Warmth and Colour
Summary: Did you hear the one about the telepath, the listener and the ship-wide malfunction?
Characters: Guinan, Lwaxana Troi, Deanna Troi
Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own all rights to the TNG universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.
Notes: Written for the Trek Rarepair Swap Round 19, for @gluecookie.
"Does this kind of thing happen often?"
Lwaxana is clearly well-practised at projecting ennui, but Guinan detects the faintest hitch in her voice and smiles to herself: the lady ambassador isn't quite as overcome with tedium as she's making out.
"More often than you'd think," the bartender replies. "Don't worry about it. I'm sure Captain Picard has the situation in hand."
Lwaxana huffs. "Hardly. I can hear him panicking from here."
"Panicking?" Guinan raises an eyebrow. "That doesn't sound like Picard."
"Maybe you aren't listening."
Lwaxana's ceremonial skirts swish irritably as she flounces to and fro. "It's been at least an hour. Whatever are they doing out there? You'd think their top priority would be rescuing -"
"Important people like you?" Guinan offers helpfully.
Lwaxana doesn't bother to reply, collapsing instead onto a stool at the bar. Her chin rests on balled fists and her painted mouth pouts like an incongruously over-dressed child's. Her wig - pink, powdered and curled - has been knocked askew, and coupled with her slouched posture, it makes the esteemed ambassador look comical and ever so slightly drunk.
Guinan suppresses the thought before it can fully form; it wouldn't do to let Lwaxana pick up on it.
Or on the other thoughts she's suppressing - warm thoughts, unexpected, though not unwelcome.
"I am important, you know," Lwaxana says eventually, voice muffled by the distortion of her lower face against her fist. "And sought-after. Not that you'd know it from the way Jean-Luc avoids me at every turn. As for my own daughter, she'd rather hit herself with a painstick than spend a few minutes with her doting mother. Why, I even promised not to mention her hair this time and she still can't bear to be in the same room as me."
"Kids," Guinan agrees neutrally, wiping a drop of spiled liquid off the bar's surface. "Can't live with 'em -"
"Can't throw them back," Lwaxana finishes. Her black eyes slide to Guinan's, posture straightening fractionally. "You have children?"
"A dozen or two."
"Really?" Lwaxana's eyes sharpen in interest. "Does your species have them in litters?"
Guinan's chuckle draws an answering twitch from Lwaxana's lips. "No. Just singles, usually, like most humanoids."
"Then how -"
"I'm older than I look."
Lwaxana's gaze sweeps leisurely over her, and Guinan finds herself unaccountably self-conscious. The ambassador's gown is spun from the finest Tholian silk, but it's not her finery that Guinan's eyes keep tracking to: rather, it's the enticing shadow of her cleavage. And the ambassador's eyes and lips are impeccably made-up, but Guinan is distracted by the notion that her skin would feel as soft as a Klayvan peach.
A gentle waft of interest, spiced with amusement like cinnamon toffee, warms the topmost layers of Guinan's awareness. Lwaxana's voice is low and treacly. "I like the way you look," she says, and Guinan feels prickly all over.
"Thank you," she mumbles, ducking beneath the counter. There's a bottle of Saurian brandy under here somewhere, and now seems as good a time as any to open it.
Lwaxana watches the dark liquor splash into two crystal glasses.
"I don't usually need to ask people about themselves," she says frankly, sipping the brandy. "It's all right there, just under the skin. But you're different."
"Yes." Lwaxana narrows her eyes. "You seem so calm on the surface, as if nothing upsets you because you've seen it all before. I'll bet it makes people trust you."
"It does," Guinan concedes. "But people can trust me. I don't betray confidences and I don't break promises."
Guinan's glass almost slips from her hand.
The ambassador watches her. "You learned that lesson the hard way, didn't you? You betrayed someone once, and you've regretted it ever since."
It must be decades since the last time Guinan was lost for words. "I don't - I'd rather not -"
"Talk about it. Yes, I know." Lwaxana crosses her legs amidst the swish of silk skirts. "But you're always listening to everyone else. Who listens to you?"
She did, Guinan thinks, and tries to scatter the atoms of the face that wants to form in her mind. The last thing she wants is for Lwaxana Troi to pull that name from her memory.
"She'd forgive you, you know," the ambassador murmurs. Her dark eyes are limpid and surprisingly soft.
"Maybe," Guinan finds herself conceding. "But it's not my place to ask."
Lwaxana is quiet, and Guinan shifts on her feet. There's something enticing about the idea of telling the Betazoid her secrets, but she hasn't spoken about her in centuries.
"Another drink?" she forces herself to ask, and Lwaxana tilts her chin in acquiescence - of the offer, and of the change of subject - and holds out her glass.
"I was hoping to meet my next husband at this conference."
Lwaxana reclines over the long couch beneath one of Ten Forward's picture windows. Stars hang in the velvet curtain of space and drip their reflections onto the ambassador's face like diamonds scattered over silk. From the seat opposite, Guinan sips brandy and forces her wayward thoughts into order.
What was she saying? Oh, yes.
"Why do you want to get married?"
"Darling, a woman without a husband is like a barrel of fine wine locked in a cellar. She gets better with age, but what's the point if there's nobody around to enjoy her?"
"I couldn't agree less," Guinan says mildly. "And I should know about husbands. I've had plenty of them."
"Really?" Lwaxana props herself on her elbows. "Do tell."
"What's to tell?" Guinan smiles over the rim of her glass. "You meet someone, you think you'll never love anyone else, you get married. After a while he begins to bore you, same as the one before, and the one before him. You think he'll change, but he never does."
"Well, that's dismal." Lwaxana slumps back, pouting. "How many men have you married?"
"Oh, eleven or twelve, and about the same number of women. The trouble with women is you marry them hoping they'll stay exactly the same, but they never do." Guinan shrugs. "Men, though - men are all the same. Even the Q."
"My fourteenth spouse was a Q. I don't know what I was hoping for - he was every bit as insecure as a mortal, and such a know-it-all. 'Course, he really did know it all."
"He sounds like my last suitor. Terrible little man." Lwaxana shudders theatrically. "Stupendously wealthy, of course, but when I tried to advise him in his business dealings he wouldn't listen to a word I said. And his personal hygiene was unbearable."
"I can't imagine anyone ignoring you," Guinan says without thinking.
"Because I'm loud and annoying?" On the surface, the Betazoid's tone is flippant, but underneath quavers uncertainty.
"Of course not," Guinan answers, "because you're incomparable," and is rewarded with Lwaxana's full-lipped, beautiful smile.
"Maybe I'll give up on marriage," the ambassador says airily. "After all, what man could be good enough for me?"
"There you go," Guinan approves.
"Maybe I'll just take lovers instead." Lwaxana watches her from under lowered lashes, the tips of her fingers playing along the rim of her brandy glass.
"Maybe you should," Guinan murmurs. She wonders, briefly, if Lwaxana is simply flirting because she's good at it, or if there's genuine interest here.
"Of course, my daughter would be scandalised," Lwaxana trills. "She'd probably disown me."
"I don't think you give Deanna enough credit," says Guinan mildly. "She's not as uptight as you think."
"You probably know her better than I do." Lwaxana's gaze flickers.
"No. Just differently."
The telepath is quiet, and Guinan finds herself listening, extending her senses, grasping for the wisps of colour and light that manifest from Lwaxana's thoughts and emotions.
"I never did know how to be with her," Lwaxana says wistfully. "Whether to hold her close or push her away… It's no wonder she's lost patience with me."
"She thinks about you often," Guinan offers. Hesitating briefly, she reaches across the small table to rest her hand on Lwaxana's. "Once, she told me I reminded her of you."
Lwaxana's laugh is high and pained. "Good heavens."
"I took it as a compliment."
Lwaxana's gaze, dark and soft, fastens on their hands, and she turns her palm upward beneath Guinan's. The bartender watches as their fingers intertwine, dark into pale. She wonders if Lwaxana's secret parts are this pale - the curve of her shoulder blade, her inner thigh. Pictures form in her mind and she glances up at Lwaxana's face, abashed, knowing the other woman will have seen them just as clearly.
Lwaxana is smiling, and the colour of her thoughts is warm.
"Picard to all hands," the comm burbles suddenly, and Guinan starts, so lost in sensation that her heart stutters at the intrusion. "The situation has been resolved. I repeat, the situation has been resolved. All section heads, please report to your stations."
Lwaxana glares theatrically at the ceiling, a pretty flush decorating her pale décolletage. "That's it? Two hours trapped in some pocket of this paltry ship without a word, and the only explanation we get is 'the situation has been resolved'?"
"And here I was thinking we were having a pretty good time," Guinan murmurs. She slides her hands away from the ambassador's, but finds her fingers caught in a surprisingly firm grip.
"We were," Lwaxana purrs. "And I'd rather like to continue -"
She's interrupted by the swish of Ten Forward's main door and the light tread of purposeful footsteps, and this time Guinan is able to slip her hand free and straighten up. The bartender glides to her feet.
"Counselor," she greets the newcomer, whose steps have slowed on approach.
"Guinan." Deanna Troi glances between the two women, a frown wrinkling her brow. "I hope my mother's been behaving herself."
"Of course I haven't, darling," Lwaxana says airily.
"I was worried about you," Deanna says, then studies Guinan's complete lack of expression. "But I can see I had no reason to be."
"No reason at all." Lwaxana swishes to her feet and links arms with her daughter. "Good evening, Guinan, and thank you for the drink."
"May our paths cross again, Ambassador," Guinan offers an enigmatic smile.
As they sweep past the bar, Lwaxana sends Guinan a thought-picture that makes the bartender gasp, and then break into a grin so wide it rivals the diameter of her favourite hat.