Across The Void.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard sat in his living area, staring at the passing stars. His dark hazel eyes, unfocussed, reflected the points of elongated light, the fingers of his right hand gently rubbing his lower lip. His mind roiled slowly, the same thoughts turning over and over.
"What am I doing here? A man of my age…still a Captain and rootless, out here in space…no family, no connections…what is there in store for me? I've been ruminating about this for months and I'm no closer to an answer. Why am I here, still doing this? Am I still pursuing the dreams of my youth? So much time has passed and yes…I have achieved a lot, but am I still happy to do this? So much diplomatic busy work…when do we get back to exploration? How many times will I be asked to inveigle a new species to join the Federation simply because we can't afford to lose their resources?"
The man sighed and crossed his legs. Sipping his tea, he grimaced at the cool liquid and put the cup on the table. He sat back and his eyes looked again at the stars. He lost himself in dark thought.

 

 

 

 

 

Fifty seven metres away, Beverly Crusher, CMO of the Starship Enterprise, sat in her quarters and like the Captain, she was looking at the stars and, again like him, she saw nothing of the passing vista.
"What a day! God what I wouldn't give for a small private practice somewhere…somewhere where I can get to know the families, bring them into the world, watch them grow…treat them, laugh with them…grieve with them…Oh how I hate this ship! I would so love to meet someone who stayed and didn't get transferred. I can't imagine what it would be like to work in an environment that was safe…and still. I thought this was what I wanted…but it's not, it's not at all. It's been three months now and it's getting worse all the time!"
The Doctor wrapped her robe around her tighter and sighed. Shaking her head, she allowed her mind to wander further.
"And what about Jean-Luc? Why the hell can't I simply tell him how I feel? What is so bloody hard about that? After all, he would be over the moon. Of course if I did that I would be expected to stay, maybe move in with him. Can I do that? Am I willing to give up my personal space, my autonomy? At my age it's no simple matter…I've been alone a very long time. Is a relationship with him worth it? Would I be willing to stay indefinitely on this ship?"
She sighed and stood, hugging herself. Shaking her head, she was annoyed to feel tears threaten.
"No dammit, I wouldn't! I want to be free…rid of regimentation and hierarchy. I want…I want…to be free. He's stuck in one groove…still upholding the rules, trying to make a difference, but it's all gone…everything's changed. The institution we serve is light years away from what it once was and Jean-Luc can't…or won't see that. Do I want to keep trying to do my part in something I no longer believe in? Would he understand?"

 

 

 

Jean-Luc wandered into his bedroom and sat on the edge of his bed. He toed off his boots, pivoted and stretched out atop the covers, his head cradled in his hands.
"I should talk to someone about all this…but who? Deanna would no doubt analyse me and suggest I need a holiday...she must be aware of my emotions anyway. Out of the question of course. And Beverly? No. She's part of the problem. How can I tell her how I feel? How do you tell a woman, who's made it quite clear she doesn't wish to enter into a relationship, that you love her unreservedly and have done for over thirty years? Bloody hell! If she would only…that would solve everything. If she were by my side, sharing my life, everything would make sense. I would have a purpose but she's been very distant…something's not right there."
He sighed and closed his eyes, his mind furnishing images of the woman he loved so deeply.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beverly emerged from the shower and spent some time drying her shoulder length red hair. Satisfied, she donned a nightie and pulled back the covers of her bed. Pouring a small glass of sherry, she sipped and wandered to the bookshelf, her hand automatically going to a volume of poetry she habitually read for comfort. It was only when she was comfortably in bed that she realised the book belonged to Jean-Luc. Slamming it shut, she dropped it on the floor, downed the remainder of the sherry and settled down, determined to put him from her mind. That proved to be very difficult.
"God he's everywhere…he's insidious…he's managed to pervade every facet of my life! To look around my cabin you'd think we were in some sort of a relationship. Anyone can see we spend all our time together…I'm his date in any diplomatic situation…Jesus we might as well be married! I've got to do something about this!"
Turning over, she hugged a pillow and ground her teeth.
"Something's got to give!"

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning, Jean-Luc was preparing breakfast. His musings of the night before still bubbled under the surface, but he sighed and shook his head.
"Enough. Stop it old man, Beverly will be here shortly and the last thing she wants to hear is your grouching."
He was at the replicator when she called.
"Crusher to Picard."
"Picard here. Good morning Beverly."
There was a brief pause and Jean-Luc frowned.
"Beverly?"
"Sorry. Look I'm a bit tied up this morning…I won't be able to make it for breakfast."
"Oh. Well that's all right…I'll see you at the briefing."
"OK, Crusher out."
Frowning, he sighed and looked at the laden table. He sat dispiritedly and picked up a croissant, staring at it, his mind miles away.
"That does it! What a way to start the day."
With a snort he dropped the pastry and rose, disposing of the articles with brusque efficiency. When the table was all but cleared, he gulped down a cup of coffee and tossed the empty cup in the recycler. He was out the door seconds later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Captain was in his customary seat when the senior officers filed into the observation lounge. Their lively chatter muted as they approached the long table, each taking their place and attuning themselves. Deanna Troi, ship's Counsellor frowned and looked at her Captain, his tension loud and clear to her empathic senses, as it had been for some weeks. She was about to ask him if he was all right when the door sighed open and Beverly came in. Immediately Deanna sensed her wariness and shot her a look. The Doctor ignored her and took her seat. Jean-Luc cleared his throat, bringing the meeting to order.
"As you know, we are assigned to be the diplomatic liaison between the two governments of Dellos and Gelt. Their dispute is an intricate one…one which the Federation wants sorted out, and quickly."
Beverly muttered under her breath and Jean-Luc frowned, turning a tightly annoyed look in her direction.
"You have something to say Doctor?"
She sighed and shrugged.
"Yet another diplomatic brush fire. If it wasn't for the dilithium they both have in such abundance no one would give a damn if they simply ceased to exist."
Jean-Luc's eyes glittered.
"Be that as it may, our orders are clear. We need to help end the conflict that has arisen and restore normal relations with both planets. Mr.Data what can you tell me about these people?"
The android second officer tilted his head.
"Both species are humanoid, in fact they are related. Their planets are class M, the Dellosians colonised Gelt over two millennia ago. The dispute has arisen over a dowry paid by the Dellosian President's family to the family of the Gelt Overseer. Apparently a significant heirloom has gone missing and such is their rigid protocols, they are prepared to go to war over it. Captain I do not understand the concept of dowries. Why is it that so many cultures, including some of Earth, require a dowry to be paid? Is not the union of two people based on mutual affection and the urge to breed?"
Sighing, Jean-Luc shook his head.
"It depends on how the society views the status of both participants. If they were equal, a dowry would be unnecessary, however in many cultures one gender is often held to be more important than the other. To make up for this perceived discrepancy, a dowry is paid to bolster the value of the lesser person."
Data looked confused.
"Is that not sexist Captain?"
"Yes Data it is."
"Bearing in mind such practices no longer occur on Earth, why is the Federation willing to overlook it in member worlds? Does not the charter of sentient beings forbid such behaviour?"
Jean-Luc pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed.
"Data…"
Beverly's voice was bitter.
"It's like this Data. The Federation has been so badly weakened by the Dominion war that they're willing to get into bed with anybody as long as the resources keep flowing. Turning a blind eye to archaic mating rituals is the last thing they're worried about."
Deanna inwardly winced at Beverly's hard attitude, one that had been increasingly evident in her demeanour over the past few months. She also clearly felt the Captain's displeasure at her outburst.
"If you're finished Doctor? Data ignore the circumstances and concentrate on the mission. Number One, ETA at the Harmon system?"
"Four days Captain."
"Very good. Data download everything you can about these peoples and try to discover what happened to the missing heirloom…what is it by the way?"
Will Riker; the first officer consulted a PADD.
"It's a bejewelled, crystallised head of a Grek, a native beast of Dellos once hunted by the aristocracy and now extinct."
Grimacing, Jean-Luc shook his head.
"I see. Well it matters not what it is, we need to help them find it. Is there anything else?"
He received negative responses and curtly nodded his head.
"Very well dismissed. Doctor would you stay please?"
Fisting her hands, Beverly clenched her jaw and lowered her head. Deanna cast her a look, frowned and left with the others. Once the room was empty, Jean-Luc sighed.
"What is it Beverly? Why are you so angry this morning?"
Shooting him a look, Beverly scowled.
"Me? I could ask you the same question."
Pursing his lips, the Captain frowned and stifled a glare.
"Doctor I'm not accustomed to repeating my enquiries. What is wrong?"
His dark hazel eyes bored into hers and Beverly sighed.
"Oh look…take no notice Jean-Luc. I've been feeling a bit off lately…I shouldn't have said anything, I'm sorry."
About to remonstrate with her and remind her of the need to maintain protocol, he saw her sadness and relented.
"Is it anything I can help you with? I've noticed you've been struggling with something for a while now."
Smiling sadly, Beverly shook her head.
"No…it's something I have to get through myself…but thank you."
He nodded and sighed.
"Well we'd better get back to work. Would you care to have dinner with me tonight?"
He was surprised to see his best friend frown and shake her head.
"Ah…no. I'll be…busy."
She stood and lowered her eyes, waiting for his dismissal. He was tempted to ask exactly what would keep her from his invitation, but being the gentleman he was, he eschewed.
"Very well Doctor. Dismissed."
As she approached the door he said softly,
"Beverly…you know you can come to me…with anything?"
She turned and smiled sadly, nodded once and left. Jean-Luc fixed his eyes on the stars and ruminated sourly.

 

 

 

 

Ten minutes later, in his Command chair on the Bridge, Jean-Luc became increasingly aware of the gentle scrutiny of his ship's Counsellor. Deanna sat demurely, seemingly absorbed with the business at hand, but every now and then she cast a meaningful look at her Captain and it was beginning to annoy him. Finally he stood and tugged down on his tunic.
"You have the Bridge Number One, I'll be in the Ready Room."
Will smiled at Deanna and nodded.
"Aye Sir."
Jean-Luc had only been seated a few minutes when the door chimed. He knew who it was and sighed, quelling his rising irritation.
"Come."
Deanna walked in, her empathic senses taking a buffeting from the tense man. Keeping his eyes trained on the monitor on his desk, Jean-Luc kept his deep voice even.
"Yes Counsellor, how may I help you?"
Deanna stood before the chair in front of the desk and gripped its back.
"What you actually mean is Captain…what do you want?"
His dark eyes lifted and stared without humour. The silence stretched on and Deanna sighed.
"Captain you know you can't hide, even though you do a damn good job of trying. Please Sir…this has been going on for some time. Why are you so tense?"
Fisting his hands, Jean-Luc straightened in his chair, sat back and crossed his legs.
"I have a lot on my mind…I think under the circumstances it's perfectly normal to feel a little stress."
Deanna's look was frankly incredulous. Pursing her lips, she rounded the chair and sat, pushing her long dark hair back from her face.
"Captain you realise who you're talking to? I've known you for over twelve years and I know this mission couldn't possibly cause you the amount of stress I'm feeling. Please Captain…"
Shaking his head brusquely, Jean-Luc frowned.
"Look Counsellor I really don't want to talk about it. It's personal and something I'd rather see if I can sort out myself."
Deanna's obsidian eyes hardened and she set her jaw.
"What about Beverly?"
Jean-Luc's head snapped up and he glared.
"What about her?"
"Captain you heard her this morning…since when did Beverly ever voice such sarcastic, bitter comments? And it's been going on for too long! The anger and sadness I felt from her only mirrored what I felt from you. Has something happened between you?"
Taking a deep breath, Jean-Luc clenched his teeth.
"Counsellor my relationship with Doctor Crusher is, frankly, none of your business. Now if you're finished, I have work to do."
Deanna remained seated, raising her mental barriers against his anger. He stared at her and saw her equanimity. Closing his eyes, he sighed expansively.
"I spoke to her, she said she was feeling a bit down."
"I see. Did she elaborate…tell you why?"
He answered the question with a question of his own.
"Have you asked her?"
Shaking her head, the Counsellor frowned.
"No. She 's been avoiding me. Now Captain, did she tell you why?"
Jean-Luc picked up a crystal shard and turned it slowly in his fingers.
"No."
Deanna lowered her head and her voice.
"And it has nothing to do with you? You haven't had a fight?"
Shaking his head, Jean-Luc concentrated on keeping calm.
"No."
"Did she have breakfast with you this morning?"
"No."
His reticence was trying, but Deanna persevered.
"Did she say why?"
Jean-Luc turned his chair and stared out at the elongated prismatic stars as they passed at high warp.
"She said she was busy."
"You missed her."
"Yes."
"Captain…"
Jean-Luc turned the chair back and faced the Counsellor, his face an inscrutable mask.
"You are dismissed."
Knowing this time he wouldn't bend, Deanna stood and sighed.
"Very well Captain, but I will be monitoring you both and if I feel the need, I will order you to counselling if necessary."
He said nothing as she left. Sitting motionlessly, he closed his eyes and sighed.
"Christ now I have Deanna to contend with. Shit!"

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deanna took her seat to the left of the Command chair and gave Will a meaningful look. To his silent enquiry she muttered,
"Later."

 

 

 

 

 

Beverly was in her office trying to catch up on the plethora of work that seemed to pile up without her knowing. She held a PADD and sighed, her concentration wandering.
"Maybe I should have dinner with Jean-Luc, hell the distraction would be worth it…but why lead him on? Dammit every time I catch him with that look in his eyes…I'm such a bitch! Why don't I just tell him? I love you. Why is that so damn impossible to say? It's true, I do love him…what the hell is wrong with me? He's a wonderful man, kind, thoughtful and I know he adores me…why can't I do this?"
With more force than was necessary, Beverly threw down the PADD and buried her head in her hands.
"Jesus this is driving me nuts! The whole thing…Jean-Luc, work, Starfleet…what the hell am I going to do?""

 

 

 

 

 

Over the next eight days Jean-Luc and Beverly saw little of each other. She consistently refused to share breakfast with him and he eventually gave up on trying to invite her to anything with him The Enterprise had arrived in the Harmon system and were entrenched in the mystery of the missing Grek. Jean-Luc had met with both the President of Dellos and the Overseer of Gelt. The Dellosian President, a male of impressive stature, was bellicose and boring. Jean-Luc had to employ all his diplomatic skill to smooth relations with him and his ruling party. By contrast, the female Overseer of Gelt was articulate, intelligent and beautiful. She ruled with integrity and equity, taking advice from her council and embracing the aid of the Enterprise with graciousness.
In all, it took Data and his team four days to uncover the errant Grek. With admirable determination, the android Second Officer had quietly searched, interviewing and digging until he finally found what he was looking for.
Jean-Luc was on the Bridge when the call came from the planet.
"Data to Enterprise."
"Picard here Data. What have you to report?"
"Sir we have located the Grek."
"Excellent Data! Where is it?"
"At present it appears to be wrapped in a blanket and secreted beneath the bed of the Dellosian Under Secretary."
Jean-Luc stood and frowned.
"Ploth? What is he doing with it?"
There was a momentary hiatus as Data issued orders to his team. His voice soon returned.
"My apologies Captain. The Under Secretary seems to be under the impression that such a valuable heirloom should not be handed over the Geltans. He thinks them unworthy."
Jean-Luc sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.
"And did it occur to him that his action just might cause a war?"
"I do not claim to understand his motives Sir, however he seems genuine in his beliefs."
The Captain cast a look at Will and sighed.
"Very well Data. Can you liberate the artefact?"
"We are on our way to his compound now Captain. I will contact you when we have it. Data out."
Jean-Luc rubbed a hand over his bald head and regained his seat. Lifting his head he said quietly,
"Tactical open a channel with the Gelt administration."
"Aye Sir. Channel open."
"On screen."
The large viewscreen showed a pleasant female face, the smile warm and inviting.
"Yes Captain Picard, how may I be of service?"
Putting on his best diplomatic face, Jean-Luc kept his voice even.
"May I speak to Overseer Hrum please?"
"Of course Captain. Please hold."
The viewscreen image changed to that of a waterfall and alien music filtered through the speakers. Jean-Luc sighed and waited patiently. Eventually The Overseer appeared.
"Captain Picard, a pleasure as always."
"Thank you Overseer. I believe we have good news."
"Oh? And what is this good news?"
Smiling and growing warm towards the gregarious woman, Jean-Luc sighed.
"It would seem my away team has found the Grek."
The small woman grinned, her sparse pointed teeth gleaming.
"But that's wonderful! Have you informed President Klatt?"
Looking slightly guilty, Jean-Luc's smile broadened.
"Well actually no…I thought you might like to hear it first."
Her chuckle lit up her face, making her orange eyes dance.
"Oh Captain what a mischief maker you are. Tell me, where did your team find it?"
Scratching his ear, Jean-Luc smile was self-depreciating.
"It would seem it lies under the bed of Under Secretary Ploth."
The Overseer harrumphed and scowled.
"If you ask me that's a good place for it. Honestly Captain can you think of anything more disgusting than a crystallised, bejewelled Grek head?"
The Captain shook his head and smiled.
"Actually Overseer I've never seen one."
"Well take my word for it, it's dreadful, smelly and too ostentatious for words."
His face settling into a calm visage, Jean-Luc became serious.
"How would you like to handle this Overseer?"
Hrum frowned and lowered her head, allowing her long green hair to cascade forward. She rubbed her flat nose and sighed.
"I suppose Klatt will want a ceremony of some sort…I've never known him to pass up the opportunity to celebrate."
"And the Under Secretary?"
"That's Klatt's business. He can apportion any punishment he sees fit. Tell me Captain, do you know why he did it?"
Embarrassment coloured the Captain's face. He winced and Hrum saw his discomfort.
"Now that's very interesting Picard. A man of your extensive diplomatic skills shouldn't show such a reaction to so simple a question. Let me guess. He didn't think we were good enough to take possession of the damn thing did he?"
Lowering his head, Jean-Luc shook it slowly, his voice low.
"No Overseer he didn't."
There was a momentary silence and Jean-Luc raised his head to watch the Overseer. The woman scowled, sighed then shrugged.
"So be it! It's not worth going to war over bruised feelings. My daughter still wants to marry Klatt's son so I suspect we'll find a way to get through this…unpleasantness. Please inform me when you have told the President…I'll open communications with him soon after."
Jean-Luc bowed and smiled.
"As you wish Overseer. Picard out."
The Captain sighed and took a moment to centre himself. Will watched his CO and marvelled yet again how well he did his sometimes-tedious job. Jean-Luc requested a channel be opened to the Dellosian government and waited patiently while he was transferred to President Klatt's office. Once contact was established, he had to parry with three aides before he finally found himself talking to Klatt.
"President Klatt I have news of our mission."
Sitting back imperiously, Klatt looked down his short flat nose. Raising his bushy green eyebrows, he waited for the Captain to continue.
"My away team has found the Grek."
Taking what appeared to be a slim nacre pick, Klatt slid it between his sparse teeth and lolled his bright purple tongue.
"And where did you find it?"
"It would seem to be beneath the bed of your Under Secretary."
Klatt's small orange eyes widened and he sat up.
"Under Ploth's bed? Why would it be there?"
Jean-Luc kept his face unreadable.
"I have been informed that the Under Secretary was of the opinion that the Geltans were not worthy to have it."
Klatt snorted, expelling some blue globular material from his nostrils. Wiping his nose with his fingers, Klatt shrugged.
"Well he's right of course, but we must make sacrifices. Have you told Hrum?"
"Yes Sir."
"I suppose she's overjoyed?"
"She was glad Sir."
Klatt wiped his hands on his jerkin and sat back, tilting to one side and emitting a loud expulsion of gas. Grunting, he coughed wetly.
"Well then I'd best get to organising a celebration! I take it you will attend Captain?"
Bowing courteously, Jean-Luc raised a smile.
"Of course Mr. President."
Casting his eyes over his data device, Klatt was dismissive.
"Fine. I'll have one of my aides contact you. Klatt out."
Once the screen reverted to its view of the Dellosian planet, Will grunted.
"Charming fellow. I wonder which school of deportment he went to?"
Shaking his head, Jean-Luc sighed.
"Don't be so quick to judge Number One. We cannot hold our standards of civility to other cultures…you know that."
Will smirked, but nodded.
"Yes Sir I do…still he could do with some lessons in manners even if only to make things easier for us."
Jean-Luc snorted and smiled.
"Indeed."
The Captain contacted the Geltan government and informed Hrum of his conversation with Klatt. The overseer thanked the Captain again and closed the channel. Jean-Luc handed the Bridge to Will, and entered his Ready Room replicating a cup of Earl Grey and sitting quietly behind his desk. He sipped, enjoying a quiet moment before calling Beverly.
"Picard to Crusher."
"Crusher here."
"Beverly it would seem there will be a celebration of sorts soon and I have been invited. Will you do me the honour of being my escort?"
"The war's over?"
"Yes. Data and his team have found the Grek."
"Oh. Well that's good news. Look Jean-Luc I'd rather not attend if you don't mind."
Jean-Luc sat up, his tea poised half way to his mouth.
"But Beverly we always…"
He plainly heard her anger.
"Well not this time! Ask somebody else. Crusher out."
Placing his cup on its saucer, he picked up the crystal shard with the intention of using it to calm himself. Instead he threw it across the room with significant force.
"Fuck!"

 

 

 

 

Forty-five minutes later the Captain was called out onto the Bridge. Will was standing, talking to Data. He turned to his CO and nodded.
"Sir, Data and his team have the artefact."
"Good."
Standing next to his exec, Jean-Luc faced the screen.
"Data contact the President's office and request instructions. They will tell you what to do."
"Aye Captain, but I must inform you that Under Secretary Ploth has been very obstructive. I was obliged to put an armed guard on him while we recovered the artefact."
Jean-Luc frowned.
"That's unfortunate Data. When you speak with the President's office, tell them what has occurred and leave it up to them."
"Aye Captain. Sir do we have authority to guard the artefact?"
"Yes I think so, at least until someone takes custody of it. Follow whatever instructions they give, but only surrender it to someone with the appropriate authority."
"Understood Captain, Data out."
Jean-Luc nodded and turned to his exec.
"Number One you have the Bridge, I'm going to Sickbay."
The big bearded man nodded.
"Aye Captain."

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beverly was in her office when she became aware of being watched. Snapping her head up and seeing the Captain, she had to concentrate on not scowling.
"Captain, what can I do for you?"
He frowned and sighed.
"May I come in?"
Summoning a wan smile, she nodded.
"Of course."
He entered and raised a silent query. Nodding, Beverly gestured to the seat in front of her desk. Once seated, Jean-Luc settled his eyes on his best friend.
"We need to talk."
Fisting her hands and sighing, Beverly shook her head.
"About what?"
Briefly closing his eyes and deflecting the simmering anger emanating from the Doctor, he clenched his jaw.
"You know full well what I want to talk about…"
Beverly's voice was harsh.
"Look…if this is about me not being your date for the celebration, we've nothing to talk about, my mind's made up."
Jean-Luc pinched the bridge of his nose and concentrated on staying calm.
"Why?"
Glaring, her cerulean eyes glittered.
"Why what?"
"Why won't you go with me? And for that matter, why have you been avoiding me? You've cancelled breakfasts, you won't have dinner with me, you decline to attend recitals with me…what the hell have I done?"
Beverly sat motionless for a few seconds, her eyes staring at he desktop. Abruptly she stood and adopted an attention stance.
"Captain Picard I have a lot of work to do. If you don't mind, I would appreciate getting back to it."
Jean-Luc remained seated looking up at his vexed friend. With a casualness he didn't feel, he crossed his legs and clasped his hands on his lap.
"Request denied. Answer the question."
Now clearly furious, Beverly glared down at him.
"With all due respect Sir, this is a private matter and not under your purview as Captain."
"Granted but I'm speaking to you not as your Captain, but as a friend…a close friend, of thirty years standing. What's wrong Beverly? Is it me…have I done something wrong, something to upset you?"
Fighting back tears of frustration and sadness, Beverly shook her head. Sitting, she relaxed and when she spoke, he had to strain to hear her.
"No Jean-Luc it's not you."
He leaned forward and tried to take her hand. Shaking her head, she removed her hands and placed them on her lap. Jean-Luc frowned, his eyes darkening.
"What is it then?"
Sighing Beverly swallowed, her mouth suddenly dry.
"Please Jean-Luc…I don't want to talk about it. Just give me some time…ok?"
He sat back and regarded the sad woman, confused and angry that he couldn't find out what was wrong.
"Very well Beverly, but will you do something? If not for me then for yourself?"
Lifting her head, she looked him in the eye.
"What?"
"Talk to somebody. Will, Deanna…even Data would do…don't let this fester because if it begins to affect your work I'll have no choice but to order you into counselling."
Keeping the spike of anger at bay, Beverly nodded tightly. Jean-Luc stood and sighed.
"In the mean time if you decide you want to talk to me, I'll be there for you…anytime."
The urge to round her desk and hug the man she loved was almost overpowering. Steeling herself, Beverly remained calm.
"Thank you Jean-Luc."
He pursed his lips, took one final look, then departed. Beverly sat heavily in her chair and fought the welling tears.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was late and Jean-Luc had changed into his shorts and robe. Seated under the viewports, he was reading and listening to music, a cup of tea nearby when his door chimed. Hoping it was his best friend; he turned his head and called,
"Come."
The doors whispered open and Deanna strolled in, her hands behind her back.
"You're up late Captain."
He smiled and nodded.
"So it would seem, are you."
Making her way to his seat, she looked down at him and asked,
"May I sit Captain?"
Knowing something was on her mind he nodded. Once she was settled, she wasted no time in coming to the point.
"Captain you're still very tense."
Jean-Luc sighed and smirked. Gesturing to the book and his attire, he shook his head.
"I don't think so Counsellor. Do I look tense?"
With a look of frank disbelief, Deanna scowled.
"You know full well your demeanour has nothing whatsoever do to with your appearance. You're so tense I can feel you from my quarters! Please Captain…what is it?"
The rising anger was potent and Deanna winced as she raised her mental barriers. With great deliberation, Jean-Luc closed the book and ordered the music off. With his dark eyes glittering dangerously, he said quietly,
"I believe I have already told you it's personal. I would appreciate you ceasing with these intrusive enquiries, I see no need for your continued interest in this matter."
Deanna withstood his cold anger and nodded.
"Very well Sir, I will accede to your wishes for now, but you're not the only one I'm concerned about. You must be aware that Beverly is struggling with something and I can only put two and two together. My assumption is that these difficulties you've both been experiencing are connected."
Still tightly controlled, Jean-Luc's voice was deep and soft.
"We've been over this."
"Yes Sir we have, but I'm no further informed than before. Captain Beverly is in pain…you both are and I want nothing more than to help."
Jean-Luc stared hard at the Counsellor before sighing and lowering his head.
"I spoke to her again this afternoon and she was as unresponsive as before. I suggested she talk to someone privately…if not me then perhaps you or Will, and I cautioned her that if her difficulties affected her work, I would order her to undergo counselling."
Deanna winced and frowned.
"How did she take that?"
"She was understandably angry, but accepted it as well as can be expected."
There was silence as the two people thought about the issue. Deanna tilted her head and asked,
"Captain given her present mood, how do you think she'd take it if I broached the subject with her?"
Jean-Luc sighed and looked out at the lazily turning planet that filled the viewport.
"To be honest Counsellor I don't know. You two are close friends…she may accept it, on the other hand she may see you as the Counsellor and reject you out of hand."
"Well under the circumstances I think I should try. If this goes too far it could affect her more than we know."
The Captain nodded and took a deep breath.
"Agreed. Is that all Counsellor?"
Deanna swallowed and steeled herself against the imminent anger.
"Not quite Sir. After I have seen Beverly, I will be seeing you again. Yes I know you're unwilling, but this matter must be resolved."
He surprised her. Instead of anger, she felt tired resolution. He nodded.
"Very well, I will try and be more forthcoming."
Smiling and appreciating his effort to be compliant, Deanna stood.
"Thank you Captain. Goodnight Sir."
His eyes drifted back to the viewport as he listened to her departure. His tea now cold and his mood sour, he grunted and looked at the book.
"It's going to be a long night I fear."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day Deanna was in her office going over Beverly's last psyche evaluation. She noted several changes and tried to see if there were any clues that might shed some light on her current difficulties. In frustration, she closed the computer and sat back, deep in thought. After some minutes, she tapped her combadge.
"Troi to Crusher."
"Crusher here."
"Hello Beverly. Tell me, can you spare me some time this afternoon? There're some things I'd like to discuss with you."
Beverly's reply clearly showed her wariness.
"What things?"
"Oh you know…things."
Obviously not fooled, Beverly's voice hardened.
"I don't think so Deanna I'm…"
Deanna closed her eyes and crossed her fingers.
"Please Beverly don't say no this time…it's important."
There was a momentary silence followed by a sigh.
"Well ok, but I can't stay long."
"Excellent! I see you at say, fourteen thirty in my office?"
"OK, see you then, Crusher out."

 

 

 

 

 

At the appointed time, Beverly entered Deanna's office and stood frowning down at the Counsellor. Deanna was sitting cross-legged on the floor, eyes closed.
"Deanna?"
The Counsellor sighed and slowly stood. Opening her eyes, she smiled warmly at her old friend. Beverly smiled back, but continued to frown.
"What were you doing?"
Gesturing to some seats, Deanna went to the replicator, retrieving two hot drinks. Once they were seated, she answered.
"I've been doing some research on meditation and decided to try an old Hindu method."
Looking clearly sceptical, Beverly raised her eyebrows.
"And?"
Sighing, Deanna shrugged.
"Well let's just say it'll take some practice."
They sipped their drinks in silence before Beverly sat up.
"OK, what do you want to discuss?"
Centring herself, Deanna took a large breath.
"Beverly over the past few months I've been sensing powerful emotions coming from you…all of them negative. I've sensed anger, sadness and despair and you've not allowed me to find out why, so now I'm asking you outright. What's wrong…what's causing it?"
Displaying admirable control, Beverly schooled her features into an innocent visage.
"Oh nothing you need bother yourself with Dee. I've been a little off lately…probably hormonal."
Not convinced in the least, Deanna held her ground. Shaking her head she sighed.
"Not good enough Beverly, I know that's a load of cods. Come on…it's me remember? What is it?"
Beverly allowed precisely thirty seconds to pass before she stood.
"I have to get back to Sickbay."
She turned and walked towards the door. Deanna's quiet voice stilled her feet.
"I've talked with the Captain. He told me if this interferes with your work, he'll order you to undergo counselling. Do you want that?"
The Doctor's shoulders squared and she lowered her head. With determination she didn't feel, she walked through the open door. With her departure, Deanna sat back and sighed.
"So bloody pig-headed!"

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two days later Jean-Luc received his official invitation to that evening's celebration. He got through the day and retired to his cabin to prepare, grumbling with himself as he wrestled the closure at the neck of his dress tunic.
"How the hell does Beverly do this?"
His thick fingers fumbled with the clasp and he grunted when it finally clipped closed. Stretching his neck, he smoothed the material and looked at himself in the mirror.
"Why the hell am I doing this? It's just one more pointless round of hand-shakes and back-slapping…a glorious feast of self congratulation. What the hell is the point?"
He scowled at himself and turned on his heel. Just shy of the door sensor he paused and sighed.
"This will be the first time in years she's not by my side at one of these…talk fests. Perhaps she has the right idea. I wonder what would happen if I told them to go to hell and stayed on board?"
Snorting and shaking his head, he proceeded through the door and set course for the Transporter Room. Banishing all negative thought, he entered the room and took his place on the pad. The duty officer nodded his respectful greeting and said,
"Coordinates are set Captain."
"Energise."

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jean-Luc was greeted by Overseer Hrum. The leader stepped forward and took his arm, leading him into a cavernous room filled with ornately dressed beings of various ages. He began what seemed an endless round of introductions, his hand being squeezed repeatedly. Hrum never left his side. At one stage she wrapped an arm around his waist, guiding him through the crowds. He stepped demurely aside, disengaging her arm and she smiled warmly at him. Eventually they came to a young couple, attired completely in gold and blue robes.
"Captain Picard may I introduce the special couple? This is my daughter Gedra and my soon to be son, Nram."
Jean-Luc bowed and shook their hands. He noted the easy way the couple stood with each other, their affection clearly evident. Nram looked keenly at the Captain.
"We are honoured by you presence Captain Picard. Your reputation precedes you."
Jean-Luc smiled and shook his head.
"Thank you but I fear you may be misinformed. I am simply doing my job."
Gedra chuckled and looked to her intended for permission to speak. He nodded and she said,
"You are too modest Captain. From what we've heard you are an accomplished diplomat and a fierce warrior. Your ship is a wonder…nothing like it exists here. Is it true it has the capability of destroying our planet from orbit?"
Jean-Luc frowned and sighed.
"I'm afraid to admit that is true Gedra, however I must stress that would never occur. Our weapons are for defence only. The Federation is not aggressive."
Nram took up the conversation.
"Is it also true that Starfleet was originally meant for exploration?"
"Yes. Although based militaristically, our charter was for exploration. It is only in recent times we have found it necessary to defend ourselves, the result being that we have devoted more time to defence."
Hrum gently squeezed his arm.
"And your ships are now ships of war."
Jean-Luc frowned and lowered his head.
"I'm sorry, but that is also true. We can no longer afford to be unprepared."
The Overseer bobbed her head to see under his brow.
"This distresses you?"
Jean-Luc sighed and nodded.
"To be honest, yes it does. When I joined Starfleet it was to explore the galaxy. I never thought I'd be in so many battles…loss of any life pains me and to be responsible is a burden I carry heavily."
Hrum surprised him by trailing her fingers down his face in a remarkably intimate gesture.
"It is only because you are a man of high principle that it burdens you so Captain. A lesser man would not be so affected."
Jean-Luc smiled and was about to step back when she stopped him with a question.
"You have a given name…a familiar?"
He nodded his voice soft.
"Yes it's Jean-Luc."
Hrum smiled and tried the name.
"Jean-Luc? Jean-Luc Picard. I like it…it's strong, although alien. Does it mean anything?"
"Not specifically. Each name has it's own meaning but I wasn't named for any particular reason."
The Overseer gasped.
"Oh how unfortunate! We are named to a rigid protocol. One can trace their lineage by one's name."
"That's very interesting Overseer. May I ask do you have a familiar?"
Smiling broadly and ignoring the chuckle of her daughter, Hrum nodded.
"Yes. J'Larr-P'henn."
Jean-Luc smiled and cleared his throat.
"J'Larr-P'henn."
The Overseer laughed and put her arm around his waist.
"Oh you make it sound so exotic! Tell me Jean-Luc do you have a mate?"
"No Madam I do not."
With a gleam in her eye, she chuckled.
"Well let's hope that changes soon."
Just then there was a loud gonging and Hrum led Jean-Luc through the crowd to a long table situated on a raised stage. She seated him beside her in the middle, Klatt on his other side.
The feast began and Jean-Luc struggled to do justice to the massive meal. Being a light eater, he found the food overly spiced and heavy. Course after course was eaten, then sweets were served. Accompanying the food were alcoholic drinks Jean-Luc found quite potent. With amazement he watched as his hosts scoffed the food and drinks with little effect. Hrum managed to down seven large goblets of liquid and seemed none the worse for wear. It was with great relief the meal finally ended. His stomach straining, Jean-Luc had to concentrate on proceedings. Several dignitaries stood and delivered speeches, the last being Klatt and Hrum. The Overseer had the final speech and Jean-Luc had to resist the urge to yawn.
"Gathered guests I will not repeat the accolades or gratitude we owe the Federation, that I feel has already been adequately done. However I do have an announcement. As you all know, my mate died fifteen turns ago and over the ensuing time I have suffered loneliness and sadness. Tonight it is my pleasure to inform you that has come to an end. I have chosen a new mate. He is Captain Jean-Luc Picard."
There was a stunned silence quickly followed by tumultuous cheering. Jean-Luc snapped closed his gaping mouth and looked up disbelievingly at the Overseer. The woman was waving and bowing to the applauding crowd. He reached up and tugged on her voluminous sleeve. She bent down to him and he had to raise his voice to be heard.
"Overseer we need to talk!"
Bowing slightly, she gestured to him to stand, evoking louder applause. His face reddening, he followed Hrum from the room, his mind seething. Once in the privacy of an anteroom, Jean-Luc took a large breath.
"Overseer Hrum, while I am very flattered by your…proposal…I cannot accept."
Smiling benignly, Hrum caressed his scalp.
"My dear Jean-Luc…you cannot refuse! I am the Overseer of Gelt and my position gives me the right to choose any mate I wish. I'm sure the Federation will be more than happy to release you to take your new position as my consort."
Closing his eyes briefly, Jean-Luc clenched his jaw.
"Overseer Hrum…"
"Oh please Jean-Luc…call me J'Larr-P'henn. Actually, since you are so pleasant to look at, you can call me J'larr."
Jean-Luc lowered his head and counted to ten. Slowly lifting his head he schooled his features into a stoic visage.
"Overseer Hrum, I am sorry but I must refuse."
Now becoming irritated, Hrum put her hands on her hips.
"Is there someone else?"
Desperately clinging to the idea, Jean-Luc nodded enthusiastically.
"Yes! Yes there is and I am promised to her."
Clearly annoyed and exasperated, Hrum snarled,
"But you said you have no mate!"
Casting about Jean-Luc was thinking on the run.
"It's true…we are not yet joined, but we are promised and I will not give her up. I'm sorry Overseer but I will not cede."
Hrum walked away from him to the window and stood staring at the night sky. Jean-Luc bided his time, unaware he was holding his breath. Eventually she returned to his side.
"I accept your reasons for refusal, however I cannot afford to be humiliated by admitting you have spurned my proposal. Nevertheless I do have a plan."
Tension shivered through his frame. The Captain swallowed and asked,
"And that is?"
"We let everyone believe we are betrothed…"
Jean-Luc shook his head brusquely.
"Not acceptable! I…"
"No! Hear me Jean-Luc. I will tell my people that you cannot leave Starfleet yet and that you will be leaving with your ship. When you are gone, and the excitement dies down, I will look for another mate and they will forget you. We will both get what we want and no one will lose face."
Jean-Luc rubbed his forehead and scowled.
"It's hardly an equitable solution Overseer."
Hrum growled.
"Do you have a better idea?"
The Captain's shoulders dropped.
"Actually no, but I don't like the idea that so many people will believe we are still betrothed."
"Well unless you can think of something else I suggest we go through with my plan."
With reluctance he agreed.
"Very well."
"Good. Now we will re-enter the great hall. You will place your arm in mine and act as a happy suitor."
He glared at Hrum as she took his arm and straightened her robe. Lifting her head imperiously, she said,
"Come on Jean-Luc…our public awaits."

 

 

 

 

 

Several hours later a very tired and irritated Captain beamed up to his ship. He went straight to the Bridge, Deanna frowning at his mood. He sat and scowled at the readouts on the arms of his chair. His voice was curt.
"Prepare to break orbit Commander."
Will glanced at Deanna and she shrugged surreptitiously. The First Officer was about to give the necessary orders when Tactical called softly,
"Captain there is an incoming transmission from the Gelt home world."
Lifting his head, Jean-Luc sighed.
"On screen."
The view of Dellos changed to that of Overseer Hrum. She beamed at Jean-Luc, her eyes twinkling.
"So you're about to leave us Captain?"
Jean-Luc, now standing, nodded and raised a tight smile.
"Yes Overseer."
"I must thank you again for all your help…you may have saved our worlds."
Bowing slightly, Jean-Luc's smile grew.
"It was our pleasure madam."
The woman sighed and stepped closer to the screen.
"Take care in your travels Jean-Luc…I will miss you…beloved."
Reddening, Jean-Luc's face registered his disapproval as he nodded.
"Goodbye Overseer."
The screen reverted to its view of space as Will gave the order to leave orbit. The great ship turned lazily on her axis then jumped effortlessly to warp. In seconds the planets and the system were nothing but points of diminishing light. The Bridge occupants had all heard Hrum's endearment. With some difficulty, the crew withheld their surprise and mirth, waiting to see what their Captain would do. Tension slowly grew as a protracted silence pervaded the Bridge, and Will became restless. He caught Jean-Luc's eye and grinned.
"Beloved Sir?"
Jean-Luc grunted and scowled, considering ignoring the question. Shaking his head, he sighed.
"I very nearly didn't make it back from the planet Number One."
"Oh?"
"The esteemed Overseer of Gelt made a very interesting announcement after dinner. She declared that she had decided to take a new mate…and I was the lucky recipient."
There were gasps from around the Bridge and Jean-Luc frowned. Will's grin grew and Deanna sniggered.
"And how did you get out of that Captain?"
Shaking his head, The Captain groaned.
"I explained that I couldn't accept, but she wouldn't take no for an answer. I eventually had to tell her I was promised to someone else. She wasn't very happy, but she acquiesced. To save face she told the gathering that I couldn't leave Starfleet just yet and that I would be leaving with my ship. She told me that after we're gone, she'll search for another mate and I will be forgotten."
Will chuckled and stroked his beard.
"So the population still thinks you're her intended?"
Sighing, Jean-Luc scowled.
"For the moment yes."
Will's chuckle grew, but he soon silenced after an icy look from his Captain. Jean-Luc checked the chronometer and frowned.
"It's oh one twenty. What are you two doing on the Bridge at this hour?"
Deanna's voice was soft.
"We wanted to be here when you returned Captain."
He smiled, his eyes growing warm.
"Well as you can plainly see, I'm fine and I suggest we all retire for the night. Number One have you gone over the next mission?"
"Aye Sir. We pick up the convoy at Sigma II and relieve the Agamemnon at the same time."
Nodding, Jean-Luc brushed a speck of lint from his dress trousers.
"Very good. ETA?"
"Seventeen hours Captain."
Jean-Luc stood and yawned.
"Fine, I'll see you in the morning. Goodnight."
Standing, Will and Deanna watched as the weary man left the Bridge. Frowning Will said softly,
"How is he Dee?"
Her eyes on the closed turbolift doors, Deanna responded quietly.
"Although he's very annoyed by what happened on the planet with the Overseer, there's still something bothering him…something quite deep."
Will ran a hand through his hair and sighed.
"Well we'd better get to quarters."
Nodding, Deanna made her way to the lift and waited as Will called the car. Once in the lift Will asked,
"Do you think you can get him to talk about it?"
Shrugging, Deanna sighed.
"I honestly don't know. He did say he would talk, but you know our Captain."
Nodding, Will stretched his arms.
"What about Beverly?"
"No luck there either. She clammed up and left my office when I tried and I haven't talked to her since, not even socially."
The lift reached their deck and they walked to their quarters in silence. Will replicated some hot drinks as Deanna changed and once she was seated and brushing her hair he asked,
"Do you think their problems are related?"
Deanna paused and tilted her head, frowning in thought.
"Not directly, but I find it odd that their emotions are so similar. It's as if they're troubled by the same thing."
Will nodded and took a sip of his drink.
"Have you noticed Beverly's been avoiding the Captain?"
"Uh huh."
"Have they had a fight?"
Deanna ran the brush methodically through her long dark hair and shook her head.
"The Captain says no. Beverly says nothing."
"Have they talked? Tried to resolve things?"
Putting the brush down, Deanna picked up her mug.
"The Captain told me he's talked to Beverly on two occasions to try and find out what's wrong. Both times she refused to tell him."
Will grunted and stood, shrugging off his uniform tunic.
"It must be driving him nuts, you know how they've always shared everything. Could that be it Dee? Could he simply be obsessing over Beverly…worrying himself sick?"
Deanna watched as he attacked his undershirt, tossing it on the chair.
"Perhaps that's part of it, but there's something else, something that's really eating at him. I'm so used to his almost glacial calm, this turmoil he's been going through…it's very unsettling."
The big man, now naked to the waist, looked down at his lover.
"It's not affecting his ability to command?"
Shaking her head, Deanna sighed.
"Not yet."
Will offered his hand and helped Deanna to her feet.
"Well we've no option but to leave him to get through it and hope he'll eventually allow you to help."
Nodding, Deanna stretched up on tiptoes and kissed Will's cheek.
"Agreed."

 

 

 

After once again enduring a solitary breakfast, Jean-Luc made his way to the bridge and took his seat. On the screen was a view of sixty ships of varying size and capacity, loosely spread over five hundred and eighty kilometres. Their mission was to escort these refugees to a new planet Starfleet had found for them The sole survivors of a cataclysmic seismic event on their home world, the fifty nine thousand that were left had been lucky enough to contact Starfleet for assistance. It would take five and a half weeks at their reduced speed to reach the new system and all the Enterprise crew could do in the interim, was watch and wait.
Will had the crew going through drills and Engineering used the time to carry out some much needed diagnostics, but all in all most people on the ship were bored.
Resisting the urge to fidget, Jean-Luc sat still in his Command chair, setting an example to his junior officers on how to comport one's self, even when stultifying boredom threatened.
Will was not so controlled. He prowled around the Bridge, stopping at each station and getting an update from each officer. With a hidden smile, Jean-Luc noted the expansive sigh when the big man eventually sat.
"We've been escorting the convoy for what…three days? It feels like a month!"
The Captain sat back and studied the rag-tag fleet.
"Patience Number One. Imagine how it must be on those ships. They were never designed for the amount of people they're carrying…not to mention the belongings and livestock. How they managed is beyond me."
Will scratched his beard and nodded.
"I suppose. How is the construction going on Hera?"
"Starfleet informs me they will have adequate accommodation ready when we arrive, although it will be spartan. It'll be up to the people to slowly build more substantial constructs as time goes on. Starfleet will, of course, supply most of what they need, at least until they're self-sufficient. The Darwin will relieve us after we arrive."
Will stared at the ships, sighing.
"They have a lot in front of them."
Sharing his exec's sombre mood, Jean-Luc nodded.
"Indeed. To lose everything then to be uprooted, forced to travel across the galaxy then have to re-establish a whole population…I can only hope such adversity will strengthen them as a people."
Hearing the tiredness in his voice, Will cast a look at his Captain. Dark smudges underscored his eyes and he seemed to have lost weight. Debating the wisdom of his next move, Will leaned closer to his CO and said quietly,
"You look tired Sir. There's nothing requiring you to be here…why don't you take some time off and get some rest?"
Jean-Luc's dark eyes hardened and slid from the viewscreen until he was staring coldly at his First Officer. In a tightly controlled deep voice, he said softly,
"My place is on the Bridge of my ship Commander. Kindly keep your observations and suggestions to yourself."
Chastened and worried, Will straightened.
"Aye Sir…sorry Captain."
Now he was really concerned. When his CO told him to stop giving suggestions, he knew something was very wrong. Jean-Luc had always relied on the opinions and suggestions of his senior officers, and even though Will's observation was of a private nature, Jean-Luc would usually at least listen.
Rising to his feet, Will asked,
"Permission to leave the Bridge Captain?"
Jean-Luc nodded curtly, his eyes not leaving the status readout on his chair.
"Granted."
Will was in the turbolift before he tapped his combadge.
"Riker to Crusher."
"Crusher here."
"Beverly I need a moment of your time. Are you free?"
"Uh huh."
"Fine, I'll see you in your office. Riker out."

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beverly was at her desk when the big man strode in. Without preamble, he took a chair, turned it and straddled it, his arms coming to rest on its back. The Doctor smiled at her friend, curious as to what was on his mind.
"Beverly I'm worried about the Captain."
Frowning, Beverly was immediately concerned.
"Why? What's wrong?"
Will frowned and shook his head.
"It's a number of things. He's been very quiet, almost withdrawn. He looks like hell and I'm pretty sure he's lost weight and to top it off, I just suggested he take some time off and he all but told me to mind my own business and while that may be fair enough, he told me to keep my suggestions to myself."
The Doctor sat back and tapped her lips with her fingers.
"That doesn't sound like our Captain."
"No it doesn't and Beverly…forgive me, but if you'd stop avoiding him…well you'd have seen this for yourself."
Her glare would have scared a lesser man. Sitting up slowly, Beverly's voice was like ice.
"I'll only tell you this once Will. Mind your own bloody business."
Will's knuckles whitened as he gripped the back of the chair.
"Sound familiar? Look I've no idea what's going on…whether it's something between you and the Captain or somehow you both found the same nest of vipers…all I do know is that you're both very unhappy and I want to help. It's been going on too long Beverly."
The glare faltered and Beverly's face softened. Sighing, she lowered her head.
"Will I don't know what's wrong with the Captain, but as for me…it's personal and I really don't want to talk about it."
The First Officer began to speak but Beverly held up a hand.
"No Will. Please…just let it go. One way or another I'll work this out but I want to do it on my own."
Will relaxed his hands and summoned a smile of reluctant acceptance.
"OK, I can go with that, but what about the Captain? Will you look in on him, or should I take my concerns to Selar?"
At the mention of her Vulcan colleague, Beverly frowned.
"No, that would be a bad idea. I'll go to his quarters and see him after shift's end, ok?"
Will was very tempted to ask her to unburden to the Captain when she saw him, but ultimately he knew she would refuse. Like it or not, he had no option but to trust her. He nodded and rose.
"Fair enough. I'll contact you tomorrow."
Beverly smiled and watched as he left.
"Great…just what I didn't want…a face to face with Jean-Luc."

 

 

 

 

 

It was late when Jean-Luc finally made it to his quarters. He'd only just walked to the replicator for a cup of tea when his door chimed.
"Come."
It opened and Beverly hesitatingly poked her head inside.
"Can I come in?"
He turned, cup in hand, his face a stoic mask.
"If you wish."
She wandered over to the replicator as he seated himself in his favourite chair under the viewport seemingly ignoring his guest. Beverly ordered a chamomile tea and took it over to the sofa, sitting without permission. They sipped their drinks, each holding to the precious silence. Beverly sighed and sat back, crossing her long legs.
"Will came to see me today…he's worried about you."
Keeping his eyes on the contents of his cup, Jean-Luc shrugged.
"That's his job."
The Doctor pursed her lips, keeping her rising anger at bay.
"Jean-Luc…"
His head shot up and he glared.
"What?"
Their eyes held and Beverly frowned.
"Look you've lost weight…I'd lay odds you're not eating properly, and I bet you're not sleeping well. I know it's not the current mission…for God's sake a shuttle could do this job so it must be something else…something that's been bothering you for months. Now's the time Jean-Luc, what is it?"
With measured deliberation, he set the cup on the low table. Raising his eyes to meet hers, he kept his deep voice soft.
"And what about you? The same could be said…you've been tense and unhappy for about the same amount of time. I've asked you what's wrong and you've refused to tell me. Why is it you expect me to be forthcoming when you are so reticent?"
They sat in silence, staring at each other. Beverly sighed and shrugged.
"Maybe because you're the Captain and I'm the CMO. It's my job to make sure you're ok…in fact you're my number one priority."
Jean-Luc sighed and shook his head. His voice soft he said,
"That's bullshit and you know it. Yes I'm your responsibility, but so is every one of the crew. No…it's more of an inequality in our relationship. You feel you can keep things from me, but I have to divulge my problems. Well I'm here to tell you that won't work…I won't accept it. If you will tell me what's wrong, I'll reciprocate."
Beverly slowly placed her cup on the table and came steadily to her feet. Looking down at her friend she whispered,
"If you refuse to look after yourself and if you continue to go down hill, I will order you to Sickbay for an evaluation."
Jean-Luc turned his head and stared out at the stars. The Doctor spun on her heel and left his quarters. Once outside the angry woman slapped her combadge.
"Crusher to Riker."
A sleepy voice answered.
"Riker here."
"I've just seen the Captain Will and he's being bloody minded. Keep an eye on him and if you think he needs to come to Sickbay contact me."
Will was obviously confused.
"But Beverly that's something you should…"
"Forget it Will. He's stonewalling me."
"OK…I'll watch him."
"Good Crusher out."

 

 

 

 

Jean-Luc sat in the subdued lighting in his cabin and smiled coldly.
"Well my dear Doctor…two can play at your game."
His tea finished, he slowly got to his feet and caught sight of some of the convoy. Sighing, he shook his head.
"This is pointless! The Flagship for God's sake…escorting a bunch of refugees to a new planet. We should be out there making a difference…exploring, opening up new territory, discovering new species, not nurse maiding this rag-tag fleet. What the hell are we doing here? This is not what I joined for…and it's definitely not what I want."
He wandered into his bedroom and undressed, his mind roiling. Putting on his shorts, he turned back his bed before heading into the living area to select a book. He stood staring at the volumes his fingers lightly touching the spines. Snorting he turned away and went to his desk, Opening a drawer he took out a bottle of authentic cognac and retrieved a tumbler. Pouring a hefty measure, he walked to the viewport and raised his glass to the convoy.
"Here's to you. May you have the courage of your convictions…I know I don't."
He downed the liquor in one gulp then poured another. Raising the tumbler again he whispered,
"And may you all find peace of mind."
That large measure went down and he poured again.
"Oh yes…and may you all find happy relationships with the ones you love…and if you do for God's sake tell me how you did it."
He tilted his head back and poured the drink down his throat. Looking at the bottle, he debated having another but shook his head. Sighing, he capped the bottle and replaced it in the drawer. On his way back to his bedroom, he disposed of the tumbler and sighed expansively as he slipped into bed. Turning onto his back, he flung one arm across his eyes and concentrated on relaxing and although his body obeyed, his mind still seethed.
"What the hell does she want from me? Why am I supposed to answer all her questions when she feels she can keep herself from answering mine? It's a two way street…it always has been with us. What's changed…what's happened? I know I'm dissatisfied…restless, but that shouldn't have affected Beverly, in fact it should've brought her to me, not turned her away."
He sighed and turned over.
"Why can't she accept my love? What is it about me that scares her? What is it she said…maybe we should be afraid? Of what for God's sake? Of being happy? Of intensifying an already extraordinarily deep friendship? Is it the thought of intimacy? Do I repulse her? What the hell is it?"
He tossed again and grunted. There would be little sleep tonight.

 

 

 

 

Beverly went back to Sickbay and buried herself in work until oh three thirty. Only when she felt the ache in her back did she finally turn off her monitor and leave for her quarters.
Once inside her cabin, she went to her bedroom and changed, slipping into bed and staring up at the ceiling.
"He is so predictable! When he's got something on his mind, his well being goes straight out the window. What is it with him? Why does he think he's so bloody indestructible? He'll continue to lose weight and go without decent sleep until he has to come to Sickbay. He'll grouch and complain and give my staff and me grief until we fix him then he'll retreat to his damn bridge as if nothing's happened. Why the hell do I let him get away with it every time? He's an adult, he's old enough to know better."
She turned over and grabbed the spare pillow, hugging it.
"And what's with the attitude? I ask him a simple question and he acts as if I've asked him to divulge a state secret. Well damn him! If he wants to play Captain with me, that's fine. Two can play at that game. Arrogant son of a bitch!"

 

 

 

 

 

Deanna gently rubbed her temples. Over the past three days the tension between the Captain and Doctor had caused her a persistent headache. Try as she might, neither party would talk with her and the war of attrition went on unchecked. She worried over both of them but it was the Captain that concerned her most. He looked terrible and she knew he wasn't sleeping. Waiting for a propitious moment, she found it when he retired to the Ready Room. With a silent nod to her lover, she stood and walked to the doors, strengthening her mental barriers. He acknowledged her request for entry and she seated herself before his desk, waiting patiently for him to notice her.
"Yes Counsellor?"
Taking a deep steadying breath, Deanna said firmly, but quietly,
"Captain I think it would be a good idea for you to report to Sickbay for a check up."
His eyes darkened and glittered but he kept his voice soft and even.
"I don't think so Counsellor."
With determination, Deanna met his steady gaze.
"It's not a suggestion Sir."
Now clearly angry, the Captain fisted his hands on the desk.
"I can assure you Counsellor I am not in need of Sickbay's services."
"I beg to differ Captain. I know for a fact you've not been sleeping and your obvious weight loss is evidence you've not been eating sufficiently. Please Captain…don't make this any harder than it already is."
His voice dropped deeper and deceptively soft, a sure sign of towering anger.
"I see…and when am I required to make this visit?"
"Immediately Sir."
He closed his eyes briefly and lowered his head before slowly standing. Deanna came to her feet and he raised his head in query.
"I will accompany you Sir."
His jaw flexed as he strove for control.
"That will not be necessary."
"Perhaps not Sir, but I'll escort you anyway."
Gritting his teeth, Jean-Luc stepped around his desk and strode out of his office. As he briskly walked to the turbolift he called over his shoulder,
"You have the Bridge Commander. I'll be in Sickbay."
Will's reply was lost as the lift doors closed. The two officers remained in silence as they made their way to the medical facility. Deanna had to hurry to keep up with his brisk pace and once they were in Sickbay, Deanna requested Beverly's presence from the enquiring nurse.
The Doctor appeared, a cautious smile on her face.
"Hello Captain, Deanna. What can I do for you?"
Deanna kept her face calm.
"I have ordered the Captain to attend Sickbay as I believe his health has been compromised."
Sobering immediately, Beverly nodded and gestured for Jean-Luc to go to his private room, leaving the two women alone for a few minutes. Beverly said softly,
"How did he take it?"
Deanna grimaced.
"He's absolutely furious. Good luck."
The Counsellor left and Beverly looked at the closed door of the Captain's private room. Sighing, she picked up a tricorder and went in.

 

 

 

 

 

Jean-Luc was standing rigidly, his back to the door. Beverly stood behind him and said gently,
"Sit on the biobed please Captain."
He silently did as requested, his indignation coming off him in waves. The Doctor spent some moments scanning him then sighed as she replaced the probe back in its holder.
"Blood sugar very low, weight loss, insufficient sleep…need I go on?"
He glared and remained silent. Beverly loaded a hypospray and gently tugged down the collar of his tunic.
"I'm giving you a large dose of vitamins and minerals but it's a stop-gap measure at best. My recommendation is a few days off. Eat properly and get some decent rest."
His voice was cold.
"Is that an order?"
Her eyes glittered and she crossed her arms.
"Do I need to make it one?"
He slid off the bed and tugged down his tunic. About to brush past, Beverly took hold of his elbow.
"Jean-Luc what is it? What's so damned important that you're willing to ignore your health?"
He wrenched his arm free and glared icily.
"What do you care?"
Outraged, Beverly took a step back and threw the hypo across the room.
"Damn you! I will not be subjected to emotional blackmail! Get the hell out of my sight!"
Jean-Luc left immediately. His passage from Sickbay was brisk, as was his entrance onto the Bridge. However he was in for an unpleasant surprise.
He entered his Ready Room; Deanna sighed and looked at Will.
"You or me?"
Will grimaced and shrugged.
"He won't like it either way, but you'll probably have more success."
Nodding, Deanna rose and looked at the closed doors. With a determined squaring of her shoulders, she approached and pressed the annunciator. At first there was no reply. Casting a look over her shoulder at Will, she frowned and pressed again. The reply was curt.
"Who the hell is it?"
"It's Counsellor Troi Captain."
"I'm busy!"
Counting slowly to five, Deanna swallowed.
"Captain please let me in."
She was surprised when the door suddenly opened, her angry Captain standing just inside.
"What do you want?"
Keeping her voice soft and her eyes sympathetic, Deanna said,
"Perhaps we should discuss this in private?"
Jean-Luc glared then turned abruptly and strode to the viewport, his back to the Counsellor. Once the door was closed, Deanna sighed.
"Captain before you arrived on the Bridge we had a call from Sickbay."
He ignored her, keeping his eyes on the passing stars.
"I'm sorry Sir, but you're relieved of duty for the next three days."
He turned slowly, his dark eyes glittering with fury.
"It is my belief that Doctor Crusher is not capable of issuing such an order at this time. She is under stress and I feel her judgement is impaired."
Shocked at his harsh words, the Counsellor regrouped.
"If that is so Captain, then you will have to undergo an examination by Doctor Selar to confirm Doctor Crusher's diagnosis."
Stymied, Jean-Luc glared coldly.
"That would be an unnecessary burden on Sickbay. There is nothing wrong with me Counsellor."
Deanna kept her courage.
"I'm sorry Sir, but I beg to differ. You have two choices Captain. Either report for another examination, or go to your quarters as ordered."
He stood rigidly, anger and disbelief permeating his face. With deliberate movements, he stepped away from the viewport and stood in front of the Counsellor, too close for her comfort. His voice was low and deadly.
"Are you defying me Counsellor?"
Swallowing convulsively, Deanna stood her ground.
"No Sir, I am following an order from the ship's CMO. Please Captain…don't fight this."
They stood silently and Deanna couldn't meet his eyes. She stared at his chest, willing him to comply. Her empathic senses were nearing overload and her headache surged. About to call for Will, she was relieved when he suddenly stepped around her and marched out of the room. In angry silence he strode to the turbolift and left the Bridge.
Deanna remained in the Ready Room taking time to calm herself. When again in control, she exited and took her seat, her hands trembling. Will gave her a sympathetic look and smiled.
"How did it go?"
"Not good I'm afraid. He's absolutely livid."
Will scratched his beard and shook his head.
"Do you think he'll follow orders?"
Deanna shrugged and pursed her lips.
"Time will tell."
She then raised her head.
"Computer, location of Captain Picard?"
"Captain Picard is in his quarters."
Deanna sighed and smiled at her lover.
"So far so good."
Will gripped his thighs and grimaced.
"Beverly sounded really angry."
Deanna nodded.
"I know, I'm going to see her later…when things calm down."
Sighing Will sat up and stretched his neck.
"OK, let me know how you go."

 

 

 

 

 

Jean-Luc sat at his desk, going over ship's business. At his elbow sat a half eaten sandwich and a cooling cup of tea. He had slowly reined in his anger and decided that if he wanted to keep away from Beverly, he had to at least make an effort to look after himself. Eating wasn't a problem, although it was an inconvenience. When preoccupied, eating was one of the first things that suffered. However he knew he could redress that problem. Sleeping however was an entirely different matter. Already well acquainted with bouts of insomnia, he knew it was going to be hard to conquer this particular bugbear. He sat back and devoted some thought as to how he could overcome the problem.
"I suppose I'll just read, hopefully I'll drift off."
His eyes drifted to his bookcase mentally cataloguing the titles.
"Dixon Hill…Shakespeare…Byron…I know, Dickens! I haven't read Great Expectations for a while. That should do it."
Pleased with his strategy, he returned to the monitor.

 

 

 

 

 

Deanna stood outside Beverly's office and took a deep breath. Pressing the chime, she dampened her empathic receptors and tried to discern Beverly's mood by her tone of voice.
"Come in."
"Not too bad."
The Counsellor entered and smiled at her friend.
"Hello Beverly, how goes it?"
Gesturing at the PADDs strewn across her desk, Beverly sighed.
"Still snowed under. Honestly I think the damn things breed."
Deanna chuckled and lowered her barriers. Although Beverly was still deeply troubled by something, she seemed calm. She decided to test the waters.
"Captain Picard came up to the Bridge after his examination."
Beverly's head snapped up, her eyes hardening.
"Did he now? And who, may I ask, had the dubious task of reminding him that he'd been relieved of duty?"
Smiling, Deanna tilted her head.
"That would be me. Will chickened out."
Beverly snorted then sobered.
"How did he take it?"
"As you would imagine, he wasn't very happy. Beverly he said something that has me worried."
Sitting back, Beverly picked up a stylus and tapped her chin.
"Go on."
"He said he believed you were unfit to issue orders to him. He told me you were under stress and that your abilities were impaired."
Beverly gripped the stylus until her knuckles showed white. Her silence unsettled the Counsellor and she was about to ask Beverly if she was all right when the Doctor growled.
"That sanctimonious bastard!"
Shocked by the vehemence of the outburst, Deanna gasped.
"Beverly!"
Throwing down the stylus, Beverly seethed.
"I'm telling you Deanna I've had it with him! Who the hell does he think he is?"
Concentrating on deflecting Beverly's anger, Deanna said quietly,
"Beverly…look at this from his perspective for a moment. He's been worried sick about you and, added to that is something else…something deeply disturbing him. He tries to find out what's troubling you and you hang him out to dry. It's no wonder he's hurting and because of that it's also no wonder he's ignored his health. Give him time Beverly…he'll come around."
Deflated, the Doctor sat back and sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose.
"You're right of course and I feel like a complete bitch, the way I've been treating him, but he can't do this and expect me to accept it with equanimity."
"Granted but honestly…you two share so much…surely you can at least talk to him? Try to smooth his feathers and in doing so, find some solace for yourself?"
Her meaningful look made Beverly grimace. The Doctor sighed and rubbed her forehead.
"I know…you want me to tell you what's wrong, why I've been so off these last few months. Dee I can't…I haven't worked it out myself so I can hardly discuss it with you or Jean-Luc. Look I'll go and see him, at least to pour oil on troubled waters…but don't expect any miracles, it's not going to happen."
Knowing she had pushed as far as she dared. Deanna nodded and raised a smile.
"Agreed, and thank you, the Captain needs you right now."
Smiling wanly, Beverly watched as the Counsellor rose to her feet. She left and Beverly shook her head.
"Bugger."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was late and Jean-Luc was still at his desk when his door chimed. Rather than call out his permission to enter, he rose stiffly, stretching his back and ambling over to the door. He pressed the release and on seeing his caller, immediately schooled his face into his Captain's visage.
"Hello Jean-Luc."
Beverly stood quietly, concentrating on staying calm. Noting his tense posture, Beverly smiled and raised her hand, showing the medical tricorder.
"Thought I'd drop by and run this over you."
His stony silence exasperated the tired Doctor.
"Well are you going to let me in?"
He stood motionless for several seconds before abruptly turning and walking over to the viewports. Taking that as permission to enter, Beverly followed him and took the probe from the device. Softly, her voice carried to him.
"Turn around Jean-Luc."
He complied and she took a few moments to scan him. Throughout the procedure he stood rigidly, his eyes glittering and his jaw clenched. Beverly completed the scan, returned the probe and closed the instrument.
"Well there's been some improvement…you've eaten at least."
Her eyes met his and she sighed.
"Don't be angry with me Jean-Luc…please."
He folded his arms across his chest and lowered his head. Beverly took that as a softening of his attitude and sighed.
"Deanna told me what you said about my abilities. Did you mean it?"
He shook his head and when he spoke, his deep voice was husky.
"No. I was angry…hurt…I wanted to strike back and you were the first person that came to mind."
The Doctor nodded and fiddled with the tricorder.
"I can understand that…I've been known to do exactly the same thing, but that doesn't explain how you came to be in Sickbay in the first place. Why have you been neglecting yourself?"
Jean-Luc sighed and turned slowly to look out at the motley collection of ships they were escorting. Running a hand over his head he shrugged his shoulders. Beverly stepped closer and ran her hand gently over his arm. The contact made him flinch and he surprised her by saying softly,
"Don't Beverly."
Confused, she asked,
"Why?"
He turned back to face her and she gasped softly at seeing tears in his eyes.
"Because I can't do it any more. Every time you touch me, every time I'm near you it hurts and I can't stand the pain any more."
The Doctor took a step back, her eyes wide. Her voice a whisper, she asked,
"What are you saying?"
Jean-Luc rubbed his face and sighed.
"What am I saying? I'm saying I'm in love with you…I have been for so long I can't remember what it was like before I loved you, but you've made it clear you don't want a relationship with me. For years I had to be content to have you as a friend…my dearest friend…anything just so I could be close to you but I can't do it any more. Our recent conflict has made me see that we need some time apart, and you're right…it's something you've already instigated. Perhaps, with time, my feelings will fade and I will be able to re-establish our friendship without the pain."
He paused and absently wiped at an errant tear.
"I'm sorry Beverly…it's my fault and I…"
He got no further. Beverly spun on her heels and left his quarters leaving Jean-Luc standing alone under the viewport. He turned back to the stars, the light reflected off his tears.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the time Beverly reached her cabin she was sobbing. She went straight to her bedroom and flung herself onto the bed, grabbing a pillow and hugging it. Her sobs were gut wrenching. Self-loathing, anguish and despair raged through her mind and behind it all was panic. With a wail of defeat, she buried her face in the pillow.
"What have I done? My God I've finally pushed him too far, hurt him once too often…what will I do without him…he's always been there…strong, gentle, undemanding…and always loving me, despite my cavalier attitude!"
Oh dear God…what have I done?"

 

Deanna sat up in bed, causing Will to gently grip her elbow. His quiet voice was concerned.
"What is it?"
The Counsellor frowned and slid from the bed.
"Something's happened. The Captain and Beverly are very upset, I must go to them."
Tying her robe around her, the big man asked,
"Do you want me to go with you?"
Preoccupied, Deanna shook her head.
"No…I don't know when I'll be back…"
He watched as she left the bedroom, calling after her,
"I'll wait up."
Ignoring the offer, Deanna hurried from their quarters and raced through the corridors, her concern growing the closer to Beverly she got. No bothering with the door annunciator, she overrode the lock and entered, immediately hearing Beverly's distress. The bedroom door sighed open and Deanna stood on the threshold, desperately trying to deflect the tumult of emotion washing over her.
"Beverly?"
On hearing her name, the Doctor froze and stilled her sobs. Deanna stepped into the room and moved to the bed, sitting tentatively on the edge. Gently placing a hand on Beverly's trembling shoulder, Deanna kept her voice soft.
"Beverly what's happened?"
The Doctor shrugged from her touch and sat up, pulling her knees to her chin. Taking a shaky breath, Beverly employed a tremendous effort to block her caring friend.
"It's nothing…I'm fine."
Shaking her head angrily, Deanna's voice hardened.
"What sort of a fool do you take me for? Something's happened, something serious. What is it?"
Wiping her face, Beverly shrugged.
"Nothing…really Dee it's nothing. Look I'm tired and I should get some sleep."
Deanna wasn't sure which vexed her more, her shock at the blatant lie, or the worry over Beverly's refusal to confide in her. She tried one more time.
"Beverly please…whatever this is it's serious enough to bring you to despair. Tell me before it causes you major trouble."
Where Beverly found the strength to refuse her friend, she didn't know. Pushing her hair back and summoning a wan smile, Beverly patted Deanna's arm.
"It's nothing like that Dee, I'll be fine, really. All I need is a decent night's sleep…tomorrow I'll be as good as new, you'll see."
With no other option but to withdraw, Deanna stood and frowned down at the Doctor.
"All right, but if I'm not happy with what I sense I'll be coming to see you…and I won't be put off again."
Her voice failing her, Beverly nodded, willing her tears to remain unshed. With a sickly smile plastered on her face, she waited as Deanna stared down at her. With an exasperated snort, Deanna left and Beverly toppled over, gripping the pillow as if her life depended on it.

 

 

Deanna stood outside Jean-Luc's quarters, trying to sift through the dark churning emotions coming from the man inside. Knowing if she overrode the lock she would only provoke anger, she pressed the chime and crossed her fingers.
At the sound of the annunciator, Jean-Luc scowled and barked,
"Computer who is at my door?"
"Counsellor Deanna Troi."
He savagely punched the window frame, unfeeling of the damage he did to his hand. He screwed his eyes closed and called, his voice rough,
"Go back to bed Counsellor. I don't require your services."
Deanna sighed and rubbed her forehead.
"Captain please…I know you're very upset…I…"
"I'm fine Counsellor and it's quite late. I really think you should go back to your quarters."
"But…"
"Goodnight Counsellor."
Out manoeuvred, Deanna debated the wisdom of overriding the lock. Her head raised and she took the breath to issue the order, but she stopped, her knowledge of the trouble it would cause making her reassess her decision. Instead she said,
"Very well Captain, I will see you tomorrow."
There was no reply and Deanna walked back to her cabin deep in thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being off duty for the next three days, Jean-Luc was at his desk in his quarters when his concentration was interrupted by the door chime. Short on patience, he snapped,
"Who is it?"
"It's Deanna Captain."
Screwing his eyes closed he fisted his hands and winced at the pain in his right hand. Swearing softly, he shook his head.
"I'm rather busy right now Counsellor. Perhaps we could meet later and…"
"I'm afraid not Captain. As I told you last night, I think you need to talk to me and now would be the opportune time."
Clenching his teeth, he rubbed his forehead and scowled.
"Very well, come in."
Deanna entered and stood before the desk. Jean-Luc kept his eyes on the monitor but forgot to take his hands off the desktop. Deanna saw his swollen damaged right hand and gasped.
"Captain! What have you done to your hand?"
Realising his error, he quickly pulled his hand back and rested it on his thigh.
"It's nothing Counsellor…I knocked it last night and I haven't got around to having it seen to yet."
Deanna new a lie when she heard one. Knowing not to call Beverly, she tapped her combadge and said softly,
"Troi to Selar."
"Selar here."
"Doctor would you please report to the Captain's quarters and bring a med kit?"
"Yes Counsellor, I am on my way. Selar out."
Glaring up at the petite woman, Jean-Luc muttered,
"That is entirely unnecessary. I'm quite capable of looking after myself…I don't need your interference."
Ignoring him, Deanna frowned down and set her jaw.
"Why were you so upset last night Captain?"
Jean-Luc sat back and folded his arms.
"That is none of your concern."
"I beg to differ Sir. Of all the people on this ship, your well being is my prime concern. For some months now I have detected dark, unsettling emotions coming from you, totally at odds with your usual emotional balance. Something is very wrong and your continued reticence is making it impossible for me to do my job properly."
About to deny her observations, he was cut off by the door annunciator. He looked on highly annoyed as Deanna went to the door and pressed the release. Selar entered and the Counsellor gestured to her CO.
"Captain Picard had injured his right hand. It would be appreciated if you would treat it here, in his quarters."
Nodding her acknowledgement to her Captain, the stoic woman went to his side and waited patiently. With reluctance, Jean-Luc lifted his damaged hand and glared at Deanna as the Doctor scanned it. The tricorder was the only sound in the room. Snapping it closed, Selar said quietly,
"There are two depressed fractures in the hand and a clean break in the wrist. I can fuse the bones, but regeneration therapy is recommended and for that you will have to attend Sickbay."
Keeping his dark eyes glued to the Counsellor, Jean-Luc muttered,
"Just fix it!"
"Very well Captain."
Suppressing a wince as his hand was gently straightened, he endured the fusing of the broken bones and sighed as an analgesic was administered. Selar packed away her instruments and looked down at her patient.
"Captain Picard your hand will heal sufficiently over approximately seven days, however I must reiterate…regeneration therapy is indicated. I strongly advise you to reconsider your decision to forego the treatment."
Jean-Luc placed his hand on his thigh and shook his head.
"Are you finished Doctor?"
"Yes Captain."
"Then you are dismissed."
As Selar left, Jean-Luc sat back, his unwavering stare beginning to unsettle the Counsellor. She lowered her gaze and sighed.
"Captain your anger towards me is misplaced, I am not responsible for your trouble. If you would just tell me what's wrong…I'm sure I could help you Sir."
Jean-Luc sighed and closed his eyes. His voice soft, he said,
"Deanna please believe me, there's nothing you can do. Yes I know I've been less than at the top of my game lately, but I can assure you I can deal with this myself."
Exasperated, Deanna shook her head.
"Captain…"
Holding up his newly repaired hand, Jean-Luc stopped her.
"No Counsellor."
He saw the worry on her face and sighed.
"Although I may have been preoccupied, you can't say it has affected my work, can you?"
Her lips a thin line, Deanna shook her head.
"No Sir."
"Well there you go. Look Counsellor, you'll just have to believe me…I'm fine, I'll handle it."
His voice softer and his eyes boring into hers, he said,
"Let it go Deanna."
Her shoulders slumping, Deanna relented.
"Very well Captain."
He nodded and with a warm smile said quietly,
"Dismissed Counsellor."

 

 

 

 

 

She was out of his quarters before she realised what he'd done. Angrily staring back at his closed door she snorted.
"Wily Captain…very wily."
Shaking her head and clearing her mind, she concentrated on Beverly. She knew that the Doctor was on duty in Sickbay but frowned, as she detected no dark thoughts. With the memory of Beverly's recent distress in her mind, Deanna turned and made her way to the medical facility.
She entered Sickbay and soon saw the red head treating a crewman for a dislocated collarbone. Her movements were sure, her bedside manner up to its usual warm standard. The patient grinned widely as she gently admonished him for his carelessness and as he slipped down from the biobed, Deanna caught Beverly's eye. There was a flicker of disquiet, gone almost too fast to see. Deanna felt the spike of panic and watched closely as Beverly savagely quashed it. The smile that emerged was forced and didn't quite reach her eyes.
"Hello Deanna what brings you here?"
With a sceptical look, Deanna sighed and came closer.
"I've come to see how you are. After last night…"
Beverly flapped her hand and snorted.
"Oh piffle. As you can plainly see, I'm fine. All I needed was a good night's sleep…it's wonderful how refreshing that can be."
Shaking her head and frowning, Deanna gently gripped Beverly's elbow and said softly,
"Perhaps we should go to your office? I really want to talk to you…in private."
Her long elegant hand closed over Deanna's and removed it from her elbow. Looking up, Deanna saw an uncharacteristic hardness in her friend's blue eyes.
"I don't think so Deanna, I've got way to much work to do."
"But…"
Her face softening, Beverly shook her head.
"I'm fine Dee…go back to the Bridge."
Deanna stood in disbelief as the Doctor turned and walked away. Letting her eyes drift to the floor, she shook her head sadly.
"She just dismissed me…just like the Captain!"
Turning slowly, Deanna left Sickbay, her mind reeling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the end of her duty shift, Beverly went straight to her quarters and sat at her desk.
"Computer location of Commander Data?"
"Commander Data is in his quarters."
The Doctor sat quietly, her fingers lightly tapping the desktop.
"Crusher to Data."
"Data here."
"Data I know we'll be meeting the Darwin when we arrive, but are there any other ships at Hera?"
"Yes Doctor. The Ark Royal and the Yoshi are presently in orbit. Their construction crews are preparing the accommodation for the refugees."
Beverly sat back and frowned.
"Do you know their schedules for after this mission?"
"Yes Doctor. The Yoshi will stay for three weeks before leaving for an escort duty and the Darwin will leave three days after they meet with us, their destination is Starbase 33."
"What about the Ark Royal?"
"She will be staying at Hera for some time."
"Who is the Captain of the Darwin?"
"Sean Adams."
The Doctor leaned forward and softened her voice.
"Data can you contact the Darwin from your quarters?"
"Yes Doctor."
"Can you put through a call to their Captain and put it through to my quarters?"
"That would be most irregular Doctor. All communications are supposed to go through the Bridge."
Beverly sighed and pushed back her hair.
"I know Data, but this is very important and private."
"But Doctor…"
"Please Data."
There was a momentary silence before she heard the words that made her close her eyes.
"Very well Doctor."
She sat quietly for fifteen minutes before the android's voice came to her.
"Doctor Crusher I'm putting you through now."
Sitting up, Beverly stared at the screen, smiling brightly when the image of the Darwin's Captain appeared.
"Captain Adams thank you for taking my call."
The older man frowned and shook his head.
"This is most unusual Doctor. Your Second Officer told me this call was private…what's going on?"
Taking a big breath Beverly squared her shoulders.
"When we arrive at Hera, I would like to request passage to Starbase 33."
Captain Adams sat back and put his hands on his desk.
"I see. And what does Captain Picard know about this? You're his CMO aren't you?"
Licking her lips, Beverly nodded.
"Yes Captain but by the time I come aboard your ship that will no longer be so."
"And Picard?"
"He doesn't know Sir…and I must ask you to keep what I've told you private. I will talk to Captain Picard, but not yet."
"I see. Well if you're no longer the CMO of the Enterprise when you come aboard I can't refuse you. Will this situation be permanent?"
Nodding, Beverly struggled to keep her tears at bay.
"Yes Captain."
"Very well. I will keep your confidence but I expect Picard to know before you come aboard. You'll be how long?"
"Three weeks Sir."
He nodded and sat up.
"Right. See you then, Darwin out."
Beverly lifted her arms and rested her elbows on the desk. Cradling her head in her hands she sighed as the tears started to flow.
"I'm so sorry Jean-Luc…I can't take it any more. This ship…no Starfleet in general isn't for me any longer and if I cause you so much pain, just by being here, then it's time for me to go."
She lifted her head and looked sadly at the stars, whispering,
"I'm so sorry."

 

 

 

 

 

Three days later Jean-Luc strode onto his Bridge and took his customary seat. Will glanced sideways and noted the stony face of his CO. Risking his safety, the exec said softly,
"Hello Captain, it's good to have you back."
Keeping his gaze on the readouts on his chair, the Captain's voice was also soft.
"Thank you Number One, it's good to be back."
Will sighed happily, taking the Captain's reply as a good sign. Leaning back, he cast a sidelong look at his lover to find her looking rather perplexed. He caught her eye and she shrugged surreptitiously. Will frowned and shook his head, the motion caught by the Captain. Raising his eyebrows, Jean-Luc stared coldly, his silent enquiry making Will uncomfortable.
"Sorry Captain…I was just…"
"I'm fully aware of what you were doing. Stop it."
Sitting up straight and resisting the urge to look at the Counsellor, Will tucked in his chin.
"Yes Sir. Sorry Captain."
Jean-Luc maintained the stare then rose to his feet. Looking down at his exec he said,
"You have the Bridge, I'll be in the Ready Room."
He turned before Will could acknowledge him. To his back, the First Officer replied,
"Aye Sir."
Once the Captain was absent, Will looked at Deanna and motioned with his head. They both stood and Will said,
"Data you have the Bridge…we'll be in the Observation Lounge."
The two officers were silent until the doors closed. Will stroked his beard and frowned.
"Well, how is he?"
Deanna sighed and sat at the long table, waiting while Will sat.
"Generally speaking he's coping. Whatever is bothering him is still there, but he's suppressing it."
"So he can function ok…his ability to command is uncompromised?"
Deanna nodded.
"Yes I think so, however it remains to be seen how long he can maintain his control. Whatever is bothering him has increased and I don't know how the added stress will affect him."
Will ran a hand through his hair and snorted.
"Well we'll just have to wait and see won't we? It's not as if we can do anything about it…at least until It comes to a head. Have you spoken to Beverly?"
Scowling, Deanna shook her head.
"God Will, she's as stubborn as he is. I tried, but she shut me out. I don't know what's going on, but it's devastating for both of them."
"And you still think it's unrelated?"
The Counsellor sighed and shook her head again.
"No I don't. It might have started as two separate problems, but I'm certain it's burred into one. Whatever it is, it's drawn them into it together."
Will stood and waited until Deanna stood and faced him.
"Right. All we can do is monitor them. Can you do that…constantly?"
Deanna nodded and sighed.
"I already am."
The First Officer took her arm and looked deeply into her eyes.
"If this becomes ugly and I have to relieve either of them…you will back me up won't you?"
Smiling, Deanna nodded.
"Yes my love."
Setting his face, Will gestured for her to precede him as they left the Observation Room to take their places on the Bridge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The remaining three and a half weeks of their journey were taken under a cloud of tension. Jean-Luc and Beverly ignored each other; at briefings Beverly delivered her reports in a cold and distant manner, the Captain hardly looking at her.
To make sure he stayed out of Beverly's realm, Jean-Luc made sure he ate sufficiently although his sleep was fractured. During his waking hours he buried himself in his work and savagely suppressed his feelings, ignoring his heartache and the unresolved feelings of restlessness.
Beverly adopted similar tactics. Whilst in Sickbay, she immersed herself in her work, taking on extra duties in an effort to stave off going back to her lonely quarters. Her loyal staff, in particular Alyssa Ogawa the head nurse, knew something was wrong, but such was the wall Beverly had constructed around herself, no one could penetrate it.
Each night the Doctor returned to her cabin and ate a light meal before retiring. Once in bed she concentrated fiercely on her plans, struggling to keep Jean-Luc from her mind.

 

 

 

 

Fourteen hours from their destination, Jean-Luc strode onto the Bridge. Unable to sleep, he'd given up trying and decided to catch up on some work. Bored with his quarters, he dressed and went to the command centre. Nodding to the night shift, he entered the Ready Room and stopped when he saw a PADD on his desktop he knew wasn't there when he'd left earlier. He rounded his desk, sat down and activated the device. What he read made his blood run cold. Swiftly rising to his feet, he left his office and strode briskly to the lift. On the appropriate deck he exited and made haste to his destination. At Beverly's door he stopped and pressed the chime.
Inside Beverly paused in her packing, lifted her head she asked,
"Computer who is at my door?"
"Captain Jean-Luc Picard."
Lowering her head, she closed her eyes and sighed, knowing she could not forestall the imminent confrontation. She walked to the door and pressed the release.
Holding up the PADD, Jean-Luc's voice was deep and ragged.
"What the hell is this?"
Beverly turned and walked back into her quarters, Jean-Luc followed, waiting for an answer. His eyes took in the bare shelves and open cartons.
"My God Beverly…what are you doing?"
She turned to her friend and lowered her head. Pointing to the PADD she said,
"That is my resignation, effective immediately. And as you can plainly see, I'm packing my things."
Three quick steps took him to her. Grabbing her arms, his voice broke.
"Why?"
Beverly shook out of his grip and sat on one of the cartons.
"It's for the best Jean-Luc. If I stay all I'll do is cause you pain and to be brutally honest, this life…this ship…isn't what I want any more."
Jean-Luc looked into her eyes then looked at the floor in confusion.
"But…"
"No. Look it was never going to work between us and over the past months I've been growing increasingly dissatisfied. I've had enough Jean-Luc…I've no more to give."
The captain shook his head and frowned.
"Beverly…if this has something to do with what I said…ignore it. I too have been unsettled of late, I've even questioned my continuing service, but resigning? For God's sake Beverly…your career…"
Shaking her head sadly, the Doctor pinched the bridge of her nose.
"It doesn't mean what it once did Jean-Luc and you know it. The way Starfleet is now…I don't want to be a part of it any more. As for us, you were right…we need to be apart. As long as I stayed on this ship the tension would've grown until whatever remained of our friendship would have been destroyed and it means too much to me to allow that to happen. I know you're angry, confused and hurt, but believe me I'm doing the right thing."
They stood in silence their eyes boring into each other. Jean-Luc's hands fell to his side and his shoulders slumped.
"You won't reconsider?"
"No."
"Please Beverly…"
Shaking her head, she whispered,
"No."
His face a mask of pain, his voice was soft.
"What are your plans?"
Standing Beverly picked up a vase and turned it in her hands.
"Captain Adams has agreed to give me passage to Starbase 33. From there I'll pick up transport back to Earth to finalise things. In the immediate future I intend to go to Caldos, I've been assured I can join a practice there."
Jean-Luc nodded and said quietly,
"Will you allow us to say goodbye?"
With tears welling, Beverly shook her head.
"I'd rather not…this is already too hard. I'll be beaming over to the Darwin tomorrow and I would prefer it if there was no further contact."
He stepped towards her and she held up her hand. Shaking her head, tears rolled down her cheeks.
"No Jean-Luc…don't."
The Captain closed his eyes and lowered his head, his heart breaking. He slowly turned and walked out of her quarters…it was one of the hardest things he'd ever done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day, apart from brief appearances on the Bridge, Jean-Luc stayed in his Ready Room. He greeted Captain Adams and acknowledged the loss of his CMO, in effect giving his permission for her to disembark. Keeping the contact to a minimum, he quickly severed the channel and stood at his viewports watching the fleet of ships as they orbited the planet. He was interrupted by his computer signalling an incoming transmission. Taking over an hour, he talked with the Admiralty about their next mission and sighed when the communication closed. Taking one last look at the Darwin, he strode onto the Bridge and quietly gave the Con the new coordinates. Will raised an eyebrow and cleared his throat.
"We're leaving so soon Captain?"
"Yes Number One. We're to go to Janus to mediate a trade agreement. We leave immediately."
About to give the order to leave orbit, Will panicked.
"Captain I believe Doctor Crusher is still on the Darwin. Shall I call her?"
Shaking his head brusquely, Jean-Luc muttered,
"No she will not be returning to the Enterprise."
Will's shock was obvious.
"What? But Captain…"
Jean-Luc turned to his exec, his eyes glittering.
"She has resigned Commander and I don't want to discuss it. Is that clear?"
Swallowing, Will's face blanched.
"Aye Sir."
Having given the order, the great ship left Hera and leaped to warp. Will waited half an hour before asking,
"Permission to leave the Bridge Captain?"
His mind light years away, Jean-Lu's head jerked up. Frowning, he pursed his lips and gave Will a long look. The big man stayed calm, keeping his face neutral. After a few moments, the Captain nodded.
"Permission granted."
As soon as Will was in the lift he called Deanna.
"Are you free, I really need to see you, it's urgent."
Deanna sniffed and Will immediately knew she was upset.
"You know don't you."
With a breaking voice his lover replied,
"Yes. Alyssa has just been to see me. Apparently she was sworn to secrecy. God Will how did this happen?"
The lift deposited Will on her deck and he said,
"I'm nearly there. Hang on."
Within seconds Deanna's office door opened and Will quickly walked to her and enfolded her in his arms. Feeling her trembling body as she wept, Will struggled to keep his own tears at bay. They clung to each other, desperately seeking strength. When she felt stronger, Deanna pulled away and guided them to a seat. She wiped her face and sighed.
"I've tried to contact her but she won't answer me. Oh God Will I should've seen this coming! I might have been able to stop it."
Will held her hands and shook his head.
"I think we all missed how serious it was Dee, don't blame yourself."
Sorrow dogged her heart and she shook her head.
"How is the Captain taking it?"
"He's not. He told me she'd resigned and informed he wouldn't discuss it. He's closed himself off Deanna."
Two tears slid down her face and she wiped at them absently.
"It's unlikely he'll talk to me but I'll try tonight. God Will, what a mess."
The big man sighed and shook his head.
"It's so damned frustrating! If only we knew what was wrong, what's been bothering her for so long…bloody hell…to resign just like that! No goodbyes, no explanations…she's just gone…after all these years."
Deanna fisted her hands in his uniform and sobbed.
"It hurts Will!"
He took her in his arms and rocked her gently.
"I know my love, I know."

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was twenty three forty and Jean-Luc was still in his Ready Room. He sat at his desk, his eyes clouded and his mind struggling to come to grips with what had happened. Motionless, he ignored the chime from his door. Twice more it rang before he scowled and barked,
"Come."
Deanna entered and stepped in hesitantly. Dressed in civilian clothes she looked tired and she frowned as the Captain glowered at her. His tone brooked no pretence.
"What do you want Counsellor?"
"It's late Captain…you should've left the Bridge hours ago."
"What of it? I have work to do."
"Captain I know you must be upset by Beverly's resignation and departure. You should talk to me about it."
His eyes glittering, he set his jaw.
"I have nothing to say on the matter."
Shaking her head, she risked further anger by sitting in front of him.
"Captain I cannot accept that. You and Beverly have been close friends for many years. Recent difficulties aside, it is almost unbelievable that she should do this to you. I would imagine you feel hurt, confused…angry…"
Slamming his hand down on the desk, Jean-Luc glared.
"I will say this only once more and I advise you to take heed. I will not discuss this matter with you or anyone else. Doctor Crusher's actions are her business and I will not entertain speculation or counsel about it. Is that clear?"
Deanna stood and looked coolly down at her Captain.
"Yes Sir. However to stave off unwanted interference from the medical personnel, I advise you to go to your quarters and rest."
Gritting his teeth, Jean-Luc stared her down. Once she lowered her eyes he muttered,
"I will accede Counsellor. The last thing I want is to be badgered by over officious doctors."
Deanna nodded and turned. At the door she paused and said quietly,
"Captain eventually this will cause you more pain than I think you realise. Please remember I will be ready for you should you need me."
He closed his eyes and nodded. He didn't open his eyes until the door closed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An hour later he was in his quarters. Dressed only in silk shorts, he lay in his bed, the darkness of the room offset by the light of the passing stars. With his hands behind his head, he stared at the ceiling.
"I should've known…I should've seen it coming. Dammit I pushed her too hard, I forced her away and now she's gone. My God what will I do without her?"
He turned over and tried to ease the ache in his chest.
"Thirty years…thirty years I've loved her…having her here on this ship was such a comfort. Just to be near her was enough. Why the hell did I confess the pain? I was used to it…it was part of our relationship, something I was more than willing to accept just to keep her by my side…God what a coward I am, blaming her for my short comings. If only I'd kept my mouth shut! Dear God…what am I going to do now? How can I go on without her?"
Tears slowly slid down his cheeks. He gripped a pillow and brought it to his face, muffling the sobs that wracked him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over the following weeks Jean-Luc slowly withdrew from everyone, both friends and crew. He buried himself in his work, only eating and sleeping enough to satisfy the medics. He spent long hours on the Bridge and in his Ready Room and the missions were undertaken without enthusiasm. In short, he was only going through the motions. Life, for him, had lost both its meaning and joy.
Will, Deanna, Geordi and Data all tried to cheer him up, inviting him to all manner of things, desperate to ease his pain, but he shunned them all. If they pressed too hard his reaction, the only show of emotion he would allow, was anger. Slowly they learned to leave him alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eight weeks later Beverly was unpacking her belongings at her grandmother's home on Caldos. Sadness dogged her actions as mementos of her time on the Enterprise emerged, especially gifts from Jean-Luc. She sat on the easy chair and hugged the poetry book to her breast, allowing the gaping hole in her soul to rise.
"Where are you now Jean-Luc?"
Sighing and swallowing her grief, she was startled by a knock at her door. Getting up, she cautiously opened it and raised a smile at her caller.
"Douglas! I didn't expect you so soon."
The tall older man smiled and doffed his cap.
"Good afternoon Beverly…can I come in?"
The Doctor stepped aside and grimaced.
"Of course you can but I'm afraid it's a mess in here."
He smiled warmly and entered raising his eyebrows at the clutter. Beverly removed some items and offered him a seat while she sat in the easy chair. Pushing her hair back, she caught his eye.
"What can I do for you?"
"Well actually I came to ask if you could start work tomorrow morning instead of next week. There's been an outbreak of a mild 'flu and we're up to our ears with patients."
Frowning, Beverly pursed her lips.
"Will it matter that I'm a complete stranger? I know most of the people here have a personal relationship going back many years with their Doctors."
Douglas smiled and waved his hand.
"I don't foresee any problems Beverly. They remember your grandmother fondly and they know who you are. I'm more concerned by how you might find our facility. It's nothing to what you're accustomed to, in fact you might find it quite primitive."
The doctor chuckled and shook her head.
"I wouldn't worry about that Douglas. I can practise medicine in any environment, I'm sure it'll be fine."
He stood then and smiled down at her.
"So you'll be there?"
Beverly smiled and nodded.
"Bright and early."
"Excellent! I'll see you then."
Beverly saw him out and turned to look at the mess. Sighing, she went back to her work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Having completed the rather tedious trade negotiations, the Enterprise was en route to a distant binary star system where it was rumoured a warp-capable species lived. Jean-Luc's mission was to find them and make contact with a view to inviting them to join the Federation.
Beverly's bitter words about the Federation's appetite for resources and their desperation for more allies played in the Captain's mind. Normally he would have voiced his concerns to his senior staff, but these days he kept his opinions to himself, no longer caring about the policies of his organisation. He lived his life one day at a time, performing his duties with efficiency, but without the committed faith he once had.
The staff meeting was tense, a normal situation of recent times as the morose Captain presided in silence.
Lieutenant Commander Data, saddened and confused by his CO's demeanour delivered his report in the silent room.
"Starfleet has been aware of reports of warp-capable ships being detected in the system we are approaching. Although nothing more that ion trails has been noted, the existence of a technologically advanced species in this region of space can be considered of vital importance. With our resources stretched so thin, the fleet still depleted and the ongoing rebuilding in progress, Starfleet views a potential ally with great relief. To that end, we have been authorised to shorten the usual probation period with respect to prospective new members and to offer them substantial…sweeteners…to encourage them to join."
Will stroked his beard and glanced at his Captain, noting the stony face and the hard eyes.
"What sort of sweeteners Data?"
"Specifically, weapons."
Geordi grunted and shook his head.
"That could be dangerous! What if they take us for a ride then use the very weapons we give them on us? It doesn't make sense."
Glancing again at the silent Captain, Will sighed.
"Well we don't make the rules, we just follow them. Now when will we enter the system?"
Data cocked his head.
"We will enter the system in six point three hours."
"Right. Geordi can we expect any interference from the binary stars?"
The Chief Engineer sat forward and clasped his hands on the tabletop.
"Yes Commander, some. I'll augment the shields and tweak the sensors, but there will be a lowering of our range."
Will nodded.
"Understood. Data have we downloaded the files containing the ion trails? Can we use them as a lead?"
"I think so Sir. As with most warp ships, the ion trail is specific to each vessel. If we come across one we have on file, we will know."
"OK. Data I want you to study the star charts and give me a likely list of planets we should look at. Geordi be prepared to give us more power to the shields if we swing too close to the stars."
He received quiet acknowledgements and he looked to his Captain. Jean-Luc nodded once and remained seated as his officers filed out. Turning his seat, he looked out at the stars, his heart aching.

 

 

 

 

 

Four days into their search they came across the first ion trail. Although dissipating, they were able to establish that a warp vessel had traversed the area some two days previous. Correlating the trail with what they had on file, they made a match and decided to follow.
Will pressed the annunciator on the Ready Room doors and waited until he was given entry. The voice that called out was emotionless.
"Come."
Jean-Luc was standing at the viewport, his hands clasped behind his back. Without turning, he said,
"Report."
Will frowned and stroked his beard.
"We have picked up an ion trail that matched one on file. I've ordered the ship to track it."
"How recent is it?"
"Two days Captain."
"Any idea of their speed?"
"No Sir."
Jean-Luc gazed out into space and clenched his jaw.
"Very well. Maintain heading and pursue however if anything comes up on sensors make sure we don't appear too eager. Slow our approach and adopt a non threatening posture."
"Aye Sir. I'll call you if we find anything."
The Captain nodded and Will turned, but he hesitated at the door.
"Captain…"
Jean-Luc's voice was soft and deep.
"Dismissed."
Striding out onto the Bridge, Will frowned at his lover. Deanna sighed and looked at the closed Ready Room doors, opening her mind and endeavouring to sense the Captain's emotions, but as usual he shielded himself. For over a month and a half she had been trying to sense him, trying to feel the depths of his emotions but he shut her out, walling himself into his mind and vigorously defending his privacy. She shook her head as Will sat and crossed her legs. He raised his eyebrows and tilted his head.
"Nothing Will, his done up tighter than a piano wire."
The big man snorted and ran a hand through his hair.
"How much longer can he keep this up? Surely something's got to give…the tension alone would be enough to crack a lesser man."
Deanna sighed and lowered her head.
"He's in terrible pain but somehow he's living with it. Maybe he's nursing it, allowing it to drive him. One thing's for certain…his current attitude is cause for worry. If it wasn't for the fact that he's doing his job satisfactorily I would question his commitment."
Will scowled and rubbed his thighs.
"Commitment? Let's face it Dee, he's just going through the motions. I've seen more emotion in a Denubian sea slug."
Deanna sighed sadly and looked again at the closed doors. Will's voice fell to a whisper.
"Is there anything…anything at all we can do?"
Shaking her head, Deanna turned to her lover.
"No. Until he lets us in, until he allows himself to feel, to admit and acknowledge his pain I'm afraid no one will be able to help him."
Will sighed and stared at her.
"Except Beverly?"
Sadly Deanna nodded.
"Except Beverly."

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just after the commencement of the alpha shift the next day, the Lieutenant at Tactical quietly called Will.
"Commander Riker we have a contact at the extreme edge of our sensor range."
Will lifted his head and called,
"Captain Picard to the Bridge."
While he waited for his CO, Will strode to Tactical and watched as the computer began to assimilate the incoming information. He was narrowing the scans when Jean-Luc entered the Bridge.
"Report."
"We've detected a vessel at the extreme limit of our sensors Captain. The computer is downloading the information."
Jean-Luc turned and said quietly,
"On screen."
In the vast panorama of space, a tiny ship appeared. Squinting, the Captain muttered,
"Magnify."
With only marginal results, Jean-Luc was still able to discern that it was something he'd not seen before. Stepping closer to the screen, he asked,
"Does the computer have anything similar on file?"
Will tapped a few instructions and shook his head.
"No Sir."
Jean-Luc rubbed his chin then called,
"Counsellor Troi to the Bridge."
Jean-Luc stared in silence for a few moments before his rich deep voice said softly,
"Hail them."
Several seconds passed, the assembled officers all watching their monitors, when tactical reported,
"They've dropped out of warp Captain…in fact they're stopping."
"Come out of warp and proceed at three quarter impulse. Keep hailing them, all languages, all frequencies."
They slowly approached the ship, Jean-Luc calling for a slower speed as they closed the distance. When they were within five hundred kilometres, he ordered full stop. The two ships hung in space facing each other. The Enterprise continued her hails and all the crew could do was wait. Lieutenant Miles, at tactical, said quietly,
"We're being scanned Sir."
Jean-Luc rubbed his lips and replied,
"All right we'll do the same. Scan them Lieutenant."
"Aye Captain."
Turning to Deanna, Jean-Luc asked,
"Can you sense them?"
Closing her eyes Deanna concentrated, a frown developing.
"I sense strong minds Captain, disciplined, ordered…they…"
She gasped and took a step back.
"They feel me Captain!"
In silence Will and Jean-Luc stared at the screen, watching the alien ship. Suddenly Tactical said tightly,
"They're powering weapons!"
Jean-Luc's voice was controlled.
"Red alert! Shields up!"
"Shall I put the weapons on line Sir?"
Shaking his head, Jean-Luc said,
"No. We will not do anything provocative."
"Yes Sir."
Will folded his arms and frowned.
"Have they raised shields?"
"Yes Commander."
"And their weapons are ready?"
"Aye Sir."
"Well what are they waiting for?"
Glancing at his First Officer, Jean-Luc said quietly,
"Hail them again."
"Aye Captain."
Will was about to make further comment when Tactical announced,
"They're answering Captain."
Jean-Luc sighed and squared his shoulders.
"On screen."
He faced a remarkably benign looking being. Humanoid, the alien was dark brown, his face cleft and riven giving it an interesting appearance. The first words spoken were indecipherable, however the computer soon arrived at a translation.
"Who are you and why do you pursue us?"
"I am Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Starship Enterprise. I am a representative of a federation of planets that seeks peaceful co-existence with all species."
The being stared at the Captain and lifted a seven digit hand. Pointing at the CO, he asked,
"You are in our space. If I ask you to leave will you?"
Jean-Luc nodded, a small smile on his face.
"Yes we will, however I request you not to ask that of us. We have come a long way to make contact with you…I have a proposition for your government."
The alien bent forward and stared at some controls. Straightening, he tilted his head.
"Your ship has impressive weaponry yet you do not activate your defensive systems. Why?"
Smiling a little wider, Jean-Luc stepped closer to the screen.
"I thought it might not be conducive to friendly conversation."
The being held Jean-Luc's eyes then suddenly snorted.
"You took a great risk Captain, but you have won my respect."
With a gesture from the alien, tactical reported their weapons were deactivated. Jean-Luc nodded and sighed.
"Thank you."
Turning slightly he muttered,
"Cease red alert and go to yellow but keep the shields up."
"Aye Captain."
Turning back to the screen, Jean-Luc asked,
"May I know your name?"
The being smiled, exposing white even teeth.
"Captain Hul Nam of the Forthright."
Jean-Luc gave a small bow and a broad smile.
"It is a pleasure to meet you Captain Nam."
The alien nodded.
"It is for me also. What is the proposition you wish to put to my government?"
Clasping his hands behind his back, Jean-Luc bowed his head.
"If it can be established that we both wish peaceful relations between our governments, I have been authorised to extend an invitation for your world to join the Federation of Planets."
The alien Captain's eyes widened.
"I will admit I have heard of the Federation, but we are so far from your territory. What good would it do either of us?"
Keeping a smile on his face, Jean-Luc's eyes hardened.
"That is something I would discuss with your government."
Sighing, Captain Nam turned and took his seat.
"As you wish Captain Picard. You will understand I have to contact my superiors over this. Are you prepared to wait while I receive instructions?"
Nodding, Jean-Luc walked back to his Command chair.
"Of course Captain. I will await your response, Picard out."
He seated himself and sighed. Will sat beside him and stroked his beard.
"That went well."
Keeping his eyes on his boots, Jean-Luc nodded.
"Indeed. We were fortunate in finding such an open minded Commander. Someone with a itchy trigger finger could've made things very uncomfortable."
Will nodded and looked again at the viewscreen. Jean-Luc's voice was tired.
"Tactical…analysis of the alien vessel."
"Comparable weaponry and shields Captain. Propulsion…they utilise a quantum singularity Sir."
Will frowned.
"A quantum singularity? That's something the Romulans use. I wonder if there's any connection?"
The Captain sighed.
"No doubt that's yet another question I will ask."
Jean-Luc stood and took another look at the light blue ship.
"Counsellor you said that they felt you…can you be more specific?"
Deanna frowned and tried to put words to her feelings.
"When I expanded my empathic senses to sense them, they allowed it for only a moment before shutting me out. I believe they are possessed with powerful minds Captain…and I think they may be telepathic, at least with each other."
Jean-Luc stared at his Counsellor, his face unreadable. Rising, he said,
"You have the Bridge Number One, I'll be in the Ready Room."
Without waiting for a reply, Jean-Luc left the Bridge. Will stared at the closed doors and shook his head. It was going to be an uncomfortable wait.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was seven hours until a hail was received from the aliens. Will called Jean-Luc out onto the Bridge and the Captain seated himself.
"On screen."
Hul Nam smiled his dark green eyes twinkling.
"I have news Captain Picard."
Jean-Luc returned the smile and asked,
"And that is?"
"It would seem your reputation has preceded you, there are some in our upper echelon of government who know of you. I have been instructed to escort you to our home planet, but I must ask you to drop your shields as a gesture of good faith. We will do the same."
Keeping his eyes on the alien, Jean-Luc nodded slowly.
"Very well…shields down."
Looking down and a control panel, Hul smiled as he registered the action. With a gentle command, his shields were lowered.
"Now Captain Picard, what is your maximum speed?"
Frowning slightly, Jean-Luc played his cards close to his chest.
"We can maintain warp nine for an extended time."
Hul lifted his head and gasped.
"Warp nine? Oh. Well we can only sustain warp seven and then only over a relatively short time. For the duration of our journey we will be at warp four point five."
"I see. And how long will this journey take?"
"Two days Captain, I am sending the coordinates now. Please stay within one thousand kilometres of my ship at all times."
Nodding, Jean-Luc waited patiently as the Con received the information. Once his officers had announced their readiness, he said,
"We will stay at seven hundred kilometres off your port side. You may leave at your convenience."
Hul nodded and the screen reverted to a view of space. The alien ship disappeared in a purple glow, the Enterprise a fraction of a second behind her.

 

 

 

 

 

As it was now nearly the end of the shift, Will stood and looked down at his Captain. Risking his ire, the First Officer said quietly,
"Why don't you knock off now Captain? Perhaps you could get in some fencing or a stroll on the Holodeck? If you're going to be tied up in talks soon, maybe this is the opportune time to relax. Who knows when you'll get another opportunity?"
Jean-Luc remained motionless, staring down at his boots. The silence stretched on and Will became uncomfortable, swallowing his concern and regaining his seat beside his CO. He was checking the monitor beside his seat when the Captain said very quietly,
"I would appreciate it if you would mind your own business. How I prepare for a mission is none of your concern."
Sitting up straight, Will nodded, a frown on his face.
"Of course Captain…my apologies Sir."
For over an hour and a half Jean-Luc sat silently in his seat. The crew felt the tension and it was with great relief that Jean-Luc eventually stood and said quietly,
"You have the Bridge Commander, I will be in my quarters. Please see the change of shift takes place smoothly."
"Aye Sir."
Will's eyes clouded with worry as he watched the tense man walk to the turbolift.

 

 

 

 

The next two days were full of repressed tension. The Captain continued his silent vigil on the Bridge whenever he was on duty and the crew became accustomed to his curt orders and taciturn replies to enquiries. They could only relax when he retreated to the Ready Room.
Towards the close of the second day, Will received a call from the Forthright. Calling his Captain out onto the Bridge, the First Officer smiled as he waited, trying to put the crew at ease. Jean-Luc strode out of his office calling,
"On screen."
Hul seemed excited to talk to him.
"Captain Picard in one hour we will drop from warp and enter our home system. We will approach the sixth planet and enter a high standard orbit. Does that meet with your approval?"
"Yes Captain. I have prepared an information package for downloading. When will I be granted an interview?"
Hul frowned and checked some instruments.
"It will be quite late into our night when we arrive Captain. I suggest you send the package and be prepared to transport down later in the morning, after the ministers have had a chance to study the information."
"Very well. Tell me, how long is your night?"
"Approximately eighteen hours."
Jean-Luc nodded and smiled.
"I look forward to seeing your world Captain."
Hul grinned and bowed his head.
"I can only hope you find it as beautiful as I do."
The channel was closed and Jean-Luc took his place in the Command chair. The hour passed quickly and as they dropped from warp, Deanna was called to the Bridge.

 

 

Deanna duly arrived and took her seat to the Captain's left. She waited as he sat in silence, her empathic senses trying to penetrate his mental barriers. Frowning, he eventually turned to her.
"I want you to accompany me when I go down to the planet. If these people are telepathic I don't want to be at a disadvantage."
Deanna nodded but frowned.
"Captain I understand your concerns, however I must reiterate they have the ability to close their minds to me. It may well be that I will be ineffectual in assisting you."
Jean-Luc pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed.
"Be that as it may Counsellor, I still require you to be with me. I want you to go over the information package I'm sending down and try to familiarise yourself with everything we know about this species, which I admit is very little."
Deanna smiled in sympathy and nodded.
"Very well Captain."
Jean-Luc then turned to his First Officer.
"Number One, while I'm on the planet I want you to use the Enterprise to make as many passive scans as you can. I want to know about population density, power production and distribution, domestic media and as much as you can discern about their infrastructure and defensive capabilities. However, if our scans are detected and found to be intrusive or unwanted, you are to cease immediately."
"Aye Sir."
He nodded and stood.
"I will be in my quarters."
He left the Bridge and Will sighed. Leaning close to his lover he muttered,
"Is he up to this?"
Deanna shrugged and scowled.
"I'd know more if he'd lower his mental barriers. All I get is a general feeling of great sadness."
"OK fine, he's sad, but is he up to this mission?"
Deanna sighed.
"To be brutally honest I don't know. To date he's been coping with his work, you have to admit, aside from his sour demeanour, his work hasn't suffered. Ultimately we'll just have to wait and see."
Will snorted and frowned.
"That's not the best prognosis. This is an important mission Dee…I need to know he's capable."
The Counsellor scowled again and shook her head.
"These days they're all important missions Will. The Federation is scrambling to recover and rebuild…all the surviving ships have been thrust out to the pointy end, the Captains given some pretty unsavoury duties, ours is just one of many. Be patient with him, I'm sure everything will be alright."
Will sat back and ran a hand through his short dark hair. Nodding, he raised a smile.
"I can always count on you for a unbiased perspective."
Returning his smile, Deanna gently squeezed his arm.
"Always."

 

 

Jean-Luc sat in his easy chair, staring out at the orange planet as it turned below them. His thoughts, which should've been on the mission, instead wandered to his best friend. He sighed and sipped his brandy, closing his eyes and conjuring her up in his mind.
"How are you doing my love? Are you settled on Caldos? Have you started in your new practice? God I miss you Beverly. I miss your company, I miss your opinion…even when it differed from mine…I miss the quiet times we spent together…I even miss the way you smelled, that gentle perfume you wore…"
He sighed expansively and drained his glass. Rising, he went to his desk and activated his computer. After sitting and staring at the keyboard for some minutes, he began to type.
His message was short but heartfelt.

Dearest Beverly,
How are you? Are you settled in and working? All is well here; we're on a new mission…the usual thing. You were right you know, all this effort is only to bolster our failing infrastructure. I'm so tired Beverly. I long to explore again, to travel through unknown space with the only intention being to learn more, about new things and about ourselves.
I miss you terribly my dear friend and I want to apologise again for alienating you so heartlessly. I was wrong to burden you with my inadequacies and my insensitivity drove you away. I will never forgive myself for hurting you Beverly, please know it weighs heavy in my heart.
Please contact me Beverly…just to read your words would be a balm to my tortured soul.
I love you,
Jean-Luc.

He reread the message, his heart clenching in his chest. With tears welling, he pressed the send key. Leaving his desk, he sat again in his chair and poured another brandy. With a deep sigh he lifted the glass to the stars.
"Here's to you my love…you have far more courage than me."
He took a large swallow and closed his eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jean-Luc was eating a light breakfast when the call came from the Bridge.
"Riker to Picard."
"Picard here."
"Captain we have been contacted by the government, they wish you to beam down in two hours. We have the coordinates."
"Very good Commander. Did you tell them I would be bringing Counsellor Troi?"
"Aye Sir, there was no objection."
"Fine. I'll be on the Bridge shortly. Picard out."
He checked his appearance once more and nodding, strode to the door.

 

 

 

 

 

With fifteen minutes to go until beam-down, Deanna entered the Bridge. She sat at her customary seat and waited until the Captain acknowledged her. His nod was all he would give.
"Good morning Captain. Are you ready Sir?"
He sighed and nodded.
"Yes, as ready as I'll ever be. What about you?"
"Well I've studied everything we have and the information package…I think we'll do well Sir."
He didn't respond. He sat silently in his chair until Tactical reported,
"Captain, we are receiving permission to transport."
Jean-Luc stood and waited until Deanna had gained her feet.
"I don't know when we'll be back Number One, although I don't intend to stay the night on the planet. If possible I will give regular reports. Please keep a lock on our comm badges at all times."
"Aye captain…and Sir? Good luck."
Jean-Luc stared at his exec before nodding once. He and Deanna left the Bridge and travelled to the Transporter Room in silence. They took their places on the pad, the operator saying,
"They're ready for you Captain."
He nodded and said,
"Energise."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They rematerialised in a spacious room, light and airy. Four aliens were there to greet them. The oldest, a comely female, stepped forward and bowed.
"Captain Picard I am Sestor Avil Grenn and these are the ministers for external affairs, Kenn Hess, Jerd Deen and Fass Vall."
Jean-Luc returned the bow and gestured to Deanna.
"It is a pleasure to meet you. May I introduce my ship's Counsellor, Deanna Troi?"
The two men and two women bowed, their smiles wide. The Sestor looked at Deanna and frowned slightly.
"Your mind is very active Counsellor…and quite different from the Captain's. Is it the difference in your gender?"
Jean-Luc smiled and gave Deanna a look, effectively silencing her.
"No Sestor Grenn. Counsellor Troi is a different species."
The Sestor gasped and looked at her ministers.
"But you look so…alike."
"That is because The Counsellor's father was Human. Her mother is Betazoid."
There were soft murmurings and frowns.
"And this…interbreeding…is allowed?"
"Jean-Luc nodded, keeping the smile on his face.
"Yes."
The Sestor tilted her head and asked,
"And which are you…Human or…Betazoid?"
"I am Human."
Minister Vall stepped forward and enquired,
"Your information package states that most Humans come from Earth and that Earth and Vulcan were the founding members of your Federation."
"That is so."
Vall frowned, shaking her head.
"You have many members in this…federation."
"Yes."
"Your territory is vast."
"Yes."
Sighing, Vall stepped closer.
"Then why do you want us to join? We are a long way from your borders, surely it would be an inconvenience to maintain contact with us."
Jean-Luc bowed his head and sighed.
"I have many things I wish to discuss with you that will give you a greater insight into why the Federation needs new members. Perhaps if we could go somewhere..?"
Sestor Grenn nodded and held up her hands.
"Of course Captain you are right, this is not the place to discuss such things. Please, come with us."

 

 

 

 

 

 

The six beings filed into a large room dominated by a long table, the top of which seemed to be made of one huge piece of wood. Highly polished, it gave off a satiny glow. At one end, six high backed chairs were arranged, a jug of liquid and six tumblers set at each place.
Smiling and gesturing grandly, Sestor Grenn waved the visitors to their seats and waited until they settled before the rest took theirs. Pressing a recessed button, an attendant was summoned and drinks were poured. Picking up her tumbler, Grenn raised it high.
"It is our custom to begin all meetings with a salutation to Arrak."
The four aliens all said loudly,
"Arrak! Always!"
The drink was swallowed in one gulp. Jean-Luc found the libation spicy, the liquid warming his mouth. Clearing his throat, he gestured for the tumblers to be refilled.
"It is also a custom of my world to make what is called a toast. Raising his glass, he intoned,
"To new friends."
Nodding, everyone drank.
The Captain lifted his eyebrows and asked,
"If I'm not intruding…what is Arrak?"
Smiling Grenn sighed.
"It is the name of our planet Captain. Arrak has nurtured us for so long, we honour her for our existence."
Jean-Luc smiled warmly.
"An endearing sentiment."
With the preliminaries seen to, the discussion began.

 

 

 

 

 

Beverly walked into her little home tired and restless. Her work at the clinic was going well, she had met many families and Douglas had been right in his assessment…the people accepted her well. She especially liked getting to know the children; she found their enthusiasm for life a tonic for her morose thoughts. Putting her two bags of groceries on the bench, she put the kettle on and spent some time looking out the kitchen window at the garden, something she had been meaning to tackle. Now in need of weeding and pruning, the herbs she'd planted were almost hidden under the wild growth. Sighing, she waited until the kettle whistled and made herself a cup of camomile tea. Taking it into the lounge, she passed her desk and noticed a blinking light on her terminal. She scowled at the machine and ignored it, sitting instead in her favourite chair and stirring the embers of the fire before putting on some more wood. Sipping her tea, curiosity eventually got the better of her and she rose and went to the desk. Turning the monitor to face her, she activated the computer and opened the waiting message.
She read, then reread Jean-Luc's missive, tears sliding down her cheeks. With gentle fingers she touched the words and slowly shook her head. With a deliberate stroke she hit the delete key. She sat heavily in the seat and stared at the blank screen.
"I can't Jean-Luc…please forgive me."
Her mind light years away, she went to the kitchen and washed her cup, then returned to the lounge. Once again in her chair, she curled up and pulled her Grandmother's shawl across her body. Laying her head back she allowed her misery to surface.

 

 

 

 

 

Four hours later a tired and irritated Captain rose from his chair and followed his hosts out into a bright courtyard. Tables were laden with food and drink and he was invited to indulge. Gently taking Deanna's elbow, he guided her to an arbour and, ensuring they were alone, asked what was on her mind.
"Well Counsellor? Have you anything to report?"
Sighing and toying with the food on her plate, Deanna shook her head.
"I'm sorry Captain. As I feared, as soon as I tried to sense them, they blocked their minds. I cannot gain anything from them."
"And the telepathy?"
"It's a guess, but I think it's only between themselves. I've seen no evidence that they're able to read your thoughts Captain."
He sighed and, using his free hand, rubbed his face.
"Probably a good thing…my thoughts haven't been very charitable. My God what pedants they are! I've never encountered such sticklers for detail."
Deanna smiled and cast her eyes over her hosts, noticing that they were in deep conversation.
"They are cautious Captain but that's understandable, given the circumstances."
Jean-Luc snorted and shook his head.
"Oh I understand their wariness Counsellor, in fact I applaud it, however I'm representing an organization that is completely open! They have only to check my information, they don't have to take my word for it."
Deanna was about to say more when Jean-Luc noticed one of the ministers approaching. Smiling, the stout man gestured to Jean-Luc's plate.
"Do you like our food Captain Picard?"
Returning the smile, Jean-Luc nodded.
"Yes Minister Deen, it's quite tasty."
To demonstrate his opinion, Jean-Luc picked a morsel from his plate and ate it, all the while smiling at his host. Deen watched, a frown developing.
"Captain Picard may I ask you a personal question?"
His eyes hardening, Jean-Luc's smile faded.
"You may ask, but I won't guarantee I will answer."
Nodding his acceptance of the conditions, Deen tilted his head.
"Something is troubling you…something not related to these talks. I feel great sadness; in fact it's so profound it is affecting all of us. What is it that troubles you so?"
Taking a deep breath and suppressing his rising anger, Jean-Luc said quietly,
"It is a personal matter Minister and not something I wish to discuss. You needn't worry however, it will not impede my abilities."
His green eyes glittering, Deen stepped closer and peered into Jean-Luc's eyes. The Captain suddenly felt a presence in his mind and found, with rising panic, that he couldn't stop it.
Deanna frowned, watching the men and not understanding what was taking place.
Jean-Luc started to sweat as the presence increased and filled his brain. Deen frowned deeper and Jean-Luc groaned. The Counsellor, by now realising something was dreadfully amiss, stepped between the two men breaking the contact. Deen's head snapped up and he snarled. Jean-Luc dropped to his knees, discarded the plate and grabbed his head. Deanna immediately felt his distress and knelt at his side, her voice insistent.
"Captain are you all right?"
After a few moments, Jean-Luc nodded and climbed slowly to his feet. His dark hazel eyes glittering dangerously, he said in a deadly quiet voice,
"How dare you!"
Deen shook his head and held up his hand.
"How dare I? Captain Picard may I remind you that you are asking us to join with your Federation and you admit to being deeply troubled by personal matters. I am within my rights to see what those matters are."
Drawing himself up to his full height, an outraged Captain glared at the Minister.
"What you did was a violation and I will not stand for it! Again I say…how dare you!"
Deanna, worried at the turn events had taken, tried to calm her Captain.
"Captain Picard perhaps we...?"
Jean-Luc silenced her with a cold look. About to remonstrate further, he was stopped.
"Captain I am seeing to the security of my people and I refuse to be hampered in any way. As long as you stay in these talks, we…that is all of us…will reserve the right to explore your thoughts."
His face a stony mask, Jean-Luc stared icily at the Minister before tapping his combadge
"Enterprise, two to beam up."
Before anything else could be said, he and Deanna disappeared in a sparkle of blue light.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deanna watched in dismay as the Captain stepped off the transporter pad and strode from the room. She followed at a distance and was surprised when he made for his quarters. She hung back and waited until he disappeared inside before calling Will.
"Troi to Riker."
"Deanna what are you doing aboard? Are the talks over?"
"I don't know Will. Can we meet in the Observation Lounge?"
She could hear his curiosity.
"OK, I'll see you there."
In no time they were facing each other. Will could plainly see her disquiet and took her elbow, guiding her to a seat.
"What happened?"
Sighing, Deanna shook her head.
"It started well, although the Captain was irritated by their pedantic nature. However things were proceeding satisfactorily when we broke for refreshments. The Captain and I were talking when one of the ministers came over and engaged in small talk. He then asked the Captain what was troubling him. Apparently they could sense his sadness and it upset them. The Captain declined to elaborate but assured them it wouldn't compromise his abilities. The minister then did something…I'm not sure, but I think he entered the Captain's mind. Judging by the Captain's reaction, he considered it a violation. I realised what was happening and stopped it but the Captain was outraged. He vented his anger but the minister told him that he felt they had a right to know what was troubling the Captain and insisted they would continue to do it as long as the Captain remained for the talks. He didn't hesitate, but had us beamed back aboard."
Will frowned and stroked his beard.
"So where is the Captain now?"
"In his quarters."
Will's eyebrows rose and he snorted.
"In his quarters? What the hell is he doing there? He should've come to the Bridge and reported what happened."
Deanna sighed and rubbed her temple.
"I know Will, I can't explain it."
The big man sat back, deep in thought. After a few moments he said,
"OK, you go back to the Bridge. I'll go and see what's wrong."
As they rose, Deanna plucked at his sleeve.
"Good luck."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will was surprised when he was granted entry into the Captain's cabin. The man himself was standing at the viewport looking out at the stars, his hands clasped behind his back. When he didn't acknowledge his caller, Will said tentatively,
"Captain?"
The voice that replied was flat and emotionless.
"What is it Commander?"
Coming further into the living area, Will tried to gauge his CO's mood.
"I've spoken with Counsellor Troi Captain…would you like to talk about it?"
A few seconds of silence passed before Will heard,
"No."
Keeping his voice even, the First Officer nodded and said,
"All right Sir, but what are we to do? Will the talks go on?"
Jean-Luc shrugged, his voice tight.
"I don't care."
Will was shocked.
"Sir?"
The Captain's head lowered and he sighed.
"I'm not going back. You can please yourself what you do."
Will had to struggle to keep the astonishment from his voice.
"But Captain…"
"Dismissed."
Will stood motionless, his thoughts racing. He didn't see his Captain turn.
"Did you hear me?"
Snapping his head up, Will nodded.
"Yes Sir."
"Then why are you still here?"
Will took a step forward but was halted by the look of open hostility.
"Captain please…we need to talk about this! You can't just abandon the talks, you have to…"
Jean-Luc looked at his feet then settled his dark eyes on his hapless First Officer.
"I am giving you a direct order. Leave. Now."
Hesitating only a second, Will turned and left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deep in thought, Will walked onto the Bridge and caught Deanna's eye. With an inclination of his head, they entered the Ready Room.
"We have a problem."
Deanna frowned and stared deeply into her lover's eyes.
"What did he say?"
Sighing, Will crossed his arms.
"He said he no longer cares, he won't go back and I'm to do as I please."
"What?"
"Uh huh. He then ordered me to leave his quarters."
Deanna sat on the sofa and plexed, thinking fiercely. Will closed his eyes and rubbed his face.
"Did he say why?"
Shaking his head, the big man joined the Counsellor on the sofa.
"Nope."
Deanna rubbed her temples and scowled.
"Will I don't understand any of this! This is so unlike him…it's unbelievable."
"Tell me about it."
Turning to the First Officer, Deanna asked,
"What do we do now?"
Shrugging, Will sighed.
"I don't know. I suppose we'll just have to wait and see if the government contacts us…who knows what they think of all this."
The two officers sat in silence, each trying to come to terms with what had transpired. Eventually Deanna stood and looked down at her lover.
"I'm going to see him."
"Do you think he'll allow it?"
Frowning, Deanna shrugged.
"I don't know, but I have to try."
"Agreed."
Just as she rose, a call came from the Bridge.
"Commander Riker we are being hailed."
Sharing a look of worry, the two officers stepped out into the command centre. Will straightened his back and squared his shoulders as he faced front.
"On screen."
Sestor Grenn bowed slightly, her face perplexed.
"I wish to speak with Captain Picard."
Will smiled and bowed his head.
"I'm sorry madam, but he is unavailable. I am Commander William Riker, First Officer of the Enterprise. Can I be of assistance?"
Frowning deeply, Sestor Grenn shook her head.
"No."
Deanna stepped beside Will and said softly,
"Sestor Grenn I must apologise for what happened, it was most unfortunate."
Grenn eyed the Counsellor, then sighed.
"Indeed it was. Although we now understand our methods were taken as invasive by your Captain, we cannot help doing what we do. It is natural for us to see into each other's minds, particularly when it is over something important and you must agree, these talks are of the utmost importance."
Deanna nodded, smiling.
"Yes Sestor but Humans value their privacy and Captain Picard is, even by Human standards, a very private individual. I would like to point out that when confronted with his troublesome thoughts, he did assure the minister that his abilities would not be compromised. I have to stress that is true. Captain Picard is an accomplished diplomat and negotiator…there is no way he would allow any private concerns to interfere in the committal of his duty."
Grenn stared hard at Deanna then sighed.
"You may be right. We have discussed this unfortunate turn of events and would like to request that Captain Picard rejoin the talks. It has become apparent to us that it may well be in our best interests to join the Federation, but there are some things we need to talk to him about."
Deanna frowned and lowered her head.
"That might be problematic Sestor. As long as you reserve the right to enter Captain Picard's mind, I'm afraid he will not return to your planet."
Grenn frowned deeply.
"He will not reconsider?"
"Not unless you guarantee you won't invade his thoughts."
Sestor Grenn scowled.
"But that would put us at a significant disadvantage! How will we know what is in his mind?"
"Trust Sestor."
"Trust?"
Deanna clasped her hands behind her back and smiled softly.
"He will have to trust that you won't enter his mind and you will have to trust he won't deceive you."
"That is asking a lot."
Her smile growing, Deanna sighed.
"Indeed it is, but the foundation of the Federation is based on trust. Why can't your entrance into this new era for your people also be borne of mutual trust…and understanding?"
Grenn was silent for a few moments then closed her eyes. She remained motionless and Deanna realised she was communicating with the other ministers. When her green eyes snapped open, Deanna could see her determination.
"Your words carry much weight Counsellor. We agree not to interfere with Captain Picard's thoughts if he will return."
Smiling, Deanna nodded.
"Very well Sestor, I will meet with him and inform him of your offer. You will be contacted soon. Troi out."
Once the screen had reverted to its view of the planet, Deanna turned to Will. The big man sighed.
"Do you think he'll agree?"
Shrugging, the Counsellor grimaced.
"I've no idea, but if the mind invasion was the cause of all this, then it would seem that it's no longer a bone of contention. All I can do is tell him."
She began to walk to the lift when Will said,
"Take care."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outside the Captain's quarters, Deanna fully expected to be denied admittance, but his call came clearly.
"Come."
She walked in and noted the subdued lighting. Jean-Luc was still standing at the viewport, but he had a tumbler in his hand. He did not turn from his contemplation of the stars.
"Hello Captain."
With no reply forthcoming, Deanna came further into the room and sighed. She was debating whether or not to sit when he slowly turned to face her.
"How many times do you think Counsellor?"
Confused, Deanna frowned.
"Sir? How many times what?"
Sipping his whisky, the liquid glistened in the starlight.
"How many times do you think I've been assaulted?"
Watching him very closely, Deanna said softly,
"I don't know exactly Captain."
He sighed and sipped again.
No, neither do I, although I'd imagine it's been quite a few times. Physical assaults…mental assaults…"
He shook his head and stared into the glass.
"I'm tired Deanna. Tired of being assaulted, tired of being hurt, and very tired of having to pull together the tatters of my existence to serve an organisation in which I no longer believe."
Lowering her mental barriers, Deanna tried to feel the depths of his emotions, but he was still closed drum-tight. Noticing the look of concentration on her face, Jean-Luc wagged a finger at her.
"Oh no you don't! I've had enough of that."
Frustrated and worried, Deanna said softly,
"Is this what has been bothering you Captain…a crisis of faith?"
He sighed deeply and took a large swallow.
"It's part of it Counsellor…and no, I do not wish to discuss it…not with you or anyone else."
The Counsellor set her jaw and nodded.
"Very well Captain, but I must warn you…I have allowed you to continue on your own with these concerns only because your work was unaffected. However that has changed. If you don't resume the talks, I can only assume you are no longer fit to command and I will relieve you of duty."
He nodded silently, dismaying Deanna with his equanimity.
Taking a deep breath, Deanna swallowed.
"Captain I have been in contact with the government and after some discussion, they agreed to stop invading your mind if you would return to the talks. Would that make a difference?"
Jean-Luc downed the remainder of his whisky and rolled the tumbler between his hands, deep in thought.
"I suppose it would help Counsellor, but honestly…can you see any value to this at all? Are we actually doing anything worthwhile by touting for these people to join the Federation? I mean really…what could they possibly get out of it?"
Deanna sighed and frowned.
"Captain I know you're disillusioned with Starfleet and you are facing a personal crisis right now, but no member world has ever suffered by belonging to the Federation. Sestor Grenn told me they believe it's in their best interests to join. Obviously they can see benefits."
Holding the glass in one hand, Jean-Luc rubbed his forehead with the other. His silence and continued apathy rankled the Counsellor. His behaviour was so atypical she found it difficult to know how to tackle him.
"Captain ultimately it's not up to you. All you have to do is answer their questions as honestly as you can, although hopefully without rancour. They have agreed to trust you…will you trust them"
He gently placed the tumbler on the low table and turned back to the stars. Deanna stood in the silent quarters, not quite knowing what to do. When he spoke his voice was tired.
"Tell them I will return, I'll meet you in the Transporter room in half an hour."
Sighing and rubbing her temple, Deanna turned for the door.
"Yes Captain…and Sir? Thank you."
He didn't hear the doors close, his eyes were fastened on the stars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Deanna re-entered the Bridge, Will caught her subtle gesture and joined her in the Ready Room.
"Well?"
"He'll do it."
Will folded his arms across his chest and blew out a large breath.
"He'll go back?"
"Uh huh."
Guiding her to the sofa, they sat.
"So was it the invasion?"
Pursing her lips, Deanna nodded.
"That was part of it…a catalyst at least, but he's very disillusioned Will. He's tired of the toll his job has taken on him and his belief in Starfleet is, at the moment, almost nonexistent."
The big man frowned and shook his head.
"I find that hard to believe. Jean-Luc Picard…doubting Starfleet? That's almost inconceivable."
"Oh I agree, but the words came directly from him."
Will sighed and ran his hand through his hair.
"So that's it? He's pissed off with Starfleet and fed up with his job."
Sighing, Deanna shook her head.
"No Will, that's the tip of the ice berg. He only told me just enough to keep me from my continued efforts to draw him out. He said himself that what he told me was only part of what's wrong and he also stated he wouldn't discuss it with me."
The First Officer scowled.
"I take it you warned him…that if he continued with his current attitude you'd do something?"
"I did more than that! I threatened him with being relieved of duty if he didn't return to the talks, but interestingly…and I find this very telling…he accepted my threat with almost no emotion. His agreement to return to the talks is based more on a desire to see an end to the mission as anything else."
"So what do we do?"
Sighing and crossing her legs, Deanna frowned.
"For now we let him continue. We see how the mission goes and then we watch him like a hawk…and if he falters, even slightly, I'll relieve him and order him into counselling."
Will sat back and rubbed his face.
"And long term? Do you think he'll eventually get over this…or is there a very real chance he might resign?"
"I honestly don't know Will."
After a few moments' silence, Will stood and reached for Deanna's hand, helping her to her feet. They went back out onto the Bridge and Deanna contacted the planet. Ten minutes later, Deanna met Jean-Luc in the Transporter room.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In all, it took another eight hours of negotiations before total agreement was met. With both sides satisfied, the six beings withdrew from the conference room and again found themselves in the courtyard. This time celebratory drinks were served and, after toasting each other, they broke into groups, discussing the decision in lively chatter. Jean-Luc, Deanna and Sestor Grenn were quietly talking when Minister Deen wandered over. Jean-Luc tensed, but smiled nonetheless.
"You must be pleased Captain."
Nodding, Jean-Luc sighed.
"I am minister. I think you have made a wise choice for your people."
Deen nodded sagely and tilted his head.
"And the improved defence system…I must say I am inordinately pleased with that. The ability to adequately defend ourselves has always been a worry of mine. Even in our remote region of space, we heard about your war with the shape changers. Your superior weapons can only enhance our world."
Smiling tightly, Jean-Luc suppressed his dubious thoughts and said instead,
"I think it important to say that one's place in the galaxy should not be defined on how deadly one's weapons are. I would rather see your world make a name for itself as a trading partner, or the discoverer of a medical breakthrough…something all member worlds can share to the betterment of us all."
Sestor Grenn nodded.
"I am beginning to see how highly you value trust Captain. Perhaps, with time, all worlds will learn to trust one another and the need for weapons will cease."
Smiling broadly, Jean-Luc nodded.
"Indeed Sestor…and wouldn't the galaxy be a lovely place to be in then!"
Gentle laughter flowed and Deanna was pleased to see the Captain a little happier than he had been in recent weeks. Just before they were about to leave, Grenn bowed to the Captain and caught his eye.
"Captain Picard, although we had some difficulties, I am pleased with the way things have turned out. I have found you to be honest and honourable, but…and you must forgive me…you must try to purge the darkness from your thoughts. If you do not, it will eventually devour you Captain and that is something I do not wish to happen."
Noticing his hardened eyes, she sighed and took his hand.
"Goodbye Captain and safe travels."
Keeping his disquiet at bay, Jean-Luc bowed and bid her farewell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jean-Luc spent three hours in his office reporting his success to Starfleet then receiving their next orders. After closing the channel he sat back and stared into space, his mind light years away. Coming back to awareness, he turned his monitor and sighed, his fingers lightly caressing the controls.
"Computer begin recording. To Doctor Beverly Crusher, New Scotland, Caldos.

 

Dearest Beverly, although you have not replied to my last message I find that I am unable to resist the urge to contact you. I miss you Beverly…so much that I am sometimes overwhelmed. You are the last thing I think of at night and the first thing in my mind when I wake.
Have you found what you were looking for Beverly? Are you happy? I hope you are, the thought that you might still be sad hurts me more than I can tell.
The last mission took a great toll on me my dear friend…I am losing my resolve and without you to set me on course I feel I am slowly drifting away from all that I once held dear.
Beverly I need to hear from you, if only to tell me that you're all right. Please Beverly…please…contact me.
All my love always,
Jean-Luc."

"Computer send message."
"Message sent."
The Captain rose and stood at the viewport. Slowly he raised a hand and trailed his fingers down the cool surface.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It had been three months since Beverly had left the Enterprise and she grimaced as she shoved her clothes into the carry case. Around her, her belongings were packed into cartons, ready to be put in storage. A PADD with her intention to quit the clinic immediately sat on the low table and she grunted as she closed the case. Picking up another PADD, she re-read the instructions to the man she'd hired to look after the cottage and her things, checked that the transfer of funds to his account had taken place, then placed the PADD on the kitchen table where she knew he would find it.
Nodding with determination, she hefted her bag and picked up the first PADD, she would drop it off at the clinic on her way to the transport station. With one final look around the cottage, she opened the door and stepped out into the overcast afternoon. The incoming message light on the computer blinked and hour after she'd left. That message and all the one's that had preceded it had been ignored.
Under threatening skies, Beverly slipped into the clinic, smiling at the receptionist. Without a word, she placed the PADD on the desk, turned and walked out.
Ten minutes later she was at the transport station. After already having procured passage on a bulk carrier, she waited in the terminal for her name to be called. Her destination was a distant planet; one where she heard medical personnel was needed. She looked down at her two pieces of luggage, her carry case and her med kit. Sighing she wondered how long it would take to get to her destination.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the weeks that had followed his refusal to work, Jean-Luc applied himself to his duties. He knew all too well that any false step on his part would lead to him being relieved of duty and, although that didn't particularly bother him, he still wanted such a situation to be his own decision. If he were to quit, it would be by his own hand.
One mission followed another, each much the same as the one that preceded it. Bored and restless, he sat at his desk in his quarters late one night, staring at the computer terminal.
"Why won't you answer me? I've sent eleven messages and you've ignored them all. Why? Dear God Beverly…I need to hear from you…I need your help. Please…I want to hear from you."
Activating his monitor, his fingers slowly began to type.

 

Dearest Beverly…what is wrong? What have I done that you should cut me out of you life so completely? I am so sorry about what happened…how can I make it up to you? What can I do to make it right between us?
I long to hear from you…your words would heal me Beverly…give me back my life.
Please…please dear friend try and find it in yourself to contact me…I need so much to hear from you.
My love always,
Jean-Luc.

 

His finger hovered over the send key, tears welling in his eyes. In a ragged whisper he said,
"Oh please Beverly…help me."
The computer acknowledged the sending of the message and Jean-Luc rose stiffly and walked over to his bedroom. He sat on the bed, toed off his boots and slowly undressed before slipping on his satin shorts and sliding under the covers. He turned onto his side and sighed. As he closed his eyes, two tears slid free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beverly looked around her cramped cabin and grunted wryly.
"Not exactly Sovereign Class."
She hefted her bags onto the bed and poked her head into the tiny bathroom. Wrinkling her nose, she noted the faint stains and shrugged her shoulders. A brief conversation with the Captain of the carrier had informed her she would be aboard for three and a half weeks. After a quick inspection of the storage space, she unpacked and sat on the bed, taking out a PADD. Before she left Caldos she had downloaded all her messages and now called them up. While still working at the clinic, she had ignored the computer, usually being too tired at the end of the day to be bothered turning it on. Now she had the time.
There were some messages from Starfleet, all of them asking her to reverse her decision to leave. They reiterated their need for trained medical officers and offered her any position she wished. With a shake of her head, she deleted every one of them. The next five messages were from Deanna. She hesitated then decided to read them. Mostly they were pleas for her to reconsider her decision and to contact the Enterprise. The Counsellor told of Jean-Luc's trouble and begged Beverly to contact him. Her jaw clenching, they were deleted.
Then came Jean-Luc's messages. She read the first two but stopped as tears threatened. Closing her eyes, she deleted all of the messages. She sat quietly, regaining control before she called,
"Computer this is passenger Beverly Crusher. Please uplink with Caldos central computer."
"There will be a delay of twenty seven minutes before uplink can be established."
"Acknowledged."
Taking the PADD, Beverly stretched out on the bed and waited.
She was dozing when the call came through.
"Passenger Beverly Crusher…uplink complete. Awaiting instructions."
"Computer access terminal seven eighty two and transfer all information to this terminal."
"Acknowledged. Complying."
Beverly sat up and left the bed. Within moments her terminal light came on.
"Transfer complete."
"Acknowledged. Sever uplink."
"Uplink severed."
Beverly moved to the terminal and removed an isolinear chip from its access port. Placing it in her PADD, she activated the download.
There was only one message and it was from Jean-Luc. The Doctor dropped the device on the desk and sat heavily on the bed, her head in her hands. After some minutes she looked up and stared at the PADD, wishing it to disappear. Shaking her head in sad exasperation, she picked up the device and read.
Tears slowly slid down her face as she felt the sorrow and desperation expressed in his words. Taking the PADD, she lay on her bed and hugged the device to her breast as she silently cried.
"Oh Jean-Luc…please forgive me."
When she woke hours later, she deleted the message.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beverly's passage was relatively uneventful. Twice she was called to help with general tasks, neither medical in nature, as she hadn't informed the Captain of her profession. She spent most of her time in her cabin reading or studying. Sometimes, in the evenings, she would venture into the pokey lounge, but she found the scrutiny of the off duty personnel intrusive and, as she was the only passenger, she found it more comfortable to stay in her cabin and avoid speculation.
She had been alerted that the ship was nearing its destination and she packed quickly.
Kunnar, the planet to which she travelled, was in trouble. Warp capable, the population had been devastated by internal conflict and, although the wars were over, the planetary government was struggling to rebuild. Though a non-aligned planet, help was gratefully received from anywhere they could get it and Beverly's offer was one they couldn't refuse.
She was surprised when there was a knock at her cabin door.
"Who is it?"
"Captain Harcourt."
Frowning, Beverly opened the door and mustered a smile.
"Yes Captain, what can I do for you?"
His own smile broad, the Captain offered his arm.
"Would you allow me to escort you to the transporter?"
Nodding, Beverly stood back as the Captain picked up her bags, then followed him out, politely refusing his arm. The small man sighed, but kept smiling.
"The government has sent coordinates…I believe it's to the biggest hospital in the capital."
The Doctor nodded, keeping silent.
"They referred to you as Doctor Crusher."
Beverly sighed.
"That's right."
"Oh…I didn't know."
Her cool attitude precluded any more conversation. They arrived at the tiny Transporter room and Beverly took her place on the pad with her bags.
"Thank you Captain, I had a nice passage."
He nodded before activating the transporter. Watching her dissipate into sparkling blue light, he shook his head.
"What an ice queen!"

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beverly was met by the director of the hospital and shown directly to her new quarters. Recently rebuilt, she detected the faint smell of fresh paint. With only enough time to deposit her bag, she was escorted back to the main body of the facility and set to work.
Her first shift lasted eighteen hours and she returned to her rooms exhausted. She ate a light meal, showered and fell into bed, her mind so overwhelmed it was blank as sleep claimed her.

 

Four and a half months after Beverly's departure from the Enterprise, Jean-Luc was in his quarters. Taking a rare day off, he watched the stars as the great ship sailed effortlessly through space on their way to the next dubious mission. Dressed casually, he had in his hand his flute, the computer paying back his latest attempt at composing. A scowl developed as he muttered,
"Computer stop play back. Play from the first bar, second movement."
The music softly filled the cabin and he closed his eyes, trying to seek comfort in the lulling notes. The beep from his desk terminal snapped his eyes open.
"Computer pause."
Rising, he strode to the monitor and stared at the blinking light, his heartbeat increasing as his hopes rose.
"Is it from you my love?"
Sitting, he wiped his palms on his thighs and took a deep breath. He closed his eyes and said a short prayer before activating the terminal.
As the message appeared, he read the first line, his heart sinking. It was from his sister-in-law Marie, informing him of some documents he needed to sign. With a deep sigh he read the message then sent a notification that he'd received it and closed the terminal. He rose and went to his favourite chair, his spirit crushed.
"I give up Beverly…I don't know what to do. You won't answer me and I'm at my wit's end. You win."
He sat in silence for over two hours before his door chimed. With an annoyed sigh he called,
"Come."
Deanna stepped in and smiled.
"Hello Captain. I know it's your day off but I thought you might like to take a walk in the Arboretum with me. Stan has coaxed some frangipani into bloom."
Jean-Luc's hard eyes stared at the Counsellor before he sighed.
"I don't think so Counsellor."
Deanna soft voice carried easily to him.
"Please Captain."
He frowned at her persistence then shrugged.
"Oh very well."
Smiling broadly, Deanna waited by the door as the Captain rose and came to her. Together they left his quarters and walked slowly through the corridors.
"How are you sleeping Captain?"
Clenching his teeth, Jean-Luc muttered,
"Fine Counsellor."
"And eating Captain?"
He stilled his feet and turned cold eyes on his companion.
"Counsellor desist or I will return to my quarters…alone."
Her hands clasped behind her back, Deanna lowered her head and nodded.
"As you wish Captain…my apologies."
The resumed their walking and soon found themselves at the Arboretum. As the doors opened the earthy aroma of hundreds of plants washed over them.
The frangipani wasn't hard to find. The scent grew as the officers approached. Deanna stood before the specimens and inhaled deeply.
"Mmm, isn't it divine Captain?"
Taking his own deep breath, Jean-Luc was reminded of happier times.
"Indeed Counsellor."
Deanna gently cradled some blooms in her hand and said wistfully,
"Beverly once told me that despite camellias being her favourite flower, she had a real soft spot for frangipani."
Sighing, Jean-Luc nodded.
"Yes. It stems from a shore leave she, Jack and I took together in the South Pacific. Jack gave her a corsage of these blooms and for the rest of the leave she wore a single flower behind one ear every day. She was stunning."
Deanna straightened and sighed.
"I've been sending her messages…several in fact, and she's ignored every one of them."
Jean-Luc knelt and gently sniffed a bloom. Sighing he said softly,
"Me too."
Frowning, Deanna knelt beside him.
"She's ignored you too?"
"Uh huh."
Deanna shook her head.
"But Captain…"
He stood abruptly and scowled.
"If it's all the same to you Counsellor, I'd rather not discuss it."
He turned and made for the exit, Deanna had to hurry to catch him. Gently taking his elbow, she forced him to stop.
"Captain please…you need to talk about this."
He stared stonily at her hand until she released him. She took a step back and met his cold gaze.
"Captain…"
He shook his head brusquely and resumed his quick stride through the doors. Deanna watched him go, a worried frown on her face.
"Damn."

 

 

 

 

 

For the next two months the Enterprise went from one exasperating mission to another. Jean-Luc kept his heartache at bay, quashed his feelings of disillusionment and applied himself to his duty. After each unsavoury mission he absented himself from his staff and brooded, his thoughts dark, his heart cold.

 

 

 

Beverly stayed on Kunnar eight weeks before the restlessness became too hard to bear. Savagely suppressing the grief and sorrow that nibbled at her resolve, she packed her carry case and med kit before contacting the transport ship that was in orbit. Having negotiated passage, she called the director and tendered her resignation. He was flustered, begging her to stay, but she terminated the link and called the ship requesting immediate beam out.
She was given a small cabin she was to share with another passenger. Initially alone, Beverly stowed her bag and was contemplating exploring the deck when the door opened to reveal her roommate. The tall, exotic alien squinted suspiciously, its eyes travelling up and down Beverly's form. Summoning a tired smile, Beverly held out her hand.
"Hello, my name is Beverly."
The alien remained motionless before turning abruptly and leaving. Beverly sighed and sat on one of the two small beds.
"Well hello to you too."
Twenty minutes later the alien was back. When the door opened it came in and stared at the unoccupied bed. Beverly rose and muttered,
"If you prefer, you can have this one, I don't mind."
The alien's deep red eyes settled on the Doctor and it sighed. Taking a device from its pocket, it inputted some commands and spoke into it.
"I am Ferr."
Beverly smiled and held out her hand again.
"And I'm Beverly."
The alien stared at the extended hand before tentatively taking it. Beverly squeezed gently and nodded.
"Welcome to our cabin."
Ferr smiled and hefted its bag onto the bed. There was silence as it took out a small bag and entered the tiny bathroom. Beverly busied herself with a PADD until the alien emerged, drying its hands. Picking up the device again it said,
"There is not much room here."
Beverly shook her head.
"No there isn't."
Ferr sat on the bed and frowned.
"What species are you?"
"I am Human. And you?"
"I am Kenik."
Beverly frowned.
"Kenik? I'm not familiar with that species. What sector are you from?"
The alien sighed deeply and tapped its forehead with its free hand.
"My people are spread throughout the galaxy. Long ago the Borg attacked us and we have been scattered ever since."
Sorrow crossed the Doctor's face as she commiserated.
"I'm so sorry Ferr. My species has also encountered the Borg, although we fared better."
Nodding, the alien smiled.
"Yes I have heard of your battles. In defeating the Borg, you struck a blow for all of us."
Sadness filled Beverly's heart as she said,
"At great cost Ferr."
The roommates were together ten days until Beverly disembarked at Starbase Papa Echo. There she waited six days for another transport ship to take her further away from Federation space. Her destination was Devarun IV where a disease was decimating the population. Ferr had given her a stone, one that changed colour with her moods. As she waited for the transport ship, she idly stared at the stone, her mood glum as she recalled Ferr explaining that the dark brown colour was indicative of a lost soul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her work on Devarun IV was exhausting. Several Doctors from many species were working together and eventually a successful treatment was devised for the disease.
She was there a total of two and a half months. At the completion of her work, she garnered passage on an Andorian vessel to sector six eight five. There her enquiries had uncovered a group of Doctors attempting to overcome the effects on the population of a small planet who were suffering a form of radiation sickness, caused when the system's sun entered a phase of unprecedented activity.
Having given herself preventative treatments, she beamed down and started work almost immediately. Over nine weeks, she not only aided in the management of the patients, she also was instrumental in discovering an effective method of treatment for the insidious burns that were an unpleasant symptom of the radiation sickness.
As soon as it seemed they had got on top of the situation, she left. Taking a great risk, she managed to talk a Cardassian supply ship to take her into the Farren expanse. There she had learned of a population that was experiencing an inexplicable rise in birth defects. Preliminary research had been unable to shed any light on the situation and she was welcomed with open arms.
Every time she felt the bottomless sorrow threaten to overwhelm her, she buried herself deeper in her work and every time the restlessness ate at her she ran, seeking another cause, closing her mind and heart to what was really at the crux of her unending sorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In all, it had been eleven months since Beverly's departure. The Enterprise was in orbit around Settyn, a planet only recently recovered from civil war. In a surprising twist, the overlords of the ruling clans had requested to join the Federation but, as Jean-Luc was soon to discover, their motives for such a move were not what could be called benevolent.
"And I'm telling you they are excrement! You should have destroyed them when you had the chance!"
Jean-Luc fisted his hands and clenched his jaw.
"Premier I have already explained…twice…that genocide is considered an atrocity by the Federation and is not something that would ever be considered."
Another large man stood, his growl laced with derision.
"And what of the Borg Picard? Are you telling me, if given the chance, your Federation wouldn't eradicate them?"
Closing his eyes briefly and sighing, Jean-Luc struggled to keep calm.
"I agree that the Borg are an ongoing threat, but to date we have managed to hold them off. I can only hope that further research will provide us with the technology we need to protect ourselves from them."
The standing Premier snarled.
"Technology you will share with us!"
Nodding, the Captain replied,
"Yes. If you join the Federation you will have access to all our technology."
The first man grunted and slammed his fist on the table.
"I still say we should use all our efforts to rid the galaxy of the Cardassians once and for all! Over the past fifty years they have been a thorn in our side. They raid our outlying colonies, they attack our ships…I'm telling you they are worthless. No one will miss them!"
His voice rising, the Captain ground out,
"And I'm telling you that will not happen! Since the Dominion war the Cardassian Union has undergone a fundamental change. They are not the same as they once were and I would seriously doubt they will be a concern to you in the future."
A female Premier stood and placed her hands on the table. As large as her male counterparts and just as belligerent, she leaned forward and glared at the Captain.
"Then what is the point of joining your Federation if we can't use the technology to eliminate our enemies?"
About to answer her, Jean-Luc was cut off by yet another Premier.
"And what of the clans? You say we have to share what the Federation gives equally? That is utterly preposterous! My clan has been in a position of the greatest power for centuries. Why should we share with the lesser clans? It would only serve to give them a false sense of importance and stir up unrest amongst the workers."
At times like these, Jean-Luc missed the calming influence of Counsellor Troi, however she was forbidden, her empathic abilities seen as a covert weapon. He looked down at his companion, Lieutenant Lee Oliver and sighed. One of Deanna's staff, he was a Counsellor, but was obviously out of his depth.
Gathering his concentration, Jean-Luc tried yet again to make these antagonistic people see reason.
"Premier the Federation will not admit your planet unless you guarantee there will be fair dissemination of technology and resources. We will not allow you to use our gifts to wage war on your enemies unless you're under direct threat and we will not favour one clan over another."
The largest of all the Premiers, an auburn haired warrior of impressive height stood and slowly placed his fisted hands on his hips.
"And what of our raw materials your Federation so covets? You impose your ethics on us while you take what you want! That is hardly equitable. Why do we have to give up our ways yet still have to supply you with our riches?"
The Captain swallowed and willed his anger aside.
"I think you will find that what we propose is not only fair, but may prove to be very lucrative for your planet. Perhaps you forget just how many members there are in the Federation…all of them in need of raw materials."
"Because of your recent war with the Dominion."
"Yes."
The big man stroked his long beard.
"And if you find yourselves in another war, we would be bound to help you?"
Jean-Luc nodded.
"Yes. If you are a member of the Federation and we find ourselves at war, then yes, you would be required to help."
Staring hard at the Captain, the Premier slowly shook his head.
"No Picard. We will not be dragged into your conflicts."
Finally fed up with the intractable Premiers, Jean-Luc startled his companion by suddenly standing, his eyes glittering dangerously.
"Then I see no sense in continuing these talks."
He turned and began to walk away when a shout was heard.
"You will not insult us in such a manner! Picard…stop!"
Ignoring the call, Jean-Luc was nearly at the door when the big man drew his weapon. Lieutenant Oliver stood between his Captain and the enraged Premier but he was knocked aside.
"I'm warning you Picard…stop!"
Jean-Luc reached for the door handle and hesitated when he heard the frantic cry from his officer.
"Captain he has a weapon!"
It was the last thing Jean-Luc heard as a beam of energy streaked out across the room and hit him squarely in the back.
Oliver ran to his Captain and turned him over, pressing his fingers into Jean-Luc's neck trying to feel his pulse. Detecting a faint throb, he grabbed the collar of the Captain's uniform and began to drag him from the room. Due to a dampening effect limiting communication, he was unable to call for help until he was out of the building. He went through four rooms and a long corridor before he suddenly burst out into the open. Slapping his combadge he shouted,
"Enterprise two to beam directly to Sickbay, the Captain's been shot!"
He fell to his knees and cradled Jean-Luc's head as the beam took them.

 

 

 

 

 

Doctor Selar was now the CMO and was ready as the two officers appeared on the floor of Sickbay. With the help of three nurses, Jean-Luc was placed on a biobed and scanned. Selar's Vulcan calm overrode the tension of the staff as she gave her orders.
"He has extensive internal damage and his heart is failing. Lieutenant Ogawa prepare him for surgery."
Jean-Luc was taken away just as Will entered the facility. He stood still; watching the staff make their preparations then approached Lieutenant Oliver.
"What happened Lee?"
Wiping a shaking hand over his face, the rattled man faced his superior.
"It didn't go well Sir, they weren't interested in the Federation's values or charter, all they wanted was to improve their technology so they could wage war on their enemies. The Captain tried Sir…God he showed the patience of Job, but they wouldn't listen."
Will shifted his feet impatiently and sighed.
"So why did they shoot him?"
"The Captain finally had enough. He told them there was no sense in continuing and made to leave. The Premier of the most powerful clan took it as an insult and drew a weapon. He told the Captain to stop but he ignored him. I tried to stop it, but the Premier shot him anyway…in the back."
Will scowled, fisting his hands. About to say more, Lee gulped audibly.
"When I got to him there was smoke drifting up from his uniform and a large scorch mark on his back. I turned him over and felt for a pulse then I had to drag him about fifty metres to get him outside so I could call for help. Jesus Commander it all went so bad so quickly! It went to hell in a hand basket in seconds."
Will schooled his features into gentle concern. Gripping the shaking man's shoulder, he said softly,
"You did just fine Lee. Go to your quarters now and rest. Tomorrow I want a full report and I want you to get some counselling. OK?"
Swallowing and taking a deep breath, the Lieutenant nodded and wiped his brow.
"I will Sir, thank you."
Will watched the devastated man leave then called over a nurse.
"Any news?"
He shook his head.
"No Commander not yet. Captain Picard has been scanned and taken to surgery. It will be some time before we know anything."
Will stared at the operating theatre and came to a decision.
"I want to be notified the minute he's out of surgery. I'll be on the Bridge."
The nurse acknowledged the order and went back to his duties. Will was back on the Bridge in minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Tactical open a channel to the planet."
"Aye Sir, channel open."
"On screen."
The viewscreen cleared to reveal a scowling Premier.
"What do you want? We have no further need to talk to you."
Drawing himself up to his full height, Will's face was stern.
"I want to speak to the person who shot Captain Picard."
"Why?"
His anger just under the surface, Will snarled,
"Unless you are that person, it's none of your business."
Taken aback by Will's aggressive attitude, the Premier stepped back.
"Wait."
The screen went blank for over ten minutes before suddenly reactivating. A very large man stared defiantly down his long nose.
"I am Premier Luxx. What do you want?"
Will's eyes narrowed.
"Did you shoot Captain Picard?"
"What if I did?"
Will's eyes were cold.
"Then you have committed an act of aggression against a Starfleet officer."
The big man shrugged, opening his arms wide.
"What of it? Starfleet has nothing to do with us. Besides, he insulted us, surely you don't expect us to stand idly by while some…alien…insults us in our own chambers?"
Stifling the protest that teetered on the tip of his tongue, Will clenched his jaw.
"You contacted the federation and requested to join. Captain Picard was sent as the representative of the Federation and as such should have been respected and treated as an honoured guest, not assaulted."
The Premier waved his hand dismissively.
"Your words are meaningless…you are a nothing but a dull blade."
The connection was terminated and Will was left seething. Over his shoulder he snarled,
"Re-establish contact!"
There were several uncomfortable moments until the Ensign at Tactical said softly,
"They're ignoring our hails Commander."
Swearing under his breath, Will took his seat in the Command chair and glared at the planet below.
"Bastards!"

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four and a quarter hours later Will was in Selar's office, his patience tested by the unflappable Vulcan.
"So you're saying he'll be all right?"
The elegant woman nodded once.
"Yes Commander. I am cautiously optimistic about his recovery. We have repaired all of the damage and I do not foresee any trouble. Captain Picard has always maintained a satisfactory level of fitness, in fact for his age he is in excellent physical condition."
Nodding, Will ran a hand through his hair.
"When can I see him?"
"He is heavily sedated Commander. I estimate he will be unconscious until tomorrow morning. When he wakes you may see him then."
Will stood and turned the chair he'd been straddling.
"Very well Doctor, I'll leave you to it. Is it all right if I look in on him before I go?"
Frowning at her lack of understanding the need Humans had to reassure themselves with visual verification of what she'd already told him, Selar nodded.
Will approached the Captain's private room slowly, knowing he would be upset by what he saw. He was just about to enter when a small hand gripped his elbow. The big man stared down and grinned.
"Hello Deanna."
The hand gently squeezed and Will felt an intimate presence in his mind. He sighed and relaxed, his eyes closing briefly.
"He'll be all right Will."
Taking a big breath, Will shook his head.
"I know, but I also know he'll look like hell and there's not a damn thing I can do about it."
Deanna frowned at feeling his suppressed anger.
"You contacted the planet?"
"Uh huh. They don't care Dee. They know there's nothing we can do and they're thumbing their noses at us."
"Put it from your mind Will. Once the Captain tenders his report we will leave this system and it will fade to a distant memory."
The Commander nodded and sighed.
"You coming in?"
She nodded and let go of his arm. Together the two officers entered Jean-Luc's room and stood by the bed. In the subdued lighting Jean-Luc looked pale and small. Deanna gently took his left hand and held it, willing her goodwill into the sleeping man's mind.
Will watched and asked softly,
"Can you sense him at all?"
Deanna shook her head, lifting the Captain's hand to her face.
"No. While he's so heavily sedated his mind is inaccessible to me."
The Commander snorted softly and shook his head.
"So what's different? These past months since Beverly left he's been a closed book to all of us."
The Counsellor nodded.
"I know. I keep trying…hoping he'll open up, let me help him, but true to form he's retreated within himself…nursing his pain and denying himself any hope of relief."
Will's large hands smoothed the blanket over Jean-Luc's chest.
"Do you think this incident will make things any worse?"
With an expansive sigh, Deanna lowered her head.
"I honestly don't know, I can no longer predict how he might react. He may shake it off and carry on as normal, or he may react with dismay and give up completely. There's no way to tell."
Will stood silently, looking down at his Captain.
"Well Selar says he'll wake tomorrow. I suppose we'll know then."
Deanna nodded and placed Jean-Luc's hand back on the bed. By silent agreement they left the room and exited Sickbay. Neither would get much sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will was on the Bridge next morning when the call came through from Sickbay.
"Selar to Riker."
"Riker here."
"Commander Captain Picard is awake."
Smiling, Will rose from his seat.
"I'll be there shortly."
He took two steps before he was halted.
"That will not be necessary Commander."
Frowning, the First Officer tilted his head.
"What do you mean Doctor?"
"Captain Picard is refusing to see anyone."
"What? Why?"
"I do not know Commander."
Snorting, Will strode to the lift.
"Well I want to know Doctor. I'm coming down. Riker out."
Her reply was ignored. Once in the lift, Will tapped his combadge.
"Riker to Troi."
"Troi here."
"Counsellor meet me in Sickbay immediately."
"On my way, Troi out."

 

 

 

 

 

 

They met outside Sickbay's doors. Deanna watched her lover closely as he tried to suppress his frustration. Inside, they were met by Selar.
"Doctor what the hell is going on? Why won't the Captain see anybody?"
Gesturing to her office, Selar entered and waited until the two officers were seated.
"When Captain Picard regained consciousness this morning I went to him and scanned him. Throughout the procedure he remained silent. I informed him of the extent of his injuries, explained that we had repaired all the damage and that I expected a full recovery. He did not respond. I then told him he would be on medical leave for five days and he showed no reaction whatsoever. I noted that he was experiencing mild pain and offered him an analgesic. Again there was no response.
Finished with my examination, I informed him of your request to see him Commander and he spoke for the first time. He expressed a wish to be left alone and ordered me to stop anyone from visiting him. I queried the wisdom of such an order and he became quite angry. Rather than provoke him further, I left his room."
Will snorted and ran a hand through his hair. Casting an eye at Deanna, he sighed.
"What do you think?"
The Counsellor closed her eyes briefly and frowned.
"He's calm at the moment…almost too composed. I don't know Will, he's become unpredictable."
Selar clasped her hands on the desktop.
"Counsellor Troi how would you describe Captain Picard's mental state at this time?"
Deanna lowered her head and sighed.
"At the moment I would say fragile. This latest incident may be the straw that breaks the camel's back."
Will placed his hand on the desk and spread his fingers.
"What do you think might happen if we were to go into his room?"
Deanna's black eyes glittered.
"I don't know."
The big man stood and looked through the glass at the closed door of the Captain's private room.
"Well there are some things I need to know…things only he can tell me. I'm going in."
Selar's voice held a note of warning.
"Commander Riker although I appreciate your need to talk with Captain Picard, I must uphold his wish to be left alone."
Sensing Will's spike of anger, Deanna stood and looked down at the calm Vulcan.
"Doctor Selar I think it's necessary that, as a command matter, Commander Riker see the Captain. To allay your concerns, I will accompany him…I feel it important that I assess the Captain."
Selar's impassive face showed no emotion however one eyebrow rose. Obviously thinking about Deanna's proclamation, she stood and nodded once.
"Very well."
Will waisted no time, in seconds he was at the Captain's door. Looking down at his lover he asked softly,
"Ready?"
He received a nod and he opened the door.

 

 

 

 

Jean-Luc lay in subdued light his eyes closed. Will glanced at Deanna, silently asking if the Captain was asleep. She shook her head slightly and Will softly cleared his throat.
"Captain?"
There was no response. A little louder, Will called,
"Captain Picard?"
Jean-Luc's voice was deep and rough and deceptively quiet.
"I do not want to be disturbed."
Taking a large breath Will swallowed.
"I know Captain but there are some things I need to talk to you about."
When the Captain remained silent, Will came closer to the bed.
"Sir I have read Lieutenant Oliver's report, but I would like to hear your version of events."
Jean-Luc's response rattled Will.
"I don't want to talk about it."
Deanna surreptitiously held up her hand, silencing the Commander.
"Captain I understand how upset you must feel…this is yet another assault, another violation, but we need to know what to do about this mission."
Jean-Luc sighed, his eyes still closed.
"The mission is a failure. Report the details to Starfleet…I'm sure they will have something else for you to do."
Sharing a frown between them, Deanna asked softly,
"And what about you Captain?"
"I no longer have any interest in these proceedings Counsellor. Do what you have to, it no longer concerns me."
Will's voice registered his worry.
"Captain I'm sure once you've…"
Jean-Luc's voice deepened further, his anguish plain.
"Please leave."
Deanna touched his hand and he pulled it away.
"I won't ask you again. Leave. Now."
The officers looked at each other and Will nodded.
"All right Captain. Maybe we can come and see you later in your quarters?"
His silence unnerved them as they left.
Outside his room, Selar was waiting for them. Her stoic face made Will sigh. Shaking his head he asked softly,
"When will Captain Picard be released?"
"This afternoon Commander."
Will nodded and looked at his feet.
"OK. Leave him alone and call me when he's discharged."
"Very well Sir."
Will and Deanna left Sickbay and remained silent as Will led them to Deanna's office. Once inside he turned to her and shook his head.
"This is bad isn't it."
Deanna sat and sighed.
"I'm afraid so. He's had enough Will…he's finally reached the end of his rope."
Will sat and rested his head in his hands. His quiet voice showed his deep distress.
"Can you do anything? Can you help him?"
"If he would let me maybe, but I really think it's gone too far. The reality is the only person he would talk to isn't here…in fact Beverly's absence is a major part of the problem."
Will stood, his hands fisting.
"For Christ's sake there must be something we can do! Is there anybody…somebody at Starfleet perhaps…someone he's known for years that we can talk to about this? God Deanna I'm not going to just give up on him!"
The Counsellor sat back, her eyes clouding with deep thought. Will sat back down and waited, knowing better than to interrupt. Eventually Deanna sighed.
"There is Admiral Tompkins. He and the Captain are particularly close…maybe we should talk to him?"
Rubbing his face, Will sighed.
"Well it's a start anyway. If he can't help, perhaps he could recommend someone who can."
Deanna stood and waited as her lover gained his feet.
"I'll place the call this afternoon. Are you going to wait before contacting Command?"
Will shook his head tiredly.
"No. The way things are, I have to report. Like the Captain said…if this mission's a wash out then we need new orders."
Deanna gently squeezed his arm.
"OK. Do you want to be with me when I contact the Admiral?"
The big man nodded.
"You bet!"
"All right, I'll let you know."
Will leaned down and softly kissed her brow. She smiled up at him and watched as he left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will stayed on the Bridge for the remainder of the day. At fourteen hundred Selar called to inform him that the Captain had been released to his quarters. To Will's enquiry, Selar answered that Jean-Luc had remained uncommunicative and she doubted that situation was likely to change. At seventeen thirty Will finished his shift and ambled to his cabin, his mind whirling in deep thought. He'd eaten, changed and was reading some reports when the call came from Deanna.
"Troi to Riker."
"Riker here."
"Will I am about to be connected to Command. Admiral Tompkins is waiting."
"I'm on my way."
Deanna was seated at her desk in her office sipping a hot chocolate when Will came in. She glanced at him and gestured to a seat beside her, keeping her attention on her monitor.
"Admiral Commander Riker is here."
Will sat and smiled at the kindly looking man on the screen. About the Captain's age, he had short white hair brushed straight back over his head and a neat moustache. His smile of welcome warmed Will and he could sense Deanna's confidence. The older man nodded.
"Greetings Commander Riker, I've heard a lot about you…your Captain is very happy with your performance."
His blue eyes twinkling, Will inclined his head.
"Thank you Admiral. I consider it a privilege to serve with him."
The Admiral's face lost its smile and he sighed.
"Commander your Counsellor has told me of Captain Picard's difficulties and I must say it has come as a shock. Of all people I never would have thought Picard would give up the way he has."
Will sat up straight and opened his mouth to protest. The Admiral saw his reaction and forestalled it by holding up a hand.
"There's no need Commander, I understand what's at stake here and I also know for this to have happened it must have been colossally damaging to your Captain. I know the man and I think I know how much it would take to cause this…capitulation."
Will nodded and cast a glance at Deanna. She nodded surreptitiously and he sighed.
"Admiral are you aware just how close Captain Picard and Doctor Crusher are?"
The older man nodded.
"Oh yes Commander. I've known Picard, Crusher and her late husband as long as they've known each other. And yes, I'm also aware of how deep his feeling are for her."
Will nodded, clasping his hands in his lap.
"We believe Admiral, that a very large part of the Captain's difficulties lie in Beverly's absence. The problem is twofold. He was deeply troubled by something for months before she left and so was she, but for some unknown reason, they didn't talk to each other about what was wrong. Things deteriorated until Beverly suddenly left. Now he finds himself bereft because she's gone and without her he has lost the one person he needs to talk to."
Tompkins frowned and bit his lower lip.
"And you Counsellor…have you had any success?"
"No Admiral."
"You're Betazoid aren't you? Can't you read his thoughts?"
Deanna smiled and shook her head.
"No Admiral. I'm half Betazoid, my father was Human. I do not possess telepathy, my gift is empathy and to that end, I sense emotions, but over the years Captain Picard has learned how to shield himself from me when he so desires and for some time now I have been unable to read him."
"You could have ordered him to undergo counselling."
"Yes Sir, that's true, however with individuals possessed with the determination our Captain has, to counsel him as an unwilling participant would be counter productive."
The Admiral sighed.
"Yes I can see how that would be problematic. I know how stubborn he can be."
"I can tell you Admiral that we have been keeping a close eye on the Captain. Apart from one isolated incident some months ago, his performance of his duty has been exemplary. If it were otherwise I would have relieved him immediately."
Nodding, Tompkins folded his arms.
"Understood. Tell me Counsellor, this 'isolated incident' what happened? Was it anything like the situation now?"
Deanna sighed and nodded.
"There are some similarities Sir. While negotiating with a new species, the Captain endured an invasion of his mind. The people we encountered were telepathic and chose to exercise their abilities on the Captain. He was outraged and refused to deal with them. Eventually they gave us assurances that they would refrain from violating the Captain's mind and he agreed to re-enter the talks."
The Admiral sighed expansively.
"So what we're dealing with is a man disillusioned with Starfleet and fed up with being used as a punching bag for the Federation?"
Smiling softly at the analogy, Deanna nodded.
"Yes Sir."
Sitting forward, Tompkins clasped his hands on the desk.
"Well. When I was notified of your request to contact me, I looked up your Captain's file. I don't have much to do with current missions so I don't hear first hand if there's any concerns amongst the Admiralty about any senior officers, however I do know this man.
Counsellor I going to recommend your Captain take an extended leave of absence. He has accrued over three hundred days of shore leave and it's about time he availed himself of some of it. Commander Riker can you spare a shuttle?"
Will nodded in thought.
"Yes Admiral."
"Good. Counsellor you will have the unenviable task of convincing a reluctant man to face his demons. If you can get him to take leave, tell him to find Crusher…they obviously need to talk. And Counsellor…if he refuses you have my authority to tell him it's a direct order. I can only hope there's enough sense of duty left in him to obey."
Sighing, Deanna's brow furrowed in thought.
"Very well Admiral, I will do as you say."
Placing his hands flat on the desk, the Admiral smiled.
"Right. Let me know how you go…Tompkins out."
The screen darkened then reverted to the Starfleet logo. Deanna sat back and sighed.
"Computer what is the time?"
"Nineteen forty-five hours."
Will's eyes noted her tense shoulders.
"You want to do it now?"
"Uh huh. I take it he's in his quarters?"
Will nodded.
"Computer is Captain Picard awake?"
"Affirmative."
The petite woman stood and stretched.
"Well, no time like the present I suppose."
Will came to his feet and rubbed his face.
"Do you want me to come along?"
Deanna tilted her head and considered the question. Shaking her head she sighed.
"No, he'd probably see your presence as threatening. Better I go alone and try to keep from provoking anything unpleasant from him."
The Commander chewed the inside of his cheek in thought.
"How do you think he'll take it?"
Deanna shrugged, her brows knitting.
"He could be anything from blazingly angry to completely emotionless. I'll know more when I talk to him."
Will snorted.
"By then it might be too late."
The Counsellor chuckled tiredly.
"Well they do say fortune favours the brave."
Will took her in his arms and sighed.
"Good luck my love. Let me know how it goes."
Will left and Deanna spent fifteen minutes meditating…bolstering her strength before the battle began.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Encouraged by being admitted to his quarters, Deanna found the Captain seated in his favourite chair, the lights dimmed and his cabin silent. Stepping quietly across the room, Deanna stood in front of him and watched as he kept his eyes on the PADD he held.
"May I sit Captain?"
He sighed, sat back and crossed his legs. After a few seconds he gestured to a chair, but his eyes never left the PADD.
"How are you feeling Sir?"
His continued silence vexed the Counsellor. She set her jaw and tried again.
"Doctor Selar says you have some residual pain. How is it now?"
He surprised her by suddenly lifting his head and staring at her, his dark eyes unreadable. Unable to sense his emotions and unsettled by his scrutiny, Deanna forced a smile and clasped her hands in her lap, affecting a relaxed pose even though she was very tense.
His steady gaze never faltering, he offered her the PADD. She took it, her voice uplifted in query.
"Captain."
He folded his arms across his chest and turned his head to stare out at the stars. His soft voice just carried to her.
"Read it."
Focussing her attention on the device she read quickly and then closed her eyes.
"You're resigning?"
His only movement was to slowly stroke his lower lip as he silently contemplated the stars.
"Captain this isn't necessary and in all honesty I believe you're reacting too hastily. Yes, I admit you have good reason to be disillusioned and I know you have had enough of suffering physical and mental trauma but Captain…resigning your commission? Leaving Starfleet? Walking away from everything you've worked so hard for most of your life? That's not the answer and I think deep down you know it."
He allowed a few moments' silence before he slowly turned to face her. His voice soft and steady, he said,
"I've had enough Deanna…I can't do it any more."
The Counsellor sighed and quietly strove to get through to him.
"Captain what if I gave you an alternative?"
He stared at her, his eyes glittering in the subdued light.
"Go on."
"Would you consider an extended leave of absence? An opportunity to go away…anywhere you like to rest and re-evaluate your options…re-assess your decision."
Jean-Luc sighed and slowly stood, facing the stars. He slipped his hands into his pockets and shook his head. Deanna had to strain to hear him.
"It won't make any difference Counsellor."
"Captain…you need to talk to Beverly. Go to her, let her help you find yourself."
She watched as his head bowed and his shoulders rose and fell in an expansive sigh.
"She's not interested Deanna. I've sent many messages…in them I apologised, I pleaded…she never answered…not one."
Deanna stood and went to him, gently taking his arm and turning him. Once she faced him her compassionate black eyes held his.
"If you go to her she won't turn you away Captain. She ran. Whatever it was that caused her to run also caused her to shun us all. Every one of her friends has sent messages that have been ignored, but Captain…she's hiding more from herself than from you…or us. Go to her Captain. Go to her and find peace together."
He sighed and lowered his eyes.
"And if I refuse?"
Deanna folded her arms and frowned.
"Captain you have two choices. Resign, walk away and never discover what might be…or take my advice and go to Beverly. Sir you have over three hundred days of accrued leave. You're entitled."
Jean-Luc thoughtfully tugged on his lower lip and tilted his head. With his usual perspicacity he cut through her guile.
"Why do I get the impression you've got something up your sleeve?"
Smiling softly Deanna had the good grace to flush.
"Because Captain I have the authority of an Admiral behind me. In effect, if you refuse my advice I am authorised to make it an order. Of course you still have to be in Starfleet to obey, but I think you'll find it's good advice…order or no."
Jean-Luc attempted to glower but couldn't quite manage it. Shaking his head, he sighed.
"Whom have you been talking to?"
"Admiral Harry Tompkins."
The Captain snorted and turned back to the stars.
"I might have known."
Deanna let the gentle silence stretch until she asked softly,
"Captain?"
His voice was tired.
"I need to think Counsellor."
"I understand Captain…but will you do one thing for me?"
He turned, an eyebrow raised in silent enquiry.
"Would you hold off on tendering your resignation? At least until you've recovered completely from your injuries?"
He contemplated the woman before him and recalled her years of staunch loyalty.
"Very well Counsellor I will accede to your wishes."
Smiling softly, Deanna stepped closer.
"Thank you Captain. Goodnight Sir."
He watched as she left then turned back to the stars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beverly looked up from her patient, grimacing and trying to lean over the open body to protect it from the falling dust. In the distance rumbling blasts could be heard and aircraft were constantly whizzing overhead.
"We need to stop the bleeding here. Have you got any more coagulant?"
The native nurse looked up and frowned.
"I don't know."
Exasperated, Beverly strove to keep her voice calm.
"Well can you ask somebody?"
With a hard look, the nurse left and disappeared from view. Beverly straightened and hastily clamped a leaking blood vessel before packing the surrounding area with sterile gauze. Minutes passed and she was beginning to think they had no hope when the nurse suddenly appeared and rudely shoved a hypospray into the Doctor's hand.
"Here."
Clenching her jaw, Beverly said softly,
"Is this coagulant?"
Snorting, the nurse nodded brusquely.
"Yes! Doctor K'Tul said it was the appropriate medicine."
Sighing, Beverly sent a silent prayer for her Vulcan colleague and injected her patient. Another flight of aircraft skimmed low over their makeshift hospital and everyone flinched. Beverly gingerly removed the gauze and smiled at the greatly reduced blood flow. Now with the opportunity, she worked quickly and within minutes her patient was granted a stay from the death sentence that had hovered over his head. Nodding to the nurse, the Doctor said quietly,
"He can be closed now. Take him away."
She turned and changed her gloves and when she turned back, another bloodied body was laid out ready for her attention. A heavy blast shook the floor and each person in the room closed their eyes, waiting for the answering report. It came and the doctors all tried to protect their patients, Beverly pulling up the stained sheet to cover the eyes of her semiconscious patient.
One of the other Doctors muttered,
"Where is the line now?"
An orderly, busy stacking blood products replied,
"Seven kilometres to the east. They gained two kilometres last night. The Federals reckon we'll have to leave in about five hours."
A doctor snorted.
"Gossip! I'll leave when someone in authority tells me to."
Beverly raised her head and wearily looked around the crowded room. Litters were everywhere, each holding a badly wounded fighter. Only those with a chance at life were brought in, the rest were either treated and sent back to fight if possible or they died.
The conflict had been ongoing for several months. The planet was non-aligned and the aliens that attacked it had not tried to negotiate. It was plain they were bent on total annihilation but the native inhabitants fought back fiercely. Beverly had learned of their desperate plea for medical help and joined with several other Doctors from around the quadrant to volunteer. She had been there three weeks.
She worked diligently throughout the night and into most of the following day. Taking a short break, she was seated eating a ration bar when her eyes slowly closed and she slipped off the low crate she was sat on. A passing nurse procured a blanket and covered her before rolling up a sheet and placing it under her head. A curtain was drawn around her and the day and the battle wore on.
It was a very loud blast that roused her. With a gasp she sat up and held her spinning head as she struggled to remember where she was. Someone ran by and pulled back the screen.
"Hurry Doctor! They've broken the line, we must go!"
The Doctor stood and pulled at her ratty ponytail.
"What about our patients?"
The nurse looked over his shoulder and nodded to someone.
"We've almost emptied the building. Come on Doctor, we must hurry!"
With no other choice, Beverly ran with the nurse, her eyes squinting as a flash of a nearby blast seared her vision. She stumbled as the buffeting shock wave hit her and she felt the sting of a cut opening on her cheek. Her leg crumpled under her and she frowned in incomprehension. A strong hand gripped her arm then she was being dragged, the rough ground making it almost impossible to gain much speed. Crossing the open common, they burst into a building on the other side and Beverly was roughly pushed onto a transporter pad. The last thing she saw was a bright light as the building was hit.
She rematerialised on a ship. Staggering off the pad, she fell into someone's arms and took some moments to regain her breath. Once again in control, she looked up to see K'Tul about to press some gauze over her bleeding cheek as he lowered her to the floor. Smiling, she raised a hand and when the Vulcan had sited it, she took over and applied firm pressure.
"Where are we?"
K'Tul raised an eyebrow.
"We are on board the Federal cruiser, the Madren. The government is about to fall and they insisted that all off world volunteers be evacuated. You were the last to be beamed aboard. We are presently at high warp, on route to safer climes."
Beverly nodded and sighed.
"Anyone chasing us?"
The tall Vulcan shook his head.
"Not that I know of."
Beverly looked down at her leg and tried to move it. The pain struck with insidious speed, making her moan.
"Lie still Doctor, help is on the way."
Just then an aide entered the room and smiled.
"Welcome aboard Doctors. I will take you both to our medical facility."
Beverly was placed on a bed and scanned with an instrument she didn't recognise. She was given a painkiller and her pants leg torn up to the hip. She attempted to sit up, but the Doctor treating her gently pushed her back down. She felt the warmth of an osteo regenerator and sighed. A light synthetic cast was fitted to her lower leg and her treatment came to an end.
"I am satisfied the break will heal well, however the cast will stay on for two weeks and after that you will have to favour the leg for three more weeks."
Beverly gripped the Doctor's arm and pulled herself into a sitting position.
"Five weeks? But…"
"I'm sorry Doctor but our methods aren't as advanced as the Federation's. Unless you can get back to Federation space, my advice stands."
The diminutive Doctor handed Beverly a crutch and pointed.
"I suggest you use that while your leg heals."
Beverly scowled.
"Can I walk on it?"
"Yes Doctor."
The aide stepped forward and together Beverly, K'Tul and the aide left the Sickbay.
They followed the aide through the ship, eventually coming to a suite of rooms. Stepping back and gesturing, the Doctors preceded him into the quarters.
"I hope you don't mind, but this ship lacks individual accommodation. This suite has four sleeping areas and this communal living room. The sanitary facility is shared also. If you would like to wash…" he looked pointedly at their stained clothing, "I will return soon with food and drink."
Beverly glanced at K'Tul then grimaced as she looked down at herself. They were filthy. With a self-conscious flush, Beverly ran her fingers through her dirty, knotted hair.
"That would be lovely, thank you. Tell me…do you have any replicators? I need some new clothes."
Smiling widely, the aide went to a panel in the wall and pressed a button. It slid up to reveal a replicator. Beverly grinned and walked over, inspecting the device.
"You cannot programme food, but clothing is available. Use the menu to select what you want."
Nodding her thanks, Beverly was unaware of the aide's departure. K'Tul was standing beside her before she acknowledged him.
"I'll toss you for the shower."
The Vulcan tilted his head and stared at her in silence. Beverly chuckled and turned to face him.
"Do you wish to use a game of chance to see who showers first?"
The stoic man stood back a step and frowned.
"No Doctor, you may go first."
Her blue eyes twinkling, Beverly nodded her thanks then quickly replicated all she needed. She was in the shower in minutes.
When she came out she sat on the sofa drying her hair and occasionally yawning.
K'Tul had just finished his shower when the aide returned with the promised food and drink. They ate in companionable silence before retiring for the night. Beverly slipped into her bed exhausted. Sleep came quickly.

 

 

 

 

The ship travelled for five days eventually stopping at a small planet well out of the disputed area. Having met with the Captain, Beverly had decided to beam down to a peaceful village on the shore of a vast sea to recuperate. K'Tul opted to continue his journey back to Federation space.
The Doctor materialised in the paved courtyard of a sturdy stone building, its shingle roof covered with mosses and lichen. She was bending down to pick up her newly replicated bag of clothes, when a friendly voice greeted her.
"Now now…let me do that. You've obviously got enough to contend with."
Gripping the crutch, Beverly smiled at the woman coming toward her, her light blue skin in stark contrast to her bright yellow hair. Taking Beverly's bag, the middle-aged woman gestured with a long arm.
"Come in! Captain Desora informed me of your wish to stay. I have plenty of rooms available, you may have your pick."
Somewhat overwhelmed by the gregarious nature of the woman, Beverly raised a smile and followed her into the building.
The hostess kept talking.
"I know the stairs might be a problem but the east wing is the best…it overlooks the sea. Open the windows in the morning and I guarantee your appetite will surge once you fill your lungs with fresh ocean air."
Beverly sighed. This was going to be an interesting stay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will nodded to his android Second Officer and issued the necessary orders to prepare the ship for their next mission.
"Make sure Astrophysics has ample time on the sensor array. It's been so long since we did something like this…we may be a little rusty."
Data turned abruptly, making his way to the aft science station.
"Aye Sir."
Will sat and checked the readout on the arm of the Command chair. Deanna sent him a small smile and he was about to ask her a question when the comm system came to life.
"Picard to Riker."
Will's eyebrows rose and his eyes fastened on his lover.
"Riker here."
"Commander will you join me in my quarters?"
"On my way Sir, Riker out."
The big man leaned towards the Counsellor and said softly,
"Can you sense anything?"
Shaking her head, Deanna sighed.
"Not really. The past three days he's been calm…the only time he's been out of his quarters was to report to Sickbay for his check ups."
The Commander sighed.
"So you have no idea why he wants to see me?"
"No."
Will stood and frowned down at the petite woman.
"Well, only one way to find out."
Louder he said,
"Mr.Data you have the Bridge."
Deanna watched his departure and sighed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jean-Luc was at his desk when Will came in. The First Officer stood before his Captain, a gentle smile on his open face.
"You wanted to see me Captain."
Jean-Luc clasped his hands on the desktop and took a large breath.
"Indeed Commander."
Noting the use of his rank, Will stood straighter.
"What is our status?"
"The ship is operating at the optimum Sir."
"And our current mission?"
Smiling, his blue eyes twinkling, Will was happy to tell his Captain.
"We're on our way to the Grunning Cluster Captain, Starfleet has finally given us a scientific mission. Our orders are to chart and scan the cluster, paying particular attention to the concentration of anomalous gasses."
Jean-Luc sat back and settled his folded hands on his lap.
"I see. Tell me Number One, would you be able to spare a class two runabout?"
Keeping his face inscrutable, the curious man nodded.
"Yes Captain."
Jean-Luc stood and walked to the viewports. Turning to face Will he crossed his arms across his chest and sighed.
"I have recently been reminded that I have a surfeit of leave accumulated and that I should avail myself of some of it. It is my intention Will to take an extended leave of absence. I take it you would be amenable to assuming Command while I'm gone?"
Resisting the urge to cheer, Will nodded.
"Of course Sir. Have you any plans Captain?"
Pursing his lips and frowning, Jean-Luc stared hard at his friend. The silence grew between them until Will began to feel uncomfortable. His Captain's voice was soft.
"I thought I'd go to Caldos."
Keeping his face steady, the delighted Commander nodded.
"That sound just fine Captain. When will you leave?"
Jean-Luc uncrossed his arms and slipped his hands into his pockets.
"This afternoon. I have notified Starfleet of my intentions and I have received their permission to disembark immediately."
"Very good Captain, I will amend the roster to reflect the change and I will notify the senior staff at once. I take it Sir, you have been cleared by medical?"
His dark eyes glittering, Jean-Luc's voice hardened.
"Doctor Selar informs me I have two days left of my enforced medical leave. After communicating my plans to her, she has given me her blessing to proceed. I have some procedures to follow that she is confident I can see to myself. My health is not an issue."
Will relaxed his posture slightly and swallowed as he contemplated his next question.
"And your mental attitude Captain? Do you feel any better about your concerns?"
His deep voice growing deadly quiet, Jean-Luc's cold anger was obvious.
"What business is that of yours Commander?"
"None Sir…but as your friend I don't mind telling you that I've been worried sick about you."
He waited for the dismissal. Instead Jean-Luc sighed and lowered his head, his voice softening.
"I admit I have been less than my usual self these past months…and I do appreciate your continued support, however I must sort my difficulties out on my own."
Will nodded and smiled gently.
"I understand Sir, as long as you remember you're not alone."
Jean-Luc raised his head and offered a small smile.
"So noted Number One. I'm sure Deanna will be happy with my decision…please tell her I will endeavour to heed her advice."
Hearing the subtle dismissal, Will straightened.
"Aye Captain."
The big man left and Jean-Luc wandered back to his desk. Activating his computer, he typed a simple message.

Dearest Beverly,
I'm on my way to Caldos…I have to see you.
Love,
Jean-Luc.

He pressed the send key and closed his eyes.
"Please Beverly…find it in you heart to hear me…give me one last chance."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Captain was in the cockpit of the runabout performing his pre-flight checks when the gentle voice of his Counsellor drifted to his ears.
"So what tipped the balance Captain?"
His hands stilled and he sat back in the seat. Not turning to his visitor, his soft mutter made her smile.
"I found myself in a no-win situation. It was either accede to your advice or resign to avoid having to follow a direct order."
Deanna came forward and seated herself in the other chair. Casting a long look at her Captain, she noted he kept his eyes on the panel before him.
"I think it's a little more complex than that Sir."
He pulled down the corners of his mouth and shrugged.
"Perhaps."
"Will told me you're going to Caldos."
He said nothing, his body motionless.
"Have you let her know you're coming?"
He gave a short nod.
Deanna sighed.
"And?"
Placing his hands on the console, Jean-Luc straightened his arms and lowered his head. He whispered,
"Nothing. No reply."
The Counsellor frowned and mentally castigated the recalcitrant Doctor.
"Well that may not necessarily be a bad thing."
He turned his head slowly, a look of frank disbelief on his face.
"And on what do you base that?"
"She didn't say not to come."
Their eyes held each other in complete silence. Very slowly, Jean-Luc's face crumpled into a small smile.
"I commend your optimism Counsellor, however I don't think I share it."
Deanna folded her hands in her lap and smiled gently.
"Yet you're still going."
His deep voice broke.
"Yes."
She allowed him time to compose himself before reaching over and gently squeezing his arm.
"Hope springs eternal Captain. I'm sure once you talk with her, things will work themselves out."
He nodded, returning his attention to the console. Deanna quietly stood and said softly,
"Goodbye Captain. I hope with all my heart you find what you're looking for."
His eyes still locked on the panel, he suddenly reached out and took her hand, preventing her from leaving. They remained in silence for several seconds until his quiet voice broke the impasse.
"I want you to know Deanna, how much I appreciate your ongoing efforts to help me over these last months. I know I've been difficult and I regret my behaviour, however I hope you can take heart in the fact that I have decided to heed your advice. You are an excellent officer, a credit to this ship and…"
He turned to look up at her, his eyes warm and glittering.
"A very dear friend."
Her own eyes filling with unshed tears; Deanna leaned down and kissed his brow. Her voice just audible she said,
"Take care Captain."
Leaving the runabout, Deanna took her place at Will's side as the craft powered up. The blast doors opened and the officers watched as the runabout rose from the deck and made a controlled exit into the cold blackness of space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With ten day's journey ahead of him, Jean-Luc soon fell into a routine of reading, eating, sleeping and exercising. Having completed the medical tasks required of him, he felt fully recovered and was determined to be as fit as possible for his meeting with Beverly, knowing as he did that she would not be pleased if he showed up looking anything but fit, rested and well. During the long nights he lay in his bunk, his mind furnishing him with images and scenarios.
"How will you receive me? Will you be angry? Happy? Will the difficulties have faded? Have you found what you were looking for? Oh God my dear Beverly…will you give me the opportunity to make things right between us? Can we breach the gap? Or has our precious friendship been irrevocably damaged?"
He sighed and raised his arms above his head, gripping the pillow.
"Will you be at home or at work? If you're at home I'll have to test the waters. Perhaps I should take a room at the tavern. Yes…I don't want to appear presumptuous…I'll arrange that in the morning. Now…if you're at work what then? Do I drop by and make my presence known, or do I bide my time in the town and wait for you to finish for the day? Hmm. Maybe I should leave a message with the receptionist? No…too impersonal. If I'm to heal this open wound, I need to be more thoughtful."
He frowned in the darkness and lifted his knees.
"I've got to be so careful! Whatever made you run might still be a problem…provided of course that it wasn't just me and my damned inadequacies! I wonder what was troubling you? Professional concerns or private ones?"
He turned onto his side, pushing at his pillow with irritation.
"Not professional I'd wager…you're simply too good at your job. Private then. What could it be?"
His mind wandered to his own disillusionment and he sighed.
"Could that be it? Are you as disgruntled as me? Did that perceived dissatisfaction form the barrier between us? Did it precipitate what happened?"
He flopped onto his stomach and stretched his arms out.
"All right…maybe that's a possibility…but why did you run? I know we'd not been talking, but it was such an extreme action! It served no purpose…achieved no resolution
of the underlying problem. Dammit…I don't understand!"
Turning over again, his legs became tangled in the top sheet. Flinging back the covers with disgust, he rose and went to the replicator, retrieving a glass of cold water. After a quick trip to the toilet, he straightened up his bunk and once again settled himself.
He clasped his hands over his chest and sighed.
"Will you listen to me? Will you allow me to try and heal our wounds? And my beloved Beverly…will you ever let me love you again?"
He frowned and covered his eyes with a forearm. Sleep eventually claimed him, but it wasn't restful.
During the waking hours of his journey he kept his troubled thoughts at bay, but the nights continued to plague him. It was with great relief that he piloted the runabout on final approach to New Edinburgh. Given the option of leaving his craft in orbit and transporting down or landing and taking advantage of a hangar, he opted to land. Having made reservations at the local tavern, he acquired directions and soon found himself in his rooms, his bag sitting on the bed. With two and a half hours until the end of the scheduled working day, he decided not to unpack, instead leaving and settling his nerves by window-shopping throughout the business district.
He was sipping coffee at a café when he noted the workers leaving their jobs. Paying his bill, he strolled through the town, deliberately keeping a slow pace, intending to give Beverly the time she needed to get home from the clinic.
His mind attuned to the outer area where the cottage was, he rounded the bottom of the road and looked up the gently sloping hill, butterflies in his stomach.
Ten minutes later he was at the front door.

 

 

Darkness was falling and the cold of night was creeping through his light jacket by the time he finally accepted she wasn't coming home. The anticipation of their first meeting soon waned as he repeatedly knocked on the door with no reply. He took a turn around the home, noting everything was in order…he even saw the herbs Beverly had planted. He spent two hours sitting on a garden seat, passing the time watching birds and small animals making preparations for the coming night.
Pulling his jacket tighter around him, he stood with a defeated grunt and began the long walk that would take him back to the tavern.
By the time he arrived he was cold and hungry. The meal he ate in the dining room was tasty and filling, but it simply served a purpose, his attention was elsewhere. Before he retired for the night, he wandered over to the bar, feeling the need for a nightcap. Over a neat scotch he asked the barkeeper,
"Tell me please, what time does the medical clinic on Heather Brae Road open?"
The rotund woman shook her head.
"I'll have to check. I won't be long."
Jean-Luc smiled and sipped his drink. True to her word, the barkeeper was back quickly.
"Half past eight, but if you want to see a Doctor you'll need an appointment and they're closed now. Would you like the manager to contact them tomorrow?"
His smile still in place, Jean-Luc shook his head.
"No that won't be necessary, thank you."
Shrugging, the woman moved away and the Captain finished his drink. He slowly climbed the stairs and stood in his rooms feeling utterly drained.
"Well…tomorrow then."
He woke four times during the long night, disturbing, half-remembered dreams causing his heart to pound and sweat to course down his face.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At eight forty-five the next morning he was standing outside the clinic, watching a steady flow of people enter. Taking a large breath and repeating his well-rehearsed words to himself, he strode in.
There were two people waiting at the desk so he took a seat and bided his time. The middle-aged receptionist smiled up at him when he stood, her violet eyes warm and friendly.
"How can I help you Sir?"
Jean-Luc swallowed and plastered a smile on his face.
"Could you please tell Doctor Crusher that Jean-Luc Picard is here to see her?"
"Do you have an appointment Mr. Picard?"
Keeping rein on his irritation, Jean-Luc shook his head.
"No. I'm a personal acquaintance of the Doctor's and I've travelled quite a long way to see her. So if you don't mind…"
The woman's face softened and she looked sympathetically at the Captain.
"Oh I'm so sorry Mr. Picard! Doctor Crusher no longer works here. She left several months ago."
His heart missed several beats and his stomach clenched.
"I see. Could you tell me please…is she still here in New Edinburgh?"
The receptionist frowned and shook her head.
"I honestly don't know…I haven't seen her since she left, but I can give you the name of someone who might know. He's done maintenance work for her in the past."
Taking an old-fashioned paper pad and pen, the woman wrote quickly then handed the page to the Captain. She gave him directions and Jean-Luc soon found himself walking to the old part of town.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angus McBrian was in his garden when he became aware of someone standing at his gate. He rose stiffly, his aged joints complaining as he straightened.
"Ye just give it a push…it's not latched."
Jean-Luc smiled and gently opened the gate. The mists of morning were lifting and the first rays of sunlight were warming his back.
"Mr. McBrian?"
"Aye. Who's asking?"
The Captain offered his hand.
"Jean-Luc Picard."
The men shook hands and the older Caldosan gestured to the garden seat.
"What can I do for ye?"
"I understand you've done some work for Doctor Beverly Crusher?"
"Aye, that I have."
Jean-Luc smiled and clasped his hands.
"I was wondering if you could tell me if she's still here in New Edinburgh?"
The old man sighed and shook his head.
"Och no…she left months ago…employed me to look after the cottage and put her things in storage."
Closing his eyes briefly, Jean-Luc took a large breath.
"Did she tell you where she was going?"
"No. As far as I know, she went to the transport station and transferred to an orbiting ship."
Jean-Luc sat back and tried to quell his panic.
"Can you give me a date?"
The old man seemed to think deeply before slowly coming to his feet and looking down at the Captain.
"Maybe. You wait here."
Ten minutes later he was back. In his gnarled hand was a PADD.
"You're in luck lad. She put some credits into my account and I kept this as a record."
He proffered the device to Jean-Luc who took it eagerly. Scrolling down, he got the date. He was still so long Angus gently tapped his arm.
"Are you all right lad?"
His thoughts broken, Jean-Luc lifted his head and summoned a wan smile.
"Yes thank you, I'm fine."
He stood and handed back the PADD.
"Well I should be going. Thank you for your assistance, it's been a pleasure to meet you."
The old man shook Jean-Luc's hand and watched him go.
"Och now there's someone carrying far too much of a load."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It took Jean-Luc three hours of patient interrogation, but he finally broke through the bureaucracy of the central government. Shamelessly employing all his masculine wiles, the obviously attracted man he was dealing with gradually thawed until he was willing to answer Jean-Luc's questions. Batting his long lashes at the Captain, the secretary flushed.
"Oh very well…let me see."
Hiding his immense satisfaction and relief. Jean-Luc kept his face impassive. The glow of the computer screen cast a greenish hue over the secretary as he searched, his smile making his teeth look garish.
"Here we are! On the date you mention there were four ships in orbit. Would you like me to send their details?"
Smiling warmly, his dark eyes twinkling, Jean-Luc nodded.
"That would be lovely, thank you."
The secretary watched adoringly as Jean-Luc activated the data retrieval system. As the information began to scroll across his screen, the Captain was interrupted.
"Tell me Mr. Picard…would you be free to have dinner with me tonight?"
The Captain looked back at the comm screen and shook his head.
"I'm afraid not."
Not daunted in the least, his admirer tried again.
"Tomorrow night then?"
Adopting a composed visage, Jean-Luc's eyes hardened.
"I'm sorry Mr. Newman I will be leaving Caldos soon."
"All the more reason to have dinner with me. Perhaps I could be of further…service …to you."
Jean-Luc sighed.
"I thank you for your help Mr. Newman but I don't wish anything more."
Before the enraptured man could say anything further, Jean-Luc severed the connection.
With his bag already packed, he went downstairs and paid his hosts, then made his way back to the runabout. Once there he settled down to study his information.
"Right, now let me see. There was one Starfleet vessel…not likely. One Ferusian ship…again it's unlikely she would choose that one…and two bulk carriers. Hmm. I suppose it depends where she wanted to go."
Noting the call signs of the carriers, Jean-Luc activated his onboard communication system and placed two calls. He was in luck with one of the ships, it was within range and the Captain was happy to talk to him. In short order he established Beverly hadn't been on the ship. He thanked the Captain and queried the computer on how long the second transmission would take to answer.
"Six point seven hours."
Sighing, he checked the chronometer and finding it late in the afternoon, he decided to see if he could nap away some of the time. He stretched out on his bunk, but his mind was racing.
"On the run again! Dammit Beverly…where did you go?"
Unable to find sleep, Jean-Luc took a book and forced himself to read, willing his turbulent thoughts to quieten. Lying on his bed, sleep eventually came.
The ship's communication system activated and a gentle chime sounded. Instantly awake, Jean-Luc rolled from his bed and made his way to the terminal.
"Computer this is Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Commence communication."
The screen changed immediately, a large man appeared.
"This is Captain J'Lunn of the bulk carrier Darr. To whom am I speaking?"
"Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Sir I am looking for someone you may have provided passage for."
The other Captain scratched his whiskered chin.
"We give passage to many people Captain."
Jean-Luc smiled.
"I understand. The person was a Human female, tall and slender, with shoulder-length red hair and blue eyes. She is a medical doctor."
"Red hair you say? I seem to remember…what date was this?"
Jean-Luc supplied the date and the Captain checked his computer.
"Ah yes! I do remember her…very attractive…for a Human."
Keeping his rising hopes under control, Jean-Luc asked quietly,
"Where did you take her?"
The other Captain tapped some keys and nodded.
"Kunnar."
Jean-Luc's intense gaze glittered.
"Thank you Captain, that's all I need to know. Picard out."
Making haste, Jean-Luc cleared his craft for departure and exited the hangar. Once he had authorisation, he took off, the coordinates set for the planet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Starbase 352 was one of the smaller bases, something, for which the Captain was grateful. Still it took three hours to obtain clearance visit to the devastated planet.
Back in the runabout, he set the coordinates and piloted the little craft through the orbiting ships. Once clear, he made the jump to warp, then asked the computer to supply all the information it had on the planet.
As he read, he frowned at seeing how close to the border of Federation space the planet was. The reports of the war weren't very extensive, but he knew Beverly would have gone wherever she felt needed. Having absorbed all the information he could, Jean-Luc went aft and stripped down to his briefs. Taking a weight off its stand, he spent the next hour exercising heavily trying to achieve two things…a high level of fitness and exhaustion. With four day's travel ahead, he knew sleep would be difficult.
As he had experienced before, he found he could keep himself occupied enough to not think of what lay ahead during the waking hours, but during the sleep cycle he was plagued by disturbing dreams that left him tired and depressed.
He was dozing with a book on his lap when the computer woke him. He made his way to the cockpit and smiled mirthlessly at the planet coming into view.
"Well Beverly…I wouldn't mind guessing you'll be surprised to see me."
His smile grew as his words rattled around the little ship. He hailed the planet and, after considerable conversations with several people, he was finally put through to the Chief Doctor at the main hospital. The dusky green man scratched his spiked head for a moment then lifted his head, a wide smile in place.
"Yes! I remember Beverly…she's a very good Doctor, we were sad to lose her."
Jean-Luc frowned, his sharp intake of breath not noticed by the alien.
"You lost her Doctor? Is she all right…or has she left?"
"Oh she's all right Captain, although I've no idea where she is. She left some months ago now."
With great effort, Jean-Luc kept his emotions in check.
"Can you tell me where she went?"
The green Doctor sighed and rubbed a hand over his head.
"Well…wait a minute…she didn't say but…there was an Andorian ship in orbit at the time, I only remember it because it brought some medicine we were in critical need of. She must have left on it…there were no other ships."
Leaning forward, Jean-Luc said quietly,
"Do you know the Captain…or the ship's name?"
"No…but I think the ship's next stop was Starbase Papa Echo."
Mentally calculating his journey, Jean-Luc thanked the Doctor and severed communication. With quick movements he inputted the relevant coordinates and the runabout turned and made the transition to warp effortlessly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The landlady was right; the view from the little balcony was delightful. Beverly lifted her head and allowed the sea breeze to stir her hair. She took a large breath and leaned forward as her hands gripped the railing. Behind her she heard a knock at the door. Over her shoulder she called,
"Come in."
The owner appeared with a tray and Beverly smiled with anticipation.
"Ah…breakfast! Thank you Della."
Carefully siting the tray, Della held the curtains aside as Beverly limped to the table.
With help, Beverly sat and sniffed in appreciation.
"Mmm it smells wonderful. What is it?"
Taking a serviette and placing it on Beverly's lap, Della took off the covering lids with a flourish.
"We have heated native bread, grilled fish, poached gennan eggs and hurrennin juice."
Beverly grinned and lightly tapped a metal pot.
"And this?"
Smiling with conspiratorial glee, Della bowed.
"That is genuine Earth coffee."
The delighted Doctor picked up the pot, lifted the lid and drew in a large breath.
"Oh God…you've no idea just how good that smells!"
Pleased with her guest's reaction, the host unwrapped the cutlery and watched as Beverly began to eat. Between bites Beverly said,
"Where did you get the coffee?"
An embarrassed flush covered her blue skin.
"I ah…have an acquaintance…a gentleman friend…who's used to bringing me all sorts of things…from some very exotic places."
The Doctor tore some bread and dipped it in the dark red egg yolk.
"These eggs are delicious."
The host smiled and went to close the balcony doors.
"There's a wind getting up…it'll rain before long. If you want to walk out in the garden you'd better do it this morning. I'll help you if you want."
Smiling up at her new friend, Beverly nodded.
"I'd like that."
Della picked up Beverly's cane and admired the highly lacquered native wood.
"Your cast has been off for some days now. How is the leg?"
Beverly straightened the leg under the table and winced.
"It's still mighty sore, but it'll be ok with time."
Her eyes still on the cane, Della asked quietly,
"Is there anything that would heal it quicker?"
Sighing wistfully, the Doctor nodded.
"Yes. An osteo regenerator would do the trick."
"An osteo regenerator? Are they easy to come by?"
Beverly shrugged.
"Not on their own, but Starfleet med kits contain them and I've seen plenty of those lately. Obviously the black market has no trouble obtaining them."
Della nodded thoughtfully and stood.
"Well, you enjoy your coffee and I'll take the tray back downstairs. Let me know when you want to go outside."
Beverly sat back and smiled as the woman removed the tray. She turned in her seat and looked out over the sea as she sipped, feeling full and calm. As long as she kept her thoughts from the Enterprise…or Jean-Luc…she was all right. The second her mind wandered the restlessness and grief welled up causing bouts of depression and sleeplessness. Her coffee growing cold, she downed the remains then rose and hopped over to her desk, activating the computer.
Her request for connection to Caldos was met with the same result as she'd encountered every other time she'd tried.
"Unable to comply. System down."
She knew the war she'd only just escaped from had caused massive disruptions in communications in this region of space and, although well out of the area of conflict, she was still a long way from Federation space and had to rely on unknown government agencies to rectify the problem.
Slapping the computer off, she hobbled to her bed and took several minutes to don her boots. Picking up the cane, she grabbed the empty coffee cup and exited her room, negotiating the stairs very carefully and finding Della in the large kitchen.
"Oh you made it on your own! Well done. Would you like to go outside now?"
Nodding, Beverly took the time to smell some cut flowers sitting in a vase on the bench. Noting her obvious appreciation, Della asked,
"How about we tour the beds today? There have been more blooms opening since you last came down."
Smiling and nodding, Beverly waited patiently as Della dried her hands then came over to take her elbow.
"Slowly now Beverly, there's no rush."
Together the two women left the lodge and stepped out into the bright light of day. They stopped momentarily to allow the Doctor to lift her head and bask, her eyes closed. When she was ready, the walked into the gardens and made their way to the extensive flowerbeds.
Della had learned not to ask Beverly about her life. To do so made the Doctor react badly, becoming morose and uncommunicative. However, the landlady knew Beverly was a Doctor and her curiosity got the better of her.
"So tell me…how long have you been a Doctor?"
Her gaze settled on an exquisite flower, Beverly's attention was elsewhere.
"Oh years…too many to recall."
"And you've always worked in space?"
"Uh huh."
Della smiled at Beverly's inattention.
"We rarely see Humans out here. How did you find out about the war?"
Beverly suddenly frowned and lifted her head sharply.
"What?"
Seeing the disquiet, Della shrugged.
"I said…how did you find out about the war? You're a long way from Federation space"
"Oh…I…word gets around…you know."
Della nodded and helped Beverly to sit in a garden chair. In silence, they sat and enjoyed the garden.
Half an hour later, Beverly was again seated, this time back in the kitchen. The first fat raindrops splattered against the windows and the gathering wind moaned around the eaves. Della lifted the curtains, squinting out at the coming storm, grunting.
"This could last a while."
Beverly sipped her drink and shrugged.
"I'm not going anywhere."
The host busied herself with her tasks, chatting amiably with the Doctor. After a while, Beverly asked,
"Your male…acquaintance…do you see him often?"
Della stood and rubbed her lower back.
"Not as often as I'd like. He's bonded with another…some female on Niam…we have this…arrangement. No questions asked and no answers given."
Beverly sighed.
"That must be hard. How long have you…known him?"
"Fifteen turns. We met when he came here to recuperate, like you. He'd been in some skirmish somewhere and got himself very badly injured. Surgeons repaired him, but he needed somewhere to go to rest and heal."
Silence settled until Della said softly,
"And what about you Beverly? I can see how you'd be held in high regard…do you have a mate?"
Idly running her fingers around the lip of her cup, Beverly replied,
"A very long time ago, but he died."
"Oh…that is unfortunate. So there's no one else?"
Unexpectedly, tears welled in Beverly's eyes and she abruptly stood.
"I'm going back to my room."
Della turned to offer help, but Beverly waved her away. The host watched her limp out and sighed.
"I'll bring up you lunch."
The voice that replied was broken.
"Don't bother, I'm not hungry."

 

 

 

 

 

Jean-Luc felt the gentle bump as the umbilical connection was made. With the blessing of the station Commander, he exited his craft and quickly ascertained his whereabouts. Seven minutes later he was standing before the Commander's desk.
"Well Captain Picard, I must say this is an unexpected honour."
Smiling, Jean-Luc sat.
"For me as well Commander Duggan. I have long been grateful for the service space stations provide."
Clasping his dark hands on the desk, the Commander tilted his head.
"Tell me Captain…are you here in an official capacity?"
Jean-Luc lowered his head, a rueful smile on his face.
"As a matter of fact…no. I am pursuing a private matter and I require your assistance."
Duggan sat back and crossed his long legs.
"I see. And just what kind of assistance are we talking about?"
The Captain placed a PADD on the desk and pointed at it.
"On the star date I mention, an Andorian ship deposited a friend of mine at this station. I need to know where she went and how she got there."
"I see. And am I to assume this is all above board? Nothing…nefarious? You're not, for instance, an aggrieved husband looking for trouble?"
Smiling warmly with as much confidence as he could muster, Jean-Luc shook his head.
"Not at all. This is a private matter between both of us, however it is very important."
Duggan picked up the PADD and scrolled through the information.
"May I ask the identity of this woman?"
Gritting his teeth, Jean-Luc replied quietly,
"Doctor Beverly Crusher."
The Commander's eyebrows rose and he whistled softly. Then he frowned.
"But isn't she your CMO? I'm sure she was on the Enterprise."
"That is correct, however she has taken an…extended leave."
Duggan nodded thoughtfully, his eyes boring into the Captain's.
"And you Captain…are you on leave too?"
"Yes."
The Commander sat back further in his chair and swung it gradually from side to side, his fingers steepling under his chin. Jean-Luc withstood his scrutiny, keeping his face neutral. Eventually Duggan sighed.
"Very well, but I must tell you…if it were anyone but you Captain…"
Jean-Luc smiled and sighed.
"Thank you."
Activating his terminal, the Commander inputted some commands and turned it so Jean-Luc could see.
"Here Captain, I think this is what you want to know."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jean-Luc was back on the runabout in under half an hour. Having gained permission, he severed the connection and took the little ship out of range before inputting new coordinates. As the craft jumped to warp, the Captain called up everything there was to know about Devarun IV.

 

 

Three weeks became four and Beverly found herself lulled into the rhythm of the days. Keeping mostly to herself, she saw Della at mealtimes but the woman sensed the Doctor's need for solitude and left her alone.
One blustery afternoon, Della knocked softly at Beverly's door.
"Beverly? May I come in?"
Dragging her eyes away from her contemplation of the churning sea, the Doctor turned and hobbled to the table, taking a seat.
"Come in Della."
Entering cautiously, the host had her hands behind her back.
"How are you today?"
Dredging up a smile that didn't reach her eyes, Beverly nodded.
"Oh I'm fine thank you."
Della stood uncertainly in the centre of the room, obviously waiting for the right opportunity to say something. Her patience thin, Beverly sighed and said,
"What can I do for you?"
The opening made, Della grinned broadly and bowed her head, making her bright yellow hair cascade forward.
"Actually it's what I can do for you."
Keeping her irritation under wraps, Beverly sighed.
"I beg your pardon?"
In silence, Della brought her hands into view. In them was a Starfleet med kit.
Beverly gasped, her eyes wide.
"You have a med kit!"
"Uh huh. My…friend…got it for me."
Coming forward, Della offered the kit and Beverly took it with almost reverential awe. Holding her breath, she opened it and silently checked the contents. Della watched, a smile on her face.
"Is it all there?"
"Yes, thank God!"
"And the osteo regenerator?"
Beverly held up the instrument, a delighted grin in place.
"Want to help?"
Della nodded and helped Beverly to the bed where the Doctor removed her trousers. Lifting the injured leg onto the bed, Beverly activated the device and spent ten minutes treating the fractures. With a satisfied sigh, she turned it off and slowly came to her feet Della hovered, ready to help if needed.
"Well?"
Beverly's heartfelt sigh and wide smile told the host all she needed to know.
"Will you still need the cane?"
"Maybe for a day or two, but for the most part, the bones are now completely fused. There will only be superficial residual pain which I can now adequately treat."
Folding her arms, Della watched as Beverly put her trousers back on and walk slowly to the table. Once seated, the Doctor said softly.
"You must thank your…friend…for me…and I know I owe you a debt of deep gratitude. You have done a wonderful thing Della, thank you."
Her blue skin flushing darker, the host smiled tenderly.
"I hated seeing you in pain Beverly. I decided there was something I could do about the physical pain…as for your heartache", the woman shrugged, "All I can do is offer you my support."
Sadness clouded Beverly's face and she sighed.
"Is it that obvious?"
Coming closer, Della sat opposite and gently took Beverly's hand.
"Whoever he is he has your heart whether you admit it or not."
Beverly's eyes fell to the tabletop as her mind drifted to Jean-Luc. The resulting stab of pain made her screw her eyes shut, a grimace appearing. Della squeezed her hand.
"Why does it hurt you so?"
Shaking her head, Beverly brushed away her falling tears.
"Della…thank you again for what you did for me…but I don't want to talk about it."
Della stood and sighed.
"Very well, I will respect your wishes."
She walked to the door but Beverly's soft voice stopped her.
"Della…when will the next interstellar ship arrive?"
"There are no interstellar ships scheduled for the next month. The war has curtailed all travel outside our system. Only domestic supply ships are coming for the foreseeable future."
Beverly nodded and turned in her seat, her gaze once again on the sea. Della left silently.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jean-Luc's long-range communiqué to Devarun was bearing fruit. He learned of Beverly's departure, but then had a stroke of immense luck. In orbit was the Cardassian ship that had ferried her away. With the help of the Devarun authorities, he was put in touch with the Cardassian Commander.
The tall grey alien looked disdainfully at the Human Captain.
"I am not accustomed to dealing with Humans. What do you want?"
Smiling, Jean-Luc tried to ease the tension.
"I believe you gave passage to a Human female recently."
The alien shrugged.
"What of it?"
"I am looking for her, it's very important I find her. Can you tell me where you took her?"
Turning his back, the Cardassian slowly took a seat then stared contemplatively at the Captain.
"What's in it for me?"
Jean-Luc sat back and held up his hands.
"I don't have much…but isn't it unusual for a Cardassian to bargain? That's something I would expect from a Ferengi."
The smile that emerged was predatory.
"Don't underestimate the value of our avaricious little friends. A lot can be learned from the Ferengi."
His eyebrows raised, Jean-Luc pursed his lips.
"So you're a trader then?"
"I am many things Human, including purveyor of information. Now…what will you give me in return for what I know?"
Jean-Luc folded his arms and tilted his head.
"What do you want?"
The Cardassian's eyes travelled over Jean-Luc, measuring and calculating. Suddenly he sat up.
"Your ship…my long range scans show it to be Starfleet. Are you Starfleet?"
"I might be."
Stroking his chin, the alien Commander nodded slowly.
"All right…I think we can make a satisfactory deal. Do you have Starfleet charts of this area…this system?"
"Yes."
"Good. Then I will trade you my information for a copy of those charts."
It took only seconds to come to his decision.
"Done, but tell me…surely Cardassian charts are as comprehensive as Starfleet's? Why do you require mine?"
The alien sighed then scowled.
"It may surprise you to know, Human, the Cardassian Union is sometimes lax where it comes to areas they don't frequent. This system is one of those areas…and one of my richest sources of income. New charts will help me immensely."
As the Cardassian spoke, Jean-Luc called up the relevant information on his computer and cued it for transmission. He lifted a hand and hovered his finger over the send key.
"I'm waiting."
"I took her to the Farren Expanse."
Sighing with irritation, Jean-Luc asked testily,
"Where in the Farren Expanse?"
The alien grinned.
"There is only one habitable planet Human…you find it."
Knowing the repartee had come to an end. Jean-Luc nodded and sent the charts.
"Thank you."
The screen went blank and Jean-Luc accessed the information on the Expanse. As he moved further from Federation space, the data on his destinations became more and more sparse. With only coordinates to go on, he altered course and sat back in his seat.
"Why have you run so far? What is driving you? What are you running from? Me? Or the memory of what we had"

 

 

 

 

 

Getting to the Expanse was easy, the runabout capable of warp eight, much faster than the labouring supply ships. Finding the elusive planet however was proving to be tediously difficult, the Expanse hindering sensors and shields severely.
Jean-Luc programmed a search pattern based on the position of life-sustaining stars, and settled down to allow the computer to pilot the craft. Curbing his growing impatience, he found it stultifyingly boring with little to do but work out, eat, read and sleep.
Late in the third day, as he was doing some warm down stretches, a gentle alarm sounded from the cockpit. Dressed in his black briefs, he went forward quickly, slipping into the pilot's seat and stabbing off the alarm. On the screen before him sat a small planet. Setting the appropriate course, he re-engaged the autopilot and went aft to dress. By the time he was ready, the computer informed him that they were within hailing distance. Once again in the front seat, Jean-Luc was about to instigate contact when he was hailed.
"Approaching ship…identify yourself."
"This is Captain Jean-Luc Picard in the runabout Monash. May I have permission to enter orbit?"
"Come to a full stop and allow us to scan you."
"As you wish."
The Captain brought the craft to a halt and sat quietly, his stomach clenching. Several minutes passed before he heard,
"You are cleared to enter orbit. What is the nature of your visit?"
"I come in search of a colleague of mine. Perhaps you could connect me with your medical fraternity? My friend is a medical Doctor."
"Establish your orbit and call us when you are ready. We will keep this channel open."
Nodding curtly, Jean-Luc complied and spent the next fifteen minutes concentrating on his tasks.
"This is Captain Picard."
His monitor flickered, the surrounding atmospheric distortion making the screen hazy.
"Captain Picard I am Doctor Nezzin. You say you are looking for a colleague?"
Smiling, Jean-Luc nodded.
"Yes Doctor. Her name is Beverly Crusher, a Human female."
The alien's face brightened and he smiled broadly.
"Yes Beverly was here."
"Was?"
"Yes Captain. She left some time ago."
Closing his eyes in frustrated disappointment, Jean-Luc sighed.
"Doctor…can you tell me where she went?"
The bushy eyebrows on the Doctor knitted over his heavy brow.
"Not exactly…although she did leave on a Federal cruiser, that would suggest she was going to Jurrenzen…but Captain there has been a terrible war waged there for some time. If she were there…"
Savagely suppressing his dread, Jean-Luc maintained his smile with difficulty.
"If it's not an imposition Doctor, could you arrange to have the coordinates for Jurrenzen sent to me? I am a very long way from Federation space and I'm afraid my information on this region of space is sadly lacking."
Somewhat flustered, the Doctor's large hands fluttered.
"Oh! Ah…yes…I…please wait Captain and I will transfer you to flight control."
Before Jean-Luc could offer his thanks, the screen went blank momentarily and then suddenly he was faced with another alien.
"How can I help you?"
The Captain explained his request and the bright orange woman smiled.
"That should be no problem Captain. Please have your computer contact ours and I will upload the relevant information. I must warn you however travel to Jurrenzen is prohibited. The area has been quarantined."
Frowning deeply, Jean-Luc clenched his jaw.
"Thank you for the warning, I will observe caution."
Nodding, the attendant watched as the computers made the connection and the information was sent.
"Is that all Captain Picard? Can I help you with anything else?"
Smiling, Jean-Luc shook his head.
"No thank you, you have been more than kind. Picard out."
With quick fingers, he inputted the coordinates then broke orbit.
"Now this may prove to be quite interesting."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He was dozing and the emptiness of his stomach told his it was morning. Knowing the alarm would soon sound, he was about to rise when the computer chimed.
"Captain Picard…incoming message."
He rose, went to the toilet then dressed. Taking a ration bar, he went forward and took his seat in the cockpit.
"Computer play message."
The computer chimed then advised,
"The current message is an automated response to the Monash's proximity to a prohibited area."
"Understood. Play message."
"Unidentified ship your present course will take you into quarantined space. Alter course immediately or suffer sanctions."
"Computer clarify 'sanctions'."
"Unknown."
Jean-Luc devoted some minutes to deep thought then brought the runabout out of warp and reduced to impulse power. He scanned the area and noted two ships some distance away. One, a large cruiser suddenly moved, its course on an intercept with his position.
He brought the Monash to a stop and waited.
It took twenty-seven minutes for the cruiser to reach him. The huge ship, its vast bulk making the runabout insignificant took position four hundred kilometres from the Monash. Taking a passive scan, the Captain noted the formidable weaponry and high quality sensors. He sat patiently while his craft was scanned then opened a channel.
"This is the runabout Monash. Why have you stopped me?"
The voice that came over the speakers was mildly amused.
"Well I can tell you it isn't because we consider you a threat."
Jean-Luc smiled and shook his head.
"Granted, however I wish to proceed on my journey."
"That is not permissible."
"I see. I have the capability to transmit visual signals. Would you be willing to do the same?"
As Jean-Luc's eyes drifted to his monitor, it suddenly activated and a face appeared.
"I am Captain Roth of the Blade."
Bowing his head slightly, Jean-Luc replied,
"And I am Captain Jean-Luc Picard."
The alien's bright pink eyes studied the Captain, a small smile on his face.
"Tell me Captain Picard…just where exactly are you going?"
"My destination is Jurrenzen."
The alien nodded slowly.
"And did you receive the automated warning?"
"Yes."
"And?"
Jean-Luc sighed.
"I came out of warp and when I detected your approach, I came to a stop."
"A very wise decision Captain."
Jean-Luc sat back and folded his arms.
"Am I to presume you are going to prevent me from reaching Jurrenzen?"
"Yes Captain."
Scratching his cheek, Jean-Luc pursed his lower lip.
"And I cannot change your mind? My business there is very important."
"I regret Captain…your business is of no relevance. No one may travel to Jurrenzen."
"I see. Tell me Captain…just as a matter of curiosity you understand…what would happen if I were to ignore you and attempt to get past you?"
The smile was shocking as it exposed row upon row of sharp pointed teeth.
"I find it hard to believe such an enquiry is serious, however…I would disable your vessel and tow you out of this region."
Tugging gently on his lower lip, Jean-Luc nodded.
"Oh."
The alien Captain sat back and tilted his maned head.
"Tell me Captain…to satisfy my curiosity…what is so important that you would contemplate risking your safety to reach Jurrenzen?"
The Captain sighed and shook his head.
"I am searching for someone…someone very dear to me. Her last known destination was Jurrenzen."
"I see. Is she an alien like you?"
"Yes. We are Humans."
"Why would this person go to a planet at war? It seems an odd decision."
Jean-Luc smiled and shrugged.
"She is a medical Doctor. She would go anywhere she thought her skills were needed."
"Indeed? That is very interesting. Would you allow me a moment? I wish to make some enquiries."
"Of course."
Jean-Luc sighed and rubbed his face. Feeling the need for a calming drink, he vacated his seat and went to the replicator, retrieving a cup of Earl Grey tea. He was sipping slowly when the screen activated.
"Captain Picard I may have something for you."
Sitting up straight, Jean-Luc settled the cup on the deck.
"We have been informed that all non-combatant off worlders were evacuated from the southern capital before it fell. As there were no other aliens stationed anywhere else it is quite possible she was repatriated to another planet, well away from the ongoing conflict."
Jean-Luc frowned and asked,
"Is there any way to find out where that might be?"
The alien Captain tapped his taloned fingers on the arm of his chair.
"Not really Captain…there are many possibilities, but I am in the process of contacting the largest planet that received displaced beings. They might know something, please hold this position until I contact you again."
"Understood, thank you Captain Roth. Picard out."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was over five hours until the hail came through. Once again seated in the cockpit, Jean-Luc greeted his counterpart. The alien was smiling.
"Captain Picard I believe we may have some useful information for you. Please wait while we transfer you to Hanun."
Jean-Luc nodded and suppressed a surprised gasp as a Vulcan appeared on the screen.
"This is Doctor K'Tul. How may I be of assistance?"
Gathering his composure, Jean-Luc sat on the edge of his seat.
"Doctor I am Captain Jean-Luc Picard. I have been searching for a colleague of mine…Doctor Beverly Crusher, a Human like me. Do you know of her?"
"Yes Captain Picard, I am acquainted with Doctor Crusher. We worked together on Jurrenzen until we were evacuated."
Suppressing his surge of hope with difficulty, Jean-Luc swallowed and asked,
"Doctor…do you know where she is?"
"Indeed Captain. She was dropped off at Set'frul to recuperate from injuries sustained during the evacuation."
"She was injured? Badly?"
"No Captain. She sustained a head wound and multiple fractures to one leg, although the treatment available was insufficient for a Human. I expect it would take considerable time for the leg to heal without the intervention of orthodox medicine."
Jean-Luc nodded, his heart beating rapidly.
"Doctor K'Tul, can you be more specific as to where exactly on Set'frul she is? It would make my search a lot easier if I knew where to look."
"Of course Captain. Apparently the Captain of the vessel we were on had a relative on the northern tip of the central archipelago. Doctor Crusher was transported to a guesthouse, the only one in the surrounding islands."
"Thank you Doctor K'Tul, you have been very informative. Picard out."
Several seconds passed before Captain Roth appeared.
"Well Captain Picard? Did you find what you wanted?"
Smiling broadly, Jean-Luc nodded.
"Yes Captain I did. Could you tell me please…would I be violating the quarantine if I wanted to go to Set'frul?"
The alien Captain frowned.
"If you went directly from here you would encroach into the prohibited area, however you could avoid the no-go zone without too much trouble. Do you have up to date charts of this system?"
Jean-Luc shook his head.
"Sadly no Captain. In effect I am flying blind."
"Well that won't do. I will send you a chart with the most advantageous course plotted. You shouldn't encounter any problems."
Smiling warmly, Jean-Luc bowed his head.
"You have been most helpful and generous Captain. It has indeed been a pleasure to meet you."
Returning the smile, Captain Roth bowed.
"And you also. Safe travels Captain Picard."
Waiting only long enough to download the chart and transfer the course, Jean-Luc watched as his little craft left the enormous Blade and cleaved her way into the darkness of space.
"I'm getting closer Beverly…just stay still long enough for me to find you…please?"

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beverly had taken to leaving the guesthouse straight after breakfast and, weather permitting, stayed out hours, only returning in early afternoon. She wandered the accessible areas of the island and soon found a favourite spot on a low bluff overlooking the sea. Her skin had tanned and her vibrant red hair had taken on highlights under the influence of the sun and sea air.
On this particular afternoon she sat on her vantage point and watched some sea birds diving for their food off shore.
"I have to get off this planet! Dammit, even the news is scarce. I need to find something to do, anything…this enforced idleness is driving me insane!"
She contemplated her bare feet and wriggled her toes, the coarse sand glittering on her skin.
"Maybe if I asked Della…her friend might be able to get me out of this system. God I'd give anything for a shuttle."
Thinking about shuttles made her mind recall the Enterprise. She smiled sadly as images of her friends, Deanna, Will, Data and Geordi drifted through her thoughts.
"What are you all doing now? Still banging your heads against a brick wall? Is Starfleet still begging and cajoling, forcing you to eat humble pie so they can rebuild?"
She absently scooped up a hand full of sand and inspected it, the minute shells and crystals intriguing her. When thoughts of Jean-Luc surfaced, she closed her eyes and fisted her hand.
"Oh God Jean-Luc…where are you too? Are you still angry…still fighting your demons? How much longer are you going to accept what Starfleet has become? A man like you can't survive under a stifling cloud of diplomatic bullshit. You need to soar…soar among the stars, free to explore and do what you do so very well. Oh Jean-Luc…I'm so sorry I never told you. I know now…I've known for some time…I do love you, but if all I can do is cause you pain then it's better I never see you again. Wherever you are my love…my heart will always be yours."
The ever-increasing wind heralded another approaching squall. As Beverly looked out to sea, she could see the stain of rain on its surface. Sighing, she rose and made her way back to the guesthouse.

 

 

 

 

Three days later Della was loading the dishwasher when there was a knocking at the door. Frowning, she wiped her hands and went to the heavy wooden doors and opened them.
"May I help you?"
A bald-headed Human male with piercing dark hazel eyes smiled and bowed his head slightly.
"I am looking for a friend of mine…I believe she's staying here."
Della's frown stayed as she looked this man over. Wishing to protect Beverly, she asked,
"Who is this friend and what is your business with her?"
Keeping his patience, Jean-Luc bolstered his smile.
"Her name is Beverly Crusher and we are old friends. My business with her is personal."
His calm yet commanding presence settled the suspicions Della felt. Nodding she smiled.
"Fair enough. Well she's staying here but she's not in at the moment. Would you like to come in and wait? She should be back in about an hour."
Jean-Luc nodded and followed the woman into the kitchen. She chuckled as he looked around, picking up a large kettle and filling it with water.
"I usually entertain in the lounge, but I have to prepare dinner and you look like you could do with a hot drink. Now let me see…you're Human aren't you?"
Jean-Luc nodded.
"Well I have some authentic Earth coffee and just five days ago I received some…what's it called…"
She rummaged on the cluttered shelves and grunted when she lifted a canister. Taking off the lid, she sniffed and scowled.
"I forget what it's called, maybe you know?"
She offered the canister to the Captain who took one look and smiled.
"It's called tea."
"Ah! Tea. Well they're both from Earth, are you?"
Jean-Luc's eyebrows shot up.
"From Earth? Yes I am."
"You've come a long way."
"Hmm."
"Oh I'm Della, Della Grn-Non-Kil."
Smiling, Jean-Luc held out his hand.
"Jean-Luc Picard."
The blue skin darkened.
"Well which is it…coffee or tea?"
"I'll take the coffee please, but I would like a cup of tea later."
Smiling, Della went to a cupboard and took out a convoluted device. She measured out some ground coffee, placing it inside a compartment and when the kettle boiled, poured the water into the device and set the lid firmly, clamping it down. Intrigued, Jean-Luc watched the contraption as it started to percolate.
As he watched, Della set out two cups and something that resembled milk. The smell that pervaded the kitchen was comforting and Jean-Luc sighed when she finally poured the dark brew. Holding up a little jug, Della smiled.
"This is called Dremm. We extract it from a nut that grows here on the island. Beverly tells me it's like your…cream?"
Throwing caution to the wind, Jean-Luc nodded.
"I would like to try that, thank you."
Della poured a modest amount into his cup and he lifted it to his lips and sipped. It was surprisingly good. He took a deeper drink and briefly closed his eyes. Della's soft voice brought him back.
"I must say your appearance startled me. Have you a ship in orbit, or were you dropped off?"
Jean-Luc placed his cup on the table and gently ran his fingers around the rim.
"I have a runabout in orbit."
"I usually get some warning that someone is transporting down."
The Captain frowned.
"I did try to contact you…I can assure you I did not wish to arrive unannounced."
Della sat up straight and frowned.
"You did? Oh."
She stood and went to a door. Opening it, Jean-Luc could see a communication set up.
"Oh praise the Gods…I forgot to turn it on again!"
The Captain listened while the unit powered up and watched as Della adjusted some settings. She soon rejoined him at the table.
"Sorry. I got so tired of all the dismal news; I started to turn it off during the day. I know I shouldn't but…"
Holding up his hand, Jean-Luc smiled warmly.
"Think nothing of it. Believe me I wish I could cut myself off once in a while."
They sat in silence until Jean-Luc finished his coffee. He then asked softly,
"Tell me Della…Beverly's injuries, are they healed?"
Frowning, the host tilted her head.
"You know about that?"
Jean-Luc nodded.
About to ask how, the Captain held up his hand.
"Please Della, how is she?"
Sighing in defeat, Della clasped her hands.
"Her leg is fine now. I managed to get her a Starfleet med kit. Once she treated the fractures properly, there was no holding her back. Physically there's no problems but…"
She looked deeply into Jean-Luc eyes, debating the wisdom of being completely honest. His gentle steady gaze made up her mind.
"She's deeply troubled by something. There's an overwhelming sorrow, a pain she won't touch. She is suffering heartache Jean-Luc. Are you the cause?"
Gently pinching his lower lip, Jean-Luc remained silent. Della's confidence grew.
"You've come a long way…from Earth?"
The Captain shook his head.
"No, not from Earth, but you're correct I have come a long way."
"Can you take away her pain? Can you bring the happiness she deserves?"
Jean-Luc stood and walked to the window, his hands pushed deep into his pockets. His voice was so low Della had to strain to hear him.
"I don't know."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beverly ambled up the path carrying her jumper in which lay several shells. The sun was low and her skin tingled with a light burn, courtesy of her nude sunbaking. Looking forward to her evening meal, she sighed with frustration at her enforced idleness.
"This is what laziness gets you Beverly. Sunburn! All over your damn body. If Deanna knew she'd…"
Suddenly overwhelmed with despondency, Beverly ruthlessly quashed her thoughts and concentrated on how to ask Della to find a way off the planet.
She reached the courtyard and opened the front door, calling out,
"I'm back Della. Call me when dinner's ready please."
Before she reached the foot of the stairs, Della came out of the kitchen a look of deep concern on her face.
"Oh Beverly…I…um…there's someone here to see you."
Frowning, Beverly took two steps then stopped.
"What?"
She saw a shadow then Jean-Luc stepped from behind the host. They stared at each other for several seconds before Jean-Luc spoke. His voice was deep and soft.
"Hello Beverly."
Shocked to her core, the Doctor's heart accelerated and her stomach clenched. In silence she continued to stare, her mouth slightly agape.
Taking a few steps toward her, Jean-Luc smiled tenderly.
"You were very hard to find."
He approached her very slowly, as one would approach a frightened animal. When he was close enough he raised his hand and gently trailed his finger down her cheek.
The contact was electric. Beverly gasped and took a step back. Snapped out of her shock, she swallowed and frowned.
"How did you get here? Is the Enterprise in orbit?"
Saddened by her skittish behaviour, Jean-Luc shook his head.
"No I have a runabout."
Beverly's hand came to her mouth as she lowered her head.
"A runabout? Can you take me away from this planet?"
The Captain nodded.
"I can, but where would you go? Haven't you run enough?"
Her head snapped up and she glared at her friend.
"Who said I was running? And anyway, what the hell are you doing here?"
Jean-Luc looked pointedly at Della and sighed.
"I will answer all your questions Beverly, however I would appreciate some privacy."
Scowling, Beverly jerked her head over her shoulder.
"Follow me."
They climbed the stairs together and soon found themselves seated at the table in Beverly's room.
Beverly sat back in her chair, arms folded across her chest, her attitude defensive. By contrast, Jean-Luc sat forward his hands resting on the tabletop.
"To answer your question, I came in search of you."
"Without the Enterprise?"
"I'm on an extended leave of absence."
Beverly's eyebrows rose in surprise.
"Really? I find that hard to believe. You never take leave."
Jean-Luc smiled and sighed.
"I thought the motivation was strong enough."
Beverly reddened and snorted.
"So how long…how much leave can you play with?"
"Over three hundred days."
"Oh."
Jean-Luc clasped his hands and stared at his fingers.
"The truth is Beverly…I might not go back. I've finally had enough and without you there with me it became unbearable."
Beverly's heart missed a few beats and she quickly rose and went to the window. Knowing better than to crowd her, Jean-Luc remained seated. His deep voice softly continued.
"The missions never varied, always some diplomatic quagmire I was expected to work miracles with in order to strengthen an organization that has lost its way. Then there were the assaults. To be honest, I'm fed up with being hurt, having to reassemble myself to serve something in which I no longer believe. And Beverly…I'm tired…so very tired."
He sighed and bowed his head his usually straight shoulders slumped.
Beverly turned from the window, tears welling at his defeated posture. She moved to the table and sat, taking his hands in hers.
"You were hurt? How?"
He shrugged and sighed.
"It doesn't matter, it's just a symptom of what's wrong."
He looked deeply into her eyes, his own filling, his voice a whisper.
"Oh God I missed you Beverly…I can't function without you."
Overwhelmed by his honesty, Beverly rose and went back to the window. Tears coursed down her cheeks and she trembled violently. Two large warm hands gently grabbed her shoulders, turning her. Looking into Jean-Luc's eyes made Beverly gasp. His cheeks wet with his tears, his eyes swirled with love and fear. His voice breaking, he said,
"If you tell me to leave I will…but know this Beverly. I love you…and I will never give up on the thought that one day we will be together."
Lifting a shaking hand, Beverly touched her fingers to his lips. Her one whispered word made his heart swell.
"Stay."
He bowed his head and sighed expansively. Beverly lifted her arms and embraced him tentatively, her own sigh escaping when his strong arms surrounded her. She rested her head on his shoulder and for many minutes they stood in silence, wrapped in a cloak of mutual need.
Eventually Beverly spoke.
"How long have you been looking for me?"
His smile a rueful one, Jean-Luc held her hands.
"Oh weeks. I managed to visit all the places you went, except Jurrenzen. The quarantine prevented me from approaching it, in fact an enormous vessel captained by a very reasonable alien stopped me and told me quite pleasantly he'd disable my runabout and tow me from the system if I attempted to reach the planet."
Beverly chuckled softly.
"And how did my proud intrepid Captain take that?"
Jean-Luc smiled wryly.
"I heeded his warning and ceased being obstreperous. However he was very helpful. After ascertaining my reason for going to the planet, he made some enquiries that eventually had me talking to a Doctor K'Tul. It was through him I found where you were."
Beverly raised her eyebrows, an incredulous look on her face.
"K'Tul is in this system? When I was dropped off he was going back to Federation space. I wonder what he's doing back here?"
Jean-Luc's quiet chuckle made Beverly grin.
"What?"
"You know damn well what he was doing! The same thing you've been doing all these months…offering his services as a Doctor wherever he thought he could help."
The Doctor flushed and took her hands from his. Going back to the window, she hugged herself. Jean-Luc went to her and gently laid his hands on her hips.
"Tell me."
Her big sigh made her shoulders rise and fall.
"When I left Caldos I didn't really know where I wanted to go…I just knew I couldn't stay, but no matter where I went the restlessness wouldn't leave me. Several times I was begged to stay, but I couldn't, I simply had to move on."
She turned to face him, sadness marring her beautiful face.
"If you hadn't arrived, I would've asked Della to find a way for me to get off this planet. My stay here has been nice, but the enforced idleness has been driving me nuts."
Jean-Luc nodded his eyes unreadable.
"Della says you've been sad…you were sad on the Enterprise too. What is it Beverly?"
Bowing her head, Beverly went and sat at the table.
"Like you I have been increasingly disillusioned with Starfleet and their policies. I began to be discontented with my work and my position on the Enterprise. Some part of me wanted more, more than I was getting, both professionally and privately. After that night in your quarters…when you said we should spend some time apart and you told me what I was doing to you, everything snowballed and I panicked. I thought that if the only thing I could make you feel was pain, then you would be better off without me in your life."
Jean-Luc joined her at the table and sat, wanting to hold her hands, but concerned she might resent the contact.
"So you ran."
"Uh huh."
"But your commission Beverly…your career? Surely you could've taken leave, sought counselling…did you have to resign?"
Her frank look made him flush.
"Are you listening to yourself? I'm as fed up with my job as you are…and you're a fine one to talk about counselling! Did you ever let Deanna help you with this?"
Bowing his head, Jean-Luc shook his head and sighed, his voice a whisper.
"No."
They sat in silence for several seconds before Beverly's soft voice made Jean-Luc lift his head.
"There's something else Jean-Luc…something I should've told you a very long time ago and something that's been at the root of my sadness."
He tilted his head, his eyes questioning silently.
"I love you. I have done for so long…well let's just say loving you has become so familiar to me it has become part of who I am. You said you couldn't function without me…well it seems neither can I function without you. These past long months have been hell…I kept waiting for my heart to cease beating and when it didn't I was disappointed, because I knew I would have to live another day in pain. If you still want me my love, I'm yours."
Jean-Luc was stunned. He sat with his mouth ajar, his heart beating so rapidly he was light headed. They both jumped when there was a quiet knock at the door.
"Beverly? Dinner's ready."
Finding her voice, Beverly said absently,
"We'll be right down Della, thank you."
When Jean-Luc still hadn't said anything after some minutes, Beverly reached out and took his hands.
"Jean-Luc? Are you all right?"
He closed his mouth and eyes and bowed his head, still silent. Worried, Beverly stood and went to him, kneeling at his side.
"Hey…talk to me."
He turned his head and opened his eyes. Tears rolled unnoticed down his cheeks and his gaze was filled with wonder. In a reverent whisper he said,
"You love me."
Taking his hands, Beverly drew him to his feet. Winding her arms around him, she nuzzled his neck.
"Not only do I love you, I desire you."
He lifted his head sharply and stared deeply into her eyes. Seeing the truth of her words, he slowly lowered his head until their lips met in the barest of caresses. Beverly's eyes closed and he repeated the ethereal touch and when he kissed her ardently and slipped his questing tongue into her mouth, she swooned. He deepened the kiss and held her tightly to his body, pouring into her all his love and pent up need.
They parted breathless and flushed. Beverly could feel his erection pressed against her and she smiled tenderly. Kissing him softly, she sighed.
"We should be getting down to dinner."
"Hmm."
The next kiss was languid and protracted.
"No really my love…Della has been very good to me and I don't want to put her out. If she's prepared dinner for us both, then we should…"
He silenced her with another passionate kiss.
"Hush Beverly."
"But…"
He nibbled her ear and neck, his hand drifting up to caress her breast, that was until her stomach rumbled.
Jean-Luc stopped what he was doing and chuckled. Lifting his head, he saw a deep blush colouring Beverly's face.
"Sorry. I didn't have lunch."
Tenderly taking her shoulders, he gently pushed her back a step.
"Very well…give me a minute."
He closed his eyes and took several deep breaths. Beverly's eyes settled on his bulging pants and noted no change.
"Jean-Luc…"
His eyes snapped open and he grimaced.
"I think it best if you go down first. I'll join you when I'm…in control."
Beverly's tender look almost made him kiss her again.
"Are you sure?"
"Oh most certainly. I'm never going to get anywhere with you in close proximity."
Beverly half turned then hesitated. Turning back, she kissed him while running a finger along his length. He growled into her mouth and gripped her mischievous hand.
"Behave yourself Beverly or we'll never get down to dinner."
With a knowing look, Beverly kissed the tip of his nose.
"OK, I'll see you downstairs."
Jean-Luc watched as she left then sighed deeply.
"Warp field mechanics…that ought to do it."
He joined Beverly ten minutes later.

 

 

 

 

 

Della immediately saw the change in Beverly. The Doctor wasn't only smiling radiantly, she was glowing. Casting a long glance at Jean-Luc, she saw little that was different; he was as reserved as she first found him, but his eyes were warm, and she couldn't help but see the love in them whenever he looked at Beverly.
Conversation was sporadic as they ate, Della making most of the effort. Over dessert, Beverly suddenly asked,
"Della do you have a room with a big bed?"
Jean-Luc choked on his sweet, a light flush creeping over his face. Keeping her glee under control, Della remained calm.
"Yes Beverly. Just down the hall from your room is my main suite. It has a larger bathroom, with a spa, a larger balcony and yes, a larger bed."
Not daring to look at her embarrassed Captain, Beverly smiled sweetly.
"Oh good. Would it be all right if we used it?"
Della shrugged.
"It's the end of the season…the place is empty as you well know. You can have your pick of any suite you want."
Nothing more was said. Over tea, Della left the room momentarily and returned with a chip, giving it to Jean-Luc.
"Here you go. Suite eight."
Smiling his thanks, Jean-Luc took the chip and then said,
"Della would it be possible for me to send a sub-space message from your equipment?"
The host frowned.
"Sub-space? I don't think so, but perhaps you should check as I'm not too sure."
Nodding, Jean-Luc left the table and went into the small room housing the array. It took only moments to find what he sought. Returning to the table, he sighed.
"I'm afraid your equipment is insufficient for my needs. If you ladies will excuse me, I'll beam up to the runabout."
He stood and handed Beverly the chip. Beverly grinned up at him.
"Going to report in?"
Jean-Luc smiled and shrugged.
"It's been weeks. Both Will and Deanna will be tearing their hair out."
Nodding, Beverly said quietly,
"I'll see you in our new suite when you get back."
Seeing the deepening blue of her eyes, Jean-Luc's heart missed a beat. Squaring his shoulders, he took his communicator out of his pocket and activated it.
"Computer one to beam up."
As he disappeared in a sparkle of blue light, Della sighed.
"He really is quite attractive isn't he?"
Beverly smiled wistfully.
"I've always thought so."
"Are all Human males so…reserved…so restrained?"
Shaking her head, Beverly giggled.
"Oh God no! Human males, in fact females too come in all sorts of varieties. Reserved, outgoing, boisterous, shy…you name it. I suppose half the fun of finding a mate is discovering what's compatible, what's enticing about your intended partner. I've always found Jean-Luc's reserve very…compelling. Frustrating at times, but highly desirable."
Della smiled wickedly.
"What does it take to break that reserve?"
Beverly matched her grin.
"I think I'm about to find out."
Both women giggled and Beverly stood, taking the dishes to the washer. Della shooed her away admonishing her.
"Oh no you don't! You get up to your room and be there when he comes back."
Smiling her thanks, Beverly left and climbed the stairs, her step light.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seated in the cockpit, Jean-Luc had no trouble sending his message to the Enterprise. It was a short missive; he was well, he had found Beverly and things were progressing in a hopeful manner. He closed with a note to Deanna to the effect that he was eating and sleeping sufficiently.
Having mentioned sleep, Jean-Luc was reminded that the planet below did not coincide with his sleep pattern, in fact it had been eighteen hours since he last slept, but he didn't feel weary, indeed he felt energised and eager to get back to Beverly.
Taking the time for a quick shower and shave, he dressed in clothes he knew she liked; a white silk shirt and dark blue trousers with black soft leather shoes. Applying his aftershave, he looked at himself critically and half turned, seeking any flaw in his appearance. Satisfied, he replicated a single long-stemmed red rose and straightened his spine.
"Computer one to beam down. Energise."

 

 

When Jean-Luc gently knocked on the door, he thought Beverly's voice was a little strained.
"Come in."
Entering the room, he was stunned to see the woman he loved clad only in a bath towel, her hair pinned up. She was using a tissue regenerator.
"Beverly…what?"
Straightening from treating her legs, the Doctor flushed.
"You probably won't believe it Jean-Luc, but I have an all-over sunburn. I've just about finished here…could you do my back?"
Frowning, he stepped forward and took the regenerator.
"How did you manage an all-over sunburn?"
"The traditional way…nude sunbaking."
His deep breath amused Beverly, as did his slightly shaking hands as he treated her back. After several moments he said,
"There, finished."
Sighing, the Doctor turned around and smiled with a wicked gleam in her eyes.
"Actually no, you haven't. My…derriere needs treatment too."
"Oh."
Seeing his eyes darkening, Beverly sidled up to him and caressed his chest.
"Jean-Luc although I like what you're wearing…I think you've got way to much clothing on."
He smiled and raised his eyebrows.
"I have?"
"Uh huh."
She slowly unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it from his trousers. He helped her remove it and she smiled sultrily, dallying her fingers at the waistband of his pants. With deft movements, she undid them and pushed the trousers down. Jean-Luc slipped out of his shoes and Beverly watched as he bent and slid his pants off then removed his socks. Now clad only in his briefs, he stood before her, semi erect and obviously very interested in what was to happen next. Keeping eye contact, she untucked the towel and let it drop to the floor. Completely naked, she raised her chin and licked her lips.
"Well?"
Jean-Luc growled softly and kissed her. He then took the regenerator and stepped behind her, but she was surprised and delighted to feel his mouth kiss and lick his way down her body as he knelt behind her. The treatment was quick, Beverly heard the instrument fall to the floor. Both of Jean-Luc's hands encircled her trim waist as he sucked the small of her back. He rose slowly to his feet, kissing his way up her spine and when he reached her shoulders, he turned her and kissed her deeply and passionately. When he tapered the kiss, Beverly moaned and softly bit his neck. Her hands caressed his nipples then drifted down to his now fully erect penis to grip him and squeeze gently.
Taking the opportunity to glance around, the Captain spotted the bed and suddenly scooped Beverly into his arms. He carried her to the bed and sat her on the edge, kneeling before her. Looking deeply into her eyes, he gently gripped her knees and coaxed her legs apart, moving forward into the space.
Beverly placed her hands behind her and leaned back, allowing her head to arch, exposing the alabaster column of her neck. Jean-Luc rose and attacked the soft flesh with his mouth, sucking, kissing and biting as his hands kneaded her breasts. His fingers tweaked the nipples making them harden and Beverly moaned again.
Leaving her neck, Jean-Luc nuzzled and licked his way down her torso, pausing at her navel and pushing his tongue into the indentation. His hands left her breasts and followed his mouth, caressing and delighting every time he touched her.
Once again kneeling between her open legs, Jean-Luc used his fingers to part her labia and lightly tease her clitoris. Beverly writhed and sighed, pushing her hips up in a wanton display of sensuality.
The Captain breathed deeply, infusing his senses with her intimate scent, noting the glistening entrance and the ruby redness. He leaned forward and lightly feathered his tongue over her bud and slid first one, then two fingers inside her.
Beverly arched off the bed, a small cry issuing from her throat. Her hands suddenly gripped his head, holding him to her as her internal muscles clenched his fingers. He slothfully slid his fingers in and out of her, while his tongue played with her clitoris and Beverly began to tremble. He suddenly pushed his fingers deep inside her and curled them at the same time sucking her clitoris into his mouth and nipping it. Beverly's body stiffened and she cried out, pushing his face hard against her flesh. Her hips bucked involuntarily as Jean-Luc continued his intimate caresses, eliciting three more climaxes before he slowly ceased.
As the spasms left her, Beverly fell back on the bed, momentarily senseless. Jean-Luc helped her up the bed until her head rested on the pillows and she opened her eyes lazily to watch as he lifted the covers over her. She gazed at him, an enigmatic smile on her face. In a low sultry voice she said,
"Jean-Luc…take off your briefs…slowly."
He stood beside the bed and hooked his thumbs into the waistband of his underwear. His eyes never leaving hers, he ever so slowly slid his briefs down, his penis arching then springing free. The tip of Beverly's tongue appeared to lick her lips as a growl of appreciation made itself known. She pushed the covers down and beckoned him to join her. He slid into the bed and Beverly immediately kissed him, her hand sliding through the hair of his torso to take his erection and stroke him. He closed his eyes and groaned, a deep sensuous sound that spurred the Doctor on. She gently pushed him onto his back and draped her body over his. His eyes opened and he watched with stark intensity as Beverly kissed him, grinding her mons against his erection. His hands kneaded her buttocks then one hand slipped between them to lightly caress her clitoris. The breath hissed between Beverly's teeth as her desire rekindled at an alarming pace. Jean-Luc suddenly rolled them, his body pressing Beverly into the mattress as he slid his throbbing penis through her folds. He lifted his hands, one to her breast and one to her face, holding her as he kissed her again and again. As he left her mouth and nuzzled her neck, Beverly panted,
"Oh God Jean-Luc…now…please now…I want you…"
Releasing her face, his hand drifted down to take his penis and guide it to her entrance. Beverly arched up to him and he penetrated her slowly his length and thickness stretching and filling her.
She moaned deeply and when he was fully immersed he stopped, allowing her to become accustomed to him. He kissed her with desperate passion and Beverly tasted blood. Mindless with desire, she clenched him internally and he gasped, responding with a gentle thrust. Beverly's hands went to his buttocks, gripping and pulling him to her, prolonging the contact as he lengthened his thrusts.
Slowly a rhythm developed, their bodies moving in perfect counterpoint as the thrusts became more vigorous. Beverly suddenly threw her head back and cried out as an orgasm swept her away. Undaunted, Jean-Luc kept his tempo, now almost leaving her before plunging deeply into her over and over. Two more orgasms took the Doctor before Jean-Luc finally released his control. Rising up on his arms, he plunged in and out of her with singular intensity, mindless and totally devoid of composure.
Beverly shrieked his name one final time as his own climax surged through him. He stiffened and ground his hips to hers, rhythmically pumping and jerking with ecstasy.
His hearing gone, his arms collapsed and he fell exhausted into her arms. Panting and softly groaning, he slowly became aware of his surroundings. Soft hands were rubbing his back and tender kisses were being placed on his neck. Rising with difficulty on trembling arms, Jean-Luc looked down on Beverly a smile on his face.
"I love you."
He softly whispered.
She smiled back and replied,
"And I love you."
He slowly rolled to one side and they settled together in each other's arms. Silence reigned for a while before Jean-Luc quietly asked,
"Beverly…may I ask you something?"
She kissed him and sighed.
"Yes it was wonderful…better than that in fact. You were superb."
He chuckled and sighed.
"Thank you, but that's not what I wanted to ask."
"Oh. OK what then?"
"Did you ever imagine us…doing that?"
Her silence worried him, but he allowed her the time she needed to answer.
"Truth? Yes. For quite some time now I have entertained an extensive erotic fantasy world for you and I. Every time I…well you know…I thought of you."
Jean-Luc sighed and pulled her closer.
"Me too…every damn time, but you want to know something? The reality of making love to you makes all my fantasies pale into insignificance. You were absolutely astonishing Beverly…more than I ever could've dreamed. I've wanted you for so long, in many ways tonight feels like my first time. In any case it's the first time I've made love to a woman I was so totally in love with."
Beverly rose up on her elbow and watched him in the gathering darkness.
"Jean-Luc my love, you have my heart and my soul. I doubt I've ever loved a man as I love you…", her voice dropped to a whisper, "even Jack."
Jean-Luc closed his eyes as two tears slipped free. Beverly settled her head on his shoulder and together they found sleep.

 

As the sun encroached into the room they made love again, languidly this time, taking the time to discover each other and delighting themselves with their discoveries. They dozed a while then rose and showered, Jean-Luc enjoying the experience of washing Beverly's hair. When they eventually came down the stairs, they could hear Della in the kitchen.
"Hello there…hungry?"
With matching grins, the couple nodded.
"Good. I have some warm native bread, poached gennan eggs, grilled lukul meat, hurrennin juice and coffee."
The smiling pair took their seats and Della placed the plates in front of them. Little was said as they ate, Della amused and gratified to watch as the obviously besotted couple kept holding each other's gaze and touching wherever possible. As they finished and settled into their coffees, Della asked,
"So what are your plans today?"
Beverly sighed and kept Jean-Luc's steady gaze.
"Oh I thought perhaps we might go down to the bluff…maybe go swimming."
Nodding in agreement, Della busied herself around the kitchen.
"Would you like me to provide a picnic?"
Beverly's eyebrow rose in silent enquiry. Jean-Luc smiled and nodded.
"That would be lovely Della, thank you."
Half an hour later, Beverly and Jean-Luc left the guesthouse and took the path that would take them to the beach. In companionable silence, Beverly showed her lover the prolific plant life, pointing out things of interest and simply enjoying being together.
After an hour's walk they reached the beach Beverly had in mind. Jean-Luc looked around in appreciation, taking in the startlingly white sand, the cobalt sea and the low dunes. He turned back to Beverly to find her face unreadable.
"What?"
"We're going for a swim."
He shook his head, a rueful smile in place.
"Ah…perhaps not. You go, I'll watch."
Shaking her head, Beverly's hands undid the shirt he was wearing and slipped inside to caress his nipples. With his own hands occupied holding the picnic basket and blanket, Jean-Luc sighed.
"Beverly…"
"Hush Jean-Luc…you'll love it I promise."
Her hands, finished with the shirt, skilfully undid his trousers and opened them, tickling his lower abdomen. Jean-Luc's stomach fluttered and he snorted.
"I didn't bring any bathers."
The Doctor leaned next to his ear and whispered,
"You don't need any…there's no one here."
His spine straightened and his eyes glittered.
"You are suggesting we swim naked?"
"Uh huh. It's called skinny dipping."
She was nuzzling his neck and he was beginning to relent.
"I know what it's called, I'm just not…"
Her hand slipped under the waistband of his briefs and his words turned into a soft groan.
"I'll make it worth your while Jean-Luc…"
Her sultry voice had him abruptly aroused. Dropping both the basket and blanket, he took her in his arms and kissed her deeply. When they parted, Beverly giggled.
"Is that a yes?"
Trying to muster a glare, he failed miserably.
"You are a vixen…a wench…seducing me so blatantly. I've a mind to…"
Her hands insinuated themselves into his underwear, one to gently squeeze his hardened penis, the other to cup his testicles.
"What ever it is you have I mind my love…save it until we're in the water."
He groaned deeply then sighed when she removed her hands. Watching closely, Jean-Luc was treated to a slow striptease by his lover. When she was naked, he swallowed, not surprised to find his mouth dry.
"Your turn."
He doffed his clothing quickly making Beverly chuckle. She took his hand and together they walked into the water.
They played a while, their actions growing increasingly erotic until Jean-Luc could stand it no longer. He took Beverly in his arms and went seaward until the water was chest deep. Both heady with desire and more than ready, he encouraged her to wrap her legs around his waist and when she was settled, he entered her. Overcome with sensation, the couple remained still, Beverly biting Jean-Luc's neck. She rose up and gripped his shoulders, leaning back and presenting him with her breasts, which he caressed, one hand behind her back, the other kneading and tweaking. His mouth descended on a hardened nipple and Beverly clenched him internally. He growled around her breast and pulled her down onto him harder.
The Doctor was overwhelmed, the feeling of his large erection buried deeply inside her made her heady with need. Lifting her upper body, she kissed her lover, her hands holding his head.
"Do it Jean-Luc…I need you…oh God do it to me…"
He kissed her and gripped her buttocks. Lifting her, she slid up his shaft then he suddenly pulled her down, impaling her. She shrieked and her nails bit into his shoulders.
"Yes! Again…oh God again!"
He obliged and soon she was plunging up and down on him. Jean-Luc felt his climax approach and clenched his teeth, determined she would be with him. Beverly flung her head back and gasped,
"More! Harder…faster…Oh God…"
The Captain stood his ground and when Beverly suddenly flexed and bit him he felt her orgasm flood through her. Unable to sustain his control he climaxed suddenly, a guttural cry torn from his throat. His legs trembling he held her to him fiercely, crushing her body against his.
Minutes later Beverly sighed.
"Dear God Jean-Luc…that was…"
"Hmm. Me too."
As she lowered her legs he slipped from her and they both gasped softly. Jean-Luc saw concern in Beverly's eyes and raised a hand to caress her face.
"What?"
"I've hurt you."
He frowned, not understanding.
"Hurt me? How?"
The Doctor's gentle hands fingered the deep bite and scratches on his shoulders. Jean-Luc sighed and smiled.
"Well earned my love. I don't mind."
"Well I do. Come on I can fix those."
Curious as to how she was going to accomplish that; Jean-Luc followed her from the warm water. Beverly picked up her sundress and rummaged in the pocket, smiling triumphantly when she produced a tissue regenerator.
"Ta da!"
She turned to pick up a towel and Jean-Luc muttered under his breath. Turning to him, Beverly asked,
"What did you say?"
"I said…I'm not the only one in need of treatment."
Confused, Beverly shook her head.
"Why?"
"Because I have left hand prints on your…arse."
Giggling at his use of the word, Beverly's fingers went to the damaged area and her giggle became a wince.
"Ow! I'm bruised."
Jean-Luc frowned and shook his head.
"I'm sorry Beverly…I…."
Her smile returned quickly.
"No problem. I'll fix you first then you can treat me…ok?"
He nodded, still very troubled that he'd hurt her. Beverly saw his worry and stopped what she was doing.
"Jean-Luc?"
He grimaced and took her shoulders.
"I'm so sorry Beverly, I don't know what to say…I've never hurt my partner…I…"
Taking him in her arms, Beverly hugged him.
"Hush Jean-Luc you didn't hurt me…I felt nothing but the most wonderful pleasure. You enjoyed yourself didn't you?"
"Yes but…"
"No. If you were so overcome with pleasure that you momentarily forgot yourself, then I consider that a compliment. I know you Jean-Luc and I know how important your control is to you. To know you can lose it when making love to me is very empowering."
He looked deeply into her eyes and sighed, kissing her softly.
"I love you."
"I know."

 

 

 

 

 

After treating the injuries, they spread the blanket and stretched out in the sun. Jean-Luc had tried to put his briefs on, but Beverly wouldn't let him. Acceding grudgingly, he still grumbled,
"If I get sunburnt…"
The Doctor sighed and caressed his chest.
"If you get burned I'll fix it. Don't worry about it."
He sat up and pointed a finger.
"My dear Doctor…there are certain parts of my anatomy that I really don't want sunburnt!"
In exasperation Beverly sat up and grabbed his finger.
"Will you relax! I promise your delicate…equipment will be ok. Now for God's sake lie down."
Muttering darkly under his breath, Jean-Luc lay on his stomach and cradled his head in his arms, turning so he could watch his lover. After a protracted silence he said very quietly,
"Beverly?"
Her eyes closed and on her back, Beverly was totally relaxed.
"Hmm?"
"Why didn't you answer any of the messages I sent?"
Sighing deeply, Beverly flopped a forearm across her eyes and bit her lower lip.
"I was scared. I was trying so hard to keep you out of my mind…trying to prevent the pain that thinking about you provoked. Somehow I thought if I answered even one of those communiqués I would lose my resolve and come running back to you. I just couldn't risk it."
She turned onto her side and reached over, lightly touching his scalp.
"I'm sorry."
Jean-Luc sniffed softly and sighed.
"In a way I understand. After you left I was in shock and I didn't handle it very well. Will and especially Deanna sent messages too; I think we were all trying to get you to change your mind. I suppose we all had trouble facing the thought of an Enterprise without you."
They settled once again into silence. Jean-Luc dozed for a while then threw caution to the wind and turned onto his back. He'd just become comfortable when Beverly asked,
"How long will we stay here?"
Pursing his lips, Jean-Luc shrugged.
"As long as we like…we're under no specific timetable."
Beverly chewed the inside of her cheek as her mind worked.
"I would like to get out of this system and back into Federation space. The war is still in progress and there's no guarantee it won't spread. It would be in our best interests to get clear."
"Agreed. Do you think we should offer Della an evacuation?"
Beverly rubbed her face and turned over.
"I don't know. I suppose it would do no harm to ask."
Jean-Luc absently scratched his groin.
"All right. You let me know when you want to go."
"OK."
They dozed a while longer before Beverly sat up and gently tickled Jean-Luc awake.
"Hmm…what?"
"I'm getting hungry."
He sat up and inspected himself. Satisfied, he reached for the basket.
"Very well, I'll see what's in here."
Beverly stopped him by gripping his hand.
"No…not here. I want to take you somewhere special. Put your briefs on."
He smiled sardonically.
"Oh…so now you want me to put my underwear on?"
Standing with her hands on her hips, Beverly looked imperiously down at her lover.
"We are going to be walking through some low coastal scrub. Unless you want your prized equipment damaged I suggest you put your undies on."
Tucking in his chin and refraining from further comment, Jean-Luc rose and did as he was advised. Beverly did the same and they left the beach, carrying their things and going inland a short way before taking a faint path that wound behind the dunes.
A half hour's walk had them climbing up a bluff. Once at the top, Beverly spread her arms and pirouetted.
"What do you think?"
Jean-Luc did a three sixty-degree turn and sighed.
"It's beautiful Beverly…no wonder you find it special."
His obvious appreciation of her private place pleased her inordinately. Planting a quick kiss on his lips, she hugged him.
"Thank you my love."
They placed their clothing in a pile and spread the blanket. Together they delved into the comestibles, delighted to find a selection of fruit, bread and cheeses. A flask contained chilled juice.
They dined well and later Jean-Luc guffawed when Beverly wrestled his briefs off him. Regaining his breath he watched appreciatively as Beverly slid her panties off. His voice low and decidedly seductive, he murmured,
"I'm beginning to think you're nothing but a shameless exhibitionist."
Beverly snorted and pounced on him, straddling him and pinning him to the blanket.
"Exhibitionist? Yeah right…and just who, pray tell, is here to see?"
He looked deeply into her laughing eyes and said with quiet intensity,
"Kiss me."
The Doctor licked her lips, feeling him harden beneath her. She slowly lowered her upper body until their lips met. Jean-Luc lifted his head and deepened the kiss making Beverly moan. Releasing his hands, Beverly ended the kiss and sat up, placing her spread hands on his chest. Jean-Luc reached up and cupped her breasts, his fingers gently pinching out her nipples. She relaxed her neck allowing her head to loll back.
"Oh yes…that's so good…"
With her eyes closed, she slowly began to slide up and down his erection, spreading her juices and inflaming their need. Lifting her head, she looked down at him and the sight of his dark eyes glittering with desire made her heart skip a beat. She leaned forward, raising herself and he gripped his penis, rubbing the head through her folds before placing himself at her entrance. With a low moan, Beverly accepted him inside her.
Without hesitation Beverly fell into a frantic rhythm. Sliding up and down his penis, Beverly gyrated above him, lost in her overpowering need to reach her release. Jean-Luc closed his eyes and grunted with unabashed passion, one hand gripping her hip, the other seeking then finding her clitoris, which he stroked in time with her movements.
The milking sensation of her clenching internal muscles did him in. Arching his back he cried out,
"Beverly!"
And came hard.
The Doctor continued her mad pace and achieved her orgasm as he was softening. She shrieked and convulsed falling forward and finding his embrace.
Many minutes passed before either could speak. Jean-Luc's gentle voice filtered through to her ears.
"Are you all right?"
Lifting her head, Beverly kissed him tenderly.
"Uh huh. Completely sated, but yes, I'm ok."
She groaned as she rolled off him, wincing and rubbing her hip.
"I must be getting old. I don't remember this ever causing sore hips before."
Jean-Luc chuckled.
"Well you were somewhat…energetic."
"Hmm. And wasn't it fantastic?"
The Captain kissed her softly.
"As a matter of fact, yes it was."
Side by side they dozed on their backs until Jean-Luc was woken by something splattering on his chest. Startled he sat up.
"What the hell?"
Across his upper chest, and mingled in his body hair was a light green and milky white mess, already running down his skin. Disturbed by his outburst, Beverly sat up and snorted.
"That's bird guano."
"Bird guano?"
"Yep. You've been shit upon. And for your information, it's supposed to be good luck."
Jean-Luc's disgusted face spoke volumes.
"Good luck? For whom? The bird or the recipient?"
Beverly rummaged in the basket and found some paper serviettes.
"Here use these."
With great distaste, Jean-Luc wiped the offending muck from his chest.
"This is disgusting!"
"Be thankful it wasn't your face. I copped it in my hair last week."
That amused the disgruntled man.
"So this place isn't so idyllic after all?"
Seeing his attempt at humour, Beverly grinned.
"Well you know what they say…there's no such thing as Utopia."
Chuckling, Jean-Luc stood.
"I'll be back in a minute…I have to…"
Waving her hand, Beverly said snidely,
"Just remember…don't pee into the wind."
Jean-Luc shook his head and disappeared. Beverly turned her gaze out to sea and watched the diving birds. In a few minutes the Captain returned and, as he sat, he asked,
"Is that rain on the horizon?"
Shielding her eyes, Beverly nodded.
"Uh huh. It rains most afternoons. We'd better pack up."
They dressed fully this time and packed away their picnic. Folding the blanket, Beverly took one final look around.
"OK I think we're ready. Shall we?"
Jean-Luc smiled and nodded. Together they descended the bluff and made their way back to the guesthouse.

 

 

 

 

 

The wind had picked up and fat drops of rain had begun to fall just as they reached their lodgings. Running the last twenty metres, they were laughing when they reached the courtyard. Jean-Luc opened the door and Beverly called out,
"Della? We're back."
The host came out of the front room, some needlework in her hands. Smiling at the happy couple, Della took the basket from Jean-Luc.
"Did you have a nice time?"
Beverly looked at her lover, a tender smile on her face.
"Yes we did thank you. And the picnic was wonderful."
"I'm glad. Now dinner will be ready soon, but as it's cold, there's no need for you to come down until you're ready. I'll plate it up and leave it in cold storage. You can help yourselves."
Jean-Luc felt an itch on his shoulder but resisted the urge to scratch.
"Will you be joining us?"
Della's blue skin darkened.
"Ah no. I have a…friend visiting. We'll be staying in my room."
With a knowing smile, Beverly winked surreptitiously. Della grinned and took the blanket.
"Off you go then, I'll see you tomorrow."
Beverly nodded and Jean-Luc gave a slight bow.
"Good night."
Once again alone, the couple reached the bottom of the stairs and Jean-Luc gave in to the insistent itch. He scratched firmly, sighing in relief. Seconds later a prickling burn spread over the affected skin. He stopped and frowned, his voice low and exasperated.
"Beverly! I'm bloody well sunburnt!"
Now that the day was waning, the burn was becoming evident. Beverly rolled her shoulders and winced.
"So am I. Come on, I'll soon have us fixed."
In silence they climbed the stairs and entered their room. Beverly slid out of her dress and Jean-Luc gasped at her reddened skin. As the Doctor slipped her panties off, her thumbnail lightly scratched her thigh and she yelped.
"Oh damn…this is worse than yesterday!"
Once naked, she picked up her dress and liberated the regenerator. She silently offered it to Jean-Luc who took it with mild annoyance.
"This wouldn't be necessary if we'd been more careful. One can do lasting damage to one's skin with sunburn."
His methodical passes with the instrument eased the prickling skin.
"You forget Jean-Luc I can remedy any damage."
"With what?"
Sighing, Beverly tilted her head back, allowing the Captain to treat her neck.
"Oh things like…deep regeneration, replication or complete replacement of damaged dermis, accelerated healing processes…need I go on?"
Finished with the front of her body, Jean-Luc turned her.
"Really? And just how do you envisage doing any of that with nothing but a med kit?"
Beverly frowned and closed her mouth.
"Ah…you have a point. It would be rather difficult, but the runabout…"
"Hasn't the facilities you mentioned. Admit it Beverly, it would be better if we didn't get burnt."
Pursing her lips, the Doctor refrained from commenting further. She stood patiently until he finished.
"There."
Smiling, she took the regenerator and pointed it at him.
"Your turn."
He undressed slowly, wincing and grimacing until he was naked. Looking down at himself he scowled.
"I knew it! It's bloody well burnt."
Beverly rolled her eyes and stood behind him, working on his back while striving to hide her growing amusement.
"Why is it you males are so damned paranoid about your genitals? For God's sake it'll be fine."
Grunting, Jean-Luc ignored the query. He stood rigidly and, as Beverly began to work on his front, watched her intently. He was curious however to notice that she avoided treating his penis. She worked diligently until he was healed, then she dropped to her knees and gently took his penis in hand. Looking up into his eyes, she flicked out her tongue and lightly licked the head. He gasped at the sensation…a mix of pleasure and pain. The groan that escaped was involuntary.
Beverly continued licking him, coating his penis with cool saliva. When she gently blew on the heated flesh he began to harden. His response was a breathless,
"Beverly…"
She made a few passes with the regenerator on a narrow setting, healing some of the skin, but stopped and slid her mouth over him. His face contorted and he groaned sensuously, his thighs beginning to tremble.
"Oh Beverly it's…it's…"
She let him slip from her mouth and said sultrily,
"Do you want me to stop?"
He shook his head and she descended on him again, taking in as much of him as she could manage. The pleasure/pain was a new experience for Jean-Luc and his senses reeled as they tried to process it. As Beverly slid her mouth up and down his erection her hands joined in. One gently squeezed his testicles; the other gripped the base of his penis.
The combination of her rough tongue and sucking mouth had Jean-Luc quickly approaching his climax. One particularly hard caress made him flinch and gasp, the jolt of pain merging with the heady ascension of sexual madness. His hands reached for her head, his fingers entangling in her hair as he urged her to quicken her pace.
Beverly could taste his first emissions and felt him becoming iron hard. Judging her moment carefully, she removed her hand from his penis and insinuated her fingers behind his scrotum. His hips were bucking as he thrust into her mouth, his skin coursing with sweat. He suddenly swelled in her mouth and he gasped,
"Beverly…I'm going to come!"
Concentrating, the Doctor's timing was perfect. Just before he came, she pressed her knuckles deeply into the reactive nerve bundle behind the scrotum and slipped her little finger into his anus while taking his penis as deeply into her throat as she could.
He erupted. His body jerking and quaking, he roared and gripped her head fiercely, emptying himself in her.
Beverly waited until he began to soften before letting him slip from her mouth. He shuddered and slowly fell to his knees, his entire body trembling and weak. Easing him down to the floor, Beverly rose and got a pillow. With gentleness she raised his head and settled it on the soft cushion.
His eyes mere slits, he watched dreamily as she took the regenerator and finished treating his now flaccid penis. He smiled and raised one weary arm.
"I'm not going to sleep on the floor with you."
He shook his head, still smiling blearily.
Beverly snorted and lay down with him. He wrapped his arms over her and kissed her temple. His voice was a husky whisper.
"Thank you my love. That was an experience I shall never forget."
Beverly sighed and settled her head on his chest.
"You're welcome."
Despite her protestations they fell asleep where they were.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was some four hours until they awoke. Stiff and cold, Beverly woke first and nudged her gently snoring companion.
"Hmm?"
"Jean-Luc my love, we're on the floor, it's late and I'm hungry. What say we get up and go down for dinner?"
Raising his hand, the Captain knuckled one eye and sighed. Together they climbed to their feet and Beverly watched appreciatively as Jean-Luc stretched with leonine grace.
Having dressed, they went down to the kitchen and were just at the cold storage unit when they heard the unmistakable sounds of lovemaking coming from Della's room. Sharing a gentle smile, they retrieved their dinners and retreated to their room.
The rain was still falling as they sat at the table. Beverly got up and opened the curtains so they could see the far-off lightning. They ate in companionable silence, happy in each other's company. Once finished, they both went to stand at the window.
Jean-Luc looked up into the darkened sky and sighed heavily.
"Too many clouds my love?"
"Uh huh. I miss seeing the stars Beverly…I've found over the passing years I gain great deal of comfort just from their presence."
Beverly snorted and the Captain cast her a sidelong look, one eyebrow raised.
"Oh Jean-Luc you're not telling me anything any of your senior staff doesn't know. You get a certain look in your eyes whenever you gaze at the stars…I always loved to see it, somehow you looked so…serene."
He turned to her and took her in his arms.
"Want to know a secret?"
Her eyes sparkling, she nodded.
"Most times, when I was star gazing…I was thinking of you."
Surprise settled on the Doctor's face.
"Really?"
"Uh huh. It was the only way I could do it in company and be fairly certain no one would know."
"Not even Deanna?"
He shook his head, a wry grin in place.
"No."
"My clever Captain."
She kissed him, tenderly and lovingly. He sighed and returned the kiss just as she gave it and together they held each other, lost in their love. After a while, Beverly hitched her shoulders.
"My skin is still prickly."
"Hmm. It's the salt. We need a shower."
She nuzzled his neck and gently bit his earlobe. Whispering she sighed,
"I've got a better idea."
"Oh?"
He rumbled.
"There's a spa in the bathroom."
"Ah. Well then my lascivious lover, why don't we make use of it?"
Beverly giggled softly and kissed the tip of his nose.
"Agreed. You go get it ready and I'll go downstairs and see if I can find a bottle of wine."
Jean-Luc was in his briefs testing the water temperature when Beverly returned. He noted her flushed cheeks and raised an eyebrow in enquiry.
"My God Jean-Luc…they're still at it!"
Both eyebrows went up at that.
"Indeed? Impressive."
He turned back to the spa only to gasp and snap to attention when Beverly placed the large cold bottle on his lower back. He spun around and grabbed her wrists.
"Must you?"
She giggled and the look of mischievous glee on her face stole his outrage. Relenting, he released her hands and kissed her. Big mistake. With one seductive hand she lowered his briefs and with the other she insinuated the bottle between his legs. Jean-Luc yelped and jack-knifed backwards, pulling up his briefs with one hand, his other hand going to his groin.
"What the hell…"
Seeing the look of stunned anger in his gaze, Beverly bolted, Jean-Luc on her heels.
He cornered her at the window.
"You…madwoman! What the hell did you think that would achieve?"
Flushed and breathless, Beverly watched her lover keenly; his piercing dark eyes and muscular body causing desire to rise within her.
"Oh I don't know…maybe I just wanted to see if everything was working ok."
He approached her slowly, a small frown replacing his glower.
"And?"
As he came closer Beverly gently touched his face.
"I'd say your responses were within normal range."
He took the bottle from her hand and sighed.
"You really are demented you know."
"Hmm I know…kiss me Jean-Luc."
He obliged and Beverly sighed deeply into his mouth. Parting, she nuzzled his ear.
"Is the spa ready?"
"Yes."
"Come on then."
They shed their clothes and Jean-Luc paused to retrieve two glasses and an opener. By the time he reached the bathroom, Beverly was in the spa. He looked down at her with frank desire.
"You look utterly delectable."
Licking her lips, she cupped her breasts and lifted them clear of the bubbling water.
"I'm a little lonely…"
Smiling, he opened the bottle, poured two glasses and doffed his underwear. Handing a glass to his lover, he stepped in and settled himself opposite her then took his own glass and raised it.
"To you Beverly. My dearest friend, my wonderful lover…may we see many more years together."
Smiling tenderly, Beverly raised her glass and touched it to his. They sipped and Jean-Luc frowned.
"Beverly…what exactly is this?"
Smirking at his aggrieved face, the Doctor replied,
"Well it's nothing you're used to that's for sure. It's a local brew…I've had it before, but only one glass. Della says it's quite potent."
Jean-Luc pursed his lips and rolled his tongue.
"It's…interesting...not entirely unpleasant."
"So?"
He took another sip and smiled.
"It'll do."
Chuckling, Beverly swiped some water at him earning her a tickled foot. Lulled by the soothing heated water, their desire abated and they were content to sit quietly, relaxing and sipping the seemingly innocuous wine. Over an hour they finished the bottle and Jean-Luc realised his mouth was tingling. When he went to lift his hand to feel his lips, his arm was sluggish. He snorted with suppressed laughter when he saw Beverly trying to put her glass on the corner of the spa.
"Having trouble?"
She huffed at him then burst into giggles.
"The damned spa won't keep still!"
Summoning his best command voice, Jean-Luc intoned,
"You realise of course you're drunk?"
Having successfully negotiated the glass, Beverly attempted to splash water at her Captain.
"Nonsense! I'm not as think as you drunk I am."
Knowing something was wrong with what she'd just said; all she could do was giggle.
"You're pissed Jean-Luc! You're getting the tub out of me."
Utilising great control, Jean-Luc rubbed his numb face and managed to pull out the plug. As the water drained away, he stood on unsteady legs and heaved Beverly into an upright position. Stepping up out of the spa was difficult and so was the haphazard drying that took place. He steered a meandering course to the bed and held Beverly with one hand while he turned down the bed. Beverly watched with a supercilious grin on her face, her eyes almost closed. Jean-Luc turned her and let her go. She fell onto the bed and he dragged her legs around before falling over her and crawling onto the mattress. He pulled the covers up and flopped onto his back. It was the last thing he remembered.

 

 

 

 

 

His pounding head woke him up. Groaning softly, he peeled his tongue from the roof of his mouth and tried to ignore the fact his bladder was too full. Cracking his eyes open, he winced as the light lanced in and gasped as the headache surged in response. Slowly he sat up and breathed deeply, trying to quell the rising nausea. He got to his feet with difficulty and slowly staggered to the bathroom, leaning forward and resting his head on one arm as he urinated. At the basin he washed his hands then took a tentative sip of cold water. Swallowing, he clenched his jaw as the liquid threatened to come back up. He waited until he was relatively sure he wouldn't vomit, then slowly made his way back to the bedroom. Beverly's tortured moan greeted him at the doorway.
"Oh my sweet God…there's a bunch of angry Klingons loose in my head!"
Altering course, Jean-Luc returned to the bathroom and gained a cup of water. He noted the shaking of his hands but ignored it. Eventually sitting on the bedside, he reached across and gently shook Beverly's shoulders. Her voice was a strained whine.
"No…stop! What do you want?"
His own voice deep and rough, Jean-Luc closed his eyes against the pain in his head.
"Here."
Beverly turned her face to him and forced one eye open.
"You're blurry."
Sighing, Jean-Luc repeated,
"Here."
With slow, exaggerated movements, Beverly sat up and pushed aside the wild tangle of her hair.
"What is it?"
"Cold water."
The Doctor closed her eyes and quickly brought a hand to her mouth, shaking her head. Noting her somewhat green complexion, Jean-Luc grimaced.
"At least try…it might help."
After several deep breaths, Beverly blindly reached for the cup. Holding it in both hands, she managed to sip some of the water. Jean-Luc watched the internal struggle to keep the liquid down. Some minutes later she sighed.
"If you would help me up and lead me to my med kit, I'll give us something to remedy this…unfortunate situation."
The Captain gently grabbed her hands and said softly,
"Stay there, I'll get it."
He rose slowly and stood shakily for a few seconds before stumbling into the living area. He quickly found the kit and was back in the bedroom in no time.
"Do you want me to find the medication?"
Beverly made the mistake of shaking her head. Groaning, she reached out her hand.
"No…I'll do it."
Jean-Luc lay back on the bed, his hands holding his head. He listened as Beverly rummaged in the kit then heard her load a hypospray. The cold nozzle on his neck made him tense but the hiss of deployment was welcome. He heard a second hiss as Beverly medicated herself and he waited for the relief he knew was coming. The second administration of medicine took him by surprise and when a third was delivered into his system he sighed.
"Is that all?"
She was silent as she treated herself then dropped the hypo to lie beside him.
"Uh huh."
Jean-Luc felt the headache recede and the nausea quieten. He took a deep breath and dared open his eyes.
"Oh that's better…thank you."
Beverly grunted and rolled to face him.
"I haven't had a hangover like that since…"
She lifted a finger and rubbed her lower lip.
"Since my graduation from medical school."
Jean-Luc chuckled and turned to her.
"I remember that. Jack told me you and some of your colleagues went on a pub-crawl. You were a mess I believe."
"You bet I was! And I didn't have a med kit handy. I had to wait until late afternoon before Nancy Taylor showed up with some hypos. God I was sick."
The Captain chuckled again.
"And wasn't Wesley sick too?"
"Oh yes! He had a cold and kept grizzling…I thought he'd never shut up."
She sighed and rose up on an elbow.
"But you must've experienced your own hangovers Jean-Luc. Care to enlighten me? Jack alluded to some fine times but he was always careful of your reputation…being his Captain and all."
Jean-Luc smiled enigmatically and sighed.
"I admit there have been times when I thought I would surely die from an over indulgence of alcohol. One time I was on a planet negotiating a treaty and it was required of me to drink copious amounts of the local liquor. The next day I could barely function…and there was no medical help. And to top it off the gravity was lighter than ours and my equilibrium was badly affected. I was so sick…I honestly don't know how I completed that mission…I hardly remember the last two days."
Beverly kissed him, then grimaced in distaste.
"Yuk! Your mouth is like the bottom of a cocky's cage."
He snorted and grinned.
"Do you think yours is any better?"
Slapping him playfully on his chest, the Doctor asked,
"How are you now?"
He sat up and rolled his head.
"Fine. How about you?"
"Same. Come on let's go have a shower…and clean our teeth."
The naked couple entered the shower and proceeded to indulge in erotic play. Forty-five minutes later they emerged sated and happy. The tooth brushing was taken at a leisurely pace, as was their dressing. Jean-Luc collected the bottle, plates and glasses and they went downstairs.

 

 

 

 

 

Della looked at the chronometer as they entered the kitchen.
"You're late today. Sleep in?"
As Jean-Luc placed the dishes in the washer, Beverly answered.
"Yes. We were tired from our picnic."
Just then Jean-Luc asked,
"Della where should I put this empty bottle?"
The look on the host's face was priceless.
"You drank a whole bottle of hun'ruk?"
The couple shared a glance and Jean-Luc replied,
"Yes. Why is there something wrong?"
Della laughed.
"No wonder you slept in! I'm surprised you're functioning at all…that stuff's lethal."
Beverly chuckled and sat at the table.
"Oh we suffered all right! I had some medicines in the med kit that helped alleviate the sickness and headache."
Della nodded.
"Just as well. I distinctly remember the last time I overdid hun'ruk. I was sick for a week."
She took the bottle from the Captain and set it on the counter. Jean-Luc sat and the woman brought some cold food to the table. As they ate Beverly asked,
"Has your friend gone?"
Her wistful sigh was not lost on the couple.
"Yes."
Jean-Luc looked at his lover and received an imperceptible nod.
"Della we will be leaving soon. Would you like to come with us?"
Startled by the question, Della gasped.
"Leave? Why would I leave?"
Beverly leaned forward and took her hand.
"Della we're worried about the war. It hasn't shown any signs of stopping and there's a very real danger that it might spread. If that happened you'd be in a very precarious situation."
The blue woman smiled and patted her hand.
"You needn't worry about me. My friend will come for me of there's any trouble."
Jean-Luc's voice was soft with concern.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. Do you know when you'll be leaving?"
Again the Captain looked at his lover. Taking a deep breath, Beverly said softly,
"This afternoon."
Sadness crossed Della's face.
"Oh. Well I'd better see to your bill."
Jean-Luc nodded.
"Do you accept latinum?"
Smiling broadly, Della nodded.
"Yes, in fact it's the only payment I accept."
"Very well. When you have prepared the invoice I will return to my ship and procure the payment."
They finished their late breakfast then retired to their room to rest and pack.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Later that afternoon, having settled with Della, Jean-Luc and Beverly stood in the courtyard with their bags. The host stood to one side smiling softly.
"Now remember you two come back any time, you'll always be welcome."
Smiling their thanks, Jean-Luc tapped his communicator.
"Computer, two to beam up."
As Beverly rematerialised aboard the runabout, she gasped with surprise.
"Jean-Luc!"
Surrounding the living area were bouquets of flowers. The heady fragrance permeated the craft and Beverly laughed.
"This is beautiful."
His hands went around her waist and he nuzzled her neck.
"I thought you'd get suspicious when I took so long coming back from getting the latinum. I wanted to create more varieties, but the on-board replicator is somewhat limited."
She turned in his arms and kissed him.
"They're wonderful Jean-Luc, thank you."
Having stowed their bags, they went forward and took their places in the cockpit seats.
"How long will it take us to get back to Federation space?"
Jean-Luc tapped out some instructions and the little craft left orbit.
"Well we have to take it slow while we negotiate the quarantine zone, but once we're clear we can maintain warp eight indefinitely. I'd say two weeks, give or take a day or two…you never know what we may come across."
The Doctor nodded and frowned.
"Two weeks? What ever will we do to pass the time?"
Jean-Luc grinned rakishly.
"I have a few suggestions."
She slapped his shoulder and giggled.
"Why Jean-Luc I had no idea your libido was so…formidable."
He grinned evilly, his eyes twinkling.
"Where it comes to you…you have no idea."
He smiled tenderly and took her hand.
"Where do you want to go?"
Beverly's eyes clouded and she sighed.
"I don't really know."
"What about Caldos?"
She shook her head.
"No. I will go back, but not yet."
Jean-Luc's thumb gently caressed her hand.
"I see. Well what would you like to do? Do you want to be lazy or energetic?"
Biting her lower lip, Beverly shrugged.
"I've no idea."
Jean-Luc nodded.
"Very well. I'll set course for the nearest Federation border and you can devote as much time as you need to figuring out what you want to do."
Smiling tenderly, Beverly leaned over and kissed her lover.
"Thank you."

 

 

 

 


Their journey was uneventful. They utilised their time exploring their new relationship, making love and quietly discovering what each other liked. Eighteen hours out from the border, they were lying in bed, basking in post-coital euphoria. Jean-Luc was dozing when Beverly's voice was detected at the periphery of his hearing.
"Pacifica."
The Captain stirred and pulled her tighter against his body. Keeping his eyes closed and loathing the thought of waking, he whispered,
"What?"
"Pacifica Jean-Luc…I think I want to go to Pacifica."
He nuzzled into her hair and sighed.
"Very well."
It was obvious Beverly was wide-awake.
"There are cabins all over the place. We can choose from beach, mountains, desert…we can even go skiing if we want. How about…"
Jean-Luc growled and cupped a breast, gently pinching the nipple. Beverly gasped.
Knowing if he stopped she would launch into more descriptions of the planet, he turned her onto her back and kissed her deeply. His hands kneaded her breasts and the Doctor responded enthusiastically, arching her back and moaning. Using his knees, he encouraged her to part her legs and he knelt between them, his mouth descending from her lips to her neck, then down to her breasts where he lavished each swollen nipple.
He kissed his way down her torso and nuzzled her folds, his fingers spreading her and gently caressing her. As he slipped two fingers inside her, his tongue feathered over her clitoris.
Beverly cried out and clutched at his head. Intent on his mission, Jean-Luc increased the force of his thrusting fingers and strengthened the contact with his tongue. Beverly writhed on the bed her voice one continuous moan.
Feeling her begin to contract around his fingers, he inserted a third and sucked her turgid bud into his mouth. It was enough. Beverly shrieked and flexed before shuddering, her body rhythmically jerking as Jean-Luc coaxed two more orgasms from her. He tapered his caresses and tenderly kissed her folds before rising to lie beside her. Taking her in his arms, he spoke softly in his native tongue as she fell asleep.
Jean-Luc smiled and settled himself, smugly satisfied that he would now have an uninterrupted sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beverly was still asleep when Jean-Luc showered in the morning. He'd set the table and programmed the replicator before she showed signs of stirring. He replicated a pot of coffee and poured two cups, taking one and holding it near her nose. Her mew of appreciation made him smile.
"Are you going to wake up?"
She stretched and sighed.
"Do I have to?"
"No…but if I know you as well as I think I do, your stomach will soon be letting you know it's breakfast time."
Opening her eyes, she wrinkled her nose.
"Oh all right."
She sat up and took the offered cup. They sipped in silence for a while before Beverly frowned.
"I know what you did last night."
Feigning innocence, Jean-Luc adopted a look of confusion.
"I beg you pardon?"
With a look of frank disbelief, Beverly scowled.
"You know exactly what I'm talking about! You deliberately seduced me to keep me quiet."
Jean-Luc's mouth opened in mock outrage.
"As if I would do such a thing! Beverly…really."
"Don't give me that you rogue. Admit it…you wanted to sleep and I was keeping you awake, so you decided to do the only thing you knew that would make me sleep."
His face slipped and a grin appeared.
"Are you complaining?"
She sniffed disdainfully and raised her head imperiously.
"Well…not exactly."
Jean-Luc, having finished his coffee, rose and placed his cup on the table. Judging what he thought was a safe distance he muttered,
"Besides…it worked didn't it?"
The pillow hit him in the back of his head. He turned to find himself nose to nose with his lover. In an amused voice he said softly,
"So you're up then."
Her finger poked him in the chest.
"Stop being so insufferably smug!"
He took her in his arms and kissed her, robbing her of any further anger. When they parted she sighed and rested her head on his shoulder.
"Damn you, you arrogant, pompous, sexy, wonderful man."
He smiled with deep satisfaction and stroked her hair.
"Why don't you shower? I have breakfast under control."
"OK."
When she emerged, Jean-Luc guided her to her seat and brought the hot croissants and fresh coffee to the table.
They enjoyed a leisurely meal before Beverly quietly asked,
"Jean-Luc…have you come to any decisions?"
He looked up, frowning in confusion.
"About what?"
"Your future. You said some time ago you weren't sure what you'd do…resign or keep going. Have you decided?"
In silence Jean-Luc wiped his mouth then gently placed the serviette on the table. Sighing, he shook his head.
"No I haven't decided. To be honest I haven't been thinking about it. I've been so happy being with you…I seem to have devoted all my thoughts to learning how our new relationship works."
Beverly smiled and offered her hand.
"Well I suppose you have plenty of time, but just out of curiosity…do you have a gut feeling?"
Jean-Luc lowered his head and frowned.
"A gut feeling? If I remember exactly how I felt when I left then it's pretty cut and dried, but in fairness I think I should give it more thought…see if I can look at it dispassionately, make an unemotional decision."
"That's fair enough. Starfleet has taken so much of your life…you've dedicated yourself to it and its ideals…do you think you can live without it?"
He smiled and tilted his head.
"I have you…I need nothing else."
Beverly flushed and tears glittered in her eyes. Jean-Luc took a big breath and caught her eyes.
"Tell me Beverly, to help me in my thoughts…would you consider rejoining and returning to the Enterprise?"
Drawing one leg up and resting her chin on her knee, Beverly frowned.
"No I don't think so. Although reconciling with you and forming our new relationship remedied the greater part of my problem, there is still the professional disquiet. I'm still unsure what I want, but I know it's not serving in Starfleet."
"Not even as head of Medical?"
Shaking her head, her eyes bored into his.
"No. I don't want regimentation or hierarchy in my life any more."
He nodded.
"I understand. What will we do if I decide to return?"
Sadness filled her eyes and she shrugged. Her voice was small.
"I don't know."
Hating the look of desolate grief on her face, Jean-Luc rose and knelt beside her, wrapping his arms around her.
"Well for now I suggest we forget about it and concentrate on deciding where we should go on Pacifica. How about it…beach or mountains?"
Sniffing back her tears, Beverly hugged her lover.
"I love you Jean-Luc…never forget that."
He kissed her with remarkable tenderness.
"And I love you mon coeur."

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the end they settled on a compromise. They spent three weeks in a secluded cabin in the mountains, three weeks in a bungalow on an isolated island then decided they would like to be around other people and spent two weeks at a ski resort in the snowfields. It was at this resort, late one evening that Beverly found herself wrapped in her lover's arms. They were sitting on a plush rug in front of a large fireplace in which burned a healthy blaze. They had spent the evening dining and dancing and now, showered and tired after their day on the snow, they were dressed in nothing but robes and enjoying a snifter of brandy. Beverly closed her eyes and leaned back on Jean-Luc's muscular chest.
"This is nice."
"Hmm."
Beverly chuckled quietly.
"As much as I like skiing and the crisp cold, there's nothing quite like sitting in front of an open fire."
Jean-Luc sighed happily and nuzzled her neck.
"As far as I'm concerned…I couldn't be happier."
The Doctor snorted.
"Jean-Luc I think you'd be happy wherever we were. We could be in a tent in the middle of the glacier and you'd be delirious."
"Only because I'm with you."
Beverly turned her head and kissed him. He smiled and hugged her.
"I've been thinking."
Staring back at the fire, Beverly blinked.
"Oh? About what?"
"I think I would like to go the chateau."
Sitting up, Beverly turned and looked closely into his eyes.
"You want to go home?"
He nodded and sighed.
"Yes…it's been a long time and something in me is tugging. Would you like that?"
Still watching him carefully, Beverly softly asked,
"Where would we stay? At the chateau or in LaBarre?"
"The chateau I think."
"Is Marie still there?"
Jean-Luc looked into the flames and nodded.
"Yes. She's hired a manager…the business is still running…quite well from what I can gather."
Pursing her lips, the Doctor shrugged.
"And she wouldn't mind?"
Jean-Luc smiled and ran his finger down her face.
"No. You must remember I own half of the vineyard…and it's my ancestral home. Marie welcomed me in the past, in fact she was very careful to let me know I would always be welcome. I can't see any problems."
Beverly's small smile warmed his heart.
"Ok then. When do you want to go?"
"Well I'll have to contact Marie of course, but if possible…tomorrow afternoon. It'll take a week to reach Earth…have you had enough of the snow?"
Turning around and resuming her former comfortable position, Beverly nodded.
"Uh huh."
"And you don't mind leaving?"
"Nope."
"Good."
He hugged her and again nuzzled the soft skin under her ear. Beverly mewed in appreciation and rested her head back on his sturdy broad shoulder.
Jean-Luc's hands lazily undid the tie of her robe and slowly opened the garment, his eyes feasting on the view of the flickering reddish light from the fire dancing over her alabaster skin. He trailed his fingers up her stomach to her breasts gently cupping and pinching out her hardening nipples. Beverly moaned softly and he gently bit her exposed neck. When her nipples were swollen and hard, he drifted one hand down her torso and swirled tantalisingly in the copper curls of her mons. Beverly uncrossed her legs and opened them, bending her knees and planting her feet. Sliding his fingers down, he parted her labia and slipped his hand over her folds, massaging and flexing his fingers. As his hands worked their magic, his mouth nibbled and sucked her neck, occasionally biting her earlobe and tracing the inner whorls with his tongue.
Beverly's hands fisted in her open robe, her gasps and moans burning Jean-Luc's ears and causing his erection to stiffen. He slipped his fingers through her folds and teased her by sliding around her clitoris and pushing just a little way inside her.
"Oh Jean-Luc…yes…more…please more…"
As the fingers of his left hand played with her nipples, his right hand employed itself gainfully. Very slowly he slid two fingers inside her and teased her clitoris with his thumb, just brushing it with the barest of touches. Beverly's hips began to lift and her back arched. Her voice was a ragged whisper.
"Yes! More…please Jean-Luc…make me come…please…"
He sucked her earlobe into his mouth and gently bit it as he fingers began to thrust. Releasing the soft lobe, his deep baritone pervaded her senses.
"I love to see you like this…aroused…wet…wanting so much to come…do you want it Beverly? Do you want to come?"
Beverly groaned loudly and gripped his arms.
"Oh God yes! Quickly Jean-Luc…please…please…"
"Very well mon coeur…come for me."
Pushing his fingers in and out of her, he swiped his thumb over her clitoris firmly and pinched her nipple.
Beverly's body lifted off the rug and she cried out, her fingers digging into his arms. Again, then again he drew the climaxes from her before gently ceasing and laying her down on the rug. He stroked her face and kissed her until her eyes opened and she smiled. Her hands opened his robe and pushed it from his shoulders. Sitting up, he took it off and returned to her. She kissed him passionately and whispered in his ear,
"I want you inside me."
He gently kneaded her breast and lowered his head to take her nipple in his mouth. Beverly gripped his shoulders and urged him to cover her body with his. He obliged and when she reached down and gripped him, he closed his eyes and groaned.
"Open you eyes Jean-Luc…I want to watch you."
He obeyed her, staring at her intently as his throbbing penis slid slowly inside her. Beverly lifted her legs and gripped him around his waist. She felt his testicles against her buttocks and gasped as he ground himself against her. He withdrew slowly and held himself above her before equally slowly sliding back into her. His voice was husky with desire and very deep.
"I'm going to make you scream."
Before Beverly could say anything he kissed her savagely, all the while sustaining the maddeningly slow rhythm below. The Doctor moaned into his mouth, her hips rocking against him. After ten minutes of this exquisite torture Beverly started to clutch at his shoulders in desperate need. Tearing her mouth from his she pleaded,
"Don't Jean-Luc…don't make me wait…you're teasing me…please…please…faster…harder…more…"
He lifted his head and stared down at her sweating face.
"Am I teasing you my love? Tell me again…how do you want it?"
Beverly bit her lips and gasped as a particularly deep thrust caused a thrill of electricity to course through her nerve ends.
"Faster…harder…give yourself to me Jean-Luc…I want all of you."
He bent low and bit her neck.
"Then you shall have me my love…I am yours."
He suddenly did as she asked. With vigorous, long hard thrusts, he raised himself up on his arms and locked eyes with her.
Writhing beneath him, Beverly gripped his biceps and whimpered as her body registered the approach of a shattering orgasm. Suddenly stiffening, she drew in a large breath and screamed as the climax flooded her senses and obliterated all thought. Jean-Luc, his teeth clenched and his mind reeling, lost himself as his own orgasm surged through him, his universe narrowing down to the rhythmic pulsing that radiated out from his groin and encompassed his body and mind.
Minutes passed and still their bodies resounded with the echoes of their passion. With waves of trembling and spikes of sensation, the couple slowly recovered.
Beverly opened her eyes to find Jean-Luc's head buried in the crook of her neck. He was panting and sweat trickled down his body. Lifting tired arms she lightly ran her fingers down his back. He sighed shakily and raised his head, catching her gaze. She smiled crookedly and kissed him.
"You were right."
He lifted his eyebrow and tilted his head.
"How so?"
"You made me scream."
He smiled and kissed her with tender care.
"So I did."
He kissed her again then gently rolled to his side, taking her with him. Beverly rested her head on his arm and sighed.
"I don't believe it."
He frowned slightly.
"What don't you believe?"
"You're going to get me to sleep on the floor again with you."
He chuckled and hugged her close.
"It's just as well. Neither of us has the energy to make it to the bed."
Beverly snuggled into his body and sighed.
"I'm getting too old for this."
He snorted and chuckled.
"That's not the impression I got fifteen minutes ago."
Beverly sighed expansively.
"I meant sleeping on the floor you insufferable egoist…although I do freely admit you're totally responsible for my current inability to function…not that I'm complaining mind you, it's just that I think people of our ages should confine this sort of activity to a nice soft bed."
"That's a load of bullshit Beverly and you know it. We wanted each other and the opportunity was there. Who gives a damn where it is? You certainly didn't mind being out in the open on the beach, on the bluff or more recently by the river. Face it. Your libido easily matches mine and when you want it nothing is going to stop you…or me."
Beverly's frown gave way to a smile. Snuggling further into his embrace, she nuzzled him.
"I was surprised at the strength of your capacity for sex. How on Earth did you keep it under control for so long?
He sighed and kissed her forehead.
"I lived the life of a loner by choice Beverly. I had a few lovers, but the truth is I loved you and while my few partners provided relief, they didn't touch my heart…or my soul. There were times when I resorted to masturbation, quite often actually, however it was only a physical release. I suppose I learned, over a long period of time, to push aside my desire, because quite frankly I thought the object of my passion was unattainable."
The Doctor sighed and stroked his face.
"Well if it's any consolation it was a very similar scenario for me too. Like you, I had a few lovers, but there was always something missing…something intangible. The sex served a purpose but left me…untouched. And, also like you, masturbation filled the gap. I will confess though…you were always in my thoughts when I did it."
He smiled wistfully and closed his eyes.
"Oh Beverly…my mind would furnish such images of you…it's just as well I have an artificial heart. A real one would have succumbed."
Beverly chuckled and idly ran her fingers through his chest hair.
"Well hopefully we have plenty of time to explore our mutual fantasies. However…in the mean time I intend to get some sleep."
"Agreed. I'll help you to bed later."
She entwined her legs with his and sighed.
"I'm counting on it."
Five minutes later they were both softly snoring.

 

 

 

 

 

Three days into their journey to Earth, Beverly was setting the table as Jean-Luc made contact with the Enterprise. It was evening in their cycle and Beverly smiled as she heard Will's delighted laugh.
"She's still with you?"
The Captain scowled.
"Are you suggesting there's a reason she wouldn't be?"
Sobering, Will schooled his features.
"Ah…no Captain, of course not."
Mollified, Jean-Luc gestured to Beverly and she joined him at the screen.
"Hello Will."
"Beverly! How the hell are you?"
Grinning, the Doctor brushed her hair back.
"I'm fine. How's everybody?"
Will glanced to his left, his blue eyes twinkling.
"I'll let Deanna tell you."
Jean-Luc rose and gave up his seat. Standing behind his lover, he gently gripped her shoulders.
"Beverly…it's so good to see you! You look wonderful."
The Doctor chuckled delightedly.
"Now let me see. Data has taken up the clarinet and is fascinated by Benny Goodman. Geordi is dating a Lieutenant from biology. Will and I are happy, although mother now knows about us and is being a pest…by the way, she wants to know where the Captain is and generally the ship is fine and it's a case of situation normal."
Smiling, Beverly nodded.
"Still doing those mind-numbing pointless missions?"
Deanna's face fell and she sighed.
"Oh yes. There seems to be no end of squabbling and obsequiousness. Some times Will gets so angry…I think a phaser would be more effective on some of the people we've had to deal with. So, tell me…what have you been doing since you left?"
Beverly sat back, smiling with relief as Jean-Luc gently massaged her shoulders. Crossing her legs, she took a large breath.
"Well I sort of kept busy. I ended up visiting several planets…I never stayed long and eventually found myself marooned on an out of the way planet a very long way from Federation space. I was recuperating from some injuries when the Captain found me."
"And since then?"
Casting her lover a gentle look, Beverly smiled slyly.
"Oh we've been here and there, you know, just relaxing. We spent eight weeks on Pacifica…that was nice."
Deanna's smile was beatific.
"And now? What are your plans?"
Beverly tilted her head and looked up at her lover. Jean-Luc's voice was soft.
"We're going to my home on Earth for an extended period of time."
Deanna's surprise was well stifled.
"Oh? That's interesting. The Enterprise may be returning to McKinley for some upgrades in about a month. Perhaps we may get to see you both?"
Jean-Luc smiled and nodded.
"Perhaps."
Beverly turned her attention back to the screen.
"Well we're about to have dinner. I'll contact you again once we're on Earth."
The two women said their goodbyes and Beverly stood, relinquishing her seat to Jean-Luc. Will reappeared and the men spoke at length about the ship while Beverly replicated their meal. She seated herself and waited as Jean-Luc severed the connection. He took his seat at the table and looked lovingly into Beverly's eyes.
"You made Deanna happy."
Her smile wistful, Beverly sighed.
"I owe her an explanation…I left without saying goodbye, I never answered her messages and I wouldn't let her help me when I should have. It's a wonder she's still talking to me."
Jean-Luc shook out his serviette and placed it over his thigh.
"Well it seems she's forgiven you."
Beverly frowned.
"Maybe."
They ate in silence and over coffee Jean-Luc said softly,
"Beverly I understand why you ran, but why did you place yourself in ever increasing situations of danger?"
The Doctor stared into her cup as if the dark liquid held her answers. After some seconds of silence she sighed.
"We spent years avoiding the attraction between us…quashing our feelings and trying to pretend we were nothing but close friends. I suppose I wanted to feel again…experience the rush of emotions that I had been so savagely suppressing for so long. That it manifested itself as fear and desperation is a by-product I guess…I wouldn't allow myself to think of you, as I've told you it simply caused too much pain."
Jean-Luc refilled his cup and blew softly on the contents before taking a sip.
"You also told me you contemplated death. Are you sure that didn't have some part of it?"
Placing her cup on the table, she gently traced her fingers around the rim.
"Perhaps, although I was so absorbed in what I was doing, the danger around me was of little consequence. I suppose the fact I was drawn to increasingly dangerous situations speaks loudly of my mental state, but I felt I was doing something worthwhile…my personal safety never entered my mind."
Jean-Luc sniffed and cradled his cup in both hands.
"Well I think it's moot now anyway. We're together and happy. Let's put it behind us and look to the future."
Beverly gave him a long speculative look.
"The future Jean-Luc? We haven't exactly settled that yet."
He sighed.
"I know…give me the time I need."
Her troubled eyes cleared and she smiled.
"You take all the time you require my love, I'll wait."
He rose and walked to her side, taking her hand and coaxing her to stand. Wrapping his arms around her, he kissed her with exquisite tenderness.
"I don't deserve you."
Beverly chuckled softly and nuzzled his neck.
"I know."

They arrived safely on Earth and Jean-Luc opted to land the runabout nearby the chateau. Marie was standing at the back door, a smile on her face.
"Jean-Luc! Welcome home."
The couple strode up the path and settled their bags at their feet. Jean-Luc embraced his sister-in-law and they kissed each cheek as custom demanded. The Captain stepped back and gestured for Beverly's hand.
"Marie I think you remember Doctor Beverly Crusher?"
The small woman smiled warmly.
"Doctor Crusher welcome to chateau Picard. Please come in."
As Beverly shook Marie's hand she said softly,
"It's Beverly Marie."
They two women shared a smile and they all trooped inside.
"Jean-Luc I wasn't sure how many rooms you would need so I've prepared two bedrooms, your old one and Rene's."
At the mention of his deceased nephew, Jean-Luc frowned, lowering his head and sighing.
"Thank you Marie but we require only one bedroom."
Her eyebrows rose imperceptibly and she cast Beverly a curious look while Jean-Luc's attention was elsewhere. Beverly smiled, a slight flush colouring her milky skin."
"Oh…very well. I suppose it's just as well your old bed is no longer there."
Before Jean-Luc could respond, Marie picked up Beverly's bag and left the room. Jean-Luc caught his lover's eye and smiled sheepishly.
"My old room now has a big bed…I slept in it last time I was here."
Punching him lightly on the shoulder, Beverly suppressed a giggle. They followed their host up stairs to the bedroom and Beverly was stunned at the old-world ornateness of the room. Heavy drapes covered the windows and dark solid wooden furniture surrounded the bed. In one corner was an antique bureau on which sat a modern computer. Marie saw the Doctor staring at this incongruity and grinned.
"Robert told me that Jean-Luc always insisted on the best computer his parents could afford. When I knew you were coming I took the liberty of securing the best LaBarre had to offer. It's linked to the house computer and has communication capabilities."
Jean-Luc sighed and went to his sister-in-law, taking her hands in his.
"Marie there was no need…I could've used the runabout's computer…but thank you, it was a lovely gesture."
Reddening and pulling out of his grip to fuss with her collar, Marie flapped her hands.
"Oh nonsense! We can't have Starfleet's most illustrious Captain caught in the back woods without proper technology. What would the neighbours think?"
The embarrassed woman left the couple and Beverly sat on the bed, staring out the curtained window. Jean-Luc sat beside her and took her hand. They remained silent for a while before the Captain sighed.
"What do you think?"
Smiling, Beverly tore her eyes from the view.
"It's lovely Jean-Luc."
He sighed again and looked around the room.
"It was different when I was a boy. There was hardly any furniture…and the bed was much smaller…"
He looked down and frowned.
"And there was no carpet."
Beverly turned and slipped off her shoes to lie on the bed. She held up one arm and Jean-Luc smiled warmly, toeing off his boots and stretching out on his side beside her. Her voice was soft and warm.
"I think we'll be very comfortable here."
Tracing his fingers over the planes of her face, he sighed.
"I'll show you over the rest of the house this evening and tomorrow I'll show you the grounds."
"Hmm that would be nice. Tell me…where is Marie's bedroom?"
Jean-Luc's eyebrow rose in curiosity.
"Oh um…down the hall, ah four rooms away."
Gently rubbing her lower lip, her look was speculative.
"Uh huh. Well we're going to have to be quiet."
Jean-Luc snorted and cupped her breast.
"Well you're the one with the propensity for screaming."
The Doctor's mind formed a withering retort but it came out as a protracted sigh. His skilful fingers had found her swelling nipples and she closed her eyes as he kissed her. His hand was insinuating itself under her blouse when there was a knock at the door.
"Jean-Luc?"
The Captain quietly groaned and Beverly impishly ran a finger over his erection. Gripping her hand to forestall any further mischief, he gathered his composure and called softly,
"Yes Marie."
The door opened and his relative came in. He stayed on his side, his back to her, but he turned his head and smiled.
"What can I do for you?"
"Just two things. Dinner will be ready in about an hour and a half…and Louis wants you to contact him."
The Captain frowned and shook his head.
"Louis? How does he know I'm home?"
Reddening somewhat Marie bowed her head.
"Because I told him. His brother's vineyard is in need of a new manager and they want my recommendations seeing as how I interviewed so many for my own uses. Louis comes by and calls regularly and he always asks after you…it was natural that I should tell him you were coming home."
Sighing, Jean-Luc briefly closed his eyes.
"Very well, that's all right but please, I would appreciate it if my being here was kept to ourselves. At the moment not even Starfleet knows where I am."
Nodding her understanding, Marie clasped her hands in front of her.
"Of course Jean-Luc. I'm sure Louis will be discreet…he knows how you value your privacy."
She backed out and quietly closed the door. Jean-Luc turned back to his lover, a rueful smile on his face.
"So much for staying incognito."
Beverly wrinkled her nose and rose up on her elbow.
"You didn't really think you would get off Scott free did you?"
He harrumphed and Beverly giggled.
"So many troubles for the noble Captain Picard. Well I have a new mission for you."
His eyebrow rose.
"And that is?"
"Undress me."
He smiled seductively and nuzzled into her neck. His deep voice was muffled.
"Aye Sir."
He disrobed her with lethargic patience. His hands roamed over her body and his mouth employed itself, giving her untold pleasure wherever he touched her. Her desire welling to insurmountable proportions, Beverly had a plan in mind. Suddenly rolling him, she straddled his hips and looked down at him, licking her lips and grinning wickedly.
"What's your control like Jean-Luc? How far do you think you can go?"
He stared up at his lover, his erection twitching in response to her questions. In a deeply husky voice he replied,
"I have only once preceded you. I don't think my control is in question."
She bent forward until her face was only centimetres from his.
"Really? Well we'll see."
She kissed him with breathless passion then left him and scooted down his legs. With dextrous hands, she opened his fly and reached into his briefs to free his erection. After pushing down his clothing a little, she took him into her mouth and lavished him with her tongue. He groaned sensuously and sighed, gently thrusting his hips. Beverly relaxed her throat and took as much of him into her mouth as she could, then she slowly rose until just the head was caught in her lips. She flicked her tongue over the top and underside, all the while gently sucking. His hands were reaching for her head when she suddenly expelled him from her mouth. He gasped and opened his eyes. Sitting up, Beverly moved forward and raised herself over him her mouth slack-jawed with need. He gripped his penis and lifted it, his groan echoing hers as the mutual high of penetration overcame them.
Placing her hands on his chest, Beverly looked down and smiled shakily.
"Now we'll see."
Before he could respond, Beverly raised her hips and slid up his length before reversing the action and sliding back down. Jean-Luc closed his eyes, one part of his brain trying to figure out what his lover was up to, the rest of his mind overloaded with sensation as she continued to slowly slide up and down with steady purpose.
Beverly had to keep an iron control of herself. She wanted nothing more than to abandon herself to passion and bring them both to a quick release, but she held back, resolute in her desire to make her partner mindless with sexual insanity.
After some minutes, Jean-Luc grabbed her hips and started to thrust up into her, increasing the power and frequency. Beverly gritted her teeth and savagely quashed her rising climax, slightly altering the angle of her hips. Lost in his own passion, Jean-Luc started to shake his head, his voice a continuous moan. Beverly had to concentrate fiercely. Feeling his body stiffen, she abruptly pulled free of him, holding herself above him. His eyes snapped open and his hips arched, trying to reconnect them.
"Beverly!"
His penis lay rigid and glistening on his lower belly, Beverly could see how hard it was. Without touching his erection, she leaned forward and kissed him. Breathlessly she said,
"Patience my love."
She watched as he withdrew from the brink and she smiled with encouragement.
"Let me know when you're ready."
His dark eyes glittered, Beverly not certain it wasn't in anger. He sighed and closed his eyes, nodding briefly. She gently took his erection and guided him back inside her. He immediately grabbed her hips and pushed up into her, grinding himself against her. Beverly gripped his shoulders and lowered her head, her own desire threatening to peak.
Jean-Luc relaxed against the mattress and Beverly began her maddeningly slow actions.
This time he was prepared and it took nearly fifteen minutes before he gasped and flexed his body. Again Beverly suddenly left him, this time reaching down and squeezing him under the head, preventing his orgasm. He growled, baring his teeth, his face screwed up as his hands gripped her hips savagely. In breathless pants he managed,
"Oh God Beverly…"
Stroking his face until he relaxed, she cooed,
"Shh just a little more…you can do it."
He swallowed and took a large breath. Nodding again, Beverly engulfed him in her heat.
Having twice been denied his release, Jean-Luc's testicles were swollen and his penis throbbed painfully. He clenched his jaw as Beverly resumed her tortuous cadence but he could take no more. He suddenly gripped her hips and thrust quickly up into her. The Doctor felt him swell and quickened her pace. She was unprepared for the force of his orgasm. He arched up off the bed pushing himself so deeply into her, she felt him touch her womb. He shouted in triumph, his body jerking as the hot pulses filled her. Beverly couldn't wait any longer. As Jean-Luc continued to spasm and flex, she reached down and rubbed her fingers over her swollen clitoris. The result was instantaneous. She cried out and clenched him, trembling and jerking as his residual thrusts caused electric pulses to course through her body. She collapsed onto his chest and gasped for breath open mouthed.

 

 

 

 

 

Some time later Beverly lifted her head and was inordinately pleased to see a tired smile on her lover's face.
"Well?"
He sighed and swallowed, his voice rumbling through his chest.
"Dear God Beverly…what were you trying to do…kill me?"
She chuckled and kissed him.
"You wouldn't be complaining would you?"
"No…but I still have my clothes on. What on Earth compelled you to embark on that particular bit of research?"
She lazily licked sweat from his neck and sighed.
"Oh I just wanted to know just how much you could take. Turns out it's quite a bit."
"Hmm."
Beverly stretched out and he rolled them to their sides, the motion separating them. Beverly sighed and Jean-Luc looked down at himself, alarm crossing his face.
"Beverly! There's blood…"
"It's ok, probably just a small tear. Nothing to worry about, I'll fix it later."
Unconvinced, Jean-Luc sat up and rolled Beverly onto her back. By the light from the window he could see livid bruises on her hips and thighs.
"Dammit Beverly…I've hurt you again!"
Beverly sighed expansively.
"You didn't hurt me Jean-Luc. Things got a little intense that's all. Forget about it."
Raising one hand to rub his face, the Captain shook his head.
"No Beverly. I've injured you internally and caused bruises…again. I'm so sorry…I...I…"
"You lost control Jean-Luc. Look I know for you that's a big deal but the truth is, that's what I was looking for. I wanted you so sexually aroused that you lost all reason."
He closed his eyes and shook his head again in confusion.
"You wanted me to hurt you?"
Sighing patiently, Beverly took his hand.
"No of course not. That was a by-product, an unfortunate consequence."
She sat up and kissed the tip of his nose.
"I've already told you how empowering…and arousing it is to have you so inflamed you lose control. Think of it as a gift…from you to me."
Frowning deeply, he sighed.
"I still don't…"
"Hush. Would you like a shower?"
He looked deeply into her eyes.
"Yes, but would you let me treat your injuries first…please?"
Flopping back on the bed, Beverly sighed.
"Oh very well."
As he left the bed to get her med kit, Beverly smiled ruefully.
"There are times my sweet lover, when you are quite high maintenance."

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beverly was dozing on the bed, half-heartedly listening as Jean-Luc talked to his old friend Louis. Lying in a shaft of waning light, she stretched with cat-like grace and mewed happily. The bed dipped as her lover took his place beside her. His gentle kiss made her smile, her eyes closed.
"Hmm?"
The Captain chuckled softly and ran his fingers through her hair.
"You're just like a contented cat lying there in the sunlight."
Beverly sighed and turned to him.
"If I'm contented it's because you made me so."
His muscular arm embraced her and she snuggled deeper into his body.
"What did Louis say?"
"Oh he's coming to visit soon…a couple of days I think. He wants to regale me with stories of the Atlantis project."
Beverly smiled into his neck and nibbled the skin.
"I've heard about that. It's a huge undertaking."
"Hmm."
They lay quietly for a while before Beverly giggled.
"Do you think Marie heard us?"
Jean-Luc raised his head and frowned.
"I've no idea but it seems we didn't heed our own suggestion."
Beverly snickered at his discomfort.
"Oh look she's all grown up and besides, we can always strive to be more…circumspect next time."
He growled and gently bit her earlobe.
"I'll be damned if I'm going to be circumspect when I'm making love to the only woman to capture my heart. Sex with you is a profound experience, one that leaves me in awe, however I do acknowledge we need to maintain our privacy. To that end I will try to contain myself."
The Doctor laughed mischievously and slipped a hand inside his robe to pinch a nipple.
"Well if you're prepared to make such a grand sacrifice so will I."
He sighed and kissed her languidly. Beverly's heart swelled as her love for this most extraordinary man threatened to overwhelm her. His kisses imparted such love and tenderness, how he suppressed his feelings for so long was a mystery to her.
He tapered the kiss and nuzzled in her hair. His voice was muffled.
"We'd better get dressed, dinner will be on soon."
Sighing, Beverly rose up and gently pushed Jean-Luc onto his back. Staring down into his eyes she whispered,
"You are the love of my life my heart. I will be yours for ever."
His eyes welling with unshed tears, Jean-Luc smiled tenderly.
"When you let me into your life I was happy. When you told me you loved me I was ecstatic and when we made love I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. You complete me Beverly…without you I would cease to exist."
They shared a breathtakingly tender kiss and moulded themselves into each other. They only realized they'd dozed off when Marie knocked on their door sometime later.
"Jean-Luc? Dinner's ready."
Rousing themselves, Jean-Luc cleared his throat.
"Thank you Marie, we'll be right down."
Ten minutes later they were seated at the table downstairs.

 

 

 

 

A month later Beverly was enjoying the anonymity of sitting at a café in LaBarre. Jean-Luc was at his family's solicitors and Beverly was waiting for the local Doctor to meet her. She picked at the pastry she'd ordered and was on her second cappuccino when an elderly distinguished looking man stopped at her table.
"Doctor Crusher?"
Smiling up at the handsome man, Beverly held out her hand.
"Doctor Mittand? Please have a seat."
She waited until the Doctor had ordered his coffee before opening her conversation.
"Thank you for meeting me Doctor, I know you're very busy."
The old man bowed and grinned.
"If I'd known how beautiful you were I would've met with you sooner. My apologies for keeping you waiting."
"Not at all. Have you given any thought to my proposal?"
He sighed and nodded.
"Yes. I've read what you left with my secretary and I must say it's quite comprehensive. I think you would do very well here in LaBarre."
Beverly smiled and inclined her head.
"I would like to reassure you that I don't intend to impinge on your practice. LaBarre is slowly growing and with more young families moving into the district…I saw a niche for a Doctor like me."
The elderly medico waved his hand and snorted.
"My dear Doctor my days as a practising physician are nearly over. It's time I considered retirement, but tell me…after all your years in Starfleet, travelling the stars, leading such an exciting life…are you sure a rural practice wouldn't be too mundane for you?"
Beverly smiled wistfully and shook her head.
"Not really. Like you, I have reached a time in my life that requires change. Believe me life in space can become very tiresome after a while."
The old man smiled with understanding and sipped his coffee.
"In that case I have a proposal for you. If we can agree on a date and a price, would you be interested in buying my practice? I will of course, recommend all my patients to you and you will be spared the inconvenience of setting up a new business."
Beverly sat back, her mind in overdrive. She took the time to finish her coffee all the while evaluating the offer.
"That is a most generous offer Doctor. What sort of time frame are you looking at?"
Mittand scratched his chin and shrugged.
"Two months I would think."
"Can I let you know next week?"
The old man smiled.
"Of course. Now if there's nothing else I must be going. It's been a pleasure to meet you Doctor Crusher."
Beverly stood and shook his hand.
"And you Doctor Mittand."

 

 

 

 

Beverly was on her third cup of coffee by the time Jean-Luc made it to the café. He approached her quietly, announcing his presence with a kiss to the top of her head.
"How many of those have you had?"
She sighed.
"Too many. If I can't sleep tonight it'll be your fault."
He bent low to her ear and whispered,
"If you can't sleep tonight I've got just the thing to help you."
Snorting and covering her mouth, Beverly looked up with undisguised glee in her eyes.
"And what thing is that?"
He grinned Gallically and waggled his eyebrows.
Beverly stifled a guffaw at his capriciousness and watched appreciatively as he took his seat.
"How did you go at the solicitors?"
"Oh good. We straightened out a few things and I signed some documents that have been waiting for me for months. How about you? Did the meeting go well?"
Jean-Luc waved away the waiter and concentrated on his lover. He could tell by the sparkle in her eyes that she had something to tell him.
"It went very well, better than that, it was absolutely marvellous."
"Oh? Why?"
Beverly clasped her hands on the table and leaned forward.
"Because he's offered me his practice Jean-Luc. He wants to retire."
Jean-Luc's surprise registered on his face.
"What did you say?"
"I said I'd let him know next week."
The Captain frowned and lowered his head.
"And you're seriously thinking about it?"
Beverly sat back, a little concerned by his reaction.
"Well yes it's a wonderful opportunity. To be honest when I submitted my proposal to open a clinic I never really thought he'd agree. This has come completely out of the blue, but yes the offer has excited me. Why? Aren't you pleased?"
His head snapped up and he smiled.
"Of course I am! If it's what you want then do it Beverly."
"And you?"
He shook his head and sighed.
"I'm still thinking."
Beverly nodded and shrugged.
"Well at least with one of us settled we can make some plans."
His eyes twinkling, he rose and reached for her hand.
"Come on I'll walk you back to the chateau."

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four nights later they had made love and were lying quietly, Jean-Luc on his back and Beverly's head resting on his chest. She was idly drawing runes in his chest hair when his voice rumbled through his body.
"I've come to a decision."
Lifting her head, she could see little but the gleam of his eyes in the darkness.
"About what?"
"My future."
"And?"
He sighed, Beverly riding out the action.
"I'm going to retire."
Beverly rose up on her elbow and traced his mouth with her fingers.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. I've had enough Beverly…it's time. I want to settle here with you and enjoy the time we have…I don't want to waste a second, we've waited too long."
Beverly stroked his face and leaned down to kiss him.
"As long as you're sure Jean-Luc. I'll be here for you no matter what you choose to do."
"Thank you mon coeur."

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning Beverly left Jean-Luc at his computer and went down to join Marie for breakfast. The smell of fresh croissants and coffee drew Beverly to the kitchen and she smiled at seeing Marie with an apron on.
"Still haven't got a replicator?"
Turning to her companion, Marie laughed.
"As a matter of fact I have."
Surprised, Beverly looked around the room.
"But…I've never seen you use one. Where is it?"
Walking across to the pantry, Marie opened the door and gestured with a flourish.
"Voila!"
Peeking in, Beverly giggled.
"Does Jean-Luc know?"
Shaking her head, Marie shared the giggle.
"No. It's silly really. I always wanted one and finally got one and I find I rarely use it."
Shrugging, Marie closed the door and went back to setting the table.
Over her shoulder she said impishly,
"You two were up late last night."
Beverly flushed and lowered her head.
"Sorry. I hope we didn't keep you awake."
The older woman sighed wistfully.
"Don't apologise Beverly…I envy you. If your Picard is anything like his brother you have a wonderful lover to enjoy. My advice is to make use of every moment you have…life's too short to worry about making a little noise."
Beverly smiled and shook her head.
"Still…we decided we should at least try to be quiet. It's just that…"
Marie held up her hand.
"I know. Besides I knew from your first day here that things were going to be interesting."
Holding her hands to her face, Beverly blushed deeply.
"Oh God…we wondered if you'd heard us. How embarrassing…we'd only been here half an hour."
Marie chuckled and took Beverly's arm, guiding her to the table.
"Think nothing of it. I know from personal experience how intense Picard men are."
Jean-Luc's deep voice caught the women out.
"Intense Marie? Surely not."
Clearing her throat, Beverly gestured to the table.
"Breakfast is ready Jean-Luc. Come and sit down."
Casting a suspicious look at his sister-in-law, he was further unsettled to see an obvious discomforted Beverly. While Marie was across the room, Jean-Luc muttered,
"What's going on?"
She took his hand and squeezed.
"Nothing. How did it go with Command?"
He sat up and frowned.
"Well I tendered my resignation…I suspect I'll be hearing from them soon."
Marie, now standing at his shoulder gasped.
"You've resigned from Starfleet?"
Taking her hand, he guided her to a seat.
"Yes. It is our intention, with your permission of course, to settle here at the chateau."
There was a moment's silence before Marie leaped to her feet and flung her arms around her brother-in-law.
"Oh Jean-Luc that's wonderful!"
Returning the hug, much to Beverly's amusement, Jean-Luc was embarrassed.
"I take it you agree?"
"Yes! Oh this is simply the best news."
Smiling at his lover, Jean-Luc took her hand.
"It's quite likely Beverly will take over from Doctor Mittand in the village and I am considering taking on a consultancy with the Atlantis Project. Louis has finally convinced me I can be of help."
Marie sighed in happiness. In a soft voice she said,
"Your father and brother would've been very pleased Jean-Luc."
He smiled and nodded.
"Indeed."

 

 

 

The response to Jean-Luc's resignation came that afternoon. The couple were out in the garden when Marie found them.
"Jean-Luc there's a message for you from Starfleet…it's flagged urgent."
The Captain turned and looked up at the house. Beverly took his hand.
"Shall I acknowledge it?"
Shaking his head, Jean-Luc sighed.
"No I'll come up."
Together the three made their way back to the house and Jean-Luc went upstairs. He was only gone ten minutes; Beverly had only just poured some tea. She turned to him as he entered the kitchen.
"Well?"
Jean-Luc sat at the table and crossed his legs.
"I'm to report tomorrow morning at oh nine hundred."
"Who sent the message?"
Jean-Luc grimaced.
"Admiral Alynna Nechayev, but it's on behalf of several Admirals including Brand, head of the Academy."
Beverly placed his tea in front of him and took a seat.
"What do you think they'll do?"
Snorting, Jean-Luc sipped the tea.
"Probably try and talk me out of my decision."
"Can you resist?"
Putting the cup back down, he took her hands and smiled into her eyes.
"Yes my love. The thought that you'll be here waiting for me when I return will give me all the incentive I need."
Beverly returned the smile but in her mind she fretted.
"Yes my love, but they can be awfully persuasive."

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning at the designated time, Jean-Luc stood outside Admiral Nechayev's door feeling slightly out of place in his civilian clothing. He had considered wearing his uniform, but being on extended leave he decided to forgo the formality.
He knocked on the door and waited.
"Come in Captain Picard."
The door opened and Jean-Luc faltered. Seated around a large table were seven Admirals, all their eyes trained on him. There was only one unoccupied chair and Jean-Luc aimed for it, standing behind it and coming to attention.
"Admirals."
They nodded their greeting and Brand shot him a smile.
"Please Jean-Luc, have a seat."
In silence and feeling their close scrutiny, Jean-Luc sat and composed himself. Admiral Blundell a large man with piercing blue eyes opened the meeting.
"What's all this rubbish about retiring Picard?"
Jean-Luc gave the man his undivided attention, hoping his explanation would satisfy them all.
"It is as I stated Sir. I feel I have reached the end of my career and I wish to retire to a quieter life."
The big man glowered.
"Poppycock! A man like you would never settle for some obscure existence in the backwater. You've been at the forefront…the cutting edge of Starfleet too long. Settle down? I don't think so!"
Admiral Brand leaned over and spoke quietly.
"Now Gary give the man a chance."
Turning back to Jean-Luc she smiled encouragingly.
"You must admit Jean-Luc…this is somewhat out of character. You're Starfleet's most experienced and successful Captain. Surely you can see how we're not fully convinced."
The Captain sighed and lowered his head. Gathering his thoughts, he addressed them again.
"Over the last year or so I have been growing more and more disillusioned with my job. Since the Dominion war there have been changes in Starfleet policy that I found increasingly difficult to implement and I began to resent my part in the missions I was given. Added to that the continual personal injuries I sustained I reached a point where I couldn't take it any more. I was at a point where I was about to tender my resignation but my ship's Counsellor persuaded me to take an extended leave of absence instead. During the time I've had off I've devoted serious thought to my prospects and I decided the only equitable thing to do is resign. If I continued my Captaincy with this ongoing loss of faith I would be a danger to my ship and her crew. In short Sirs…I've had enough and I want out."
Admiral Bryce Stewart leaned forward, his hands raised in supplication.
"But Captain Picard, Starfleet needs officers like you…especially now!"
Shaking his head, Jean-Luc sighed.
"I'm sorry Sir…"
Admiral Mary Phillips sat forward, her hazel eyes gleaming.
"And what of your oath? What about your duty, your irrevocable dedication to Starfleet and all it stands for? For God's sake Picard other officers may well see your leaving as a vote of no confidence! You owe Starfleet your unequivocal support…especially now! I can't believe you're willing to just walk away simply because you're suffering from a little job dissatisfaction!"
His dark eyes glittering with anger, his voice was deceptively soft.
"Admiral with all due respect I take exception to being labelled as someone who appears to be quitting because it seems the job became too hard. There's more to it than that and I respectfully request you give me the benefit of the doubt. My dedication to Starfleet has never been compromised and I have given most of my life to serve. I believe my record stands as testimony to that at least."
Alynna Nechayev held up her hand and brought an end to the deepening angst.
"Your service and integrity are without peer Captain, I apologise if my colleagues gave you the wrong impression."
She paused, casting him a speculative and predatory look. Immediately on his guard, Jean-Luc sharpened his senses.
"I have a proposition Picard. What if we offered you an Admiralty? You could take any position you desire. Head of the Academy? Head of rebuilding the fleet? Or how about a position on the Federation Council as Starfleet's representative? You could have a direct hand in rewriting Starfleet policy."
Jean-Luc was gob smacked. Never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined such an offer. Keeping his face neutral with difficulty, he took the time to consider the proposal.
Clasping his hands in his lap, he slowly nodded.
"That is a most intriguing offer Admiral. I take it I may have sufficient time to consider it?"
Alynna's eyes bored into his.
"A week Picard. Meet with us again here same time next week."
He stood to attention and bowed his head.
"Aye Sir."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beverly was sitting in the shade of the veranda when he found her. They shared a gentle kiss and she could feel his tension.
"Well? Are you retired?"
He sat beside her and rested his head back on the cushion, closing his eyes.
"Not exactly."
Beverly sighed and shook her head.
"I knew it! Those bastards have gotten to you haven't they?"
He sat up and took her hand.
"It's not quite like that. They made me an offer I find I'm actually considering."
Beverly stood and went to the railing, gripping the wood in anger.
"Oh really? And just what sort of a carrot did they dangle?"
Coming to his feet, Jean-Luc stood behind her and rested his hands on her hips.
"An Admiralty…in any position I want, even as Starfleet's representative on the Federation Council. Think of it Beverly…I could have a hand in writing Starfleet policy. We could set things right, re-establish what Starfleet is supposed to be…an organization dedicated to exploration and not the military force it has become."
Beverly turned and took his face in her hands, sympathy and anger warring for dominance.
"Jean-Luc! Think! What could you possibly do on your own? The Starfleet we once knew is gone and will probably never return. The whole quadrant has changed since the war and it won't ever be the same again. We have new insidious enemies now and we must be prepared to defend ourselves. You of all people know how powerful those enemies are. Do you really think we can return to the benign organization we once were?"
He frowned and tried to shake his head.
"But…"
"Jean-Luc my love…if you accept their bribe…and that's exactly what it is…you'll be doing the self same things you were doing on the Enterprise only with more clout. You'll be toeing the party line Jean-Luc, they can't allow otherwise. Making you an Admiral will simply place you where they can keep an eye on you."
He shook free of her hands and stalked angrily to the end of the veranda. Beverly watched sadly and regained her seat. He stood rigidly for some time before abruptly taking the stairs two at a time down to the garden. He stopped when he heard her voice.
"I'll be here when you want to talk about it."
He closed his eyes briefly then strode off into the greenery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

With her feet resting on the ottoman and a book nestled on her lap, Beverly resolutely concentrated on words she had trouble reading. For most of the afternoon she'd been alone and disjointed. Settling in a comfortable chair in the drawing room seemed the least stressful thing she could do. In truth she was waiting for Jean-Luc but as yet he hadn't made an appearance. Sighing and refocussing her attention, her ears picked up the sound of his footfalls. Keeping her head low, she watched him through her lashes as he entered the room. Ambling, he wandered into the room and stood for a while in front of the cold fireplace his hands deep in his pockets. He then sat opposite her but didn't take advantage of the over stuffed chair, sitting instead on its edge. In quietude he stared at the floor, Beverly noting his tense shoulders and deep frown. For over twenty minutes they sat in complete silence then he surprised her by abruptly standing and striding out of the room. Exasperated and worried, Beverly almost followed him, but decided he needed time to brood. Her worry abated when he soon returned with two steaming cups in his hands. He silently placed hers beside her then finally sat back in the chair and crossed his legs, sipping his brew. He was ready to talk.
Beverly closed her book and folded her hands in her lap. Keeping her voice soft and neutral she asked,
"What were they like?"
He kept his eyes on the tea, his face unreadable.
"The Admirals?"
The Doctor snorted.
"The grand inquisition."
He frowned and sighed.
"Some of them were adversarial…at times downright insulting, but I had some support. Brand was kind."
Beverly smiled, remembering kinder times with the head of the Academy.
"And Nechayev?"
"The ring leader…as usual."
"She made the proposal didn't she."
It wasn't a question and Jean-Luc growled.
"You know Beverly…I can forgive them for doing their damnedest to try to keep me, but blatant manipulation really makes me angry…and hurt. And what makes it worse is that I almost succumbed! They very nearly succeeded in seducing me, blinding me with my own ideals."
He sighed and shook his head, rubbing his face with one hand.
"I feel like such a bloody fool!"
Beverly thoughtfully sipped her tea and sighed.
"They're professional bastards Jean-Luc…you were not only out gunned, you were out of your league. They don't operate by the same rules as the rest of us. They have no conscience and no scruples. An honourable man like you was tender pickings."
With his head tilted to one side, he stared disconsolately into space. In a soft whisper he said,
"Damn them…damn them to hell."
Minutes ticked by and Beverly patiently sipped her tea, all the while surreptitiously watching her lover. When she saw him relax she smiled.
"So…what are you going to do?"
His voice was deep and resolute.
"Retire!"
Placing her empty cup on the side table, she steepled her fingers under her chin.
"And how are you going to tell them?"
Jean-Luc smiled for the first time and raised his eyebrow.
"I was given a week to consider their offer. We meet next week."
The Doctor snorted and flapped her hand.
"Well if you ask me you're being way too civil. Why don't you just send a message? Why put yourself through their mind games? Don't give them the satisfaction Jean-Luc. Tell them to go fu…"
"Beverly! That will not be necessary. Until they accept my resignation I am still a serving officer in Starfleet and protocol demands I attend my superior officer's bidding. To do otherwise would compromise my own standards. I will appear as ordered and there I will tender my resignation."
"And if they refuse to accept it?"
He smiled and sighed, shrugging his shoulders.
"I won't take no for an answer. They can't force me to stay."
Beverly stood and came to him, kneeling between his legs.
"When you come home we'll call the Enterprise. She's at McKinley now and I feel like a party."
Jean-Luc leaned forward and took her face in his hands.
"I can do better than that. What say I call Will now and tee something up for next week? I have a suspicion I might have good news for him by then."
Beverly smiled softly and kissed him with languid tenderness.
"This is going to be fun…I kinda like having you under foot."
He kissed her and muttered seductively,
"I'm even more fun under your body."
Closing her eyes, Beverly giggled.
"As a matter of fact…you're quite right."

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three days later, early in the evening, Jean-Luc received a call from an old friend. Alone in his bedroom, the Captain activated his computer and smiled warmly at the image on the screen.
"Hello Harry, it's good to see you."
The older Admiral grinned back and held up an object.
"Hello yourself Jean-Luc. Tell me, do you remember this?"
He held a metallic cylinder approximately seven centimetres long and two centimetres wide. With rounded ends it fitted comfortably in his large hand.
Squinting, Jean-Luc frowned and examined the object for some seconds before slowly shaking his head.
"No Harry, I'm sorry I don't."
The Admiral snorted.
"And here I was thinking you were a bright boy. Do you remember our little foray into the high council on Barritus Prime?"
Suddenly Jean-Luc's face reddened and he covered his mouth with his hand.
"Oh God…that's not..?"
A wicked grin appearing, Harry Tompkins nodded.
"Indeed it is. This innocuous little cylinder resided in my lower bowel for eight days…not counting the times I had to…encourage it back into my body when it insisted on making an appearance…and ultimately saved us from a very nasty…and permanent state of ill health."
Chuckling, Jean-Luc shook his head.
"Oh my lord…remember when we were standing before the regent, deep in delicate negotiations and the damn thing started to emerge from your…"
Tompkins held up a hand and winced.
"Oh I recall only too well. I nearly did myself a permanent mischief trying to prevent it from coming out."
Jean-Luc sat back and sighed.
"We took such a hell of a risk! If they knew you were carrying the declaration of the regent's brother on that isolinear chip hidden inside…they would've killed us on the spot."
Tompkins shrugged and smiled.
"Well we had to have a fall-back position. If Kalarg hadn't acceded war would've been inevitable. Only his brother's declaration would've stopped it."
Smiling and shaking his head, Jean-Luc and his old friend sat in silence, each remembering the mission of so long ago. Sighing Jean-Luc looked up.
"What brought that to mind Harry?"
Tossing the cylinder on the desk, Tompkins sat back and scratched his cheek.
"Some months ago I was contacted by a very concerned ship's Counsellor. Apparently her Captain was in deep psychological trouble and she thought a word with an old friend might help. Now I recommended…actually I made it an order…that the said Captain should take an extended leave of absence to try and sort himself out. This he did and my subsequent enquires have shown he did indeed find himself and resolved his problems."
The Admiral's smile faded and he sighed.
"Then yesterday I received notification of his intended resignation. I wasn't surprised but I contacted Admiral Brand. She had some very interesting things to say including the offer of an Admiralty to entice you to stay."
He sighed and looked directly into Jean-Luc's eyes.
"Don't do it Jean-Luc. What you've been experiencing as Captain of the Enterprise is only a fraction of what's going on. If you accept an Admiralty…in any position you will be prostituting yourself in the worse way for absolutely no reasonable reason. I know what you're thinking…that you can effect change, that you can redress the direction Starfleet had taken but my old friend the fact is you'll become nothing more than this."
He held up the cylinder and rolled it between his fingers.
"And you'll be existing in much the same environment. Think of this. If you thought it was bad implementing Starfleet policies as a starship Captain, imagine how it would feel propagating those same polices and foisting them on other Captains. Do you honestly think you can do that?"
Bowing his head, Jean-Luc sighed. In a subdued voice he replied,
"No Harry I can't. When I came home from the meeting I was full of enthusiasm…brimming with confidence and filled with hope for Starfleet I haven't felt for a very long time. It took five difficult minutes with Beverly to see that I was indulging in hubris. In short order she opened my eyes and cleared my head. Of course I agonised over it, after all my pride…and my ego…had been masterfully stroked, but in the end it wasn't such a hard decision."
He smiled and arched an eyebrow.
"I meet with them next week. I intend to tender my resignation and I won't be swayed."
Relief flooded Harry's face. Nodding he grinned.
"Well done Jean-Luc! You know I'd like to be there, just to see Nechayev's face. She's not accustomed to anyone saying no to her."
The two men shared a laugh. Harry leaned forward, his look mischievous.
"So you and Beverly are..?"
Jean-Luc folded his arms across his chest and tried to summon a glare, failing miserably. Sighing and bowing to the inevitable, he nodded.
"Yes we are."
"Are you happy?"
With a wistful sigh, Jean-Luc nodded.
"Oh yes Harry, very happy."
"Well it's about bloody time! God how long has it been…thirty years?"
The Captain grinned and shrugged.
"You know me Harry, I like to study a situation…make sure it's viable."
The older man snorted.
"Idiot! Thirty years…you ought to have your head read. You're damn lucky she was still available when you finally made the effort to let her know how you felt."
Smiling softly, Jean-Luc sighed.
"It's a little more complicated than that, but ostensibly…I agree with you. Tell me Harry, what are you doing next Wednesday evening?"
The Admiral shrugged.
"The usual…dinner and a quiet night with Adelaide. Why?"
Jean-Luc grinned, a twinkle in his eyes.
"We're having a little soiree on the Enterprise…she's at McKinley station. Would you and Adelaide like to attend?"
Grinning broadly, Harry nodded.
"Indeed we would"
"Excellent. Well I'll see you then."
"Count on it. Tompkins out."

 

 

 

 

A week had passed. Sitting patiently in Nechayev's outer office, Jean-Luc was idly staring out of the floor length windows when the Lieutenant at the desk answered a call on his communicator. After a very brief conversation he coughed gently and called the waiting man.
"Captain Picard the Admiral will see you now."
Nodding his acknowledgement, Jean-Luc stood and resisted the urge to tug down his jacket. He knocked softly on the door and entered, surprised to find only Admirals Brand and Nechayev present. Bowing his head slightly he said softly,
"Admirals."
Nechayev gestured to a seat.
"Sit down Captain."
Jean-Luc obeyed and raised his eyebrows.
"I didn't expect there to be only you two present Sir."
Nechayev stared straight into his eyes.
"The other Admirals were not required for this meeting. Captain Picard I make it a habit to try and understand those who serve under me and I pride myself on my ability to anticipate what a person is going to do. With this in mind I have come to the inescapable conclusion that you are going to refuse our offer. Am I right?"
Without preamble Jean-Luc nodded.
"Yes Admiral you are."
"And there's nothing we can say or do to make you reconsider?"
"No Sir."
Pursing her lips, Nechayev nodded curtly.
"Very well, we accept your resignation, effective immediately. However I do have one request…and I'd like you to consider it a personal one."
The Admiral clasped her hands on the tabletop and softened her face.
"I would like you to consider keeping yourself on the reserves list, with the rank of Admiral. That would serve two purposes. It would enable you to teach at the Academy if you so desire and it would allow Starfleet to be in a position to call on you if an emergency arrises."
Jean-Luc frowned and gently rubbed his lower lip. Nechayev continued.
"It's a win-win situation Picard. We both get what we want and as an added bonus you get the opportunity to pass on what you've learned to the next generation of Starfleet officers."
Jean-Luc found the decision was easy.
"I accept Admiral. Thank you for the offer."
Nechayev turned to Brand and winked. The older woman smiled with gentle affection at the former Captain.
"Congratulations Jean-Luc."
"Thank you Admiral. May I make a rather important suggestion before I leave?"
The Admirals looked at each other and Nechayev nodded.
"Go ahead."
"Please consider my heartfelt recommendation that Commander Riker be given the captaincy of the Enterprise. He's earned it."
Her face becoming hard, Nechayev resorted to her usual formidable self.
"The captaincy of the Enterprise, in anticipation of you decision, has already been decided upon."
His hopes dashed, Jean-Luc said numbly,
"May I ask who gets her?"
Nechayev folded her arms and cast Brand a look.
"You can tell him."
Her face deadpan, Brand said quietly,
"Commander William T Riker."
There was a second's silence before Jean-Luc's face split into a rare full grin.
"Thank you Sirs…again."
Nechayev allowed a small smile then asked,
"I hear there's going to be a little…do…on the Enterprise tonight. Would you like to inform your former First Officer of his promotion?"
Sighing with happiness, Jean-Luc nodded.
"Yes Admiral I would."
"Then…Admiral Picard…make it so."
He nodded and stood. He was almost at the door when Brand's soft voice stopped him.
"Of course there will be a formal Starfleet send off for you Admiral. We'll let you know when."
With his back to the women he grimaced and closed his eyes. Turning slowly, he plastered a smile on his face.
"I am honoured Admiral. I'll await your advice."
Once in the outer office, he took a large breath and ordered his body to relax. An amused Lieutenant watched and shook his head. It seemed everybody emerging from a meeting with Alynna Nechayev did the same thing.

Jean-Luc and Beverly materialised in Transporter Room two. Waiting to greet them were Will and Deanna.
"Captain, Beverly…welcome back. It's good to see you both."
The couple stepped off the platform and the women hugged. Jean-Luc clasped his First Officer on the shoulder and said softly,
"Can we go to the Ready Room Number One? I have something I wish to discuss with you."
Will frowned.
"But Captain…everybody's waiting in Holodeck five."
Jean-Luc smiled, his dark eyes twinkling.
"I promise I won't keep you long."
Casting a look at Deanna, Will acquiesced.
"All right Captain. Ladies we'll see you there."
Deanna threaded her arm through Beverly's and ushered her from the room. Once clear of the men she whispered,
"Well?"
Beverly looked down at her friend and frowned.
"Well what?"
Sighing with exasperation, Deanna dug her fingers into Beverly's side.
"You and the Captain. How's it going?"
Beverly rolled her eyes and sighed.
"Deanna!"
The Betazoid huffed.
"Oh come on Beverly! You two have been together now for months…I want details."
Beverly halted, causing Deanna to stumble.
"Details? What are you…some kind of voyeur by proxy?"
The Counsellor giggled and flapped her hands.
"Oh you want to play? OK we'll do it the hard way. Are you happy?"
The Doctor smiled tenderly and nodded.
"Uh huh."
"And this is a permanent relationship?"
"Yes."
"Have you resolved your problems?"
"Yep."
"What's he like in bed?"
Beverly snorted and resumed walking, her long strides making Deanna trot beside her. Deanna's voice took on a frustrated whine.
"Beverly…please?"
The Doctor slowed her pace and sighed. In a low voice she supplied the information.
"He's very attentive, considerate, skilful…he has stamina and phenomenal control. He pleases me in every possible way, in fact there are times when his needs are greater than mine yet he never fails to ensure I am completely satisfied."
Deanna stopped and gripped her friend's arm.
"His needs are greater than yours? My God you're the horniest person I know. Are you telling me his libido is bigger than yours?"
Beverly smirked.
"Sometimes yes. Mostly we're pretty evenly matched, but there are times…"
"Jesus Beverly! How the hell did he keep that under wraps for so long?"
The Doctor shrugged.
"As I said, he has legendary control."
Arriving at the holodeck, the doors trundled open and the women entered. There was a rousing chorus of greetings and Beverly was surrounded by friends, a drink pressed into her hand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outwardly Jean-Luc appeared calm and reserved. Inside he was happy and contented. Directing his subordinate to the seat in front of the desk, Jean-Luc took his seat and spent some seconds studying the man before him.
"You have grey in your beard now my friend…when did that happen?"
Will, unsure of his Captain's mood, waited patiently. Eventually Jean-Luc sighed and sat back, crossing his legs.
"Have you heard any fleet gossip?"
Taken aback by the question, Will frowned and shook his head.
"Ah…no Sir. I've been flat out overseeing the upgrades. I haven't even found time to go down to Earth. May I enquire why you ask?"
Smiling enigmatically, Jean-Luc picked up his crystal shard and inspected it. Keeping his voice conversational, he said,
"Oh it's nothing really, I just thought you may have heard the rumour that I've retired."
Will sat up and gasped.
"Retired Captain? No I haven't heard that."
Jean-Luc nodded and lifted his eyes to meet Will's
"It's not a rumour Will."
Will's eyebrows rose, his mouth agape.
"You've retired?"
"Uh huh, effective this afternoon. I am no longer your Captain Will. I am however an Admiral on the reserves list, but more importantly, I have news of the Enterprise's new Captain."
Immediately adopting a business-like demeanour Will quashed his disappointment and nodded.
"Yes Sir."
Keeping the grin that threatened off his face, Jean-Luc sat forward and kept his voice firm.
"It is my duty to inform you the new Captain is William T Riker."
Will frowned, opened and closed his mouth twice then blinked slowly.
"Sir?"
Allowing the grin to escape, Jean-Luc stood and offered his hand.
"Congratulations…Captain."
With dream-like slowness, Will took his hand in a firm shake. Jean-Luc reached into his pocket and withdrew a small box.
"If you would indulge me…I would like you to have these."
He handed the box to Will and watched with amusement as the shocked man opened it. Inside were Jean-Luc's Captain's pips.
"You'll make a fine Captain Will and you'll be commanding the premier ship of the fleet. Make me proud."
Will looked into his former Captain's eyes and smiled. With eyes brimming he nodded, his voice breaking.
"I will Sir…and these…"
He lifted the box,
"I will wear with pride. Thank you Captain…for everything."
Sighing with happiness, Jean-Luc swallowed the lump in his throat.
"Well Will, we'd better get to the holodeck. Our ladies will be getting impatient."
The men left the Ready Room and Jean-Luc thought Will was even taller than usual.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jean-Luc's entry into the holodeck produced a wave of smiles and warm greetings. Deanna looked sharply at her lover, tilting her head and trying to discern his turbulent emotions. Before she could go to his side, her Captain held up his hand and called for quiet.
"Thank you all for being here, I'm sure you appreciate the opportunity to say a proper farewell to Doctor Crusher, her service to Starfleet…and to this vessel in particular have been exemplary."
There was warm applause and Jean-Luc again lifted his hand.
"I have an important announcement, one that affects you all. As of fourteen hundred today, I have retired from Starfleet. It is my great pleasure to announce that Captain William Riker will replace me as Captain of the Enterprise and I'm sure you will give him the same stellar service you gave me. Now please let us enjoy our party."
There was a shocked silence before loud murmuring rose. People surged towards Will and Jean-Luc, Deanna grabbing Beverly's arm and pulling her off to one side.
"Did you know about this?"
Beverly grinned and pushed her hair back.
"Yes, but I only heard this afternoon."
"And you didn't tell me?"
Sighing, Beverly looked sympathetically at her friend.
"Jean-Luc made me promise not to."
Huffing, the Counsellor looked over at her lover.
"So now he's a Captain and he's got the Enterprise. What will Captain Picard do?"
"Well for starters he's not a Captain any more…"
She waited as Deanna rolled her eyes.
"He's an Admiral in the reserves. Other than that, he's taken on a consultancy with the Atlantis Project."
"He's in the reserves now? Will he teach?"
Beverly shrugged and finished her drink.
"Depends."
The Counsellor eyed her friend.
"And what about you?"
Smiling at the gentle inquisition, Beverly looked kindly at the curious woman.
"I'm in the process of buying an established medical practice in LaBarre."
"So you're going to live in LaBarre?"
"Actually at the chateau."
Deanna sipped her drink thoughtfully and grinned at the Doctor.
"You two have it all worked out, don't you?"
"Pretty much."
"And you're disgustingly happy and contented too aren't you?"
Laughing softly, Beverly nodded.
"Affirmative!"
Deanna suddenly hugged her best friend.
"Well I'm ecstatic! Can I come and visit?"
Returning the hug, Beverly wrinkled her nose.
"You'd better!"
Chuckling, Deanna took her glass.
"I'll get us some more drinks. I don't think we'll be seeing the men for a while."
Beverly nodded.
"OK, but make mine synthehol. I now live in a vineyard, I think I'll limit my alcohol intake."
Deanna's laughter was lost in the crowd.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The evening was a huge success and it was a tired couple that showered and retired that night. Lying in each other's arms, Beverly felt Jean-Luc sigh.
"What?"
He nuzzled into her hair and mumbled,
"I was just thinking. Tonight was such a nice celebration…if only the official farce I have to attend could be half as good."
Beverly chuckled softly.
"Oh God…all that brass…all those stuffed shirts…poor you!"
He grunted and eased her onto her back. His mouth kissed its way down her neck to her breasts where he teased the nipples with his lips. In between caresses he muttered,
"Bloody dress uniforms…endlessly boring small talk…protocol…ceremonies…"
Beverly groaned and gripped his head.
"Shut up Jean-Luc…make love to me."
For the next hour the only sounds in the room were those of passion. Later, once again quiet, Beverly snuggled into his embrace.
"So will I have to accompany you to this…farewell?"
Jean-Luc frowned in the darkness and tucked in his chin.
"Well I'd prefer it if you did, but if you really don't want to go I'll manage."
The Doctor kissed his nose and smiled.
"Oh I want to go with you…God knows you'll need a friendly face…it's just that I might be a little under the weather."
His hands took her face and tilted it up to his.
"Would you like to explain that?"
Lifting her hand to trail her fingers down his cheek, Beverly kissed him with all the love she felt.
"I'm pregnant Jean-Luc."
His mouth opened slightly and his breath came out in a puff.
"What?"
"You heard me…I'm pregnant."
"How?"
Beverly sighed and ran her fingers along his tense shoulders.
"I'm not sure…probably an implant failure."
"Oh."
Concerned at his rattled state, Beverly caressed his face.
"Jean-Luc…are you happy?"
He stared at her, his mind reeling.
"What? Oh…"
His face slowly lost its tension and a smile appeared.
"Actually…yes I find I am."
He kissed her tenderly and chuckled.
"Life is about to get very interesting isn't it?"
Beverly grinned.
"Interesting? I'd say complicated."
Jean-Luc shrugged and took her in his arms.
"Well I don't care…either will do. I love you Beverly."
She snuggled into his embrace and sighed with utter contentment.
"And I you my love."