.

Deanna looked at the clock - there were still a couple of hours before her next shift. No point spending it sitting in her quarters and feeling sorry for herself. She got up and decidedly headed for Ten Forward. It was chocolate sundae time.

William T. Riker barely walked into Ten Forward when he noticed Deanna at her usual table finishing what must have been one of her huge desserts. She didnt see him, and he couldnt help but notice how sad she looked when she didnt try to make a happy face for anyone. He didnt have to ask what happened, it was easy enough to guess. Over the last months he watched Deanna go through all kinds of emotions, mostly the happy ones. She was glowing for a while, and he knew it was because she was in love. He liked seeing her like that - as beautiful as ever, and happy as he havent seen her in a long time. But lately its been replaced by sadness. He guessed his warning about his other self wasnt wrong: Deanna was getting her heart broken again. And yet again it was his fault - though this time in a very weird way. He knew that he and Thomas were separate people with their own experiences and quarks but somehow he felt responsible for his actions towards Deanna. Maybe it wasnt even about Tom, maybe it was just because he cared for her so much, and arrogant as it might be he also knew how much Tom could hurt her... this would not stand. He couldnt do much, but he was going to at least try to protect her.

Will turned around and left Ten Forward without Deanna ever noticing he was there. In his quarters he stood still for a few seconds, gathering his thoughts, then turned on communication device and tried to contact Thomas Riker on Gandhi. The man was on duty, so Will left a personal message asking Tom to call him back when he had a chance.

It was only the next day that the other Riker contacted him. For a long few seconds they both looked at each other silently. It was still very weird to talk to an almost perfect copy of yourself...
You shaved your beard, - said Will. Tom shrugged.
Didnt want to look exactly like you. And it suits me better.
Will raised his brow to that statement, but didnt argue. He had more important things to discuss, and he wasnt in the mood to spend time neither on banter nor on pleasantries.
What did you promise Deanna?
I dont see how it is any of your business.
It becomes my business when you dont keep those promises and make her miserable.
Excuse me?, - Tom managed to sound scandalised and threatening at the same time, but Will knew himself too well to be fooled by that.
Dont play an idiot, you know perfectly well what Im talking about... if you are not serious about it, let her go now, before she gets hurt.
Why are you so sure Im going to hurt her?
Because that is what I did. I put career on the first place, and she suffered. I know you will try to catch up for all those years, and I know you will not have enough time for her. All Im saying is dont give her false hopes. She doesnt deserve to go through it again.
She is also an adult woman. And I am not your subordinate, so I dont have to listen to your opinion on the matters. So if that is all, commander, I have other business to attend to.
Will couldnt believe what he was hearing. He tried to be nice to this guy, tried to save him from the same mistakes hes done - hurting Deanna hurt him as well, badly - and that was his gratitude?! Ignorant arrogant punk! He was just about to verbalize it all, but in few seconds he remained silent, Tom hanged out.

The call left Will pissed off and annoyed at himself. It was like talking to Wo, but worse, because where Wo reminded him of his young self, Tom was actually him in a way. Tom never learned what he had learned over the last eight years, he remained in the same mindset that Riker spent so much time changing. It was thoroughly annoying. No way Tom was good for Deanna... Will better be there for her when it all goes to hell. And be there he will.

Thomas was angry. He was angry at himself for being childish and hanging out on the other Riker, he was angry at his counterpart for telling him what to do and assuming he is going to screw up, and then he was back to being angry at himself for actually screwing up. It annoyed him to agree to his clon, but he wasnt an idiot, and he could see that their relationship with Deanna was getting colder and colder.
Tom lost eight years. And now not only he had to catch up with all the changes in technology and in history, he also had a huge shadow of his luckier self to deal with. Crew on Gandhi knew perfectly well who William T. Riker was - a decorated officer with vast and diverse experience, one of the best in Starfleet. They looked at Thomas, and they expected him to be just that. They thought they were lucky to get a second best Riker, which was still pretty good - after all, Gandhi was not Enterprise... Tom resented it, and he tried all he could to separate himself from that other Riker in the eyes of his fellow crewmen, but it was hard: all they knew about Will was stories, they didnt know him as a person, and they could not therefore see any differences between the two. All that struggle to get his life back didnt leave much time for love. Tom could already see he will need years to yearn his own reputation, to become Thomas Riker instead of commander Rikers transporter clon. Deanna deserved better.

All those years he spent alone on the base, all those times he thought he was going crazy - the only thing that kept him sane was his love for Deanna, his strong faith that they belonged together, and that those feelings are bigger than distance and time separating them. He truly believed that if he gets another chance to see her, to be with her, he would fight for it with all his mite... and now that he had that chance, he was letting it slip. Tom tried to fool himself with the plans to bring Deanna on Gandhi in another three months, but deep down he knew - she would not come. He wasnt present, wasnt real enough for her to throw her career away for him. Only a voice and a face on communicator screen - thats what he was. Why would she go for that, when she could already have a voice, and a face, and so much more with her best friend Will Riker without ever leaving Enterprise?
He was losing Deanna. There was no way it could work... or was there? If he managed to swallow his pride and ask transfer to Enterprise, maybe he could still turn it around.

He would never admit it outloud, but maybe the other Riker was right when soon after their first meeting he implied Tom quits too easy. Either Will saw right through him or he knew it from personal experience - it didnt matter now. Tom didnt consider himself a quitter - he survived on his own for so long, and he was always ambitions, he never backed down from danger... but somehow meeting his other version showed him that he did back down - not from danger to his life, but from a danger of failing. He was a very proud man - he was able to admit as much - and usually it wasnt a problem. But it was the same pride that told him to run from the Enterprise... he did not want to compete with commander Riker when he felt he could lose so easily. Maybe on some other ship he would have a chance to catch up, and to then return and compete as an equal... that was what he thought at the time. It felt so unfair that he was forgotten on the base for eight years, while someone else took his place, got a promotion for his actions and carried on. It felt like he was robbed: of his future, of his career, of his name even. So he ran. But there was no running. Certainly not if he wanted to be with Deanna. Commander William Riker wasnt going anywhere, so if Tom wanted a chance to get back what he wanted so badly he would have to meet his fears head on. He would have to play on commanders territory... and he will have to win, to show the world he was as much a real William T. Riker as the other one.

He nodded to himself. There was a newfound self-confidence in his look. Somehow taking on that challenge made him feel better. Challenges were what he was good at.

Chapter 2

After Gandhi, Enterprise looked and felt huge, buzzing with people, almost visibly vibrating with the fast life of the Starfleet flagman. Thomas stepped down from the transporter platform. It took few months to put the transfer through and to organize for Tom and his new ship to be close enough for him to come aboard, but finally he was here. An engineer in a transporter room smiled at him and said: "Welcome aboard". He smiled back at her and nodded, trying not to give away his nervousness.
It took him a second to notice there was someone else in the room. Lieutenant Commander Data, Chief Operations officer - an android, as Tom learned in his preparation for the transfer - was here to give him a briefing and to show him to his quarters. He was looking at Tom quizzically, though not unfriendly. After the introductions, when they were walking through long busy Enterprise corridors, android finally let it out.
Do you mind if I ask you a personal question, lieutenant?
Go ahead.
I noticed you have changed your appearance. Is it so that you are not mistaken for commander Riker?
In a way, yes.
But you and commander wear different colors, since he is in command, and you are in operations. Would it not be enough?
Thomas frowned - it was not a topic he would expect to discuss with his superior officer on his first day. But to back down wasnt in his habits.
Permission to speak freely, sir?
The thing is, its not just for the practicality. Me and commander... we are different people. I dont want others to be confused about it.
Do you imply, then, that eight years of different experiences were more defining for who you are than the previous twenty six years? Are they of more value because they are most recent?
Tom shrugged at that, he wished he knew the answers himself.
Maybe... I guess you can say that I choose to believe we are different to get a clear sense of self-identity. It helps that I cant imagine making the same choices he did. Why all the interest, sir?
This is a unique situation, and I am curious about it. Forgive me if my questions make you... uncomfortable. I consider commander Riker one of my friends. I wonder whether it means that we will, as well, become friends - or whether those differences you talked about make it unlikely.
I guess well see... to be honest you behave more human, than I expected. Hope Im not overstepping any boundaries here... - he grinned. I didnt expect you would wish to make friends. Arent you a bit out of our league with your advanced abilities?
Data seemed to actually consider the question for a second before tilting his head a bit and replying in the most state-of-fact manner.
I do not believe so. It has been my wish for a long time to become human, even if it meant giving up most of my, as you called it, advanced abilities. I found that I have learned a lot about what it means to be human through the friendships I have.
Tom smiled at that. Maybe this Pinocchio was closer to his dream than he realized.
In that case, Mr. Data, Ill be honoured to be your friend.
Thank you lieutenant. These are your quarters, I will see you later.

On the Enterprise Thomas was yet again assigned to Operations. His luckier counterpart got a promotion after the teleport accident, but that was 8 years ago, and Starfleet was not willing to give a commanding position to someone who just spent almost a decade in solitary. He had a lot to catch up on, and he knew it. Riker was always very driven, he knew how to organise his time and how to work hard, and so he did: spending his free time with library tapes and in engineering, or asking Data about major events over the years he lost. Some things he learned delighted him - new races and forms of life discovered, new alliances formed, new technologies built... as always, Federation moved fast. And some other things left him hurt and angry. He lost few good friends when the Borg attacked Starfleet, and even if no one he knew personally wouldve been there - it was such a tragedy, so many lives lost in such a short time. And unfortunately it was not the only tragedy he missed, though for humanity it might have been the biggest. Then there were also friends he lost without ever having a chance to meet them. He found that even though he has never met Tasha, he was sad over her death, and he wished he knew her. Data mentioned that there was one more person on board in a similar situation, and that was how he met Guinan. Guinan seemed to be perpetually amused with almost everything around her, but she also seemed to get it a little bit - that feeling of coming from a different reality and realising you have to find your place all over again.

For the first couple of weeks Thomas startled people - they didnt quite know how to react to another Riker on board - but weirdly enough they got used to it pretty fast, and in no time he was treated just as if he had different face and voice. Enterprise was an amazing ship, and her big crew seemed ready to anything. With all theyve been through it shouldnt have been any surprise, but Thomas still couldnt help feeling lucky. He felt more at home here by the end of the first week than on Gandhi after few months. It wasnt just that he made friends here - people who knew the other Riker so well they did not confuse them with each other. It wasnt just the presence of Deanna with whom they easily fell into flirting and rediscovering their deep connection of trust and love. It was Enterprise as a whole - the best ship in Starfleet with the best crew and the most challenging work. At first it took all he had to keep up with others, and then it took even more to pick up the speed and move forward. Thomas thrived in those conditions. The only dark spot was the presence of commander.

There was no open animosity between them, and certainly no hatred, but there was a constant tension, a constant mutual distance and a light disapproval. Thomas found the commander to be overly authoritative and smug, and also surprisingly cautious. It was evident that he was no coward, but somehow first officer often reminded Tom a mother hen: always choosing the safest option, always planning for a failure. In that at least they were definitely very different. Tom still couldnt understand how could the other Riker not only break with Deanna but also miss all the chances of reuniting with her over the six years they served together. He knew Deanna would not have been against it if commander persisted, so it mustve been the other Rikers decision. Maybe it was that new cautious approach of his - to never take chances, to always choose the safest route - that led them where they were now, close friends and no more. Whatever it was, Tom was not going to repeat that mistake. He was quite happy to be with Deanna once again. They were happy.

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